Ep 131: Joshua Goldstein - Author, A Bright Future
00:47 Q: What’s your original background?
A: Joshua Goldstein started out as an environmentalist, distrustful of technology and nuclear power, which he confused with nuclear weapons. Goldstein also had a background in political science and academia, and became focused on climate change with his son, a climate change activist elected to office in Massachusetts. Goldstein recognized that not all proposed solutions to climate change were comprehensible, and sought to find a practical solution. During his search, Goldstein discovered nuclear power and how countries such as Sweden, France, Canada, and South Korea built up nuclear power and dropped carbon emissions. This led Goldstein to co-author a book, A Bright Future, with Swedish nuclear engineer Staffan Qvist. He noticed that the word nuclear freaks people out, and wondered if it would be possible to present the nuclear energy solution without using the word nuclear up front in book. The book also studies some countries that have tried to decarbonize with renewables, but with limited success, such as Germany
07:34 Q: How did you work through the options of solving climate change and how did you arrive at nuclear power?
A: Joshua Goldstein started researching solutions for climate change with the amount of fossil fuels we use and how much energy society is going to use going forward, leading him to the nuclear power solution. While today’s grid is predominantly coal, China could drop coal energy and pick up nuclear power to drop world carbon emissions by 10%. Asian and Latin American countries are growing quickly, creating a huge surge for energy demand. Other causes of carbon emissions, such as transportation, industrial, and buildings, can be decarbonized, but will require a vast amount of energy. Goldstein started reading about the rates at which clean energy has been added in the past by different countries to determine a proven method of adding clean energy relative to GDP. Goldstein compared Sweden, Germany, France, and South Korea, among others. Sweden had success decades ago during the oil embargo, when they built up their nuclear power, and has proven the way to add clean electricity, along with France.
14:30 Q: Did you talk to social psychologists about the name of your book, A Bright Future?
A: Joshua Goldstein considered political communication when naming his book, A Bright Future, and determined that giving people hope is better than doom and gloom. Goldstein realized that if you want people to do something, such as mobilize governments, investment money, or change attitudes, there must be a hope that it’s really going to work. This will drive people to do it.
15:48 Q: The immediate response to Fukushima is to explain how it will never happen again. Instead, the appropriate response should be why it wasn’t a big deal. What is the science of convincing people of something to alleviate concern, such as the use of nuclear energy?
A: Joshua Goldstein’s research included how to provide the right emotional message about nuclear energy. He argues that we cannot promote nuclear energy with a sole focus on how safe it is, because people will think it must be dangerous and their are trying to be convinced otherwise. Instead, nuclear energy should be advertised as other fuels, each which has ups and downs and risks and benefits. Nuclear energy has immense benefits with relatively small risks. As with any energy source, sometimes things will go wrong and people might get hurt. Nuclear energy needs to be normalized. Goldstein compares the perception of coal, which had killed hundreds of thousands of people a year, compared to the number of people that died at Chernobyl, perhaps thousands at most. Another normalized energy source is methane, which still can blow up city blocks. Every fuel has its problems. Even hydroelectric fuel has risks, such as the broken dam in China that washed away a village and killed thousands. Advocates of nuclear energy cannot say nothing will never happen. Goldstein compares fuel sources to airplanes, which are convenient and have gotten safer over time. However, once a while, a plane plummets from the sky, but people don’t say planes will never crash or people will stop flying for good. Goldstein wants to promote nuclear energy by its risks and benefits.
20:26 Q: Do people intuitively understand that cheap energy should be prioritized over the externalities of producing that energy?
A: Joshua Goldstein’s research has included how to change people’s minds and get them over their fears, which includes the externalities of producing energy compared to the cost efficiency. He sees lots of cross-wired information in the public, such as nuclear weapons versus nuclear energy, and confusion about nuclear disasters such as Fukushima. By cranking out nuclear plants worldwide at a certain standard to a point at which they can produce cheap electricity may change people’s perception. In South Korea, nuclear energy is the cheapest energy source. The country has standardized design, multiple big reactors, and strong government support. A fictional film produced by Green Peace hyped up fears about nuclear energy and caused cross-wired information in the public.
25:58 Q: Walk me through the thesis of your book, A Bright Future.
A: Joshua Goldstein’s thesis in his book, A Bright Future, is this: if you’re serious about climate change, then you can’t dismiss nuclear power. People need to look at all options, instead of just the options they already feel comfortable with. Goldstein’s first chapter looks at how bad climate change could get and how fast; tipping points like a new ice age or a 20 foot sea level rise are game changers. Goldstein focuses on the need to be responsible with the world that we live in and will leave to the next generation, which means decarbonizing quickly. The Paris Agreement is not effective enough, focused on taking small steps first, but no one follows up with on the small steps they commit to.
28:47 Q: Looking at the Paris Agreement from an inspiration perspective, no one wants to rally around doing something small. Non-binding pledges should be centered around how to actually solve climate change and utilize scientists and researched options.
