Why has nuclear power not scaled as a clean energy source for climate change?

My friend Max recently asked why nuclear power, which seemed to him to be the obvious scalable answer as a clean energy source to fight climate change, had not taken off. Here’s the email I wrote him:

“Hey Max,

It was great catching up today! Just wanted to share what I know about what’s blocking nuclear energy as a climate solution…

My main source is Jim Hansen in http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2019/20191211_Fire.pdf, with _Oil, Power and War_ as an interesting history of nuclear in the late 20th century. I found Hansen’s writing very insightful and recommend reading it in full but I recognize it is quite long, so I’ve summarized the major points below with quoted passages if you’re interested. Below that is a passage of interesting history of the expansion of nuclear in the late 20th century.


1. Many environmentalists oppose nuclear power: “[W]hen I was hosted by other environmental groups, I heard comments that put coal and nuclear in the same category, both highly undesirable. Some environmentalists advocated lawsuits against nuclear power plants, with the aim to drag out construction times, to make nuclear power more expensive… Amory Lovins advises governments worldwide (Fig. 3) and is the most effective energy adviser in the world. Indeed, Amory was energy adviser to Bill Clinton, when Clinton was Governor of Arkansas. After Clinton was elected President, in his first State of the Union address in early 1993, he announced ‘We are eliminating programs that are no longer needed, such as nuclear power research and development.’ This was consistent with Lovins’ opinion… When Gore’s next book came out, the section on nuclear power looked as though it could have been written by Amory Lovins.” Another quote: “Antipathy of philanthropy toward nuclear power is understandable. Many of the principals [of philanthropic organizations] came of age in the 1970s, a time of activism against nuclear power. A view of 200,000 people cheering at an anti-nuclear rally in New York City captures the spirit of the activism that succeeded earlier protests against the Viet Nam war. Nukes were government’s latest misdeed… Environmental organizations such as National Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, World Wildlife Fund, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace are almost uniformly and deeply anti-nuclear, so it is no wonder that philanthropy follows their lead… [Steve Kirsch] reported that he was given three reasons why NRDC could not change its position on nuclear power. Numbers 1 and 2 were such-and-such. Number 3: NRDC would lose a significant fraction of their major donors…  It seemed to me that [Obama] listened to Al Gore and Democrats in Congress, including John Kerry. They were advocates of cap-and-trade, heavy subsidies of renewables, RPSs, and neglect of nuclear power, if not outright hostility to it. But where did they get advice? I already mentioned the guru Amory Lovins. However, I believe that Big Green, the large environmental organizations, were even more influential. Al Gore went to Kyoto in 1997 carrying the cap-and-trade policy advocated by Environmental Defense. Although well-designed for national sulfur emission trading among U.S. utilities, cap-and-trade is cumbersome and ineffectual for trading among 200 nations. NRDC had a major role in constructing the President’s Clean Power Plan. The New York Times had a photo of NRDC lawyers sitting around a table making the plans… The problem is at the top of these [environmental] organizations, in my opinion. Their leadership seems unable to take a global view.”

2. Maybe because of this, there has been loss of government and other support for nuclear power: “Rapid replacement of old technology imposes costs. Strong government support was needed to drive down renewable costs rapidly. In contrast, cost of nuclear power rose, as government support of nuclear RD&D dropped, nuclear power was excluded from RPSs and excluded as a Clean Development Mechanism in the Kyoto Protocol, and nuclear power was successfully targeted by the Big Green environmental groups that emerged in the ‘boomer’ generation…” **Hansen advocates for “high priority RD&D20 for advanced [4th] generation nuclear power.”**

3: Maybe because of environmental opposition, there is regulatory opposition to nukes, which I believe is key because my impression is that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gives the go-ahead for nuclear power plants: “the Head of [Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which I believe gives the go-ahead for new nuclear capacity] was a political appointee and Democratic presidents appointed NRC Heads who were more-or-less anti-nuclear. Anti-nukes heading NRC? What a strange situation, if true!… According to George Stanford, NRC Chairs appointed by Democrats tended to be subtly antinuclear. Over time, approval of a new nuclear power plant got longer and more expensive. This was consistent with the aim of many environmentalists, expressed to me, that it was best to stop construction of new nuclear power plants and phase out existing ones. However, note that the NRC deserves credit for safe operation of all U.S. nuclear power plants for over 50 years. There was nothing subtle about Jaczko. He delayed the startup of a new nuclear plant by sitting on the paperwork for several months, thus increasing costs and time-to-build record. The NRC Inspector General accused Jaczko of “strategically” withholding information from his colleagues in an effort to keep plans for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository from advancing. When the Fukushima accident occurred, Jaczko went into overdrive, advising the Japanese government to evacuate a huge area. This increased the accident’s cost and more than 1000 people died, essentially because of heartbreak and stress from abandoning their homes. No people died from radiation released at Fukushima, but many will die because of reactions to the accident. Worldwide shuttering of plans to use nuclear power increases fossil fuel pollution.”

4. On cost reduction and further technological developments for nuclear to succeed: “The primary challenge for future nuclear power is to drive down the cost, and there are good reasons to believe that it can be competitive with all other energy sources. In its early days the cost of nuclear power did decline with learning as expected (Fig. 16). The costs moved in the opposite direction as the power plants became larger, took longer to build, and encountered strong opposition from environmentalists. Examination suggests that the industry and government share in the blame for rising costs, but there is limited value in that debate. Nuclear fuel is inexpensive, about $6 per MWe-hr including all costs (natural uranium, enrichment, fabrication, Nuclear Waste Fund fee), which translates to $0.56 per MMBtu. Today we consider gas at $6 per MMBtu to be very cheap. Gas could not compete with nuclear, if we built and operated nuclear plants at the same cost as fossil plants. Construction and operating costs of nuclear plants are several times greater than equivalently complex non-nuclear facilities. There are no physics that require nuclear plant construction and operation to be more expensive than fossil plants, which is the reason to support innovation. Standardized modular reactors produced in a factory have potential for great cost reduction… Our workshop paper39 published in Science shows that nuclear power has been the fastest way to build carbon-free power. With modular mass-manufacturing, future construction could be even faster, especially if there is technical cooperation between our nations. In the four years since our workshop, the rate of addition of renewable energies has increased markedly in many countries, but five of the six fastest cases of power addition are still those for nuclear power. Facts matter. The argument of renewable advocates that nuclear construction is slow compared to renewables is false. Renewables and nuclear power are both needed. The most recent UN deep decarbonization scenarios all include major contributions from both renewables and nuclear power. They see no prospect of rapidly phasing down emissions without both energy sources. Modern nuclear power did not obtain R&D support equivalent to the RPSs and subsidies that renewables enjoyed, yet much progress has been made. Large reduction of cost and construction time likely requires mass manufacture, analogous to ship and aircraft construction, which lends itself to product-type licensing. Passive safety features allow reactor shutdown and cooling without external power or operator intervention. Innovative designs use fuel more efficiently and produce less nuclear waste, directly supply heat for industrial processes, can reduce or eliminate cooling-water requirements, and can be ordered in a range of scales. Deep decarbonization needed in China and India by midcentury can be accelerated by these innovative developments. Recent progress in the U.S. has been entrepreneurially driven, including small modular light-water, molten salt, gas-cooled and liquid-metal-cooled reactors. China has made major investments in several nuclear innovation projects.”

5. Max, your questions on training people in nuclear engineering (what others were there?) also seem very salient.

_Oil, Power and War_:

