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Articles 

Pine Gate:
Vol 6 Issue 3: Fall 2007: Global Warming, Nuclear Option 

We must think seven generations into the future about the consequences of every industrial production process – a lesson from Native American wisdom.  A massive global citizen response will certainly elicit an equally massive government and corporate response, as the bottom-up movement and top-down strategies for drastic change meet and integrate.  There is not room in this Global Ecological Emergency for separating into “US’ and “THEM” categories.  We are totally interconnected whether we realize it or not.  We will all live together or we will all die together.  An intelligent and all encompassing green ideology embedded in everything we produce and market is a means to bridge competing agendas.  Our dependence on fossil fuels reduces because we have become aware of the deadly consequences, for ourselves, of our addiction to oil and coal.  The transition to a reasonably emissions-free global energy system over the next few decades will be costly and require a massive response from government and corporate leaders to initiate the second industrial revolution.  This is necessary to blunt the impact of climate change and is a huge global industrial project that governments and corporations can bring about due to citizen pressure to “Make It So!”  There is hope as “Eco-Tech” is the next big global industrial thing.  The public are aware of this, as the consequences of global warming have certainly gone Main Street.  It just has to extend to Wall Street, the White House and the World Trade Organization. 

Immediately, we must abandon carbon dioxide producing fuel systems, develop alternative power sources and at the same time examine Lovelock’s controversial contention that at present the nuclear option is necessary for the short term (Revenge of Gaia: 2006).  Lovelock argues that nuclear “phobia” is not well founded, particularly as in the immediate future new “pebble bed” reactors are being built that use graphite instead of water to control reactions and are thus much safer.  In the foreseeable future, nuclear fusion power will be available – considered to be an absolutely safe energy source.  Lovelock states his case in terms of the immediate crisis of global warming and maintains that nuclear energy is a central piece of the energy sources portfolio – for now.  Although “for now” implies “not for the future”, I do not favour Lovelock’s view.  For him it is a question of time, as he feels that there is simply insufficient time to bring the alternative energy sources to the point where they can meet present human energy needs.  There is conflicting evidence around this point. 

George Monbiot in his passionate book “Heat” closely examines the potential of alternative energy sources in the UK and comes up short.  Yet his radical proposal for an “energy internet” has much promise, as it rests on the premise of localising self-sufficient power sources – the microgrid notion promoted by Greenpeace.  Such a proposal depends on a radical restructuring of transportation and trade systems.  The change in consciousness that would drive the political will to institute such steps has to be created and fostered – and rests on the “Failsafe” notion – see www.ianprattis.com/failsafe.htm 

I propose two realistic considerations for our reflections at this time.  First of all human energy needs must be drastically curtailed through collective action in the direction of Voluntary Simplicity.  Secondly, if the transition to efficient alternative energy sources is too slow, then it is essential to speed them up with massive investment in solar, wind and tidal power.  And combine this with an equally massive conservation ethic that is mandatory in terms of regulating energy efficiency and the selective harvesting of renewable energy.  Lovelock’s pragmatic option that nuclear power is required at the moment, as it interferes the least with Gaia’s capacity to sustain a habitable ecosystem, overlooks the fact that greenhouse gas emissions are created by uranium mining, industrial processing and the construction of nuclear power plants.  My reservations about Lovelock’s option have to do with nuclear waste and how it can be safely disposed of without a later planetary destruction.  There is, in my mind, a correlation between nuclear power and its direct association with weapons of mass destruction.  There is also a moral issue of responsibility to the future health of the earth system and all species upon it.  Lovelock’s pragmatic solution relies on a rationalized logic rather than ethics – and amounts to a Faustian bargain that entertains earth destruction.   The Earth has sustained our species but as we are presently at war with Gaia it cannot continue to sustain us.  This is a very simple insight.  Also a deadly one as it condemns the neglect brought about by the current paradigms that regulate our relationship to the Earth and to one another.