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The Battle for the Climate

La Bataille pour le Climate

(The Battle for the Climate)

by Myrto Tripathi

Clear, well reasoned, factual but not excessive technical, this book separates fact from myth and helps us focus on true climate solutions. Unfortunately it has not yet been translated into English but if you can cope with the French, go for it!

Myrto Tripathi’s starting point is a disquieting reminder of what most of us know: the mechanisms that give us a margin of resilience against climate change will soon reach their limits and global warming will accelerate and grow exponentially. We have 10 years of fossil fuels left at the current world consumption rate. We must leave 80% of the remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground.

The energy sources that we must use to fight against climate change must be capable of replacing fossil fuels for most current uses and as many future uses as possible. They must be carbon free, available now, controllable, concentrated and affordable. These energy sources are, unfortunately, limited to two: hydroelectricity and nuclear power.

But fossil fuels still account for 80% of the world's energy demand. Governments still support the fossil fuel industry. People are anxious and discouraged, but old behaviour patterns persist, and CO2 emissions are not slowing down.

The author sets her focus on electricity: unlike most energy sources, electricity can be decarbonized and substituted for other sources.

The book devotes subsequent chapters to the various energy sources. First the highly carbon emitting ones: coal, oil, natural gas and biomass. Then those which are random and/or diffuse: wind, sun, geothermal energy, tides, run-of-river hydraulic; these need reliable, steady sources as backup or we’ll have blackouts. Countries which have tried using a high concentration of random sources have the most expensive electricity. Backup is often fossil fuels (coal, gas) so CO2 emissions remain high.

Somehow, wind, sun and biomass seem familiar and reassuring. Subsidies mask their true costs. The illusion that “renewable energies” will save us from climate change is comforting and persistent, but it is an illusion. They will not replace carbon emitting energies. They will only continue to be superimposed upon existing modes of electricity generation without changing our consumption habits or reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

Hydraulic electricity is clean, economical, efficient, minimally polluting and highly controllable. It accounts for 16% of electricity production worldwide and, although dependent on topography, it could usefully be expanded in some parts of the world. Expansion of hydro capacity may, however, involve the flooding of valleys and displacement of populations; people have died due to breaking dams.

Finally, on page 188 (out of 241 pages), we come to nuclear power. Nuclear is among the energy sources having the least impact on health, accidents, radiation, waste and pollution. It’s clean, economical and incredibly efficient due to its exceptional energy density. But nuclear accounts for only about 4% of global primary energy and 10% of electricity generation; it would take a massive change in global investment and public policies to increase its use. (Exceptionally, China has been putting a new reactor on line every 3 months for the last ten years.)

According to the IPCC, global nuclear capacity must be 2 to 6 times its 2010 level by 2050 if we’re to avoid 1.5° or even 2° warming. The obstacle? Social acceptance.

Antinuclearism is more like a religion than a political movement. Antinuclear activists attract public support by presenting themselves as defenders of the environment, and accusing supporters of nuclear energy of being members of a “nuclear lobby.” Their deliberate manipulation of public opinion undermines democracy and can weigh decisively on important policy decisions; for example, in France, where electricity is 90% carbon free due to nuclear and hydraulic, a Law of Energy Transition decrees a reduction of the share of nuclear power to 50% of the electricity mix by 2035. The Fessenheim plant, which had an excellent safety record, was arbitrarily closed down in 2017 as a move toward this goal.

A 2019 study showed that 86% of young adults (18 to 35) in France think that nuclear energy is responsible for climate change.

Myrto addresses the arguments behind the fear of nuclear energy, notably accidents and waste disposal, and demolishes the foundation of these fears.

-Julie Wornan

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