Is Bill McKibben really serious about climate change?
Andy Revkin recently published a post on his Dot Earth blog titled A Communications Scholar Analyzes Bill McKibben’s Path on Climate. In one of the videos that is embedded in the article, Matthew Nisbet describes Bill McKibben as a public intellectual and compares his activism on climate to that of Rachel Carson on the effects of pesticide chemicals.
Revkin provides this quote about the video:
There’s a lot of value in this short statement, including this framing explaining why global warming has been challenging for all kinds of communicators to address:
Unlike conventional environmental problems like acid rain or the ozone hole, climate change is not conventionally solvable. It’s more a problem like poverty or public health — something that we’re going to do better or worse at. We’re never going to end, we’re never going to solve it.
Though I am not a New York Times columnist or the founder of a large and growing non profit like 350.org, I am vain enough to believe that I have something to offer on the topic of solving climate change. Instead of describing the work of scientists and trying to synthesize the solutions offered by technologists into some kind of coherent story to convince people that they should both care and take some action, I spend my early morning hours writing about a powerful tool that is based on my own research and experience.
Nuclear fission energy has almost magical properties. It provides massive quantities of the useful ability to do work (that is the technical definition of “energy”) without producing any greenhouse gases at all. It provides that incredibly valuable product from a tiny quantity of naturally occurring material that has few competing commercial uses. We have known about this gift for just 75 years, but within just a couple of decades after it was discovered it was already powering cities, large, fast ships and submarines.
The current fear of nuclear energy is a purely man-made construct; there is nothing natural about being afraid of a force that you cannot see, smell or taste and that rarely, if ever, harms anyone as long as it is properly handled. Anyone who has raised children knows that they are naturally fearless; they have to be taught caution around such dangerous objects as lighted fireplaces, neighborhood streets full of automobiles, and edges of a high wall.
Human beings had to be taught to fear nuclear energy. Despite what some might tell you, it was not an easy thing to do; in the first few decades after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when the images and experiences of the bomb were freshest in the public’s mind, the support for using atomic energy was almost universal. People recognized that any fuel powerful enough to knock down a city with a single blow was powerful enough to solve many pressing energy challenges.
However, the sustained effort to teach people to be afraid of nuclear energy – instead of respecting its power and using its force for good – has been pretty successful in many places, including Vermont, the place that McKibben calls home. It continues to frustrate me when people who claim to be almost solely focused on fighting climate change and the fossil fuels whose use is a huge contribution to the problem refuse to acknowledge that their fear of nuclear energy is hampering their ability to succeed in their self-assigned mission.
Here is a comment that I left on Dot Earth in which I made my case that McKibben is simply not serious enough about climate change to overcome an imposed phobia or take the time to learn just why he and his followers have been taught to have that fear. I wonder if he ever stops to think about how his reluctance to use nuclear energy plays into the hands of the fossil fuel companies whose behavior he is trying to alter through his divestment campaign?
Though I applaud McKibben for his success in focusing attention on a “wicked” challenge, I continue to wonder why he has chosen to avoid support for the best available tool.
Fission can directly replace oil, gas and coal in many applications including power plants, district heating, industrial process heat and ship propulsion. On January 17, 1955, nuclear fission power demonstrated that it was capable of supplying reliable power in the most challenging environment imaginable – a sealed, submerged submarine full of breathing human beings.
In a world where we need reliable power to continue to do work and where we obviously need to take action to make that power cleaner, I fail to understand why climate activists like McKibben are so fearful of nuclear energy.
The technology, despite the scary stories told in the hydrocarbon advertiser-supported media, has a respectable safety record. There have been few, if any instances of anyone in the public ever being harmed by radiation released from a nuclear power plant. There are 0 cases of anyone being harmed by fine particulates, 0 environments being damaged by acid rain, and 0 fish being polluted by mercury released from nuclear plant smokestacks. (There are no nuclear plant smoke stacks.)
McKibben fails my test of seriousness about climate change. People who want us to do better on the issue (Hansen, Brook, Brand, Lynas, Monbiot, Moore, Cravens) have all determined that nuclear cannot be ignored.
Like M. Bryce says. If you are green and anti nuclear, you are pro blackout.
Welcome to the civilised world.
I have just finished reading this gem:
It is informative and deals critically with the energy opitions available to us in dealing with climate change/ air pollution.
And yes, McKibben isn’t fooling me, just himself.
Good day to you all
It’s possible that McKibben knows all of this, but is trying to hold onto the support of the anti-nuclear side of his constituency rather than taking the risk of losing it by trying to reverse its mis-education (always a chancy thing).
He may just feel that his plate is already full. I have to give him at least a little benefit of the doubt here; as long as he’s not anti-nuclear, he’s not doing any harm.
IIRC, McKibben admitted as much in some interview last year.
I completely agree with the first part of your comment, but not the last – if McK wants to be a leader, he needs to LEAD!
Bill McKibben once said something to the effect of [supporting nuclear energy would divide the movement]. He should then be asking himself: is supporting a movement more important than real clean energy solutions to abstain from GHGs?
I’ve seen him debate and bring up the same tired reason why nuclear can’t be a part of the solution mix: it’s too expensive, it takes too long, the waste problem. All of those issues are either solved or solvable, while, according to Bill, more research dollars and subsidies are needed for solar and wind research.
Whether one agrees with the science behind climate change is a separate matter, but if you are a believer like Bill, it’s frustrating to watch anyone stubbornly refuse to be reasonable about solutions that would help his own cause.
I don’t know how many people realize that some years ago, China has started a “dash for nuclear” that’s about to succeed. We have seen 2 new nuclear plants delivered in the last few month, and 24 more are planned for delivery until end 2015, means which we should see a new one about every 2 month until then.
This will have brought Chinese capacity up from 9 GW at start of 2010 to 41 GW in early 2016.
This is quite a massive denial to the claim that new nuclear *has* to take forever.
China would be the second country to successfully make a “dash to nuclear”; the first was France.
As of now, only 2 units have been delayed to 2016, Haiyang 2 and Fangchenggang 2, and many of the other 22 already have their dome, with the two EPR which are the two largest almost guaranteed to be on time since the first has only finishing work left, and the second uses the experience of the first.
I think we can say China *will* be the second country to successfully have made that “dash to nuclear”.
Make that the third – the US executed a pretty decent dash for a short period of time. We need to remember that our 104 nuclear plants were all built within a 2 decade window, despite almost as many false starts as completed projects and despite a lot of organized, focused, extremely well funded opposition.
But the dash was stopped well short of completion. Can you compare 19% against 78%?
And that opposition was conceded far more ground in the USA than France. Call them “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” as much as you want, they went four times as far as the United States did.
This article strikes at the heart of my concern about the whole AGW argument. How can they prophesize Armageddon if we do not eliminate CO2, and then fight the only true option or process for eliminating, or at least reducing CO2 to the levels of the early 1900’s, which is Nuclear power. It is this very reason that enforces my opinion that AGW and CAGW are a scam. If they truly believed with all their heart and soul that the world had to greatly reduce CO2 in the most rapid method possible, for the wellbeing of their children they would be an ardent supporter of nuclear power. Think of how many minds they would change if they supported Nuclear power. As I have said on here before, if your house is on fire, you do not throw buckets of half water and half gasoline on it – “because it will slow down the fire” you throw water on the fire. Or for another analogy: you need a drink and have a cup that is filled with polluted water and a source of fresh water, dripping slowly. Do you let the fresh water slowly drip into the polluted water until it is safe enough to drink [the NG, Wind, solar option] or throw out the water and fill with fresh [the nuclear option]? How long will that take if you leave the dirty water in the cup considering it will take the equivalent of 6 – 9 volume changes to displace the entire initial volume? Will we live that long? That is why I see this as all part of the scam that the UN is pushing with their Carbon Tax to redistribute the wealth to the poor countries. Why else are they against a real cure?
