If there are coincidences with symbolism, this is one of them. At 6 pm on the Peninsula yesterday - 12 noon local time - closes the nuclear power plant of the Three Mile Island. For the vast majority of people - certainly, for those who in 1979 were too young to read newspapers or watch television - the Three Mile Island means absolutely nothing.
But forty years, five months, and three weeks ago, there was a Chernobyl about to occur, when the plant's cooling system failed and the reactor was about to melt. "Three Mile Island" and Harrisburg - the capital of the state of Pennsylvania, located next to the power station - became that 1979 that still marks our existence today (the USSR invaded Afghanistan, the Islamic Revolution prevailed in Iran, Margaret Thatcher won the British elections, and China began to authorize the free market).
So it is still curious that the Three Mile Island closes just the same day that a wave of student strikes in the West against the warming of the Earth is celebrated. In theory, atomic energy should be one of the keys to solving the problem of climate change on Earth. In the US, for example, nuclear power supplies about a fifth of the energy generated in the country, but more than half of the emission-free power generation. However, since the Three Mile Island accident, only one new reactor has entered service in the US. Six - including the accident - have been closed. Every time the interest in nuclear energy in the US has been reactivated, an accident has arrived - Chernobyl in 1986, Fukushima in 2011 - to freeze enthusiasm.
The paradox that nuclear energy, which does not generate emissions, is considered too dangerous to be used in the climate crisis illustrates the complexity of the debate. Stopping the 'greenhouse effect' will require changing all our energy sources. And energy is not only what keeps an economy going, but rather a society. The world changed when fuel went from wood and animal manure (and, in the US, from sperm whale oil) to fossil fuels - coal and oil -. Now, touch a similar transformation. But, on this occasion, the imperative is not economic. It is not about more efficient energy. The question is to preserve the Earth.
So the dimensions of change are unimaginable. An example: the meat and dairy industry emit more gases that cause global warming than the entire energy sector. Surprising but true. This is due both to factors that seem understandable to us (the burning and felling of forests to create farmland and pastures) and others that border on the bizarre and the eschatological (belching and excrement of cows, which contain a lot of methane, a gas that is a tremendous agent in global warming). So, perhaps, instead of taking it with ExxonMobil, Shell, or BP, we would have to go for companies like the New Zealand border - the largest dairy exporter in the world -, the French Danone, the Swiss Nestlé, or the Brazilian JBS , which is the largest meat on Earth.
The problem is exacerbated because emissions figures are, at best, incomplete, and, at worst, false. Even in regulated sectors, such as fracking in the United States, there is tremendous controversy about the amount of methane that is released into the atmosphere. And that is not to mention the intentional fraud of companies, such as the famous Volkswagen scandal when it comes to falsifying the CO2 data produced by their cars. When that problem is transferred to the developing world, or to dictatorships, such as China or Russia, the doubts about what is emitted are even greater.
And finally, there is the issue of subsidies. We all know that renewables are subsidized. What is not so well known is that fossil energies are even more so. According to the IMF, last year fossil fuels received 4.7 billion dollars (4.3 billion euros) in subsidies. That amounts to nothing less than 6.3% of world GDP. China allocated 1.3 billion euros to that item; USA, 589,000 million; Russia, 500,000; and the EU, 262,000 million. If these subsidies disappear, all the energy in the world will be much more expensive, and we will most likely end up in a deep global recession.
So, changing energy sources is like changing, from top to bottom, the entire civilization.
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