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What if renewables and nuclear teamed up against fossils? How fast could we get to Zero carbon? First, can we get the two teams to talk?



Are you afraid we won't curb our carbon emissions in time to avert catastrophe?  Do you feel nuclear energy is a vital asset that is overlooked in climate discussions? Alternatively, do you feel 100% renewable solutions are sufficient and that nuclear proponents need to stop being a distraction?

Do you avoid, or do you have unpleasant conversations about it?

According to Mark Jacobson, a 100% renewable solution is sufficient and nuclear is unwanted.

According to Jim Hansen, we can't solve the climate problem without nuclear. 

According to these Google Engineers, a 100% renewable solution is woefully inadequate, and we need a miracle.

In all this, the conversation remains polarized, and the math, fluffy. An open, systematic conversation about nuclear power with renewables would have several benefits.

  • Exoneration and Acceleration: The discovery process could exonerate nuclear power for environmentalists and bring it into play, delivering a powerful 1-2 combination that knocks out fossils, accelerating the race zero carbon.

Whether or not nuclear is exonerated, the process will deliver:

  • A Wake up Call: When the media starts reporting on high profile, lifelong environmentalists in good faith considering nuclear power it will be a powerful wake up call to those who are in denial or apathy.  When environmentalists are considering nuclear - things are serious.
  • Solution Aversion Empathy: as environmentalists explore options they consider repellent, it will help them better understand other people's  solution aversion, leading to better communication overall. Empathy improves relationships.
  • Improved Collaboration: A bonus of tackling tough conversations is that it can lead to unexpected insights, better solutions and improved relationships.


Our proposal is to host systematic "renewable + nuclear conversations" in multiple venues. We will adopt the existing "Living Room Conversations" model, tailored to renewables + nuclear, with an "energy supply field" worksheet.


What actions do you propose?

Overview:  We propose to host a series of Renewable + Nuclear (hereinafter "ReNu") "Living Room Conversations" (hereinafter "LRC") and encourage others to hold similar conversations throughout the country.

In preparation for the conversations, Participants will be invited to:


Participants will then attend the LRC and follow the guidelines set out by the LRC organization. Hopefully, this process will help the participants get to know each other better and uncover common ground. 

A typical LRC lasts 2.5 to 3 hours and has five "rounds" of questions and a closing.  It is geared to helping people get to know one another in a meaningful way while also exploring a difficult issue.  As such, only the third round directly addresses the issue. This is where we will modify the LRC guidelines to tailor the structure to a ReNu Convo.

We will also supply additional handouts including a nuclear energy information handout and the Energy Supply Field Worksheet. The Participants can fill in the worksheet separately before, and then negotiate a fresh copy of the worksheet during the conversation. Their joint worksheet will document common ground achieved in the course of the conversation in relation to the desired mix of energy supply. This worksheet will be attached to the Participant feedback forms at the end of the conversation.

After the first few LRC's, we hope to improve our own listening skills and be more comfortable with the process. We will then take the next step of conducting the conversations in public, via live streaming or in front of a live audience. We may also set up an interactive version of the Energy Supply Field Worksheet online to encourage discussion of statewide vision of the energy mix.

The impact of this process will be stronger relationships and deeper insights for the participants, invigoration that comes with improved teamwork, and an abundance of "next steps" that the conversants come up with that propel action on climate change. Fossil fuels don't stand a chance.


What are "Living Room Conversations" ?

If you haven't heard of them yet, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Living Room Conversations (LRC). Become a member! Donate! They are awesome. When I asked if I could propose this topic on Climate CoLab, Joan Blades, the founder, replied "Wonderful that you are  proposing nuclear and renewable energy LRCs!  We’d love to have this happen and assist as we are able." Regarding the open source nature of the contest, she writes, "LRCs are an open source project so all we ask is for attribution and sharing what you learn so we can all learn together." 

Without further ado, per the LRC website:

"Living Room Conversations are designed to revitalize the art of conversation among people with diverse views and remind us all of the power and beauty of respectful discourse. Living Room Conversations enable people to come together through their social networks, as friends and friends of friends to engage in a self-guided conversation about any chosen issue. Typically conversations have self-identified co-hosts who hold differing views. They may be from different ethnic groups, socio-economic backgrounds or political parties. Each co-host invites two of their friends to join the conversation. Participants follow an easy to use format offering a structure and a set of questions for getting acquainted with each other and with each other’s viewpoints on the topic of the conversation."

Check out this page of their website for videos and tips on how to conduct a Living Room Conversation.

LRC Guidelines for an Energy Conversation

The LRC site has guidelines for some popular topics and encourages people to customize the structure to better fit their issue.

In the energy category, on this page you can download sample invitations and "Guidelines for the day of the conversation: Energy". The focus is general - to "talk about our evolving understanding of energy, sustainability, energy choices and how our lives are impacted by the energy we use."

The site also has more comprehensive Community Energy Conversations guidelines with additional materials, including a handout, "Energy Information to inform discussion".

How we will modify the LRC guidelines to tailor the structure to a ReNu Convo

The LRC materials are brilliant. To generate a ReNuLRC, we need to add two handouts: one a sheet on nuclear energy information and the other an "Energy Supply Field Worksheet".

We also need minor modifications to the "Guidelines for the day of the conversation: Energy." The title, of course will have "Renewable and Nuclear" inserted befpre "Energy" and the modified language in "Round Three" (of a five round conversation) will be:


Round Three: Renewables and Nuclear Energy: Can they work together to replace Fossil Fuels?

Remember that the goal for this Living Room Conversation is for all of us to listen and learn about where we have different opinions and where we have shared interests, intentions and goals. Answer one or more of the following questions:

  • Do you feel our planet can achieve a net zero carbon economy with a great quality of life for everyone with 100% renewable energy alone? How soon?
  • What do you think about nuclear power? Under what conditions would you increase its use? How soon do you think it can get us to a net zero carbon economy?
  • What mix of energy sources would you prefer for your state? What will your state be like with that mix? How does that make you feel?
  • What scares you more, the impact of climate change or a 50/50 chance of another “Chernobyl” in the next 50 years?


What is an "Energy Supply Field Worksheet"?

Note to the judges, we are still working on the Energy Supply Field Worksheet, and hope to have it finished by the next round. For now the iidea is this. Start with an infographic that shows your State's current energy consumption by energy type.  We'll use my home state of New Jersey as the example. We can easily make these for other states using data from  Here's how New Jersey breaks down:

New Jersey Energy Supply Field.

A second infographic will be derived from the Solutions Project.  You can see their New Jersey infographic here. It is given in percents, so we will have to convert that into the Solutions playing field. The Solutions field for NJ will be 43% shorter, because running things on electricity turns out to be more efficient than on fuel. This field shortening advantage applies to nuclear too.

43% shorter is 57% of 665TWh = 379TWh of energy each year. Now, what is the field breakdown? Looking at the Solutions Project poster we start plotting the energy sources. 27.3% from Solar PV plants. 103TWh from Solar PV.

The third part of the worksheet will translate the numbers into spatial dimensions using David MacKay's math, or other approach the parties agree on. For example, for the Solar PV, how many parks and of wht size would you need to supply the 103TWh per year? Using actual capacity factor, not nameplate? Got that number? Great! Now where in the state will you be putting these parks? How do the residents feel about that?

We may have a lot of these calculations already done for the participants, and they can, of course, check the math. We will also have a 100% nuclear solution. Quick NJ calculation here - if 4 power plants presently supply 17% of New Jersey's energy, and we're going to go to a 57% field, 57/16=3.5 times more power plants would be 100%. That's 14 power plants, so 10 new ones. How much space would they take up? Where would you put them?

With this data laid out before us, like coaches at a football game, we get to talk about how to deploy the players (power plants and sources) on the field (our State), and consider the opposition to each move - NIMBY, cost, industry lobbying etc.

These are the decisions we're asking our fellow citizens to make. This simulation should be revealing.

Who will take these actions?

These actions will be taken by many groups on many levels, from just us ordinary folk to celebrities and politicians.

Just us Folk:  We're putting together the first groups now here in New Jersey. Do you want to be a part of it? We plan to do this on a local level in the town of Bound Brook and we encourage anyone else who wants to attempt one to do so and let us know how it went.  Why Bound Brook? They're awesome! They hosted the first official Footprint to Wings Zero Carbon Coaching Clinic.

Celebrities: We plan to invite high profile people to engage in the conversations. For starters, we would be thrilled to have a conversation between the folks behind the Solutions Project and Pandora's Promise. We only need three from each side, and this won't be a debate, it will be a living room conversation.

  • From the Renewable/Solutions Project team we could invite Mark Ruffalo, Mark Jacobson, Marco Krapels and Josh Fox and others who work at the organization. Only 3 to make a quorum.
  • From the Nuclear/Pandora's Promise team we could invite Robert Stone (director of the film), Kirsty Gogan (director of Energy For Humanity - the new organization founded in the wake of the film) and others who were in the film. We just need 3.


On the Republican/Democrat divide:  On the 100% renewable side, there is a wide field to choose from. On the nuclear side:


Many other names and Re+Nu groupings come to mind. Jigar Shah and Richard Branson. Christine Todd Whitman and...many people and organizations need to have this conversation. Suggestions welcome.

Where will these actions be taken?

These actions will take place in living rooms throughout the US. Make sure there is one in your state!

Share and follow each other's conversations on social media using #ReNuLRC

We can dedicate a segment of the Footprint to Wings website to showcase highlights of the conversations that take place.

How will these actions have a high impact in addressing climate change?

We are facing a life, civilization and planet threatening situation. Every minute matters. We don't have the luxury of solution aversion. We need to systematically assess our options and fears, stare down the energy field and take bold action to achieve a net zero carbon economy.

The #ReNuLRC conversations will hold people to the challenge and guide them through it.

If the conversations exonerate nuclear power, this could result in a powerful pivot. In this case, green activism would be unleashed in support of nuclear power rather than against it. Suddenly we have a booster rocket to propel us to the end zone of the energy supply field. Fossils will fold.

