Sunday, August 03, 2008


As a rule, I'm generally quite wary of the generalization that environmentalists are misanthropes. On the whole, I think, they are well-meaning people who want the best for humanity; it's just that I believe that the policies they advocate would result in a disastrous reduction in the quality of life enjoyed by most people, especially with regards to energy. But the recent hoopla over Joe Romm's post about low-level radiation has seemingly drawn some people like this out of the woodwork.

Take this comment from "Wolverine" (a regular commenter on Gristmill posts related to nuclear power):

Local solar and wind power can supply all the energy that's needed. Keep in mind that electricity is not a necessity, but is a luxury that some humans have had for so long that they can't imagine living without it.

Electricity is a "luxury" only in the sense that clean food and water are "luxuries"--especially given that electricity is instrumental in powering the infrastructure that provides us with these necessities. Many people, particularly in the poorer parts of the world, must do without all of these things. The association between electrification and better health outcomes is well-established. I want to live in a world where all people can enjoy the benefits that electricity brings--and outside of the realm of wishful thinking, advanced nuclear fuel cycles appear to be the only available option for making this vision a reality.

'Wolverine" also had this to say about my (and Charles Barton's) hometown of Oak Ridge:


Good post until you got to the nukes v. coal issue. While I assume you oppose both coal and nuclear power, Oak Ridge is not a credible source for this information, as it is heavily invested in nukes, though probably more as weapons than as energy. Just as you would not use a "study" by the KKK to determine whether racism was worse in the U.S. or Africa, it's equally illegitimate to use the study you cited for the purpose you did.

"Wolverine" apparently assumes that we Oak Ridgers are just Klansmen with radiation suits instead of sheets. I cannot help but be rather put of by the implications. After all, so many of my neighbors, friends, and relatives are being tarred by a very wide brush here. Especially given the lofty and humanitarian goals that ORNL researchers have put themselves to over the decades, and in many cases even achieved. Many of them were (and are) not just good, but great scientists. The work of ORNL researchers stands on its own merits--science does not operate on a principle of "appeals to authority." But I suppose that humane goals pursued by ORNL over the years like curing cancer and electrifying rural Africa are probably rather alien to the sort of person who would say something like this:

I think our differences on this issue come down to priorities, and mine is protection and restoration of the natural world. Humans began their massive ecological destruction 10-12,000 years ago when they discovered agriculture, which lead directly to gross overpopulation. Because it took millennia to create the ecological problems we now face, it will also take a very long time to fix them. But if we don't have fixing these problems as our goals and instead prioritize how we can supply massive amounts of electricity to grossly overpopulated masses of people, these problems will never be solved.

If humanity is the problem, I don't want to be part of the solution. I am certain that most self-identified environmentalists would disagree with this outrageous statement. After all, I've known many of them over the years and, however much we may have disagreed over specific issues, I've never met one with the callous disregard for their fellow human beings expressed here.

1 comment:

Charles Barton said...

The anti-nuclear community has such distorted myths about Oak Ridge. For example, they never acknowledge Alvin Weinberg's advocacy of nuclear safety, or his discussions with Claire and Ralph Nader about it. They never acknowledge the nuclear safety research conducted at Oak Ridge. The anri-nuks believe that nuclear safety is impossible, and that nuclear safety research is a front, conducted to fool the public. The ORNL=KKK is simply anti science.