But even those trying to find rational solutions to counteracting the "super-wicked" problem of climate change have to work hard to avert magical thinking. Last week I wrote a blog post in which I implied that proponents of nuclear energy might be susceptible to magical thinking in expecting nuclear to act as a sublime, all-powerful and all-powering, and virtually invisible energy source for the future, when serious questions remain as to nuclear energy's safety, reliability, affordability, and efficiency.
Yet in the week since, various energy analysts have impressed upon me that the idea that renewable energy sources alone can take up the slack from fossil fuels may be more akin to magical thinking. The problem is based in how vacillating power sources without cost-effective storage means affect an energy grid. To maintain consistency, the grid requires non-renewable or nuclear power sources to keep running even when solar is peaking--an expensive proposition all around. Despite years of work on the problem, a battery technology that would turn renewables from intermittent providers to a grid to stable ones remains the hypothetical, magical variable.
Which brings us back to nuclear. Lately a quote has been circulating that Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, thinks nuclear is probably necessary to combat climate change due to fossil fuels but that incorporating a nuclear plank would "split the movement." Nuclear, meanwhile, has been powering cities for over fifty years with extremely minimal damage relative to other power sources; it has in fact prevented millions of deaths according to recent study. Risks of even nuclear power gone wrong are being drastically reevaluated in the wake of some new U.N. reports suggesting that the ultimate effects of radiation from the Fukishima accident were "none dead, none sick" and that, in general, the risks of nuclear radiation have been overhyped due to a problematic metric.
Meanwhile, states and countries are decommissioning nuclear power plants to placate constituencies that appear to be worried without good cause. With these plants gone, more fossil fuel inevitably gets added into the energy mix. It's looking like the real magical thinking is energy policy that thinks it can subtract nuclear energy rather than add it and yet still avert climate change.