I have been shocked and frightened by the recent surreal devastation caused by flash floods from unprecedented rainfalls in Germany, Belgium, Holland and Austria. It made me wonder if we have now crossed the red line-of-no- return, predicted some decades ago by the English ecologist/environmentalist, James Lovelock. 2 weeks prior to the floods in Europe, there was a very devastating land slide due to heavy rains in Japan. In addition, the highest ever temperature of 49.6 0C was recorded in Canada and several serious wildfires took place in Canada, the USA and Russia. All these events in a short space of time highlight the growing frequency and magnitude of global warming.
During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, James Lovelock stressed the point that our leaders were not giving deserving attention to global warming, which is the most formidable foe for our safe existence on this planet. He clearly stood out as an individual who ardently warned that the profuse use of fossils fuels would lead us to several dire consequences.
James Lovelock, whose 102nd birthday was on the 26th of July 2021, had earlier shared that if we manage to sufficiently curb our carbon dioxide emissions, the Earth or Gaia, the goddess of earth in Greek folklore, would be able to repair itself. Otherwise, when the frequency and intensity of global warming events continue to increase, we shall certainly cross the line of no return; causing our planet to slide into destruction.
In 2004, James Lovelock shocked his environmentalists’ peers when he said that:”…only nuclear power can now halt global warming.”To appreciate this statement better, let’s note what he said elsewhere about renewable energies, which by all indications, were obviously wind and solar energies. These two energy, WP and SP, have been the fastest growing options for power production for decades. He said: “We rushed into renewable energy without any thought. The schemes are largely hopelessly inefficient…”. Lovelock is a proactive nuclear enthusiast who strongly believes that NP does no harm to the environment, and it is the only realistic alternative to fossil fuels to produce clean, reliable, and affordable electricity more abundantly than any other option to meet electricity needs of mankind.
James Lovelock is a futurist and an inventor, with some 50 patents, including detectors and other scientific devices. Lovelock, using one of his devices, an electron capture detector, was the first to detect and measure the abundance of harmful product, CFC (chlorofluorocarbons) in the atmosphere. CFCs, which destroys the ozone layer, the protective layer which shield us from ultraviolet rays, are now banned or restricted.
Some of the scientific instruments developed by Lovelock, were used by NASA in their planetary exploration program. When James Lovelock was later engaged as a consultant for NASA, he developed a very sensitive instrument to analyse the extra-terrestrial atmosphere and soil of Mars. The studies revealed that Martian atmosphere cannot support life because it is made up with basically carbon dioxide, which accounts for about 95% of all gasses in its atmosphere.
It is quite clear from the above that when James Lovelock was convinced that Mars, the lifeless plant is dominated by carbon dioxide, he obviously began to worry about the fact that our planet, earth, is moving steeply and blindly into a lifeless planet through unabated release of CO2 from burning fossil fuels profusely, while cutting down at the same time, the forests which absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it into oxygen.
Surely, we now know what to do, but implementing it is what is difficult. For instance, under the Kyoto Protocol, many countries could not fulfil their modest commitment to cut their emissions by only 5% in a period of ten years or so. Since we have not done much so far to curb our emissions, all countries are obliged by the nationally determined contribution in the Paris Climate Change to curb emissions “meaningfully”, with an optimal aim of zero emissions by 2050. But we are still far from the expected results. It is reported that despite a colossal amount of money spent on mostly WP and SP for power production, global carbon emissions are still steadily increasing.
We have explored in our previous episodes, the fact NP is the most concentrated energy source for power production. NP is the most saturated energy with a higher capacity factor, CF, than that of coal. Hence and roughly speaking,1000MW coal-fired plant can be adequately replaced by about 900MW nuclear power plant. On the other hand, to replace a 1000MW coal-fired plant with WP, may require 2 x 1000MW of wind turbines, whiles in the case of SP, may require perhaps 3 x 1000MW solar panels.
WP and SP are so diluted that they require substantially more materials and land than NP. For instance, Material Requirements for options for power production have been studied by the University College of Berkeley in California. The studies show that WP and NP need about 460 and 40Mton/MW of steel respectively, while their requirements for concrete are 870 and 190Mton/MW respectively.
Understanding the true capacity of NP is vital to make sense of James Lovelock’s definitive statement that “…only nuclear power can now halt global warming.” Without a serious assessment of our energy needs and production capacity, we will continue to witness devastating effects of climate change across the globe. Are we are near the Line of No Return? What earth are we seeking to pass on to our children and their children? We must all become environmentalists for NP.