December 18, 2012

Ten Questions for an End of the World 

Dinner Party

  1. If the Universe disappears because time is going to end, where will it disappear to? Will it be to the place that it came from before time began, 13.6 billion years ago?
  2. Will it all disappear at once, or will it disappear into one of its many dimensions, finally proving string theory? If it disappears into a black hole hidden inside another black hole, to await the next Big Bang, does that qualify as ending?
  3. If God exists, will he or she cease to exist? What would that say about divine immanence?
  4. If God continues to exist, what kind of apology might be appropriate to those who expected better?
  5. If there are multiple universes, and only this universe ends, will it create a vacuum that is available for colonization by other universes?
  6. If it’s only time that's going to end, will matter be frozen into its last timeless moments forever? Can matter exist without time? Can consciousness exist without time?
  7. If time ceases to exist, but we first do whatever it takes to create a timeless moment, will some part of us be suspended in that timeless moment forever?
  8. If time ceases to exist, movement must also cease to exist, including the movement of particles inside an atom. Since atoms are 99.999999999% empty space, and without time the particles of an atom can no longer move, will they all glom together, doing nothing? They could not explode, since an explosion requires time.
  9. Since hell involves fire, and fire requires time, hell will presumably also cease to exist. Will everyone trapped in hell be instantly freed? Could heaven exist without time? Will everyone who was in hell be suddenly united with everyone in heaven? Will Dante be there to record their conversations, in a timeless kind of way?
  10. What’s to prepare for, if we are not going to be around to experience it? 
- Guy Dauncey, tongue in cheek, December 18th 2012


Nuclear – Hope or Hype?

March 15, 2011

In the light of the Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and disasters at the Fukushima plants, I am posting this excerpt from my recent book, arguing that nuclear power is not a safe solution to global warming.

Extract from The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming

by Guy Dauncey, November 2009

Faced with the climate emergency, some look to nuclear power as a clean, safe, cost-effective solution. Unfortunately, it is none of these.

It makes no economic sense

The nuclear industry argues that nuclear power is cheaper than coal-fired power or wind power - but an assessment in Ontario, based on the actual performance of existing reactors and the required return of capital, suggested that the realistic life-time price of new nuclear power would be 20 cents/kWh, more than two and a half times the price of wind or microhydro.[i]

The nuclear industry wants to build 1000 new plants – but nuclear plants almost always come in over budget and over time, and we need solutions now. The average construction time is 15 years (8 years in France), and the last US plant took 23 years to complete. Ontario’s five nuclear plants all had cost overruns ranging from 40% to 270%.

There are also big hidden costs the taxpayer has to cover, such as the cost of handling a nuclear disaster, which could cost $600 billion in damages and claims. The nuclear industry’s liability is limited to $9.1 billion in the US, $700 million in Europe, and just $75 million in Canada, with the taxpayer picking up the rest. If the nuclear industry had to buy insurance for all its liability costs, it would never get financed.

There’s also the problem of radioactive wastes, which have to be stored for up to 250,000 years, twice as long as since modern humans left Africa. In Canada, taxpayers are on the hook for $24 billion to cover just the first 300 years.[ii] At then the end of a reactor’s life it has to be decommissioned, at a cost of $325 million per reactor[iii]. In Britain the total estimated cost is £70 billion, 70% of which will be covered by the taxpayer.

As a result of these realities, the private sector won’t touch nuclear power unless there is firm government support. In the US since 1948 the nuclear industry has received $74 billion in subsidies, with an additional $13 billion in 2007 and $50 billion in loan guarantees, and an average subsidy of $13 billion per new nuclear plant – roughly its entire cost.[iv] In Canada, it has received $20 billion in subsidies since 1952.

If we are going to use public money, we should do so intelligently. In 2008, Architecture 2030 reported that compared to nuclear energy, a $21.6 billion investment in building efficiency would produce three times greater CO2 reductions, create 216,000 new jobs, and produce new energy for a fifth of the cost clean coal or nuclear power.[v] Because such options exist, public investments in nuclear power, as opposed to building efficiency, will actually slow down the path to climate solutions.[vi]

The world has a limited supply of uranium

The world’s 440 nuclear reactors, with a combined capacity of 363 GW, use 67,000 tonnes of uranium a year, averaging 146 tonnes per reactor. At this rate, the world’s uranium reserves of around 4.5 million tonnes will last for 70 years. If we build 1,000 new nuclear plants with a combined capacity of 1500 GW, as widely proposed, they will need an additional 277,000 tonnes a year.