“Oil, by far the main overall energy source in 1973, was only the second source of electricity: On a global level, oil-fired electrical plants provided a little less current than coal did, but more than hydroelectric dams.17 The oil crisis facilitated the gradual emergence of natural gas and gave a boost to coal. But it also marked the rapid emergence of civilian nuclear power. Starting in the late 1940s, the development of the first uranium nuclear reactors remained an ancillary phenomenon, in large part entwined with efforts to develop atomic weapons… With Herculean industrial efforts, the energy generated in the world thanks to the atom quadrupled between 1973 and 1980, to reach the equivalent of 160 million tons of oil; this represented a modest 5 percent of crude oil consumption in the same year.18 In January 1975, in a State of the Union speech, President Gerald Ford put forth a grandiose plan to construct two hundred nuclear power plants over the following ten years. A little more than sixty were eventually built, making the United States by far the world’s leading producer of nuclear energy. Among the countries most dependent on Arab oil, France and Japan made the most radical choice in favor of the atom. In 1973, in each of these countries, fuel oil was the main energy source feeding the electric power plants’ turbines.19… In spite of the emergence of civilian nuclear power, the expansion of natural gas and the resurgence of coal, oil was not ousted.”


Arguments for carbon fee-and-dividend over cap-and-trade

From climate scientist Jim Hansen’s _Storms of our Grandchildren_:

