The end of the world as we know it: version 1
El País last Sunday carried an op-ed by James Lovelock (translated from The Independent) arguing that the only way to save the living system of the globe (which he calls "Gaia") is to switch from burning carbons to relying on thermonuclear energy, which he argues is much, much safer than most ecologists like to claim. And even if it weren't all that safe, we really have no alternative if we want to keep Greenland from melting and raising sea levels by 7 meters (there go all of Ireland, Manhattan, and countless other islands, and our little property on the coast of Spain). Nothing else -- wind and solar power, hybrid fuels, whatever -- will work, he says.

Two answers: Chernobyl, and time. Lovelock may be right that, with all the proper precautions, nuclear energy need not be dangerous. However Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and -- for a non-nuclear example -- Bhopal all demonstrate that neither government authorities nor corporations can be trusted to take all the proper precautions. Thus there will continue to be enormous political and popular resistance to nuclearity. That means that, even if nuclear energy has to be part of the solution (I'm prepared to believe this; even apart from the terrible contamination problem, we're running out of petroleum and will have to find a substitute), we won't be able to deploy it sufficiently widely and sufficiently quickly to avoid the disaster Lovelock predicts.

The only solution is political. That is, we the peoples of the world are going to have to make sure that the people who govern us first of all recognize that there is a problem. Bush's rejection of the Kyoto accord is shamefully irresponsible to the whole human race (not to mention all the other living things that make up "Gaia"). Second, we must demand that they supervise and protect us from noxious contamination from all sources, including coal, petroleum and nuclear fission, and that they be responsible to us. Not, like Cheney, to hide their dealings with Enron and other corporate profit-seekers behind a screen of "executive privilege." Technically, the solution will probably involve all known means of producing clean(er) energy, but we can't reach a technical solution until we have power in hands we can trust.

No comments: