Vision for a sustainable future

Bruno Walther sent the following letter to the Taipei Times last week. The Taipei Times published a second letter that he also sent last week. He has given me permission to post the first letter here.

Ever since the nuclear catastrophe began in Japan, I was just waiting for somebody to step forward with the argument ‘but given all the environmental problems caused by fossil fuels, isn’t nuclear energy the lesser of two evils?” I didn’t have to wait long, as the Taipei Times’ editorial repeated this tired and old propaganda of the nuclear energy industry (“The irrational fear of invisible agents,” Mar. 22, page 8). While overall, nuclear energy may be the lesser of two evils, it is still an evil, capable of disseminating radiation and thereby increasing cancer rates considerably in affected populations. Worse, it leaves us with thousands of tons of the most toxic and dangerous waste for hundreds of thousands of years. Who in his or her right mind would place such a burden of responsibility on future generations who have no benefit from our wasteful ways?

However, what I most despise is the insinuation that renewable energies cannot in the foreseeable future provide for our global energy needs. This argument is repeated endlessly by both the oil and nuclear industry, not because it is true, but because, in the words of the world-renowned climate scientist Stephen Schneider, they use “every political argument, including lying and deceit and threats of how our economy will collapse, any scare they can use to try to prevent a loss of market share. So in order to make them rich, they are perfectly willing to take the risk for the rest of the planet about its long-term sustainability.”

So how do we achieve long-term sustainability? Of course through the massive investment into truly renewable and sustainable energy sources. For example, the report ‘Energy Saving Measures for Taiwan’s Built Environment’ details how already available technologies and strategies can improve the energy efficiency of existing and new buildings in Taiwan by at least 30 percent (“Nature has answers to problems,” Dec. 13, 2009, page 8). So why did we not use all the money that was wasted on the fourth nuclear power plant in Taiwan to make Taiwan’s buildings more energy-efficient, thereby more than negating the need for another nuclear power plant? Even though that would be the reasonable and sustainable thing to do, it would not make Taipower any money, that’s why.

In the excellent movie “The 11th Hour”, an ex-CIA director makes the argument that, because there was the political will, it took the United States less than four years to mobilize its army during World War II, completely revamp its industry from producing cars to tanks, defeat Germany and Japan, and demobilize again. I like to show my students a diagram which shows that we only need to capture less than one thousands of all the solar energy reaching the earth to provide for all of our energy needs. We do not have a shortage of renewable energy, but a shortage of political will, because nobody in his right mind can tell me that we could not, if we really wanted to, revamp the entire world economy in one to two decades to run on solar, geothermal and tidal energy, the three truly long-term sustainable energy sources (mind you, nuclear is not sustainable as nuclear fuel will be depleted in a few decades).

Do we not have the ingenuity and willpower to capture that one thousand of solar energy so that all future generations can enjoy a liveable planet? It might cost a little more, but what is the alternative? A planet polluted for centuries by fossil fuel waste and for millennia by nuclear waste, with temperatures soaring, oceans acidifying and one environmental and energy crisis chasing the next? Truly renewable energies are the only solution that any responsible parent would wish for his or her child.

Denmark, a country with very little sunshine, is now well on its way to provide 20% of its electricity with renewable energy. I am sure once Denmark reaches 50% in the next decade or so, we will still hear the argument that renewable energy is “certainly not the solution” from the polluting energies lobby. The only reason we are not embracing this future spearheaded by countries like Denmark is because we have been dumbed down by the relentless propaganda of the polluting energies lobby that has much more money and media at its disposal to protect its market share than those who are advocating for a truly sustainable world.

Bruno Walther is a Research Fellow at the Endemic Species Research Institute (TESRI) and a Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Science at Taipei Medical University.