Atomic Show #256 – Tom Turner Talks About David Brower
David Brower had a profound influence on the Environmental Movement and its gradual transition from groups of outdoors enthusiasts and conservationists who focused on protecting public lands and establishing national parks to a powerful political movement with major influences on a variety of important industrial, economic and international policy arenas.
The Movement has had a huge impact on the world’s energy industry and helped to pick winners and losers among the various fuel and non fuel alternatives to powering our society. Though that influence, the Movement has indelibly altered the flows of vast sums of money between consumers and producers on an international scale over a period of at least 40 years.
David Brower: The Making of the Environmental Movement, by Tom Turner, tells the story of how a shy Berkeley boy who started off being fearful of heights grew up to be an accomplished mountain climber, captivating public speaker and leader of two of the most influential environmental organizations in the world. He was the first executive director of the Sierra Club, serving from 1956-1969 and growing the organization’s membership by ten fold from about 7,000 to 77,000 and the founder of Friends of the Earth, starting from a membership of zero and peaking at over 39,000 during his tenure.
He was also asked to resign from both organizations by boards of directors that felt he was a bit of a loose cannon who undertook his own projects without paying careful attention to budgetary impacts or listening to the restraining decisions of the board.
Brower’s own interpretation of his major contribution to the Environmental Movement was as its publicist. He was a creative and inspiring writer and had a knack for organizing projects to produce books and documentaries that stimulated people to take action to join organizations and to get involved in their activities. He was the creative force behind the Sierra Club’s Exhibit Format (never call them coffee table) books full of incredible photos that made people want to join the Club, visit and/or protect the places depicted.
Brower was also one of the first of the environmentalists to begin questioning the value of atomic energy, even though his initial response to the dawning of the Atomic Age was relief. He was in the Tenth Mountain Division, which was preparing to pivot from winning the battle in Europe to invading Japan in order to finally end World War II. He and his fellow servicemen believed that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki hastened Japan’s decision to surrender, making the invasion unnecessary.
Sometime in the mid 1960s, however, Brower began to believe that the risks from radiation to human genetic material along with the risk of terrorist attacks on nuclear facilities or diversion of nuclear materials from power programs to weapons programs outweighed any benefits that the new technology would provide to society. He began to speak out on the topic and to try to move the Sierra Club to an official position of opposing nuclear energy development.
Along with his propensity to spend outside of budgetary limits, the nuclear energy issue was one of the factors that led to his dismissal by the Sierra Club board. In 1969, the majority position on the board was still that atomic energy was better than damming rivers to fill scenic valleys with water that could fall through turbines to produce electricity.
His opposition to nuclear energy was well known before he left the Sierra Club and founded Friends of the Earth (FOE). As Turner acknowledged, FOE’s early success was greatly assisted by a major contribution from Robert O. Anderson, the CEO of the Atlantic Richfield Company, one of the largest oil and gas producers in the United States at the time. Turner wasn’t able to explain why Anderson provided the money; he did say that it wasn’t because of any personal relationship between him and Brower.
Turner also told me that Anderson didn’t provide additional support after FOE began working to halt the Alaskan Pipeline project, which was a major ARCO project. We did not discuss it on the show, but my understanding of the history of that project was that the delay from 1970-1973 wasn’t harmful to the company’s interest. The project could not have been financed without the dramatic shift in the world oil markets and future expectations that happened in 1973.
As described in his book, FOE believed that they achieved a partial victory in the unsuccessful attempt to halt the pipeline by forcing the companies involved to redesign the project for above ground installation instead of using a buried pipe that could harm the permafrost. I suspect that the companies were quite happy to use above ground construction; it tends to be quite a bit cheaper even though it is also uglier.
Underground fuel transportation pipes have largely been the norm in the US for many decades. On military bases and shipyards where there aren’t a lot of organized opponents, I’ve noticed numerous above-ground piping systems for both fuels and steam. They’re cheaper to install and easier to maintain.
During our conversation, I suggested to Turner that the fear of genetic damage from very low doses of radiation had been invented and purposely propagated with the sustained support of the Rockefeller Foundation with the purchased assistance of the National Academy of Sciences. He appeared intrigued and seemed to understand the explanation and implications of the information.
I also probed to find out if he had heard much discussion in the Movement about the harmful environmental impact of large wind and solar projects. He told me that there wasn’t much during most of the time that he was involved, but he noted that there is a growing level of concern as more large projects are being developed. He pointed me to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle that appeared just last weekend titled Mojave Desert at stake in far-reaching federal energy plan and agreed that perhaps the sources that everyone wanted to believe were going to save the future weren’t quite as free of impact as they had been led to believe.
