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How should we change our way of life to save the climate?

Could small modular nuclear power plants solve the problem?

Even if climate and energy are closely linked, they are also fundamentally different at this point. If we had plenty of time, the climate issue could, in principle, be a matter of switching to another type of energy.

Three giants

We are effectively approaching a deadline where the safe space for future generations is gradually shrinking. The stakes are high – the Amazon ecosystem, the Arctic’s summer ice and the methane monster in Siberia’s permafrost. Three giants, two about to break down, one about to wake up.

To avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis, we must reduce our emissions at an incredible speed. The emission should be halved by 2030 – but, on the contrary, they will increase.

In reality, if you ask a politician in Global North what lifestyle changes we must implement to reduce emissions by five to six percent per year on average to meet the goal of net zero emissions by 2045.

The answer will probably be something along this line – “If by lifestyle changes you mean that everyone should live in a permanent covid situation – we should not travel anywhere in the world, we should do as little as possible, we should not meet each other – then I am against lifestyle changes.”

Whether these lifestyle changes would lead to us meeting the goals is thus irrelevant. In this approach, the goal has become subordinate to our current lifestyle.

“The tyranny of the present”

Stephen M. Gardiner, an American professor of philosophy, calls our approach to the climate issue “the tyranny of the present”. Current generations exploit the future by usurping benefits today but pass on the costs to future generations.

Future generations cannot win today’s leaders any elections. But they are the ones who will live with the consequences.

Gardiner believes that it is technically possible for all of us to reduce our emissions powerfully immediately. The problem is not that this cannot be done, the problem is that the consequences are almost unbearable.

Still, there comes the point somewhere when drastic cuts in our current lifestyle become morally justifiable because the consequences in the future will be horribly worse.

Hold on to each other.

But what is morality worth these days? The problem is twofold: We neither want nor can.

Our share of the world’s emissions may seem negligible. But in the thicket of historical debts, consumption emissions that end up in other countries and emissions per capita, it is easy to always point to someone else.

This makes the climate issue an unsolvable problem – all countries have a hook on each other.

Politicians can wave off the lifestyle change without risking anything, and the reasons are many: A civilization built on consumption, a divided world community, an ongoing war, an escalating energy crisis, a sharp intrusion into people’s freedom – all are reasons to let things roll on as they did before.

The notion of modernity is strong, that man can always control the world around him and, with the help of his ingenuity, sort of conjure us out of the impending disaster. New technology is supposed to make society independent of fossil fuels, and magical thinking runs rampant along the entire political spectrum.

But an intellectually honest way to describe the challenge is not. Rather the opposite.

No decisive role

The nuclear power that now obscures the view of everything else may well be the least evil of several evils. Politicians’ ambition is probably not wrong, and more than one environmentalist silently regrets their stand on allowing nuclear power.

But new reactors will not play a decisive role in the coming, critical decade. They will not make us pass the goal. And are we not going to pass the mark – wouldn’t it be honorable if someone articulated it?

Things have changed with the politicians they say that We must become completely fossil-free. We must electrify, we must double the electricity use, then that electricity must be clean. That is why they only see nuclear power as the only option.

How shall it be done? Nobody knows. The small modular reactors were nowhere to be seen. And once they are in place, it may be too late.

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