Sustainable energy choices for the 21st Century – the animated video

Climate change and sustainability of the global human enterprise are two of the most critical issues of the 21st Century. If we are to tackle these problems effectively, we need to make prudent, evidence-based choices about energy. This is the story told by this short (2 min, 35 sec) animated video:

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Please share the YouTube link on Twitter, Facebook, email, or whatever: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98frSed0F5s

Or download the .MP4 file and put it on your smartphone or tablet, so you can show your friends: http://goo.gl/5oY7f

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Okay, some background.

Last year I was fortunate enough to be awarded the 2010 Science Communicator of the Year at the SA Science Excellence Awards; along with an elegant and unusually shaped glass trophy, this award also included some prize money to spend on my research communications. I wanted to do something practical and interesting with these funds, and so I hatched a plan to make a brief video, aimed at the general public, to introduce some of the general motivations behind BNC. The above animation is the result — and, I hope, the start of other big (audiovisual) things to come!

The script was written by me and my friend Ben Heard (of Decarbonise SA - Ben has more comments on the video here). We also mocked up the first ‘storyboard’ of the visuals (but the kudos for the form of the final sequences, and all the associated glitz, goes very much to Ron Furner and his team, see below). Ben and I wanted something that was accurate and evidence-based, but at the same time did not wade into too much technical detail. Our aim was to deliver a punchy message that also left the audience wanting to know a little more, and was not too preachy. Hence the theme about ‘choices’.

We also appreciate that this had to be short and sweet, if busy people were going to take the time to watch it. So we settled at a script length of no more than 2 minutes — which was quite a challenge (our first draft was closer to 5 min, from memory, and so a lot was left on the proverbial cutting-room floor). The final version of the full clip is actually 2.5 min because of additional animation time.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not perfect — because such things really never can be. Everyone would do this somewhat differently. Indeed, the way we chose to present this material will likely provoke some accusations of glossing over important or complex issues, oversimplification, biased perspectives, and so on. Well, such is the nature of these things.

We still hope you find it useful. And if it motivates you to make something better, or something with a different slant, or to tell the next chapter of the sustainable energy story (as you see it), then fantastic. Our little move will then have really served its purpose.

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My sincere thanks to Ron Furner and his team of Fury Films, who organised and edited the soundtrack, put together the animations. They did a brilliant job in a tight time frame. I’d also like to thank Scott Mills, Mike Seyfang and Steve Kern for support and advice in the conception of this idea, and ongoing help on what may come after. You guys are terrific.

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61 Comments

  1. Last year I was fortunate enough to be awarded the 2010 Science Communicator of the Year ..

    Fortune favours the well prepared.
    Fortune favours the brave.

    A great use for the spoils of victory.

  2. Your video has excellent production values, with the exception of the audio recording (a little bit of echo in there). A nice little intro, but a tad light-on with facts. If you made it go for 5 minutes instead of 2.5 you could have explained the IFR and other Gen IV designs better I would think.

  3. I thought the video was pretty good but I had to listen to the words after “Denmark leads the world in wind power but ??? electricity comes from coal.” about 10 times and still don’t hear it…..but I get the drift.

    A minor point.

    I think nuclear will happen eventually……but it will require us to get in a much more dire situation before we can convince most people here in the US that it is safe.

    We need some sort of edict from the Obama administration AND some good politics AND some good adverising to make it happen.

    Note that I say politics. I hate politics. It is devoid of science……but unfortunately we can not increase nuclear power’s role without it.

  4. Very nice video, great message and animation, but I think the voice sound could be made better. It sounds too hard and cold, like in a big empty room. It would be nice if it would sound warmer.

  5. Interesting labeling Fukushima as old technology. How many more old technology power stations are operating and for how long before this lovely, completely safe stuff saves us from ourselves?

  6. Barry,

    Climate change and sustainability of the global human enterprise are two of the most critical issues of the 21st Century. If we are to tackle these problems effectively, we need to make prudent, evidence-based choices about energy.

