Skye Kelly

Executive Director, Heal One World

This conversation is closed.

Can we expect emerging countries to curb their energy consumption, even though we had decades of flagrant use?

China, India and other emerging countries- from 3rd to 1st world in a flash- are beginning to start using resources the way we have here in the USA for decades now- some are just "basic" like indoor electricity and city infrastructures, to more grandiose things like air conditioning, SUV's and sky scrapers. With their immense populations all looking for the western way of life, mcdonalds and all- can we try and hold them to any consumption standards? To reduce fossil fuel consumption in particular. To learn from our mistakes? Should we offset them by making deeper cuts at home? Even if it is more costly upfront- how can we have them see that renewable energy may save a lot in the long run? Do you know of some countries at the forefront? I know of Germany, but in the emerging sector? It seems these countries maybe the tipping point for many issues regarding sustainability?

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    Sep 28 2012: Developing countries do not have to follow the same path as the western countries did. John smith pointed out the many people in africa that have cell phones but never had landlines.

    When people talk about whether solar is "economically viable" they compare how much electricity costs on the grid and compare it do how much it costs to install solar panels. If the country has no grid, then its a very different analysis. The truth is, these technologies are more viable in developing countries then they are in countries with existing infrastructure. The country that is the closest to having solar as the cheapest form of energy is India, where there are areas that have limited infrastructure. Do a little research into solar economy in India and you might be in for a pleasantly surpirsed.

    There are very real advantages to solar and wind (especially solar). One is the fact it is incremental. 50-100 million can get you a coal burning plant and power lines all over the place. But if that money can't be raised, 20 thousand can at least get enough power for a water purifier and a local laundry mat. A little at a time is easier to manage.

    Another advantage is the fact that it is decentralized. This cuts down on costs of transmission. (where I live in canada it take 15 years or so to get your money back if you install solar. However, if you own land that has no power, you have to pay to get the power poles put in. In that case, you only have to be a few hundred meters from the nearest power pole before its cheaper to put in solar than install the transmission lines). It also makes the power more resistant to floods, landslides, and terrorist attacks.

    They don't need coal before solar any more than they need a telegraph before a telephone. Emerging economies may surprise you.
    • Sep 30 2012: Scott: I am sympathetic with your intentions, but there is no way that solar power can ever sustain a civilised lifestyle, for the simple reason of "Energy Density": i.e. Oil has it , over solar, by a very large factor.. Its the expensive infrastructure required for solar that kills it. And the competition, Thorium , has a MILILION times the energy density of oil and coal. Oil and coal simplly will not be able to compete with Thorium , without enormous subsidies. As for this idea that solar is good because it is "decentralized" is exactly backwards; that is what kills it. Now I'm not saying that if we can convince the world to live like the Amish, , "renewables " would not be viable, but the chances of getting a few billion new aspiring middle class people to go along with this, is negllgible. But don't worry, Thorium will do the job handily, and the Chinese are working on it now. In a few years , look for them to start replacing coal fired plants with Thorium power . It has every advantage that you can name.
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        Sep 30 2012: i think enviornment, land and energy are the three hills of preventing human beings developing .
        if you look from the sky you will see that there is a largre area of desert . and more and more rich land are becoming desert . how can we change the state ? take china for example .during the 2000 years about one third of the land has turned into desert .it is a big problem
        and enviornment you know since the indursity revorution handreds of thousands people died of it and it causes many other illness .also many people died
        food .with the increasing population there is stil s lot of people died of hunger..and
        can we limit the increasing of the population .
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          Sep 30 2012: Aha!

          Quit “INVALID happiness”
          ==> Save 90% resources/energy
          ==> Live happily for 100 centuries more.
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    Sep 25 2012: I don't know that we can (or should) try to control usages of fossil fuels by other countries. The bottom line in life is that you can only control you OWN choices and actions... The moment you try to control someone else - no matter the justification - you become a despot (however well intentioned).

    Thus I propose a simpler, though more difficult, solution to the problems you address. WE do what many other countries are doing.... invest heavily in the renewable energy industry, make every building a net generator(as far as possible) and reap the cost benefits... in short, let's work HERE to do what Germany and Sweden, and Norway have done, reap the benefits of that and lead the way based on cost savings... The technology is almost ready... Solar is in it's 4th generation, Wind in well into it's 3rd.

    While I absolutely agree that SOMETHING needs to change, I just don't know that it's possible (much less morally defensible) to force OUR choices down someone-elses' throat..

    Bottom Line: WE as a society (and as individuals) need to take and accept responsibility for OUR actions and choices.... Including the responsibility for allowing OUR legislators the leeway to serve corporate interests before the interests of the Citizens!

