George Monbiot recognizes that “a great wrong has been done” by antinuclear movement
With each passing day, I gain a greater measure of respect for the hard headed rationality with which George Monbiot approaches controversial topics. He was a long time opponent of the use of nuclear energy, but began a personal journey of discovery several years ago as a result of his search for real solutions to the problems caused by fossil fuel consumption.
It seems that the more he looks, the more clearly he realizes that the widely publicized and retold horror stories about nuclear energy pushed by the antinuclear movement are in direct opposition to the evidence, science and reason by which he guides his decision making.
The anti-nuclear movement to which I once belonged has misled the world about the impacts of radiation on human health. The claims we have made are ungrounded in science, unsupportable when challenged and wildly wrong. We have done other people, and ourselves, a terrible disservice.
About a week ago, debated Helen Caldicott on Democracy Now. During that debate, Dr. Caldicott was insistent, rude and frequently guilty of talk show-style interruptions. She claimed that the work of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) was part of a massive nuclear industry led cover-up regarding the actual effects of the Chernobyl accident. Then claimed that the accident actually resulted in 2 million deaths which in itself is more than double the number produced by her single, widely discredited source.
Caldicott’s claims shook Monbiot and encouraged him to dig deeper. He wrote about that investigation in a blog titled Evidence Meltdown that is a must read for anyone who is interested in good journalism governed by reason. Here is a quote from his concluding paragraphs:
Failing to provide sources, refuting data with anecdote, cherry-picking studies, scorning the scientific consensus, invoking a cover-up to explain it: all this is horribly familiar. These are the habits of climate change deniers, against which the green movement has struggled valiantly, calling science to its aid. It is distressing to discover that when the facts don’t suit them, members of this movement resort to the follies they have denounced.
We have a duty to base our judgements on the best available information. This is not just because we owe it to other people to represent the issues fairly, but also because we owe it to ourselves not to squander our lives on fairytales. A great wrong has been done by this movement. We must put it right.
I am in favor of nuclear power, but I remain skeptical of anthropogenic global warming, otherwise known now as climate change. Sadly on my iPad I don’t have the flexibility to put web links to the various reputable sources that debunk AGW. But the accusation that climate change deniers are unscientific is an uncalled for attack. And this reliance on scientific consensus is wrong. Real science – the Truth – needs no consensus. Truth isn’t subject to popular vote and isn’t relative. It’s objectively true for everyone. Example: commercial nuke power in the US has killed no member of the public. It doesn’t matter what the anti’s say. Their opinion is to the contrary is always and forever wrong. It is intolerant to think otherwise. Only Truth matters. Sorry for any typos.
Ioannes wrote, “And this reliance on scientific consensus is wrong. Real science – the Truth – needs no consensus. Truth isn’t subject to popular vote and isn’t relative.”
That may be true, but, speaking only for myself, I am not a scientist, do not have training in some of the more advanced mathematics and scientific knowledge, experiments, etc, to evaluate independently where I stand on such issues. I rely on scientific consensus to try to determine what I believe is *probably* true – sometimes the consensus is wrong, sure, but it seems the most reasonable way for the “rest of us” to figure out what horse to bet on, so to speak.
While individual scientists, at times, might be corrupted, I believe that in the big picture, you can’t really corrupt the vast majority of scientists – that as a whole, scientists tend to go where the evidence takes them, not external factors like greed, political loyalties, etc. I also figure that if they are wrong, the consensus will eventually swing to the truth as the evidence becomes available.
Of course the truth isn’t subject to a popular vote; however, when pretty much the entire earth sciences community has come to the conclusion that the truth is a certain way, it might be wise for people who don’t have in-depth technical competence on the issue to accept the theory.
Congratulations to Monbiot.
Perhaps he’ll also eventually come to grips with the kind of cherry-picking inherent in global-warming alarmist Michael Mann’s “hide the decline” attitude.
Mr. Monbiot’s ongoing debate/take down of Caldicott is simply fantastic from my pro-nuclear viewpoint. He has three articles chronicling his correspondance with Ms. Caldicott that are incredible in their rational methods used to tear down the structure used for decades by Ms. Caldicott.
No matter how many times we nuclear supporters bring up the same information we could never get the point across that the anti’s were cherry picking to suit their own goals because we were always seen as “being on the payroll”. Ms. Caldicott’s book has been shown to be a total work of fiction and not really good fiction either by pro-nukes many times with no real dramatic effect.
However for one of their own, who has a brain and is willing to use it, comes out against Ms. Caldicott real progress in the nuclear world is slowly gaining traction despite the incidents at Fukushima.
This will cause massive ripples and fissures in the “green enviroment” world as Mr. Monbiot is another person in the same manner as Patrick Moore and Stewart Brand who has come to realize the false logic and raw emotion used by the professional anti-nuclear groups to generate FUD.
