by Tom Blees

Introduction

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men often go awry

Robert Burns’ oft-quoted admonition is applicable in a number of ways to the book you’re about to read. On the one hand, it applies to policy and industrial decisions that could have been made during the last half-century to avoid—or at least minimize—some of the most critical problems now faced by humanity. On a more personal level, it describes my semi-abandonment of a plan to publish this book only after certain critical nuclear technologies will be successfully demonstrated at scale. Until then, some skeptics (and cynics) will undoubtedly scoff at my vision of the near future as a pipe dream. I wanted to avoid the glib dismissal of advanced nuclear power systems as mere “paper reactors.” Once they’re up and running the point will be moot. But there is so much happening in the global energy picture these days that I don’t want to sit idly on the sidelines. I’d like to be able to share what I’ve learned from immersing myself in energy issues for over two decades, so I’ve decided to release the chapters as I write them. Hopefully, by the time the book is finished sometime in 2023, the projects will be farther along and at least show the strong likelihood of ultimate success in the very near future. Unfortunately it takes time for truly disruptive technologies to come to full fruition.

Global dilemmas, and their potential solutions, will continue to be impacted by policies relating to energy production and deployment. It would be helpful if media coverage of these issues were accurate and insightful so that people who lack a background in such fields, or who simply don’t have time to keep up, could be informed with actual data and hard facts. Unfortunately, that is not the case, and it’s not surprising. Many of these issues are complex, and few reporters who write occasional articles on energy topics have the background necessary to sort the wheat from the chaff.

As an author and hopeless optimist, I’m naturally inclined to launch into a description of a vision of the future that is bright with promise. But since I’m writing about energy, it’s impossible to ignore the global energy situation, especially at this time. As I write this in the fall of 2022, Europe is entering a scary winter due to an energy crisis that has many people questioning whether they’ll be able to even heat their homes this winter. People are quick to blame Vladimir Putin and the Russian war with Ukraine, which certainly exacerbated an already shaky energy situation. But the roots of the current energy dilemma go much further back than last February’s invasion. As an old Grain Belt Beer slogan used to say, it’s “been a long time a-brewin’.”

The often impassioned debates about renewables vs. nuclear can hardly be ignored in a book about the future of nuclear power, much as I’d prefer to just write about the latter. It can be instructive to take a look at how we got to this point though, something that we’ll examine at the beginning of the book. Following that orientation, we can consider some fairly straightforward reasoning about where the future of energy is headed without belaboring the many arguments that could themselves fill a book (and which have, indeed, filled several). The thrust of this tome is to illustrate the many promising aspects of the future of energy, and how the coming transformations promise a better world for both humanity and the environment.

I much prefer to avoid a polemic, but there can be no question that there are drastically different views on energy policies that can hopefully be discussed with unvarnished evidence and sound arguments. These issues are at the very base of many of our current dilemmas, including inflation, climate change, and technology choices that will either be supported or squelched by government policies.

I’ll do my best to present and discuss these issues as accurately and ideology-free as possible. Of course, I’m aware of the dangers of motivated reasoning, and just as aware that presenting facts is no guarantee that they’ll be accepted as true. As I launch this project, I can’t help but remember this gem:

I still think my favorite thing that’s ever happened to me on the internet is the time a guy said, “People change their minds when you show them facts.” And I said, “Actually, studies show that’s not true,” and linked TWO sources, and he said, “Yeah, well I still think it works.”

 

Chapter 1

Paving With Good Intentions

Make me one with everything.
                             The Dalai Lama

 

The unity of mankind in responding to global challenges, which one might envision when misinterpreting the holy man’s order to the hot dog vendor, is but a tantalizing aspiration. When it comes to issues like climate change and global poverty, what we see instead is increasing balkanization among radically different belief systems. But it wasn’t always this way. The post-war era of the Fifties was a time when there was a consensus reality shared by the majority of the American populace. The Sixties saw this start to fragment as the Baby Boomers (guilty as charged…TB, DOB 1951) came of age, leading to what was widely lamented as the “generation gap.”

Click here to download Chapter 1 as a PDF courtesy of the author and SCGI.

 

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