Nuclear energy splits environmentalists

Written by  //  June 25, 2007  //  Environment & Energy, Nuclear  //  No comments

Jun 25th 2007
Environmentalism has begun to splinter

AMONG the many targets of “The Life of Brian”, a satirical Monty Python film, is the tendency of radical left-wing political movements to splinter….

The environmental movement–which, at least at first, shared many of its members with the far left–had until recently managed to avoid a similar fate. Over issues ranging from acid rain to deforestation, nuclear power to air pollution, the greens presented a unified front, arguing for better regulation of the various industries and human activities that damage the planet.

… Diesel engines produce less carbon dioxide than do petrol ones, so some greens want to see the use of diesel fuel encouraged. But diesel also emits more carcinogenic particles, earning the ire of campaigners for cleaner urban air. Finally, there… is much debate among environmentalists as to whether plant-derived biofuels are a good thing (since they emit no extra carbon into the air) or a bad thing (since producing them can involve deforestation).

But perhaps the biggest rift is over nuclear power. Here, disagreements reach the most rarefied levels. James Lovelock, a chemist who invented the Gaia hypothesis (the earth is a balance of interdependent mechanisms) and is godfather to a generation of greens, provoked much anger and soul-searching in 2004 when he declared that nuclear power offered the only credible solution to climate change… .Equally.influential organisations such as Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace preach the traditional anti-atomic doctrine.

Caught in the crossfire, many of the green movement’s foot-soldiers are tormented by doubts. Many will tell you that their own attitudes have shifted from outright opposition to nuclear power a few years ago to grudging acquiescence as the scale of the climate-change problem has become apparent.

… But politics is a dirty business, and getting things done often requires compromising high principles for the sake of practicality. The hard left was fractious because, fundamentally, their bickering didn’t matter. The environmental movement is becoming fractious because it does.

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