By 2025, when the new reactors might begin to operate, the reserves will have fallen to 3.5 million tonnes, and the demand will now be 344,000 tonnes a year.[vii] At this rate, the uranium will be exhausted in 10 years. Some propose that we build fast breeder reactors fueled by their own fissile wastes, but these have been a technical and economic failure. Others argue that higher uranium prices will cause new reserves to be found – but even if reserves doubled, they would be exhausted in 20 years.

More problems

Nuclear power plants need cooling, but in the summer of 2003 France had to close a quarter of its 58 plants because the river-water used to cool them was too warm – because of global warming. If we locate them by the sea, they will be vulnerable to sea-level rise. They are also vulnerable to earthquakes, as the 2007 Japanese earthquake demonstrated.

There is also the concern that nuclear technology allows nuclear weapons proliferation, and the use of stolen plutonium to make dirty bombs; or that terrorists might fly a hijacked plane into a nuclear reactor.

Nuclear power also poses grave health risks. Uranium mining and nuclear power plants contribute to greater rates of breast cancer, lung cancer, and childhood leukemia. Following the Chernobyl nuclear accident, there has been a 90-fold increase in thyroid cancer, and thousands of deaths.[viii]

Nuclear power produces less CO2 that coal-fired power, but 24 times more than wind[ix] – and why take such risks when there are cheaper, safer ways to generate the energy we need? Those who promote nuclear power as a solution to climate change have simply not done their homework.

Nuclear power has died of an incurable attack of market forces and is way beyond any hope of revival, because the competitors are several-fold cheaper and are getting rapidly more so.

- Amory Lovins

Millions Against Nuclear:

Nuclear Power: Climate Fix or Folly?

Nuclear Power: The Energy Balance:

World Information Service on Nuclear:

[i] Ontario Clean Air Alliance, “High Cost Energy: The Economics of Nuclear Power,” Air Quality Issues

Fact Sheet #20 (March 2006).

[ii] Nuclear Waste Management Organization. Final Study: Choosing a Way Forward.

[iii] Decommissioning Nuclear Facilities. Australian Uranium Association Nuclear Issues Briefing Paper 13 June 2007

[iv] Why expanding nuclear power would reduce and retard climate protection and energy security… but can’t survive free-market capitalism. Invited testimony to the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming United States House of Representatives, Washington, DC Hearing on “Nuclear Power in a Warming World: Solution or Illusion?” 12 March 2008, by Amory Lovins, Chief Scientist, Rocky Mountain Institute.

[v] The 2030 Blueprint. Architecture 2030, April 7, 2008.

[vi] Amory Lovins, as above.

[vii] The calculation assumes the need for 184.5 tonnes of uranium per GW of capacity.

[viii] For more evidence, see Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic, by Liz Armstrong, Guy Dauncey and Anne Wordsworth. (New Society, 2007)

[ix] Nuclear Power - the Energy Balance. See In Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security (Energy & Environmental Science, December 1st 2008), Stanford’s Mark Jacobson finds that when you combine a life-cycle analysis and opportunity cost CO2 emissions due to delays in nuclear construction compared to wind energy, nuclear power produces 68-180 grams of CO2 per kWh.


Yawn - Just Another Climate Emergency

October 8, 2010

by Guy Dauncey

If the climate-denying leaders of the oil and coal industries think they can bribe, sponsor or advertise their way out of the problem, they should think again.

Wake up! There’s a climate emergency!!! We’re heading for catastrophe!

By almost every standard of scientific diligence, the warnings are accurate and real, but the world turns over, checks that the trees are still green, and goes back to sleep.

Emergency! is a hard word to use. If you over-use it, no-one pays attention. The guy stands sadly on the street corner with his sign saying, The end of the world is nigh!, and people pass quietly by.

Thanks to our long evolutionary past, we humans are first visceral, then emotional, and only finally are we rational.

Three kinds of emergency

v When a saber-tooth tiger attacks, it’s fight or flee! There’s no moment of choice - your instinct takes over, primed by millions of years of genetic selection. It’s a visceral emergency.

v When the enemy is coming and you’ve only got a day to prepare, your instinct to protect and survive kicks in and there’s a rapid fusion of analysis, planning and action, primed once again by millions of years of genetic selection. It’s an emotional emergency.

v When your scientific analysts tell you there’s an emergency coming, however, but your senses give you no evidence of it, you have all the time in the world to think about it, and to decide on balance that it would be much more convenient if the warning was false. It’s a supposed emergency, not a real emergency, so it can be ignored.

A rational emergency is an emotional emergency for which we have advance warning.

You’d have thought we’d be grateful for our ability to think ahead, and take advantage of the lead-time this gives us, but judging by historical precedent, our ability to act in advance of a rational emergency is almost zero. Our desire to enjoy comfort now seems to be far stronger than our desire to ensure comfort in some vague theoretical future, especially if it requires getting up out of our comfort-zones, and doing something.