    It is also true “If we are to tackle these problems effectively, we need to make prudent, evidence-based choices” about economically rational policies to address the issues.

    The fastest and best way to achieve reduction in GHG is with economically rational solutions.

    Progressives spending much of their time fighting Conservatives, instead of trying to persuade the regressive-Progressives to support economically rational solutions, is slowing progress. It has been slowing progress for 50 years and still is – evidence the blocking of the development of nuclear energy and the waste of time, funds and effort promoting renewable energy.

    Promoting Carbon Pricing in Australia at this time is another bad policy (as I’ve explained elsewhere on BNC). It is delaying action. Progressives are spending their efforts fighting Conservatives on this, when they should be focused on the Progressives that are preventing the appropriate policies responses.

  7. Barry,

    I should have started previous comment by congratulating you on the excellent video. You certainly have the ability to communicate the message effectively.

    My point it is time to start seriously considering the rational economic approach to making the changes we want. Fighting it (advocating irrational solutions) will cause further delay.

  8. George Bower, on 27 June 2011 at 11:20 PM said:

    I think nuclear will happen eventually……but it will require us to get in a much more dire situation before we can convince most people here in the US that it is safe.

    Admittedly this is a US nuclear industry funded study
    http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/eight-of-10-residents-near-us-nuclear-power-plants-favor-use-of-nuclear-energy-124609743.html
    WASHINGTON, June 27, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Eighty percent of residents living near nuclear energy facilities favor the use of nuclear energy as one way to provide electricity in the United States. Half of them “strongly favored” the use of nuclear energy, compared to 11 percent who were “strongly opposed.”

    There isn’t going to be a ‘national’ effort. Whatever PR money that will be spent will be spent on the communities that will be hosting nuclear power plants.

  9. Barry a good punchy video, but I have a few problems with it:
    You claim the the theme is “choices”, but in reality you only offer one Choice – Nuclear. In reality the theme is, as always – the need to build more nuclear power stations.
    You mention Frances dependance on oil for transport but don’t mention the choice of electric vehicles.
    You mention China’s move to nuclear, but ignore that they are also build huge amounts of coal, wind, hydro and solar power – in fact almost amything they can get to provide power to their huge population.

  10. @Hawkmoon Thanks for the feedback. I’ll jump in first.

    The essential “Choice” is, unfortunately, success or failure. Barry has, through this site, provided ample evidence that efforts to tackle climate change that ignore nuclear are doomed to be the latter. You are right, the theme is to open the converstation about a larger embrace of nuclear power. I don’t think we are doing anything to obscure that point.

    The choice of electric vehicles hinges on plentiful clean electricity to support the arrrival of the technology itself. I think that is self explanatory, and it is precisely the conversation we want to open there.

    China, yes quite so. However it remains the largest nuclear building program in the world, and many other nations are going there for the very first time soon.

  11. Pingback: New video animation | Lenz Blog

  12. Great video. Now how to make it viral?

    @hawkmoon Nobody objects to renewables, but they are like f..king
    phones … there’s a new world saver hitting the news headlines every day of the year. But they are all just toys … 20MW here, 15MW there. Even 150MW at the Moree Solar Farm (MSF). Nobody thinks about
    scale. They are all focused on gadgets … this new discovery has blah blah blah crystalline XYZ junctions getting 23.5% instead of 20.2% … etc. Its a perfect recipe for planned obsolescence. Nuclear
    designers are designing for 60-80 years. Now think about scale.

    According to the Environmental Assessment

    http://www.moreesolarfarm.com.au/Resources

    The MSF will need 7200 B-double truck loads of material delivered
    on-site … and not just from Moree … over 4 years. If you want
    to replace, e.g., Loy Yang A (2200 MW) you will need 48 of these
    solar plants … that’s 345,600 B-double truck loads of stuff …
    going somewhere down a road near you … the
    48 is based on the claimed 30% capacity factor. And that
    doesn’t allow for storage.

