Greens make the case for nuclear power

“My trend has been toward more rational and less romantic… as the decades go by,” he says. “I keep seeing the harm done by religious romanticism, the terrible conservatism of romanticism, the ingrained pessimism of romanticism. It builds in a certain immunity to the scientific frame of mind.” … The times I’ve been wrong is when I assume there’s a brittleness in a complex system that turns out to be way more resilient than I thought.” — Stewart Brand, 2007

It takes serious courage to turn against your social and intellectual circle. I was very impressed when Steward Brand “came out of the closet” to support nuclear power. Similarly for Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore, who wrote a concise summary of why nuclear energy must be part of the low-carbon portfolio for WaPo in 2006. Moore includes a short debunking of the main nuclear power myths that are promoted by anti-nuclear forces [which includes the current Greenpeace leadership].

In the early 1970s when I helped found Greenpeace, I believed that nuclear energy was synonymous with nuclear holocaust, as did most of my compatriots. That’s the conviction that inspired Greenpeace’s first voyage up the spectacular rocky northwest coast to protest the testing of U.S. hydrogen bombs in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. Thirty years on, my views have changed, and the rest of the environmental movement needs to update its views, too, because nuclear energy may just be the energy source that can save our planet from another possible disaster: catastrophic climate change.

I also recommend Moore’s Congressional testimony from April 2005. In his testimony Moore outlined Environmental Extremism — a further demonstration of courage. Moore probably does not get invited to many Manhattan cocktail parties any more:

It is this effort to find consensus among competing interests that has occupied my time for the past 15 years.

…Not all my former colleagues saw things that way. They rejected consensus politics and sustainable development in favor of continued confrontation and ever-increasing extremism. They ushered in an era of zero tolerance and left-wing politics. Some of the features of this environmental extremism are:

Environmental extremists are anti-human. Humans are characterized as a cancer on the Earth. To quote eco-extremist Herb Hammond, “of all the components of the ecosystem, humans are the only ones we know to be completely optional”. Isn’t that a lovely thought?

They are anti-science and technology. All large machines are seen as inherently destructive and unnatural. Science is invoked to justify positions that have nothing to do with science. Unfounded opinion is accepted over demonstrated fact.

They are anti-business. All large corporations are depicted as inherently driven by greed and corruption. Profits are definitely not politically correct. The liberal democratic, market-based model is rejected even though no viable alternative is proposed to provide for the material needs of 6 billion people. As expressed by the Native Forest Network, “it is necessary to adopt a global phase out strategy of consumer based industrial capitalism.”

I think they mean civilization.

And they are just plain anti-civilization. In the final analysis, eco- extremists project a naive vision of returning to the supposedly utopian existence in the garden of Eden, conveniently forgetting that in the old days people lived to an average age of 35, and there were no dentists. In their Brave New World there will be no more chemicals, no more airplanes, and certainly no more polyester suits.

…What does environmental extremism have to do with nuclear energy?

I believe the majority of environmental activists, including those at Greenpeace, have now become so blinded by their extremism that they fail to consider the enormous and obvious benefits of harnessing nuclear power to meet and secure America’s growing energy needs.

These benefits far outweigh any risks.

Another famous environmentalist leader, the late Rt Rev Hugh Montefiore, was “excommunicated” from the society he founded, Friends of the Earth, when he came out of the closet in favor of nuclear power.

As a theologian, I believe that we have a duty to play our full part in safeguarding the future of our planet, and I have been a committed environmentalist for many years. It is because of this commitment and the graveness of the consequences of global warming for the planet that I have now come to the conclusion that the solution is to make more use of nuclear energy.

This belief, and my wish to make it clear in this article, has led me to sever my ties with the campaign group Friends of the Earth. I have been a trustee of Friends of the Earth for 20 years and when I told my fellow trustees that I wished to write on nuclear energy, I was told that this is not compatible with being a trustee. I have therefore resigned because no alternative was open to me. The future of the planet is more important than membership of Friends of the Earth.

…The real reason why the Government has not taken up the nuclear option is because it lacks public acceptance, due to scare stories in the media and the stonewalling opposition of powerful environmental organisations. Most, if not all, of the objections do not stand up to objective assessment…

Returning to Stewart Brand [seen left in 1973, courtesy the New York Times], I first discovered Brand’s conversion reading MIT Technology Review in 2005, where he wrote “Environmental Heresies

Over the next ten years, I predict, the mainstream of the environmental movement will reverse its opinion and activism in four major areas: population growth, urbanization, genetically engineered organisms, and nuclear power.

Don’t miss his lecture to the 2006 Nuclear Energy Assembly, where he coaches nuclear execs on how to enlist the support of environmentalists. See also this John Tierney piece on Brand’s changing-of-mind in the New York Times February 2007.

…He divides environmentalists into romantics and scientists, the two cultures he’s been straddling and blending since the 1960s. He was with the Merry Pranksters and the Grateful Dead at their famous Trips Festival in San Francisco, directing a multimedia show called “America Needs Indians.”

…Mr. Brand, who is now 68 and lives on a tugboat in Sausalito, Calif., has stayed ahead of the curve for so long — as a publisher, writer, techno-guru, enviro-philosopher, supreme networker — that he’s become a cottage industry in academia.

…He’s also looking for green nuclear engineers, and says he feels guilty that he and his fellow environmentalists created so much fear of nuclear power. Alternative energy and conservation are fine steps to reduce carbon emissions, he says, but now nuclear power is a proven technology working on a scale to make a serious difference.

Stewart Brand is one of my personal heroes, and not just for his own heroism and critical thinking. Brand is also one of the guiding lights of the Long Now Foundation. We look forward to every podcast from the SALT lectures – Seminars on Long Term Thinking.