John Lindberg, art.1 "My own David and Goliath - climate change and the atom"
It is perhaps cliché, but my climate journey began in 2004 when Roland Emmerich’s climate disaster film The Day After Tomorrow was released. I was merely 11 at the time, and like many, my
immediate response to the film’s apocalyptic scenes of collapsing ice sheets, monster waves and the arrival of a new ice age was that of sheer panic and despair.
The initial fear was, however, quickly replaced with a kind of apathy which most of us have felt at some point towards climate change. It just became too big, too frightening and too disembodied. I guess it was my brain’s way to try and protect me – a perfectly natural response which is so commonly seen in any climate change debate that is around us.
Over the next five years, climate change was firmly put at the back of my mind, and my journey towards being atomic proponent has not been a story of an over-night conversion, but rather one of a continuous search for one’s purpose.
I have always been driven by a passion to make a positive and real impact on the people and the world around me. I initially had my eyes set on becoming a paediatric oncologist, but having almost fainted taking my own blood for a school experiment, I realised that I might not be cut from the right cloth. A period of inevitable soul searching ensued, I ended up doing a proper volte face for someone taking specialising in science and mathematics at school – I decided to turn to the world of policy and politics as my way of making a difference.
As I rediscovered my love for nature – especially hiking in the wilderness of Scotland or my native Sweden – my passion for fighting climate change reignited. Nature’s raw beauty must be protected and preserved for future generations of all living being, a duty I believe all of us have. After all, we owe everything to nature – if we live in a way that irreversibly destroys our planet, we will never be able to unlock human potential. Having spent countless hours facing roaring winds on highland moors or climbing mountains in the rain, I gained a deeper appreciation for just how important energy is to everything we do. For many hundreds of years, we slowly started to harness the energy sources nature provided us with – be it the wind, the water, the oil, or the atom.
But in harnessing the tools nature provided us with, we somehow lost sight of where we come from, and who is providing us with the tools upon which modernity has been built. This is where my love for protecting nature, fighting climate change and finding an energy future which benefits human, animal and planet alike comes together. Unlocking a sustainable energy solution can not only combat climate change, but also fight poverty, unlock human potential and preserve our blue marble of a planet for future generations.
Finding myself as a political adviser in the Scottish Parliament during my university years, a significant part of what I did was to think about energy and the environment. Despite its many impressive features and benefits, nuclear energy struck me as being politically impossible to achieve. Nevertheless, my curiosity got the better of me and I started to dig into the world of the atom, despite (or maybe, thanks to?) the fact that few things in our world has as poor a reputation as nuclear energy.
I went into nuclear with assumptions shared by most people - that its use is nothing short of a Faustian bargain with the devil, where we get immense amounts of electricity, but at the cost of the risk of unimaginable death and destruction if something goes wrong, and by leaving waste which is believed to be lethal for eons. However, I spent years researching all aspects of nuclear power – be it accidents, the waste or the effects of radiation on human health – and slowly, but steadily, one thing became very clear. The image of nuclear power as the ultimate evil did not add up with reality.
Not only had nuclear energy been given a way worse reputation that it had deserved, but that without it we would have no real chance at both fighting poverty and climate change. It became painfully clear that the image of fear which had been built around nuclear energy robbed people of a different future – a future where it shouldn’t really matter in which country you are born, where we once and for all banished starvation and poverty. Denying people the benefits of the atom therefore becomes an act of cruelty, whereby we deny future generations the opportunity to fully realise their own ambitions and dreams.
For me, there was only really one thing that made sense for me in terms of my own future: to dedicate my life to the restoration of the atom’s public image and with it, public opinion. How do we turn something so important, yet so unloved, so fear, and so misunderstood, into the shining swan it has the potential to be?
So, for the last couple of years, I have come to regard my own battle for nuclear power, and the battle for the atom in our common future as the battle between David and Goliath. It is perhaps paradoxical, knowing that nuclear power plants are essentially but big machines of steel and concrete. Yet the atom is so small, and it is truly David, trying to take on the ultimate Goliath(s) of our time – be it fossil fuels, or perhaps fear itself?
In a series of articles, I will be exploring how my desire to solve one of the greatest challenges of our time - climate change - led to me devoting my life to the very smallest of things - the atom. In this series, I will discuss the importance of the power of the atom in combatting climate change.
The second half of the series will be a deep-dive into our nightmarish view of atomic energy, to look at why almost everything we believe about radiation is wrong, how we ended up here - and perhaps most importantly, the concept and consequences of “radiophobia”, which tragically enough is a potent reminder of how sometimes the sheer idea of something can be more lethal than the real deal.
Nevertheless, by the end I will show how, by conquering fear and an unashamedly optimistic view of the future, we can with the atom’s awesome power build a stronger, a more just and a truly sustainable global society.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and may not reflect on any of those institutions which the author is associated with.
Photographs by John Lindberg