Lots of food for thought in this Edge edition. In particular Stewart Brand on how technology should address our environmental challenges:
We are now in an era called the Anthropocene, an era in which humans are running way too much of the atmosphere and everything else badly. We’re in this situation where we don’t have a choice of stopping terraforming. We only have a choice of terraforming well. That’s the green project for this century.
I agree with his defence of nuclear:
If all of your electricity came from nuclear, it would be about one Coke can’s worth of waste. But, one gigawatt a day from a coal-fired plant is turning 8,000 tons of fuel into 19,000 tons of carbon dioxide, plus all the slurry and mercury and all the rest of it.
Environmentalists are always worried about nuclear waste. How are we going to bury it? (…) We also have been putting it, for 10 years now, into a thing called the WIPP, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, down half a mile in a salt formation. And that salt formation is 250 miles in circumference. It has been there for 250 million years. It’s not going anywhere. Water doesn’t get in or out of it. It doesn’t matter what you put the waste in. The salt heels in around it and encases it. So, the nuclear waste problem that I thought was insoluble has actually been solved long ago. It’s not a major issue.
But I strongly disagree with this part:
Bill Gates makes a nice distinction between energy farms, using very dilute sources of energy, like wind, biofuels and solar, and energy factories that are very concentrated, like coal, gas and nuclear. To a certain extent, those concentrated factories are greener than the things that are big and wide and using up too much space.
That may be right for nuclear, but coal and gas aren’t really concentrated at all! It may look like that when you look at the coal power plant, but then you’re ignoring the “19,000 tons of carbon dioxide, plus all the slurry and mercury and all the rest of it” that’s emitted for every gigawatt of coal-based energy. Bulldozing the Mojave desert may be a real shame, but as Brand says himself, “we don’t have a choice of stopping terraforming. We only have a choice of terraforming well.” The terraforming required for solar seems to be minimal compared to the terraforming that comes as a consequence of burning coal.
Video and transcript of the talk here: