On February 22, 2018, Gowling WLG's Paul Murphy (Managing Director, Energy) interviewed U.S. environmental pioneer Michael Shellenberger at the firm's Ottawa office.
Michael is a renowned author and environmental policy expert who is vying to be the next Governor of California. He is also founder of Environmental Progress, a research and policy organization that fights for clean power and energy justice.
Paul Murphy: Hello. My name is Paul Murphy, Managing Director at Gowling WLG. We're here today with Michael Schoenberger, President of Environmental Progress. Michael, thank you for joining us today.
Michael Shellenberger: Thanks for inviting me in.
Paul: Great. Just to get the conversation started, tell us a little bit about how Environmental Progress came about and sort of this idea of the eco-modernist movement that you're a part of.
Michael: Sure. I'm a lifelong environmentalist and progressive. Raised that way by lefty liberal parents in Colorado. Moved to California after college and immediately fell in with doing a lot of environmental advocacy. This was in the late 90s. It became very clear that climate change was a big issue to work on. Early-2000s we put together a coalition of labour unions and environmentalists to advocate for a big investment in renewables that eventually Barack Obama picked up. We had a big campaign trying to persuade the Democrats to do that. In that time, an environmentalists I really respected named Stewart Brand, he started the Whole Earth Catalogue in the 60s, came out as pro-nuclear. When that happened all of us who were pretty anti-nuclear at the time were like, "We need to give this technology a second look." For me it was first confronting my biggest fears around things like Chernobyl and the waste and it is expensive? Is it cheap? What is it? After a few years of really looking into it I ended up changing my mind and became a supporter of nuclear power. Even then it wasn't, I think for people that were our friends they were still a little bit like, "Do we really need it? What is your broader vision?" So we wrote this manifesto that you described, an eco-modernist manifesto, with Stewart as one of the co-authors. Published that in 2015 and one of the issues that we raised in there, it was a broader picture of how do you save the environment, and lift everybody out of poverty. One of the issues that we raised was just that we have nuclear plants at risk of being closed around the world. I felt like that was an important issue that I wanted to get back into, doing more advocacies, because I was at a think tank and I've always been a little bit between a researcher and an advocate. I started Environmental Progress and the first big issue that we worked on for the past couple of years was keeping our nuclear plants on line and preventing them from being replaced by fossil fuels.
Paul: In the presentation that you gave earlier today in Ottawa, you gave a nice history about how in the very early days of civilian nuclear power there were some prominent people in the environmental movement who were pro-nuclear, and then how over time the environmental movement changed to become very anti-nuclear. Now we're seeing groups such as yours and some other leading environmentalists coming out and saying that we need to rethink that position and nuclear needs to be part of the solution. How do you see that message being received by the non-converted within the environmental movement? How do you categorize that, being someone yourself who was, as you say anti-nuclear, and now has evolved into a very different position. How does that play with everybody else that used to be, or appears, in the anti-nuclear movement?
Michael: It's a really interesting memo, he said. I mean one of the big surprises for me in doing research for my next book, was not only that environmentalists were in favour of nuclear power in the 60s, they were the biggest advocates of it, because it doesn't produce any smoke or air pollution and it requires very little land. Environmentalists, we call conservationists at the time, they were concerned about hydroelectric dams because they require huge amounts of land and destroying rivers, and coal, and nuclear was this amazing alternative. What changed it was really the view that nuclear's problem was that it produced too much energy. That it would cause humans to sort of overpopulate and over consume and destroy the planet. So the opposition to nuclear from the beginning was that actually it created too much abundant and cheap electricity. In some ways the advocacy of energy efficiency in renewables has all been an effort to reduce how much energy we use. Since we came out in support of it and including in this framework of eco-modernism we were explicitly going back to where conservationists were in the 60s and saying, "Look, there's seven billion humans. There's going to be 10 billion in a blink of an eye. Most of the people are poor and need to consume more energy. How are we going to do that and also deal with climate change?" It's not going to be by everybody just volunteering to be poor. Most people want to get wealthier, including people that are already wealthy, and so nuclear became a really key way to do that. I would say that we've persuaded a lot of people that are concerned about climate change to change their views. I think it's still a hardcore, say 30 per cent of the population that's never going to change their mind about nuclear. And I think that's fine. Conservatives, United States Republicans, other parts of the world they call them Liberals or whatever, but you know people that are more right of centre have been okay with nuclear for decades. They don't seem to have the concerns that have come from the left. So, in some ways you kind of go, "Well, there's a 30 per cent Conservatives that are already for it. Thirty per cent Liberals or Progressives who are against it." So we've always been competing for that middle group and I think the big change has been climate change. If you really think climate change is a serious risk then how could you say no to nuclear.
