Meow meow

Get email updates of new posts:        (Delivered by FeedBurner)

Monday, May 21, 2018

Environmentalism and Nuclear Power

Britain’s Mark Lynas Riles His Green Movement Allies

"In his new book, The God Species: Saving the Planet in the Age of Humans, British author, journalist, and environmental activist Mark Lynas argues that the world’s gravest ecological problems can be addressed with existing technological solutions. For environmentalists, he writes, “This means jettisoning some fairly sacred cows.” Nobody knows this better than Lynas, who has recently renounced his own previous positions and now embraces nuclear power and genetic engineering. That has enraged his erstwhile colleagues in the green movement, yet Lynas is unapologetic...

Mark Lynas: Well, life is nothing if not a learning process. As you get older you tend to realize just how complicated the world is and how simplistic solutions don’t really work… There was no “Road to Damascus” conversion, where there’s a sudden blinding flash and you go, “Oh, my God, I’ve got this wrong.” There are processes of gradually opening one’s mind and beginning to take seriously alternative viewpoints, and then looking more closely at the weight of the evidence. It was a few years ago now that I first started reassessing the nuclear thing. But I didn’t want to go public then. I knew that would be the end of my reputation as an environmentalist, and to some extent, it has been.

e360: Really?

Lynas: I mean, I’ve lost friends over this. And I’ve made some new ones. It’s an issue that divides almost like no other.

e360: You argue that nuclear power is necessary if we want to simultaneously meet the world’s demand for energy and still tackle climate change.

Lynas: It’s blindingly obvious, actually, and I don’t know why it took me so long. The current deployment of nuclear power worldwide of 430 reactors reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 2 billion tons per year. And that really is the beginning and the end of the argument if you’re in the slightest bit concerned about global warming. And all of the oft-stated green objections to nuclear power are either urban myths or an order of magnitude less important than global climate change...

Lynas: One thing that really bewilders and saddens me is how the Fukushima accident has overshadowed the enormous tragedy of the tsunami and all of the lives lost and the devastation that was brought about from that. And somehow it illustrates how we’ve got this obsession with the dangers of radiation far, far out of proportion to the physical reality. I was particularly struck by seeing pictures of Chinese shoppers panic-buying salt or iodine tablets. And these are people who are living in cities which are so polluted that their life expectancy will be foreshortened by a lot more than if they happened to be living in the Fukushima exclusion zone.

So our assessments of risk are way skewed when it comes to nuclear power. We [allow] irrationality to dictate policymaking. And that’s been the reaction of the German government [and it’s anti-nuclear stance] — to elevate irrational policy-making into a sort of guiding principle.

e360: You attribute much of this fear to scare-mongering by environmentalists.

Lynas: After the accident, Greenpeace was running around giving press conferences in their white biohazard suits. There were anti-nuclear activists planning to go and sell chalk pills to supposedly save the children of Fukushima. They believe in what they’re doing, but these people are nuts. And they’re doing real harm by spreading fear. What we know from Chernobyl is that the psychological impacts of fear of radiation are worse — in terms of health outcomes — than the actual damage of the radiation itself. We need to learn the lessons of this and that nothing is without consequences, nuclear scare-mongering included.

e360: Speaking of consequences, you’ve been assailed by some as a “Chernobyl death denier.” Is that true?

Lynas: It’s an absurd term, which has been bandied around and it just goes to show how unfortunate the whole denial language is now — to accuse someone of being a denier if they disagree with you... the widespread use of nuclear power means we don’t have to cover so much of the land surface with wind farms and we don’t have to convert so much agricultural land to grow biofuels and so on...

There hasn’t been a single GMO-related health issue I’m aware of after over a decade of research and testing. And environmentally GMOs have been beneficial, even in their current limited sense, which merely promotes monoculture with herbicide tolerance and insect-resistance. In the future we will be looking at nitrogen-efficient, drought-tolerant GMO crops with many other traits, which will minimize land use whilst increasing yields...

Land use is one of the crucial planetary boundaries. And having more people concentrated over smaller areas is necessarily a good thing in terms of land use efficiency. You can see in many developing countries like Vietnam and Costa Rica where you get forest area increasing as abandoned croplands and ranchlands revert to secondary forests. And so biodiversity benefits as a result. That’s because people are moving to cities and often they’re leaving subsistence agriculture. It isn’t necessarily good for the environment to have huge numbers of people living in rural areas...

e360: So how do you juggle all these hats — journalist, environmentalist, climate change advisor? There’s a section in your book where you recount the final frenzied hours of the Copenhagen talks, which were behind closed doors and off limits to journalists. You describe the last minute roadblocks thrown up by China, India and Saudi Arabia. That got you in some trouble.

Lynas: I originally wrote that up in the Guardian, just a few days after it happened. I really shouldn’t have done it. I wasn’t in the room as a journalist; I was in the room as an advisor to a head of state. And it was one of those very rare things where you just have to write about it because the world needs to know. The Chinese government was extremely upset about the article and my role in it…

But I think in some ways being honest has actually helped shift things because when it came to [the 2010 climate talks in] Cancun, the Chinese were absolutely determined not to be blamed for any deadlock and were probably a lot more constructive and respectful than in previous meetings...

e360: You seem to have undergone quite a personal and professional transformation. Ten years ago, when you were a frontline activist, you walked into a bookstore and threw a pie in the face of [Danish author] Bjorn Lomborg, who had just published The Skeptical Environmentalist. The book was quite controversial at the time and perceived by many to be unfairly critical of environmentalists, probably similar to the way your book will now be perceived by a good many greens.

Lynas: Believe me; the irony has not gone unnoticed. And there have been a lot of rumors, and discussions about when exactly I’m going to get my pie in the face. I still tend to hear about these things in advance and take precautions.

e360: Have you talked to Lomborg since that incident?

Lynas: Yes, I have made an abject apology to him on a couple of occasions and he’s been gentlemanly enough to accept it in very good grace. And in an odd sort of way, we’ve become quite friendly. I actually have found that I have a high regard for the work he does, even though I still don’t agree with a lot of his conclusions. I think what Lomborg does is genuine, and no one should have a pie thrown in his face because he challenges conventional wisdom."
blog comments powered by Disqus
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Latest posts (which you might not see on this page)

powered by Blogger | WordPress by Newwpthemes