    A little off-topic but; this principal also applies to the abortion debate going on on now in the US.
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      Sep 28 2012: Thumbs up!
    • Sep 29 2012: Kris: it is quite unnecessary to control "other people's fossil fuel consumption". By a stroke of luck, there is a cheap, safe, green , unlimited energy source already invented and demonstrated. Look up Thorium, liquid Fueled Reactor (LFTR) on Youtube., The Chinese are already reviving this forgotten US technology.
    • Sep 30 2012: Kris: I'm sympathetic with your motives, but you do realize that a lot of "renewables" are an outright scam, like Ethanol, and others are simply well meaning, but totally inadequate.? If we want to maintain at least our present level of civilisation, we are going to require a power source that is, well, powerful.. "Renewables" , are not, and cannot realistically be made so. In the meantime, Thorium LFTR power can do the job rather easily, comparted to the alternatives. There is really only a short term need for burning fossil fuels; they should be saved to make plastics, etc.
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    W. Ying

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    Sep 30 2012: Tell me!
    What is our life goaol?
    (1) To keep our DNA alive?
    (2) To consume for INVALID happiness?
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    Sep 30 2012: Emerging nation will actually have an advantage, much like they did with the advent of the cell phones. They got to leap frog having to invest in a wired infrastructure.
    Jermey Rikin addresses this fact and some alternatives in this talk at the RSA.

    http://www.thersa.org/events/video/vision-videos/jeremy-rifkin

    http://www.thersa.org/events/audio-and-past-events/2011/the-third-industrial-revolution

    ..as well as in his book: "The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World "
  • Sep 28 2012: For any realistic plan to curb excessive use/consumption of global resources - whether energy, water,food, minerals, or whatever, I think we must consider a basic truth of human behavior that Martin Luther King and others have stated: nobody gives up power or wealth without a struggle, however *it doesn't have to be a violent struggle.*
    Harnessing the power of enlightened self-interest would get better results than trying to coerce people to decrease excessive consumption or to prevent others from increasing their use of resources.
    One example is the use of birth control. I've heard repeatedly that people who achieve a certain standard of living together with access to birth control generally have smaller families than those who don't. If you don't need to have 10 children so that 5 will live long enough to help you survive, and you can control your fertility, you're unlikely to have 5 or 10 children.

    If recycling is more advantageous than continuous consumption of non-renewable resources people will choose to do it. Example: when my town doubled the cost of sewage treatment, thus adding about 33% to my water bill, I suddenly found that I enjoyed showering with the lowest water flow I can get, and challenging myself to use less water generally. I also get a small but important feeling of self-congratulation for benefiting my budget and the larger community too.
    Perhaps it would be more interesting to think about creating scenarios where sustainable use of the planet is overwhelmingly in the self-interest of people who have access to abundant resources, for those who are currently building infrastructures to do the same, and for those who are just getting a foot on the bottom rung of the ladder up to a more abundant life.
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    Sep 28 2012: Dependence on fossil fuels is not a sustainable state. We have to revolutionize other forms of energy production. However, since too much money is invested in fossil fuels...and more money is to be made..we will continue to suck it dry.
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      Sep 28 2012: just as you said it is a good prifiro .
      in china there are two campanies the oil of china and the zhongshi hua of china .
      they are all the top 500 campanies each year they earn a lot , they contoul the price of .they can do whatever they want . i dont think it is a good thing for the people ,you know we have a higher cost in china .at least it is a big burden for me
    • Sep 30 2012: Henry: Don't worry. It doesn't matter how much "money is invested in fossil fuels", if energy can be produced much more cheaply than coal, it will be, and Thorium can do that. Oil ccmpanies do not control everything yet. And it can't be monopolized, it is too common. It is too cheap to even be worth fighting about.
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    Sep 28 2012: Your worry is very justified. But you cannot expect them to learn from your mistakes because most often they don't see your mistake - what they see are pages of Vogue magazine, western movies and consumerist woo. How can they appreciate your luxury as mistakes when they rot in poverty?
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      Sep 28 2012: yes i totally agree with you .
      many of the chinese wealth just go aborld ,they buy plenty of good .iphone ,lv and many other luxury . you know now china is the largest Consumption of luxury. the wealth develope regardless of enviornment ,they just earn the largest money for a goal it is not a good pheonominer
  • Sep 25 2012: I'm confused: at what point did "Can we expect emerging countries to curb their energy consumption [...]?" change into "Should the United States of America force lower energy consumption on other countries through the barrel of a gun, without cutting energy use at home?"
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    Sep 25 2012: Absolutely, you and Al Gore are clearly qualified to do that. I think that China and India should conserve energy so that the U.S. can have more energy as we are grand fathered into a percentage of world energy consumption. But under no circumstances should the U.S. cut back on any sort of energy consumption otherwise Mr Gore may not be able to fly around in his private jet.
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      Sep 25 2012: you know now china developes very fast .we need much resource .we just import from africia..maybe you choose china is not a wisdom chioce..
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        Sep 25 2012: Chen

