DR: Bush’s token response to global warming is to argue for clean coal and nuclear power. To the extent he’s involved in any international discussion, it’s the Pacific pact, a trade deal with these emerging markets for old coal and nuclear technology.

TT: Bush jumps in a long list of presidents of both parties who have not been able to deal with the [nuclear] waste issue in any meaningful fashion. And talk about a subsidized industry! Once upon a time we thought it would be too cheap to meter, and now we understand that it’s an enormous cost.

Yes, look, we may not be able to stop China from going down that path. When Arnold was there last November, the number one thing they wanted to talk about was retrofit technology for diesel buses, sewage treatment (two-thirds of their sewage gets dumped into their receiving waters untreated), ways of sequestering carbon — they’re very interested in those kinds of technologies, and buying them from California companies. They tell us they’re spending millions and millions of dollars on health care and loss of productivity. It’s hurting them.


Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

DR: Social unrest as well.

TT: So you can’t necessarily stop them. And they were kind of like drug addicts, saying "help us, help us. Let’s invent the future together. We’ve got this gun pointed to our head and we’re going to pull the trigger. It’s a thousand megawatts of coal-fired power plants a week — we want to stop doing that. We want to figure out how to clean that up. We want you to help us, but we’re going to keep doing it in the meantime." We know they’re building up a couple of nuclear power plants in addition to what they already have.

They’re not stupid. One thing we’ve seen the Chinese do is reverse engineer a lot of products — rip them off. They look at our experience and say, you guys figured out how to retrofit diesel trucks and busses, or move to natural gas and other cleaner fuels, or move to IGCC technology, cleaner coal. Let’s leapfrog what you guys have done, at least, if not move to solar and other renewables. They’re doing as well.

The same is true with other kinds of technologies, like nuclear — they say, "we’ve seen the mistakes you guys have made and what it’s really costing you figuring out how to deal with all that waste material. Maybe that’s not the best thing for our people either." The thing about a nuclear plant, especially in a place like China, it has to be built near a source of water to cool it — a river or a coastal zone — and then you’ve got to send the electrons somewhere they can be used.

China’s problem is all these people leaving rural areas and coming into the city in search of work. They’re trying to keep them in those rural areas — not necessarily on the farm, but by decentralizing a lot of the factories and a lot of the job centers, including high-tech centers. A lot of our credit card processing is done in South Dakota, not because that’s the most efficient place for it to be but because it’s cheaper there, and you can use electrons to do the same thing you used to need to do on a 3×5 card in your office in L.A. or Seattle. The same thing with the Chinese: they want to try to keep a lot of these people in decent, sustainable jobs in the communities they’re in, and the only way they can do that is to run electricity into these places.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

If they build a central station powerplant, they’ve got to also build the transmission infrastructure to move the power from point A to point B — as opposed to biomass conversion, or solar on roofs. That’s why they’ve hired Bill McDonough, who’s literally building seven cities from the ground up, a million people a city, to demonstrate how to make these them completely self-sustaining. Is that going to be a panacea for 3 billion people overnight? No. But it shows that the leadership is thinking about more than just asking George Bush for a handout on a nuclear power plant.