Which way forward in 2019? Reflections from Bright New World founder Ben Heard

The end of 2018 marks Bright New World’s second full year of operation. We have an ambition to be an NGO that unifies human development and prosperity with environmental conservation, protection and restoration. So it can be a challenge to know whether things are looking up, down or sideways! When we care about so many metrics, should we be happy or sad at the end of 2018? Encouraged or discouraged? Energised or deflated? 

I have been working professionally in sustainability long enough to know we can mount an evidence-based case for whichever emotions or perspectives we choose to focus on. The variable in question… is us.

That in part explains why one question I asked myself when starting Bright New World was less ‘What is true?’ as ‘What is useful?’. That’s not a get out of jail free card for either rigour or honesty – two of our guiding principles in this contested NGO space. It’s not a post-modern proposition that truth doesn’t exist - we are a big fan of truth at Bright New World. Nor is it a cop-out for avoiding the hard issues.

It is a recognition of some realities of how we are cognitively wired, specifically those wirings that make us tend toward inaction, ineffective action, or outright apathy. 

We are wired to attend closely to bad news. Yet our focus on the bad means our view of the world risks becoming more illusion than truth. Bad news is a source of warning and precaution – but rarely the source of solutions. Motivation through bad news is akin to dropping a bomb and screaming ‘Run!’. Some will run, some will crouch, and few will run in the same direction.

We are wired to be dissatisfied. This drives progress. As we make progress we expand our expectations, and embrace dissatisfaction anew. However it also drives disillusionment. Other times it drives meaningless and harmful consumerism. And it causes us to forget our potential to actually resolve our challenges.

So at Bright New World we focus on good news not, as the saying goes, because it is easy, but because it is hard. Hard and worthwhile, as a way of ‘usefully’ breaking the illusions. Good news yields vital lessons and essential hope, tools that can get us running in the same, useful directions.

Here is the good news we shared in 2018!

  •  50 million new toilets in India, improving environmental and human health, safety and welfare

  • A massive expansion of migratory bird habitat protection in China

  • The incredible, volunteer-led transition of Versova Beach in India, from trash-heap to turtle hatchery

  • Accelerated regrowth of coral reefs through segmenting and replanting coral

  • The development of Biorock limestone for the development of new reefs

  • The successful harvesting of coral lavae for reef restoration

  • The development of PlastiPhalt, using recycled plastic aggregate for more durable road surfaces.

  • Developments in lower-toxicity solar panels using more common materials

  • The adibiatic compressed air energy storage from Hydrostor

  • The downgrade of the snow-leopard from Endangered to Vulnerable

  • The work of Give Directly, a novel model of charitable giving yielding excellent results

  • The elimination of rubella in Australia, and the forecast elimination of cervical cancer in Australia 

  • The eradication of invasive big-headed ants from Lord Howe Island

  • The net expansion of global forest cover, the growth in jurisdictions where positive forest transition is occurring, and the clear link to human well-being

  • The recovery of the critically endangered Iberian lynx, with a five-fold growth in population

A-lynx-born-in-captivity--009.jpg

We are also one of the only NGOs in the world with a positive focus on the use of nuclear technologies. In 2018 we saw much to encourage us:

  • Terrestrial Energy commended phase 2 pre-licencing vendor design review with the Canadian regulator for the Integral Molten Salt Reactor

  • NuScale continued its regulatory journey, announced a 20% uprate on the design, and nominated a manufacturer for its small modular reactor

  • China connected the world’s first AP1000 and EPR reactors to the electrical grid

  • Moltex received awards to hasten the development of the Stable Salt Reactor

  • Poland, one of the most coal-dependent nations on earth, announced plans for a 6-9 GW nuclear sector.

  • Taiwanese voters voiced support for overturning legislation to eliminate nuclear power 

  • The United States passed, with bipartisan support, the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (NEICA), to speed up the development of advanced reactors in the U.S. by eliminating several of the financial and technological barriers standing in the way of nuclear innovation.

