Sunday, 18 October 2015

Why do greens really oppose nuclear power and GMOs?

Greens oppose nuclear power because it can provide plentiful energy not because it's an existential threat to human life.

Yet greens promote fears about safety and nuclear proliferation when they campaign against nuclear power. It would seem I'm wrong! Or am I? Here's my rationale:

If the real reason greens opposed nuclear power was safety and weapons proliferation fears, they would be consistent. They would oppose genome technology too. That's because it's cheaper and easier to apply genomic techniques to create WMD. Greens don't oppose genome tech as such, but they oppose one result of genome technology :- GMOs. What do GMOs and nuclear power have in common? They are technologies of plenty. One offers plentiful energy, the other plentiful food. What possible motive could greens have for opposing plentiful energy/food? One reason stands out: fear of overpopulation. Fear of overpopulation is a perennial green fear reaching back 200 years to the start of green ideas (with Thomas Malthus). It's a kind a Ur green concern. Their overpopulation fear works like so: the more resources humanity has, the more we can consume, the easier we can populate. So according to this Malthusian view, greens should take the long view. That means opposing technologies of plenty because, in this long view, greens hope to slow down the economy, and save the environment from humanity. They understood energy was a key resource and believed it would lead to more environment destruction. Much of this is 'understood' in a quite irrational, fearful way.

"If you ask me, it’d be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it."
— Amory Lovins: key early anti-nuclear power thinker, and renewable energy guru, 1977

Of course, many greens are just hoodwinked into thinking opposition to nuclear power/GMOs is about safety and environmental protection. I'm not proposing that the majority of greens campaign over overpopulation fears. Yet it's also clear the greens have no consistent principles when opposing nuclear power. Hard-core anti-nukes, for instance, will apply any Gish Gallop. They will promote any anti-nuclear power argument they think works. Internet anti-nukes will often cut 'n' paste into a discussion any old anti-nuclear power argument; mostly without bothering to read what they post. Nor can one normally engage such people in a dialogue about what their real concerns are. Then there's the green organizations :- almost as hodge-podge in picking out anti-nuclear power arguments as their supporters. Neither supporters nor organizations have ever produced a convincing argument that nuclear power is environmentally bad, in the conventional sense. It is in fact, the cleanest, safest energy technology we have available.

Why do greens need to go this roundabout route to oppose GMOs and nuclear power? Why can't they be honest and upfront over their fears of overpopulation? Two, or three reasons. First it's politically incorrect to raise the issue of overpopulation. Second, because if they told the public their opposition to GMOs and nuclear power was based on opposition to plentiful energy/food, they'd get no public support. Greens themselves find it politically incorrect, so they can't even bring the issue up even if the feel it. On a practical political level, it's just far easier for greens to oppose things by kicking up safety concerns. Scaring people out of their skins works to get a minority of fanatical supporters on your side, and makes many other people very queasy about an issue.

We've long known that wealth and plenty lead to declining birth rates, that poverty leads families to have lots of children. Hans Rosling, The Overpopulation Myth. If greens were really about protecting the environment by reducing population growth, evidence shows they should support plentiful energy not less energy.


  1. For some of the greens the dangers of overpopulation are a fundamentally frightening prospect. Until recently, it was that for me, too. Back in the (USA) '60s and '70s the anti-war movement had a very strong back-to-nature component. The hippie-commune life style had an appeal that even Charles Manson's perversions did not stain. The Malthusian limits to growth seemed obvious. The politicians that rose from that foundation were strongly socialist. Jerry Brown, John Kerry, and Bill Ayers are examples that quickly come to mind.
    And even before that, nuclear power had become associated with nuclear war in public perception. The fear of radiation was allowed to fester partly because reducing that fear could be seen as making nuclear war more likely.
    So the reasons for the green's opposition to nuclear power are complex and varied, but I think that you are right that the fear of overpopulation, though unstated and unrecognized, Is important. The good news is that there is a voice out there that can still that fear without even mentioning nuclear power. Hans Rosling's compelling argument that global population will level out at about 11 billion is valid and available on you tube as well as from his GapMinder site. We should spread the word.

  2. The greens seem to be blind to the slowing of population growth. They just don't seem to notice it at all. Easy to believe they are blind to it simply because that's not supposed to happen.

    1. The anti-nuke greens don't seem to have noticed it. Even so I was at a public debate last month where a number of well-educated greens (PhDs) raised population concerns without, apparently, any awareness of Hans Rosling's refutation of the issue.