This article was first published by InDaily

COMMENT | For many years, I have enjoyed and respected the work of British journalist, author and environmentalist George Monbiot.

For a while, the tag line that accompanied his blog was this:

Tell people something they know already and they will thank you for it. Tell them something new and they will hate you for it.

I liked it. It spoke to something important. Endlessly self-reinforcing conversations may be fun for dinner parties with our friends, but they rarely play a role in moving the world to a better place. That requires much tougher conversations.

So it was with interest that I noted Monbiot’s gradual change in his longstanding opposition to nuclear power. It had much in common with my own journey.

I wasn’t very old when it began, just in my mid 20’s. I had already chucked in a perfectly solid career as a health professional to embrace sustainability as my new opus. I went in on the back of some inspirational reading, most notably North American sustainability stalwarts David Suzuki, Amory Lovins and Joe Romm. I made it through a Masters in Corporate Sustainability and into consulting, consumed all the way with a conviction that energy efficiency, sustainable production and consumption and renewable energy were going to grind unsustainable practices out of business.

A younger me, just starting in sustainability. Read my profile for the Future Environmental Leaders program
A younger me, just starting in sustainability. Read my profile for the 2005 Future Environmental Leaders program

Well, reality bats last and it was waiting for me as I specialised in climate change. As I embedded myself in information about climate science, energy, populations and economies, I grew despondent. It was clear that the challenge we faced in the climate change/energy nexus was not going to be remotely troubled by the Holy Trinity of green-approved solutions in energy efficiency, renewable energy and carbon trading and offsetting. All have much to offer. None, alone or together, could overcome the momentum of development, especially with legions of people forging better lives in developing nations. The strategies and ideas of my new profession were the presumption of making dirty energy expensive. The idea has merit but if isolated it brings huge political cost. We were missing a greater focus on providing clean energy that is plentiful, reliable and cheap.

I was badly stuck. Career number two was coming unglued under the weight of cognitive dissonance. The problem did not just beat my solutions. It squashed them and barely noticed.

That’s when the words of one of my student colleagues (not coincidentally a Frenchman) paid me a return visit. He had said “I don’t know why you make it so hard here. We just used nuclear power. If everyone had we would be clean, and all driving electric cars!”

I had ignored him at the time. Obviously, my brain had filed it under “Existential Sustainability Crisis”. With a quiet curiosity I set about to decide whether an answer might lie in the energy source I had not just ignored, but actively demonised.

A few years later I had my answers and they shamed me. Applying the same brand of scrutiny to this issue as I had to learning about climate change, I discovered that basically everything I thought I knew about nuclear power was wrong. It was undoubtedly the greatest single tool available to us in the fight against climate change, and my country had outlawed it. I was compelled to share what I had learned for a simple reason. Australia needs significant deployment of nuclear energy to respond adequately to climate change. Little else will do more than nibble the edges of our gross dependence on fossil fuels.

This pathway has been a fascinating journey. I have, at times, discovered what Monbiot meant about being hated for telling people something new. One of the many upsides is I have met some amazing people, including Academy-nominated film director Robert Stone. Robert and I clicked on an important point: planning climate change action on the presumption that people will not support nuclear energy is a mistake. We can bring people with us on this issue. I have learned this to my delight as I have been all over the country speaking to thousands of Australians. What I craved though was a way to scale up this effort, reach more people, and start a bigger conversation.

That’s why Robert’s new film, Pandora’s Promise, is so important. It brings the requisite scale to the most inconvenient of truths. It is those of us who have been championing the cause of our climate who must change our views on nuclear if we are to achieve the outcomes we seek.

They say truth hurts. It certainly did for me. Truth also sets us free. I relinquished an ideological opposition to nuclear power in exchange for an evidence-based understanding of it. This has been the most empowering step in my sustainability journey. I’m no longer about fighting. I’m about winning. I know we can win this, and make the world better than ever on the way.

George Monbiot, now a vocal proponent of the inclusion of nuclear energy in our climate change response, carried another tag line on his blog for a while, from Finley Peter Dunne: “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”.

