Power to our elbow

Your leader ‘Nuclear bombshell only confuses the issue’ and your correspondent Colin Smith talk about the need for nuclear power. I think that both you and Mr Smith underestimate how much we need to do.


Your leader ‘Nuclear bombshell only confuses the issue’ (Comment, 13 March) and your correspondent Colin Smith (letters, the same issue) talk about the need for nuclear power. I think that both you and Mr Smith underestimate how much we need to do.


Almost everyone, including environment groups such as Greenpeace, is failing to see the ‘elephant at the dinner party’ — the global warming bombshell. Only a few visionaries, such as James Lovelock or the hydrogen group in the company for which I work, seem to realise how serious a fix we are in.


I have just returned from a four-week tour of India. There are an awful lot of people there and in other emerging countries — billions in fact — who in a few years are going to have a lifestyle which includes cars, refrigerators and other energy-using devices. Add the meteoric worldwide growth of middle-class lifestyle to current predictions of global warming and you get a picture that is far worse than almost all of the current predictions.


Global warming seems to me to be a classic case of a control loop with a lag in it: that’s the kind of system that undergoes violent oscillations from one extreme to another.


The only way to fix this with current technology is to start acting now on energy conservation, nuclear generation and many other very expensive programmes.


It would be encouraging to think that nations the world over could act in a co-ordinated way before the point at which things start clearly going wrong, the point at which it is too late for current technology to be effective. But except in a small number of exceptional countries I don’t think that the kind of politicians who get elected will be able to do this.


It is up to scientists and engineers like us to find radical solutions — new energy technologies such as nuclear fusion, and global scale cloud formation or genetic engineering to modify crop plant albedo, which cause solar energy to be reflected back into space.


Without these technologies, we are doomed to live on the Global Warming Oscillator.


Neil Downie
Guildford, Surrey