Over the years, both sides of the debate have been able to field their set of scientists and experts backing their point of view. It is one of the reasons why the decision to take action has been put off for so long. There seemed to be no conclusive evidence. That, my fellow citizens, is simply a consequence of Political Science 101, though. Science in America has become just as highly politicized as other aspects of our society. Both sides of this question have been skewing the facts because of their political agendas. It has become abundantly clear that the “there is no climate change” crowd is becoming rapidly discredited. However, I submit to you that the traditional environmentalist lobby that has backed their own scientific studies have also skewed some facts as well.
Most people that know me find me to be a pretty "green" individual. With that kind of reputation in my own social circles, I thought that I could push the idea of pro-nuclear environmentalism. I thought that the logic of it was so self-evident that everyone would get on board this new “train of thought”, pro-nuclear environmentalism. Unfortunately, the concept of a pro-nuclear environmentalist was an oxymoron to many. I have sustained quite a bit of abuse over the last couple of decades for advocating it. I hesitate every time I bring up the idea wondering if I have the energy to argue with the well-intentioned, but ill-informed “armchair environmentalist” crowd. Over the years, I periodically find myself trying to advocate the idea a nuclear-fueled green revolution, but it always seems so futile in the face of the fear and pseudo-science that has obscured the issue for so long.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should state now that I have long been an opponent of the Bush/Cheney administration. Check out www.anyonebutbushin2004.com , if you have any doubts. I cannot express the level of distress it causes me to actually agree with these guys on anything, even if it is only in a tangential way. I also have to admit that I have no academic or scientific standing whatsoever. Painfully, I must say that even my high school diploma is a little shaky. On the other hand, I am a member of Mensa, which means I have an IQ in the top 2% of society. I am an autodidact with a good understanding of the scientific method. Additionally, I am untouched and untainted by the political machinations that have sorely strained the objectivity of academia and science in America This strain is the origin of the title of this piece. So please read on with these facts in mind. Also consider that I am unlikely to make any money off the point of view I am about to advocate and feel compelled to express these points of view to protect the future for my children. And so once again I wade into this debate, sure that I will suffer much abuse, but also feeling obligated as a father of young children to somehow change the tragic course we are on.
The waste products of fission are put into barrels and their whereabouts catalogued. Admittedly, those barrels will be hazardous for many thousands of years. Nonetheless, one should consider that the half-life of fossil fuel combustion is not known. These gases hang around to affect our environment detrimentally for an unknown period. The analogy of an urban sewer system is useful when considering the nuclear power situation. The lack of fossil fuel waste disposal condemns us to sit in and breathe our own excrement.
When one looks at the top ten most polluted places on Earth as enumerated by LiveScience.com, only one is a radioactive site and that is Chernobyl. All the others are related to chemical, fossil fuel and heavy metal pollutions sources, which alternative energy production could actually increase, because of their need for exotic manufactured metals and chemicals. By many measures, Chernobyl should not even be on this list, because the natural environment has thrived in the 20 years since the accident. Why? Because the radioactivity makes the place unsuitable for humans, but a real paradise for most of the flora and fauna now freed from humanity’s tyranny of pollution and general destruction.
When we look at solutions like conservation we run into the huge amounts of electricity that will be required for the potential transition to electric transportation. The EPA actually determined in the 1990’s that an electric car will actually generate more carbon monoxide than a gasoline model. Unless the electricity is generated cleanly, the electric car can solve nothing. Really only nuclear power can generate electricity in the amounts that our future will require without completely destroying the environment.
Other solutions are equally unacceptable when viewed objectively. Hybrid vehicles are still partially dependent on gasoline. Ethanol requires enormous amounts of fresh water to produce and refine. Ethanol is not a clean fuel. Burning ethanol will still pollute the atmosphere and in some situations can create more deadly ground level ozone pollution as well as use up another very scarce resource, fresh water. Producing the amount corn necessary for ethanol actually consumes more fossil fuel than our current situation. Hemp may offer more efficiency here, if the government would repeal Prohibition, but that is another essay and fails to address the tailpipe emissions of ethanol anyway.
The new technology of fuel cells is not as atmospherically benign as many would have us believe. Very little attention is paid to the fact that water vapor is a greenhouse gas. Tailpipe emissions really need to be cut to near zero and water vapor is an emission that will change global climate. Beyond that, the hydrogen needs to be extracted from some source, usually water, which requires additional energy. The costs of extracting hydrogen alone are likely to put a similar or greater load on the environment as the current state of affairs is currently doing.
We cannot afford to come up with the wrong solution this time around. Catalytic converters cause cars to produce more carbon dioxide, but lessen the production of other more immediately deadly exhaust gases. Nonetheless, a very strong case can be made that the catalytic converter has hastened global climate change.
The other alternate energy sources are subject to the vagaries of weather and still have a ways to go before they can replace current electrical generation methods.
The generation of 21st century amounts of industrial electrical power, on demand, is a tall order. We need real alternatives now, not later. I have no objections to pursuing these alternatives while we run fission plants. I believe tidal, solar and wind power all have a place in our future, but to halt global climate change we do not have enough money or time to bring these technologies to the levels necessary to address global climate change.
Nuclear fission is the lesser of two evils, but certainly the lesser. Precisely because it is not perfect means that environmentalists must get involved in the production of energy by fission. Environmentalists must accept the need for nuclear fission and draw up an agenda for its development. Environmentalists have a role as government watchdogs to make sure the bureaucrats do not cut corners at the expense of the human environment. If environmentalists strike first and modify their position with the condition that environmentalists are given monitoring functions, the chances of getting that watchdog status are far greater.
A vast conversion to nuclear power right now is the only way to meet carbon emission objectives set in the Kyoto treaty. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that this modest treaty will not be enough to halt global climate change.