I live in the North of the Netherlands with my wife and five wonderful kids. My work focuses on the philosophy of physics as well as various kinds of things related to global catastrophic risks. At the University of Groningen, I teach a regular course about existential risks. I sympathize with the ecomodernist movement.
Thanks for your thoughtful response!
You are right that investing in new nuclear tends to score rather badly according to QUICK. We say the same in the paper. However, as we explain, we tend to regard out two other criteria as more important, because of lock-in and path dependency risks if we focus mostly on short-term emission reductions. (Considerations about harm from emissions being cumulative count in the other direction, though.)
You are also right about other technologies potentially being able to play a similar role. Hydropower especially often does so already. Where it is available (or where geothermal plausibly will), there is no, or at least no strong, imperative to invest in new nuclear from ZERO, though it may still be wise.
Your points on efficiency are well taken, but I don't quite see how they are relevant. By indicating that overall demand is set to fall, at least if the right steps are taken? I'm not sure about that. In any case, the grid modellers whose works we cite tend to assume very large efficiency gains and significantly lower overall final energy demand by mid-century in developed countries. I am sceptical that these are helpful assumptions (notably, we might want to make sure that developed countries can still have energy-intensive industry and/or contribute significantly to negative emissions), but they are made.
Right, it sounds absurd and maybe hilarious, but it's actually what I had in mind. The advantage is internal coherence. The idea is basically to let "ecomodernism" go mainstream, having a Greenpeace-like org that has ideas more similar to the Breakthrough Institute. It's far from clear that this can work, but it's worth a try, in my view. About your suggestion: I love it and voted for it.
Interesting thought. FWIW, I think it's more realistic that we can turn around public opinion on fission first, reap more of the benefits of fission, and then have a better public public landscape for fusion, then that we accept the unpopularity of fission as a given but will have somehow popular fusion. But I may well be wrong.
Advocacy organization for unduly unpopular technologies
Public opinion on key technologies.
Some technologies have enormous benefits, but they are not deployed very much because they are unpopular. Nuclear energy could be a powerful tool for enhancing access to clean energy and combating climate change, but it faces public opposition in Western countries. Similarly, GMOs could help solve the puzzle of feeding the global population with fewer resources, but public opinion is largely against them. Cellular agriculture may soon face similar challenges. Public opinion on these technologies must urgently be shifted. We’d like to see NGOs that create the necessary support via institutions and the media, without falling into the trap of partisan warfare with traditional environmentalists.
Great list, thanks!
I link to it in my newly posted syllabus on existential risks:
Example syllabus "Existential Risks" - EA Forum (effectivealtruism.org)
Great that you like this testing idea, Siebe!
I just tried out the judgment calibration test with my Munich students, with 25 relatively difficult-to-assess statements.
Main finding: Roughly half score better and half score worse than they would have done if they had just uniformly answered "50%". I guess that this indicates that the test was slightly too difficult. Notably, I had included many statements about orders of magnitude (e.g. energy released by the sun in a year, or time scales), and those seem challenging.
But the best students had a mean square deviation of the estimate from the truth value of about 16%, which I guess is quite good.
Great post -- and I fully agree that understanding the success of the NPT is hugley interesting and promising, and I also agree with this comment on the importance of this question regarding nuclear energy deployment!
There seems to be one line of thinking according to which almost any facilitating of a country's starting a civilian nuclear energy programme increases proliferation risk and another line of thinking according to getting ahead of the curve in exporting comparatively proliferation-resistant technology might actually reduce proliferation risks in the longer term. The idea behind the second view is nicely expressed by Rebecca David Gibbons in this passage:
"The positive effects of nuclear assistance on nonproliferation suggest a second important policy lesson for the United States and its allies: attempt to regain and maintain a competitive nuclear industry. When US and allied technology is desirable, the nonproliferation regime benefits. Indonesia, Japan, Egypt, and several other states joined the NPT in part to receive nuclear technology from Western suppliers. Today, Egypt is purchasing its nuclear technology from Russia and China and has not agreed to the most stringent IAEA safeguards agreement, the Additional Protocol. If suppliers less concerned with nonproliferation have better technology or offer more favorable agreements than the United States and its allies, the nuclear nonproliferation regime could be weakened." (Gibbons 2020, p. 294)
From: Gibbons, R. D. (2020), Supply to deny: The benefits of nuclear assistance for nuclear nonproliferation, Journal of Global Security Studies, 5:282-298.
Could you outline whether you think this reasoning is compelling, Danny?
Thanks for these remarks! I am actually very sympathetic to them.