Paul: We hear a lot about the 2 degrees scenario and projections for can we get there. Is there, in your mind, anyway that we can achieve the 2 degree scenario, or anything close, or maybe more ambitious, if we want to be really positive, without nuclear being part of the mix?
Michael: Yeah. No way we can limit temperature rises to 2 degrees without nuclear. Might not be possible to do it with nuclear. I've never been a big, like temperature, I think it's sort of false precision to sort of be like, "We're going to have these policies", for a lot of different reasons, one of which is just a lot of uncertainty in how much warming you get with more carbon dioxide. We get more warming but the amount of temperature increase you get is not so obvious. I don't think it's super important to be that precise. The most important thing is just to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to clean sources of energy. Why would you take off the table our single largest source of clean energy, in doing that process? I think that's now a pretty mainstream view among the United Nations, in our governmental panel climate change. Most environmentalists at this point acknowledge that nuclear needs to play a role and maybe the debates just about how big of a role it needs to play.
Paul: When we talk about how the energy industry is evolving and one of the things you see in the discussions is distributed generation. Let's go smaller, more local and that seems to be the flavour of the month, of the year, whatever label you want to put on it. Where do you see distributed generation versus base load power in terms of solving the larger problem? Solving the global problem of climate change and fostering development. Do you see them as mutually exclusive? Some people say base load generation is the past. They're the dinosaurs. But then you say that when the distributed generation doesn't work, where's the backbone? I guess the first question is, does there always still need to be that backbone or do you see a scenario where distributed generation can achieve all the goals that you would like to see from a clean energy and development perspective? Or is there still a need for the big utilities?
Michael: Right. Right. This is a very interesting question. It's helpful to kind of look at a broader picture of human development over time. When everybody was a farmer we produced our own energy, mostly with wood, and we produced most of our own food. Well, now like only 1 per cent of us, or 3 per cent of us, are farmers. Most of us buy our energy and buy our food from somebody else. Both food and energy production, all forms of production, have become more centralized over the last couple hundred years. I think most of us are good with that. We have a little garden in my backyard but if we tried to live on it we would starve to death, right? In terms of producing energy locally we've got solar panels in our backyard but the same story, we couldn't live on that. I think there is another problem which is it reduces the efficiency of energy and food production to decentralize it. It's funny. People go, "I'm producing my own energy, I have solar panels." But you didn't make those solar panels. They were made in a big centralized factory in China and then shipped over to us. So even the extent to which solar is considered decentralized, I don't really agree with. I think heavily centralized production of solar panels, people get this idea that we're going to move to decentralized because of cell phones and the computer revolution, which has decentralized production of knowledge. But that's totally field than energy. It's also worth noting that all of our cell phones and ... are still made in really big factories. The economies of scale somehow didn't go away.
Paul: Within the environmental community there are people out there that are espousing this idea that we can go to 100 per cent renewable generation. The whole grid can be based on renewables. You've debated Professor Jacobson at Stanford. He was basically refuted by a lot of preeminent scientists yet this view still is out there. It's still being promoted. How destructive is that to the larger goals that are being trying to achieve? And is there a way to reconcile a place for renewables, a place for base load, in a way that actually solves the mathematical problem as opposed to maybe these idealized scenarios that according to a lot of preeminent scientists just don't hold up but people hear it. It sounds nice and they latch on to it.