We talked about Amory Lovins, Mark Jacobson and the 100% renewable movement.
I think you’ll enjoy the show and want to share it widely. As always, comments are welcome.
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Without actually watching the show, it seems to me what I’ll see is a man with conviction, who shares the concerns for our environment that many in the pro NE movement do. The tendency to insult and malign individuals such as Turner, such as many here do towards any and all persons opposed to NE, is self defeating and counter productive. Turner is a doer, and he’s good at it. What an asset he would be if he could be brought into the embrace of the pro NE camp. Making an enemy of him will never accomplish that. Civil engagement, and positive verifiable evidence can go far with a man such as Turner. I commend Rod for expending the effort, and understanding the benefit of non-confrontational engagement with those that are not in the pro NE camp.
In the comment above, I was actually referring to Brower, rather than Turner. Unfortunately, I made the comment prior to having my morning coffee, which is usually a huge mistake.
Well, Rod has graciously just informed me that Brower has been long dead. Although Rod seems willing to go to any length to advance NE, I guess a sceance is a bit over the top.
So, I suppose I’ll just retire to the corner and put my dunce cap on. Thats is, if Brian and EP will scoot over and make room for me.
Slightly off topic but …
“Pro-nuclear green group: Bring back San Onofre”
“The people out there in California are simply anti-science. They have nothing but pure contempt for it.” says Brian on another thread.
I guess we can assume this particular bloc of Californians are pro vaccine, because they support NE, right Brian? Or does their state of residency automatically disqualify them from being pro vaccine? Doesn’t matter anyway, because this is just a last gasp effort, because, doncha know, Californians are leaving in droves, just as this batch of anti science greenies are about to do. Yep, anti-science to the core, these leftist anti-vaccine wackos on the west coast.
Are you an anti-vaxer, poa? Because this unprovoked response seems unusually bitter, even for you.
Of course, Brian I’m whatever you decree me to be. After all, I live in California, don’t I?
Ya know, you regularly make a ginny out of yourself by steteotyping and categorizing people. Thats not bitterness you read in my post. Its disgust at the asinine and ignorant crap you spew here on a regular basis. I have no doubt about your knowledge concerning NE and the science involved. But aside from that, you’re an ignorant partisan redneck, with an ego the size of Texas. You make some stupid comment about Californians, and instead of owning your ignorance, you try to deflect it back towards me . No Brian, I researched the autism/thimeserol thing years ago, and decided it was horse crap. My kid got all her shots. And, as an aside, I personally don’t know anyone that is anti-vaccine, despite your blustering attempt to turn a small minority into a majority. You’re a partisan bigot with a big mouth, a bigger ego, and a small mind. The NE community would be better off muzzling you.
Sticks and stones, poa.
I must admit I see no connection between the issue of radiation-induced damage to human genetic material and radiation doses from nuclear energy production. The data I have seen indicate very small dose commitments to the general public from nuclear energy-related activities, and very small doses even under the worst accident conditions from LWR technology.
The terrorism connection appears to be weak. Certainly international controls on the use of nuclear materials should be maintained but the common perception of nuclear facilities as “soft targets” for terrorist action is pretty much nonsense.
The terrorism/NE issue is ridiculous, when one considers our unprotected rail and transportation system, to say nothing about the myriad of easy infrastructural targets available to any determined wackjob terrorist. The recent overseas attacks demonstrate that going after difficult targets is an unnecessary tactic. When a delivery truck can do the job and strike terror to the masses, why would you introduce difficulty and complexity into the process? Heck, I can think of any numbet of spots, unprotected, where a terrorist could cripple the movement of rail transported goods on the entire west coast with one single explosion. Bottom line, if a terrorist wants to wreak havoc, there is no way that we can prevent it. Raising the spectre of terrorism is a tool of government, used to grease the skids for implementing policy. Call it “governance by BOO!!”. It would be interesting to see the stats on the lobbying efforts of large security firms as it applies to NE facilities. No doubt, theres quite a few scumbag politicians in DC that grin inwardly whenever the outrageous and expensive security at NE plants is mentioned.
BOO!!!!! Hide under your beds while the lobbyists and the politicians enrich themselves through your fear.
True, there are any number of soft targets out there that are far more likely to cause panic and damage that would be difficult to mitigate if the attack were successful. Nuclear plants are the hardest of hard targets. If this was one of Brower’s motivating factors in becoming anti-nuke, it is truly a shame that he went down the wrong path.
