“It is five minutes to midnight. Two years ago, it appeared that world leaders might address the truly global threats that we face. In many cases, that trend has not continued or been reversed. For that reason, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is moving the clock hand one minute closer to midnight, back to its time in 2007.”
About climate change, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists says,
In fact, the global community may be near a point of no return in efforts to prevent catastrophe from changes in Earth’s atmosphere. The International Energy Agency projects that, unless societies begin building alternatives to carbon-emitting energy technologies over the next five years, the world is doomed to a warmer climate, harsher weather, droughts, famine, water scarcity, rising sea levels, loss of island nations, and increasing ocean acidification. Since fossil-fuel burning power plants and infrastructure built in 2012-2020 will produce energy — and emissions — for 40 to 50 years, the actions taken in the next few years will set us on a path that will be impossible to redirect. Even if policy leaders decide in the future to reduce reliance on carbon-emitting technologies, it will be too late.
Among the existing alternatives for producing base-load electricity with low carbon dioxide emissions is nuclear power. Russia, China, India, and South Korea will likely continue to construct plants, enrich fuel, and shape the global nuclear power industry.
Countries that had earlier signaled interest in building nuclear power capacity, such as Vietnam, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and others, are still intent on acquiring civilian nuclear reactors for electricity despite the Fukushima disaster. However, a number of countries have renounced nuclear power, including Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. In Japan, only eight of 54 power plants currently operate because prefecture governors, responding to people’s opposition to nuclear power, have not allowed reactors back online. In the United States, increased costs of additional safety measures may make nuclear power too expensive to be a realistic alternative to natural gas and other fossil fuels.
The hopeful news is that alternatives to burning coal, oil, and uranium for energy continue to show promise. Solar and photovoltaic technologies are seeing reductions in price, wind turbines are being adopted for commercial electricity, and energy conservation and efficiency are becoming accepted as sources for industrial production and residential use. Many of these developments are taking place at municipal and local levels in countries around the world. In Haiti, for example, a nonprofit group is distributing solar-powered light bulbs to the poor. In Germany, a smart electrical grid is shifting solar-generated power to cloudy regions and wind power to becalmed areas. And in California, government is placing caps on carbon emissions that industry will meet. While not perfect, these technologies and practices hold substantial promise.
Yet, we are very concerned that the pace of change may not be adequate and that the transformation that seems to be on its way will not take place in time to meet the hardships that large-scale disruption of the climate portends. As we see it, the major challenge at the heart of humanity’s survival in the 21st century is how to meet energy needs for economic growth in developing and industrial countries without further damaging the climate, without exposing people to loss of health and community, and without risking further spread of nuclear weapons.
Read the BAS’ “Doomsday Clock moves to five minutes to midnight.”