“Let’s discuss cap-and-trade explicitly first. Then I will provide a bottom-line proof that it cannot work. Because I have already made up my mind about the uselessness of cap-and-trade, my commentary may be slanted, but you have been warned, so you should be able to make up your own mind.
In cap-and-trade, the amount of a fossil fuel for sale is supposedly “capped.” A nominal cap is defined by selling a limited number of certificates that allow a business or speculator to buy the fuel. So the fuel costs more because you must pay for the certificate and the fuel. Congress thinks this will reduce the amount of fuel you buy—which may be true, because it will cost you more. Congress likes cap-and-trade because it thinks the public will not figure out that a cap is a tax.
How does the “trade” part factor in? Well, you don’t have to use the certificate; you can trade it or sell it to somebody else. There will be markets for these certificates on Wall Street and such places. And markets for derivatives. The biggest player is expected to be Goldman Sachs. Thousands of people will be employed in this trading business—the big boys, not guys working for five dollars an hour. Are you wondering who will provide their income? Three guesses and the first two don’t count. Yes, it’s you—sorry about that. Their profits are also added to the fuel price.
What is the advantage of cap-and-trade over fee-and-dividend, with the fee distributed to the public in equal shares? There is an advantage to cap-and-trade only for energy companies with strong lobbyists and for Congress, which would get to dole out the money collected in certificate selling, or just give away some certificates to special interests. Don’t hurry to write a letter to your congressional representative asking for a certificate to pollute—that’s not how things work in Washington. Your paragraph requesting a certificate is not likely to be included in the Waxman-Markey bill, even though at last count 1,400 pages had been added. Again, think lobbyists. Think revolving doors. People in alligator shoes write the paragraphs that actually get added. If you think I am kidding, ask yourself this: Do you believe that your representatives in Congress can write 1,400 pages themselves? It is still a free country, so you can hire your own lobbyist, but the price is kind of high. A coal company can afford someone like Dick Gephardt—can you?
Okay, I will try to be more specific about why cap-and-trade will be necessarily ineffectual. Most of these arguments are relevant to other nations as well as the United States.
First, Congress is pretending that the cap is not a tax, so it must try to keep the cap’s impact on fuel costs small. Therefore, the impact of cap-and-trade on people’s spending decisions will be small, so necessarily it will have little effect on carbon emissions. Of course that defeats the whole purpose, which is to drive out fossil fuels by raising their price, replacing them with efficiency and carbon-free energy.
The impact of cap-and-trade is made even smaller by the fact that the cap is usually not across the board at the mine. In the fee-and-dividend system, a single number, dollars per ton of carbon dioxide, is applied at the mine or port of entry. No exceptions, no freebies for anyone, all fossil fuels covered for everybody. In cap-and-trade, things are usually done in a more complicated way, which allows lobbyists and special interests to get their fingers in the pie. If the cap is not applied across the board, covering everything equally, any sector not covered will benefit from reduced fuel demand, and thus reduced fuel price. Sectors not covered then increase their fuel use.
In contrast, the fee-and-dividend approach puts a rising and substantial price on carbon. I believe that the public, if honestly informed, will accept a rise in the carbon fee rate because their monthly dividend will increase correspondingly.
Second, the cap-and-trade target level for emissions (defined by the number of permits) sets a floor on emissions. Emissions cannot go lower than this floor, because the price of permits on the market would crash, bringing down fossil fuel prices and again making it more economical for profit-maximizing businesses to burn fossil fuels than to employ energy-efficiency measures and renewable-energy technology. It would be akin to a drug dealer luring back former customers by offering free cash along with a free fix.
With fee-and-dividend, in contrast, we will reach a series of points at which various carbon-free energies and carbon-saving technologies are cheaper than fossil fuels plus their fee. As time goes on, fossil fuel use will collapse, remaining coal supplies will be left in the ground, and we will have arrived at a clean energy future. And that is our objective.
A perverse effect of the cap-and-trade floor is that altruistic actions become meaningless. Say that you are concerned about your grandchildren, so you decide to buy a high-efficiency little car. That will reduce your emissions but not the country’s or the world’s; instead it will just allow somebody else to drive a bigger SUV. Emissions will be set by the cap, not by your actions.
In contrast, the fee-and-dividend approach has no floor, so every action you take to reduce emissions helps. Indeed, your actions may also spur your neighbor to do the same. That snowballing (amplifying feedback) effect is possible with fee-and-dividend, but not with cap-and-trade.
Third, offsets cause actual emission reductions to be less than targets, because emissions covered by an offset do not count as emissions. They don’t count as emissions to the politicians, but they sure count to the planet! For example, actual reductions under the Waxman-Markey bill have been estimated to be less than half of the target, because of offsets.
Fourth, Wall Street trading of emission permits and their derivatives in the anticipated multitrillion-dollar carbon market, along with the demonstrated volatility of carbon markets, creates the danger of Wall Street failures and taxpayer-funded bailouts. In the best case, if market failures are avoided, there is the added cost of the Wall Street trading operation and the profits of insider trading. To believe that there will be no insider profits is to believe that government overseers are more clever than all the people on Wall Street and that there is the added cost of the Wall Street trading operation and the profits of insider trading. To believe that there will be no insider profits is to believe that government overseers are more clever than all the people on Wall Street and that there is no revolving door between Wall Street and Washington. Where will Wall Street profits come from? They too will come from John Q. Public via higher energy prices.