Simply fanatistic to see Ms. Caldicott being taken down by logic and reason put forth by a fellow (former) leader of the anti-nuclear movement.
It’s worse than that. It looked to me like she hadn’t even heard of UNSCEAR.
First, I would like to say that I was very impressed with how Mr. Monbiot handled himself and dealt with Caldicott during the Democracy Now debate. He remained very calm, and asked, I think, the right questions.
I was dumbfounded when Caldicott seemed to be very confused when George brought up the UNSCEAR – she seemed rather confused, as if she was unfamiliar with UNSCEAR. She kept going on about the UN (and particularly IAEA) not allowing the WHO (World Health Organization) to investigate Chernobyl. But, I have to wonder, if the UN already established a special purpose committee just to investigate these issues, why would the WHO spend a lot of resources on separately investigating the same thing, when the WHO has many, many other pressing problems to face?
Also, just in case Mr. Monbiot ends up reading this blog, I also wanted to thank him for taking the time to go over the documents that Caldicott says she referenced, and to debunk her claims. Also, going to the extra lengths of contacting the NYAS about the paper they published.
I just wish that the people at the Academy had realized that most of the general public, myself included, will presume, until corrected, that the publication of the paper means they reviewed it, and that they are basically endorsing it. Unfortunately, most people will never realize that the paper is not endorsed by NYAS.
And of course the Anti’s are continuing to do great hard, as we speak. All of this information regarding Fukushima is being touted as why we should not continue with Nukes and even shut down the current plants. This is totally out of context/perspective. Finally heard a great comment today on “Radio Times”. A Princeton professor pointed out that there are 10,000 deaths annually from burning coal.
We have a winner of the prize for nuttiest rebuttal to Monbiot’s article: none other than our good friend Chris Busby.
You didn’t think that anyone could make Caldicott look sane by comparison, did you? Well, I admit that it’s quite a task, but Busby has managed to pull it off with flying colors.
The guy knows that he’s an outcast in the scientific world, so he decides to go for broke. You don’t make many friends with lines like, “Make no mistake, physicists are stupid.” In fact, he apparently has decided to wage a one-man war on the discipline of physics. Much of his depraved ranting can be summed up as, we don’t need no stink’n physics.
The rest of his rant consists of the same old inaccuracies and lies that he has been telling for decades now, but he has managed to jazz them up a bit with a little extra craziness. Someone please get that guy a straight jacket before he hurts himself.
So another one has turned. The real question is this a private revelation, or is it indicative of a wider change of heart across the board.
While I am pleased when some high profile convert shows up, the cynic in me has to wonder if the individual has changed, or are they opportunists, that are taking a contrarian stand only to raise interest that they can exploit for personal gain.
Caldicott has always been an easy target, she have never supported her contentions with anything other than her own opinion. Frankly I saw through her the first time I head her speak, as did anyone else with half a brain. If this guy was sucked in for so long, exactly what is the value of him changing his mind now?
In this case, I’m pretty sure that Monbiot has had a genuine change of heart. To understand Monbiot, you have to realize that he is someone who places enormous value on the words of authority. He is not the type of person who will question or try to second-guess what he perceives as a “consensus” among scientists.
Given his left-leaning political philosophy, his self-identification as an environmentalist, and his inherent distrust of anything associated with corporations or the military, it was only natural that the “experts” he originally sought out were prominent environmentalists, almost all of whom were staunchly anti-nuclear, particularly back then. To him, they were the authorities (and enough of them have advanced degrees to give the veneer of respectability) and he accepted their word without question.
The other thing to understand about Monbiot is that he is, by nature, a True Believer. When he accepts something, he takes it in as the whole truth and nothing but the truth. He is not one of the many sneaky people in this world who will lie and cheat, even to himself, to contort the evidence to adhere to his world view. For many years, he had been told by his chosen experts that an event such as what occurred at Fukashima-1 would be a devastating nuclear disaster, with massive deaths and destruction. Then, when that event came and the disaster did not materialize, it shook his faith in the “consensus.” He had an epiphany. In other words, he needed new experts.
Fortunately, he turned to the UN organizations (whom he trusts because they are “the equivalent of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” whom he inherently trusts already), and began to learn something real about the risks associated with radiation. Notice that Monbiot does not argue from first principles, as a technically knowledgeable person would do; all of his arguments against Caldicott are arguments from authority — this time from the NAS and UN organizations. Notice also how he brings “climate change” into the discussion. Now, to him, those in the anti-nuclear movement are the “deniers” who are against consensus science. Even though he has changed positions, he maintains that “good-guy/bad-guy” mentality that is essential to his highly polarized view of the world.
This all reinforces what I’ve been saying for a long time. People complain that the nuclear industry does not do enough to get the word out, but realistically, there is only so much that the industry itself, and those who work for the industry, can do. It is up to the academics and government scientists to step up and counter the nonsense, because if they don’t, the Greens will have total control of the playing field. Note that Mobiot adds in passing that, “I still loathe the liars who run the nuclear industry.” There is no way that anyone in the industry would have been able to change his mind.
