Politics & Policy

The Anti-Science, Anti-Nuclear Left

(Darren McCollester/Getty)
Atomic energy is indispensable in reducing greenhouse gases, but climate-change activists don’t want to hear it.

Among the favorite claims of climate-change activists is that anyone who dares to disagree with their worldview is a “denier,” and that those who reject their orthodoxy about the workings of the Earth’s atmosphere are “anti-science.”

But when it comes to the technologies that can actually reduce the volume of carbon dioxide we put into the atmosphere, it’s obvious that the climate-change jihadis are the ones who are anti-science. For proof of that, consider the energy plan put forward on Monday by Bernie Sanders, the socialist senator from Vermont and presidential candidate, who has claimed that climate change is the greatest national-security threat facing the United States.

Sanders’s energy plan comes straight from the far-left playbook. It claims that the only thing needed to deal with climate change is renewable energy. On Sanders’s website, the plan carries endorsements from Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, who may be America’s most famous climate activist, as well as Annie Leonard, the executive director of Greenpeace USA.

The gist of Sanders’s plan, which is modestly titled “Combating Climate Change to Save the Planet,” is to create a “completely nuclear-free clean energy system for electricity, heating, and transportation.” It also declares that Sanders wants “a moratorium on nuclear power plant license renewals in the United States.”

Ah yes, nuclear-free. How very 1970s. So what does “the science” say about nuclear energy?

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In January of this year, the International Energy Agency declared that “nuclear power is a critical element in limiting greenhouse gas emissions.” It went on to say that global nuclear generation capacity must more than double by 2050 (to about 750 gigawatts) if the countries of the world are to have any hope of limiting temperature increases to the 2-degree scenario that is widely agreed upon as the acceptable limit.

The scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have made it clear that nuclear energy is essential. In its latest report, known as AR5, which was released last year, the IPCC declared that achieving deep cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions “will require more intensive use of low-GHG technologies such as renewables [and] nuclear energy.”

#share#In 2013, four of the world’s leading climate scientists issued an open letter that was clearly aimed at anti-nuclear groups like Greenpeace and Sierra Club. They said that renewable energy sources like wind and solar “cannot scale up fast enough to deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires.” The authors — former NASA climatologist James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel of MIT, Tom Wigley of the University of Adelaide in Australia, and Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution — wrote an open letter  that “continued opposition to nuclear power threatens humanity’s ability to avoid dangerous climate change.” They continued: “There is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power.” They concluded by saying that if environmental activists have “real concern about risks from climate change,” they should begin “calling for the development and deployment of advanced nuclear energy.”

In 2011, in one of the most famous slap-downs of the renewables-only crowd, Hansen wrote that “suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.” He went on to say that politicians and environmental groups “pay homage to the Easter Bunny fantasy, because it is the easy thing to do.”

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For climate activists, being anti-nuclear is the easy thing to do. That was made clear last month in a startling article written by journalist William Tucker, the author of the 2008 book Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Power Will Lead the Green Revolution and End America’s Energy Odyssey.

In the article, “How About Suing Bill McKibben for Racketeering?,” Tucker explains that he briefly interviewed McKibben four years ago in Vermont at Solarfest, an event dedicated to, in Tucker’s words, “the wonders of solar energy.” Tucker estimated that about half of the attendees were there to push for the closing of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. (That plant closed last year.) Tucker wrote:

After McKibben gave his rousing speech to an enthusiastic audience, I was able to grab him for a moment in back of the little makeshift stage. I asked him about nuclear power. He admitted that nuclear was going to be necessary if we were ever to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. “Why don’t you come out favorably in public for nuclear power, then?” I asked . . . “If I came out in favor of nuclear,” he said, “it would split this movement in half.”

So there you have it. McKibben, like many other environmentalists, knows in his heart that there isn’t much chance of reducing carbon output without nuclear. But he does not want to be caught saying so in public.

The punch line here is obvious. Climate-change activists, and politicians like Sanders, prefer the convenient fib about renewables to the hard reality that nuclear energy is essential to limiting greenhouse-gas emissions. Four years ago, McKibben made it clear that he prefers political power over truth. Seems to me that that’s the very essence of being anti-science.


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