Joshua S. Goldstein and Staffan A. Qvist are co-authors of the book ‘A BRIGHT FUTURE: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow’. We caught up with them to find out more about the book, and to hear how they think the world should be tackling climate change.
Question: Can you please provide a brief overview of your book?
Goldstein: Climate change is an extremely serious problem requiring urgent action on a massive scale – decarbonizing the world economy (switching off fossil fuels) in just a few decades. Current efforts, including a large-scale buildout of renewable wind and solar power, move in the right direction but can’t get to a full solution and are not nearly fast enough. The experiences of Sweden, France, Ontario, and South Korea show that clean energy can be added at the needed rate for global decarbonization, using a rapid buildout of nuclear power along with renewables. The world can follow this model and decarbonize by mid-century.
Question: What compelled you to write this book now?
Qvist: We started with no agenda other than to see what would actually work to solve climate change and leave a decent world for our kids. Joshua understood the vast amounts of new clean energy that would be needed, and found that nuclear power (among other sources) would be needed to provided them. I understood the examples of Sweden and France that allowed rapid deployment of new clean electricity, and saw it could apply globally. Both of us were frustrated by responses to climate change (such as “just 100% renewables”) that feel good but won’t actually work.
Question: You cite Sweden, France and Toronto Canada as places that have ‘solved’ the climate change challenge, via reduction of their carbon emissions. What can other nations learn from them with regards to the energy mix they should strive for, so they too can solve the climate change challenge?
Goldstein: We can’t afford to take any clean-energy sources off the table. Countries should use their hydro, wind, and solar potentials, and keep trying to make carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) work affordably, though it hasn’t yet. Carbon pricing can make a key contribution as it has in Sweden. But in addition, the large countries responsible for most of the world’s carbon emissions should sharply increase the role of nuclear power in order to decarbonize their grids rapidly.
Question: You mention that nuclear power is needed if the world is going to tackle climate change effectively. However, some would say that economically it does not make sense to build more nuclear power plants and that instead funding should go to expanding renewable energy programmes. How would you implement an economically viable nuclear power build programme?
Qvist: Renewables are good, but cannot in themselves power the world, partly because of intermittency and partly because they are too slow to build, as Germany’s experience has shown (concerted effort but little effect on carbon emissions). By contrast, nuclear power is so concentrated that it can scale up very rapidly, but in the United States and Europe costs have skyrocketed in recent years. The keys to cost containment are to follow South Korea’s example and build the same design repeatedly, with multiple reactors at each site, strong government support, and no design or regulatory changes midway through construction. South Korea can build a reactor for about one-sixth of what the United States currently is doing. Looking forward, building reactors centrally in shipyards or factories can bring down costs dramatically. New designs for smaller reactors may overcome some financing challenges faced by the large scale of today’s nuclear plants.
Question: To jump-start solving the climate change problem, how soon should nations be looking to build these new nuclear power stations?
Goldstein: As with all climate solutions, the best time to start is several decades ago. Next best is to start now. China should start in immediately building one or two proven reactor designs at large scale, by the hundreds, to take coal off China’s grid – this alone would reduce global carbon emissions by more than ten percent. The United States should launch a concerted national effort to accelerate the creation of the new “fourth generation” reactor designs now in development, which have the best hope in the medium term of providing low-cost clean electricity at scale in Western countries.
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