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Enviro-Mental
How Do You Fight Green Dogma?

A week ago we came across the welcome news that some “blue chip” environmental groups were reportedly rethinking their staunch and increasingly irrational opposition to nuclear power. According to a Wall Street Journal article published last week, the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund were both undergoing internal debates about the eco-merits of nuclear power. But the Sierra Club’s executive director, Michael Brune, wrote in to the WSJ to flatly deny that any such sober reflection was ongoing. From that letter:

It is categorically incorrect to suggest that the Sierra Club considers nuclear power a “bridge” to clean energy. Nuclear power, much like coal, oil and gas, is a bridge to nowhere. In Illinois the Sierra Club is part of a coalition to increase renewable energy and energy efficiency, not preserve nuclear reactors. America’s energy future must be powered by 100% clean, renewable energy like wind and solar—and nuclear in no way meets this requirement.

The Sierra Club’s successful work to stop and retire coal and gas operations has never precluded our efforts to oppose nuclear power, nor will it ever. Decades of evidence around the world clearly demonstrates that nuclear power remains a dirty and extremely dangerous energy source, and we will continue our efforts to block new reactors from being built and replace existing ones with 100% clean, renewable energy.

That’s a staggeringly obtuse statement. In it is reflected all the self-assured, scientifically baseless convictions that have come to define the modern environmental movement. It’s true that an opposition to nuclear power—born during the Cold War, an age of rampant nuclear-phobia—was one of the first marquee issues for environmentalists, and that their concerns over nuclear waste disposal had and still have merit.

That said, the hard line Brune is staking out displays a remarkable lack of foresight for a person charged with leading a group ostensibly concerned about the future of the planet. No one will dispute that climate change is today’s biggest green issue, and when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, there’s no energy source more important than nuclear power. That’s because nuclear reactors are sources of zero-emissions baseload power, which means that they can keep the lights on 24/7, unlike intermittent solar and wind energy which require, well, sunshine or wind.

But Brune doesn’t just discredit the extraordinarily valuable work nuclear power—the world’s green energy workhorse—is currently doing, he goes even further, suggesting that the Sierra Club will never rethink its position. That might be the most galling part of this letter, because the future of nuclear power is looking brighter by the day as more exciting new technologies come our way. There are reactors being developed that are fail-safe (meaning they can’t melt down), reactors that reuse spent fuel (mitigating the waste issue), and researchers are even working on smaller modular reactors.

The next generation of nuclear power plants are going to look radically different from the ones we currently have, but if we’re to believe Brune, that won’t matter to the Sierra Club. Some smarter greens have started to come around to nuclear energy, but maybe that’s asking too much of one of the country’s leading environmental groups. For the Sierra Club, revulsion at the thought of nuclear power overwhelms the facts—the dogma runs all the way down to the atomic level. And that’s a shame.

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  • delta 5297

    Fight green dogma? That suggests that “green dogma” was ever a problem to begin with. Whoever this anonymous nuclear advocate posting on TAI is, he’s sure obsessed with going after this movement that possesses fairly limited influence. If nuclear power isn’t gaining traction politically, it’s because the public at large is averse to it. If you want to change that then you’ll just have to make a compelling case for nuclear energy to that public rather than blaming some nefarious green propaganda campaign.

    • Tom

      Because as we all know, the Green movement has never attempted to stifle beneficial scientific advances because they sound scawwy.

    • Josephbleau

      I agree with you, what the green elites like the Sierra Club say is irrelevant and useless. What the people say is the only relevance. To properly implement this revelation we need the people not the elites, scientific or otherwise, to truly exercise power. This is not the way the US works now, thus experiments like the tea party and Trump.

    • Frank Natoli

      The Democrat Party is a coalition of numerous special interest groups, a very significant one of which is environmentalists, i.e., those who believe man’s effect on the environment must be reduced to zero. A union man who votes Democrat, because the Democrat Party will enact and maintain laws that guarantee that union man far more in salary, benefits and pensions than the union man could obtain in the free market, doesn’t care about environmentalists, or nuclear power, but helps put into power a government that strangles nuclear power. Ditto blacks. Ditto gays. Yes, Sierra is individually a minority, but as part of the grand Democrat Party coalition is of serious consequence.

  • Fat_Man

    You can’t fight green dogma. It is all they have. The only thing you can do is pry green dogma out of their cold dead fingers. It won’t be easy.

    • Andrew Allison

      Ridicule, perhaps? The idea that we can attain 100% wind and solar power in the foreseeable future is ridiculous on it’s face since neither can satisfy baseline load. Germany provides a great example of the environmental impact of shutting down nuclear power: hugely expensive electricity and vastly increased combustion of the dirtiest coal available.

      • bluejay63

        the greens just over look the part about Germany having to build coal plants. they just want to talk about renewable’s and how that is going to power every thing from now on. i guess there will be no more planes in the big green future.

  • Matt_Thullen

    Think of modern environmentalism as more akin to a religion than a movement, and you’ll understand Brune’s position. It’s also why recycling (which as John Tierney points out, is usually more wasteful of resources than putting stuff in a landfill), electric cars (which overall pollute just as much as gas engines) and opposition to GMOs all are sacrosanct among the environmental faithful.

    Furthermore, the environmental movement, while disdainful of unbelievers, really gets its hate worked up for heretics, as evidenced by the reaction that Bjorn Lomborg produces among the environmental true believers.

