Occupy Environmentalism

Posted by: Keith Kloor  :  Category: environmentalism

When an institution remains wedded to a bygone era and unresponsive to change, It becomes irrelevant to people’s lives.

Like the Catholic church. Many Catholics in the West don’t take the church’s anachronistic doctrine to heart. If they did, 98 percent of Catholic women wouldn’t be using birth control. Now when people criticize the Catholic church, they’re talking about the Vatican. They’re not talking about your local church, or your priest. Or Sunday School. They’re talking about the rigid ideology that keeps the Catholic church-the institution-in the dark ages. It is an ideology that, as recently demonstrated, brooks no dissent or deviation.

Environmentalism has an ideology that is similarly rigid and outdated. It has to modernize to keep from wasting away. This is what I recently argued here and here. The sum of these two pieces add up to a general critique of environmentalism, of its institutional creed. Numerous environmentalists, particularly those working at the grassroots level, took offense at what they asserted was a one-dimensional portrait of the green movement. I will defend that portrait in a moment, but first I want to say that many environmentalists are indeed doing very important, mostly unheralded work. I know this because I worked at Audubon magazine from 2000 to 2008, where I helped bring many of their stories to light.

So when some responded angrily that I was unfairly caricaturing environmentalism, I can appreciate why they would take my critique as a personal slight. That said, I’m disappointed that many reflexively dismissed the thrust of my argument. The most common complaint on twitter and in blog comments was that I concocted a strawman, which infers that I painted a portrait of environmentalism that wasn’t true.

Let’s look at that charge closely.

In the main, here’s what I argued, but in broad strokes, as one science journalist pointed out on twitter.

Environmentalism is anti-technology. By this I mean anti-nuclear power and anti-genetically engineered crops. (I haven’t even broached the anti-fracking fervor that environmentalist groups have embraced as their latest cause du jour.) These are, as I wrote in the Discover essay, “two technologies that experts say will be necessary to expand” to meet global energy and food demand. If, for example, reducing carbon emissions is your objective, I have a hard time understanding how you do that in the near to medium term without nuclear power. Others wonder, too, how that can be pulled off.

If providing food for additional billions of people in the coming decades (while not overtaxing already overtaxed land and water resources) is something you care about, I have a hard time understanding how you do that without biotechnology. Others, wonder, too, how that can be pulled off.

Do any mainstream green groups support either nuclear power or GMOs? On the contrary, many greens continue to either oppose outright or scaremonger on both the nuclear and GMO crop issues. So on two key environmental concerns-energy and agriculture-mainstream green groups turn their backs on existing technological solutions for ideological reasons. They are either opposed to nuclear or silent about the misinformation spewed by their more excitable colleagues. (Nice relevant comment on this by one reader over at the Discover thread.) Same goes for biotechnology and GMOs. Where’s the strawman here?

The eco-disaster narrative. Anyone who pays attention to the messaging of green groups and their spokespersons quoted in the media knows that the main frame is doom: Ecosystems are on the verge of collapse, species are going extinct every day, the climate is nearing dangerous tipping points. Sure, of late we also hear happy talk about green jobs, but mostly we get an unending litany of dire warnings about the state of the planet. The result: People tune out or throw up their hands in despair. Still not seeing a strawman.

The de-growth brigade. In my Discover piece, I discussed the positions of a leading environmentalist and a well-known environmental think tank, their arguments being that growth in developed countries needed to be cut back. (Similarly, reducing consumption is also one of the principal recommendations of the UK’s Royal Society report released last week.)  A commenter at Discover scoffed that I was relying on “academic types.” I countered:

It’s disingenuous to suggest that there is an important distinction to be made between environmental think tanks and advocacy groups. There is not. You suggest that such think tanks and “academic types” (as I have cited) don’t characterize environmentalist thought or have much sway with environmental advocates. That’s like saying conservative think tanks and conservative thought leaders don’t influence conservatives or conservative rhetoric.

I also find it curious that you would downplay the importance of environmental writers and academics/scholars/thinkers, which belies the history of environmentalism. From its origins, the environmental movement has been hugely influenced by a number of scholar/scientists, from Paul Ehrlich and Barry Commoner to E.O. Wilson and Bill McKibben.