Michael: Yeah. I think that's what it is. What's the problem you want to solve? What's the goal? Do we want to solve climate change? Or do we want to have 100 per cent renewables? In terms of renewables, where do you have 100 per cent renewables? You have them in really poor countries like in South Asia or in Central Africa. I spent a bunch of time in Central Africa. Again, people are using 100 per cent renewables because they're using wood and dung is their main source of energy. That's not something that any of us would want to, no one else would want to live like that. The folks that you interview there don't want to live like that. I think you could go, "We could all go to 100 per cent renewables but why would we want to?" Because then you couldn't have prosperity and you couldn't have environmental protection. The only way that the wildlife in country's returns is when you stop using the forests for your energy and you let nature be just nature and not natural resources. The problem with renewables, ironically for people that advocate for it, for environmental reasons it just requires a lot more natural resource use. Something I didn't realize until we started really looking at it, but solar and wind and hydroelectricity environments, they all just require using a lot more of the earth. If you care about the natural world then you should want to move away from those forms of energy production.
Paul: Germany, after Fukushima, made the big decision to close down its nuclear program, maybe over reactionary to events. There were political dimensions to it, but at the end of the day it is what it is, and they've embraced this large scale renewables program. Yet we see that the results, maybe, are falling a little bit if not a lot short of their goals. What lessons can we take from the German experience, and is that something that people are going to look at and say, "Okay. This was a huge mistake." Or, "They got some things right and they should have done some things differently." What lessons do we take from what they've been doing and maybe where they're headed?
Michael: Well, Germany, and my home state of California, I think are both good examples of what not to do. If you want to either protect your environment or protect your economy. German, just on economics, German electricity prices have gone up 50 per cent over the 10 years that they've been doing renewables. California's electricity prices increased five times more than they increased at the national level since 2011. Carbon emissions have gone up in Germany. Carbon emissions went up in California. So both have done a lot of renewables but because they've been taking down their nuclear plants, and having to replace some of fossil fuels, their emissions have been going up. I think the interesting thing is I think the truth is finally getting out about Germany. So last year you saw Germany announced they were going to abandon their climate target for 2020. It also came out around the same that they destroyed an entire village and, a separate league, an ancient church in order to create a new coal mine. After that happened, the French president, who had said he wanted to reduce his country's reliance on nuclear, came out and said, "When countries like Germany replace their nuclear plants, taking them down, their fossil fuel increases, their emissions go up; I'm not going to do that." I think we've already started to see a reaction. I think a positive one from France, and I think some other parts of the world.
Paul: Is there a bit of hypocrisy in all this too in the sense that just being an American sitting from afar and looking, we're both from the United States, but you look at Germany and you say, "If you don't like nuclear, that's fine. That's your choice. And you live with your choices. But then why buy nuclear power from France?" That's the part I don't understand. In your travels, how do you see people sort of defend these positions and say, "Well, we're shutting down all our nuclear but oh thank God the French will sell us their nuclear power."
Michael: Yeah. Well, you know, the first thing is people are pretty deceptive about it. People will say things like, "We've replaced our fossil fuels with renewables in Germany." Well, that's just not true. Sometimes they'll just cite capacity rather than generation which is just a technical trick. But I think that's trying to change. I mean, I was invited to give a very high-level briefing to the Japanese government at the end of last year and I was supposed to have one of my respondents was a prominent renewable energy expert from Germany, first they said, "She's going to have to literally phone it in." I flew to Japan and, "Oh, she's going to do it by telephone conference." Then they said, "Oh she got sick. Can't do it." I think she was nervous about being confronted with the data. The other thing is it's only been 10 years that the world has been doing a lot of solar and wind. You could kind of go, "Hey, that's probably not going to work out given that's it intermittent." But now we've got 10 years of data and I think that it's having a big impact on how people think about it.
Paul: You did a lot of work in Korea recently. I found it incredible when you look at the success that Korea's had, South Korea, with their nuclear program and how they imported the technology, developed it further, have had a very successful, not only new build program but availability. It's powered their country. Not only did the guy who won take an anti-nuclear position but a lot of the other leading candidates were also anti-nuclear. I found that shocking in a country that had such a great nuclear story. What did you attribute that to? And then maybe talk about how attitudes have evolved since the election.