Just because there are some selfish idiots who use the climate change issue to further their own goals does not mean that being concerned about the effect of dumping 30 BILLION tons of fossil fuel waste into the atmosphere every year is a “scam”.
Pay attention to the fact that there is a long and growing list of scientists and engineers who recognize both the risk of rising atmospheric CO2 and the value of nuclear energy as a tool for combatting it – without giving up the good things that human-created, energy-driven technology provides.
They are making a deal with the devil. Big Oil/Gas will win the fight. There is enough oil to burn for another few hundred years, they are finding more every day, and they have not even looked in all of the possible places e.g. Antarctica. We will not survive if they tax oil/gas to make the unworkables (wind/solar) “profitable.” They will kill more people from lack of cooling than from the effects of the pollutants. Many don’t care, because that is part of their philosophy. Look at the roots of their belief “The IPAT Equation” – Google it. Your kids or at least grand kids will work, primarily, to buy electricity, energy, and food. They will even outlaw burning wood to heat your home, (as in Aspen.) If you are sick you can not take 1/10 the dose for ten times as long and expect to get cured. Would you continue using a doctor that gave you that kind of advice? They only prolong the agony and it is prolonging the vast amounts of income into their SCAM (which is why I think it is a scam) and maybe they (some of them any way) think they are doing something about the environment.
Google IPAT and Mckibben, count the number of lectures, forums, conferences he has had on this theory (IPAT), It is even referenced and used in the UN IPCC, make up your own mind
While reading those documents, look at the references and see who the originators of IPAT were (at least accredited to in several reports) and their position in this administration, e.g., Paul R. Ehrlich and John P. Holdren.
Perhaps the environmentalists oppose nuclear power in spite of the climate threat, because they’ve drunk the StormSmith kool-aid about nuclear power being unsustainable?
I remain suspicious that the people at the very top of environmental organizations know exactly where their money comes from and have been informed – in many subtle and no so subtle ways – that the spigot will slam shut if they change their tune about nuclear energy.
People often leap to accuse me of “conspiracy theories” but I have some terrific information sources who have experience with raising funds for a large, environmental group in the non-profit sector. Though they often portray themselves as member funded, with rather tiny annual membership fees, they get the majority of their money from larger contributors that play a key role in establishing their priority campaigns.
When you say “larger contributors” are you thinking of philanthropic foundations which were funded by the estates of long-dead oil tycoons?
Sometimes. I am also thinking about individual donors who understand how to ensure that The Establishment remains at the top of the heap by doing what Luddites have always done – turning over the more efficient looms to ensure continued profitability for the old ways of making things or providing power.
For me, the biggest “smoking gun” is the example found if one googles “Chesapeake Energy” and “Sierra Club” in the same search.
$26 Million in Chesapeake contributions represents 260,000 individual $100 contributions. They were caught by serendipidy, The rules are set up such that there is no transparency for donations.
I think if Sierra club had to wait for individual popular donations, and not rely on fat donations from those with an agenda, then they couldn’t afford a large organization, and maintain a large dynamic fronting presence. Such organizations would break down to individuals fighting for their conscience, which we also see in an ever increasing count.
That donation is the tip of the iceberg. However, most of the others were less obvious and require more skilled digging to expose. Some require a more complete understanding on the part of the readers to realize just how intertwined the interests between The Establishment and the fossil fuel industry have been for the past 150 years.
For example, I am reading a fascinating account of the US/UK led coup against Mossadeq that succeeded after several failed attempts during the period between 1951-1953. As you might expect, the whole sad saga can be traced to oil induced greed.
I still think you ought to write a book: “Smoking Gun: How Fossil Fuel Money Subverted Environmentalism”.
