Rethinking Green with Stewart Brand – An Ecopragmatist

Stewart Brand in the his new book:

To my mind, the Green path forward begins with environmentalists realizing that nuclear power will grow no matter what we do. Our customary opposition would make it grow badly – slowly, expensively, unsystemically, and with dangerously poor overall coordination. But if we encourage it in the right way, nuclear energy growing well would mean that it minimizes humanity’s carbon-loading of the atmosphere; that it collaborates well with other carbon-free or superefficient energy forms; that it helps generate other Green services such as desalination or hydrogen . . . that it helps eliminate nuclear weapons; that it securely energizes cities and thereby helps to reduce world poverty . . .

via NEI Nuclear Notes: Stewart Brand’s “Whole Earth Discipline”.

In his lecture at the Longnow Foundation (from Fora.tv) he explains how slum dwellers in Dharavi, Mumbai, India are the greenest people on earth who live on very less energy and resources and recycle everything. However, this is possible because they are some of the poorest people on earth. And, they do not want to be like that.

From one of his TED talks

Here is the biggest paradigm that the developed world does not want to understand.

You cannot be rich without abundant and cheap energy.

How do you become rich and have low per-capita emissions? – Nuclear Energy, Geothermal and Hydro.

LightBucket has some fantastic analysis in this regard.

Table 1 shows the energy mix and carbon emissions data for the so-called “developed regions” as defined by the UN Statistics Division [1]. I’ve highlighted some of the stand-out numbers, both highest and lowest, and I’ll discuss these below.

Table 1. Energy mix, energy use and CO2 emissions by GDP and by population

Country Energy Mix Power/

Capita

CO2/GDP CO2/Capita
fossil nuclear renew-

ables

other kW/capita tonnes CO2/

US$10000

tonnes CO2/

capita

Luxembourg 92% 0% 2% 6% 13.9 3.4 26.5
United States [6] 86% 8% 6% 0% 10.5 5.2 20.4
Australia [7] 97% 0% 3% 0% 7.9 5.1 19.0
Canada [8] 67% 7% 25% 0% 11.2 6.4 18.5
Estonia 87% 0% 10% 3% 5.0 16.3 14.3
Finland 59% 16% 23% 2% 8.9 3.5 13.2
Czech Republic 79% 15% 3% 3% 5.9 10.8 12.5
Belgium 75% 22% 2% 1% 7.2 2.8 12.2
Ireland 97% 0% 2% 1% 4.9 2.3 11.1
Netherlands 94% 1% 3% 2% 6.7 2.4 11.1
Germany 84% 12% 4% 0% 5.5 2.9 10.7
Denmark 85% 0% 14% 1% 4.8 2.2 10.2
Japan [9] 83% 12% 5% 0% 5.5 2.7 10.1
Greece 94% 0% 5% 1% 3.7 3.7 10.0
Norway [10] 37% 0% 60% 0% 9.2 3.4 9.6
Austria 77% 0% 21% 2% 5.5 2.4 9.4
United Kingdom 89% 9% 2% 0% 5.2 2.7 9.4
Italy 90% 0% 7% 3% 4.2 2.6 8.5
New Zealand [11] 71% 0% 29% 0% 5.5 3.2 8.4
Poland 95% 0% 5% 0% 3.2 12.2 8.3
Spain 82% 12% 6% 0% 4.4 3.2 8.3
Slovenia 69% 19% 11% 1% 4.9 5.0 8.2
Slovakia 72% 23% 4% 1% 4.6 8.6 7.9
Iceland [12] 28% 0% 73% 0% 16.3 1.7 7.8
France 52% 40% 6% 2% 5.8 1.9 6.9
Bulgaria 71% 22% 5% 2% 3.4 17.5 6.8
Portugal 83% 0% 15% 2% 3.4 3.3 6.3
Sweden 37% 37% 26% 0% 7.7 1.5 6.2
Switzerland [13] 63% 24% 13% 0% 4.8 1.1 6.1
Hungary 81% 12% 4% 3% 3.7 5.6 5.9
Romania 84% 4% 12% 0% 2.3 12.0 5.4
Lithuania 50% 37% 7% 6% 3.3 5.9 3.9
Latvia 60% 0% 36% 4% 2.7 5.2 3.2
World Mean [14] 87% 6% 6% 1% 2.4 5.6 4.0
Data are sorted by descending order of CO2 emissions per capita;

Units of CO2/GDP are metric tons of CO2 per US$10,000 of GDP;

Units of CO2/Capita are metric tons of CO2 per capita per annum;

Units of Power/Capita are kilowatts per capita. Power refers to Total Primary Energy Supply;

There are small rounding errors in some of the percentages;

Data are for 2004 except where noted;

Data are for “developed regions” as defined by the UN Statistics Division;

CO2/capita data are from ref [1];

CO2/GDP data are calculated from refs [2] and [3];

Power/Capita data are from ref [4];

Energy mix data for EU nations are from ref [5];

Remaining energy mix data are from refs [6] to [14], and are noted in the table.

What do these numbers show?

Four developed countries have emissions intensities below 2 tonnes-CO2 per US$10,000 of GDP. They are France, Iceland, Sweden and Switzerland. These are working models of low-emissions, high-income industrialised economies. How do they do it?

Iceland has the highest per capita energy consumption of any country (it’s the cold winters), so one might expect it to have high carbon emissions, yet it is among the very lowest carbon emitters – how? It’s thanks to its very large geothermal and hydroelectric resources, sufficient for its small population. Iceland’s energy mix has the highest fraction of renewables of any country (geothermal 56.0%, hydroelectric 16.6%) [12], giving it the lowest emissions intensity of any “developed region” nation that doesn’t use nuclear power.

France has the highest nuclear fraction at 40% – about 80% of its electricity is nuclear-fuelled – and Sweden is close behind with 37% nuclear energy. Sweden’s mix of hydroelectric and nuclear power, and France’s heavy use of nuclear power, give both of them very low emissions by population and by GDP.

The best performer of all by emissions intensity is Switzerland.

Switzerland has by far the lowest CO2 emissions per unit GDP of any developed nation, and the third lowest emissions/GDP ratio of any nation at all (only Chad and Cambodia have lower emissions intensities). This isn’t just down to its very high GDP; Switzerland also has the lowest per capita CO2 emissions of the western economies (four eastern European nations have lower per capita emissions).

How does Switzerland do it? It is a very wealthy nation, which certainly explains one side of the emissions-to-GDP ratio, but that doesn’t explain the emissions per capita ratio, which is also among the very lowest. Its electricity generation is almost entirely hydroelectric and nuclear. These are the two low-carbon energy sources available in quantity. Coal use is confined to two specific industries, foundries and cement factories [15]. These are the factors that combine to deliver Switzerland’s very low emissions figures.

At the other extreme, the U.S. stands out as a poor performer in every respect. It’s not just that its per capita emissions are the second highest of all (after Luxembourg), it also performs poorly on the economic measure of emissions intensity. Also noteworthy are Australia and Ireland, two economies almost entirely reliant on fossil fuels. Ireland has high per capita emissions despite low energy use, while Australia combines a high-carbon energy mix with high energy use to end up with the third highest per capita emissions of all. Given its low population density and natural advantages, it’s an extraordinary position to be in.

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