In contrast, a simple flat fee at the mine or well, with simple long division to determine the size of the monthly dividend to all legal residents, provides no role for Wall Street. Could that be the main reason that Washington so adamantly prefers cap-and-trade?
Fee-and-dividend is revenue neutral to the public, on average. Cap-and-trade is not, because we, the public, provide the profits to Wall Street and any special interests that have managed to get written into the legislation. Of course Congress will say, “We will keep the cost very low, so you will hardly notice it.” The problem is, if it’s too small for you to notice, then it is not having an effect. But maybe Congress doesn’t really care about your grandchildren.
Hold on! Or so you must be thinking. If cap-and-trade is so bad, why do environmental organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Resources Defense Council support it? And what about Waxman and Markey, two of the strongest supporters of the environment among all members of the House of Representatives?
“I don’t doubt the motives of these people and organizations, but they have been around Washington a long time. They think they can handle this problem the way they always have, by wheeling and dealing. Environmental organizations “help” Congress in the legislative process, just as the coal and oil lobbyists do. So there are lots of “good” items in the 1,400 pages of the Waxman-Markey bill, such as support for specific renewable energies. There may be more good items than bad ones—but unfortunately the net result is ineffectual change. Indeed, the bill throws money to the polluters, propping up the coal industry with tens of billions of taxpayer dollars and locking in coal emissions for decades at great expense.
Yet these organizations say, “It is a start. We will get better legislation in the future.” It would surely require continued efforts for many decades, but we do not have many decades to straighten out the mess.
The beauty of the fee-and-dividend approach is that the carbon fee helps any carbon-free energy source, but it does not specify these sources; it lets the consumer choose. It does not cost the government anything. Whether it costs “citizens, and how much, depends on how well they reduce their carbon footprint.
A quantitative comparison of fee-and-dividend and cap-and-trade has been made by economist Charles Komanoff (www.komanoff.net/fossil/CTC_Carbon_Tax_Model.xls). If the carbon fee increases by $12.50 per ton per year, Komanoff estimates that U.S. carbon emissions in 2020 would be 28 percent lower than today. And that is without the snowballing (amplifying feedback) effect I mentioned above. By that time the fee would add just over a dollar to the price of a gallon of gasoline, but the reduction in fossil fuel use would tend to reduce the price of raw crude. The 28 percent emissions reduction compares with the Waxman-Markey bill goal of 17 percent—which is, however, fictitious because of offsets. This approach, small annual increases of the carbon fee (ten to fifteen dollars per ton per year), is essentially the bill proposed by Congressman John B. Larson, a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Except Larson proposes using the money from the fee to reduce payroll taxes, rather than to pay a dividend to legal residents. The Democratic leadership and President Obama, so far, have chosen to ignore Congressman Larson.
A final comment on cap-and-trade versus fee-and-dividend. Say an exogenous development occurs, for example, someone invents an inexpensive solar cell or an algae biofuel that works wonders. Any such invention will add to the 28 percent emissions reduction in the fee-and-dividend approach. But the 17 percent reduction under cap-and-trade will be unaffected, because the cap is a floor. Permit prices would fall, so energy prices would fall, but emission reductions would not go below the floor. Cap-and-trade is not a smart approach.
But, you may ask, was it not proven with the acid rain problem that cap-and-trade did a wonderful job of reducing emissions at “low cost? No, sorry, that is a myth—and worse. In fact, examination of the story about acid rain and power plant emissions shows the dangers in both horse-trading with polluters and the cap-and-trade floor.
Here is essentially how the acid rain “solution” worked. Acid rain was caused mainly by sulfur in coal burned at power plants. A cap was placed on sulfur emissions, and power plants had to buy permits to emit sulfur. Initially the permit price was high, so many utilities decided to stop burning high-sulfur coal and to replace it with low-sulfur coal from Wyoming. From 1990 to today, sulfur emissions have been cut in half. A smaller part of the reduction was from the addition of sulfur scrubbers to some power plants that could install them for less than the price of the sulfur permits, but the main solution was use of low-sulfur coal. Now what the dickens does that prove?
It proves that in a case where there are a finite number of point sources, and there are simple ways to reduce the emissions, and you are satisfied to just reduce the emissions by some specified fraction, then emission permits make sense. The utilities that were closest to the Wyoming coal or that needed to install scrubbers for other reasons could reduce their emissions, and so overall the cost of achieving the specified reduction of sulfur emissions was minimized. But the floor of this cap-and-trade approach prevented further reductions. Analyses have shown that the economic benefits of further reductions would have exceeded costs by a factor of twenty-five. So, in some sense, the acid rain cap-and-trade solution was an abject failure.
It is worse than that. The horse-trading that made coal companies and utilities willing to allow this cap-and-trade solution did enormous long-term damage. (What do I mean by “coal companies and utilities willing to allow”? That is the way it works in Washington. Special interests have so much power, or Congress chooses to give them so much sway, that their assent is needed.) The horse-trading was done in 1970. Senator Edmund Muskie, one of the best friends that the environment has ever had, felt it was necessary to compromise with the coal companies and utilities when the 1970 Clean Air Act was defined. So he allowed old coal-fired power plants to be “grandfathered”: they would be allowed to continue to pollute, because they would soon be retired anyhow, or so the utilities said. Like fun they would. Those old plants became cash cows once they were off the pollution hook—the business community will never let them die. Thousands of environmentalists have been fighting those plants and trying to adjust clean air regulations ever since. Yet today, in 2009, there are still 145 operating coal-fired power plants in the United States that were constructed before 1950. Two thirds of the coal fleet was constructed before the Clean Air Act of 1970 was passed.