Did we ever heed the advance warnings of a rational emergency?

v In the 3rd century BC Mesopotamian civilization, they failed to realize that their irrigation systems were salting the soil, making the land unfarmable.

v In 16th century Spain, they failed to realize that the massive influx of gold from the Americas would cause inflation and ruin their economy.

v In 1930s Europe, they failed to heed the warnings that Hitler’s Germany was re-arming.

In all our long human history, did we ever heed the advance warnings of a rational emergency, and act appropriately? The Great Wall of China was built after the arrival of nomadic hordes from the north. Canada’s moratorium on Atlantic cod fishing was put in place after the cod collapsed. On the other hand, Alaska is managing to protect its ocean fisheries before they collapse, so there’s reason to believe that wisdom can sometimes prevail.

If our ability to respond to a rational emergency really is very small, however, is the likelihood that we will prevent the looming climate emergency by acting now to phase out fossil fuels, protect our forests, and cut back on meat also very small?

Emotional resistance

“Cut back on meat”… did you feel the emotional resistance kick in? Scientific analysis tells us that the global livestock industry is causing 20% of global warming - but wouldn’t it be more convenient if it wasn’t? Maybe the data’s wrong. Maybe this whole climate thing is wrong. This is where emotional denial kicks in. Even in the heart of the environmental movement, among activists who swear off flying since it causes 2.5% of global warming, meat is still often on the menu at potlucks and barbeques. Being an environmentalist does not grant immunity to the experience of denial.

It’s not as if there weren’t people who warned us of looming rational emergencies, as Churchill did in the 1930s, and anti-nuclear activists did in the 1970s. But the message seems not to get through until it’s too late, or until the rational emergency is sufficiently close to be upgraded to an emotional emergency.

How many light bulbs?

There’s a second problem, too. Even when individuals are motivated to act by long-distance warnings - the last time the global temperature was 3°C higher, the global sea level was 25 metres higher - they quickly realize that it’s no use acting on their own.

How many light bulbs do you have to change to prevent the looming climate emergency? Even ten million will make no difference if that’s all that happens - but ten might be enough if the world’s top leaders all changed them simultaneously on TV, while pledging to achieve a rapid transition off fossil fuels.

It is not as if we don’t know what to do. We do know what we need to do - many books and papers have spelt it out - but there are forces at work with deep pockets and well paid lobbyists who are actively insisting that climate science is junk-science, and solar energy will never replace fossil fuels.

“Climate prosperity”

A Canadian government body - the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy - has just created an initiative called “climate prosperity”, sponsored by the oil giant Suncor Energy, putting colour posters in every school making out that Canada could be a happy prosperous land when temperatures are warmer, even if things are a bit difficult elsewhere.

Does this make for a hopeless situation? Is Suncor right, with its sponsored message “don’t worry, be happy, and enjoy the rising temperature”?

Absolutely not. The climate emergency is getting closer every day, whether or not people have registered, and the only rational response is to persist with public education, persist with political lobbying, persist with the warnings, and persist with the vision of a world that can flourish without fossil fuels, air pollution, tar-sands, and oil-fuelled terrorism.

The 10:10:10 global work party

This weekend, people in 188 countries - myself included - will participate in over 7,000 practical climate actions as part of’s 10:10:10 global work party, including in every US state and 47 European nations. We are all focused on the need to reduce the CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere from the current dangerous level of 390 (and rising) to 350 parts per million.

No-one pretends that these symbolic actions are enough - but equally, no-one pretends that standing on the sidelines shouting Emergency! is enough. We have to go on sounding the alarm bells, so that we may finally awaken the emotional response that makes people take the word “emergency” seriously, and we have to go on promoting, building and lobbying for the solutions, showing people that a world without fossil fuels, deforestation and excessive meat consumption will be a better, healthier, happier, and more peaceful place for everyone.

For many, the climate emergency is already very emotional: we can see the future for our children and grandchildren slipping away before us. So if the climate-denying leaders of the oil and coal industries think they can bribe, sponsor or advertise their way out of the problem, they should think again. This movement to head off the climate emergency and build a prosperous world without fossil fuels has hardly begun.

Guy Dauncey is author of the double award-winning book The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming (New Society Publishers, 2009), which lays out the solutions in considerable detail for every sector of society. See He is President of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, which welcomes your membership.


The Climate Solutions Dividend

March 9, 2010

An extract from The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming by Guy Dauncey

New Society Publishers, November 2009

If we succeed in this great undertaking, the next generation will thank us not only for preventing a disaster but also for the many benefits that will flow from our success.

The ecological benefits are clear, but no one has calculated the full economic benefits. These are the climate solutions dividends, the enticing rewards for success.

