Kristy Gogan
Featured voices - October 01, 2018

Kristy Gogan

Co-founder and executive director of Energy for Humanity

"The consequence of the nuclear taboo is to make climate change worse"

Kristy Cogan, co-founder and executive director of Energy for Humanity, discusses energy and climate change. The pro-nuclear environmental activist and established expert in climate and energy communications considers that "it is very rewarding to see more and more people–young and old–speaking up for the environmental and humanitarian benefits nuclear technology brings to society".

How did Energy for Humanity come about?

After watching "Pandora's Promise", a film about environmentalists who changed their minds about nuclear energy in light of climate change, I met with director Robert Stone and discussed the need for a civil-society based organization to make the environmental and humanitarian case for nuclear energy. Robert then met Daniel Aegerter at a screening in Zurich and between the three of us Energy for Humanity was born.

Who are its members and what is its mission?

Energy for Humanity is not a membership organisation; we are a network organisation. This means that we collaborate extensively with a global network of individuals and organizations that share the same mission: find the fastest, most cost-effective, most feasible ways possible to solve climate change whilst enabling all people to access clean reliable energy that is essential for modern quality of life.

"Hopefully, we can save our environment from our own cleverness"

In your blog you say that science is incredible but also scary. How do you reconcile these two terms?

In your blog you say that science is incredible but also scary. How do you reconcile these two terms?
The twentieth century saw huge scientific advanced that transformed society. All of these were incredible discoveries, but we have to balance the opportunity they provide us with the problems that come in their wake. Hopefully, we can save our environment from our own cleverness.

Recently you spoke about the taboothat is affecting nuclear energy. How would you describe it? What are its effects?

Recently you spoke about the taboothat is affecting nuclear energy. How would you describe it? What are its effects?
Nuclear energy was one of those first miracle technologies that revealed problems, and it became symbolised by the ecology movement in the 70's as the pinnacle of the military-industrial system. Those values became so strongly embedded in the 70's and 80's, especially in Germany, home to the most powerful Green organisations. Misinformation on a massive scale has been going on for decades and it has become typical to see any discussion on climate change and energy fail to mention the role nuclear has always played in providing zero carbon energy. There are hundreds of reactors around the world that have been generating stable, clean power on a constant basis: around 75% in places like France and 20% in many other countries. But whereas the German Greens have a real deep seated psychological fear of nuclear as a result of decades of propaganda, they have a highly coal dependent economy, love driving huge cars and have major air quality problems.

The French, meanwhile, saw their nuclear fleet as a symbol of national pride–and have the cleanest air in Europe. Their high-speed trains are nuclear powered and thus carbon-free. But even discussing this is taboo, which means that nuclear power is not being replaced as old plants reach the end of their life. Natural disasters, such as the Japanese earthquake in 2011 leading to an industrial accident at Fukushima, prompted Japan and Germany to shutter their nuclear fleets, but this caused a huge switch to fossil fuels. So the consequence of the nuclear taboo is to make climate change worse. Many of the diehard Greens will refuse to discuss this, but many others have changed their minds, as the Pandora's Promise film illustrates.

"Climate is not a threat we are evolved to respond to"

What do you think is the best road take to fight climate change?

What do you think is the best road take to fight climate change?
When you actually look at the data on energy use, it is clear that we need to completely shut down carbon-based fuels whilst also meeting a tripling of demand for energy as people lift themselves out of poverty. This is going to need an enormous effort in building new energy capacity, including wind, solar, energy conservation, nuclear and a wide range of alternative solutions, some of which we already know about, as well as others still to come.

We've created a problem unlike any other. Climate is not a threat we are evolved to respond to, like a tiger coming to our village, or even like other environmental problems we've encountered and solved, like acid rain. Climate is a cumulative problem. People think they can wait until it's got bad, look out the window and say: "ok it's bad now, let's solve it". But it doesn't work that way, then it will be too late. Because the climate system has a large inertia and greenhouse gases will remain in the atmosphere for a long time, many of these effects will persist for not only decades or centuries, but for tens of thousands of years to come.