    So I predict that all we will get over the next
    20 years is a constant stream of new beaut pissy little designs,
    each claiming breakthough technology, but summing to half of
    bugger all. Which is exactly what Germany has had for the past
    2 decades. It’s great fun for the developers, who love complicated
    clever little improvements (… just like some nuclear people :)) but it
    doesn’t solve the problem.

  13. I loved it. Not many academics can communicate effectively with the general public but you have the gift.

    Is it possible to estimate what proportion of the population will see your video in Australia? How about Europe or the USA?

  14. Great video. Now how to make it viral?

    Yeah, that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? It happens by effective networking, but getting through the early stage of exponential growth is always the tough part – as any population biologist knows!

    gp, the percent would be <0.01%, unless it can be pushed viral. That's the sad reality of these things.

  15. @Eric Moore that’s a perfectly fair point, and the answer is quite a few I believe, most or all of which will be getting quite a degree of attention right now I think. Bear in mind though when we said “extreme events” in the video, that was something of an understatement; the event was quite gargantuan and killed 30,000 people. Regrettably the now evident design flaws combined with reported mismanagement chimed in to cause a serious nuclear event. However the OECD death toll from nuclear in severe accidents remains zero, and every new energy decision from here will be based on new reactors, not old. These points are worth remembering.

  16. (Comment deleted for violation of citation policy.)
    MODERATOR
    This is a science based site and any comment about scientific matters, other than on the Open Threads, must be substantiated by peer review refs. A bland statement of your “belief” is not enough.

  17. Barry, Ben

    I suggested a T.V. Commercial format as a means of raising awareness on BNC about the time of Fukishima. I don’t know if my comment was a catalyst in that or if you already had the plan yourselves.

    The video is simply brilliant and exceeds anything I could have invisaged.

    But you need to get the message out and hoping its going to go viral is a bit like buying the running shoes but not bothering to run the race. I think the only answer is to pay for air time. You and Ben are going to need someone with a bit of a big pocket to get the message out at the appropriate time and place though. I doubt a paypal click to donate will be anything like enough.

    As to the video, Im sure the anti nukes will see it and go Nuclear Sustainable your joking right! so the this opening video will need follow ups. e.g. One about why Nuclear is Sustainable/Inexhaustable. Why renewables in the absence of Hydro or other non carbon backup rely on fossil to keep the supply going. Why abundant electricity can replace all energy, so Electric cars and Synfuel for Trucks/Planes/Ships etc. Desalination and district heating and other advantages can be raised. Each film could start with the Elephants, so the audience thinks Ahh those Elephants again.

  18. @ Ian C UK, I was not privvy to that suggestion of your’s, but the TV commercial concept was certainty a guiding one for us; Barry may have had it in the back of mind. Thanks for the amazing feedback, that’s very gratifying.

    We have been thinking along similar lines, and would love to do a series of these, one issue at a time. Deep pockets is right though; Barry only has so much prize money and I haven’t even been nominated yet :).

    We are not quite at the stage of falling back on “hoping” it goes viral, we are and will keep working on it. As I mention on my DSA post I am planning a hard launch in Adelaide with a Q and A session and will look to generate media around that.

    As for German and Italian, I suck at both, but Luca from Futuro Nucleare may well be able to assist in the latter. Good idea.

  19. Yes I get your point that there will be some scrutiny of existing power stations, however financial and political interests will win out at the end of the day. To me this video just looks like a pro-nuclear propaganda video which does not answer concerns about reality. It is yet another sales pitch based on Utopia ( I remember many from the 60s).

    Where is the serious thought about reducing consumption? Instead it suggests that all the poor in the world can be provided for!! Even if you believe that these poor nations could afford nuclear (safely) surly that means more consumerism of products that cost resources and raw materials. It seems that the true goal of this video is to promote Nuclear rather then truly tackle the worlds problems in an imaginative way. I wish there was more focus on reducing the requirement for energy and looking at self generation (might be far better for 3rd world).

    It will be interesting to see whether people really believe this video or if they see it as more of the same. To me there is a concerted effort to play down nuclear disasters by very powerful people, however most of the general population don’t give it a thought like they never gave the petroleum industry a thought in the 80s and 90s when it too was being protected whilst causing damage.

