Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Nuclear power keeps the corporates in charge. No wonder it's conservatives' preferred solution to climate change

(The Guardian) Nuclear power keeps the corporates in charge. No wonder it's conservatives' preferred solution to climate change

“I have no theological objection” to nuclear power, Tony Abbott said on 1 December, responding to Julie Bishop’s relaunch of the right’s preferred “solution” to global warming this week.

Abbott’s choice of words is fascinating. On the face of it he’s suggesting that opposing nuclear power is a faith-based, rather than rational, view. But it is the right’s consistent promotion of a technology that has been shown repeatedly to be too slow, too costly and too risky (see, for instance, here and here) that is underpinned by several right wing articles of faith.


It’s worth unpacking this credo, because it reveals what’s really going on when nuclear power is raised.

The first tenet is a truly theological one, based on a one-eyed reading of the Bible:

“And God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

The US Christian right has long promoted this line from Genesis 1:28 as a Biblical critique of environmentalism. God is telling them, they believe, that we humans are entitled to do whatever we like with the Earth and its resources. There is, of course, a very different Biblical view. Thea Ormerod of the Australian religious response to climate change, among others, talks of the concept of “stewardship”, and the responsibility to look after God’s creation.

But the “dominion mandate” dovetails so neatly with the modern industrial idea that humanity is separate from and dominant over nature that it has become a powerful aspect of the western materialist creation story.

Nuclear power fits perfectly within a world view that sees splitting the atom as the apogee of human dominance over nature. Given its enormous and persistent waste problem, nuclear power is only acceptable if you believe that it is our right to pollute as we please.

Abbott has explicitly referred to the dominion mandate, most notably in a speech about forestry early this year. Clearly, this theology influences his views on nuclear power.

The second tenet is not canonical, unless you believe Jesus was making an ironic statement when he threw the money-lenders out of the temple. But the increasingly blind faith Abbott and his ilk invest in corporate capitalism has developed a distinctly theological aura.

While it is reasonable to reject climate science, and acceptable to deny declining reef health, it is heresy to question whether handing ever more power to corporate interests will benefit the rest of us.

The privatisation of profit and socialisation of risk inherent in nuclear power only makes economic sense if you believe in the divine right of corporations. With multi-billion dollar cost blowouts in construction and decommissioning, the refusal of private insurance companies to cover risk, and a waste stream that will need to be managed for many times longer than our civilisation has so far existed, it’s basically a complex wealth transfer from citizens to corporations.

Nuclear power’s great attraction for those who subscribe to this particular faith is that it would maintain the corporate grip on energy infrastructure at a time when diversified and distributed renewable energy systems threaten to democratise energy supply.

Energy regulators the world over are facing increasingly panicked demands from beleaguered fossil fuel companies to staunch the loss of market share as more and more people realise that solar power makes sense. In parts of the USA, there are even proposals to make going off the grid illegal. In this context, nuclear power is a godsend.

The final tenet is the central one of conservative faith - that change is difficult, dangerous and unnecessary. This, as Naomi Klein’s latest book, This Changes Everything, points out is what makes climate change so threatening for the right. The clear message of accelerating global warming caused by the fuels that have allowed industrial consumerist capitalism to develop is that we have to change direction.

If you want to deal with climate change – but your world view won’t let you contemplate changing the way we use energy, the way we consume, the way our society is structured – nuclear power provides a neat solution. It suggests that we can tackle climate change without really changing anything.

A pity it’s not true. Not even the International Energy Agency believes it. But then neither, frankly, do many of its advocates.

Spruiking nuclear power, for many on the right, is not about actually promoting its use. It’s far more important as a weapon in the culture war, promoting an idea which buttresses their three key articles of faith: that “man” has dominion over nature; that corporate might makes right; and that change must be avoided.

Opposition to nuclear power is, I would emphasise, a rational position. The evidence is stacked against it. A suite of renewable energy options can be rolled out faster and cheaper and more safely, and they can supply our energy needs - so long as we also change our profligate lifestyles.

But it is also an ethical position, based on a particular world-view; a view that we humans need to stop living as if there is no tomorrow, or there will be no tomorrow; a view that we can and should live as though all of us on this planet, human and non-human, now and in the future, matter.

Support for nuclear power is based on a world-view, but it doesn’t have the benefit of also being backed by rational arguments. It is simply a fantasy of the right, a convenient prop they occasionally produce to pretend we can address climate change while changing nothing, and a weapon in their culture war.

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