World leaders are heading to Glasgow to come up with another plan to tackle climate change. Joe Biden had hoped for a host of climate-related legislative accomplishments to brag about. But they are under threat and delay in fighting over the bill for rebuilding better.
We are constantly told that the stakes couldn’t be higher. If Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and Republicans succeed in stripping the proposed Clean Energy Performance-only program alone, it will “destroy the world,” according to Gizmodo. Recently, Biden reiterated his often-cited claim that climate change is an “existential threat to humanity.”
Such rhetoric is not only wrong – humanity can survive climate change – it is also counterproductive. The battle against climate change will be long and chaotic, and hinting otherwise will only make it longer and more chaotic. For 30 years, activists and politicians have said before these periodic climate conferences This is amazing It is our “last chance” to act or to save the planet.
Usually, if you miss your last chance to do something – catch a flight, see a movie – you stop trying. If you believe climate change should be the moral equivalent of war, manage expectations as a wartime leader does. You don’t say, “We’ll lose the war if we lose this battle” – unless that’s true.
You also do not refuse to use your most effective weapons, at least not in a fight for the survival of humanity, without good reason. And in this case, the best weapon in our arsenal is nuclear power. As former NASA climate scientist James Hansen and colleagues have argued, “there is no reliable pathway to climate stabilization that does not include a fundamental role for nuclear energy.”
But to quote Greta Thunberg, Joan of Arc from climate activism, the arguments against nuclear power boil down to being “too dangerous and expensive” and “time-consuming”.
Let’s start with seriousness. For reasons of human psychology, a deep fear of nuclear energy is socially acceptable among those who claim to “follow science”. But just as COVID-19 vaccines have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, few people — literally a few — have had bad reactions to a vaccine that may have contributed to their deaths. Whatever that number – three? four? – That’s more than the Americans who died from nuclear power.
The Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the worst in American history, caused no detectable deaths or cancers. In fact, if you include all the factors, including industrial accidents, air pollution, etc., nuclear power can be said to be the safest form of energy production in the world.
Then there is the cost. That’s right: building nuclear plants, whether using existing or new technology, is expensive. But once nuclear plants are built, the energy they produce becomes cheap. That’s why Germany, which shut down its nuclear plants in a largely failed decade-long experiment, has the world’s most expensive electricity prices. Germany’s carbon emissions are 10 times greater than those of France, which gets 70 percent of its electricity from nuclear power.
There is also something strange about politicians who mock cost concerns to fight climate change (on their own terms) and then raise the cost of building nuclear plants as prohibitive, when they can provide carbon-neutral electricity on a massive and reliable scale.
In fact, one of the reasons nuclear plants take so long to build is that many of these politicians get in the way of building them, by sticking to NIMBY and supporting red tape.
None of this is to say that nuclear power alone is a silver bullet, nor is it to deny that the question of how to deal with nuclear waste is not a thorny one. Some old plants need to be closed, but they should be replaced with new ones that are safer and less expensive.
But if Biden is serious about fighting climate change – and wants to show it – he should take nuclear power seriously.