We live at a time when emotions and feelings count more than
truth, and there is a vast ignorance of science. James Lovelock
I recently read two books, one by a physicist, and one by an economist.
In Out of Gas, Caltech physicist David Goodstein describes an impending
energy crisis brought on by The End of the Age of Oil. This crisis is coming
soon, he predicts: the crisis will bite, not when the last drop of oil is
extracted, but when oil extraction can’t meet demand – perhaps as soon
as 2015 or 2025. Moreover, even if we magically switched all our energy-
guzzling to nuclear power right away, Goodstein says, the oil crisis would
simply be replaced by a nuclear crisis in just twenty years or so, as uranium
reserves also became depleted.
In The Skeptical Environmentalist, Bjørn Lomborg paints a completely
different picture. “Everything is ﬁne.” Indeed, “everything is getting bet-
ter.” Furthermore, “we are not headed for a major energy crisis,” and
“there is plenty of energy.”
How could two smart people come to such different conclusions? I had
to get to the bottom of this.
Energy made it into the British news in 2006. Kindled by tidings of
great climate change and a tripling in the price of natural gas in just six
years, the ﬂames of debate are raging. How should Britain handle its
energy needs? And how should the world?
“Wind or nuclear?”, for example. Greater polarization of views among
smart people is hard to imagine. During a discussion of the proposed ex-
pansion of nuclear power, Michael Meacher, former environment minister,
said “if we’re going to cut greenhouse gases by 60% ... by 2050 there is no
other possible way of doing that except through renewables;” Sir Bernard
Ingham, former civil servant, speaking in favour of nuclear expansion, said
“anybody who is relying upon renewables to ﬁll the [energy] gap is living
in an utter dream world and is, in my view, an enemy of the people.”
Similar disagreement can be heard within the ecological movement.
All agree that something must be done urgently, but what? Jonathon Por-
ritt, chair of the Sustainable Development Commission, writes: “there is
no justiﬁcation for bringing forward plans for a new nuclear power pro-
gramme at this time, and ... any such proposal would be incompatible
with [the Government’s] sustainable development strategy;” and “a non-
nuclear strategy could and should be sufﬁcient to deliver all the carbon
savings we shall need up to 2050 and beyond, and to ensure secure access
to reliable sources of energy.” In contrast, environmentalist James Lovelock
writes in his book, The Revenge of Gaia: “Now is much too late to establish
sustainable development.” In his view, power from nuclear ﬁssion, while