Calling Out Climate Change Catastrophists for Their Nuclear Power Hypocrisy

Nuclear Power Green Wad: DreamstimeEarlier this month, four prominent climate change activists sent an open letter to their fellow environmentalists urging them to drop their opposition to nuclear power as a zero-carbon energy source. The response was, to say the least, pusillanimous. Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, founders of the pro-progress* Breakthrough Institute, have now called out in a great column, "The Great Green Meltdown," the nuclear naysayers among the "mainstream" environmentalist groups for their casuistical rejection of this climate-friendly energy source:

Nuclear energy today is broadly recognized by scientists, scholars, and analysts as an environmentally positive technology with risks, such as they are, overwhelmingly outweighed by its environmental benefits. Such is the consensus on this question that mainstream environmental leaders no longer attempt to contest it.

And so, in response to the letter from climate scientists, and the airing of Pandora’s Promise on CNN, the NRDC and CAP led a chorus of green spokespersons claiming that their opposition to nuclear was based not on environmental but rather economic grounds.

“What’s weird is that the environmental movement is being held up as an obstacle,” green jobs advocate Van Jones told Wolf Blitzer. “Don’t blame us! Nuclear power is incredibly expensive.” NRDC's Dale Bryk told a CNN audience that the reason the United States wasn't building nuclear was because "the market is not choosing nuclear." Her colleagues, Ralph Cavanagh and Tom Cochran wrote at CNN.com, “No American utility today would consider building a new nuclear power plant without massive government support.”

But rather than obscure the dogmatism that underlies green opposition to nuclear energy, the economic arguments further revealed it. Having demanded policies to make energy more expensive, whether cap and trade or carbon taxes, greens now complain that nuclear energy is too expensive. Having spent decades advocating heavy subsidies for renewable energy, greens claim that we should turn away from nuclear energy because it requires subsidies. (emphasis added) And having spent the last decade describing global warming as the greatest market failure in human history, greens tell us that, in fact, we should trust the market to decide what kind of energy system we should have. 

It was hard, at times, to tell whether the claims made about renewables in particular were purely cynical or just delusional. The Sierra Club's Brune claimed that declining US emissions over the last five years had been achieved thanks to wind and solar, a claim that has no plausible basis in fact. US emissions are down thanks to cheap gas, not renewables. Indeed, since the last US nuclear plant came on line in 1997, nuclear has avoided more emissions through simply increasing energy generation from existing nuclear plants than have been avoided by wind and solar power combined.

If an environmentlist is not in favor of nuclear power (preferably liquid thorium reactors), then he or she is simply not serious about halting any man-made global warming.

The whole column is worth your time.

*Noted because so many modern "progressives" actually oppose technological progress.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Dweebston||

    It was hard, at times, to tell whether the claims made about renewables in particular were purely cynical or just delusional.

    Why not both? Weren't ethanol subsidies supposed to somewhat neutralize carbon emissions while reducing our dependence on foreign oil? Instead it's merely a massive transfer scheme to corn producers. So someone benefits, but it's not consumers and it's not the atmosphere, whatever that would mean.

  • fish||

    The Sierra Club's Brune claimed that declining US emissions over the last five years had been achieved thanks to wind and solar, a claim that has no plausible basis in fact.

    Without uttering statements with no basis in fact Michael Brune would need to remain silent.....something he is not prepared to do!

  • playa manhattan||

    Or perhaps emissions are linked to the economy somehow. Thanks, Obama!

  • fish||

    Hey...I heard that millions of high paying health care and green jobs were out there for the taking!

  • Drake||

    Can you say "Participation Rate?"

  • Brett L||

    As best I can tell from all of the statements by these anti-nuclear environmental activists, the policy they are actually advocating for is that the 6 billion people on Earth least like themselves should kindly die without breeding, preferably now.

  • playa manhattan||

    Either this, or their hatred of consumerism. They don't want people having modern conveniences (themselves excluded, of course).

  • Almanian!||

    This is why we can't have nice things.

  • Zeb||

    I think you probably get a good mix. All are irrationally terrified of nuclear power. Some want people to return to more primitive lifestyles, some want massive population reduction and some are genuinely ignorant enough to believe that wind and solar would be adequate if the right infrastructure were in place.