    • bluejay63

      that because Bjorn Lomborg use’s common sense. and knows what should be done to make the world a better and cleaner place, not the crap that the true believers like the sierra club want to inflict on us.

  • Blackbeard

    Why should they rethink their position on anything? They’re winning, at least in the U.S., Western Europe and Japan. The President is a true believer! The next President will be a true believer!

    Think about an organization like the Sierra Club as a business. What is their business model? It is to say, every day in every way, that the sky is falling and that, if we contribute heavily to them perhaps they can save us, or at least postpone the day of reckoning. Given this business model they have no incentive to admit that any problem is ever solved or even getting better. If we go back to the dawn of federal environmental regulation in the 1960s and 1970s, we can see that all the original criteria pollutants (SOx, NOx, particulates, etc. are down 70, 80, or even 90% and are now approaching background levels at least in some parts of the country. Can we declare victory and stop? Never! Even if we reduce something by an impossible 99% we can still go to 99.5% and describe that as a 50% reduction in emissions. And they can always think of new things in dire need of regulation such as CO2.

    Everywhere you look western civilization is facing economic stagnation. Environmental madness is only a part of the problem but it’s not a minor part. At some point we’ll be too poor to afford this idiocy and we can only hope we won’t have sunk to the level of Venezuela by then.

  • CaliforniaStark

    Lets not forget that the Sierra Club’s “beyond coal” campaign was funded the natural gas industry up until about 2012. This funding was not made public. Now the Sierra Club is totally committed to only solar and wind as the only source of 100% renewable energy. Do we have another case of closed minds and open pockets?

    Tom Steyer, who been pouring money into supporting candidates who oppose fossil fuels, earned part of his large fortune by investing hundreds of millions in coal mines and coal power plants in Australia, Indonesia, and other Asian countries. He supposedly closed his “private investment portfolio” in coal in 2012, but his hedge fund is still involved in coal. I won’t even go into the Mideast interests involved with funding anti-fracking campaigns.

    The dogma may run “all the way to the atomic level” — but don’t discount the influence of dollars.

  • circleglider

    That said, the hard line Brune is staking out displays a remarkable lack of foresight for a person charged with leading a group ostensibly concerned about the future of the planet…

    The key word here is ostensibly. The Sierra Club has never been much “concerned about the future of the planet.” Their chief concern has always been the spiritual purity of their congregation and their relative standing vis-à-vis America’s other post-Protestant mainline religions.Joseph Bottum’s seminal 2014 book An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America defines the countours of the modern American Puritan jihad. Todd Zywicki explains in his Washington Post review of Bottum’s book:

    The traditional elite consensus has been replaced by a new spiritual orthodoxy of “morality.” The American elite (however defined) today does subscribe to a set of orthodoxies of what constitutes “proper” behavior: proper views on the environment, feminism, gay rights, etc. Thus, Bottum provocatively argues, the Protestant Mainline hasn’t gone away, it has simply evolved into a new form, a religion without God as it were, in which the Sierra club, universities, and Democratic Party have supplanted the Methodists and Presbyterians as the teachers of proper values.How did this occur? Bottum points to the key moment as the emergence of the Social Gospel movement in the early 20th Century. Led by Walter Rauschenbusch, the Social Gospel movement reached beyond the traditional view that Christianity spoke to personal failings such as sin, but instead reached “the social sin of all mankind, to which all who ever lived have contributed, and under which all who ever lived have suffered.” As Bottum summarizes it, Rauschenbusch identified six social sins: “bigotry, the arrogance of power, the corruption of justice for personal ends, the madness [and groupthink] of the mob, militarism, and class contempt.” As religious belief moved from the pulpit and pew to the voting booth and activism, the role of Jesus and any religious belief became increasingly attenuated. And eventually, Bottum suggests, the political agenda itself came to overwhelm the increasingly irrelevant religious beliefs that initially supported it. Indeed, to again consider contemporary debates, what matters most is outward conformity to orthodox opinion, not persuasion and inward acceptance of a set of particular views – as best illustrated by the lynch mobs that attacked Brendan Eich for his political donations (his outward behavior) and to compel conformity of behavior among wedding cake bakers and the like, all of which bears little relation to (and in fact is likely counterproductive) to changing personal belief. (Of course, that too is an unstable equilibrium–in the future it won’t be sufficient to not merely not be politically opposed to same-sex marriage, it will be a litmus test to be affirmatively in favor of it.).A key aspect of the modern post-Protestant morality is its ostentatious and somewhat self-congratulatory nature. In the Preface to the book, Bottum explains that the proximate genesis of the book was an experience he had in 2011 when he was commissioned to write an article about the Occupy Wall Street protest movement. Bottum sensed in these young and clueless youth a deep spiritual anxiety. But it was not linked to any coherent political platform or reform agenda–instead, the goal was “change” of some sort and an assertion of the protesters moral rectitude; and, perhaps equally important (as Bottum describes it), an anxiety to be publicly congratulated for their moral rectitude. Campus protests today, for example, often seem to be sort of a form of performance art, where the gestures of protest and being seen to “care” are ends in themselves, as often the protests themselves have goals that are somewhat incoherent (compared to, say, protests against the Vietnam War). Bottum describes this as a sort of spirtual angst, a vague discomfort with the way things are and an even vaguer desire for change.

  • CapitalHawk

    100% clean, renewable energy, eh? Apparently the Sierra Club believes that ferrosilicon magically extracts itself from the earth and isn’t mined with enormous machines running on various forms of fossil fuels.

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