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Opto Sessions

“Energy is Life” — Doomberg on Nuclear Power and the Climate Question

Doomberg, one of the most successful financial Substack newsletters, joins Opto Sessions to discuss global energy challenges; climate change and nuclear power; and the potential of room-temperature superconductors.

LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW:

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Having become the top paid financial publication on Substack within a year and a half of launching in May 2021, Doomberg has over 188,000 subscribers.

The publication is run by a handful of journalists with a background in what they call “the old school classic commodity industries”. It aims to repair the disconnect between economic and policy decisions and certain fundamental scientific principles.

The publication is particularly interested in topics around energy security, and is a keen advocate of the potential of nuclear power. Having achieved the platform’s early growth in part via building a substantial following on Twitter (now X), the team has been critical of the changes that Elon Musk has made to the platform, and is no longer active on the site.

Energy, Living Standards and Trade-Offs

Doomberg scrutinises global energy challenges, chief among them the “lack of energy abundance for billions of people around the world”.

Focusing on the lack of energy abundance “forces us to ponder the trade-offs of our policies.

“We like to say that energy is life, and your standard of living is defined by how much energy you get to harness.”

The desire to improve living standards is behind the development drive of the Global South, argues Doomberg. “When we say ‘develop’, what we’re really saying is ‘harvest and put to use as much energy as possible to improve their standards of living.’”

As such, Doomberg frames the primary energy challenge as “providing the highest standard of living for as many humans as possible while minimising our impact on the planet”.

“We like to say that energy is life, and your standard of living is defined by how much energy you get to harness.”

Energy costs naturally feature highly in this equation. Doomberg is a vocal advocate of nuclear energy, which it claims is “virtually limitless in its capacity to provide life-nourishing primary energy”, but “political choices” have made it expensive and slow to deploy.

“On one side of the scale is ultra-high energy density and ultra-consistent energy production. On the other side of the scale are things like handling nuclear waste, and so on. But those are the trade-offs, and we should have intelligent discussions about them.”

The Climate Question

Doomberg seeks to challenge what it calls a “false dichotomy” around the climate debate, whereby those who view climate change as an existential threat are pitted against those who view it as a hoax.

“Our view is that we would fade climate alarmism because we are techno-optimists. We believe that humanity is uniquely capable of adapting to any potential negative consequences that the climate might undergo.”

Nevertheless, Doomberg’s approach starts from the assumption that minimising carbon output is desirable. There are several ways in which this can be achieved.

“We are techno-optimists. We believe that humanity is uniquely capable of adapting to any potential negative consequences that the climate might undergo.”

Solar is one form of renewable energy on which Doomberg is bullish, for two key reasons. The first of these is the abundance of solar energy that the earth receives on a daily basis. The second is that it remains efficient at small scales, and therefore “distributed solar arrays can be, when properly installed, almost as efficient as large power plants that are dedicated to solar”. In this latter regard, solar is “unique amongst the energy technologies”.

However, Doomberg argues that solar’s drawbacks include the fact that much of the world doesn’t get sufficient sunshine to make it worthwhile, and that “the production of solar grade polysilicon is one of the most energy-intensive manufacturing processes in the world”.

Going Nuclear

Doomberg is “most excited about nuclear energy in general” and believes that new generations of nuclear energy production are far safer than previous iterations.

“If you ask me what’s interesting from the equation we started with — which is standard of living divided by carbon emissions — I think proliferating small modular reactor technology into industrial use is extremely exciting, and one that we’re keeping a close eye on.”

Another game-changer, should it come about, would be the discovery of a room temperature superconductor. Earlier this year, scientists from South Korea claimed to have developed such a material, but their discovery was subsequently shown to be false.

Doomberg believes that “room temperature superconductors would be a Nobel Prize-worthy invention, a civilisation-changing invention on a par with the discovery of fission”.

While the cost involved in building the required infrastructure to “send electricity over vast distances with minimal energy penalties” would be significant, the discovery could lead to an evolutionary leap for humanity.

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