Michael: Yeah. Great question. That could be all we talk about. On the one hand, every country's different and on the other hand every country's the same. Every country's the same in that the fears that people have about nuclear are just the same, everywhere. In some places it's more about waste. In some places it's more about meltdowns. It's really the same fears. What's different is that in South Korea there was really a changing of the guard from a kind of more conservative post-war, the first kind of ruling government group after they got democracy in the late 80s, to now more Liberal government. That new Liberal government had more anti-nuclear attitudes. That was part of what's going on. There's just sort of a being different than the last guy. Of course there's a backlash against Fukushima. Fukushima scared the Korean people. Then they had a big movie. Just sometimes a big movie, a scary anti-nuclear movie that came out at the end of 2016. I think all those forces led to a backlash against nuclear but that story's not over because they then put it to a citizens jury, comprised of several hundred ordinary folks, to deliberate on the question of whether to continue with nuclear or not, at the end of last year. They were, initially, they polled them all. They were 60 per cent against nuclear when they started, but after they considered all the facts they were 60 per cent in favour. I think the truth still matters. The facts still matter. People have to understand why. It's not just, I think in the past the industry has been very much, "Let me educate you about radiation," but I think part of it is just saying, "Hey. If we care about lifting people out of poverty, solving climate change, then let's take a look at the facts." I think that made a big difference.
Paul: Let's look at our home country and where we have the largest nuclear fleet, still, maybe not for long. The longest civilian nuclear history and yet we've shut down plants in states that are deregulated where the plants no longer are economically viable. There's been a lot of activity at the state level to try and keep these plants from shutting down. You've been involved in this effort. What lessons learned are we seeing from this dynamic? Not about whether we can build new plants but just keeping the existing ones running and how does that dovetail with your goals in terms of clean energy and climate change?
Michael: Yeah. The first thing is it's been hugely successful. I mean, we were at big risk of losing a bunch of plants in Illinois, New York and Connecticut. Looks like New Jersey's going to save its plants. All decided to save their nuclear plants. Really on the basis of climate change. To some extent they didn't want to be overly dependent on natural gas which is what would happen. Just telling the law makers the reality of their energy situation. The truth about nuclear had a big impact. I think we've got to be more ambitious now. Nuclear's still just 20 per cent of our electricity. We should be more like France, right? It should be like 70, 80 per cent. The big opportunity is I think we're going to move to electric cars. But we should also be electrifying heating. If you really are serious about climate change you need 100 per cent of your electricity to come from clean energy but then you also need to power your cars and generate your heat with clean energy. That's going to require a lot of nuclear. I think the industry is in a place of transition. I think it's still kind of suffering battered wife syndrome. Kind of wanting to hide its light under a bushel. I think we're coming into a new younger generation. They're more assertive. They're more excited. They're more optimistic. I think you're seeing that energy showing up in new leadership saying, "Hey. Let's be more ambitious here. Let's get more nuclear going."
Paul: How much does the electrification of transportation excite you, and then, also scare you? Because, on the one hand it sounds great and people buy the Ford Prius that they feel good about. But if they're then charging it from electricity from a coal plant, it's causing more harm than doing good. So, yes, electric vehicles, but if we don't solve where the electricity is coming from, how nervous are you about that and then, I'll just throw on there because I've been reading about it recently, Bitcoin. And mining Bitcoin and we're hearing the power drain. Iceland is one of these places right now where people are mining Bitcoin because it's cold, and they have the patent, but it's overwhelming some power systems because of all the drain. So, we see these new developments, in terms of the way our society is evolving, where we're becoming more electricity intensive, which can be a good thing in some ways, but if we don't solve it on the generation side we may be doing more harm than good.
Michael: Absolutely agree. One hundred per cent. It's something we should be very worried about. If you go from burning oil in your car to burning electricity from coal you just created more pollution. I totally worry about. I think a broader percept of energy transitions, every time you go from wood to coal, coal to oil, to natural gas, to uranium, you're using more energy but the energy you're using is cleaner. It's often, as energy transitions are actually driven by the transportation sector, right, it was why'd we start using a lot of coal to use it in the trains and the ships? Why did we move to oil to replace the coal in the trains and ships? Electricity, electric trains. You kind of go, "Next phase of transportation revolution, self-driving cars, electric cars, what are they going to be powered by?" I think that can be very good for nuclear because low electricity demand in the United States right now is a big problem for nuclear. Problem for everybody, arguably. May be a bigger problem for nuclear. I think you've got to do both. You've got to put that pressure on the supply side to get clean but also I think embrace this new demand coming from electric vehicles. So at the same time it could be very positive, could be very negative. We've got to get on the right side of it.
