Green vs. Green

Breakthrough Institute

Greens argue that the scientific evidence in support of climate change tell us we must take action yet they simultaneously ignore potential solutions — like nuclear power and GE food — despite scientific evidence that they are useful tools. In the first part of a two post series, Breakthrough Senior Fellow Siddartha Shome discusses this perplexing Green paradox. In part two, Sid expounds on the scientific and anti-scientific basis of environmentalism, explaining the role of morality in the effort to mitigate climate change.

Key quote:

To anybody following the debate over nuclear power and GE crops, it soon becomes clear that the Green position on science and technology is rather paradoxical. On one hand, many Greens eagerly invoke science to emphasize the severity of our environmental problems, especially global warming. On the other hand, they are quick to reject scientific-technological fixes for these same environmental problems.

I’m in the techie camp here. Unless you’s prefer to go back to grubbing for berries and roots while denouncing the world of electricity that used to exist, then it seems clear to me that smarter, better, cleaner technology will be how we solve the problems, along with conservation and learning to do more with less.

  • DJ

    I have to disagree here. Nuclear power is not economically feasible without massive government subsidies– including the assumption of risk (i.e. insurance). The risks are enormous– the Chernobyl area is still uninhabitable, and radiation-related health problems remain across Europe. And it cost hundreds of millions to clean up (so far as they were able). Of course, that couldn’t happen here, any more than a giant oil spill that could potentially overwhelm the Atlantic Ocean. Science fiction, right?

    OTOH, we waste 75% of the energy we produce. Conservation should allow us to eliminate all coal and most oil generating plants. We shouldn’t need to build a new plant for generations, nuclear or otherwise.

    As for GMO crops, the risks there are also high but in a different way. They promote monocrops, which by nature are more prone to nasty diseases and pests. Sure, you can make them resistant. And bugs never overcome that resistance– that would be like, says, antibiotic-resistant TB, another science fiction (not).

    Not to mention the well-documented abuse by for-profit companies like Monsanto, which has engineered into seeds (among other things) the requirement to use Monsanto products, and which has successfully sued farmers adjacent to their crops for possession of their technology after it was carried by the wind onto a non-GMO farm. Most of the Canadian soy crop can no longer be certified as GMO free because GMOs have infected much of the cropland. Once released, GMOs cease to become a choice.

    The whole premise of industrial agriculture is based on fossil fuels and mining– two very environmentally unfriendly practices. Industrial fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides all originate in oil/gas wells and phosphorus beds.

    Ultimately, the “science” approach requires that we give up meat and dairy, which in an industrial system are incredibly wasteful and polluting. CAFOs rely on constant grain inputs, using up valuable cropland and feed, while producing huge amounts of waste. Meat and dairy can be produced sustainably with far less impact– but only in conjunction with other sustainable agriculture practices. News flash: manure is fertilizer!

    It seems ironic to me that the “science” argument neatly skirts one of the main components of our environmental dilemma: there are too many people on the planet. Rather than fix the problem, they want to implement increasingly risky solutions. Eventually, they’ll have us eating soylent green. Care for a second helping?

    • Well, how do we fix overpopulation? Mandate only one child? Forced sterilization? Education?

      • DJ

        Educating women is a big step in the right direction. Where women get more education, birth rates tend to fall. But that’s not the only method– some states in India have reached ZPG without a women’s education program.

        There’s an issue of basic math: if death rates fall, birth rates must also fall. And if birth rates don’t fall, then death rates can’t either.

        Above all, we must recognize that there is a problem. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. Science has delayed the inevitable consequences of overpopulation, but it, too, won’t make it go away. There is a limit to the earth’s carrying capacity– and we have already exceeded it.

  • Bill, I’m somewhat surprised. After harping so much on the oil spill in the Gulf, you’re still saying that nuclear is a good “solution” to climate change? Have you heard about the recent tritium leak in New Jersey?
    DEP officials believe at least 180,000 gallons of contaminated water was released from the plant on April 9, 2009, through two small holes in separate pipes. There is evidence that contamination 50 times higher than DEP standards has reached the Cohansey aquifer, a significant drinking water resource for much of South Jersey.


    Not only is nuclear not really safe (although, yes, it is safer than coal or natural gas, but that’s somewhat of a false choice), it also takes tons of government dollars to get it going. That money could easily be spent on conservation and/or renewables instead and probably be just as effective.

    I also agree with DJ on the subject of GM crops – he said it better than I could have.

    Basically, there is no paradox, because the world is not black and white, as you well know. It’s not like you’re either pro-science or anti-science. Greens like myself embrace science where appropriate, but also have a healthy skepticism because modern science has brought us things like the nuclear bomb and other terrible creations (although, again, it’s a mixed bag, because I am using a computer to type this!).

    • I understand what you and DJ are saying but like Stewart Brand, see nuclear power as a probably unavoidable stopgap measure on the way to clean, renewable energy on a mass scale.

      France is mostly nuclear and has never had an incident or problem, to my knowledge. Their reactors are also much more modern than ours.

      • I’m not totally opposed to nuclear. But if it takes $10 billion from the government for each new plant (a figure I don’t have a source for but have read in several places), it seems that that money could be better spent on conservation and renewables and updating the grid so that we don’t need nuclear as a stop gap.

      • DJ

        Let’s review the math: If we could conserve even half the energy we waste, we could eliminate coal from the equation without building a single new power plant of any kind. Conserve 75% of what we waste, and we could eliminate oil and gas, too. Add a few renewables, even using today’s limited technologies, and we could start mothballing our existing nuke plants.

        This fascination with nuclear defies logic!

        Of course, no one wants us to be that efficient– there’s too much money and too much employment riding on selling energy and building new plants– and nuke plants are the most expensive of all.

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