    It is not that I am antinuclear because I know it is unsafe. I am currently anti-nuclear because I am unsure. It is that I completely do not trust the authorities and nuclear lobbyists as I never trusted the politicians and lobbyists of the petroleum industry.

    Looking forward to the next video to see if I get a better vibe.

  20. An excellent video. An excellent presentation which communicates lots of meaningful information quickly and effectively.

    However, there is one tiny little minor criticism which I have regarding one little part of the video.

    Advanced Generation IV nuclear fuel cycle systems such as IFR or LFTR can make fission power even more efficient and even more safe and even more economical than it is today.

    However, todays’ nuclear power reactors, mostly Light Water Reactors, are very safe, and very efficient and environmentally sound. Even LWRs that were built 30 years ago are operating very reliably, cleanly and safely today, providing abundant, reliable clean energy.

    When we’re explaining and promoting the advantages of IFRs and LFTRs and the like as the extra safe, extra cheap, extra efficient nuclear energy systems for tomorrow, we should be careful that we’re not inadvertently giving support or giving ammunition to those who would force us to close down our safe and environmentally sound “old technology” LWRs today and not to replace them with IFRs or LFTRs, but to replace them with more bloody coal.

    Existing nuclear power is very safe, very reliable, and very important, and that’s an important message that we need to communicate today.

  21. Re Eric Moore, on 28 June 2011 at 8:07 PM –

    I don’t know where you are based but BNC is Australian,as I am,and I regard the site as being primarily for education and discussion on climate change and nuclear energy as one of the solutions in the mitigation of climate change.Australia is almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels for electricity generation and virtually nothing of any effectiveness is being done to address that at present.

    If the owner of the site wishes to make videos and public appearances to further his objectives than that is a legitmate and valuable activity.Because these activities are directed at the general public they have to kept short and simple so that the issues can be understood by lay people.As long as only facts are presented without embellishment then what is your beef?

    We would all be better off if the anti nuclear lobby would abide by the same principles.

    As for the other issues you have raised,such as the petroleum industry,self generation,reduction of consumption etc,these are off topic.I think that,in raising them,you are revealing your pie in the sky thinking.

  22. @Luke Weston Yes I agree. It was a hard balance to strike in a short vid. Future decisions on new build will naturally draw on new technology, and we were not drawing on features of Gen IV until the very end with the golf ball.

    You are right, it is an area that requires caution. Plug alert, I wrote about my take on Gen IV here http://decarbonisesa.com/2011/05/30/the-case-against-waiting-for-generation-iv-nuclear-and-the-case-for-urgently-bringing-it-to-commercialisation/ emphasising the benefits of current tech. Have a read and tell me what you think.

  23. sd, I liked the quote:

    Sarkozy says a moratorium on new nuclear reactors, as some countries have declared since the Fukushima Daiichi accident, ‘makes no sense.’
    He said today that ‘there is no alternative to nuclear energy today.’

    Of course 1 billion Euros is peanuts, so this is kind of non news. That won’t even buy 1 EPR! However, they did say “a plan to invest 1billion euros in future nuclear reactors” so I assume this means ASTRID

  24. Ian C, Ben,

    you’ve preempted my message by a few hours. We definitely need to be able to export this content to other languages, both on the screen and on the audio track.

    Just saw your note in reply to my cheesy comment on your blog, Ben. Let’s take it offline, but it’s a definite YES.

    Ciao, Luca

  25. Great video Barry, it would be very nice if you could translate it in italian (and some other languages, I believe) to be fully appreciated also here in Italy.

    A little question: differences between Astrid and IFR?

  26. Alberto, the Astrid reactor (planned) will be similar to an IFR, but (as I understand it) will continue down the oxide (rather than metal) fuel route, with aqueous reprocessing and a loop reactor design. These are quite different to the IFR. The French need to move instead to metal fuel. We’ll see.

