The Wall Street Journal’s Environmental Capital blogged about Phil Radford, the 33 year old activist who has taken over the reins at Greenpeace USA. Not suprisingly, Mr. Radford affirmed his opposition to clean coal, asserted that renewables could do the job of supplying all needed electricity – with a little transitional help from natural gas – and declared that nuclear power should be taken off of the list of options because terrorists were itching to attack the plants, there was no plan for used material, and boiling water with cheap uranium is somehow the most expensive way to achieve that important industrial task.
Needless to say, there are a number of comments already on the blog that strongly disagree with Mr. Radford’s position. Since I found myself among fellow nuclear supporters, I thought it might be worthwhile to sing my refrain that asserts that anti-nuclear activists are effectively campaigning for the continued use of dirty fossil fuels. Some may even understand the “unintended” consequences of their actions. Here is my contribution:
One of the stated reasons that Patrick Moore left Greenpeace is that he became disenchanted with a group that rarely fights FOR anything, but instead focuses its resources on activities that attract large donations.
It is rarely discussed, but there is good money available in the business of opposition – established competitors will often contribute and lend political support to campaigns that slow the introduction of new technology. Steel companies often support anti-plastics campaigns, existing retailers pay to fight Wal-Mart, waterfront property owners pay for action to impose set-backs that do not apply to existing development, railroads pay to impose costly rules on trucking (and vice versa), the aluminum can producers pay to denigrate plastic bottles, political campaigns pay for negative efforts against their opposition, etc.
The biggest battle of all – because of the TRILLIONS involved – is the struggle over energy market share. When the US nuclear power industry was starting up 8-12 new nuclear plants per year, each one was reducing the need to burn fossil fuels by about 22 billion BTU’s per year (roughly 3.5-4 million barrels of oil equivalent). The prospect of continued loss of market share must have been very scary to the established fossil fuel industry.
That industry that had been deeply tied into the political, industrial and media worlds for many decades. The leaders of that industry were very sharp and combative and individually and collectively took effective action to tie up the new competition in knots.
Greenpeace, Sierra, UCS, NIRS, Public Citizen, PIRG, NRDC, Clamshell and the countless local groups might have been populated with visible, vocal, impassioned volunteers, but at least some of the money supporting their “non-profit” efforts over a sustained 35-40 years period came directly from the establishment, a large portion of which gets its wealth and power from dealing in fossil fuels of one type or another.
Pew, Rockefeller, and Ford are all foundations with long and deep ties to fossil fuel interests. The charitable giving arms of many utilities, fossil fuel companies, railroads (moving fossil fuel is a major revenue source), pipeline companies and shipping companies have all donated at various times to the groups whose common interest is slowing the development and increasing the cost of nuclear power to a point where it does not dominate the marketplace, despite its obvious advantages. (Reliability, low pollution, low cost heat source, good jobs for decades, strong anchor for local tax base, ability to store decades worth of fuel on site, export market opportunities, highly trained work force, well behaved workers who raise strong families, etc.)
Does it sound crazy to suggest that most vocal anti-nuclear groups have interests that are aligned with fossil fuel companies – sure.
However, please give it some thought. Consider the fact that SOME people do not always reveal their hole cards, SOME people profess support to colleagues while sticking a knife in their back at every opportunity, and SOME people who lead “non-profit” groups live high carbon consumption lifestyles that includes luxurious offices, air travel to international conferences, high profile, high speed chases on the open ocean, and weeks long stays at resort areas for retreats.
Then ask yourself, is it really so far fetched to assert that the old mystery novel concept of means, motive and opportunity point to an anti-nuclear cooperation between fossil fuel interests and activists that make ineffective gestures against fossil fuels while successfully hampering nuclear fission power development?
Along the same lines, I have been engaged in several discussions on this blog and others with people who push back pretty hard against my implications that Amory Lovins, the darling of the energy conservation and renewable energy industries, is an effective fossil fuel salesman and has been for more than 35 years.
They point to his many publications over the years talking about energy efficiency, getting off of oil, and winning the oil end game, and ask how I can possibly believe that a man who writes so eloquently about his dreams of improving efficiency can possibly be in favor of continued fossil fuel consumption.
My answer is that you have to read the whole articles and understand the definition of words like micro-power, and cogeneration. You have to know about “bridges” to a distant future that may stretch out for decades. You also have to credit Lovins with the intelligence that has resulted in a number of published books, numerous articles, honorary degrees and MacArthur prizes and understand that he is well read in the field. My assertion is that he is well aware of the Jevons Paradox, which is a well known 19th century recognition that increasing efficiency in energy consuming devices like steam engines actually resulted in a massive INCREASE in the consumption of coal.
When you recognize that someone is highly intelligent, is a well read researcher in a particular field, and is paid well to think strategically, you have to also credit that person with enough sense to think about second and third order effects. You have to believe that there are no “unintended consequences” that have not been considered, especially when they have been pointed out on numerous occasions.
There is no reason for Lovins to stop doing what he has been doing for decades – weaving tales of a “soft path” of energy consumption that makes it easy for us to do what we have never done before, which is to increase our standard of living while using less overall energy. Because the tales are seductive, many people are enchanted and fall under the Lovins spell. The seduction is partly because the goal is an attractive one – get more out of a fixed resource. Energy efficiency can bring some benefits by reducing the cost of specific activities, but numerous studies over a period stretching through 150 years of industrial development all point to the same conclusion – on a macro scale, energy efficiency results in an overall increase in energy fuel consumption. In other words, selling energy efficiency is a great way to sell fossil fuels as long as there are few options.
When the economy is growing, energy consumption increases. If there are imposed restrictions on abundant low cost sources of energy like atomic fission, the balance between supply and demand shifts in favor of the suppliers, and that drives up prices and profits. When energy prices get too high to sustain growth, economies collapse and energy prices fall dramatically. That cycle has happened at least four t
imes in my lifetime – 1975, 1980, 1991, and 2008. Every time, the survivors in the energy fuels business got rich almost beyond imagination and increased their overall influence on worldwide decision making.