Keeping Nuclear Plants Open

Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Ecomodernist Movement

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October 15, 2015 | Alex Trembath

Last week could have been better for the world's fleet of nuclear power plants. Entergy announced they were closing the 680-megawatt Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts, despite the plant having been relicensed in 2012 for an additional 20 years of operation. German utility Eon has also decided to shutter two units at Sweden's Oskarshamn plant. As we've seen everywhere from Germany to California to Japan, natural gas and coal fill in where nuclear falls off, which is the opposite direction from where we should be heading. For more on the situation in the States, check out the latest Energy Gang podcast, where MIT's Jesse Jenkins explains why it will be difficult to meet US carbon goals with so many threatened nuclear plants.

On the bright side, Japan decided to restart an 890 megawatt unit at their Sendai nuclear plant, thus continuing the slow return to nuclear after 2010's accident at Fukushima.

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Javadpur University professor and Breakthrough Institute Senior Fellow Joyashree Roy recently penned a powerful op-ed defending modernization in India (the "modern" in "Ecomodern," if you will). 

A common argument in the wake of climate negotiations and Bruntdland's "sustainable development" is that poor countries cannot develop the way the United States and other rich countries did. Instead, new "low-energy" and "sustainable" strageies must be employed. Roy dismisses these "experiments" on poor populations like those in her native India. "Such experiments might have satisfied some philanthropists, have enriched solar technology research outcomes but have eventually delayed the progress in quality of life of those communities by two to three decades," she writes. "These are questions of justice." 

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Nature Biotechnology had a great editorial this month taking a strong stance against "smear campaigns" aimed to discredit scientists working in genetic modification. Organizations like US Right to Know and the Organic Consumers Association have been abusing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to imply, if not prove, corruption among plant scientists. 

It's a problem that recalls the witch hunt against Roger Pielke this year and extends well beyond GMOs. As the editorial states, "whether in GM crops, vaccines and autism, climate science or nuclear power, scientists who speak out need to get used to being targeted by mudslingers." Some pro-GMO voices have already fired back with their own FOIA requests against UC Berkeley's Michael Pollan, among other GM skeptics. I don't see how anyone wins this game.

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A couple folks have weighed in recently on urbanization and decoupling over at New Geography.

Mike Lind of the New America Foundation questions the likelihood that agricultural intensification in the United States will really release marginal farmlands back to wild nature. More likely, he argues, is that other commercial and private uses will swallow up former agricultural lands. "Most of the land retired from farming, instead of being spared for nature, will become rural estates for the plutocracy," he writes, "surrounded by signs reading PRIVATE PROPERTY: KEEP OUT and overrun by starving deer."

Luke Phillips also took to New Geography to muse on the potential synergies between Ecomodernism and Opportunity Urbanism. Phillips highlights the major differences between the two budding "up-winger" philosophies -- namely, Ecomodernism's aversion to suburbanization and Opportunity Urbanism's zeal for fossil fuels like oil and natural gas. It's an interesting piece on somewhat-compatible-somewhat-competing visions for the future of cities. We can only gain by disagreeing and engaging. As Phillips writes,

New ideas need to be out there in response. Perhaps it's time for Eco-Modernists and Opportunity Urbanists to enter into a dialogue and establish a common policy agenda for the Golden State. The dominant Democratic Party and the floundering Republicans don’t have these ideas. Someone needs to show them the way.

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Peter Kareiva, Director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, has a terrific piece on how to "unlearn" major myths about the environment. It's a great list:

Myth 1: Human population is growing exponentially and it’s ruining the planet.

Myth 2: Biodiversity is declining everywhere.

Myth 3: Set up free markets with the right incentives for environmental innovation and we will “business” our way to sustainability.

Myth 4: In the end, corporations are always enemies of the environment.

Myth 5: If you question an environmental regulation, you’re automatically anti-environment.

Myth 6: We have already used up 1.5 Earths and exceeded our planet’s carrying capacity.

Myth 7: People who don’t think we should act strongly to stop climate change are just stupid/ill-informed/ignorant.

Myth 8: Sustainability means eating locally.

Myth 9: If we keep on our current path, Mother Earth will be destroyed and it will be the end of life on the planet.

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Following the lead of Breakthrough's Nature Unbound, Nate Johnson has a great exploration of practices and productivity in agriculture at Grist. Johnson gets to big question that we're actively exploring at Breakthrough, especially questions about how large populations of subsistence farmers can increase their yields and their incomes while ultimately transitioning successfully to jobs off the farm and in the formal economy.

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I'll close this week with a plug for Leigh Phillips' outstanding new book Austerity Ecology & the Collapse-Porn Addicts: A Defense of Growth, Progress, Industry and Stuff. It's pretty rare to encounter a defense of modernity and growth from the Left, and rarer still to come across anything this convincing and eloquent on any subject. I imagine I'll be following Mr. Phillips' work for the rest of my life. Must-read.

 

Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons


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