  • Mercutio||

    All are irrationally terrified of nuclear power.

    It probably doesn't help that the first use of nuclear power was as a weapon of war.

  • NuclearLogic||

    Or it's because people are willfully ignorant and choose not to educate themselves.

  • waffles||

    No American utility today would consider building a new wind or solar power plant without massive government support.

    So the greens are for government intervention except when they are against it?

  • Almanian!||

    John Kerry approves of this message

  • ||

    *Noted because so many modern "progressives" actually oppose technological progress.

    Progress means a world-wide, homogeneous society blindly obeying their philosopher kings. Technology is antithetical to that goal.

  • Sevo||

    "Progress means"...

    The "future" was 1917 and always will be.

  • Killazontherun||

    The progress of the state in the totality of it power is a form of progress, and that is exactly what progressives mean when they define themselves as such.

  • Zeb||

    I wouldn't call the ones who oppose technological progress progressives (though I guess some call themselves that). They are reactionary conservatives. The progressives are the ones who want to harness technology to make everyone behave in the appropriate manner and use technology in the proper way. The environmentalist crap is just to trick naive idealists into going along with it.

  • Brett L||

    Like every other form of collectivism, the fact that the inevitable path is somewhere they don't like is not my problem.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    A lot of the expense of nuclear power is inflicted by burdensome goverment regulation - not due to any natural reasons.

    Extensive and constantly changing permitting rules and processes as well as allowing all sorts of delays by lawsuits, etc. have made it virtually impossible to get a new nuclear power plant built.

    And the nature of the subsidies relating to nuclear power are mostly loan guarantees to finance the contruction.

    And why are those loan guarantees necessary in the first place?

    Becuase of all the uncertainty and delay imposed by the aforementioned regulation.

    So we have artificially cost imposed by government action and a so-called "subsidy" that is only necessary to mitigate the effect of those government imposed costs.

  • Zeb||

    It also doesn't help that every single nuke plant seems to be designed from scratch.

  • wareagle||

    can we stop dressing it up with fancy terms and just say enviros are against anything that lets people live in relative comfort, be happy, go about their lives, etc?

  • Brett L||

    Like Mencken's Puritans, todays environmentalism is "a sneaking suspicion that somehow, somewhere, someone is enjoying not being hungry, dirty, or diseased."

  • Anonymous Coward||

    When you are forced to sleep on a packed-earth floor in a thatched-roof hunt, huddled under a large, thread-bare blanket with four of your immediate kin for warmth, then will you understand Gaia's boundless love for you.

  • Zeb||

    I really don't think that most of them think about it that deeply. You have to remember that a big part of the problem with left liberalism is that they think they can have it all, they can live a comfy modern life and stop all the nasty men from cutting down the rainforest and boiling the ocean.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    What’s weird is that the environmental movement is being held up as an obstacle,” green jobs advocate Van Jones told Wolf Blitzer. “Don’t blame us! Nuclear power is incredibly expensive.”

    Expensive in no small part thanks to millions of dollars of litigation the Gaia-worshippers and EPA bureaucrats would force any potential builder to go through before even breaking ground.

  • Sevo||

    Or Van Jones: 'Blame us; we made nuclear incredibly expensive.'
    Honesty isn't one of his faults, however.

  • Jon Lester||

    The real lessons from Fukushima are, don't put your reactors where they might experience an earthquake and a tsunami in the same day, and don't choose a design that its developers found so unsafe that they resigned in protest.

  • Drake||

    The real lesson should be - nobody died of radiation poisoning despite natural disasters, bad luck, and bad design.

  • mad_hominist||

    Yea, not good to put your backup generators in the basement.

  • OldMexican||

    If an environmentlist is not in favor of nuclear power (preferably liquid thorium reactors), then he or she is simply not serious about halting any man-made global warming.


    Ha! You credulous fool! You naive nincompoop! You poor deluded fellow! You moronic ignoramus!

    Did you really think that the environmentalist are about helping humankind?