However, as the late, great Professor Sir David MacKay said: the climate problem is mostly an energy problem. Possible societal responses to global warming include mitigation by emissions reduction; adaptation, by building systems resilient to climate impacts; and possible future climate engineering.

"Interestingly nuclear energy, because it delivers such a large output of energy for such a small footprint, has received huge support from alarmed conservationists"

Broadly speaking, solving climate can be boiled down to a simple two-stage strategy: clean up electricity generation and electrify everything. Where we cannot electrify, we will need technologies to decarbonise heat and synthetic fuels for transport.

But we also need to recognize that the natural world is under huge pressure. Loss of natural habitat is a huge problem so we need to find ways to protect it properly. Interestingly nuclear energy, because it delivers such a large output of energy for such a small footprint, has received huge support from conservationists alarmed by the impact of renewables on the natural world. Meanwhile, we not only have to meet the energy challenge but also start to pull carbon out of the atmosphere, which may involve changes in agricultural practices or something more technological. Either way, this is likely to become a new part of the conversation as we realise how little progress we have made towards addressing the greenhouse problem. We also need to consider how to better defend our cities against rising sea levels, increased heat waves and rain storms. We've been saying this for years now, but the effects are becoming ever more obvious.

How do you manage to convince those who believe it is not possible to be a pro-nuclear ecologist?

As Stewart Brand says in Pandora's Promise: "in light of climate change, can you be an environmentalist and not be pro-nuclear?" But really, it's not about convincing people. I think people should come to their own conclusions, and I can just ask that they look at the evidence. Pretty much all of the credible global experts say we need to double or triple all our clean energy sources: wind, solar, and nuclear, as well as massively increase our energy efficiency, and within frighteningly rapid timescales. The scale and the urgency of the situation means we should try to reduce the risk as much as possible by using all the tools at our disposal. And if you're worried about the risks from nuclear: then I encourage you to read for yourself the World Health Organisation reports on the impact of evacuations after the accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima. By far the greatest public health impacts have resulted from fear of radiation, not radiation itself. The tragedy is that so many people's lives have been destroyed unnecessarily from fear.

What is your opinion on the Spanish Government's proposal to shut down nuclear power plants in Spain?

Just compare the decisions in France and Germany. In Germany, while nuclear is down, bills are up (at a cost of hundreds of billions of euros to the tax payer), carbon emissions are up, air pollution is up, and coal dependency is locked in indefinitely. French President Emmanuel Macron said recently that France should not follow Germany's example. I don't believe Spain should either. President Macron about Germany, "Well, they now have to build a new lignite coalmine, so I will choose my battle and my battle is climate change, not nuclear energy". For me, that is real political leadership and courage.

"Our voices should be heard"

You are one of the co-signers of the letter sent to the Spanish Government and other institutions to warn against the risks of a possible nuclear shutdown. What motivated you to do this, and how did you agree on this action?

You are one of the co-signers of the letter sent to the Spanish Government and other institutions to warn against the risks of a possible nuclear shutdown. What motivated you to do this, and how did you agree on this action?
Although each country should determine its own path to secure clean reliable, affordable electricity for its citizens, there is a role for civil society to campaign on global issues that affect all people and nature. This decision has wider implications for people and nature, and therefore our voices should be heard.

Have you received any response from Spanish institutions?

Not yet! [interview done in September 2018]

Have you sent a similar communication explaining the need for nuclear power to other countries?

Yes, to France.

"It is very rewarding to see more and more people - young and old – speaking up for the environmental and humanitarian benefits nuclear technology brings to society"

Would you like to add anything?

It is very rewarding to see more and more people - young and old – speaking up for the environmental and humanitarian benefits nuclear technology brings to society. While it's important to hold the industry to account, we should also acknowledge that in a complex modern society, access to electricity is fundamental to our well-being and therefore we must find ways to supply it whilst protecting humans and nature. Nuclear energy can play an important role in delivering that mission.

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