Can Technology Solve Resource Scarcity?
Recent and rapid advancements in technology, including new batteries for storing solar energy and new nuclear reactor designs, have changed the notion of traditional environmentalism.
That’s one of the themes discussed during a panel of leading energy and business experts speaking at Fortune’s Brainstorm E conference held in Carlsbad, Calif. on Monday.
Traditional environmentalists have long advocated the need to reduce energy and water consumption to better preserve the world’s resources. But some modern environmentalists argue that technology has enabled mankind to gather resources more efficiently than before, which offsets some of the need to cut back on the amount of resources they consume, specifically energy.
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Michael Shellenberger, who co-founded the energy research group the Breakthrough Institute, explained that the idea of limiting energy consumption comes from the 1970s and is less relevant in the today’s era. In particular, Shellenberger is interested in the reviving nuclear power, which he believes is safe enough to be used on a larger scale and can generate enough energy to keep the world satiated.
Shellenberger announced his new research and policy group, Environmental Progress, during Brainstorm E. Part of his new group’s agenda includes advocating to stop nuclear plants from closing, reopen closed nuclear plants, and increase the number of nuclear plants being developed throughout the world.
Environmental Progress also wants to see more electricity being used in poor nations, because in some rural areas, many people “still rely on wood and dung as their primary energy,” according to the group’s website.
Shellenberger plans to visit the White House on Thursday to talk about keeping nuclear plants operating. Recently, he co-wrote a letter to President Obama about why he and other scientists and conservationists believe that closing nuclear plants undermines the president’s environmental work.
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In the letter, Shellenberger argued that when nuclear plants close, they are often replaced with natural gas-fueled power plants that result in “additional carbon emissions equivalent to putting three million new cars on the road.” In his view, nuclear energy is the cheapest and most efficient means of energy available, although the technology has many critics.
The environmental organization Sierra Club, for example, is opposed to nuclear power, which the group believes is dangerous and creates too much nuclear waste. Still, Shellenberger believes that for now, nuclear power is a better alternative than solar power, although if solar and battery technology continue to advance and get cheaper, he may change his tune.
“If we have amazing solar and batteries that are cheaper than nuclear I’ll be right with you,” Shellenberger said.