  • ||

    he or she is simply not serious about halting any man-made global warming

    And there you have it, Ron. They aren't. They're a mix of Malthusians, Luddites, and anti-consumerists. Even if they "believe" in global warming, it's only because it's the perfect foil to use to push their goals. Do they really think global warming is going to be a catastrophe? Of course not, as you realized in asking your question above. Because if they did, they'd actually explore serious options like nuclear. Since they don't, that just underlines how they don't actually, truly believe in it.

  • itsnotmeitsyou||

    Epi, I'd say your statement is correct for the upper portion of the envirotards. The algores of the world know their full of shit, but make a shit ton of money off it and can use it to grab more control.

    However, the peons that do the grassroots stuff and shill on facebook or whatnot are thoroughly brainwashed. The DO believe the hype. They really do think that we're all gonna die due to some CO2. Those types are true bleevers. They're just too brainwashed that nuclear == BAD to listen to any sort of reason. Their betters told them that even the slightest glitch in a nuke plant could destroy civilization.

    Seriously, I just had an argument with one of them. They claimed that if anything goes wrong, at all, with disassembling Fukushima we could all die! Not joking, not even being a little facetious. He literally said that if the rods aren't contained completely, they could go up and spread enough radiation to wipe out all life on the planet.

  • AlmightyJB||

    You're both correct

  • OldMexican||

    Having spent decades advocating heavy subsidies for renewable energy, greens claim that we should turn away from nuclear energy because it requires subsidies.


    Who said leftism has any resemblance to coherent thought and cogency?

    I am not even a bit suprised.

    Remember that leftists think in moralistic terms when making economic arguments: This energy is good, this energy is bad. This subsidy is good, this subsidy is bad.

  • OldMexican||

    Earlier this month, four prominent climate change activists sent an open letter to their fellow environmentalists urging them to drop their opposition to nuclear power as a zero-carbon energy source.


    Naive idiots tend to waste their time that way, sending open letters asking Hitler to be nice to Jews and shit.

    The Frog: "But why did you do it? Now both of us are going to drown!"
    The Environmentalist: "Because that is what I do."

  • Tony||

    Also, if you're against government intervention into energy markets, you can't be for nuclear power. Unprincipled shills, all of you.

  • Zeb||

    Huh?

  • Tony||

    Bailey attempts to make the point that it's hypocritical for liberal environmentalists to point out that nuclear power cannot exist without government subsidy. Isn't it even more hypocritical for libertarians to shill for an industry that can't exist without government subsidy?

  • Zeb||

    Two points.

    The government subsidy wouldn't be necessary if it weren't for overly burdensome regulations. If a single modular design could be approved for any appropriate location, the costs would go way down.

    And if there are going to be subsidies, they should be used on something that is known to actually work as a replacement for fossil fuels, not some silly stuff that can never provide base load power.

  • Tony||

    Nuclear is certainly far preferable to fossil fuels, and of course I have no problem with (and appreciate the inevitability of) government subsidy for energy.

    But libertarian pessimism about renewable energy is a bit disconcerting. On most things you are not Luddites, and even claim that some major problems will be solved by future innovation. But for some reason solar will never, ever work (even though there is every reason to believe it can).

    What I'm saying is this conversation, from the libertarian side, is completely tainted by corporate interests. And that's just the way it is.

  • itsnotmeitsyou||

    Solar may someday become a viable option for supplemental power, but it will never provide baseload generation. A baseload generator must be able to increase or decrease production when demand changes. Simply due to the fact that it gets cloudy and the sun goes down, you can't rely on solar to provide a consistent source of power. It is far to variable and would cause grids to collapse.

  • Tony||

    Here's some info on how renewables can provide baseload power.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    I understand that big numbers are challenge for the Left. I know that they have trouble counting to 21 naked. But Tony's innumeracy is something special. His skeptical science kiddies link thinks that by using natural gas to provide baseload backup that that somehow validates inefficient (note that I refuse to call it renewable because I understand the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics) energy. Even if one were to accept that premise then you need to realize that in order to get the reliable output of a single power plant we have to build two power plants for the price of, um, two power plants. Or we could just build the natural gas plant for less money and go home happier and wealthier.

    And hydro power? Sure, hydro or pumped storage is about the best bulk energy storage technology we have. Too bad that the numbers for a 100% stupid grid don't work.

    But then again math was never a prog's strong suit...

    Tony, I would recommend that you go educate yourself, but at this point I think you are physically incapable of doing so. Enjoy your religion instead but worship on your own.

  • R C Dean||

    completely tainted by corporate interests.

    ITS THE KOCHTOPUS! RUN!

  • Zeb||

    You know, it is possible to agree with certain corporate interests without being tainted by them.
    And any energy subsidy policy will always be almost completely tainted by corporate interests. Solar panels, wind turbines and electric cars aren't made by mom and pop.

  • Tony||

    They aren't making people stupid by funding antiscience propaganda either.

  • ||

    Wait, was this opposite day for Tony, or what? Oh, oh, OH! It's ALWAYS opposite day for Tony. This MAKES SO MUCH SENSE.

  • Ron Bailey||

    T: Hypocrisy? I've argued many times against nuclear socialism and solar socialism:

    Recently Center for American Progress blogger Matt Yglesias properly accused generally pro-nuclear power American conservatives of favoring "nuclear socialism." For example, Senate Republicans proposed legislation earlier this year aimed at building 100 nuclear power plants over the next two decades. It’s pretty clear that Brand falls into that camp. On the other hand, Gore can fairly be accused of solar socialism.In this debate among environmentalists, ecopragmatist Brand wins. If man-made climate change is a big problem, then it doesn’t make sense to rule out in advance energy technologies that could contribute to substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, costs matter. The best way to figure out which technologies are cheapest is to set a price on greenhouse gas emissions and let various energy sources compete among themselves. No subsidies needed.

  • R C Dean||

    it's hypocritical for liberal environmentalists to point out that nuclear power cannot exist without government subsidy

    Its hypocritical for environmentalists to object to form of energy production because it has a government energy subsidy.

    Whether it could exist without the subsidy is a different question. Thus, its not hypocritical for libertarians to shill for an industry that currently gets a subsidy, if they are against the subsidy itself.

  • Tony||

    I don't know about other liberals, but when I bring up subsidies for nuclear, it's to point out your hypocrisy, not to claim that government subsidy is bad in this one instance. The hypocrisy isn't that you support a technology that happens to get subsidies, it's that the technology would not be marketable without them.

  • Ron Bailey||

    T: So I take it that you're an "unprincipled shill" for renewable power?

    See my post below on my opposition to both nuclear and solar socialism. How about let's get rid of the subsidies to all energy sources and enact reasonable safety regulations and see which power source wins the market? Deal?

  • Tony||

    There are two important goals in this discussion, neither of which is "satisfy the free market gods": provide energy to civilization, and make sure we don't destroy the natural environment of the human species. However we achieve that is fine by me.

  • R C Dean||

    provide energy to civilization,

    Clearly the sort of thing that the free market does better than any alternative.

    make sure we don't destroy the natural environment of the human species.

    Government intervention is loosely correlated, at best, with environmental quality. Governments are among the worst offenders, for one thing, and authoritarian/totalitarian governments presided over the worse offenses. Wealthy, which is to say freeish, economies, are the only ones that can afford environmental protections.

    If you really want a pristine environment, the first thing you need is a wealthy society. From this premise, even Tony should be able to figure out what direction to go.

  • Tony||

    Clearly the sort of thing that the free market does better than any alternative.

    On what planet? Energy privatization schemes are like poster children for failures of privatization schemes.

    authoritarian/totalitarian governments

    Grow up and get your head out of your ass. Nobody is advocating for totalitarianism.

    If you really want a pristine environment, the first thing you need is a wealthy society.

    Except for the fact that the wealthiest countries pollute the most, this makes total sense.

    You seem confused. Take a nap and get back with me.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    Nuclear power can exist without government subsidy.

    The sol-called subdsidy for it is merely an offset to artificially created regulatory costs.

    Just get government to rationalize the regulations.

  • Tony||

    The biggest subsidy is limited liability, which you're completely ignoring.

    If there are too many regulations on nuclear power plants, fine, but I'm not gonna take your word on that one.

  • R C Dean||

    The biggest subsidy is limited liability,

    Funny how, to a greenie, low-interest loans to electric car makers aren't subsidies, but limited liability is.

