By Nancy Spannaus
On the eve of the United Nations’ climate conference COP26, I feel compelled to address the fundamental issue at stake in the debate over what is called global energy policy. That issue is actually not an energy policy as such, but the following: Are we committed to the welfare of the people on this planet, and the generations to follow? If so, we as a global community will embark on a crash program for expansion of nuclear power.
The ugly truth is that the series of global conferences devoted to climate change have generally served as a platform for precisely the opposite policy. One of the most flagrant examples came at the COP15 conference in Copenhagen in 2009, when the British Malthusians at the Optimum Population Trust (now reincarnated as Population Matters) were given a leading position to promote their call for reducing the world’s population to 5 billion people. It’s people who are the problem, these Malthusians insist, and if we can just reduce their numbers, the rest of us can enjoy life. The late Prince Philip, a founder of the World Wildlife Fund, encapsulated the outlook perfectly in an interview with Deutsche Press Agentur in 1988, when he said he wished to be reincarnated as a deadly virus, in order to deal with “overpopulation.”
Can we recognize calls for genocide when we see them?
Nor has this anti-people ideology disappeared from the discussions of what to do about global warming, although now, thanks to the reactions from many developing sector nations against calls for population control, it is generally disguised as “helping and educating women.” Indeed, two of the leading campaigners against alleged “excess population” are addressing the COP26 event this week: keynote speaker Prince Charles (who follows in his father’s footsteps) and Sir David Attenborough, patron of the above-mentioned Optimum Population Trust. They claim that there are “too many people,” and that having more people damages the environment they want to save.
We have to face reality. A program purporting to deal with global warming through the reliance on inefficient, environment-destroying power sources (like solar and wind “renewables’) puts us smack on the path of that depopulation policy (although, of course, most self-identified environmentalists don’t recognize it). Mankind’s welfare depends upon a massive expansion of electric power, which is required to eliminate poverty and develop the non-polluting, life-saving technologies of the future. And the only form of energy which currently has the potential to do this is nuclear power.
If we are really interested in preserving humanity and enhancing its future, our international conferences should be devoted to a crash program to expand nuclear energy, now!
People Are Wealth
This fight has ancient roots. One can read about it, for example, in Aeschylus’s play Prometheus Bound, when the playwright dramatized Zeus’s rage at Prometheus for bringing knowledge of technology (“fire”) to mankind. Oligarchs, who see themselves as gods, are traditionally committed to controlling populations through “culling the herd,” and denying technological advance and learning to those they consider too stupid to make decisions. To these oligarchs, wealth is a matter of owning land, minerals, and money, and controlling the fate of their subjects.
The republican tradition, on the other hand, has fought for an expansion of intelligence and knowledge for all people, being firmly convinced that it is the God-given creative spark in each individual that is the source of wealth. It is mankind’s intellect that allowed us to turn a shiny rock into an energy source (coal), and eventually uncovered the secrets of the atom, thus opening up the potential for wielding vast power for the good of mankind. Every human being is a potential asset for all the rest of us, assuming we nourish him or her as the valuable person he or she is.
The American System, which this blog champions, has stood firmly in this anti-Malthusian, pro-progress tradition. Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Henry Carey, and Abraham Lincoln – to name only a few – proceeded from this standpoint. They understood that improving the conditions of people — physically, culturally, and morally — was the pathway to increased wealth, and a better future for all.
When the secrets of the atom were discovered in the 20th century, including during the work on the atomic bomb, the scientists involved looked at nuclear power precisely this way. Nuclear energy held the potential to revolutionize power production, offer life-saving medical treatments, and clean the environment. But only a few of these benefits have been permitted to materialize, thanks to the overwhelming power of financial powers devoted to maintaining their control.
In fact, the demonization of nuclear energy has been destructive to the very environment the anti-nuclear lobby says it wants to save. The switch to solar and wind in Germany, for example, has led to an increase in the need to rely on fossil fuels, which are needed when the sun doesn’t shine, and the wind doesn’t blow. Overall, according to researcher Michael Shellenberger, you can thank the environment movement for the fact that the share of the world’s energy supply provided by fossil fuels remains the same as it was in 1980.
And now, in the name of saving the planet, many of the world’s leaders are going along with plans to kill the energy source upon which the world’s future depends. Indeed, the organizers of COP26 have even refused to give the International Atomic Energy Agency a place in the main section of the COP26 conference, because the IAEA’s president Rafael Grossi plans to promote nuclear energy as a vital part of addressing climate change.
Why Nuclear Power?
It is appalling that it’s still necessary to educate the world’s population on the superior quality of nuclear power, but a short summary is obviously in order.
First, on the scientific level, it can be demonstrated that nuclear fission has the greatest level of energy density of any power source, thus allowing it to do more work per unit space, use up fewer resources (including land and labor), and be less polluting. (see chart)
Second, the record shows that nuclear energy has been the safest form of power production mankind has devised. No one has been killed in a commercial nuclear reactor accident, and the lack of such clean nuclear energy has driven people to rely on polluting fuels (such as burning dung) that kill millions a year. In this sense, you can actually put some blame on the environmental movement (heavily financed by big oil and gas) for many of the problems they now seek to solve. Nuclear has also shown itself to be the most reliable and efficient form of generating electric power. (See chart)
Third, nuclear fission is the only currently available energy source that can fill the huge power deficit mankind faces, in areas ranging from providing reliable electric power to the nearly one billion people who still lack it, to revolutionizing transportation with electrically powered high-speed rail, and much more. Yes, there are new generations of small modular reactors, and recent breakthroughs in thermonuclear fusion power research, that hold great promise, and are even safer, cleaner, and more efficient than the current plants. But our nuclear fission plants are performing at 92% efficiency and producing carbon-free electricity reliably and well. Current plants need to be saved; new ones can be built rapidly and even more cheaply, given a determined policy commitment by governments.
This reality has begun to sink in in parts of the “environmental” community, and in many governments around the world, even those previously anti-nuclear. Japan is reopening its nuclear plants. France has halted its plans to downgrade nuclear, and it’s now even possible to speak about nuclear power in places like Italy, which has no nuclear plants at all. China, of course, is going great guns, and many African nations are looking to nuclear. In the United States, state-level actions have saved some nuclear plants which subsidies for “renewables” have consigned to unprofitability, and the Biden Administration remains officially positive, but there has been no concerted move in the right direction.
Thus, there is a real danger that COP26 will bring us a huge step backwards by acting to shut down the fossil fuel power sources on which billions of people depend, without replacing them with a reliable energy source. We urgently need to get our priorities straight. Let us save humanity by a global campaign for nuclear power.
Nancy Spannaus is the author of Hamilton Versus Wall Street: The Core Principles of the American System of Economics where this article was first published.
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