Review of the misleading movie Pandora’s Promise

Here’s a trailer for the “documentary” pro-nuke film that comes out today, Pandora’s Promise. The film discounts solar and wind energy because its makers don’t understand the exponential decrease in solar prices or the night backup power ability of wind connected with a smart grid. The vast majority of the American people already are demanding those real renewables instead of nuclear or coal, and the economics of wind and solar are also rapidly beating natural gas.

Atom Ecology’s promotional writeup 7 June 2013, Pandora’s Promise – Anti-Nuclear Mob Burns Environment In Coal Fired Forges Of Industry For 30 Years begins,

A new documentary film that reveals how opposition to and voting against nuclear power turned into massive increases in coal burning power plants. The far worse outcome for the environment as coal has filled energy demand is the story just coming to theatres.

The tiny germ of truth in that ten years ago is just plain wrong now that coal is not the alternative because solar has reached grid parity with nuclear, coal, and natural gas.

The movie plays up Stewart Brand’s conservationist credentials and his conversion to pro-nuke. Not in that movie, but in this TED talk, you can see Stewart Brand lose a debate with Mark Z. Jacobson, who argued we can power the whole world with sun, wind, and water. Jacobson’s summary:

“We don’t need nuclear energy. There’s plenty of solar and wind. We can make it reliable. That’s real data. This is ongoing research. This is not rocket science.

Solving the world’s can be done if you really put your mind to it and use clean renewable energy. There’s absolutely no need for nuclear power.”

Brand is also pro-GMO and pro-no-till, which further reduces his credibility in my mind.

I read every issue of the seminal magazine Brand started, Whole Earth Catalog later named CoEvolution Quarterly. But, oddly for a biologist, Brand doesn’t seem to get exponential growth as in exponentially dropping solar PV prices leading to exponentially expanding deployment of solar power, summarized as Moore’s Law for solar, analogous to the Moore’s Law that gave us personal computers, the Internet, and is now driving the mobile communications revolution.

The electric utility think tank Edison Electric Institute gets it, and said in a report in April 2013 that distributed rooftop solar is already dirrupting the traditional utility baseload business model, based on big nuclear, coal, and natural gas plants.

Some stock traders are starting to get it, as in “your jaw will drop with astonishment” at how fast solar power will beat every other energy source. And that trader’s projections are extremely conservative. If we simply project forward the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)’s recent historical figures on annual deployed capacities for each major power source in the U.S., we find that solar could well be the main source of power within a decade. Will it really happen that fast? Nobody knows, but as that stock trader wrote:

Basically, people will start begging for Solar power in just a few years, because it will be so much cheaper than coal power.

And that’s already happening. According to a January 2013 national poll,

86 percent of Americans want leadership on shifting from coal and nuclear energy to wind and solar. Support for this approach exists across party lines, including 72 percent of Republicans, 83 percent of Independents, and 97 percent of Democrats.

Plus Gallup 27 March 2013, Americans Want More Emphasis on Solar, Wind, Natural Gas,

No fewer than two in three Americans want the U.S. to put more emphasis on producing domestic energy using solar power (76%), wind (71%), and natural gas (65%). Far fewer want to emphasize the production of oil (46%) and the use of nuclear power (37%). Least favored is coal, with about one in three Americans wanting to prioritize its domestic production.

The only fossil fuel that breaks 50% in that Gallup poll is natural gas, and as people realize the pollution of groundwater fracking causes everywhere it goes and the price of solar PV continues to drop, the carbon bubble will drop. And the only thing less popular than nuclear is coal. Coal plants are being closed throughout the U.S., and even China is proposing a carbon cap.

The movie claims we’ll always find uses for more energy so we’ll always need more, but according to research last year from Georgia Tech and Duke U., if we get on with energy efficiency in Georgia, we won’t need either of those new nukes at Plant Vogtle, even without adding solar. Efficiency and conservation can radically reduce costs of operating a building. As we add solar to efficiency and conservation, total power use could well go down, not up.

Economics and politics are converging on solar and wind power. It’s sad Stewart Brand and the makers of Pandora’s Promise don’t understand or don’t present all the evidence, and it’s sadder that Brand is being used as a face for a pro-nuke movement that is rapidly losing because real clean renewable solar and wind power produce jobs, profit, plenty of clean air and water, and yes, solar and wind and conservation and efficiency with a smart grid are the solution to climate change.


2 thoughts on “Review of the misleading movie Pandora’s Promise

  1. Colin Megson

    Maybe within one decade, certainly within two, the tectonic plates of the developed and developing worlds will collide as never before and a mountain range of strife will obliterate concerns – real or imaginary – about climate change.

    As the rocketing population heads for 9 or 10 billion by 2050, the ¾ of the population, who currently use ¼ of the energy, will be constantly battling for improved standards of living. The ¼ of us, now using ¾ of the energy will be fighting to cling on to our way of life. Irrespective of any improvements in efficient use of energy, our ability to find new energy uses means demand will be 3 to 4 times greater than it is now, by 2050. Such increases in demand could not be exemplified better than the spread of the Smartphone – with servers and infrastructure, each one uses as much energy as a fridge!

    Fossil fuels costs will inexorably rise and will become unaffordable for some in the competing markets. Metaphorical aspirations will become reality and international strife unavoidable. Only energy security will matter and the irritating problems of climate change will become an irrelevance.

    It is idiocy to believe that renewable can supply these energy needs. Only one technology can provide an energy-rich future for every individual on the planet and have any hope of avoiding energy and resources wars. It is that of the breeder reactor and it can supply as much energy as the human race can possibly use, for the remainder of time, from inexhaustible sources of uranium and thorium.

    Oh! And incidentally, it will cure (mitigate) climate change.

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