Paul: When you look at the numbers, whether it's the climate change targets or amount of real estate used for nuclear versus renewables or efficiency levels, the numbers, when you look at the numbers from, call it reliable sources, the numbers are fairly unequivocal in terms of the need for nuclear and the place for nuclear yet nuclear isn't winning on the math. Or it hasn't won on the math. The math seems fairly simple. Where do you think the disconnect is, and is it just a matter of continuing to push that information out in a better way? Or is it something different?
Michael: I think it's both. I think the nuclear community, which I would define as the industry, the scientific community, the folks at those scientific labs and the universities and environmental activists, like myself. I think we all have to do a better job of presenting a positive vision of the future, and explaining how nuclear fits into it, then we've done. Myself, I've been focused on kind of protecting nuclear plants and preventing them from being replaced by greenhouse gas emissions. Haven't had enough time to really talk about a better world, right? Everybody living prosperous lives, abundant energy lives, abundant housing, abundant goods, with a lower environmental impact. I always point out what you want to do is conserve the use of material resources. You want to use energy to do that. Energy is a way you use less matter. E = mc². If you use more energy then you don't have to use as much natural resource. I think we've done a poor job of that. I think it's just been a community that's just been beaten up for so long. People are just kind of like, you know, "Just don't hit me." and it's little bit hiding your light under a bushel. I think you just got to be like, "Look. This is the best way we have of making electricity. The best way we have of making heat." Got to be taking advantage of that. I do think technological innovation plays a role too. Though I'm much more of an advocate of incremental innovation when it comes to nuclear just because it's such a capital intensive path dependent technology. But there's new fuels that are being tested right now that hold the potential to not meltdown. If that happens you could lower the regulatory burden and get big cost savings as well.
Paul: Where does government come into all of this? We look at a country like the UAE that made a national decision, we're going nuclear. It happened. You have the UK where they're trying but they did a lot on the front end in terms of making it a national dialogue before reaching a conclusion and putting that to the populous, this is what we need to do. We're both in a country where national energy planning is not necessarily our strength, but whether it's the United States or elsewhere, how important is government in terms of seeing this through and driving the process as opposed to letting the market take care of it itself? Where's the balance in all that, in your view?
Michael: Yeah. As you know, since electricity is a natural monopoly, you don't really want to have a bunch of companies competing to string copper string to your home. We've tended to have a pretty good system, I think, which is that you have a monopoly that you regulate. So you can make a profit but you can't price gouge by using your monopoly power. I think that system has worked great. I don't see a big need to change it. The utilities can be public, they can be private, they just need to be regulated and you need to have a kind of a negotiation. Yeah, you're right about the United States. We don't do a lot of that planning.
Paul: Now we've deregulated a lot of that.
Michael: We've deregulated. Though you look at these markets where, I'm always scratching my head because they go, "Well, this is a deregulated market." I'm like, "Well, the government sure is involved quite heavily in a bunch of different ways." Right? It's a big part of your business probably is managing all of the different government regulations as they deregulate markets. To some extent they've been positive because they've allowed natural gas to replace coal. But I think in other ways they haven't been so positive because, you know, when you go to the grocery store and if you're grocery store doesn't have apples, you go next door and maybe they got apples. But if you're generating electricity, if you don't have clean energy, you don't have cheap reliable electricity, you can't just go next door. It takes 10 years, or more, to build a plant. You do need some of that long-term planning. It doesn't look like we're going to get a carbon price. But what we've argued for, and it's starting to happen a bit, is in the States to say, "You have a clean energy standard. We're living a little bit more from clean energy every year, just include nuclear in that." That's going to get you to 100 per cent clean energy much faster and it allows for competition between the different technologies.
Paul: You mentioned a little bit before about new technologies. In the United States there's probably 40 different developers of SMRs, or advanced reactors. If you add in Canada, you're well over 50. There's no way that they're all going to make it. In terms of funding. In terms of just getting through the regulatory process. But at the same time there are a lot of potential uses for these new technologies. How do you see that all shaking out? Is it going to be just a survival of the fittest? There's this view that, at least in the United States, the government should not pick winners. Yet when you look at the military and how weapon systems are procured, they're picking winners all the time. So, if we look and say nuclear's important and we want to see these new technologies develop, given the unique challenges that the nuclear industry faces, do we need to see government having a stronger hand in all of this to sort of bring these to the market faster? I'll just ramble for another second because if you look at the developing world where you have the existing population that needs power, the populations growing so not only do you need power for what's there but you need even more. We want to get this type of clean generation more distributed to the world and that's not quite yet ready. Is there a way to pull that forward? Can some national leadership possibly occur there, not just for the country, but even more broadly?