  1. We get to avoid the desperate scenarios laid out in Mark Lynas’ book Six Degrees, and keep human civilization intact, including many species that would otherwise face extinction. What price should we put on the ability of our children to continue the journey of evolution? The avoided costs are known: 5-20% of the US’s GDP of $14 trillion is $700 billion to $2.8 trillion a year. In Canada, it is $63 to $254 billion a year. The gains are priceless.

  1. We enjoy a managed transition through what would otherwise be the economic trauma of peak oil, avoiding the relentless waves of bankruptcies, evictions, unemployment, poverty and hunger that will be caused by peak oil’s sudden arrival, for which – at present - our societies are completely unprepared.

  1. We enjoy permanent energy security and the end of dependence on oil from the Middle East and other countries. This means we can bring the troops home, stop irritating the Islamic terrorists, stop being obsessed with security and stop exporting $300 million a day to the oil-rich states of the Middle East. These gains have been costed out by a team led by Milton Copulos, president of the National Defense Council Foundation, which spent 18 months undertaking the most comprehensive analysis of the subject ever conducted, which was “rigorously peer-reviewed”.[i] For the US, the gains come to $825 billion a year, which will be available every year as a free economic stimulus package.

  1. We protect the world’s forests, which would otherwise face being logged or burned. Under the business-as-usual scenario, the Amazon rainforest starts dying by 2050 and turns into savannah by 2100, because of a combination of drought and fire. Because tackling climate change requires that we preserve the forests’ carbon, our children will continue to be enchanted by their magnificence. We will also benefit from the forests’ ecosystem services, as a continued contribution to our economy. Globally, their 1200 Gt of stored carbon, priced at $13.60 a tonne, has a $16 trillion value. If we assume a 200 year forest carbon lifecycle, that’s $80 billion a year. For the US, with 5% of the world’s forest, that’s a $4 billion a year contribution. For Canada (10% of the world’s forests) it’s $8 billion.

  1. We enjoy a more secure global food supply by embracing organic farming, which stores more carbon in the soil, reduces farming emissions by up to 30% and increases yields in developing countries – where the food is needed - by up to fourfold. We also remove the threat to crops from smog, air-pollution and the increasing heatwaves, which reduce the yields.

  1. We eliminate smog and pollution, which cause asthma, lung disease, cancer, disability and premature death. For Los Angeles alone, this has been assessed at a $10 billion annual cost. Air pollution and smog also cause crop losses and damage buildings and forests. For Ontario, Canada, the full economic costs have been estimated at $8 billion a year, rising to $250 billion by 2030 as rising temperatures cause more smog.[ii] For the US, the full economic savings are up to $690 billion a year.[iii] In California, smog and air pollution cause 9,300 deaths, 16,000 hospital visits, 600,000 asthma attacks and five million lost work days every year.

  1. We enjoy cheaper driving, more cycling routes, more public transport, more high-speed rail and more friendly walkable communities, which build neighborhood strength. These benefits have not been costed out.

  1. Thanks to our investments in efficiency, we enjoy lower heating and power bills. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy has calculated that a 15% increase in efficiency will produce annual savings worth $169 billion a year. By increasing efficiency by 30%, this could rise to $338 billion.

  1. We get to end most warfare. This may sound unbelievable, but most modern conflicts are fought over scarce energy supplies. When nations become self-sufficient in renewable energy, we can eliminate 80% of our military expenditures. The US military budget is around $1 trillion a year,[iv] of which $138 billion has been included in #3 above. This leaves $850 billion a year, which, trimmed by 80%, produces a peace dividend of $680 billion a year. When all these numbers are totaled, they come to a “free” annual climate solutions dividend of $1.5 to $2 trillion a year, which never has to be approved by the Senate or Congress.

  1. Finally, we enjoy our first proper experience of working together as a world, and we restore hope to our children. What more can we ask?

The Yearly

Climate Solutions Dividend

Low range

($ billion)

High range

($ billion)

End of Persian Gulf oil dependence



End smog and air pollution



Peace dividend



Improved efficiency






[i] The Hidden Cost of Oil, 2003, updated January 8, 2007. National Defense Council Foundation. Peer review comment from The Hidden Cost of Our Oil Dependence. Milton Copulos interview with Bill Moore, EV World, April 23, 2006.

[ii] The Illness Costs of Air Pollution in Ontario. Ontario Medical Association, 2005.

[iii] See Lives per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction, by Terry Taminen (Island Press, 2006). Chapter 3 summarizes the various studies and references their sources.

[iv] The Trillion-Dollar Defense Budget Is Already Here. Robert Higgs, The Independent Institute, March 15, 2007.


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