Sincerity Is an Overrated Virtue

Last year Toby Young a British journalist, son of a Labour life peer and the author of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People related an anecdote in London‘s Spectator about a friend of his who works for a large multinational corporation who traded in his car for a Toyota Prius. This self-consciously eco-friendly consumer choice had the desired effect of boosting the fellow’s social status among his peers. But as it turned out the fellow’s girlfriend was so annoyed at his not getting a BMW, or better a Porsche, that the friend ended up getting her a Mini Cooper as consolation. The fact that he actually increased his so-called carbon footprint has not prevented him from lording it over the less enlightened. Young also noted wryly that the friend, who announced his intention to take his girlfriend to Bhutan for mountain-top contemplation to celebrate New Year’s Eve, didn’t intend to travel there by land.

Such examples litter our social landscape. No doubt you know of friends or colleagues who act the same way. This goes back to a basic tenet of how people operate in a dubious moral philosophy. Is it about practical results or about your intentions?  Today, it is de rigueur to espouse the environmental cause in all things.  To paraphrase Richard Nixon, we are all global warmers now.

But surely if one’s actions don’t lead to one’s intentions, namely an overall reduction in the level of carbon emissions, one’s moral superiority is based on very little?  Well, apparently not if you’ re Al Gore as reports about the mega-energy consumption of his home in Tennessee would attest. No, being green is more often an assertion of one’s social status or a testament of religious orthodoxy. Sincerity and purity of purpose trumps everything.

This came home recently when we met Patrick Moore, the affable Canadian-born co-founder of Greenpeace who now chairs Greenspirit Strategies Ltd., a firm he founded to help advance real reductions in carbon emissions through practical measures. In his early days as an environmentalist Moore was opposed to nuclear energy. Around 2000 he had-well if not an epiphany-the beginnings of a gradual conversion. “While energy conservation, together with such renewables as wind, hydro and geo exchange (ground source heat pumps) will play a growing role in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, they alone cannot provide electrical power for a rapidly industrializing world,” he recalls.

Shortly thereafter in an op-ed in the Miami Herald, he came out of the closet to say the “N” word:  “Nuclear energy is part of the solution.”

Quelle horror!

The gasps from the green ecclesiasts echoed from the base of the Grand Canyon to the halls of The Sierra Club.

Yet Moore is unapologetic. He also co-chairs with former New Jersey governor Christie Todd Whitman the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, (  CASEnergy is a group that works to unite unlikely allies across the business, environmental, academic, consumer and labor community to support nuclear energy.

Moore says he is not alone among environmentalists as one might think. He points to fellow green activists such as Stewart Brand the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, Jared Diamond, the Pulitzer prize winning author of “Guns, Germs and Steel” and Tim Flannery, Australia‘s acclaimed scientist and conservationist, who have all come around in their thinking about nuclear energy. 

Moore isn’t surprised that most activist groups who consider themselves at the forefront of the fight against global warming nonetheless oppose the only nongreenhouse gas emitting power source. “Most people in the environmental movement are not independent of their organizations.” He says. “They must tow the party line. Within groups like the NRDC and the Sierra Club there are people who question their organization’s anti-nuclear policies, but they are not free to speak their minds if they want to keep their jobs. Groups such as these have spent so much time and money educating their groups into thinking that nuclear energy is evil that to shift their position would risk losing half their membership not to mention their funding.

“But as time goes on the logic has to emerge. It’s simply illogical to claim that climate change is the most important issue and that reducing fossil fuel consumption is the main aim and yet be against the most important technology that accomplishes that.”

At present no other technology offsets as much carbon emissions today as nuclear technology. Presently 20 percent of the present electrical supply comes from nuclear. If it wasn’t available what would we use to produce it? No doubt we would be forced to rely on coal and gas. But the history of the environmental movement is less about logic than it is about theological purity of belief.  “There is an unfortunate element of religious fervor and lack of logic.” Moore adds. “How much sense does it make for the Sierra Club to be against nuclear energy when it is coal-fired plants that make the Grand Canyon filthy?”  Recently The Los Angeles Times editorialized that ��tax dollars are better spent on windmills than cooling towers.’ In other words we should replace nuclear energy with wind power. This is simply not possible. There is a fundamental difference between constant and intermittent sources of power such as wind and solar. And reliable base-load sources such as hydro, fossil and nuclear.”

According to the U.S. Department of Energy the U.S. will need 45 percent more electricity by 2030. Where will this come from? Hydro is tapped out. Conservation and greater efficiencies in natural gas, coal and oil will help, but renewables such as solar, wind and geothermal will also help. But alone it will not be enough. Nuclear energy technology has advanced and the regulatory process has been greatly streamlined. It produces no pollutants and has the lowest production cost per kilowatt of electric power. Despite the fact that public opinion surveys show better than three-quarters of the public support building new nuclear facilities, opposition among the green Sanhedrin remains firm. Many leaders who make a claim on our attention to be taken seriously say that we don’t need nuclear and that we can do it with wind and solar. This is not possible in the real world. You can’t make the wind blow all the time or make the sun shine all the time.  Yet when matters of faith are concerned, sincerity is everything; facts are a nuisance.