Michael: Yeah. The tradition line that's been drawn between where the government's job ends and where the market begins has been demonstration. Government demonstrates and then the private sector, in this case it would be utilities, would go ahead and pick those up. Nuclear is tricky. I'll tell you the problem is that you need to run these plants for a few years before you know which ones the right one, even then it's hard to know based on the prototype that it's going to be, that's where I sort of tend to favour, with nuclear, more incremental approach. I'm all in favour of R&D and demonstration for these different designs. I think what's more potentially game changing sooner are the new fuels. If you get fuels that can survive a loss of coolant, which is how accidents occur and meltdowns, because a loss of coolant for several hours or maybe even days, obviously get a big safety benefit. Then you can reduce the regulatory burden as well and see that some costs come down. It's interesting because we wrote a history of the fracking revolution and people kind of go, "Oh, the fracking revolution was about fracking," but it turned out it was about three big technologies coming together and combining. So we tend to be a little bit simplistic in our view of these technological changes. I think that what may be the future of nuclear is might be using the same designs that we have but with some different fuels and some better management techniques, might be the key thing to make it cheaper than say coal or natural gas in the United States.
Paul: Earlier today you talked about Diablo Canyon a bit. And when California was in the deepest parts of its drought, Diablo Canyon started reconfiguring to desalinate water for the local community. How excited do you get about nuclear's application for desalination in the developing world? But also when you look at some water stressed areas, not just for the people, but the potential for conflict over water rights, do you see nuclear as being a useful tool here, a realistic tool that is something that people need to think more about?
Michael: Absolutely. Desalination is amazing. Diablo Canyon has two reactors but it was designed for five. At least one of them was supposed to be used for desalination. It's not like our water scarcity is a new thing. We've always been dealing with it in California. It's not just desalination. You can also recycle waste water. It's kind of gross. People don't want to think about it but you can. Just completely recycle all the waste water and have beautiful pure drinking water. Mainly you just need cheap energy. Similarly, you can do the desalination and in California it's obviously a key place to do it, but just like you said you can green your deserts. You can grow food in deserts. It's an amazing application for that because it does generate such high levels of heat and cheap electricity. I just think the future of nuclear is a future of a greener world, a cleaner world, a world of abundant energy. Not one of scarcity and limited resources.
Paul: The nuclear industry's been sort of challenged in getting its message out. Now we have a lot of groups, think tanks, NGO's, sort of promoting nuclear. We see, as you mentioned before, the UN study on climate change, again promoting nuclear but is it going to take something at the national level, at the presidential level, or pick your country, at that level of leadership to really make fundamental changes to say, "We're not going about this the right way." Here are the goals. Very much like what you're doing on the environmental side is saying, "My goal is this. These are the numbers and these are the tools that I have to use and nuclear is one of them so we've just got to get it done." But doing it locally, and organically, is obviously very important but to really make the changes to get to any of these goals in a meaningful way. Does it have to be better articulated within the leadership of whatever country we're going to have, not to say, "I like nuclear. I like these things in nuclear." but to really promote. Change the dialogue to one of promotion but also articulation as to why.
Michael: I 100 per cent agree. The big problem, of course, at least in the United States, is that the utilities that own nuclear also own coal plants, natural gas and renewables and so they're hesitant to say that nuclear's the best. But that's what you would need to do, right? If you're a solar industry association you don't say, "It's all good." You say, "Solar's the best." Right? We need that for nuclear. I think the right institution to do is actually the world nuclear association because that's funded by the uranium companies. They don't have any conflicts. They should want to expand their market share. I think that WNA, I'd love to see them play that role a little bit more. I've been encouraging them privately to do that. To speak about the fact that nuclear has a transcendent moral purpose. It was founded with a moral purpose of lifting everybody out of poverty and protecting the natural environment. But sometimes I think when you read the things that the industry says, including WNA, it has sort of like an "it's all good" and nuclear's not that bad. You know? Which is not that inspiring. I think we've got to challenge ourselves to bring back some of that excitement and enthusiasm for this better world. Particularly those, especially those, institutions that don't have any of those conflicts.
