James Hansen retired from Nasa a while ago to largely become a full time environmental advocate or activist, depending on your preferred nomenclature.
Despite my disagreements with Hansen (I think he has been over the top on Keystone XL) I have always admired Hansen’s straight talking, and unwillingness to provide politically correct messages.
But what is most striking about Hansen’s recent pronouncements is his clear statement of the view that environmental groups are now part of the problem, not the solution to climate change. He states this in true agent provacateur fashion in his latest mailing. And it is worth quoting at length:
Foundations and major environmental organizations (“greens”) are pretty much on the same page, so don’t expect to get support if you question their position. Instead, expect to be attacked. These groups have scientists on their staffs, but they do not act like scientists, continually questioning their own position with an open mind. Instead, like scientist-deniers, renewables-can-do-all scientists act like talking-head lawyers hired to defend a predetermined position. I used to think that they would change their tune as a little more empirical data on energy use accumulated. Instead, like climate-deniers, they cherry-pick data, concluding that we are on the verge of renewables providing all of our energy.
The Koch brothers could not purchase such powerful support for their enterprise. The renewables-can-do-all greens are combining with the fossil industry to lock-in widespread expansion of fracking.
Courageous actions to block mountaintop removal, tar sands pipelines, destructive long-wall mining and all such things will be in vain without adequate energy alternatives. Obama is not supporting fossil fuels because he loves them. He does not have adequate alternatives.
Hansen is exactly right here. Rejecting nuclear power essentially requires that we lower are expectations on climate change. Those who do not recognising this are fooling themselves. We are told nuclear is “too expensive”, but the same environmentalists will support renewable energy sources irrespective of cost.
And despite some exception, notably Peter Kareiva at the Nature Conservancy, the number of Chief Scientists within green groups whose job description is not to provide a scientific patina to pre-existing policies is limited. As I have written before claiming that nuclear energy is expensive is the same as claiming that rapid reductions in carbon emissions are too expensive. Now there may be something to that view, but it is hypocritical to hold it while arguing for rapid cuts in emissions.
Where I disagree with Hansen is his hope that nuclear can scale up quickly. Since Fukushima Germany, Belgium, Italy and Switzerland all made nuclear energy illegal. This is absurd, especially in Germany where they were building a massive lignite power plant at the time. But it is the way it is. A large scale expansion of nuclear energy will require significant social changes. People will first need to recognise that nuclear energy is less dangerous than climate change, and then we will need to see a massive change in public perceptions of the dangers of nuclear energy.
The prospect of this happening anytime soon are limited. And certainly green groups are not going to change their minds tomorrow. Most of them are stuck with the ridiculous E.F. Schumacher notion that nuclear energy is the most dangerous source of energy ever discovered. In some cases the most accurate analogy would be with the Pope changing his mind condoms.
Do you think the Pope will start supporting condom use?