|The Whole Earth Catalog|
To some extent, these attitudes show logical disconnects.
Nuclear is a low-carbon choice. If a person claims to be very concerned with global warming and is also against nuclear energy---that person is showing a logical disconnect, in my opinion.
Nuclear is preferable to fossil. Even without considering global warming, there are many reasons to prefer nuclear to fossil power. I moved into nuclear energy in the early 80s. (I had been working in renewables and fossil.) In those days, people were not concerned about global warming. I still saw many advantages of nuclear over fossil fuels.
An Interview with an Environmentalist
|Carbon Dioxide Chart |
In the article, Tucker describes a scene at a solar festival. McKibben had just addressed the group. Tucker notes that many of McKibben's followers are wearing "Close VY" buttons, and Tucker asks McKibben why he doesn't support nuclear power. Tucker wrote:
McKibben looked wistfully at the hillside filled with long-haired hippies. "I understand what you're saying," he said. "But supporting nuclear right now would split this movement in half."
UPDATE: Bill McKibben has emailed me to say that this quote does not reflect his opinions. He has also commented on this post. You can read his comment below. The major thrust of the comment is that this story about him is not accurate, and he has been opposed to Vermont Yankee for a long time. Please see his entire comment at the end of this blog.
Founding a Movement
With 350.org, McKibben founded a global movement to solve the climate crisis. In the quote above, he says that supporting nuclear would hurt that movement. To me, this implies that he is more interested in the growth of his movement than in carbon dioxide results for the planet.
I just pointed at McKibben, and the other fingers are pointing back at me. I'm trying to encourage people to support the continued operation of Vermont Yankee. It's a smaller scale movement than "solving the climate crisis," but Howard Shaffer and I are growing a pro-nuclear, pro-Vermont Yankee movement. What are we willing to do to support it? Well, among other things, in order to support the pro-Vermont Yankee movement, I rarely talk about global warming.
I personally think the world-wide carbon dioxide increase is mostly man-made and causes some level of global warming. I think global warming is a threat to human life and health, but it is not the most over-arching threat we face.
In the past few years, many environmentalists have embraced nuclear power because of their concern with global warming. However, a significant portion of the people who support Vermont Yankee do not think global warming is a threat.
This divide is not just an issue for Vermont. It's a bigger issue. Global warming divides people in many areas, and it divides the pro-nuclear community. For example, one pro-nuclear discussion board has banned discussion of global warming because people were getting too acrimonious.
For myself, I rarely talk about global warming in context of Vermont Yankee. I know the discussion could get too acrimonious, and I could alienate some of the plant's supporters. Apparently, McKibben doesn't talk about nuclear power in his "solve climate change" movement. He probably has the same reasons: talking about nuclear power could get too acrimonious, and he could alienate some of his supporters.
Are McKibben and I birds of a feather? At one level, yes. We are two people, dealing with the huge climate-change divide and trying to keep our supporters . At another level, our strategies are quite different.
Though McKibben and I seem to be good illustrations for the problem, I don't want to keep writing only about the two of us. "How people speak about global warming" is a more general issue.
|Census map of Vermont|
However, these strategies are not actually parallel.
If the nuclear supporter decides not to talk about global warming, that person is choosing her rhetoric, not her technology. I can make several arguments in favor of nuclear power. Global warming is one pro-nuclear argument, but I rarely use it. In other words, I select my rhetoric: global warming is very controversial, and it pulls the discussion into directions which are not relevant to Vermont Yankee.
However, if an environmentalist decides not to talk about nuclear for fear of losing followers, that person is selecting technologies based on what the followers will accept. That is more than a rhetorical choice. The choice of technologies will affect the results of climate change strategies.
Another Environmentalist (maybe) for Nuclear Power
Still, in the bottom line, this is not about McKibben, and it's not about me. The problem is the great Climate Change Divide. It's almost impossible for anyone to have a truthful conversation amidst so much acrimony and hatred.
I started this post with the Whole Earth Catalog cover from 1969. Steward Brand was the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog. For this cover, Brand initiated a public campaign to have NASA release the then-rumored satellite photo of the sphere of Earth as seen from space, the first image of the "Whole Earth." He thought the image might be a powerful symbol, evoking a sense of shared destiny and adaptive strategies from people. As mentioned above, Stewart Brand is a supporter of nuclear energy.
Small update: I was pleased that blog post was cross-posted by The Energy Collective. I am always delighted when they chose one of my posts for their site. The Energy Collective version was also listed among Best of the Blogs at Nuclear Townhall.