Our environmental movement has grown comfortable and self-serving in its opposition to nuclear. In doing so it has ceased to serve us faithfully on the challenge of climate change. Please, see Pandora’s Promise. Be discomforted, and be freed.

Like what you see here? Please subscribe to the blog, Like Decarbonise SA on Facebook and follow BenThinkClimate on Twitter. Read more about the potential for nuclear power in Australia at Zero Carbon Options

 

13 comments

  1. Just got back from Pandora’s Promise hosted by another exsouthaussie Mark Duffett. The theatre was nearly full and there was a brief discussion including by people with declared Greens affiliations. I think there is an emerging consensus by those making the mental effort that wind, solar and efficiency will not replace coal. A telling point was that the energy consumption of smart phones means that hair shirt energy frugality may not be enough. Since we can’t get either SMRs or complete the build of big nukes for another decade what should we do in the meantime?

    The DVD was cheaper than $26 they wanted for takeaway fish and chips at the poncy cafe a few doors down the street. I’ll lend the DVD to some of my fellow bush dwellers. I hope it gets to free-to-air TV.

    1. Thanks for some insights to the evening John.

      The film was rejected by the ABC without explanation. That’s odd considering the generous media Robert has received from them this week. Perhaps they will reconsider.

      Presently CNN is the only network, globally, to show it. That will be Nov 7 in the US.

  2. John, reckon your take is pretty right. Sorry, should have invited you to join my wife and I for pizza at Marti Zucco’s! Also sorry that things had to wind up so quickly due to an incoming session, have been kicking myself for not publicly thanking the panellists properly, will have to make it up to them with a bottle of South Australia’s finest.

  3. ABC Landline ran a story on fracking for gas in the Cooper Basin
    http://www.abc.net.au/landline/content/2013/s3867778.htm
    They freely admit that after 40 years of conventional gas production the field was in its twilight years. Parts of the basin seem amenable to fracking at a depth of over 4000m, coincidentally similar to granite geothermal less than 100 km away. A bonus is the lack of NIMBY farmers.

    They suggest fracking will give Cooper Basin another 40 years supplying both Adelaide and Sydney as well as the export LNG facility under construction at Gladstone Qld. If fracking repeats the US experience of two good years per well that means thousands more wells need to be drilled in addition to the 700 or so existing conventional wells. That gas must have lower EROEI than before as well as increased demand. I suggest the fact SA can have 25-30% wind power in its electricity mix is due to around 45% flexible gas fired generation. The 1.28 Gw Torrens Island baseload station is Australia’s biggest gas user, getting gas from both the SA Cooper Basin and Vic Otway Basin.

    In addition to not being particularly low carbon gas from fracking the Cooper Basin will not be cheap. SA will soon need to find another source of dispatchable power. Back to coal?

  4. About 3 years ago SA resources minister Koutsantonis advocated a uranium enrichment industry. Now he appears to to have drunk the fracking Kool Aid. Read the article here.

    It seems an ‘energy revolution’ is heading SA’s way, all starting with that 2″ pipe on the wellhead shown in the link in the earlier post. Beats me how paying double = energy revolution.

  5. Funny thing about energy revolutions is they always seem to be just over the rainbow or in this case the outback. Using Google Earth I find that Australia’s first dry rock geothermal plant and Australia’s first producing fracked gas well are just 38 km apart. If I have the right well from the list given by Santos copy paste then placemark these co-ordinates into the Google Earth search box
    28°8’52.1″S 140°54’19.9″E
    For the Habanero geothermal plant copy paste these co-ords
    27.816068°S 140.754908°E then use the ruler tool to get the distance apart. There’s no electrical transmission lines nearby for hundreds of kilometres.

    Energy revolutions are all well and good but will either of them power a million Adelaide air conditioners when the sun goes down?

  6. Nuclear reactors are too expensive SA premier Jay Weatherill once said. However there seems to be no problem finding $40 billion for a dozen diesel powered submarines. My understanding is that few of the last batch of Adelaide built subs are currently operational due to faults. Perhaps those subs will be needed to protect offshore oil rigs though I’m not sure who the enemy is. Greenpeace?

    Consider diesel subs vs a pair of CANDUs with plenty of leftover change. According to the real power brokers it’s no contest.

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