As I may have mentioned, I have been working on some writing about nuclear power. It started out as a post, and then it turned into a series of posts, but I think it is turning into an e-book in the end, because it is just too large. What I set out to write was a primer for people who were engaging in the nuclear power debate, questions to ask, values to consider. I tried to use my scientific background to be “objective”. Hah. The further I dug, and the more I found out, the worse an idea I found it to be. It turns out (for very well-substantiated reasons) to be a precise recipe for replicating the situation we are now in, 75 years down the road, only worse, because nuclear toxic waste is much, much more toxic than fossil fuel toxic waste. Since I set out with the premise, “I think that the technologies exist to make nuclear power safe, but there are other questions to be addressed, and I will document them,” this is a bleak conclusion, indeed.
If you want a whole stack of primary research documents to work along with me, I can recommend Mark Jacobson’s extensive list of papers. They are not all about nuclear, but a large fraction of them have considered the implications of a range of different energy options. For a weighty and comprehensive summary, you may want his 26 page “Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security.” (Link to page on which the PDF and supplemental material, including his 9-page Scientific American article (pdf), can be obtained.)
If you would rather wait a few weeks, I should have something that summarizes only the nuclear components by the end of May.
In the meantime, I would like to propose a non-technological solution to much of our energy crisis: slowing down. This is not merely radical in our culture; it is heretical. The entire economy is built upon growth, and, by extension, speeding up. We must earn more, spend more, go faster, because we could be overtaken by the competition at any time. If you aren’t available to answer your email at 10 at night, you just might be replaced by somebody who is. You need that Blackberry, cell phone, iPad, daytimer, second car, bigger house, nicer clothes, more money than you made last year because if you don’t keep going forward, further, faster, you will be left behind. And we know what happens to the left behind; they become poor, and left out, and die friendless and alone under a bridge… come up gasping for air after that breathless rush from success to homelessness, and vow to work more, and harder, and longer, and anything just to keep from falling behind!
Or take a deep breath and pause. Maybe something else is possible. Maybe, just maybe, this isn’t the only story. Maybe, just maybe, there are other possibilities. Maybe there are other people, making different choices, making something other than speed their highest calling. Maybe. Look around.
Maybe somebody builds a bicycle car, and maybe some people use it to commute to work. Maybe people have purchased smaller houses, scaled back intentionally, moved to the country, or the suburbs, or the city, and started growing food. Maybe some people are choosing to slow down. Maybe you could too.
And even, maybe, if a bunch of us did it together, it would be safe to drive our bicycle cars on the roads, because the roads would slow down, people would drive less, and we would use less energy. Maybe we wouldn’t need as many gadgets to manage our time, because we would have more time in which to manage. Maybe we could stop over-programming our children because we wouldn’t be afraid that they would be left behind before they even got out of elementary school. And maybe, if a lot of us slowed down all together, instead of races (to the top, or the bottom) we could have lives.