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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, Bjorn Lomborg paints a completely different picture. "Everything is fine." Indeed, "everything is getting better." 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 expansion 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? Jonathan Porritt, chair of the Sustainable Development Commission, writes: "there is no justification for bringing forward plans for a new nuclear power programme 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 ofGaia: "Now is much too late to establish sustainable development." In his view, power from nuclear fission, while

David Goodstein's Out of Gas (2004).
Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist (2001).

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