Before Fukushima, the most notorious large-scale nuclear accident the world had seen was Chernobyl in 1986. The fallout from Chernobyl covered vast areas in the Northern Hemisphere, especially in Europe. Belarus, at the time a Soviet republic, suffered heavily: nearly a quarter of its territory was covered with long-lasting radionuclides. Yet the damage from the massive fallout was largely imperceptible; contaminated communities looked exactly like noncontaminated ones. It could be known only through constructed representations of it.
The global economy has become increasingly, perhaps chronically, unstable. Since 2008, we have heard about the housing bubble, subprime mortgages, banks “too big to fail,” financial regulation (or the lack of it), and the European debt crisis. Wall Street has discovered that it is more profitable to make money from other people’s money than by investing in the real economy, which has limited access to capital--resulting in slow growth and rising inequality.
The development and deployment of cleaner energy technologies have become globalized phenomena. Yet despite the fact that energy-related goods account for more than ten percent of international trade, policy makers, academics, and the business community perceive barriers to the global diffusion of these emerging technologies. Experts point to problems including intellectual property concerns, trade barriers, and developing countries’ limited access to technology and funding.
We will not find “exposure to burning coal” listed as the cause of death on a single death certificate, but tens of thousands of deaths from asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and other illnesses are clearly linked to coal-derived pollution. As politicians and advertising campaigns extol the virtues of “clean coal,” the dirty secret is that coal kills. In The Silent Epidemic, Alan Lockwood, a physician, describes and documents the adverse health effects of burning coal.
Energy utilization, especially from fossil fuels, creates hidden costs in the form of pollution and environmental damages. The costs are well documented but are hidden in the sense that they occur outside the market, are not reflected in market prices, and are not taken into account by energy users. Double Dividend presents a novel method for designing environmental taxes that correct market prices so that they reflect the true cost of energy.
Energy innovation offers us our best chance to solve the three urgent and interrelated problems of climate change, worldwide insecurity over energy supplies, and rapidly growing energy demand. But if we are to achieve a timely transition to reliable, low-cost, low-carbon energy, the U.S. energy innovation system must be radically overhauled.
The future is not what it used to be because we can no longer rely on the comforting assumption that it will resemble the past. Past abundance of fuel, for example, does not imply unending abundance. Infinite growth on a finite planet is not possible.
Americans take for granted that when we flip a switch the light will go on, when we turn up the thermostat the room will get warm, and when we pull up to the pump gas will be plentiful and relatively cheap. In The End of Energy, Michael Graetz shows us that we have been living an energy delusion for forty years. Until the 1970s, we produced domestically all the oil we needed to run our power plants, heat our homes, and fuel our cars. Since then, we have had to import most of the oil we use, much of it from the Middle East.
The many books on globalization published over the past few years range from claims that the world is flat to an unlikely rehabilitation of Genghis Khan as a pioneer of global commerce. Missing from these accounts is a consideration of the technologies behind the creation of the globalized economy. What makes it possible for us to move billions of tons of raw materials and manufactured goods from continent to continent? Why are we able to fly almost anywhere on the planet within twenty-four hours?
On April 20, 2010, the gigantic drilling rig Deepwater Horizon blew up in the Gulf of Mexico, killing eleven crew members and causing a massive eruption of oil from BP’s Macondo well. For months, oil gushed into the Gulf, spreading death and destruction. Americans watched real-time video of the huge column of oil and gas spewing from the obviously failed “blowout preventer.” What was missing, though, was the larger story of this disaster.