  27. This may sound harsh, but I think it sucks!
    I had no trouble with the sound or other production values and the content was reasonably clearly presented, but it still *felt* to me like “industry propaganda” – to the extent that I would be embarrassed if someone I sent to your site should subsequently come across it.

    No-one will be convinced that because Denmark has not *yet* displaced a significant fraction of their coal use that they may not eventually do so, and the golf ball/ elephants comparison will seem obviously “unfair” even to those who cannot say why (the only comparison that really matters is with volume of ore rather than volume of fuel).

    Of course it may be hard to tell the full story so briefly, but if it can’t be done well enough then it were better not done at all.

    Sorry for the negativity (and I have postponed commenting until after you got a few nicer ones), but I value your credibility enough to hope that it doesn’t go viral.

  28. Great vid Barry, short, punchy and to the point. Well done!
    @ Hawkmoon It’s true China are building lots of coal fired power stations. But I reckon their long term plans will help address their emissions problems. They have planned an additional 245 reactors by 2050 at a cost of $550 billion. They are miles ahead of the rest of the world in greenhouse reduction plans. Can you imagine any Australian politician having a vision 40 years ahead? Their vision extends to the next election instead of the next generation. We need to to change that.Write to your local MP and tell him to be bold and bring something radical to the party room.

  29. Alan Cooper, ore volume is irrelevant for that comparison because we are talking about spent fuel and depleted uranium, not newly mined material. That is why we say “a golf ball of waste…”. I appreciate not everyone will like the video, but I do, and that’s why it stays in a permanent fixture on my side bar. If this turns you off sending people along to BNC, then so be it.

    gc – I make a firm prediction that the only result would be a broken driver!

  30. @ Alan Cooper:

    the only comparison that really matters is with volume of ore rather than volume of fuel

    Uranium ore can be processed into yellowcake onsite, so only the valuable part of the ore is transported, a minor price for its enourmous energy content. Most coal ore is actual coal, and it all has to be transported to the power station. I put it to you that the volume of ore per MW.h needing shipment is a more important measure than volume of ore intitially mined.

  31. Is it possible to make a video that advocates nuclear power that would not look like industry propaganda? Honest question. It seems to be impossible to advocate for nuclear power without someone accusing you of being an industry lobbyist. Alan Cooper, if you have any insights in how to deal with that particular communication problem please let us know.

  32. @Finrod, you are right that the volume of ore needing shipment is more relevant than the volume actually mined. But, although I may be wrong, I expect that it takes more than a golf ball of yellowcake to supply my lifetime energy needs.

    @Barry, I think the video is confusing if you are comparing waste in one case with fuel in the other. (It would in fact be interesting and probably quite compelling to see the comparison of solid wastes as I suspect the volume of fly ash produced in burning all that coal would still be quite impressive and at that stage it’s actually pretty nasty stuff)
    On your sidebar, appearing along with the rest of this site, I don’t see the video as particularly damaging. But as a standalone item I don’t think it has the same level of crediblity and would be easily dismissed by someone who was leaning strongly in the anti-nuclear direction.

  33. @JohnMorgan, yes I think it might be. It would be important to avoid anything that even looks like a rhetorical trick and not be too ambitious – eg probably to keep the objective limited to addressing just one popular misconception at a time.

  34. would be easily dismissed by someone who was leaning strongly in the anti-nuclear direction.

    Those sort of people have an ideological opposition to nuclear power, and will never be convinced. They’re not the target audience here.

    I reckon the video’s bloody good.

  35. No, Barry, I don’t misunderstand (at least not that). My point was that regardless of whether you look at it before or after the reaction, the quantity of material that corresponds to your golf ball or soda can is far less than the quantity mined from the ground or transported, and people will think they are being bamboozled when they see the comparison with coal. And if you move (or appear to move) the goalposts by saying “ore volume is irrelevant for that comparison because we are talking about spent fuel and depleted uranium” that will probably just make them more suspicious. I haven’t actually looked very hard for a fair comparison of the environmental impacts of fuel supply for coal and nuclear power systems but I suspect it would favour nuclear and would be *much* more effective than the golfball vs elephants business.

