- a collection of notes and reflections on urban living from the perspective of a family of five in Tokyo. My epiphany was many years ago, but being hit by a motorbike and seeing my life flash before my eyes caused a sudden change that slowly made me reflect on whether American style auto-centric urban transportation of the Roosevelt era really is a capital G "Good Idea" for civilized modern cities in the 21st Century. This blog explores the good and the bad in urban planning and design, here and elsewhere. The goal is simple - not "death to all cars," just more walkable communities, quiet tree-lined streets, good public transport, traffic calming, Velib style bicycle sharing and a bit of common sense. The bolg is mostly theraputic, so I don't go wanting to throttle every dangerous driver I come across, but partly also out of a real desire to see positive change. This blog explores how it can be done, the people who do it, and how, in many small ways, this very old idea may at last have found its zeitgeist. Comments and suggestions welcome.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fact: Cheap electricity fuels the economy.

Do we really need nuclear power?

Is it really worth it for Japan and other countries, post-Fukushima? The problem is, of course, that if you want a big, fat, juicy, expanding economy, right now, then you currently have very little option but to support nuclear, and even if you had other options (renewables, say), you might support it anyway - it'll make things all the juicier!

On the other hand, to bring into question the long term global environmental/human impact of sustained and widespread nuclear (or oil or gas or coal based) power production is to question the very viability of modern economies, at least at their current scale - it may well be a position that ultimately proves correct, to be sure, one day, but it is unlikely to win support from the business/finance community, at least not publicly, not even now after Fukushima.

A large part of the support for nuclear power stems, it seems, from the realization that global warming is real and air-pollution ain't that swell either, so cars will eventually need to move to electric power.

Now those who know me and this blog will know I think that cars are actually a very large part of a great many problems, and that simply getting rid of 90% of them is both feasible and would go a long way towards sustainable solutions to many of these seemingly intractible problems, including the question of whether we need nuclear power. But that's a similarly unpopular seemingly bearish argument. Hell, anything that might cause the economy to contract, no matter how nice it sounds, is a pretty hard sell; just ask any politician.

But of course, I can see a day coming when the world has decided it needs to switch to electric vehicles due to global warming and energy security, which will require massive increases in local electricity generation capacity, which will require heavy investment in nuclear energy. In fact, our leaders may have already reached that consensus. This ultimately may result in a really terrible nuclear disaster at some distant future point in time, indeed one that will make us wish that we had just got rid of 90% of the cars to begin with. But I think that engineers are pretty smart chaps, so the chances are pretty good that I won't be around at that stage to say "I told you so".

In fact, chances are probably much higher that all this investment will just result in cheap electricity, just as those smart engineers planned, and then (oops) the kind of gradual, unexciting, inexorable decline and degradation of our natural environment that can't really be pinned on anything in particular except maybe really vaguely on "population growth", but which eventually leads us all to the same conclusion - perhaps we should have just dumped 90% of the cars to begin with and re-jigged our urban planning models. Unfortunately, if the other smarties at IPCC are to be believed, this may indeed happen during my lifetime. In which case, I will be able to say "I told you so", but it won't be much fun.

So I like to think that maybe people will just realize en-masse that living in car-free communities is good for your body and soul as well as the community and the environment, and that all of a sudden all those lifeless, soul-sucking, stinking 'burbs' the world over, synonymous with sprawl and environmental degradation, will be transformed as we transition to low-impact, happier lifestyles in close-knit, car-free, multi-use communities where people actually get to know each other and look out for each other, and, who knows, maybe that will happen without either economic or environmental catastrophy...

One can only hope, and maybe do a little as well. One without the other is a recipe for insanity. But at least all this focus on power saving since Fukushima has made people realize that energy is precious, and that it can and perhaps should be conserved where possible, at every level.