The title needs a little work, but the idea is sound. Perhaps someday…
That is exactly what happened to the Sierra Club on the issue of immigration; the open-borders hedge fund magnate David Gelbaum essentially bought the SC’s position, to the intense dissatisfaction of much of the membership.
People who hold the (false) belief that nuclear power is extremely dangerous could do that. It’s obvious that lots of people hold such beliefs, which are fed by “environmental” groups financed by fossil-fuel interests.
You’re going much too far with that. All you need is to understand that human ignorance is the normal state, and confirmation bias directs the evaluation of new information vs. the first ideas people buy into.
James Lovelock, Barry Brook, George Monbiot and quite a few others have done so. It’s the masses who can’t get their minds around the volume of facts who are hard to salvage from their state of dis-information. You can’t really blame them; they’re busy with living and don’t have the time for it.
That’s actually part of the problem: the ideological camp which supports nuclear power is similary indoctrinated into AGW-denialism.
You can see the same on all issues; it doesn’t matter what the problem is, the solution is always the proponent’s favorite cure-all. The fact that it wouldn’t work is a feature, because it means the next step is escalation. This works great for those who profit from the effort, whether it’s “assistance” to “underdeveloped nations” or “uplift” for “historically disadvantaged minorities”.
I know it’s hard to develop the necessary thick skin and degree of cynicism to deal with reality on that level. I’m still somewhat of an idealist myself. Just try to realize that humanity is a big part of the problem and it’ll be easier.
E.-P. wrote: “That’s actually part of the problem: the ideological camp which supports nuclear power is similary indoctrinated into AGW-denialism.”
I’m not so sure that they are indoctrinated into denialism, so much as they chose it as the most attractive option on first blush.
When I hear/read about AGW and that the **only** choice is to abandon our lifestyle, and live lives of poverty, inconvenience, and discomfort, which will surely kill off the poor, leave the middle class in a state equivalent to serfdom and destroy society as we know it, my first reaction is to deny the whole shebang.
The above is pretty much what the media has been selling the public for the last decade. Oh, they don’t phrase it that way, but folks who have a little understanding and education realize that “get our energy from “renewables”” translates to the above paragraph. Not to mention all the additional, “Just one more tiny inconvenience to be green…” ad infinitum, until it is an entire lifestyle full of inconveniences.
So, when that group of slightly better educated people hear what the popular media is currently saying about AGW, what they are going to hear is “destroy society as we know it” and their natural reaction is going to be denial and rejection.
This presents an opportunity for nuclear. Yes ****this is an opportunity**** for pro-nuclear. If we can just get the message out that there is a solution for AGW, which doesn’t involve poverty, but rather, an even better future than the present, with cheaper more reliable energy, which we can count on for millenia.
The trick is getting that hopeful message out. AGW is okay, because we have the solution, and the solution is not sack-cloth robes and ashes. It’s an incredibly optimistic future.
Today’s nuclear power has no chance to even reduce coal to the consuming 2000.
From 3Gton/year to over 7Gton/year has humans coal burning expand the last 10 years, the same time the climate war has been most expensive.
I don´t think that professional soldier in the climate war want to win it, otherwise they are extreme ineffective.
So say that I had been general in the climate war and had have all the money that has been spend with no or negative results.
The nuclear bureaucracy is the first to develop, it´s no reason that South Korea can build APR-1400 as cheap and fast as coal plant, but not US or EU.
Maybe IAEA must create global certificate for nuclear to be able to compete against coal?
Parkinsons Law has made nuclear expensive in countries like US that haven´t build them in large scale for long.
Korea has build more and more during the same period many old nuclear states has more or less stopped there nuclear industry.
But if the world had build 2000 reactors the last decade, then coal have been extremely cheap.
The only way for nuclear against fossil is mass produced GenIV that builds complete in factories for delivery to the power plants, skip or chemical, metal industry.
To create a global standard so human will get a peaceful “peak human” to 2050. it will take at least 4 times today´s production of electricity and synthetic fuel.