  • Tony||

    To which greenies is it not a subsidy?

    Is your name-calling meant to imply that you don't care about protecting the habitat of human beings? As in, you consider that a valid position to take?

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "The biggest subsidy is limited liability, which you're completely ignoring."

    Thanks for reminding of ANOTHER example of a remediation of an artificial cost imposed by government being called a "subsidy".

    The concept of unlimited liability is an artificial construct of government to begin with.

    "If there are too many regulations on nuclear power plants, fine, but I'm not gonna take your word on that one."

    Like I care.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Because nobody else has been pointing out this hypocrisy for the last 20 years.

  • Tonio||

    The practical limitation on this is that the environmental movement as a whole can't do a quick pivot on this. They've spent decades convincing the rank and file that nuclear energy is the worst thing ever. So it's going to take at least a decade for them to slowly change position, and to convince their base to go along with that.

    The timing is also bad what with their victory against nuclear power in Germany and the ginned-up hysteria over Fukushima.

  • Tony||

    None of you have any idea what the "environmental movement" thinks or does. There is opposition to nuclear (increased since Fukushima), but it is generally seen as preferable to fossil fuels. There is no mass movement on the matter.

    Also, they don't tie themselves to trees and cradle spotted owls much either.

  • itsnotmeitsyou||

    You don't know what you're talking about. I worked for Al Gore at his Alliance for Climate Protection (Now, Climate Reality Project). I know first hand the hatred of nuclear in all forms. I met all kinds of people in the environmental movement. I've tried discussing thorium reactors with them as a potential energy source. I got told to shut the fuck up about nuclear on several occasions. Not once did any of them say something like "nuclear's not optimal, but it's better than coal". Most of the time, they reacted like I just told them we should firebomb the Amazon. There is serious and widespread hatred of all things nuclear in the enviro movement.

    Just look at the reaction to Hansen's statements. They're turning on this guy and he was one of their messiahs.

  • ReasonableS||

    [quote]If an environmentlist is not in favor of nuclear power (preferably liquid thorium reactors), then he or she is simply not serious about halting any man-made global warming.[/quote]

    I am surprised your spellchecker didn't catch the environmentlist/environmentalist typo.

    That sentence seems like an unsupportable statement. http://www.world-nuclear.org/i.....ar-Debate/ reviews some problems that environmentalist have with nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuels. While I am pro-nuclear I do recognize that the environmentalist have valid concerns and do take global warming seriously.

    We should examine the amount of fossil fuels involved in extracting, processing and disposing of nuclear fuels just as we should examine the carbon footprint for solar or wind devices. We should look at the problem of waste disposal and economic feasibility for nuclear as well as "green" energy sources.

    Missing the environmentlist/environmentalist typo isn't a big deal for the common poster, but for the author it makes his article appear rushed and unprofessional. That appearance carries over into his assessment of anti-nuclear global warming activists. While I agree with him that we need nuclear energy as part of our energy strategy, I disagree with his dismissive attitude toward people who don't agree with us. He needs to do a better job informing us so we can do a better job evaluating public policy.

  • robnbc||

    As a communitarian environmentalist I am open to the idea of "5th generation" nuclear energy as an alternative to coal fired utilities and suspect that the technological issues are largely solved. I would also support removing subsidies and requirements for ethanol additives. I would hope libertarians would recognize the deep subsidies for fossil fuels including depletion allowances. From my perspective the problem is TIME. There has been NO significant reduction in GHG in the last 30 years and little willingness to make sacrifices for the next generation. For my money the risks of nuclear power generation are much less than the risks of coal (and even LNG) powered electricity. Libertarians dont trust big government and communitarians dont trust big corporations to do the right thing. Short of complete market anarchy is there any hope for middle ground?

  • ||

    We need to put an emissions tax on any intestinal flatulence based on the decibel level of the of the escaping gasses! Monitoring stations could be created that would contain high amp microphones that would pinpoint any abrupt animal discharges of methane gas. NSA could oversee the technical operations and Homeland Defense could then arrest the miscreants and round up the animals. Studies have shown that most of the methane flatulence comes from Washington DC! We need to tax the government first until they cannot print anymore money and then every living thing that breaks wind.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement