Debate: Did Nature Press the Reset Button on Energy

2011•03•18 Brendan F.D. Barrett Osaka University

It is just one week since the earthquake and tsunami struck the Tohoku-Kanto region. The weather has taken a turn for the worse hampering rescue and recovery efforts. The catastrophic nuclear accidents at the Fukushima plants have sadly been diverting attention from recovery operations and placed those nearby in an increasingly vulnerable position and severe risk, to the extent that many feel abandoned in the shelters.

The evacuees are having to pull-together in order to overcome very difficult conditions. Thankfully, new supply routes are being opened and supplies are getting through.

Meanwhile, the news media and the Internet are bombarding us with expert opinions on what is happening in Fukushima, one of the most severe nuclear accidents ever to take place, and on what the worst-case scenario could represent. These divergent opinions are confusing and frightening a large segment of the population in Japan, including foreigners living around Tokyo and elsewhere, ourselves included.

Now is not the time for detailed analysis and finger-pointing. We will have plenty of time later to examine the events surrounding this disaster and to learn from them.

However, it is a good time for those afar and unaffected to reflect, and we would really like to hear from you. Have events in Japan surrounding the nuclear accident changed your thinking about energy and how it relates to your life and what your expectations are for the future?

The future is now

Our regular readers will recall that just over a month back, by coincidence, we hosted a debate on nuclear energy. Only five people commented and we were admittedly disappointed with the lack of response. But interestingly, one of those commenters, Globalciti, wrote:

“I have a feeling that investing in nuclear energy, no matter how desperately we may need the energy now, may be one of those things we come to regret in the future. From the moment the uranium is extracted from the ground to the wastes that have to be buried deep down underground again it seems like there are harmful consequences every step of the way.”

We are sure Globalciti did not expect that future to arrive so soon. On the other hand, at the same time we reported that in many countries we were seeing a nuclear renaissance, as it is seen (rightly or wrongly) as one source of energy that doesn’t contribute to climate change in that it reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Today, just a week after Japan’s tsunami and subsequent nuclear reaction, our impression is that many more people have a strong opinion on the merits of nuclear power. However, discussions around particular energy sources are often biased by interests tied to one power source versus another. If you are working or associated with the nuclear industry, your mind is likely to be closed to other alternatives. Likewise if your passion is for renewable energy sources, you cannot see anything else as being a better solution.

Perhaps now we have a chance to re-visit this conversation with an open mind. Can and should we wean ourselves off our reliance on nuclear power, not to mention fossil fuels? How far can alternatives go to meet the shortfall? What other options do we have? Can we, for instance, power down and get by in the future with less energy consumption? If a huge power-sucking metropolis like Tokyo can manage to conserve power today in a crisis situation, why can’t it become a habit to use energy and other finite resources more economically under normal circumstances?

Our goal today is to provide you with the opportunity to share your ideas on how you would like to see energy handled across the world. Do not worry if you are not an expert on energy issues. We would just like to hear how you feel at present and how an energy-hungry world can move forward from here.

Nature has expressed an opinion — what is yours?

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Debate 2.0: Did Nature Press the Reset Button on Energy by Brendan Barrett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Brendan F.D. Barrett

Osaka University

Brendan F.D. Barrett is a specially appointed professor at Osaka University in the Center for Global Initiatives and an adjunct professor at RMIT University School of Media and Communications. His core areas of expertise include ethical cities, urban transitions, sustainability science, and science/research communication.

Brendan worked with the United Nations in Japan between 1995 and 2015, with the UN Environment Programme and the United Nations University (UNU). He is currently a Visiting Professor at the UNU Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability.

Previously at UNU he was the Head of Online Learning and Head of Communications where he oversaw the development of interactive websites and video documentaries on complex social and environmental concerns. As a result, Brendan has extensive experience in science communications and launched the Our World web magazine in 2008.