Twelve economic facts on energy and climate change

The United States is in the midst of an energy revolution. The North American shale boom has unlocked vast quantities of natural gas, upending domestic electricity markets and enabling rapidly growing export volumes. American shale oil has sent global oil prices to their lowest sustained level in a decade and slashed U.S. imports in half. Meanwhile, the cost of renewable fuels like wind and solar electricity has plummeted, and they now account for the majority of new electric generating capacity.

Given this technological and economic context, the United States has perhaps never been better positioned to tackle the urgent threat of climate change. Though it is often discussed as a future problem, climate change caused by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is happening now. The concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere has increased from 317 parts per million in 1960 to more than 400 parts per million in 2016 (NOAA 2016), while the global average temperature has risen 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9° Celsius) above its 1960 level.

These changes are already impacting our everyday lives. Record-breaking temperatures, melting ice caps and more frequent coastal flooding, prolonged droughts, and damaging storms are just some of the intensifying risks we face as our planet continues to warm (IPCC 2007a). Despite these risks, the prices U.S. consumers pay for fossil fuels rarely reflect their costs, skewing consumption and investment choices away from cleaner fuels and discouraging the kinds of technological advancements that would allow the nation to make more efficient use of its energy resources.


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When Radiation Isn’t the Real Risk

This spring, four years after the nuclear accident at Fukushima, a small group of scientists met in Tokyo to evaluate the deadly aftermath.

No one has been killed or sickened by the radiation- a point confirmed last month by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Even among Fukushima workers, the number of additional cancer cases in coming years is expected to be so  low as to be undetectable, a blip impossible to discern against the statistical background noise. But about 1,600 people died from the stress of the evacuation- one that scientists believe was not justified by the relatively moderate radiation levels at the Japanese nuclear plant.  (more…)

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Switzerland votes against strict timetable for nuclear power phaseout


Thirty-eight per cent of Switzerland’s energy currently comes from nuclear power

People in Switzerland voting in a referendum have rejected a proposal to introduce a strict timetable for phasing out nuclear power.

A projection for SRF public television showed the initiative failing by 55% to 45%.

A majority of cantons (Swiss states) voted against the initiative.

The plan, backed by the Green Party, would have meant closing three of Switzerland’s five nuclear plants next year, with the last shutting in 2029.

The five plants currently generate almost 40% of Switzerland’s electricity.

After the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the Swiss government said it would gradually move the country towards renewable energy by 2050.

It said nuclear plants should continue to operate as long as they are deemed safe, but did not set a precise timetable.

Environmentalists have said no nuclear reactors should be allowed to operate for longer than 45 years – meaning that at least two would have had to close almost immediately.

But business leaders and the government said shutting them down too quickly could lead to power shortages and raise reliance on fossil fuels.

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Why the Swiss voted no – By the BBC’s Imogen Foulkes in Geneva

Swiss voters regularly follow the advice of their government and of business leaders: the vote to hang on to nuclear power was no exception.

Although many Swiss do worry about the safety of their elderly nuclear plants, fears that a rapid shut down could cause energy shortages and even blackouts proved stronger.

Over a third of Swiss energy comes from nuclear power. Switzerland is currently ranked as the world’s most competitive economy, and voters don’t want to do anything to undermine that.

What’s more, the Swiss government does have a long-term plan to shift energy production towards renewable sources, and to gradually reduce and finally end the country’s reliance on nuclear power.

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Switzerland's five nuclear plants
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