  36. @Alan Cooper, I’m happy to go with the balance of feedback on the video, which is so far very, very favourable. But I would love to hear more from people who have never really thought much about nuclear, which is not BNC or DSA subscribers. Not sure how to get it to them though!!!

  37. Alan, you’re talking about an argument of the far distant future. We already have enough spent fuel and DU already sitting around to supply every human on earth with their golf ball for centuries. If it is not used in fast reactors, it is still there. It is already there. So your argument is flawed (but I appreciate the critiques, regardless, thanks)

  38. Well I thought it was more the other way around! ie that we do still need freshly mined fuel for the reactor designs that are currently in operation or planned for deployment in the near future. Am I wrong? (And if not what is your best estimate of when the mining *will* stop)

  39. If you want people to start translating, it might be useful to post a transcript to the comments here.

    It might also be a good idea to use the appropriate Creative Commons license, since without that anyone trying a translation would violate your copyright if they don’t have authorization beforehand.

    Once you have some translations, how are they supposed to be used? Just posted as comments at the Youtube channel?

  40. Pingback: Sustainable Energy Choices for the 21st Century | Drop Your Energy Bill

  41. Barry,

    The CO2-free nuclear path will be slow and expensive to implement, especially given the current anti-nuclear bias.

    I think a less costly and quicker approach would be using high-efficiency, 60%, combined cycle gas turbine plants to replace existing coal plants. Instead of emissions of 2.15 lb of CO2/kWh from coal plants, it would be 0.688 lb of CO2/kWh from the base-loaded CCGTs.

    The 500 MW CCGT plants from GE and Siemens can be built for about $1,250,000/MW in 2 years; GE will finance them and train the O&M staff. Grid modifications would be minimal, because the new CCGT plants would be located at existing sites with old coal plants.

    After about 500 to 1000 dirty coal plants have been replaced with clean CCGTs, the anti-nuclear bias will have subsided and factory-built 125 MW modular units by Babcock and Wilcox could be installed at about 30 to 50 units per month.

    http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/57905/wind-power-and-co2-emissions
    http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/59747/ge-flexefficiency-50-ccgt-facilities-and-wind-turbine-facilities
    http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/47519/base-power-alternatives-replace-base-loaded-coal-plants

  42. I’ve just inadvertently discovered that the experience of watching this video is heightened significantly (for me, anyway) if you head over to http://www.johnmurphyofficial.com/tunesbox_1.html and press ‘play’, then (in a separate tab, obviously) start the video. Ironically enough, the music is from the score of the movie ‘Sunshine’.

    I’d consider music for any future video productions, if any copyright issues arising can be resolved.

  43. Pingback: Energy density: the key to our no-carbon future « SeekerBlog

  44. Barry Brook, Ben Heard, and Ron Furner should submit their short film to the Green Screen Climate Fix Flicks competition:

    We are seeking film submissions of between 30 seconds and 5 minutes that effectively communicate positive messages about a zero or low carbon, clean energy future.

    This competition is being run by Macquarie University, The University of Melbourne and Monash Sustainability Institute. The judging panel includes Tim Flannery and “scientists, artists and film-makers”. Judging criteria are

    • Does the film convey positive messages relevant to the benefits of a low carbon future?
    • Does the film have potential to inspire changes in behaviour related to climate change and shifting to a low carbon future?
    • Is the film suitable for a wide audience?
    • Is the film’s storyline entertaining and engaging?
    • Does the film display originality?
    • Is the storytelling enhanced through the film’s visual style?
    • Is the content scientifically and factually accurate?
    • How high are the production values e.g. cinematography/animation, editing/visual effects, sound?

    The film seems to meet the eligibility requirements and I reckon its a winner on all criteria. If it doesn’t win you can claim to have been robbed.

    Entries close 10th February so get it in there and good luck.

  45. Hope springs eternal, and there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

    Even if it doesn’t win, I think there’s value in the judges consciously and systematically assessing your production against their criteria. Any cognitive dissonance that results is a “teachable moment”, as I believe you educators call it.

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