Speaking of the history of environmentalism, Joe Romm, in his odd post (he goes to great lengths to tie my Discover essay to the New York Times, because Andy Revkin briefly noted it at his Dot Earth blog), says I got it all wrong about environmentalism:

This analysis, which would have been relevant 20 years ago, is simply the opposite of the truth today.

Indeed, anyone who follows the history of the environmental movement knows that the most serious complaint offered against it these days is that it has become too corporatist and too focused on the techno-fix. I’m not saying I agree with that critique 100%, but it has far more truth to it than this critique.

If you look at the major environmental groups — the ones with the power and money that this analysis purports to be about — they all work closely with industrial corporations, generally take lots of industry money, and they aggressively supported a climate bill that was absurdly pro-technology and pro-industry, that was business friendly and market oriented.

It’s true that the big green NGOs have cozied up to corporate donors, including the fossil fuel interests that Romm & company love to demonize. Which is funny when you consider that the Sierra Club was recently outed for taking $25 million from the gas industry. Romm’s parent organization drank from the same trough, it turns out.

But none of these corporate ties has much to do with the brand of environmentalism I’m describing-the one that is opposed to nuclear power and biotechnology, unrelentingly catastrophist, obsessed with carbon footprints, and still besotted with romanticized notions of nature.

As for Romm’s take on the Royal Society report, well, you might want to compare it with a few others, such as Mark Lynas, author of the recently published bookThe God Species: Saving the planet in the age of humans. I’ll also take up the report’s specifics in a separate post. They are worth looking at in more detail.

Meanwhile, there’s another study out recently that environmentalists would do well to pay attention to. It’s the one that found young people are turning off to environmental issues. This quote in the AP story from Mark Potosnak, an environmental science professor at DePaul University in Chicago, caught my eye:

It’s not so much that they [young students] don’t think it’s important. They’re just worn out. It’s like poverty in a foreign country. You see the picture so many times, you become inured to it.

M. Sanjayan, a lead scientist with the Nature Conservancy, made a similar point in USA Today:

…our rhetoric is relentlessly about “less.” Limit your footprint. Reduce your consumption. Why are we surprised that, for the majority of American youth, protecting nature seems a joyless exercise in deprivation?

Yes, environmentalists, why are you so surprised (and scornfully dismissive) when even some of your own colleagues point out how irrelevant you’ve become?

98 Responses to “Occupy Environmentalism”

  1. Dean Says:

    Keith - Your conversion to a Breakthrough Fellow is almost complete!

  2. Keith Kloor Says:

    I realize that it’s convenient for people to label. So do you disagree with my argument? If so, why?

  3. Marlowe Johnson Says:

    great rigorous, fact-laden analysis keith. or not.  nice story though.

  4. Jarmo Says:

    I don’t think the environmentalists are irrelevant, at least not in Europe. The true believers do not want a change. 6 countries here have banned GM food altogether. Greenpeace rejoices:


  5. Keith Kloor Says:

    Jarmo (4),

    You are right-that is certainly something Lynas and Monbiot would point out, too. I suppose I’m guilty of being a little too U.S.-centric.

    Marlowe (3)

    Dude, you are in such denial. It’s become impossible to have a normal conversation with you. Why do you even bother commenting anymore? Or even reading my posts?

  6. A Critique of the Broken-Record Message of 'Green Traditionalists' - NYTimes.com Says:

    [...] has offered a long (and to me convincing) response to his many critics in a fresh piece titled "Occupy Environmentalism."] Here’s the introduction and a link to the rest: If you were cryogenically frozen in the [...]

  7. Marlowe Johnson Says:

    Keith, convince me that your argument has some basis in fact, rather than your own particular prejudices.

    You’ve taught classes before right? If one of your students told you that he thought that all journalists were right wing lunatics and cited Drudge, politico, realclearpolitics, and the WSJ as evidence, how would you respond?

    The idea that ‘mainstream’ ‘environmentalism’ is anti-’technology’ and anti-’growth’ is an interesting claim that — to paraphrase the inimitable Willard — deserves due diligence.

    btw, in case you were wondering why all the ‘ ‘, it was in response to this:

    it’s convenient for people to label

  8. Keith Kloor Says:


    I suspect it would be hard even for AAAS President Nina Fedoroff to convince you, as should be clear from the piece I wrote here.

    As for my students, I find them infinitely more open-minded than you.

  9. Marlowe Johnson Says:

    i’m closed minded because i ask for evidence?

    good grief.  

  10. Blair Says:

    Anyone interested in a more dtailed of this discussion should have a look at the book “Green Delusions: An Environmentalist Critique of Radical Environmentalism” by Martin W. Lewis. Mr. Kloor is essentially restating Dr. Lewis’ thesis from his book with slightly more modern examples….although not surprisingly a lot of the examples Dr. Lewis proposes are echoed by Mr. Kloor. For those of you demanding examples of Mr. Kloor, Dr. Lewis provides examples and citations to support them. I read the book while still a radical environmentalist and it helped me in my conversion to the more pragmatic environmentalism that I live with on a daily basis.

  11. Mary Says:

    Maybe I’m missing something. Can any of the critics of this name the mainstream organizations that are both pro-nuke and pro-GMO?

  12. Keith Kloor Says:

    Marlowe (9)

    No, because you ignore evidence.

  13. Tom Fuller Says:

    You’re on a roll, Keith. Keep it up and the book will be halfway written before you even decide to write it.

  14. Dirk Hanson Says:

    These inherent contradictions have been part of the environmental movement since the outset. The fact that we still haven’t completely resolved them (and, factionalism being what it is, probably never will) doesn’t detract from progress made.

  15. Keith Kloor Says:

    Dan Fagin, someone I respect a lot, makes a fair criticism on twitter.

  16. Fork Freedom Says:

    Perhaps there are other reasons for being anti-nuke than that one is anti-technology.Perhaps you feel, as I do, that nuclear is not a long-term solution (for various reasons including resource availability, long-term waste disposal) and therefore we don’t want to see capital expended on it in the medium term, since there are other far cleaner and more promising renewable technologies on which to focus.Or perhaps you feel, as I do, that big nuclear installations are bad for the same reasons giant wind farms are bad, because they further establish elite (corporate or government) control of energy supply, and does nothing for local resilience. Small is beautiful.In any case, lumping those who oppose nuclear power generation in with Luddites who oppose all technology is either a shorthand that is far too crude, or purposely baiting. I suspect the latter.

  17. Roddy Campbell Says:

    Fork - to me your post smacks of Luddism; elite control, corporate or government, small is beautiful, local resilience, and so on.  Keith’s point on nuclear is well-made, and we all encounter it from Greenpeace or from enviros that we know and meet - they have a visceral, ideological, religious opposition to nuclear best highlighted by George Monbiot in a series of Guardian articles post Fukushima, where he found that the rational ‘green’ basis for opposition (other than economic) which he’d always accepted had no basis in fact or science.

  18. Marlowe Johnson Says:


    can you first tell me who the ‘mainstream’ organizations are and who aren’t? I tend to follow WRI, RFF, greencarcongress, autoblogreen, grist, etc but then maybe they’re not as mainstream as ‘GP, Sierra, FoE, etc…

    To Dan Fagin’s point, it’s a very diverse, decentralized, movement with lots of factions and sub-factions that don’t necessarily see eye to eye on every issue.  How do you decide who’s ‘mainstream’ and who isn’t? Media coverage? Fundraising ability? membership numbers? Further, is ‘mainstream’ environmentalism in the U.S. the same as in New Zealand, Australia, the UK, or Germany?

    I don’t have a big dog in this fight. I disagree with opposition to nukes and GMO based on fear alone, as the balance of evidence doesn’t justify such fear. I’m agnostic about nukes and GMOs as a practical matter, not a scientific one. On the one hand, I tend to take a dim view of corporate power and the corrupting influence it tends to have on public policy (particularly energy policy). So naturally, I’m less than enthusiastic about two technologies that to date are overwhelmingly favour large corporate interests rather than local/entrepreneurial interests. OTOH, we don’t exactly have the luxury of time when it comes to climate change, so if it comes down to putting shovels in the ground to build some nukes instead of coal, go for it. If helping africa and asia adapt to climate change means developing GMO tech, so be it. 

