Climate change - global breakthrough or global collapse?

Robert Anderson BSc(Hons) PhD

4 February 1942 to 5 December 2008


Humankind has always faced challenges, but never one of this magnitude. Without new direction, we face a world of accelerating climate changes that have already brought food, water and energy shortages, and mass extinctions. Ecocide: the death of nature. While banning incandescent light bulbs and riding bicycles is admirable, we need tough statesmen and stateswomen willing to make massive, wrenching changes to redirect this impending crisis.

The definition of a crisis is a situation that, if ignored, becomes terminal. If you side with Professor Jim Lovelock of Gaia fame, it is already too late. His solution is nuclear energy. As a scientist, I abhor orthodox nuclear power. However, the thorium reactor has many advantages. For example:

• There is no danger of a meltdown as at Chernobyl
• It produces minimal radioactive waste; a third of conventional reactors
• It can burn Plutonium waste from traditional nuclear reactors with additional energy output
• It cannot be used for the production of weapons-grade materials
• The energy contained in one kilogram of Thorium equals that of four thousand tons coal

Global Thorium reserves could cover the world’s energy needs for millennia. Australia has enormous resources. Norway has an estimated 180,000 tons; based on current oil prices, equivalent to US$250 thousand billion.

However, the real solution to the climate crisis involves a high-stakes battle with big coal and big oil, and the immense financial resources and political levers they manipulate. Their influence on governments is a formidable adversary to any solutions. Their fear is understandable and their duty is to shareholders. Changes are slow. BP promised to cut greenhouse emissions by 2010 to ten percent below 1990 levels. But, as John Brown, CEO of BP, said, “This change simply cannot happen through the conscientious efforts of a few individual companies.” To loosen the fossil fuel industries’ stranglehold requires governments to regulate those industries to make the transition to renewable energy technologies.

In short, we require a global public works programme to provide Earth with clean energy. This productive investment would generate jobs and perhaps heal a fractured world. We have enormous energy in the sun and what better place to resource this than the Middle East; deserts have plenty. Oil-producing countries would gain economically and politically.

Climate change is not just another issue in a complex world of proliferating issues. If unchecked, it will swamp all others. Coal emits 30% more carbon per unit of energy than oil and about twice as much as natural gas. We are not doing anyone any favours by burning more coal. It is acknowledged that the US is the major miscreant here, but it still behoves us to show by example. “If all before his doorstep swept, the village would be clean.” Let us hope we can sweep it in time.


Robert Anderson BSc(Hons) PhD

Robert Anderson was a Quaker, teacher and writer. He was a Trustee of Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility (, a member of Amnesty International, a Theosophist, and a campaigner for peace and disarmament. He believed everyone has the right to equality and respect, freedom of speech and religion He lectured on many subjects to meet the public's right to be independently informed on issues of science, the environment and social justice. He was passionate about making this world a better place for the generations to come. He authored eleven books and regularly wrote for a number of periodicals.


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