Sobering news from the other side of the world: China is burning almost as much coal as the rest of the world combined, and projections put India on course for a similarly dramatic uptick in consumption. This is one of the consequences of globalization; as a larger proportion of the world is brought advanced technology, our energy needs will skyrocket. How would our atmosphere look today if all of Africa had, a hundred years ago, somehow vaulted into the first or even second world? How much more advanced might our climate crisis now be, with all those extra polluters?
If we really want to address world poverty, we need to accept that mass electricity is as fundamental to the modern experience as medicine or plumbing. If we aren’t ready to deal with the pollution this causes, all our humanitarian intentions might be for naught. We can’t ask the two most populous nations on the planet to politely refrain from adopting the electrical excesses that have only been supportable in the West for so long because so few people could previously afford them. Few are going to be willing to continue living like medieval peasants, just to save the world — think about how much power will be needed just to furnish an affluent India with air conditioning, let alone Netflix.
As a result, basically everyone agrees that carbon-reduced power sources are a necessity. Even China, which has recently seen an incredible spike in awareness of their urban air quality problems, is beginning to get the message. There are only two general sorts of solution possible: find cleaner sources of energy, or find a way to lower the impact of existing ones.
Blue nuclear waste
Spent nuclear fuel glows blue in a water bath next to the reactor which produced it.
We’ve been making small steps toward the latter solution for decades, now, with every car now produced with a catalytic converter to filter emissions, and coal power plants doing at least some pre- and post-combustion scrubbing of the...