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How Much Do You Love James Hansen? - Sierra Daily
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Sierra Daily

Jan 24, 2011

How Much Do You Love James Hansen?


Ordinarily, the Sierra Club loves him plenty. We loved him enough to put him on our "fantasy roster" of all-star university professors. We loved him when he wrote to President Barack Obama declaring that "Coal plants are factories of death." We loved him when he got arrested protesting mountaintop-removal coal mining in West Virginia.

So keeping in mind all that love, read what he wrote in response to the New York Times Andrew Revkin's plea for suggestions for what President Obama should say about energy in his State of the Union address. (Full version here.)

. . . It is both a moral issue and a question of where the United States will stand in the future. Our economic standing is going to become second class this century if we do not move smartly toward a clean energy future.

No where is the lame middle-of-the-road go-slow compromise approach clearer than in the case of nuclear power. The Administration has been reluctant to admit that the Carter and Clinton/Gore administrations made a huge mistake in pulling the U.S. back from development of advanced nuclear technology.

That is the way to make nuclear power safer (nuclear power already has the best safety record of any major industry in the United States) and resistant to weapons proliferation. The approach to nuclear power is to take a few baby steps with current technology. People such as Bill Gates are despairing at the lack of leadership in Washington — investing his own money in development of advanced reactor designs.

But even Bill Gates does not have enough money to make up for the lack of dynamic leadership in Washington. If we took advantage of our brainpower (which is rapidly aging!), we could still be the leader in developing safer clean energy for the future and producing a better future for our children, rather than going after the last drop of oil in pristine environments, off-shore, in the tar sands. It is such a purblind foolish approach. We need someone with the courage to stand up to the special interests who have hamstrung U.S. policy, including the minority of anti-nukes who have controlled the energy policy of the Democratic party. . . . Nevertheless, the easiest thing that he could do, and perhaps the best that we can hope for, is for him to give a strong boost to nuclear power.

Unfortunately, he seems to fall prey to Democratic politics on this, rather than being a responsible leader.


Sierra Daily commenters did not take kindly to to Thursday's post in which Scientific American's David Biello suggested that getting off fossil fuels might mean a world in which solar farms and wind turbines were "a common feature of many landscapes and seascapes." Here's what he had to say about the challenge of nuclear power:  

Just to supply one-quarter of its current energy mix from a resource that emits far fewer greenhouse gases — nuclear power — the U.S. would need to build 1,000 one-gigawatt nuclear reactors by 2050. Yet construction has begun on only two nuclear reactors in the U.S. since 1974. And just to power an electric car and truck fleet to replace the U.S.’s current gas and ethanol-fueled one would require 500 new nuclear power plants.

This is not to advocate for building 500 nukes or covering New Hampshire with wind turbines. But the United States uses a lot of energy, and at present renewables (including hydropower and ethanol) provide only 8 percent of our energy needs. Sure, we could get more energy efficient, but as BBC environment correspondent Richard Black points out, many increases in technological efficiency are matched by increased consumer demand. Refrigerators get more efficient, and people decide they want two. Auto fuel efficiency has improved, but fuel consumption keeps going up. Somethings got to give.

--Paul Rauber 

Photos: Arnold Adler, iStock 

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