        I was being sarcastic as no one should be in a position to tell anyone what to do except children but adults are not children and should make their own decisions.
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          Sep 28 2012: you are right .we should not tell anyone what you should do .except children.
          and we all grow up from children .aren we ?
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    Sep 25 2012: the entire idea is shocking on many levels. first, on what grounds you want prescribe any behavior for other people? since when US citizens decide what indians do? second, especially how can you expect them to do something you yourself don't do? it might be reasonable to discuss global measures to cap personal consumption. but the standards agreed upon must be the same for everyone. the very idea that developed nations are entitled to have more is downright outrageous. third, the idea that someone else must solve our problems is as childish as irresponsible. not only you want to keep all the cake for yourself, you want to make emerging countries to do the dishwashing? c'mon!
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      Sep 25 2012: now i understand that i should not debate but do good to them or at least not hurt them
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        Sep 25 2012: exactly how would that help anyone?
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          Sep 25 2012: what ? what i mean is that maybe i should use a much more wisdom way to solve it .a cigerrate!
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        Sep 25 2012: then why don't you do just that? aren't you engaging in self contradiction?
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          Sep 25 2012: lol ..i dont want to hurt someone ,you know when i say yes ,you say no,then we may begain to argue or quarrel .so just a wisdom way
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        Sep 25 2012: my wisdom says that nobody is benefited from ignorance.. if i say the truth, one might get offended. but one might also consider or reconsider his/her position. if i soothe and comfort someone who i believe is wrong, there is no chance for change.

        my task is to say what i consider true. the reaction is not my concern.
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          Sep 28 2012: hou can you know that is ture ?
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        Sep 28 2012: you can never be 100% sure, but you have to get going some direction. if you have doubts, speak.
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          Sep 28 2012: no doubts . sound like it is right
      • Sep 29 2012: chen: you might be interested to know that the Chinese government is at this moment engaged in doing something useful and concrete about a lot of these concerns. (Who would have expected that from "Communists"?!) Look up Kun Chen, on Youtube; he gave a talk to the U. of California recently about the billion dolllar Chinese program to replace coal and oil energy with Thorium LFTR technology. He was charmingly forthcoming and upfront about the program. Good for them!
  • Sep 24 2012: Developing countries can skip several steps that the developed world went through because technology has advanced. For example, Africa is expected to skip exhaustive landline networks, opting for mobile phones instead.
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    Oct 1 2012: this topic makes me think of the Perpetual motion .
    as we all know that enery can not be born and also not dispeared .then how can we make it a cycle .and use it a cycle .that is the rooted way to solve it
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    Oct 1 2012: Even considering about the mistakes that have already happened in some developed countries, i figure that it is impossible for emerging countries to curb their energy consumption. The solar and wind farms have not been used widely in China and they are limited by the feature of landscape. What's more, the transportation of these kind of environmental-friendly energy is expensive and full of difficulty. In a nutshell, it needs huge decision for emerging countries to curb their energy consumption, considering about all the improvement they have made these years.
  • Sep 30 2012: Emerging countries are no longer following western countries example. Brazil is developing ethanol, China is building solar and wind farms faster than every other country, Middle east countries are working on solar and nuclear.... It is not as much as a moral issue it is just a physical issue: there is not enough oil and gas for every country with the level of consumption of western countries.
    The sources to reduce consumption in western countries are obvious: car consumption (US cars should use European standard around 4 liters for 100 km), reduce houses consumption by optimizing the use of electricity and reduce the needs to warm houses.. This "revolution" needs big investment that are very costly and also Research and Development and smart and innovative proposals.
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    Sep 30 2012: I know about the ethanol scam "add 10% loose 18% miles per gallon". LFTR does have the ability to provide the power we need, but as an x-Navy Technician, I ask: How do we handle the EXTREMELY TOXIC (more so than conventional reactions) by-products when the scientists can't even come up with a secure and safe way to handle the toxic wastes of the current technology?
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    Sep 30 2012: The solution is easy:

    Quit “INVALID HAPPINESS”
    ==>Save 90% resources/energy
    ==> Live happily for 100 centuries more.
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    Sep 29 2012: Shawn, I appreciate your thoughts on the thorium reactor. The downside to this technology (LFT reactor) is that the waste products are even more reactive and radioactive than the technology we are currently using... Which is why that technology was abandoned, it's also somewhat more difficult reaction to damp when things go Tango Uniform... With all said I think we as a nation and as a world are better off developing liquid metal batteries (for slack generation periods) and solar or wind as a power source. If/when the battery technology gets there (prototypes have been built on a small scale... 50 watt-hour level.. needs 500-1000 watt-hours to be a viable solution, we could then have a distributed network for power....Much like the WWW is a distributed network for data.
  • Sep 29 2012: It is both arrogant , unrealistic , and unnecessry for emerging countries to curb their energy use. "Energy" correlates strongly with level of civilisation, and general well being. Luckily for all concerned, a cheap, green, safe, and almost unlimited source of energy has already been found and demonstrated. Now all we have to do is tell people about it. I 'm referring to the Liquid Fueled Thorium Reactor (LFTR). Secretly invented during the Cold War as an airplane engine 50 years ago, it was shelved and forgotten because it was useless for making nuclear bombs. But luckily, the world is now well supplied with nuclear bombs, so that we could revive this technology to make power plants, cheaper than coal. The Chinese, having cleverly copied down our ORNL records about the engine, are now engaged in making this a reality. So far, the US is un-interested, but I predict that will change when we start hearing about how they are shutting down coal power in favor of Thorium. Give it 5 or 10 years. Of cours, we could do it too, and no doubt sooner, but then , the US is not what it used to be.
  • Sep 28 2012: I have a crazy suggestion. It relies on the idea that, if we want to create 15 TW of new power plants we just need to burn about 2 years of fossil fuels that we burn annually world wide. So can some one hack the economy in such a way that we just dig out all that fossil fuel and turn raw materials into solar panels in a few years and deploy it in the third world. This "special pool of fossil fuel" works in a parallel economy and can only be invested into the production of solar panels. Right now any money commited to renewables goes sloshing around in the economy leading to a multi decade plan for renewables. If someone can figure out a hack like I suggest, we could make this switch in less than a decade. Since the fossil fuel being used for this would have just remained buried in the earth for many years to come, we do not have to sacrifice anything to make this happen. In fact this blitz like approach can give a huge boost to the economy. http://www.ted.com/conversations/14109/can_we_switch_to_renewables_mu.html
  • Sep 27 2012: no
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    Sep 26 2012: China and India choosing to embrace fossil fuel, shows exactly why, so recently, they were 3rd world countries. For some reason, they let music, and TV, and government, convince them that they want what the west has... Rather than wanting what's good. This is, in large part, the fault of the west, and how it wielded scientific superiority over the years, to spread advertising/propaghanada... but I still think individuals are responsible for their own actions, no matter how awful their governments are.

    If China and India choose to drive SUV's, luxury and sport cars that get 15 miles to the gallon... they do it because they think we look sexy in these cars... Not because these are better quality products. If China and India would like the planet to survive long enough for their people to enjoy cheap transportation, they need to get on the solar concentration, and light electric vehicle bandwagon.

    If they do that... Then, we'll run out of oil, and collapse, as they expand, and protect the environment. If they buy SUV's... we all die. It's all up to 2.5 billion individuals, choosing better quality vehicles, and more efficient transportation, over our nonsense. Unfortunately leaders in the west are spending billions of dollars, trying to convince China that Mcdonalds knows how to make a cheeseburger, and Ford knows how to make a car. Both concepts, everyone in America know to be a bold faced lie.
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      Sep 28 2012: Like 'we had the fun and now you exercise austerity?'
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        Sep 28 2012: America is the fattest, laziest, most suicidal, and imprisoned first world country on the planet. I think we're number 2 in suicide actually, to Japan, but still... "We had fun"... No we didn't. The oil industry ravaged our productivity and destroyed our economy over the last 40 years. Very few of the people living here, are in the 1% who "had fun"

        My philosophy may seem a bit bitter... but it's antithesis is "You almost destroyed the world, how dare you ask us not to finish the job?". We make big, smelly, ugly, inefficient crap, and we're incredibly unhappy... Have fun... Don't be like us.
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          Sep 29 2012: It does not seem bitter to me. But it hardly matters how I or you feel about it. Just like all America is not 20 acre mansion with private helipad and people swimming in pools at 12 noon on a workday, all third world countries are not children begging out in the streets and people marrying and multiplying like rabbits. There are other people in between in both worlds. While American middle class is disillusioned about the Great American Dream, Indian middle class is fascinated with Great Indian Dream, which sadly is a copy of its American version. It is a difficult task to ask a family living in a one room house not to aspire for a 3 room apartment with all modern amenities of life just because their number is not in favor of the ecological tug of war. It is a stalemate scenario. Developed countries did the damage by utterly unsustainable consumption of few people while the third world countries, particularly India will damage by increased consumption by utterly unsustainable numbers.
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        Sep 30 2012: I agree... and I have nothing against 3 rooms... I actually think a family could afford that sustainably, in most of the world if we drove light electric vehicles, and our trucks ran on hemp biofuel. We need to find a way to synthetically make some of the resources we seem obsessed with in the Congo, but in general, I think sustainable high techinology life is possible.