Several climate activists that has an open mind like George Monbiot, realize that.
GenIV take away all the antis argument, no long live waste, no meltdown, no peak uranium… (and I never get answers from antis when I ask what they will do with today´s nuclear waste, if they don´t want GenIV?).
GenIV in high temps models can alternate from producing of electricity or hydrogen or industry heat for that matter.
Big GenIII+ is best for fast developing countries with big energy hunger, but for EU and US it can be better to prepare for SMR and then GenIV like 4S or SVBR-100 and the technique i like the most, MSR.
The first MSR started 1954 and was a big success, as easy as jet engines to operate, and a max temp at 860C god enough for commercial hydrogen production.
Why could they build that so fast, and not now?
MSR burner with fast spectrum should maybe be best to start with, but globally (back to climate war) there is not nuclear waste enough.
LFTR supported with sodium cooled breeder is the fastest way to get out of fossil energy that has taken human from short hard lives on fields to long comfortably lives on Internet.
The only way to make a change is to speak out, and maybe not in blogs like this but in main stream media?
In open debate, the climate soldiers who are against nuclear, will not stand a chance.
As this Despair, Inc’s poster suggests, there’s really good money to be made in continuing the “problem” of Climate Change for as long as possible without actually solving it:
This is not really all that different from Rahm Emanuel’s famous quote “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
As long as AGW/Climate Change/Pro-green/whatever-you-want-to-call-it continues to generate large research budget’s and large conferences in exotic locations, the leaders of the movement aren’t really interested in solving the problem. And until the rising cost or scarcity of energy prevents the average American from maintaining the lifestyle they are accustomed to, this is just background noise.
I was often dismayed at the ignorance of nuclear energy accomplishiments by Congressmen who can call upon experts. I would not be surprised if Mr. MCKibben is ignorant of the faster construction underway in Korea and China or how improvements proposed in the 80s and 90s in the US are now in these new Asian plants.
Another part of the problem is tthe nuclear profession is not unified on the question of climate change (though ANS has a position statement arguing that nuclear is ideal for reduction of CO2). How can we expect to win allies to the increased use of nuclear energy if we are divided amongst ourselves?
Here is a must watch video by Allan Savory.
It will completely, unequivocally, change your opinion on Climate Change, regardless of your opinion/persuasion for or against AGW.
full version (a hour) at -> http://vimeo.com/8239427
Wow. I highly recommend watching that and thinking – what if we replaced as much fossil fuel consumption as practical with nuclear energy AND followed Savory’s plan for greening desertifying land?
We could change the world in a generation!
Apparently there is a lot of discussion on Savory’s ideas. I agree with Rod that a multi-track approach will best halt and ameliorate climate change.
After watching the full hour, and letting this set in, I started thinking of the Southwest Indians, the Anasazi, Mogollon, Sinagua, and Hohokam Indians. That area really impressed me when I drove through there in the 60’s. I have seen NatGEO shows explaining that there were many thousands living off of the crops they grew in the “lush, fertile” land. And then the weather changed, they could no longer grow enough food and their numbers decreased. NatGEO indicated that they still have not determined why they left so abruptly. Same as in central/northern Mexico. Could this have happened there and driven them out? Did their agriculture methods cause the problem? Seems logical to me.
Rod – I’d bet that we’d tick off a lot of “Environmentalists,” particularly the hard-core veggie ones.
One of the more interesting takes on the issue I’ve ever seen. People have been talking about soil carbon inventory for as long as I’ve been following it, but aside from terra preta this is the only experiment that’s shown results.
Well, it hasn’t “completely, unequivocally” changed my opinion. My first reaction is to ask what other experts in the field are saying about these claims. What’s in the peer reviewed literature etc.
It’s certainly an interesting presentation, but that should be motivation to learn a bit more rather than jump to conclusions.
Here’s Allan Savory’s TED talk from March 2013…
It covers much of the same “grazing material” as the above video’s.
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