Nuclear Pollution

The Climate Movement in Its Own Way

After decades of critically documenting nuclear power’s outsize costs, I finally admitted to myself that the carbon-reduction benefits from continuing to run US nuclear plants are substantial, and in some respects irreplaceable. I made the case for keeping them open in an April article on TheNation.com.

Closing New York’s Indian Point reactors last year was a climate blunder, I wrote. Not just because fraced gas is now filling the breach, but because the need to replace the lost carbon-free power means that new wind and solar farms won’t drive emissions down further. California, facing the same equation, should shelve its plan to shutter the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in 2024, I said.

“Total bullshit,” a lifelong anti-nuker wrote me. “You should be ashamed.” More representative of the comments, though, was this: “Continued reliance on nuclear power going forward now is part of the price of our collective past failures.”

Amen. The failures propping up US carbon emissions are multiple. Not just Senator Joe Manchin, who torpedoed President Biden’s Build Back Better clean-energy legislation. Not just the Senate Republicans, any one of whom could have cast the critical 50th vote needed to help it pass. And not just Big Carbon, whose dark money and disinformation perpetuate climate inaction.

Through its own poor choices, the climate movement is failing as well.

Too many of our climate campaigns are ill-considered. Too much of our agenda is narrow-gauged. Too often, our lens for assessing climate proposals is ideological rather than pragmatic.

Consider the decade-long campaign to induce pension funds and banks to divest their fossil fuel holdings. Is Big Oil shamed and starved for new capital today? Not with roaring demand for oil and gas. US vehicles, super-sized, account for about 10 percent of worldwide petroleum consumption. Yet challenges to American motordom come mostly from outgunned cycling and transit campaigners, not the climate movement.

Now, with most federal action blocked, climate have sought and won a ban on heat gas in new buildings in New York City, though they failed in their first push for a statewide ban.

The drive to “electrify everything” is laudable, given that electricity can be decarbonized whereas gas furnaces and stoves cannot. Yet trying to take the ban statewide elbowed aside bolder ideas, such as legalizing accessory dwelling units and stopping highway widenings.

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