Thursday, February 25, 2010

Facebook and Small-d Democracy

facebook_pic The internet can be a bit, shall we say, free wheeling, so Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s Facebook page often finds itself awash in ill-considered comment. Or is it so ill-considered?

Case in point: [Energy Secretary Steven] Chu posted information about $8 billion in loan guarantees awarded to two new nuclear reactors. The announcement spurred his “fans” to make more than 93 comments on nuclear energy, which would be great if it wasn’t just a hodgepodge of vacuous opinion and insults — entertaining as those might be.

We’d only add that vacuous opinion aren’t limited to commenters on a Facebook page – it’s not as if cable news and op-ed pages are sterling repositories of intellectual purity – and as the story points out, some folks do bring some rigor to the discussion.

Dr. Chu, congratulations on a good decision. However, I am concerned after reading the comments here that once again, not enough money is being spent on educating the public regarding the facts about nuclear power production and/or its wastes. … Why not use this momentum to start a public education campaign as well?

And even some of the less rigorous comments get to a point.

I agree with .. about regional access to energy sources. And - with the man that understand that there is no “Silver Bullet.” Thorium - plutonium - soy beans -switch grass … Fuse baby fuse.

Even if we’re not sure what the point is.

Writer Kirsten Karosec considers this all unhelpful in the extreme. We’re not sure we agree, as Chu and his staff do soldier ahead to make their case on various issues, and the readership does grapple with it, if not always beneficially.

This is the messy part of small-d democracy and its most fascinating part – the efforts of the governed to come to grips with policy and express an attitude to it, however inchoate that expression may be. It can teach the governing class how to communicate more effectively and figure out ways to engage the pubic on complex issues. Anything that smacks of direct engagement has our vote.

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Some editorials, not necessarily about loan guarantees:

From The {Olympia Washington] Olympian:

We must have baseload generation as the foundation for intermittent, renewable power sources, and nuclear power must be part of that discussion. As a viable, economical and environmentally responsible resource, nuclear energy produces large amounts of clean and affordable electricity.

From Suburban Life [Westchester County, N.Y.) Publications:

Obama called for a “new generation of clean nuclear plants” in his State of the Union address last month and is backing it up with $8.3 billion in conditional loan guarantees to a power company consortium in Georgia and more dollars in his proposed 2011 budget for nuclear energy.

Without nuclear power, a national clean-energy policy is largely window dressing. The opportunity is here to show that the United States can build clean, safe and efficient nuclear plants.

Even where loan guarantees are not the ostensible subject, that’s likely motivating the editorials. But then again:

What more conclusive proof does one need to demonstrate the economic inviability of nuclear power, even in an industry that is 50 years old? Without such a massive financial crutch, private companies and their investors have declined to fund any new nuclear plants for 37 years — not just in the US, but anywhere in the world.

That’s from the Sydney Morning Herald. So we had to go a bit afield to find a negative editorial.

We ran into a British tabloid headline that read “The ladettes who glorify their shameful drunken antics on Facebook.” We won’t link to it, as the story is an excuse to run sleazy pictures – the tabloids thanking their gods for shameful drunken antics - but clearly, the Americans are figuring this all out faster than the British.

5 comments:

Sterling Archer said...

Facebook: an empirical test of the "infinite number of monkeys" hypothesis.

Anonymous said...

The replies were pretty much what I'd expected --

The anti-nukes were beside themselves with anger and sarcasm.

The pro-nukes took the time to give coherent explanations to the antis.

The antis then began to howl that anyone who disagreed with their point of view was in league with Satan; and, as they always do, they accused everyone of being in the pay of the "nuclear industry".

No Nukes Culture Warriors are like 8-Track tapes: they repeat forever, and are relics of the 1970s.

Finrod said...

That’s from the Sydney Morning Herald. So we had to go a bit afield to find a negative editorial.

I managed to leave a few comments on that article's thread...

Anonymous said...

I would like to see Obama give a speech like President Carter gave on April 18, 1977 talking about peak oil. Then, he can encourage the use of electric space heating, high speed rail, and nuclear propelled ships like the U.S.S. Carl Vinson in Haiti. This could go a long way in ameliorating the crisis.

Meredith Angwin said...

Facebook can also be place for advocacy rather than discussion. If you are on Facebook, search Groups for "Save Vermont Yankee." It has over 1000 members. There's a similar group "Indian Point, It's Right for New York," but that group hasn't been as active and has fewer members. I think social media can be social (that is, a place for like-minded people) as well as a place for discussions. I'm going to try to post a link to the Vermont Yankee group on Facebook, but I don't know if everyone will be able to link.
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=59223691979