A number of people have already commented on environmental writer George Monbiot’s recent coming-out for the captains of industry with his fresh and exciting love affair with nuclear energy. So, I don’t want this to seem like piling on, but this issue isn’t going to go away as long as we (Western industrial humans) continue to cling to the growth myth, or even continue with the assumptions that “economic recovery,” “increasing energy demands” and a “return to normal” are even in our best interests–either short or long term.
In his article, Seven Double Standards , Monbiot starts by asking why we don’t hold other forms of energy to the same standard we’re trying to impose on nuclear. So, let me start by giving the short answer–because they don’t produce thousands of tons of radioactive waste for which we still don’t have a feasible method of disposal. Low level radiation is not the issue. While most of his seven points are good ones, especially why we unquestioningly accept deaths as a matter of course in the coal industry, they are mainly a distraction from the questions we should be asking.
Monbiot is within the environmental majority in seeing the benefits of greatly reducing our overall ecofootprint. I believe he genuinely cares about the welfare and well-being of people, other species, and Earth itself both now and for the future. He believes that anthropogenic global warming and the reasonable probability for disastrous consequences accurately describes reality and that the status quo response is wholly inadequate.
But, like so many others today, he frames his response to life threatening crises in the terms and with the assumptions of the dominate paradigm that created these crises.
It is taken as a given that human ingenuity will rescue us and we can go on with livin’ large in a green economy using clean renewable energy–never mind those pesky little concepts like entropy, conservation, and finitude.
While more accurate than many over the years in his description of the damage being done and the sure likelihood of further increases in destruction and suffering by staying the course of business as usual, Monbiot doesn’t seem willing to lay the blame on Enlightenment thinking, let alone examine the deeper roots from which this mindset emerged and is being nourished. He falls rather firmly in line with Maggie Thatcher in claiming “There Is No Alternative.” Even though Monbiot insists this isn’t what he’s saying, he pulls in references from others who also claim abandoning nuclear power will surely result in increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
Monbiot believes in a false dichotomy that comes straight from industry PR when saying the only two possible options to increasing nuclear energy capacity are to either burn more fossil fuels (and we agree that’s a singularly bad idea), or “To add even more weight to the burden that must be carried by renewables.”
Now, there is no doubt that industrialism is a burden on renewables. But, surprise, industrialism is a burden on humanity and Earth. There is also no doubt that human ingenuity must be pressed into service, and starting to do so sooner rather than later would be a singularly good idea. However, stating these are the only two possible paths for humanity’s energy future is a case study for the opposite of ingenuity.
We don’t need the majority of the stuff that’s being produced (let alone new versions every six months), and we don’t need wars of empire. Dealing with those two issues alone would remove the need for any new nuclear power capacity, remove the need to replace reactors ready to be decommissioned, and remove well over half of the need for fossil fuels. If we were to start producing what we do need to last and be easily repairable, implement some sensible conservation measures (like not keeping our cities lit up like a cheap Nevada whorehouse at night), and decentralize (but remain standardized and safety regulated) the energy grid, we’d be just about down to an energy demand that renewables are already producing today and well within their ability to pick up any additional slack if needed.
Then there’s building our homes and businesses to require less heating and cooling instead of using the cheap ticky-tack construction approach, and all the other low-hanging fruit options everyone is already familiar with. Estimates are that these will get us 23% of the way down to where we need to be just on greenhouse gas emissions, so they’re a good idea regardless of their additional energy savings.
If we also factor in the high percentage of people leading lives of quiet desperation (Thoreau) (without which the travel industry couldn’t sell “getting away” and would become a mere shell of itself)–those 50% of Americans who take at least one prescription drug per day, and which led to America being ranked 149th out of 150 countries on the UN happiness scale–we start to see even more clearly and completely how much less energy we actually “need”. Because if what we’re doing now isn’t making us happy, will doing even more of it make us happy, or just a whole lot unhappier? After all, it is not a sign of good health to be well adjusted to a sick society. (Krishnamurti)
When is the environmental left going to become willing to start supporting organizations and electing representatives who are willing to speak this truth and begin implementing the relocalization alternative that can be shown to improve quality of life? To help people understand that sustainability has real meaning and that it is within the capabilities of humans to decide to start moving in that direction. One thing I can pretty much guarantee is that we won’t develop a sustainable future as long as people who should know better keep insisting that it either can’t happen or isn’t necessary.
Mainstream editorial writers are starting to talk about the need to at least switch fuel sources “without either bankrupting or enslaving the citizenry.” (M.D. Harmon, Portland Press Herald ) They realize that biofuels are too expensive to produce without government subsidies, but then the logic flys out the window. We don’t need Saudi oil, we just need to lift the ban on drilling off-shore and in ANWR. We need more nuclear power plants, lots of them, really fast. Our demand for energy must be met, and this demand must continue to grow for the sake of the economy–often coupled with the myth this is the only way to lift the developing world out of poverty, with poverty narrowly defined against a Western consumerist model. Sanity seeps back in slightly when they admit we sure can’t look to the government to solve this problem, but disappears even quicker with thinking that capitalism can be counted on to solve our energy problem, as long as all regulatory and environmental fetters are removed.
The willful ignorance of the supposedly educated and well informed never ceases to amaze, and mortify, me. Don’t call for conservation, don’t call for efficiency increases (in the product, its manufacture, and its use), and don’t insist on using the Precautionary Principle. Don’t think about any of the other factors I mentioned above, and definitely don’t call for ways to do more with less. And whatever you do, don’t dare mention that the problems we’re facing with rising energy costs, shrinking supplies, and increasing biospheric toxicity are a direct result of capitalism’s growth economy in support of Industrialism. This is economic cannibalism. Its only logical consequence is ecocide while material wealth continues its upward consolidation into fewer hands until it finally catastrophically implodes.
The only unknown is which will occur first. The implosion or a biosphere inhospitable to life.
It’s time to honestly look at the damage our energy demands are doing to the environment and to our spirits. And then to examine the implementation of a rational alternative.
It’s time to shift the foundation of the debate. It’s time to discover the dynamic resiliency and increased opportunities in steady-state local living economies. It’s time to start strategizing to power down, instead of sucking up every last iota of fossil fuels–or shifting even a fraction of the “demand” to the more potentially destructive nuclear industry–in order to support overly consumptive and wasteful lifestyles which require an economic model of infinite growth to service debt that has absolutely no basis in reality. It contravenes the laws of physics. It’s not just loss of habitat and species being driven to the brink of extinction, but the ability of the biosphere to support life as we know it that’s being lost as we keep breaking links in the food chain simply to continue corporate profits, keep the GNP graph on a positive slope, and the ruling elite firmly in control as they continue to successfully carry out class warfare.
The degree of madness that underlies this frenetic activity is approaching the unfathomable. And it seems to have terminally infected even the best minds of the environmental left.