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Environment

Eco-Pragmatism Takes Root at NYT Editorial Page

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorMay 2, 2014 10:44 PM

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This is notable:

The dangers of nuclear power are real, but the accidents that have occurred, even Chernobyl, do not compare to the damage to the earth being inflicted by the burning of fossil fuels — coal, gas and oil.

That's from an editorial in today's New York Times, which will make for uncomfortable reading for environmental organizations still very much opposed to nuclear power. One of those is the Riverkeeper, a respected New York based group that keeps watch over the Hudson River. One of their big campaigns is to close Indian Point, a 40-year old nuclear power plant that sits on the Hudson shoreline, about 30 miles from Manhattan. Indian point supplies approximately 25 percent of the electricity used in New York City and surrounding suburbs. Can all that juice be replaced by renewable energy and efficiency gains, as the Riverkeeper and otherscontend? Highly debatable, but that doesn't mean you still can't close Indian Point. New York's governor Andrew Cuomo said in 2011:

There is no doubt that we need replacement power if we are to close Indian Point. There is also no doubt that we can find it.

Sure, if you throw in natural gas as part of the energy replacement equation. Ah, but that would involve fracking, which is not happening in New York anytime soon. Of course, this doesn't mean New Yorkers can't still benefit from cheap fracked natural gas piped in from other states. As a New York Times columnist observed several years ago about the battle over Indian Point's future:

We don’t want gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. We don’t want windmills off Cape Cod. We don’t want anything to do with coal or with a liquefied natural gas project like Broadwater in the Long Island Sound, but we want our infinite genie of infinite energy.

In the age of climate change, we can't afford this kind of BANANA behavior, even when it comes to aging nuclear reactors, today's New York Timeseditorial argues: After all, the time when clean energy "can replace all fossil and nuclear fuels is still far off, and in the meantime nuclear energy remains an important means of generating electricity without adding to the steadily increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere." In these kinds of contentious debates, especially the climate one, few people like to talk about the tradeoffs. (Those that do are often called sell-outs or phony greens by the purists.) It's much easier to keep the focus on villainous climate deniers and merchants of doubt. But that is "a dangerous game to play," George Marshall warned last year:

Climate change will never win with enemy narratives. Once unleashed, they take on a life of their own and come back to bite us, and we will find ourselves written in to replace our chosen enemies. As climate impacts intensify there will be a lot of confusion, blame and anger looking for a target, and enemy narratives provide the frame for scapegoats. The best chance for climate change to beat enemy narratives is to refuse to play this partisan game at all. We are all responsible. We are all involved and we all have a stake in the outcome. We are all struggling to resolve our concern and our responsibility for our contributions. Narratives need to be about co-operation on common ground – and solutions need to be presented that can speak to the common concerns and aspirations of all people.

Can common ground be built on an energy solution that includes nuclear power and a less polluting fossil fuel, such as natural gas (if it can be made safer to the environment)? Some on the green side are doing the thankless groundwork. Who knows, maybe that bridge to a clean energy future will still get built, after all.

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