Wednesday, 16 December 2015

How one of world's cleanest & greenest technologies became viewed as bad for environment

Copied from Storify

by: Mike Shellenberger, Amended on further reflection, July 22, 2015

  1. As pro-nuclear ranks grew among people who care about climate & environment, we were treated as something of a novelty — but we weren't.
  2. Alvin Weinberg & other post-war scientists saw nuclear as huge breakthrough in pollution-free, low-impact source of electricity.
  3. While California & others embraced nuclear, faction in Sierra Club saw cheap power as opening door to more people & more development.
  4. Nuclear was so obviously superior environmentally to all other energy technologies that opponents had to invent new concerns.
  5. Amory Lovins worked with David Brower @SierraClub (against Ansel Adams) to make up various reasons to be against nuclear energy.
  6. They made up & publicized scary myths about proliferation & waste that notably had nothing whatsoever to do with the environment.
  7. Anti-nuclear env. leaders of 1970s knew they couldn't win on scientific or environmental grounds so they had to start fear-mongering.
  8. But because it was "environmental leaders" who were doing fear-mongering, media misreported concerns as "environmental" — they weren't.
  9. Nuclear waste is deemed the environmental problem, but from environmental point of view it is exactly the kind of waste you should want.
  10. From environmental point of view, production you want is highest output using fewest inputs & least amt. of waste: that's nuclear.
  11. Anti-nuclear leaders turned a huge strength of nuclear — its small amounts of highly manageable waste — into a weakness.
  12. Grossly exaggerating nuclear waste risks was critically important to undermining its reputation as an orders-of-magnitude cleaner tech.
  13. Much of "environmental" attack on nuclear had nothing to do with tech per se but paranoia of "large systems" e.g. the electrical grid.
  14. Fear of big systems & utopian views of small communities underlay anti-nuclear movement rejection of both big government & companies.
  15. Today anti-nuclear activists routinely talk of "nuclear industry!" but mostly are referring to public or heavily regulated utilities.
  16. In truth, nuclear's biggest advocates weren't profit-motivated private companies but publicly-minded scientists & utilities...
  17. ... their motivation & excitement was around vision of powering California & world with pollution-free low-footprint energy.
  18. In sum, it was the environmental benefits that were *the main motivation* of pro-nuclear advocates like Weinberg in the 1960s...
  19. ... while it was highly ideological *non-environmental* concerns that drove fear & opposition to nuclear energy starting in the 1970s.

Amendment based on further thinking, July 22, 2015

  1. The vision of a world powered 100% by renewables is an old one, not a new one. John Etzler proposed 100% solar/wind/water U.S. in 1830s.
  2. Ralph Waldo Emerson was captivated by Etzler's vision but Henry David Thoreau was horrified at implications of 100% RE for environment.
  3. The 100% renewables vision was resuscitated by Amory Lovins in service of David Brower's NIMBY campaign against nuclear in late 1960s.
  4. Their goal was to slow/stop development by making energy more expensive & moving the US and world to a low-energy society.
  5. "Giving society cheap abundant energy is... like giving an idiot child a machine gun" said Population Bomber Paul Ehrlich.
  6. It'd be little short of disastrous for us to discover clean, cheap abundant energy because of what we would do with itAmory Lovins '77
  7. Energy consumption [is] rough, indirect measure of tot. impact civilizat. inflicts on Earth’s life-support systems - Gretchen Daily '94
  8. In that sense, environmentalist opposition to cheap, clean energy (ie nuclear) had environmental motivation — slowing & stopping growth.
  9. The problem was that such opposition to energy & development failed not just in poor & developing nations but rich ones too.
  10. The paradoxical result of anti-high energy degrowth ideology has been more coal, as @mark_lynas discussed in Nuclear 2.0.

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