Herman Daly is a hero of mine. He used to be a World Bank economist before he co-founded the ecological economics discipline, which provides an alternative way of thinking about how we produce the economic goods we are addicted to.
One of our major addictions is energy consumption. Daly and others have developed five critical rules to follow to achieve the goal of environmental sustainability. Two rules are particularly relevant to that wonderful hot shower you enjoyed this morning.
First of all we must preserve natural resources, which are critical to life on planet earth. Critical resources include old growth forests, the ozone layer and the climate regulating capacity provided by some technical process which I dont begin to understand. The second rule of environmental sustainability relevant to the energy debate is that we shouldnt discharge waste products at a level greater than the earths capacity to assimilate that waste. Im sure the earth was not designed to be a dump for our industrial waste, but we sure behave like it is!
Now the current debate regarding energy options in Australia has been misrepresented as a two horse race between coal and nuclear. Now we know when we burn coal to create electricity the process discharges a lot of carbon into the atmosphere, which threatens to change global climatic conditions. Coal fails environmental sustainability rule one that is, it fails to preserve the critical natural function of climate regulation.
So proponents of nuclear energy have seized on the global warming debate and are telling us they have a carbon free alternative. Well this is not true. To build and maintain a nuclear power station results in major levels of carbon emission. Much worse is nuclear power generation produces the most toxic waste known to humankind. So nuclear energy fails environmental sustainability rule two, as the earth requires many thousands of years to assimilate nuclear waste.
Now we could discuss the ethics of leaving dangerous nuclear waste for future generations to deal with. If politicians really believe the nuclear spin that power stations and waste storage are operationally safe they can build a power station and store radioactive waste somewhere in downtown Canberra! But of course they wont. They know nuclear is not that safe. Accidents happen, and nuclear accidents are global accidents as radioactive emissions dont stop at national borders.
Of course there are alternatives. Why doesnt every roof in Australia have solar panels and windmills mounted on them? Australia has significant geothermal energy potential which creates very low emissions and is capable of providing energy for the entire country. However, there is a lead time in bringing these new technologies on line.
Sustainable energy management also requires us to reduce our energy consumption. Waste is both unnecessary and unethical. We gorge ourselves on a one-off supply of fossil fuel energy reserves (coal, gas, oil) in a crazed consumption binge which limits the choices for future generations.
There is no choice between coal and nuclear energy. Both forms of energy generation fail the critical environmental tests and are unsustainable. Living ethically is about implementing sustainable solutions today.
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