        I hope every Chinese, and Indian family can and will have a vehicle for every adult, a good cell phone, internet connection... Vertical farms in the cities for food stability, even if it has to be subsidized by the government. Whatever it takes to make people happy, in a sustainable fashion. I hope America can help...

        Just don't follow our example in the realm of oil... It's the biggest mistake we ever made, and it is a subject of universal shame and regret among educated citizens.
    • Sep 28 2012: Quote: "If China and India would like the planet to survive long enough for their people to enjoy cheap transportation, they need to get on the solar concentration, and light electric vehicle bandwagon."

      Are you saying that the United States don't want its people to survive long enough to enjoy cheap transportation?

      "If they do that... Then, we'll run out of oil, and collapse, as they expand"

      I think once you start thinking of the world as 'us' and not "we' and 'they', maybe, something can be done together to prevent the collapse that you are so scared about.

      Some facts:
      Indians as a community are more conscious about the mileage that a vehicle gives. Even when Americans have just about started that they cannot afford to pay for gas.

      More Indians use the Railways to travel across the country than anywhere else in the world. (America still does not have a cheap, environment friendly transport system. I would recommended you find out why. )

      Lastly, though I am not a big fan of cars made by Ford, I am just wondering why it did not need a bailout like Chrysler and GM.
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        Sep 28 2012: I'm saying that the people in power in the United States, for the most part, inherited oil money, and they have no interest in human beings in the United States surviving... They will simply move somewhere tropical. Greenland should be tropical soon enough : p

        The American people have decided to "drill baby drill", and follow their incompetent media to collapse... If China and India follow us... We win... Well the people in power here win... Humanity as a whole, loses, big time. I don't see the world as us and them... I see the world as "Right now, the United States is run by idiots, so do anything you want, except copy us, or humanity is doomed". We drank the cool aid and we bought our own propaghanda, we have decades of dramatic reform and economic stagnation ahead of us because we invested far too heavily in oil and coal. Please don't be like us... We have no right to force anything on you, and no moral high ground... just regrets.

        The Indian people, and even the Chinese are much more efficient stuards of their resources than America is at the moment... don't let it slip away, because we look cool wasting our money : )

        Ford got a bail out a few years earlier, they are all socialist enterprises now. Occasionally they make a good product, and to be fair, I think we still make some of the best diesel trucks and machinery on the planet... but in general, they make mediocre crap, and that's why they needed a government bail out. Also... Everyone in India, can learn to make a better cheeseburger than Mcdonalds, and then they don't export wealth to the US... We don't shop at Mcdonalds because they make good food, we shop there because they are cheap due to government subsidy.
    • Sep 30 2012: David: We are in no position to criticize other nations use of fossil fuels, since we waste them ourselves. However, the Chinese are at present in the lead when it comes to constructively breaking up this logjam the world is in. They are actively pursuing the Thorium LFTR energy system. (Invented in America, but we rejected it 50 years ago because it didin't make bomb material) Look up Kun Chen's talk to the U. of Calif. recently, on Youtube.
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        Sep 30 2012: Something is either objectively immoral, incorrect, and wrong... or it is not. It would be wrong of me to criticize America, without also criticizing China and India. Nuclear technology is not needed to solve this problem, but it is better than coal. I do not subscribe to moral relativism. The way humanity is choosing to distribute energy, is objectively horrible, and we should fix it.

        The fact that my country is a major contributor to the problem... Has no bearing on my argument.
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    Sep 25 2012: I don't think you will find resonance though you will find promises but an emerging or flourishing economy is in itself,deaf except to scarcity,it will take care of itself when it plateaus due to increasing energy cost.
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    Sep 25 2012: John.....exactly. Reading between lines and making assumptions is childish. This is a question open to opinion and discussion but provides no opinion in itself. Expecting or hoping for energy conservation is just that...not legislating. Obviously ideally all people have the same standards. But in reality we are in different places...but can we hope for everyones sake that we can reduce fossil fuel intake? Can we find a common ground ? Can other countries take charge of this issue without outside lead? Are they already? Awareness is not a 4 letter word.