The proliferation issue may be a bit more intractable but I’m not sure we can do much about it. The genie is out of the bottle. Throttling the peaceful use of nuclear energy would not have much effect and may do more harm than good. Disincentives (sanctions) to develop weapons is about the only way to go. Direct action is tricky at best. Proliferation was the pretext for the 1982 strike by the Israeli air force on the Osirak reactor in Iraq. Both the designer of the reactor (Yves Girard) and Harvard physics professor Richard Wilson, who inspected the remains of the facility after the raid, stated that the Osiris-class research reactor was unsuitable for a practical weapons program because of the very low rate of plutonium production.
Interesting and timely dinner with my neighbor, a pipefitter at Diablo. He’s convinced they’re gonna shut ‘er down. He’s heard some murmurs about perhaps enlarging the desalination capabilities of the plant, but the reactor is going down. Most of our conversation was about security, and he used the word “ludicrous” quite a number of times. Seems they are now putting up guntowers. Honest. And yet one more razor wired perimeter fence. The dogs are gone, replaced by electronic gadgetry. He made me chuckle when he mentioned the gun towers. Said “What do these jackass suits expect, a full scale attack of camel riding terrorists waving swords and spears?” What the hell do they expect to do with guntowers? Its all about MONEY. Someone is making big bucks putting up those guntowers, even though the “suits” know full well that they are…well….ludicrous..unnecessary, and just plane wasteful.
It is wasteful. I guess it goes to show you the power of fear, irrational or not.
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@ Rod Adams
Your interviewing style is always enjoyable. You have a knack for confronting issues without being confrontational to your guests.
I, like you Rod, have an abiding respect for the conservation work that environmental groups have done.
Having said that, it is always interesting to hear how little curiosity is evinced into the motives surrounding some of the specific policy positions adopted by these organizations. In this case, Tom Turner was unaware of the funding provided by the Rockefeller Foundation of Genetic Research done by the National Academy of Science into the “Biological Effects of Atomic Radiation”. I wonder if David Brower was aware of it.
The old adage “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive” has never been more apropos than in the case of Hermann Muller’s research into radiation induced mutagenesis and the subsequent adoption of the LNT hypothesis. This brilliant man allowed his opposition to nuclear weapons, a laudable position, to influence his science and both he and the National Academy of Science committee probably cared little where the funding was coming from or the motivations of those doing the funding.
In light of recent research and the evidence derived
The LNT hypothesis is now receiving scrutiny, although the fear of ANY and ALL radiation, induced by over 60 years of LNT being public policy throughout the world, will be extremely difficult to overcome.
Doesn’t “energy efficiency” mean more energy poverty and sick building syndrome?
Not if you do it right.
The earliest highly insulated buildings had too little ventilation, so outgassing from plastics caused problems & humidity got high enough that molds caused health problems.
However, if ventilation is done through counter current heat exchangers so fresh incoming air is warmed by stale outgoing air, the sick building problems don’t occur.
My parents had an R2000 home built with superinsulation, airtightness, & heat exchanger in the 1980s. The air was always fine.
When an ice storm knocked out power for several weeks, I called them a few days after the power went out & dad was just then draining the pipes before leaving. When they came back when electricity was restored they found the inside temperature had never dropped below 0°C.
BTW my sister & brother-in-law living in Maine complain that US builders won’t use these techniques developed in Canada.
About a year ago I noticed a group of older people buying up incandescent light bulbs at a hardware store. I asked them if light from compact fluorescent lights bothered their eyes and they said that it did.
This show was once again a demonstration of calm rational conversation. Neither yourself or Mr. Turner turned to emotional arguments. You calmly used the fact that we all have a lot to agree with in the environmental movement. Mr. Turner calmly listened to your facts in a mature and appropriate manner. I hope that you can interview more environmental personages.
In your discussion on wind, I don’t think you mentioned that wind often has a capacity factor of about 30 percent. Yet, all the transmission equipment must be sized for 100 percent. You noted the 300 ft wind towers jutting into the sky out of pristine countryside. In conjunction with the wind towers, there must be transmission towers to carry the power to market when it is available.
I wonder if all of that extra transmission equipment can be considered somewhat wasteful. It could be considered an example of “not” conserving the Earth’s resources.
Recently I watched how they pull the wire from tower to tower. Or, maybe it wasn’t actual wire, it coulda been a huge pull tether, I imagine. I was coming back from the coast and saw what I thought was a hovering helicopter. When I got closer, I could see a strand of something going from the front of the chopper to the a new transmission tower. Closer still, I made out two man teams on crossarms of the towers, apparently tending some sort of large pulley apparatus. The chopper was actually going backwards, slowly, pulling the wire, or a tether, from tower to tower. It seemed to be a slow process, as the chopper was barely moving. I didn’t stick around to see how the line was enjoined to the next tower in line. I wish now I would have. Pretty cool stuff.
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