Rachel's Democracy & Health News #921, August 23, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: A new report offers a blueprint for a U.S. energy system with no carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and no nuclear power plants, achievable within 35 to 60 years. The blueprint provides a solid platform for climate justice activism. Has your favorite Presidential candidate taken a position on this report yet?]

By Peter Montague

A path-breaking new report concludes that the U.S. could develop a sustainable energy policy -- one that is both carbon-free and nuclear- free -- in 60 years or less.

The book-length study by Arjun Makhijani of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) in Takoma Park, Maryland offers a detailed plan for powering the nation's economy with zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and no nuclear power plants. The study resulted from a joint project of IEER and the Nuclear Policy Research Institute.

Such an energy policy would solve four pressing problems:

1. Global climate disruption: carbon dioxide emissions from combustion of fossil fuels are the main human contribution to climate disruption, which is threatening the global economy, human societies, and many of the ecosystems upon which humans depend;

2. Disruption of marine food webs by ocean acidification, which is occurring now as atmospheric carbon dioxide is absorbed into the oceans;

3. Insecurity of oil supply. Increases in global oil consumption, and conflicts in oil-producing regions, are making oil prices volatile and supplies insecure;

4. Nuclear proliferation: As we know from the experience of India, North Korea, and Pakistan, among others, the proliferation of nuclear weapons is being enabled by the spread of nuclear power plants, which are being promoted as a solution for carbon dioxide emissions.

The new IEER report, which will be published by RDR Books in the fall (and on the web sooner than that), is available now in summary, and as a special issue of IEER's newsletter, Science for Democratic Action.

It can provide a blueprint and an agenda for climate justice activists and for state and local officials.

The study offers seven main findings:

1. A goal of zero carbon dioxide emissions is necessary to minimize harm related to climate change.

2. A hard cap on carbon dioxide emissions -- that is, a fixed emissions limit that declines year by year until it reaches zero some before the year 2060 -- would provide large carbon emitters a flexible way to phase out CO2. However, current "carbon trading" programs would undermine and defeat the hard cap, and so would have to be abandoned. See related carbon trading story in Rachel's News #888.

3. A reliable U.S. electricity sector can be achieved without CO2 emissions and without nuclear power.

4. The use of nuclear power entails risks of nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and serious accidents. It exacerbates the problem of nuclear waste and perpetuates vulnerabilities in the nation's energy system that can be avoided.

5. The use of available highly-efficient energy technologies, and building designs could greatly ease the transition to a carbon-free, nuclear-free energy system. IEER calculates that a two percent annual increase in efficiency per unit of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) could produce a one percent decline in energy use per year while providing three percent annual growth in GDP. "This is well within the capacity of available technological performance," the report concludes.

6. Biofuels, broadly defined, could be an important part of the solution, or could actually make the problem worse -- depending on the choices that we make. The report points to ethanol from corn, and biodiesel from palm oil as two examples of damaging biofuels. On the other hand, the report says microalgae grown in a high-CO2 environment can provide substantial energy benefits with minimal environmental harm, delivering 5,000 to 10,000 gallons of liquid fuels per acre of land per year.

7. Much of the reduction in CO2 emissions can be done without increased cost (for example, efficient lighting and refrigeration). The remainder of the CO2 reduction would likely cost $10 to $30 per metric tonne of CO2. (A metric tonne is 1000 kilograms or 2200 pounds).

8. The transition to a zero-CO2 system can be made in a manner compatible with local economic development in areas currently producing fossil fuels.

If you believe, as we do, that the four problems described at beginning of this article -- climate chaos, ocean acidification, insecurity of oil supply, and proliferation of nuclear weapons -- are extremely serious and need to be resolved without delay, then you will want to study this new report from IEER carefully. The full report will soon be available on the IEER web site.

With the publication of this new report, we all now have a firm basis for demanding a carbon-free nuclear-free energy system for the U.S.

Has your favorite Presidential candidate taken a position on this report yet?