Return to Communications Center

From the sidelines of Paris: What would real energy change look like?

This month, the eyes of the world are on Paris, where world leaders are gathered for a summit on climate change. Amid sobering estimates of how rapidly our familiar planet is changing, we hope to see ideas surface about how to mitigate the effects of climate change on our landscape and communities.

One of the more challenging subjects of these debates is how to maintain economic growth without increasing our reliance on fossil fuels such as oil and coal, which produce carbon dioxide and other chemicals that damage our atmosphere. In 2015, the U.S. produced over 9 million barrels of crude oil per day.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that fossil fuel subsidies, including their cost to global health, constitute 6.9% of the global GDP. The New York Times recently quoted Oil Change International as saying that current fossil fuel subsidies amount to “governments ‘allowing fossil fuel producers to undermine national climate commitments, while paying them for the privilege.'”

TEDxBeaconStreet 2015 Speaker Rachel Pritzker, President of the Pritzker Innovation Fund, is working on an alternative. Though she was initially an opponent of nuclear energy, she has spent years learning about the safe ways it can be used, and is committed to promoting safe nuclear fission as a clean energy alternative. It is more reliable than either wind or solar, she says, and so efficient that a chunk of uranium the size of a fist can provide all the energy a person would need over a lifetime. Nuclear plants already produce 20% of America’s electricity, and Rachel hopes to see that number rise.

Rachel told us about her visit to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, which has recently restarted its nuclear program following an accident in March of 2011. Four reactors were damaged when a tsunami struck the plant, releasing 940 PBq, or petabecquerels, of radiation. (In contrast, the infamous accident at Chernobyl in 1986 released about 5,200 PBq.)

Though many people died from the trauma of being relocated out of the nuclear radius, Rachel reminds us, no one actually died from radiation at the plant. Rachel recounted what she learned on her trip in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, concluding that Japan’s commitment to nuclear energy is allowing it to grow economically while minimizing detrimental effects to the planet.

Watch Rachel’s talk below to learn more about how we can hope for a clean energy future.