In 1974 France was in dire straits. OPEC was holding the world for ransom by cutting off its supply of oil, and in France not only transportation was at a standstill: 96% of the country's electricity was generated by burning it. Without oil, all the lights in France would go out.
On March 6 Prime Minister Pierre Messmer, vowing to never leave his country vulnerable to Mideastern oil interests again, signed a rare Parliamentary Decree. Without a vote in French Parliament, he demanded an immediate and extensive investment in nuclear energy. Though climate change was scarcely on the public's environmental radar, within 15 years France had decarbonized its economy faster than any country in the world before or since.
Now, 80% of French electricity is powered by nuclear energy, and the country has the lowest per-capita carbon emissions in Europe (55% lower than Germany, one third of those in the U.S.).
In this installment in the The Economist's The World If series, editors contemplate what the state of Earth's climate would be had other developed countries followed France's lead.