  19. Fork Freedom Says:

    Roddy (17): my point is simply that there are other reasons people might oppose nuclear than either fear of technology or adherence to traditionalist green ideology. ‘Economic’ is a good example.Also, and I don’t really want to argue this here, there are obvious links between the inability of federal governments in Canada and the U.S. to react appropriately to the climate change risk, and industry lobby (corporatocracy, some would say.) Not wanting private interests in control of every aspect of our reaction to energy and environmental concerns does not make me a Luddite. That’s silly, frankly.

  20. Fork Freedom Says:

    “OTOH, we don’t exactly have the luxury of time when it comes to climate
    change, so if it comes down to putting shovels in the ground to build
    some nukes instead of coal, go for it. If helping africa and asia adapt
    to climate change means developing GMO tech, so be it.” Roddy (17): I agree with this sentiment from Marlowe 100%. Am I a Luddite?

  21. Fork Freedom Says:

    Sure wish I could get formatting to work on this god-damn thing so I don’t look like such a Luddite…

  22. Dean Says:

    @2 Keith - <p>I see the Breakthrough analysis as basically politics over science. They are hardly alone in this, but that certainly doesn’t make it any better. But the argument that people don’t like to be told negative things is a political argument and has nothing to do with whether they need to be told negative things. Politicians don’t like to tell voters that they either need to pay more taxes or get less services as well. Does that mean that it is always the best strategy? Breakthrough is the political chicken in every pot converted to environmentalism.</p><p>The environmental movement is large and ideologically diverse. You can find an example of just about any statement or opinion if you look for it. Most of the dichotomies you discuss have been going on for a long time, but appear to me to be portrayed here in a very tendentious way. There are silly aspects to the disaster vs optimism discussion and there are deep and important aspects as well. You seem to be more interested in caricatures than the deeper discussion. You say “But none of these corporate ties has much to do with the brand of environmentalism I’m describing” - and that one appears to be a very convenient one.</p>

  23. Steve Mennie Says:

    “…our rhetoric is relentlessly about “less.” Limit your footprint. Reduce your consumption. Why are we surprised that, for the majority of American youth, protecting nature seems a joyless exercise in deprivation?”Why is the unstated premise here and from other quarters that comsuming less would lead to a joyless existence? Have we come that far - or should I say - fallen that far that we can’t conceive of achieving or experiencing ‘joy’ by any other means than (mindless) consumption? The majority of American youth (and everyone else) take it for granted that they should have what they want whenever they want and I suspect that this may be at the root of our problem: joy=consumption. 

  24. MarkB Says:

    Over the medium term, Kloor can only fail in his effort to support a rational environmentalism. This is because those he seeks to convince and convert - the ‘green’ true believers - are not environmentalists out of a rational decision-making process. They are green by identity, and social identity is far more important than mere facts. To admit that maybe nuclear power really isn’t so threatening would be to admit a failure of personal identity. It’s like expecting evangelical Christians to allow that Jesus was a great moral teacher, but not the Son of God. It might not change anything in their day to day life, but they’d have to admit that they got it wrong all those years, and no one wants to say those three most difficult words in the English language - I…. was… wrrrrrr…ong.

  25. Occupy Environmentalism? : Stoat Says:

    [...] so argues KK. I have some sympathy for him. Discuss :-) .pm_tools_small .pm_tool [...]

  26. Ben Pile Says:

    The Reformation of Environmentalism. http://www.climate-resistance.org/2012/04/the-reformation-of-environmentalism-part-2.html 

  27. Tom Scharf Says:

    KK - great article, it’s stuff like this that keep me coming back.  While the facts on the ground support the accusation of strawman as you write may be debatable, it is clear to me that the perceptions of the environmental movement by the right leaning public are right in line with what you have written.  Nobody is “against the environment”, they are against the perceived environmentalist agenda.  If you stand back and view it from afar, taking care of the environment ought to be the easiest thing to sell in the world.   How did this get so screwed up?   Call me crazy, but the last place in the world I would want to be is stuck in a planning meeting with a group of professional environmentalists.  Please water board me instead.  This may be my own personal mental issue that is not shared by many others, but I sense this thought is more universal than many would admit to.  In a similar way, I was brought up Catholic but no longer practice because one has to accept the dogma in order to be part of the club, even though the church’s positive contributions to society have nothing to do with this dogma.  Similarly with the greens, I just don’t want to hang out with “those” type of people who see humans as inherently evil and destructive, as they hypocritically demonize western culture from their trendy over-priced made in China Apple computers.  Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for them to use the public library computers?  Fat chance.  There is room for an environmental movement for the “rest of us”.  The baggage of (perceived?) dogma is a self-limiting shot in the foot.  KK is on to something here.    

  28. Michael Larkin Says:

    Gosh, Keith! Much of this could well have appeared over at WUWT. I’m not complaining, mind you. I agree wholeheartedly with what you say.On another issue, I see there is this snazzy-looking editing bar that seems to allow me to do anything I might want-but can I do so much as insert a line break? It used to be one could do it by typing two carriage returns. I’ve tried that in front of “On another issue” above to see if by some magic the facility has returned. If not, can anyone tell me how to do it?

  29. Matthew Platte Says:

    First off, thank you for having a sensible comments workflow. Instead of the usual WordPress, Disqus, captcha hell, here there’s a… a Luddish feel to the conversation.  +1My actual comment regards a too-general usage of the GMO term.  One should be cautious in accepting GMO that one isn’t advocating further use of pesticides that appear to be systematically destroying the honey bees.  The importance of that undesirable and unexpected outcome is hard to quantify but I’d say several orders of magnitude worse than whatever benefit may accrue to a corporate balance sheet.  

  30. SBVOR Says:

    Keith,First, understand that I am an environmental scientist. As such, I consider myself to be a rational environmentalist (who prefers pragmatic solutions rooted in free will, private markets and — where necessary — reasonable, rational, science based regulation). I find no fault with your arguments (in this thread). I would only add that — IMO — the Big Green Bandits are fundamentally anti-human (and, primarily in it for the money and the power). They would rather see us all freeze to death in caves so that Gaia can (in their delusional fantasy world) return to some imaginary pristine state which supposedly existed before we evil humans infested the corporeal manifestation of her divine soul. Of course, they know that plan will never sell (and, they don’t really want it to sell). They prefer to just collect the money from their naive and gullible flock and jet around the world telling everybody how holy they are.

  31. NewYorkJ Says:

    Environmentalism is anti-technology. By this I mean anti-nuclear power and anti-genetically engineered crops

    That’s a very strange selective definition of “anti-technology”.  By that definition, we can call fossil fuel industry types who don’t like renewable energy “anti-technology” as well. 

    But none of these corporate ties has much to do with the brand of environmentalism I’m describing–the one that is opposed to nuclear power and biotechnology, unrelentingly catastrophist, obsessed with carbon footprints, and still besotted with romanticized notions of nature.

    There would be virtually none who share all of these attributes.  It’s these sort of poorly-constructed broad-brush exaggerated arguments that most are dismissing.  You’re left with a lot of cheers from a certain global warming denial crowd.

    Nearly every paragraph has a very selective view of evidence.  What Keith left out of the WaPost article:

    Based on two long-standing national surveys of high school seniors and college freshmen, Twenge and her colleagues found a decline over the past four decades in young people’s trust in others, their interest in government and the time they said they spent thinking about social problems.which would have to be isolated from the decline in environmental engagement before making a hard conclusion.

    Immediately preceding Keith’s fatigue quote is the following:
    Mark Potosnak, an environmental science professor at DePaul University in Chicago, has noticed an increase in skepticism — or confusion — about climate change among his students as the national debate has heightened. That leads to fatigue, he said.

    We already know deniers are trying to dupe young people with the appearance of “debate”, and probably have had modest success.

    It’s true that the big green NGOs have cozied up to corporate donors, including the fossil fuel interests that Romm & company love to demonize. Which is funny when you consider that the Sierra Club was recently outed for taking $25 million from the gas industry. Romm’s parent organization drank from the same trough, it turns out.

    It’s funny.  If environmentalists stay clear from industry, they are “anti-technology” and “anti-industry”.  When they partner with industry, they are demonized for it by the same people.  Fracking concerns have lead some environment-concerned organizations away from bridge technologies they may have once been more open to.  Positions adjust based on new evidence - doesn’t sound so rigid, nor is it hypocritical as Keith implies.  Binary thought appears to preclude Keith from being able to develop more than the most absurd caricatures.

