In a just published interview under the title “We Are Looting the Past and Future to Feed the Present” with German news magazine Der Spiegel, leading German climate scientist Hans Joachim Schellnhuber puts the kibosh on the false choice between nuclear power and fossil fuels. Discussing the German government’s plans to temporarily shut down seven nuclear power plants, he uses the opportunity to address the underlying fallacy in most of our energy discussions:
The entire affluence-based economic model of the postwar era, be it in Japan or here in Germany, is based on the idea that cheap energy and rising material consumption are supposed to make us happier and happier. This is why nuclear power plants are now being built in areas that are highly active geologically, and why we consume as much oil in one year as was created in 5.3 million years. We are looting both the past and the future to feed the excess of the present. It’s the dictatorship of the here and now.
Finally somebody who is pointing out the elephant in the room that if we keep on wasting and consuming energy like drunken sailors and we don’t wake up to the fact that our current lives are completely unsustainable, none of our brilliant technologies will matter.
We consume as much oil in one year as was created in 5.3 million years.
Let that sink in for a moment. How could that possibly work out for us in the long run? No matter what source that kind of energy comes from, to think that we could live that high on the hog for much longer is just plain irrational.
Asked the usual question whether the government’s new anti-nuclear course will lead to higher CO2 emissions because more coal will be burned once again, Schellnhuber refuses to take the bait and lifts the whole dialog a few notches:
Now everyone is starting to realize that society’s entire fossil-nuclear operating system has no future and that massive investments have to be made in renewable sources of energy.
Call me a softie, but I have a serious weak spot for scientists who talk about deep-seated shifts. Schellnhuber chairs The German Advisory Council on Global Change, which he says will soon unveil a master plan for a transformation of society.
Precisely because of Fukushima, he believes, a new basis of our coexistence is needed:
We need a social contract for the 21st century that seals the common desire to create a sustainable industrial metabolism. We must resolve, once and for all, to leave our descendants more than a legacy of nuclear hazards and climate change. This requires empathy across space and time. To promote this, the rights of future generations should be enshrined in the German constitution.
Hey look, this is not just little idealist Me waxing poetic about peace and love and togetherness. This guy knows his math, meteorology and molecules, and he’s talking about empathy across space and time. Yes baby, maybe we really are evolving and expanding consciousness, maybe there’s hope for more fundamental change after all.
However, asked why his message hasn’t been received so far, he cops to being neither a psychologist nor a sociologist. Judging by his insightful final statement though, he has a profound grasp of both:
But my life experiences have shown that the love of convenience and ignorance are man’s biggest character flaws. It’s a potentially deadly mixture.
Check out the whole interview, it’s a quick read but so much more nutritious than most anything I’ve read in the aftermath of Fukushima.