It’s becoming harder and harder for mainstream conservatives to deny the dramatic changes in global climate. Whether it’s record flooding coinciding with record drought, street fights in India over dwindling fresh water resources, or orcas appearing in the arctic, the climate is changing in dramatic ways. If we’re going to combat climate change seriously, we need to dramatically reevaluate how we see energy production.
In my mind, there are four characteristics which must determine how we approach energy production in the future. These are Safety, Efficiency, Economy, and Sustainability (SEES). Any new forms of energy must be able to out compete fossil fuels in price per kilowatt. New energy technologies must also use their resources efficiently and safely, and, perhaps most importantly, new energy sources must be (or virtually be) in limitless supply.
Fossil fuels fail to meet three out of the four of these. They are not safe , they are not efficient, and they are certainly not sustainable. But as it stands right now, fossils are out-competing alternative energy technologies. In the new annual report from the Energy Information Administration, we can see that fossils are far cheaper to produce than any other form of energy production currently on the market and are likely to remain that way. This is all the more shocking when you consider that the gas in your car was dug up half a world away, shipped across the planet, refined, and then distributed to your local Circle K. Milk is almost twice as expensive as gasoline even though the process for getting milk to the consumer is far less intensive.
Solar and wind fare better than fossils when judged on SEES, but even they fail to meet all four qualifications. Without massive subsidy, solar and wind are just too expensive, and the EIA report doesn’t even factor in the upfront cost of purchasing solar panels, or the installation, or the walls of batteries that are needed to maintain quality of life. This is all beside the fact that the manufacture of photovoltaic cells is highly toxic.
Only nuclear satisfies the SEES. Now, wait. Yes. I am aware of Fukushima and Chernobyl. And, yes. I get it. Nuclear is only 0.7% efficient in getting the energy out of the inputs. Yes. I am aware that according the EIA report, nuclear is almost 3 times as expensive to produce as fossils. And yes, I know. Uranium is not in limitless (or virtually limitless) supply. But I’m not talking about the way in which we do nuclear right now, I’m talking about the way we’re going to do nuclear in the future. What I’m talking about is the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR).
What’s needed in the energy market is innovation and invention. If we can manage to cut through the politics of these issues, we can reduce energy regulation, reduce market manipulation through subsidies and credits, and we can begin, really begin, to take this problem seriously.
Next up: Let’s Talk About the LFTR.