George Monbiot, Britain's most popular environmental writer, has arrested himself. Four prominent climate scientists recently issued a pleading letter to greens to stop opposing nuclear power. And now an influential non-profit that for years has focused on climate change is all but begging that we not close down aging nuclear reactors. What the hell is going on? I can't wait for James Hansen and his fellow pro-nuclear, climate-concerned greens to face off against the anti-nuclear, climate-concerned greens outside one such aging nuclear power plant that a popular Democratic governor wants to shut down. Imagine this scene: The pro-nuke climate activists chaining themselves to the fence of the nuclear plant, protesting in favor of carbon-free nuclear power. Or imagine this: A joint statement from the Group of Ten--a loose network consisting of the biggest, most established environmental organizations--vowing to enthusiastically embrace nuclear power to help solve the climate problem. (Why a joint statement? Because no major green group is likely to go out on a limb by itself.) Perhaps the foundation for such a large-scale conversion is being established with the steady drip of individual converts. Or maybe not, CNNsuggested last year:
Are we witnessing the birth of a mutiny within the environmental movement? Will typical 21st-century environmentalists eventually embrace the power of the atom? A leading environmental group opposed to nuclear power says no. "I don't think it's very significant that a few people have changed their minds about nuclear power," said Ralph Cavanagh of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Well, it's more than a few people, but I take his point. Let's be honest. At this stage, the green movement is somewhat like the Democratic party just before Bill Clinton became president: Stale, rudderless, and unable to offer a compelling vision for the future. (The collapse of civilization has a nice ring to it, but it's no I have a dream.) If environmentalists had been wise, they would have spent the green-friendly Obama years reinventing their brand. (If Radio Shack can do it, anyone can.) Instead, they've been content to snarl at the usual enemies (say no to oil and gas! ) and coalesce around climate change as the movement's signature issue of the day. What has that vision for the future looked like?
Don't worry, there's still time to avoid imminent planetary collapse, kinda, sorta. But only if we act now! (The above image is from this cheery learning module.) You get the gist. Look, I'm not sure if pro-nuclear greens will ever overcome the fright factor of a technology that includes the occasional Fukushima. But if eco-pessimists continue to shape the green message, painting a relentlessly grim portrait of the future, then I wouldn't expect people to rally around that, either. Besides, that's the picture (over-population, global famines, ecocide, etc) that's been painted over the past forty years. The shock value of it has worn off. It's time to paint a new picture.