I wrote a post about how access to energy improves lives in in the third world-- It's the Energy. Why I Love Nuclear. Karen Street, of A Musing Environment blog, read that post. She suggested that I should probably say that I did not mean to encourage rich people to be wasteful of energy. In her opinion, while energy is essential for people in the third world, many people in developed countries use it wastefully.
I thought about her comments and realized that energy makes life better, even if you already use a fair amount of energy. In my answering blog post, Prosperity for Rich Folks, I said that something that looks like "waste" to one person can be very important to the life of another person. The example I used was big refrigerators. I honestly can't imagine how I would have worked and raised two kids without an American-size refrigerator, though many would consider it wasteful.
In response to my post, Karen posted an excellent argument for conservation and moderation in Are we richer if we make perceived convenience the priority?
Karen defined the problem clearly, and I planned to answer her post. Yet...time went by, as it so often does. I didn't get around to writing an answer. However, this morning, Rod Adams posted about efficiency versus abundant energy, and that made me think about the subject again.
Can Nuclear Do It?
The crux of the matter is whether nuclear can provide enough energy for rich people to live a life we consider convenient. If nuclear can provide abundant energy, then everything is fine. If not, I am burning the world's limited supply of fossil fuels for my lifestyle. Karen points out that there is no peer-reviewed study that shows nuclear can provide this level of power for everyone.
I think nuclear can provide large amounts of inexpensive power to everyone in the world. I cannot prove this. Perhaps others can. One could argue that I should live a life of deep energy frugality until it is proven.
By the way, about deep energy frugality. Karen absolutely walks the talk. She has not owned a car since 1991. I have the greatest admiration for her. Karen not only lives a careful life, but she is a clear thinker. As she pointed out, the crux of the matter is whether inexpensive, low-emission power is abundantly available. Or not.
What is Convenience, Anyway?
Back to my fridge. I can't prove that nuclear can provide enough energy, but I do want to talk a little about word choice. I don't like the words Karen used in her essay title: Are we richer if we make perceived convenience the priority?
In my opinion, "convenience" and "perceived convenience" are pejorative terms for people's choices. I chose certain material things (a big fridge, say) because then I could live the life I wanted to live: a scientist AND a wife and mother. My desire to be a scientist and a mommy may have been inappropriate according to some people's ideas. Perhaps it it took too much energy (my own car! a big fridge!) But it was, indeed, what I wanted to do with my life. This is beyond mere "convenience."
So, it boils down to this. If energy is abundant, then my choices were all right. If not, I would have had to choose. I could work, or I could have kids. I believe it is truly as stark as that. Being a working mom is tough enough, using every possible support you can get. If I had to hang the laundry in the morning and take it in if it looked like rain, if I had to shop every day for my family, it would have been impossible to combine motherhood and career.
Aside: I read an early interview with Dr. Chu right after he became Energy Secretary. He talked about biking to work every day at Berkeley. Someone asked him if his wife also biked. He answered something like: "No. She doesn't bike. She needs a car to carry the kids and groceries." My feminist antenna went on full alert. I thought: "Ah, he stays on his bike, riding along on the moral high ground, while she does the schlepping. So admirable! Or maybe, not so admirable?" Yeah. I'm cynical. End Aside.
The Bottom Line
In poor countries, women are liberated from lives of poverty and endless childbearing by access to energy. In rich countries, women are liberated to have both children and careers by having abundant energy. Nuclear power can provide that energy. That's how I see it. I don't have the statistics to back this up, but that's how I see it.
To some extent, a blog is a set of opinions. This is my opinion on women and energy.
The image is a painting by Albert Anker: "Excess" From Wikimedia.