The following bit of wisdom can be found adorning the bumpers and t-shirts of environmentalists everywhere.









It even get’s its own brand of cleaning products to make people feel a little better about something.








Seven generations… shall we call that 150 years?

Many of the same people who wear the t-shirt or buy the detergent will also either say, or find themselves nodding along to, a statement like this:

Nuclear waste needs to be managed for hundreds of thousands of years. This is contrary to notions of intergeneration equity.

The two statements are utterly irreconcilable. The statement credited to the Iroquois is the vastly wiser of the two for a very important reason.

It does not excessively prejudge either the needs or the capabilities of our distant descendants, thereby not unduly hindering our ability to make sensible decisions on both our behalf and their behalf today. If we can be confident in maintaining something safely for 150 or so years, we can consider our responsibility to future generations discharged. They have the right to make their own decisions, and they will almost certainly be better equipped to handle challenges.

Right now, a 150 year time frame of continuing fossil fuel dependence spells catastrophe for coming generations. Deployment of nuclear fission in exchange for spent nuclear fuel that we already know how to both store and recycle, has the power to kill that dependence.

The bumper sticker is right. We are just screwing up the interpretation and application.  



  1. Surely the time between generations is the average age of parents when their middle child is born, or halfway between the births of their two middle children.

    If 150 years is seven generations, that implies an average two-child family has the first child when the parents’ ages average 21.4 less a year or so, and the second when the parents’ ages average 21.4 plus that same year-or-so.

    I think seven generations is more like 210 years.

  2. You are so right about the longevity of the problem, and the short-sightedness of the popular Rousseau-pastoral-Romantic supposed solutions to it. Kelvin accurately described the power and longevity of the Sun as the most worthy subject of all in his speciality, thermodynamics. He was unequipped with the solution to the problem. We are so much more fortunate than he.

  3. About the statement “Nuclear waste needs to be managed for hundreds of thousands of years. This is contrary to notions of intergeneration equity.”

    It is FALSE.
    It is in practice a consequence of a stupid law made during the Jimmy Carter – Al Gore administration, forbidding the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel in the USA. It was a consequence of Carter’s belief that plutonium is a temptation to warmongers, and that the USA should set an example of not separating it. But the correct way todeal with plutonium is similar to the correct way of dealing with the inflammable methane and other hydrocarbons associated with petroleum extraction. Use it as a fuel.

    More specifically, any breeder reactor is equipped to produce only short-lived fission product waste, and the lifetime and quantity of such waste is thousands or millions of times less problem than from any other practical source of energy.

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