And if the conversations don't extoll nuclear power, they will build camaraderie and relationships, supercharging the participants. Other creative ideas will emerge to accelerate decarbonization. The strain will be gone. Nuclear and renewables won't be fighting each other as much, they will have some sort of creative partnership.


What are other key benefits?

An accounting boost. Like suddenly discovering you have twice as much money in the bank as you thought you did.

Example: At present, the NJ State Energy Master Plan dismisses nuclear in its goals. The "Renewable Portfolio Standards" (RPS) targets for the State are: electricity 22.5% renewable by 2021 and 70% by 2050.

As if nuclear were invisible. It turns out New Jersey is already getting 48% of its electricity carbon free with nuclear. Biomass and renewables take that over 50%. It's 2015, and we are already well past the 22.5% goal set for 2021. 

If, by 2021 we achieve 22.5% more renewables, we'll be at 70% zero carbon! Thirty years ahead of schedule! Now we can start getting serious about electrifying everything and going to full zero. Some more renewables, a few more reactors. 2030, 2040.

None of this waiting 'til 2050 for just 70% of just electricity.

You've got some power in your corner. Use it.

What are the proposal’s costs?

This project can be done by volunteer effort. Anyone can host a conversation in their living room and share the event on social media with #ReNuLRC

Ideally we will raise money to have a core of full time staff arranging high profile events, encouraging volunteer events, offering guidance, tracking the progress on social media and curating materials on best practices and outcomes to improve everyone's experience.

Time line

Short Term:

The conversations will take place immediately and build momentum over the years to come (short term). Depending on the outcome of the conversations, the timeline will unfold as follows:

Medium Term:

Pivot: If the conversations exonerate nuclear power, this could result in a powerful pivot. In this case, green activism would be unleashed in support of nuclear power rather than against it. Suddenly we have a booster rocket to propel us to the end zone of our energy supply field. Fossils will fall. Nuclear power scales rapidly, Solar and wind round out the process and make the system more robust with distributed generation. The "pivot" helps us achieve zero carbon in the short to medium term, rather than the "long term to never" we are facing now.

Good Cop Bad Cop Invigoration: If the conversations still leave nuclear off the table for the most part, this may yet produce a useful good cop/bad cop strategy. The threat hanging in the air is: "OK mankind - you need to make a change. Adopt 100% renewables, OR ELSE bad cop NUCLEAR!  But none of this fossil stuff."  Could this threat push the apathetic, and also the 100% Renewables proponents who are not being systematic about executing the transformations, to speed up? This would take longer, but we suspect it would be faster than the rate we are going now.

Long Term:

If we haven't gotten to zero in the medium term, we're a worthless lot of losers and I am ashamed to be a part of this race. The options are all right here looking at you in the face. I haven't even gotten to the brilliant "lifestyle change" play that drops carbon to a whisper. Why are we even considering a 50-100 year plan?

In the long term, we look back on what an awesome job we did overcoming our fears and getting to net zero in record time.

Related proposals

My hasty search did not uncover any related Climate CoLab proposals. If you find some, please let me know so that I can link to them.

Note that we have ideas for a few other related proposals but ran out of time to enter them separately.  These include:

Order of operations pledge: Circulate a pledge to not target nuclear power until we have gotten rid of fossil fuels. Only AFTER we've phased out the fossil fuels, electrified transport (and everything else) should we turn our attentions to replacing nuclear.

ZREC equivalent for nuclear power. Modeled after ZRECs (Zero Emission Renewable Energy Credit) can we do a Zero Emission Nuclear Energy Credit? ZNECs. Tie in with consumer choice of energy supply to educate and uncover grassroots support for nuclear.

Energy Habeas Corpse off and Die in by Energy Supply: People are just not getting how lethal coal and oil are. A die in would help clarify. Bonus, folks would see how, even with Chernobyl & Fukushima, nuclear is safest of them all.


My apologies to the judges, I ran out of time. At present, references are linked throughout the proposal text.

I want to also add the following message of urgency.

Things are bad. Very bad. In "The Awful Truth About Climate Change No One Wants to Admit", David Roberts gazes, paralyzed like the rest of us, at our impending doom. "The obvious truth about global warming is this: barring miracles, humanity is in for some awful shit." 

Meanwhile National Geographic has come up with an excellent metaphor to explain the problem.  The Carbon bathtub is filling up faster than it is emptying. Even if we hold emissions steady at present rates, the bathtub will continue to fill. We have to go to net ZERO and beyond. We have to take additional carbon out of the atmosphere to stabilize things.

As Ross Koningstein & David Fork, the engineers who headed up Google's renewables division discovered  : "Even if every renewable energy technology advanced as quickly as imagined and they were all applied globally, atmospheric CO2 levels wouldn’t just remain above 350 ppm; they would continue to rise exponentially due to continued fossil fuel use. So our best-case scenario, which was based on our most optimistic forecasts for renewable energy, would still result in severe climate change, with all its dire consequences: shifting climatic zones, freshwater shortages, eroding coasts, and ocean acidification, among others. Our reckoning showed that reversing the trend would require both radical technological advances in cheap zero-carbon energy, as well as a method of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering the carbon."

Half measures and solution dismissal are unacceptable. We need to systematically work together to get to net zero.