Those people, including the leaders of our nation, who tell you that the acid rain experience shows that cap-and-trade will work for the climate problem do not know what they are talking about. The experience with coal-fired power plants does contain important lessons, though.
First, it shows that the path we start on is all-important. People who say that cap-and-trade is a good start and we will move on from there are not looking at reality. Four decades later we are still paying for an early misstep with coal-fired plants.
Second, it shows that we need a simple, across-the-board solution that covers all emissions. A fee or tax must be applied at the source. If Congress insists that it must help somebody who will be hurt by the carbon fee, such as coal miners, fine—Congress can provide for job retraining or some other compensation. But the fee on fossil fuel carbon must be uniform at the source, with no exceptions.
Finally, let me address the ultimate defense that is used for cap-and-trade: “The train has left the station. It is too late to change. President Obama has decided. The world has decided. It must be cap-and-trade, because an approach such as you are talking about would delay things too much.” That latter claim turns truth on its head, calling black “white” and white “black.” The truth is shown by empirical evidence. In February 2008, British Columbia decided to adopt a carbon tax with an equal reduction of payroll taxes. Five months later it was in place and working. This year there was an election in British Columbia in which the opposition party campaigned hard against the carbon tax. They lost. The public liked the carbon tax with a payroll tax reduction. Now both parties support it. In contrast, it took a decade to negotiate the cap-and-trade Kyoto Protocol, and many countries had to be individually bribed with concessions. The result: slow implementation and an ineffectual reduction of emissions. The Waxman-Markey bill is following a similar path…
Okay, at long last, we can address the fundamental problem. What is the backbone and framework for a solution to human-caused climate change?
The backbone must be a rising fee (tax) on carbon-based fuels, uniform across the board. No exceptions. The money must be returned to the public in a way that is direct, so they realize and trust that (averaged over the public) the money is being returned in full. Otherwise the rate will never be high enough to do the job. Returning the money to the public is the hard part in the United States. Congress prefers to keep the money for itself and divvy it out to special interests.
The framework concerns how to make an across-the-board fee on fossil fuel carbon work on a global basis, in a way that is fair, because unless there is a universal carbon fee, it will be ineffective. The backbone, I will argue, makes it relatively simple to define international arrangements—I will explain what I mean by “relatively simple” in a moment. The backbone also makes it practical to have a framework that deals with the problem of fairness between those who have caused the problem, those who are causing the problem, and those who are primarily the victims of others. The framework can also help deal with the fundamental problems of population and poverty.
Contrary to the assertion by proponents of a Kyoto-style cap-and-trade agreement, cap-and-trade is not the fastest way to an international agreement. That assertion is another case of calling black “white,” apparently under the assumption that the listener will accept it without thinking. A cap-and-trade agreement will be just as hard to achieve as was the Kyoto Protocol. Indeed, why should China, India, and the rest of the developing world accept a cap when their per-capita emissions are an order of magnitude less than America’s or Europe’s? Leaders of developing countries are making that argument more and more vocally. Even if differences are papered over to achieve a cap-and-trade agreement at upcoming international talks, the agreement is guaranteed to be ineffectual. So eventually (quickly, I hope!) it must be replaced with a more meaningful approach. Let’s define one.
The key requirement is that the United States and China agree to apply across-the-board fees to carbon-based fuels. Why would China do that? Lots of reasons. China is developing rapidly and it does not want to be saddled with the fossil fuel addiction that plagues the United States. Besides, China would be hit at least as hard as the United States by climate change. The most economically efficient way for China to limit its fossil fuel dependence, to encourage energy efficiency and carbon-free energies, is via a uniform carbon fee. The same is true for the United States. Indeed, if the United States does not take such an approach, but rather continues to throw lifelines to special interests, its economic power and standard of living will deteriorate, because such actions make the United States economy less and less efficient relative to the rest of the world.
Agreement between the United States and China comes down to negotiating the ratio of their respective carbon tax rates. In this negotiation the question of fairness will come up—the United States being more responsible for the excess carbon dioxide in the air today despite its smaller population. That negotiation will not be easy, but once both countries realize they are in the same boat and will sink or survive together, an agreement should be possible.
Europe, Japan, and most developed countries would likely agree to a status similar to that of the United States. It would not be difficult to deal with any country that refuses to levy a comparable across-the-board carbon fee. An import duty could be collected by countries importing products from any nation that does not levy such a carbon fee. The World Trade Organization already has rules permitting such duties. The duty would be based on standard estimates of the amount of fossil fuels that go into producing the imported product, with the exporting company allowed the option of demonstrating that its product is made without fossil fuels, or with a lesser amount of them. In fact, exporting countries would have a strong incentive to impose their own carbon fee, so that they could keep the revenue themselves.
As for developing nations, and the poorest nations in the world, how can they be treated fairly? They also must have a fee on their fossil fuel use or a duty applied to the products that they export. That is the only way that fossil fuels can be phased out. If these countries do not have a tax on fossil fuels, then industry will move there, as it has moved already from the West to China and India, with carbon pollution moving along with it. Fairness can be achieved by using the funds from export duties, which are likely to greatly exceed foreign aid, to improve the economic and social well-being of the developing nations.”