  • The launch of a nuclear innovation partnership at the Clean Energy Ministerial, under the leadership of the USA, Canada and Japan

With our good news recapped and our progress with nuclear technologies summed up, we also need to talk about climate change. 

It’s distressing to watch us succeed so handsomely in so many areas while continuing our resolute failure to decarbonise our power system. That failure that is, in every sense, absolutely voluntary.

In recent years we witnessed premature triumphalism with a brief pause in the growth of greenhouse gas emissions, and a dip in the commissioning of coal generating power plants.

Greenhouse gas emissions are rising again. Coal exports are growing again. We are simultaneously hitting records for consumption of wind, solar AND oil. While I espouse optimism, I have little time for the outright fantasy that we have broken the back of the fossil energy challenge on the flourishing markets for wind and solar power. The reduction in coal plants was only ever a blip as I documented in the introduction to my thesis:

 In 2016, 79 GWe of new coal capacity was added globally (EndCoal.org, 2017). While that is a notable decline from a record 104 GWe (2015) it is only slightly below the 10-year average (2006-2016) of 84 GWe (EndCoal.org, 2017).

Yet the energy and climate change discussion quickly and easily descends into unnecessary muddying-of-waters when anyone insists on the role of nuclear power. Sometimes, it pays to step back and keep it simple. 

The two animations below disclose simple, inarguable and powerful truths.

The first, from Sandbag, shows the pollution from coal-fired power stations and their distribution across Europe. This type of pollution kills, in large numbers, every year.

The second is the year 2018 in the tool ElectricityMap. This shows, with colour-coding, the relative greenhouse-intensity of electricity supply for many jurisdictions around the world.

Both maps reveal stunning truths about what works. Observe France in both; observe the consistently green jurisdictions in Electricity Map. With the exception of some near-exclusive hydropower jurisdictions? Clean air and low-greenhouse electricity supply is championed worldwide by nuclear technologies. 

I must lean on something I said in a televised debate in 2012: solving climate change is a challenge, but it is not a riddle. 

These solutions, nuclear solutions, have served us staggeringly well. The rate of growth of nuclear technologies is currently inadequate. That is a call for climate-concerned citizens to demand resolution of the challenges and removal of the barriers, in the name of a cleaner energy supply and an urgent response to climate change. And that is some of the best news from 2018 – the growing diversity of voices in public media around the world standing against an obsolete anti-nuclear narrative. For that, we offer a huge thanks to those individual commentators and also our friends in the global pro-nuclear NGO community for their tireless work.

Nuclear is ideal for dealing with climate change, because it is the only carbon-free, scalable energy source that’s available 24 hours a day.

Bill Gates, ‘What I learned at work this year’, December 29 2018

In backing Bright New World, our supporters reject the ineffectual blend of pessimistic attack and technological bias and embrace a view of a prosperous, energy rich, environmentally restorative future. To all our supporters, thank you. We simply would not exist without you. We remain small, and unloved in terms of large donors, foundations or corporate support. We exist because of the many individual’s, worldwide who signed up for a vision of something better. We exist not because it is easy to be pro-nuclear, but because it is essential

In 2018, we were proud to see our name and organisation represented in many fora. We assisted the launch of the documentary series ‘Wild Edens’. We featured in a breakout episode of Australian 60 Minutes. We published our dialogue with fellow analyst Tom Brown and in so doing led the discussion on the impact of discount rates in energy analysis. We revealed the travesty of circumstances that led to Australia’s 20 year-old ban on nuclear power.

In 2019 we hope to grow and serve you better and ever better. We are looking forward to being a part of Juice: How electricity explains the world, where we will be pushing for more honest, forthright yet optimistic thinking about our interrelated challenges of energy, climate change and human development.

If you have read this far and like our message, you can support us from just $5 per month to make sure we survive, grow, and keep delivering for a better, brighter world.

We can see a brighter future - would you like to create it with us?

Ben Heard2 Comments