Background to the WILPF statement on energy

July 24, 1989

The 24th Triennial Congress of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, 14-25 July, 1989 in Sydney, Australia:

The industrial revolution, which has transformed the northern countries of the world in the past 200 years, and is now rapidly spreading to the countries of the south, is based on energy derived from fossil fuels.  The 2 billion people who derive their energy needs from wood are still living largely in the pre-industrial era.

But now, suddenly, the fossil fuel and the wood burning eras are simultaneously ending.  Oil will run out; some estimates indicate that exploitable reserves will only last 30 to 50 years.  Coal reserves are plentiful, but coal burning has suddenly been shown to be potentially catastrophic for the world’s climate, since it is a major cause of the warming up “greenhouse effect”.  Meanwhile the cutting down of the world’s forests is depleting stocks of firewood; and the forests, when replanted must be kept intact because the trees absorb carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas, and give off oxygen; they prevent soil erosion and floods; and the vegetation of the tropical forests is the home of half the world’s genetic species.

The world is therefore posed on the threshold of a new energy era.  And this watershed in the availability of a resource basic to life is occurring just when the world’s population is accelerating ever more rapidly,.  It reached 5 billion in 1987.  United Nations’ projections indicate that it will double to 10 billion by the year 2050.  The need for energy is escalating just when current resources are foreclosed.

In today’s world, energy policy is a matter for national governments.  There is no United Nations’ Specialized Agency for Energy, as there are for food, health, labour, industry, etc.  The functions of the 112 member state International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna are limited to the promotion of peaceful nuclear power and the monitoring of its military use in connection with the Nuclear Weapon Non-Proliferation Treaty.  As the Chernobyl crisis revealed, it has not even negotiated internationally acceptable radiation standards.

The options at present in sight for the post fossil fuel wood era are:

a) economizing on energy consumption by improved efficiency; this is obviously a matter essentially for the industrialized countries

b) developing “renewables” – wind, wave, hydro, thermal solar, hydrogen sources of energy

c) further developing fission nuclear power, which at present provides about 15% of the world’s electricity

d) there is at present the remote but exciting possibility of solving the world’s energy  problems by the development of fusion nuclear energy.

Research on Renewables

Although during the past 15 years or so considerable progress has been made in (a) and (b), much more research is needed.  In the USA the Reagan Administration drastically cut federal funds for research in renewables.

Nuclear Power

A great question mark hangs over nuclear power.  Should the world now turn massively to this “Faustian” source, which presents hazards of a kind which humanity has never before experienced, or should it decisively reject it as the blandishment of Mephistopheles, and concentrate on building a post-industrial way of life base on “soft” and solar energy?  Opinion is divided.  A number of countries have deliberately renounced nuclear power, in some cases after plebiscites. They include:  Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Luxembourg, the Philippines and China.  Others are determined to go ahead with it.  They include USSR, France, West Germany, Britain and Japan.  In the most industrialized country of all, the USA, where the nuclear power industry is in private hands, no more nuclear power stations have been ordered since 1974, and many orders have been canceled; the industry may be in terminal decline.

The verdict of the Brundtland Report is unequivocal:  “A low energy future”, grounded on conservation of the development of “new and renewable resources” is the only “realistic option open to the world for the 21st century”. The conference of high level scientists and policy makers which met in Toronto in may 1988 to discuss the climatic threat did, however, call for the nuclear power option to be “revisited”.

The Deadly Connection

The nations continuing the development of nuclear power include four of the five deploying nuclear weapons. The nuclear chain of mining uranium through to the reprocessing of plutonium and waste disposal, the strategic and political decision-making of nuclear weapons are inextricably bound up with civil nuclear power production.  WILPF campaigns for a renewal of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Bearing in mind the connections between nuclear weapons and nuclear power production, WILPF looks to alternative sources of energy and not to civil nuclear power production.

Need for World Energy Strategy

No topic calls more urgently and insistently for global action, through appropriate organizations, adequately funded and resourced, based on the right of all human beings to have access to adequate energy supplies to enable them to live in dignity and creativity.

Environment International Resolution

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