Envisioning how climate change was solved

My friend Brandon sent me [“How the Great Transition was made: A brief history dated 2050”](https://www.ecologise.in/2018/08/05/ted-trainer-how-the-great-transition-was-made-2/), which fictionally describes how humanity solved climate change, looking back from 2050. I was inspired to write my own version, which is what I will be working on now. [Edit 3/7: I will try to focus on new aspects not covered in the Ted Trainer piece. I will try to avoid rehashing peak oil. New aspects may include whether or not messaging about minimalism made a difference in the transition to lower consumption (and the tactics of such messaging, e.g. contacting key religious leaders who might be turned to in the peak oil or other crisis), whether and how much sequestration effort was needed throughout the entire process. I also may include history on how the U.S. responded to the 1970s decline in domestic oil production and Arab oil embargoes to flesh out what the early response to peak oil may look like detail, although it’s unclear if this is necessary.]

Note: I recommend reading the “How the Great Transition was made” article; I found it to be a plausible account of how things might play out.

Gardening for climate

My mom sent me this text today <3:

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This filled me with so much joy! I love that my parents enjoy gardening so much, and I love that it’s good for environmental reasons. If done by many people, gardening reduces greenhouse gas emissions from food by producing locally (no transport), promoting plant-based eating (meat contributes methane and requires more energy to create feed for animals), sequestering carbon, etc. It also has the potential to replace industrial agriculture’s unsustainable practices—for example, using chemical fertilizers and pesticides can kill soil organisms key for agriculture—with more sustainable ones that do not degrade the land (see the table below).

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What are some ways to encourage people to reduce energy usage? Case study of mailing energy usage reports by Opower and J-PAL

[“[S]ome utilities contract Opower, a large software company, to mail personalized household energy reports… which compare a household’s energy use to that of 100 neighbors with similar square footage and the same heating type…”](https://www.povertyactionlab.org/evaluation/opower-evaluating-impact-home-energy-reports-energy-conservation-united-states). J-PAL performed a randomized study of the effect of such reports on energy consumption. The study indicates that these energy reports seemed to only reduce energy consumption by a few percent and not for long, mainly by acting as occasional reminders. I could imagine potential improvements including permanent reminders (e.g. a paper sign on a light switch that reminds the household to turn it off whenever they turn it on), a public posting of each household’s energy usage, or education of households about the largest electricity-using appliances like refrigerators.

More details from the study, conducted from 2008-2013: [“Researchers took advantage of the randomized design of the Opower program to study the effect of home energy reports on energy conservation. Nearly 600,000 households served by twelve different utility companies were randomly assigned to receive home energy reports or to act as a control group for the study. Researchers compared monthly electricity meter readings in households receiving reports and in control group households to estimate the effect of Opower mailings… The Opower program reduced energy consumption among treated households by 1.4-3.3 percent at each utility. The average reduction across the twelve utilities was 2.0 percent or 0.62 kWh per day. Monthly reports reduced energy consumption by 0.5 percentage points more than quarterly reports… The home energy reports caused immediate reduction in energy consumption when they arrived in the mail, but households’ efforts to conserve decayed quickly… each mailing acted as a reminder to conserve energy.”](https://www.povertyactionlab.org/evaluation/opower-evaluating-impact-home-energy-reports-energy-conservation-united-states)