Namibia Economist (Windhoek)

21 May 2012

Namibia: Off Beat - 18 May 2012

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Phased renewables, for very rich environmentalists who can afford the installation and ignore the needs of the poor, is one way to go, but that doesn't satisfy all our power needs and it pushes manufacturing costs, way, way up there.

Here's a challenge. Turn off all sources of power for a weekend. Do not use your stove, geyser or fridge. Read instead of watching television. Use wood or charcoal for cooking and use candles for a light source. If you get cold, use an extra blanket or two. Actually, that is called camping, but you would probably use gas instead of a candle. Nonetheless, imagine camping for the rest of your life. It would wear thin after a while.

I am not going to challenge you to use paper, pens and ledgers in your office. If you are smart enough to be reading this, you should have shuddered by now.

For people who use power, who have access to it, the idea of going without it is bizarre at best, and easy to dismiss as ridiculous. In fact, we use it so much that it is a problem. Firstly, we have to pay for it in the form of infrastructure and generation, which is enough of an expense to make everyone's teeth clench on a regular basis. Secondly, power generation is a messy business, creating so much pollution that the climate is being thrown out of whack.

We can't back down on power usage. What we really need to do is to increase the amount of power that we use, to allow others to have access to it so that they can have a better standard of living, and so that we can increase productivity, so that there are plenty of jobs and people can pay for the use of power, in addition to buying TVs, fridges, stoves, washing machines, freezers and gimmicky stuff like bread machines that use power but don't work all that well, unless you need bricks to build a swimming pool.

The important question is where do we get that power?

If you are a person who believes that immediate adoption of renewables will save us all, and we need to get them on our houses, like yesterday, stop reading this now and go and read something else. I care for your stress levels. It's your illusions that I am going to put an end to.

There are three sources of energy: fossil fuels, nuclear power and renewables.

Of these three sources, renewables are the best. It would be great to have renewables, unfortunately the sun only shines in the day, the wind doesn't blow all the time and manufacturing and disposal of batteries is an environmental problem as well. Using renewable energy as a blanket solution is not a good one, unless everyone turns off the telly and fridge and goes back to hand-washing.

Phased renewables, for very rich environmentalists who can afford the installation and ignore the needs of the poor, is one way to go, but that doesn't satisfy all our power needs and it pushes manufacturing costs, way, way up there.

That leaves two economic sources of power: nuclear and fossil fuels. "Ladies and gentlemen, I have two cups on this table, both of which contain poison. Step right up and choose from which one you are going to drink."

Nuclear power makes a great villain. It remains poisonous for a long time, causes cancer and mutations and all of that. In fact, nuclear power is seen as so evil, that we would happily live with coal and petroleum products and carry on spewing something like 2,5 million metric tonnes into the atmosphere every day.

Given that renewables are not an adequate solution, those people who have jumped on the anti-nuclear bandwagon have, whether they like it or not, made a clear choice in favour of climate change and its effects. "Did I mention that the cup on the right is a slow acting poison? Step right up!"

The real point of my riff is to bring across the idea that a lot of people are condemning the future by insisting that inadequate renewables are the only immediate solution, and by refusing to work constructively towards solutions for nuclear safety and disposal, the problem of climate change is becoming far, far worse.

If your temperature is at boiling point right now, cool off with this idea: a growing number of leading environmentalists share this view. There is nothing controversial about it, if the problems cause you to ask for solutions.

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