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The reason why I changed my mind about nuclear energy-oped [Newday.com]

The reason why I changed my mind about nuclear energy-oped [Newday.com] Like a lot of kids born in the early 1970s, I had the good fortune to be raised by hippies. One of my childhood heroes was Stewart Brand. Stewart is not only one of the original hippies, he’s also one of the first modern environmentalists of the 1960s and 70s. As a young boy, one of my favorite memories is playing cooperative games that Stewart Brand invented as an antidote to the Vietnam War. I’m from a long line of Christian Pacifists known as Mennonites. Every August, as kids, we would remember the US government’s atomic bombing of Japan by lighting candles and sending them on paper boats at Bittersweet Park. After high school, throughout college, and afterwards, I brought delegations of people to Central America to promote diplomacy and peace and to support local farmer cooperatives in Guatemala and Nicaragua. Over time, as I’ve travelled around the world and visited small farming communities on every continent, I’ve come to appreciate that most young people don’t want to be stuck in the village. They don’t want to spend their whole lives chopping and hauling wood. They want to go to the city for opportunity — at least most of them them do — for education and for work. What I’ve realized is that process of urbanization of moving to the city is actually very positive for nature. It allows the natural environment to come back. It allows for the central African Mountain Gorilla, an important endangered species, to have the habitat they need to survive and thrive. In that process you have to go vertical, and so even in places like Hong Kong you can see that with tall buildings they can spare the natural environment around the city. Of course, it takes a huge amount of energy to go up, and so the big question of our time is how do you get plentiful, reliable electricity without destroying the climate? I started out as an anti-nuclear activist and I quickly got involved in advocating for renewable energy. In the early part of this century I helped to start a labor union and environmentalist alliance called the Apollo Alliance and we pushed for a big investment in clean energy: solar, wind, electric cars. The investment idea was eventually picked up by President Obama, and during his time in office we invested about $150 billion to make solar, wind and electric cars much cheaper than they were. We seemed to be having a lot of success but we were starting to have some challenges. Some of them you’re familiar with. Solar and wind generate electricity in Germany just 10 to 30 percent of the time, and so we’re dependent on the weather for electricity. There were other problems we were noticing, though. Sometimes these energy sources generate too much power and while you hear a lot of hype about batteries we don’t have sufficient storage even in California, where we have a lot of investment and a lot of Silicon Valley types putting a lot of investment in battery and other storage technologies. Stewart Brand While we were struggling with these problems, Stewart Brand came out in 2005 and said we should rethink nuclear power. This was a shock to the system for me and my friends. Stewart was one of the first big advocate of solar energy anywhere during the early 1970s. He advised Governor Jerry Brown of California. But he said, look, we’ve been trying to do solar for a long time and yet we get less than a half of a percent of our electricity globally from solar, about two percent from wind, and the majority of our clean energy comes from nuclear and hydro. And according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, nuclear produces four times less carbon emissions than solar does. That’s why they recommended in their recent report the more intensive use of renewables, nuclear and carbon capture and storage. Let’s take a closer look at Germany. Germany gets the majority of its electricity and all of its transportation fuels from fossil fuels. Last year Germany got 40 percent of its electricity from coal, 13 percent from nuclear, 12 percent from natural gas, 12 percent from wind, and six percent from solar. Keep in mind that you don’t just have to go from 18 percent solar and wind to 100 percent solar and wind. To replace the entire transportation sector with electric cars you’d need to go from 18 percent renewables to something like 150 percent. Germany’s done a lot to invest in renewables and innovate with solar and wind, but that’s a pretty steep climb — even before you get to the question of storage. Let’s look at last year. Germany installed four percent more solar panels but generated three percent less electricity from solar. Even when I’m in meetings with energy experts and I ask people if they can make a guess as to why they think that is, and you’d be shocked by how many energy experts have no idea. The reason is just that it wasn’t very sunny last year in Germany. Well, that probably meant that it was windier, right? Becaus


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