Thursday, November 07, 2013

Born Among Goats: Nuclear Energy and the Liberal Project

CNN has been soliciting a lot of op-ed style pieces to promote its showing of Pandora’s Promise. As Eric points out in the post below, CNN has really done a good job gathering this material, though both pro- and anti-nuclear energy advocates often use their space to make clear their talking points, assuming – probably correctly – that many people have not been engaged in their somewhat internecine arguments.

Still, Rachel Pritzker, president of the Pritzker Innovation Fund, tries an interesting approach.

It is time for policymakers to recognize that nuclear power must be a robust part of our nation's energy plan to reduce carbon emissions.

These may seem like strange words coming from a liberal whose family has been active in progressive politics, and who grew up on a Wisconsin goat farm in a home heated by wood fires. Like many of my fellow progressives, I care deeply about the environment and the future of our planet, which is precisely why I do not think we should be reflexively shutting the door on a technology that may be able to help address global climate change.

I’m not entirely sure why living on a goat farm with wood-burning stoves – not a very environmentally friendly energy source – wins liberal credit, but I guess it has to do with the Whole Earth Catalog strain of 70s thinking (founded, by the way, by Pandora’s Promise’s Stewart Brand.) That’s fine. How one gets from that to nuclear energy, though, is the interesting part.

Pritzker writes that her travels to Latin American have shown her that people there are eager to develop more energy options to improve their economic standing. In order to feed this need, governments (and utilities) will need to find ways to implement scalable energy sources that do not produce greenhouse gasses. Enter nuclear energy.

If we are going to address climate change and help the global poor live longer, healthier lives, then, we need to begin a vigorous public discussion about other low-carbon energy options that are quickly scalable - including nuclear power.

There is a kind of liberal thinking here that equates those not living at middle class industrialized levels as poor. It’s more complex than that, as there are more ways to live happy lives than one. On a goat farm with wood burning stoves, for example. But on points, she’s exactly right.

Pritzker proves exceptionally open-minded in clearing away the ideological cruft:

After the failures of cap and trade and the United Nations climate treaty, nuclear energy could be a place where left and right find common ground on energy. Only if we are willing to reexamine our previous assumptions, and open up new spaces for dialogue, will we have any chance of addressing our nation's many complex challenges.

To be honest, I don’t think nuclear energy – or any energy source – benefits from being associated with ideology. It’s a wrench in the policy tool chest to accomplish a societal – in this case, a global – goal. But my thinking that does not mean Pritzker thinks it, so her inviting nuclear energy to the communal energy table must be a jump – a jump away from ideology.

And even better, it’s for extra-ideological reasons. Many environmentalists – and I’d count most of those featured in Pandora’s Promise – probably consider themselves very liberal indeed – even radically so – but find nuclear energy solves one of their most pressing policy goals. Not just helps it, but potentially solves the biggest problem energy policy means to address in the teens. It’s unlikely to get that chance – too many competing factors – but it could do it.

Let’s consider it all the final fade of the No Nukes era, which attracted much liberal support in the 80s. Nuclear energy isn’t a partisan issue. Yet, it doesn’t matter that it’s taken some folks born-among-goats a while to realize it; it only really matters that they do realize it.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post Mark! Glad to see NEI promoting this importatnt film.

Mitch said...

http://nuclear-news.net/2013/11/11/laughable-lies-from-film-pandoras-promise/
This blog bills itself "Nuclear News" when it should be "Kill Nuclear Report" since ALL its stories are anti-nuclear. It's not worth mentioning except that Joe Scarborough quoted it, hence giving it credence to millions. Pro-nuclears should even things up and give this site a call.

jim said...

I have to concur here. The Nuclear News blog mentioned above is going absolutely berserk with its anti-rants and outright fabricated alarmist "news" reports. It behooves all interested in nukes to drop by and cut their poison with some fact and truth and show the readers and especially schools dropping by there that the "reference" that they're tapping is a tainted well.

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Anonymous said...

Wow, an anti-nuclear activists' blog only runs anti-nuclear items. Shocking. In other news, I've noted that almost all the items on the NEI blog are pro-nuclear.

Don Kosloff said...

I would, of course, expect an anti-nuclear activist blog to run only anti-nuclear items. However, there is a shocking aspect to that. At lease it was shocking to me when I was a mildly active anti-nuke. What shocked me was the repeated dishonesty of the anti-nuke organizations and some of the major anti-nuke activists. That is what drove me to consider nuclear power more carefully and eventually to realize that nuclear power plants save lives every day that they operate. That is especially true when considering the use of wood for energy.