Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Green Heretic

In Australia we have the remarkable phenomenon of a small Green Party tail wagging the dog of the mighty Australian Labor Party. The greens say jump and Prime Minister Gillard asks how high. At the behest of the greens an extremely unpopular "carbon tax" has been introduced to do what exactly? No one knows. If the Greens in Australia really wanted to do something about making Australia "carbon neutral" they would impose massive tariffs on coal exports to China, they would be opposed to immigration, in favour of GM foods and they would be strongly pro nuclear power. At least this is the argument that Mark Lynas makes in his interesting new book The God Species. He argues that greens opposed to nuclear and GM foods are muddle headed, essentially unserious people. 
Who is Mark Lynas? He's maybe the most important writer, journalist and green thinker in the UK. His green credentials are first rate: he's been writing, blogging and campaigning on green issues for a decade. He's certainly no environmental skeptic: he's looked carefully at the evidence and is convinced that the planet is getting warmer and the reason for this is the pumping of fossil fuels into the atmosphere. But now he's seen as a heretic amongst greens because he says that nuclear power is the only answer to the problem of carbon pollution. What about windmills, solar, tidal, other renewables? Well Lynas has run the numbers and thinks that these are pipe dreams. They will never be able to provide enough energy for a developing planet.
In part the book is one big mea culpa, because it was Lynas who for many years led the green attack on nuclear power and GM foods in the UK. He has now had a Damascene conversion and is promoting nuclear with the the zeal of a convert. He accuses greens who oppose nuclear & GM of being shortsighted at best and blind prejudiced at worst. Lynas is certainly a bit more pessimistic about climate change than I am, and I think the real future is probably going to be in nuclear fusion (not dangerous fast breeder fission reactors) but his book is food for thought.  The Guardian has a nice review of it here and the comments underneath show just how strongly people feel about Lynas and his change of heart on nuclear energy.