climate change and nuclear threats
The world’s power supply has bestowed great benefits on society, but it has also come with high price tag. The world’s most rigorous scientific bodies are in agreement on climate change, which is occurring due to a build of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused by human activity.
The largest proportion of global fossil fuel use is to generate energy and for transport fuels. We have the evidence that if unchanged, the growth of fossil-fuel based energies will lead to unmanageable impacts on the population of the globe. Climate change threatens all continents, living systems, coastal cities, food systems and natural systems. It will mean more natural disasters like fire and flood, disruption to food growing patterns and damage to property as sea levels rise.
The pursuit of security for electricity supply, while remaining dependent on fossil fuels, is a potential catastrophic spiral towards increasing greenhouse gas emissions and more extreme climate impacts. The need for more fuels drives the industry towards unconventional sources like oil, shale gas and super-coal mines which destroy ecosystems and put water supply in danger. Relying on a fuel that has a fluctuating cost on the global market is also harmful to economies.
The use of nuclear energy as a climate change solution is simply not viable. Apart from being too dangerous and too slow to develop, it is also incredibly expensive. This chapter explains how even if a massive-roll out world-wide of nuclear could occur, the drop in greenhouse gas emissions would still only amount to a tiny proportion of the reductions needed to combat climate change.
1.1 the impacts of climate change
Every day we damage our climate by using fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas) for energy and transport. The resulting changes are likely to destroy the livelihoods of millions of people, especially in the developing world, as well as ecosystems and species, over the coming decades. We therefore need to significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. This makes both environmental and economic sense.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations forum for established scientific opinion, the world’s temperature is expected to increase over the next hundred years by up to 6.4° Celsius if no action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is much faster than anything experienced so far in human history. At more than a 2°C rise, damage to ecosystems and disruption to the climate system increases dramatically. An average global warming of more than 2°C threatens millions of people with an increased risk of hunger, disease, flooding and water shortages.
A certain amount of climate change is now “locked in”, based on the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases already emitted into the atmosphere since industrialisation. No one knows how much warming is “safe” for life on the plant. However, we know is that the effects of climate change are already being felt in populations and ecosystems. We can already see melting glaciers, disintegrating polar ice, thawing permafrost, dying coral reefs, rising sea levels, changing ecosystems and fatal heat waves that are made more severe by a changed climate.
It is not only scientists who are witnessing these changes. From Inuit in the far north to islanders near the equator - people are already struggling with the impacts of climate change. We are already experiencing more extreme weather like flooding and droughts. While not all regional effects of climate change are known, the predictions if we allow current trends to continue are:
Relatively likely and early effects of small to moderate warming
- Sea level rise due to melting glaciers and the thermal expansion of the oceans as global temperature increases.
- Massive releases of greenhouse gases from melting permafrost and dying forests which in turn trap more heat in the atmosphere.
- A high risk of more extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts and floods. Already, the global incidence of drought has doubled over the past 30 years.
- Severe impacts for specific regions. For example, in Europe, river flooding will increase over much of the continent, and there will be substantially greater risk of flooding, erosion and wetland loss in coastal areas.
- Natural systems, including glaciers, coral reefs, mangroves, arctic ecosystems, alpine ecosystems, boreal forests, tropical forests, prairie wetlands and native grasslands, will be severely threatened.
- There will be an increased risk of species extinction and biodiversity losses.
- The greatest impacts will be on the developing countries least able to protect themselves from rising sea levels, spread of disease and declines in agricultural production. Impacts will be more pronounced in many parts of Africa, Asia and the Pacific.
- At all scales of climate change, developing countries will suffer the most.