A: Joshua Goldstein recognizes that part of the problem about global agreements is weak global governance and there is no ambition behind the agreements. Climate scientists are very cautious about predictions, but more data over time shows that worst case scenarios turn out to be most likely. Goldstein promotes pushing the restart button to decarbonize the whole world economy, which is mostly fossil fuel, in thirty years. Goldstein promotes a focus on building an energy system for the world with nuclear energy as the backbone. It doesn’t make sense to have solar, wind, or hydroelectric as the backbone.
33:47 Q: Why is there trouble rallying people towards 100% nuclear energy, as opposed to 100% renewable energy?
A: Joshua Goldstein writes in his book, A Bright Future, about how France achieved 100% nuclear energy. In the 1970’s, that was the plan for the U.S. and if it had been followed through with, carbon emissions now would be much less. Public image sees 100% renewables as an ideology that they can rally around, and people are scared of nuclear power. The concept of true 100% renewable energy is misunderstood in the public, relative to daytime and nighttime energy. California has reduced carbon emissions by 40%, but imports lots of goods from China. California didn’t really decarbonize, but instead pushed carbon emissions to China, such as steel production produced internationally. California utilizes lots of renewable energy, but depends on natural gas, importing fossil fuel or nuclear at night.
38:18 Q: How does marketing change the perception of energy?
A: Joshua Goldstein recognizes marketing strategies, such as the use of the term natural gas versus methane, or the slogan clean coal, can change public perception. Communication about nuclear energy is terrible and needs to be rebranded. Goldstein also supports creating more beautiful nuclear plants.
42:39 Q: The book A Bright Future started with climate change and what Sweden did right. What’s next?
A: Joshua Goldstein’s book, A Bright Future, started with the story of Sweden and how they did it. Sweden did it quickly and and it was very normalized. Goldstein contrasts this situation with Germany, which focused on removing nuclear and adding renewables. Some of Goldstein’s chapters focus on energy demand issues, looking at methane gas, fossil fuels, and alternatives for how to get all that energy. Goldstein also has a breaking down why people don’t like nuclear energy and changing those perceptions, such as how do we deal with waste and what the true risks are. There is also a chapter on international development, such as in Russia, China, and India. All of Goldstein’s chapters are centered around how to reframe climate change debate from avoiding a focus on sacrifices and burdens, but instead rethinking how we are actually doing it. Goldstein argues that climate change can’t be solved by being more efficient, but instead by creating a common purpose and smarter economy, through nuclear energy.
47:14 Q: What should people do after they read the book, A Bright Future?
A: Joshua Goldstein suggests first reading his book, A Bright Future, then getting a copy for someone they know. There is a lot of bipartisan support for nuclear energy development, but the term climate change causes people to take sides and is very polarizing. Goldstein instead encourages conversations about solutions, such as wind power for Kansas. Overall, the country can focus on American innovation and design, which creates jobs and strength for economy, getting the bipartisan support, and also helps with climate change. Goldstein encourages conversation with others about nuclear energy and getting in touch with the congresspeople.
50:30 Q: What else do you see exciting on the verge of taking off in the nuclear power industry?
A: Joshua Goldstein believes fourth generation reactors are ten years away from taking off, due to tight regulations that are hard to get through. Companies are trying to get licenses, but it is very difficult and other countries have better licensing systems. Bill Gates took TerraPower to China for this reason, and will be moving to another country to pursue the project further. Nuclear technology needs to be prototyped, then tested out, to see if it works in practice versus on paper. Third generation reactors have a confidence factor, such as the AP1000 reactors in China and the APR1400 reactors in South Korea. However, these reactors are not necessarily cost effective to build in the U.S. Standardized designs overseas with central manufacturing, such as in a shipyard or factories, and ship to sites, can make a difference economically. Gen 3 reactors could be manufactured and shipped out as export product. Licensing a new reactor design costs about a billion dollars and a decade of development before shovels hit the ground. The Nuclear Energy Modernization Act was put forth to get the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on board to license new reactors.
58:18 Q: Will the U.S. be subject to China if they focus on manufacturing reactors?
A: Joshua Goldstein encourages China to pick a reactor design to roll out, such as AP1000, and completely take coal off the grid. This would prove the concept that a big economy can rely on nuclear energy and be produced cheaply with minimal risks. The rest of the world will follow. The U.S. might not be subject to China, but that success would spur America to catch up.
Top 8 Bullets
- Joshua Goldstein’s background as an environmentalist and politician - Sweden’s successful build-up of nuclear power and lessons learned from Germany’s build-up of renewable power - How to normalize nuclear energy by educating the public on its risks and benefits - Future global energy demand and the necessity of nuclear energy - Promotion of global decarbonization with a nuclear power backbone - Impacts of marketing in developing public perceptions of different energy sources - Creating a smarter economy to solve climate change - Goals of the Nuclear Energy Modernization Act for future reactor licensing.