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Bypassing the Climate Divide

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJanuary 11, 2011 8:19 PM


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Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus of the Breakthrough Institute advance their argument for a "third pathway" in the energy/climate debate. The two dominant sides, they assert, have 

constructed increasingly baroque fantasies of the other. To partisan greens, skeptics are fossil fuel-funded and brainwashed planet killers too stingy to spend a postage stamp a day to save the world from imminent apocalypse. To the partisan skeptic, greens seeking emissions caps are crypto-socialist watermelons whose policies would destroy the global economy and rapidly goosestep us into U.N. governance. Those who fit into neither frame are squeezed in one camp or the other by those who believe that if you are not with us, then you must be against us. The result? A Manichean debate with essentially no room for a third view.

The authors make a forceful pitch for nuclear power as the bridge technology that can unite disparate forces to the cause of fossil-fuel free energy--if only the main antagonists could get past their dark suspicions and sweeping rejection of each other:

Nuclear power is today being embraced by individuals such as Stewart Brand, who holds an apocalyptic view of global warming, as well as by George Will, who doubts anthropogenic global warming is in fact occurring. Must their motivations align before we make the necessary investments to make nuclear power cheaper, safer and cleaner?

It's going to take a lot more than a few uncommon bedfellows to overcome the deeply ingrained opposition to nuclear power by greens. On that note, consider this passage in the Shellenberger & Nordhaus essay:

Many of the climate scientists most alarmed by global warming were making the case to their friends in the green movement that scaling up nuclear power was critical to reducing emissions, since renewables remain expensive and difficult to scale. "One of the greatest dangers the world faces," NASA climate scientist James Hansen said, "is the possibility that a vocal minority of antinuclear activists could prevent phase-out of coal emissions."

I'd like to know who "many of these climate scientists" are other than Hansen. Because I have to wonder: if there were a good number of prominent climate scientists as vocally supportive of nuclear power as Hansen, I bet the anti-nuclear stance by many greens would melt away as fast as some of the world's glaciers are now melting.

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