Britain’s new Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Chris Huhne, made a most insightful statement this week when he revealed the UK will face some £4 billion in expenses over the next four years to decommission ageing nuclear power plants.
That statement is insightful because it can be applied to so many of the sustainability challenges increasingly threatening to crush the global economy for good. Essentially, we’re facing a raft of postdated bills for many things we’ve long considered cheap. Nuclear power, which is a great energy solution for climate change, but a lousy one for fiscal responsibility, is just the tip of this iceberg.
There’s the bill coming due, for example, for all the clean, fresh water we’ve long taken for granted. Our profligate use of this irreplaceable commodity, in fact, has just about brought us to the point of “peak water,” according to the latest research from the Pacific Institute.
And then there’s the unimaginably costly horror still unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, where BP’s deep-sea well continues to spew at least 19,000 barrels a day — possibly more, according to experts who have studied videos of the gusher — of crude oil and natural gas into a body of water once known better for shrimping, sports fishing and dazzlingly white sandy beaches. The price this disaster will exact in lost livelihoods alone will be steep indeed. No one even knows how to calculate the ultimate damages to the region’s vital ecosystems.
From rare earth metals to lumber, minerals, fish and even waste, the resources we’ve enjoyed on the wild ride of the 20th century all come with a cost. And, one by one, those bills will soon be arriving in the post. While the time to start budgeting for them is long past, we need to start taking those accounts seriously starting now.