On a blisteringly hot April day in Washington, D.C., some people and organizations interested in addressing climate change gathered and marched with signs and chants. Notably, the event excluded the scientists, engineers, clean air advocates, environmentalists and clean energy technologists who recognize that nuclear energy is an important, ultra-low carbon dioxide tool.
Along with groups like Environmental Progress (Please don’t climate march) and individuals like Suzy Hobbs Baker (Why I Won’t March (for Climate)) many effective, active, evidence-influenced people I know chose to do something other than join the People’s Climate March.
Our problem with the march was that its organizers decided to try to include everyone but us under their umbrella, even though some of us spend most of our waking hours working to improve nuclear energy. We know it is far from perfect, but we also know there are many ways to make it an even better tool for reducing carbon dioxide production and hydrocarbon consumption.
That should be the primary focus of a evidence-based movement to address the hazards that might confront us if we continue down our current path of burning ever increasing quantities of fossil fuel. Whatever damage human activity has done to our atmosphere’s ability to protect us and provide a reasonably stable climate comes from our historical efforts to power the things that we need and the things that we want.
Any future damage will come from burning more fossil fuels to cover the developed world’s needs and wants along with additional investments to empower development for the billions of people who don’t have access to – or cannot afford – enough reliable energy to meet basic human needs of food, clean water, shelter and effective sanitation.
Once struggling people around the globe achieve a basic level of prosperity, they will need and want more power. It would be absurd and inhumane to expect they will want to stop at mere subsistence.
As Baker said in her explanatory piece,
And despite working every single day on climate, I am not joining the climate march. That’s because the organizers seem to not care enough about climate to dig into the deep wealth of science on nuclear energy and climate change at all. I’ll say it again: Nuclear has challenges, both technical and social in nature. But if we truly care about climate change, we should be taking reasonable steps to manage nuclear’s challenges — in the same way we must learn to manage challenges posed by vital renewable technologies like wind and solar.
Michael Shellenberger, the Executive Director of Environmental Progress, was more direct and accusing.
If the march organizers get their way, they are going to destroy any chance of dealing with climate change. That’s because they are aggressively working to kill America’s nuclear power plants, which are our largest source of clean energy.
Last year, Environmental Progress and our allies played a critical role in saving nuclear plants in Illinois and New York. We did so by demanding that so-called environmental groups stop killing our largest source of clean energy.
In 2011, Bill McKibben of march sponsor 350.org advocated closing Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. He got his way. It was replaced with fossil fuels and carbon emissions rose.
Rhea Suh of NRDC advocates replacing Diablo Canyon and Indian Point, both of which would be replaced by fossil fuels.
Mike Brune of Sierra Club claimed he opposed replacing nuclear with natural gas but in fact supports closing both Diablo Canyon and Indian Point.
Why Do Some Environmental Leaders Align With Fossil Fuel Lobbying Positions?
It would probably stun and confuse some of the Climate March participants to find out that many of the leading lights in their movement reject the emission-free power source that is now openly being targeted by oil and gas lobbying groups like the Ohio division of the American Petroleum Institute, the Marcellus Shale Coalition and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association.
It’s easy, from a scientific, technical and economic point of view, to understand why the oil and gas lobby groups see nuclear energy as a threat to their business. They have a natural desire to eliminate a proven competitor in order to increase their sales and their market share.
Once the industry had begun learning how to construct large nuclear plants, it only took the U.S. 20 years to build enough nuclear plants to capture and maintain a 20% share of the U.S. electricity market. Nearly every one of the 99 nuclear plants that have been producing almost 800 billion kilowatt hours of electricity every year for the past 25 years were built between 1970 and 1990.
It isn’t easy, from any rational point of view, to understand why people who loudly claim to be pro-science, pro-evidence, anti-fossil fuel and worried about climate change reject nuclear energy.
It is so illogical, in fact, that the prevalence of antinuclear activism inside the climate movement might be the most common reason why many of the numerous engineers that I know who specialize in energy-related fields like thermodynamics, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, control systems and nuclear engineering classify themselves as climate change skeptics.
They believe the evidence of increasing CO2 concentrations and most agree that it is important to take effective action. But, when confronted with an organized movement that rejects their proven prescription, it’s no surprise that they wonder what the Climate Movement is really supposed to accomplish.
Note: A version of the above was first published on Forbes.com. It is reprinted here with permission.