@Brian – You may be right, but I think that Monbiot would not be as dismissive of people who work in the industry as you imply. He did not say that he loathed the engineers, technicians and scientists, but that he loathed the liars who run the nuclear industry.
In at least some cases, I think he is absolutely right. If the people who run the industry had not been lying by omission and by preventing their employees from sharing their knowledge for decades, then perhaps we would be is a different situation now. As you well know, I have little respect for the decisions that have been made at the top of such industry stalwarts as Exelon, GE, Constellation Energy and Duke Energy.
Rod – I don’t know and can only speculate. It depends on how much Monbiot believes that a guy will do/say anything to protect his job.
In any case, he doesn’t try very hard to distinguish who he is talking about when he talks about the nuclear industry. He writes that it’s the “companies” (not the executives or managers of these companies) running the nuclear industry that “are a corner-cutting bunch of scumbags.” In addition, this article from a decade ago doesn’t paint a picture of an industry full of hard-working, honest professionals who happen to be lead by a bunch of crooks.
Does working for one of these companies make you a “scumbag”? Monbiot’s choice of words leads me to conclude that he thinks so.
I find it highly unlikely that he is talking about the heads of the companies that you mention, since I can’t imagine George saying that he loathes the “liars” who run the wind industry or that he loathes the “liars” who run the solar industry. All of those companies have significant interests in both wind and solar generation, in addition to nuclear.
One day you should explain the full extent of your original research that gives you the direct line to information that other lesser beings have to take on “authority”.
The study of radiation risk involves careful observation. You have to accept that the people doing the studies aren’t lying to you. Unless you do the observation and analysis yourself you have to look at all the studies available, decide which ones were done by people you believe are good scientists, and accept that their work is good, or you’d have to repeat their line of research yourself. You’d have a very difficult time arriving at any body of knowledge without accepting, on authority as you like to sling around, almost all of what you think you know from first principles.
From the UNSCEAR website: UNSCEAR was established by… the UN… to assess and report levels and effects of exposure to ionizing radiation.”
From the IPCC website: “The intergovernmental panel on Climate Change (IPCC)… was established… to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and … its impacts.”
The two organizations don’t appear to be that similar. UNSCEAR seems to do at least some original research – the IPCC doesn’t.
I attended the conference where it is said the impetus to set up the IPCC came from.
The idea was to create a rough equivalent of the science academies such as the NAS or the Royal Society only on a more international scale, to involve top flight scientists from as many countries as possible in order that any country participating in the anticipated negotiations to do something about climate change would have their own people intimately involved with deciding with their peers in other countries what the scientific case was.
This was seen as a possible improvement on just letting the existing academies come up with whatever they would say. The NAS, Royal Society, etc, all came up with their own assessments anyway. But the IPCC was successful to the extent its assessment of the science is very generally accepted by the people doing original research, within its limitations in particular the fact the process is so ponderous the reports are way out of date before they are published. And the negotiators for any country involved can contact their own top scientists who are members of the IPCC for a first hand inside view of anything they want to question.
I’m not sure what Monbiot means when he says UNSCEAR is the equivalent of the IPCC, other than it looks to him like the genuine article, i.e. the top flight people in the scientific discipline concerned, give a lot of credence to what UNSCEAR or the IPCC say. I can’t imagine how anyone could have taken Caldicott seriously, although I have only studied remarks of hers on nuclear power. I was surprised when I viewed the Youtube video where Monbiot told Caldicott he respected her – I thought it was poor practice to crank out a BS line like that but obviously, he did have respect for her which has now been completely dispelled. The more Caldicott is exposed for what she is the better it is for nuclear power.
For every person, like Monbiot, who accepts his understanding of such technical issues as risk and radiation from proclamations by authoritative organizations, there are millions of people to get their understanding of these issues from journalists such as Monbiot, who are their “authority.”
I don’t agree with Monbiot on many issues, but I’m not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. This is a substantial coup in favor of nuclear energy.
Here is an excellent analysis of wind power in Great Brittan.
Look at the numbers – it is even worse than I had suggested.
This was completed for the John Muir Trust ( http://www.jmt.org/news.asp?s=2&nid=JMT-N10561 )
As I Have advocated for years – Wind can not replace Nuclear Power.
I find this line from the UK wind report puzzling:
“The discovery that for one third of the time wind output was less than 10% of capacity, and often significantly less than 10%, was an unexpected result of the analysis.”
A quick mathematical analysis (about three lines in Mathematica) could have told them to expect this result.
Real-time information on UK wind turbines and imports from France is here: http://www.bmreports.com/bsp/bsp_home.htm (Charts “Wind forecast Out-turn”, “Average Half Hourly Interconnector Flows”)
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