Paul: Just to start of wrap up. In looking at things that you've done, both in the US and worldwide, and looking at where you hope to see things go, if you were to say there are three key points, either in terms of message or in terms of programmatic changes, what are you seeing as the path to success in terms of, not just the health of the nuclear industry, put that aside. Climate change, reaching our goals, fostering development in an environmentally responsible way, what do you see as the three keys?
Michael: Yeah. This is a great question. I think the first is you start with prosperity. People care more about prosperity then they do the natural environment. Totally understandable. People need to understand you need abundant, cheap and reliable and energy to have universal prosperity. Those of us in the rich world, we forget that most people are just a lot poorer, and they need abundant electricity. That's got to be number one. I think number two is obviously environmental protection. We've made a huge progress. It wasn't like just a few years ago that Greenpeace publicly would deny that nuclear has a small environmental footprint. It doesn't produce emissions. I think the third part of it is peace. We forget is Atoms for Peace, Eisenhower's famous United Nations speech in 1953. The idea was if you have nuclear energy you're going to have an incentive not to get a weapon and we've seen that. No country has gotten an operating nuclear energy program and then decided to go out and get a weapon. Some ways nuclear energy inoculates countries from wanting a weapon. From needing a weapon. I always give the example of South Korea, which is obviously in the news right now, South Korea and North Korea. South Korea is a rich country now. It's illuminated from outer space. You can see it lit it up. 30 per cent nuclear power. No weapon. North Korea, it's dark from outer space. No electricity. No nuclear power but they have a weapon. They wanted to get nuclear energy. A bunch of problems occurred and they ended up getting weapon. So, I kind of look at that. I go, "Which world do we want? Do we want that illuminated South Korea world or do we want that dark nuclear weapons world?" Because that's the choice that we have.
Paul: Final question. From an infras development perspective, when you look at forecasts for infrastructure development, moving outside of energy and you look at the infrastructure we need in the United States, we get horrible grades in terms of infrastructure, the needs elsewhere in the world, infrastructure is crumbling, or needs to be developed, or both, the numbers are gargantuan in terms of the money that's needed. Energy falls inside of that. For sure. And anything we're doing is going to require a very heavy lift in terms of financing. The monies got to come from somewhere. If you look at it on a project level you think of it one way. If you think of it at a national level, you know, the decision France made in the 70s and 80s where they made a heavy investment at the tax payer's costs, but then the country benefited for years to come. How do you see us making the transformative change in terms of infrastructure development, including energy, to get to these goals? Do you see it public/private partnership? Do you see it government led? Do you see it private sector led? The combination of all? Where's the money coming from?
Michael: I think it's got to be a combination. I mean, at the end of the day, right, you always see this in electricity markets, in particular. Everybody says it's deregulated or regulated. It's always governments going to be involved. Has to be involved. I think it's great to have the private sector involved. It's going to demand some discipline and some cost efficacy. I wouldn't want to see it tilt too much in either direction. I like that hybrid model. One of the problems I saw in South Korea was that because the electric utilities are government owned they couldn't defend their nuclear plants when they got an anti-nuclear president. They had to do it kind of quietly. Similarly, I think a totally private sector effort wouldn't take into account the public interest in the way that it should. So, I think there should be a hybrid model. I will say, though, I think that when the people of a country want to do something, the monies there. There's plenty of money for solar and wind because people like solar and wind.
Paul: But then you've got to make the case to the people.
Michael: You've got to make the case to the people. It's got to come from the public.
Paul: Fair enough. Listen, I would be remiss before we end if I didn't sort of give you the opportunity to mention how people can learn more about what you're doing, in terms of environmental progress, and your TED talks so if you can maybe just finish with, "Hey that sounded really good. Where could I get a little bit more of Michael Schoenberger?"
Michael: It's environmentalprogress.org. Take a look at us online. Not for profit. Independent of the industry. Able to kind of come to our own conclusions. Have a bunch of TED talks online. Would love to have folks watching as members.
Paul: Listen, this is fantastic. Thank you so much.
Michael: Thanks for having me.
Paul: It was a real pleasure.
Michael: Yeah. Great. It's great being here.
Paul: Take care.
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