Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Monday, June 19, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth: Gore doesn't even say the word "nuclear"

I saw An Inconvenient Truth on Sunday. It's great, and you should see it if you haven't already. Gore engagingly (yes, engagingly) surveys the latest research on climate change, research that has made a lot of progress since the last time I studied it, about ten years ago. I think the biggest impact of the film (I hope, at least) is that journalists will realize that they no longer have to "balance" their coverage by citing the fringe pseudo-scientists who question the overwhelming scientific consensus. Gore very effectively demonstrates that there is absolutely no credible difference of opinion about the facts of global warming.

Anyhow, what I was really struck by was the fact that Gore didn't once mention nuclear power. Since it's largely how so many European and other nations have reduced their carbon emissions, it seems odd and conspicuous that he ignored it.

Perhaps he thought a discussion about nuclear power would be too complicated (he has, after all, given this lecture hundreds or thousands of times over the years), but it seems like a lost opportunity. He had an audience of engaged people who might still think of nuclear technology from the 80s as the standard, who hear "nuclear power" and think either "Chernobyl" or "Homer Simpson." He had an opportunity to change the debate about nuclear power, and he skipped it. I wonder why.


Environmental journalist David Roberts explains why in the comments below: nuclear power is just a bad idea. For one thing, it could only be used on a small scale, for various reasons elaborated in this excellent article (basically, we would quickly run out of uranium and the alternatives to uranium just wouldn't work on a large scale).

Apparently, as Gore himself explained in this interview with Roberts in May, "There are serious problems [with nuclear power] that have to be solved, and they are not limited to the long-term waste-storage issue and the vulnerability-to-terrorist-attack issue. Let's assume for the sake of argument that both of those problems can be solved. We still have other issues. For eight years in the White House, every weapons-proliferation problem we dealt with was connected to a civilian reactor program. And if we ever got to the point where we wanted to use nuclear reactors to back out a lot of coal -- which is the real issue: coal -- then we'd have to put them in so many places we'd run that proliferation risk right off the reasonability scale."

So now my only gripe with Gore's omission of the word nuclear is that if I was under the impression that nuclear power is a viable solution to global warming, then a lot of other well-intentioned people probably are, too, so it would have been worth debunking that myth while he had our attention.


  • At 4:59 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Steve Gilliard wrote a while ago that the nuclear industry's biggest public-relations problem in the U.S. was not Chernobyl or Three Mile Island but Homer Simpson. That sounds about right.

  • At 5:37 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Oh that's funny, I deleted a sentence about Homer in this post. I couldn't decide if he was good or bad. I mean, he's so loveable.

  • At 5:42 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    I just edited accordingly.

  • At 8:17 PM, Blogger Emma B said…

    I second your praise of Gore's film. First of, how brilliant for a politician to make a film? It's pretty great because it allowed him to develop arguments in a way that he never could in the national media, since they never give anyone enough time to say anything of worth of depth in the national debates. Also, I never really understood why people though Gore was stiff or dull in the first place. Maybe his sense of humor is a little dry, but I always sorta appreciated that about him. Anyone with me?

  • At 9:53 PM, Anonymous David Roberts said…

    Solomon, the nuclear industry's new spin is that all nuclear opponents are crusty old hippies stuck in the 70s and 80s. I'm sorry to see you falling for it. Aside from the many, many problems faced by nuclear power (the economics were, and are, awful), the simple fact is that it couldn't, even under the most ideal projections, back out more than a small fraction of our energy needs. Not shouldn't -- couldn't.

    Some links.

    First, a paper by David Fleming called "Why nuclear power cannot be a major energy source." I really encourage you and your readers to check it out.

    Second, I interviewed Al Gore about the movie, and he specifically discussed nuclear power. His take is basically the same as mine: nuclear won't be a big player in our energy future.

    Third, the only solutions Gore mentions in the movie come from a now-famous paper in Science by two guys names Socolow and Pacala -- here it is. It's good reading if you can find a full copy.

    I know I'm basically pissing in the wind trying to slow down the latest storm of nuclear industry boosterism. The industry and its administration helpers are pushing it hard and it's probably inevitable that we'll waste a great deal of time and money on it. But in the end, it's only a distraction. Feel free to email me or drop by Gristmill for more on all this.

  • At 11:45 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Solomon's enthusiasm for nuclear power is largely my fault, I suspect. I argued him into it a while back. You've now persuaded me mostly the other way; thanks for the information.

  • At 12:16 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Eeek, OK, I'm convinced, as well. Plus I will admit to being suckered by Antid Oto, who's usually my go-to guy on environmental issues, into supporting pebble-bed nuclear plants. Clearly he just wanted me to embarrass myself in front of respected environmental journalists like you. Goes to show that I should never again go against my red diaper instincts.

    Emma B, I am totally with you on Gore's sly and dry charm. He's had a nice, self-deprecating sense of humor his whole career. In the movie I liked his lines about his old science teacher and about being the former next president of the United States. Tonight on MSNBC's "The Countdown," Gay American Keith Olberman asked Gore a conspiracy theory question about whether the Bushies faked documents they claimed to have found in Zarqawi's HQ, and Gore just looked at him for a second like "are you really as crazy and stupid as I think you are?" before patiently and cheerfully responding.

    I also noticed in the film that in college Gore was a cutie.

  • At 1:45 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    ...and I edited the post to incorporate the very good points you (DR) made.

  • At 2:59 AM, Blogger Emma B said…

    College Cutie? Hell YEAH! I'd do that pot-smokin college boy any day of the week. Yet another reason to admire his politics...

  • At 3:00 AM, Blogger Emma B said…

    I mean the cutie-ness, not the pot smokie-ness, which is kind of a big turn off in any one over the age of 15.

  • At 11:52 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Here's a link to that Countdown appearance.


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