  32. Tom Scharf Says:

    @23: “Why is the unstated premise here and from other quarters that comsuming less would lead to a joyless existence?”…….because we all learned along the way that more ice cream is better than less ice cream, and way better than no ice cream.  If you want to eat less, so be it.  Don’t try to tell me how much I’m allowed to eat.  Make your case that too much ice cream makes you fat and is bad for me and I will consider it, and maybe even eat a little less.  But nobody needs or wants you or your ilk dictating by fiat the ice cream supply for the rest of us.  Let me be clear, we don’t need your help in determining what constitutes joy for us.  

  33. thingsbreak Says:

    I don’t necessarily disagree that some big names in environmental non profits are counterproductive at minimum and anti-science when convenient (e.g. Greenpeace). I have often been accused in other circles of being guilty of scientism, so it’s no surprise that I think those groups are detrimental to their own purported goals and the general health of the environment.

    I also think that the optics of some environmental campaigns are horrible and send the wrong message to people who might be on the fence: Earth Hour comes immediately to mind. What an obscene luxury it must seem to those burning dung and without lights that we dim some otherwise-always-on lights out of “consciousness raising”.

    But I think that overall point here, and at Breakthrough, and everywhere else saying that environmentalism is failed (or dead, or a religion, or what have you) is at best unsupported by evidence and at worst wrong on its face.

    We routinely get to hear about how young people tire of environmentalism’s catastrophism and how Americans don’t support greenhouse gas emissions reductions, but these claims don’t really seem to be reflected in polling data when the questions aren’t framed in terms of false choice dilemmas.

    This school of environmental criticism has more than a little in common with the pundit/op-ed pleas for centrism/third way political candidates like Mike Bloomberg-

    Besides the very people making such calls, who is supposed to be the target audience?

  34. thingsbreak Says:

    Also, though I do not share them, there are justifications for opposing nuclear energy and certain business practices associated with industrial agriculture that are in no way anti-science/anti-technology.

    The casual conflation of all opposition to nukes with anti-science attitudes is lazy if not outright deceptive. When someone like me advocates for drastically expanding nuclear power, we should do so knowing the economic and security arguments to the contrary. I happen to think that the climate needs outweigh those concerns, but it would be true scientism in the worst sense to dismiss anyone who disagreed with my position on nukes because they must be inherently “anti-science” or “anti-technology”.

  35. Tom Scharf Says:

    KK: Is there somewhere I can donate to improvising a comment system that recognizes sophisticated formatting such as a carriage return?  Consider it an unholy marriage between capitalists and environmentalists for the good of all.  Ha ha I wonder how many of our kids could correctly tell us the origin of the term “carriage return”.

  36. Marlowe Johnson Says:



  37. Tom Scharf Says:

    @34: The problem resides in being both “anti-nuclear” while being a fervent AGW supporter lecturing deniers on their anti-science views.  This hypocrisy is untenable upon examination of the facts of what it takes to decarbonize to reach the goals one states.  If one is such a fervent supporter, it would follow that they would do the math of energy production, at least start with how many windmills it takes to power Chicago, and what you would do when the winds stops blowing.  It’s the difference between a pragmatists and an unserious zealot.  Energy production is full of real-life trade-offs, and passionate zeal is zero help to overcoming this problem.

  38. thingsbreak Says:

    @37 Tom Scharf: Are you making the positive claim that it’s literally impossible to reduce GHG emissions sufficiently in the absence of a large increase in nuclear power? That’s a much stronger claim than I’ve heard even my most die hard pro-nuke fellow travellers make. The argument is usually that expanding nukes is the “best” way, or “the only way IF” where “if” is some largely political rather than technological set of conditions.

    Is assuming a huge increase nuke capacity more “pragmatic” and less optimistic than assuming large gains in other alternative energy sources? I personally think it’s safer to stick with what we actually know can work rather than bet on the technology fairy (all the while encouraging it by pricing emissions, obviously), but that is a preference of mine rather than an empirically-supported position.

    If you have clear evidence that an enormous expansion of nukes is literally the only path to emissions stabilization, I would love to hear it, and I will pass it on immediately to the relevant energy and regulatory organizations trying to solve the climate issue.

  39. Fork Freedom Says:

    @38: With his “Get off my ice cream” credo, I doubt Tom Scharf is a fellow traveller.

  40. Jarmo Says:

    Keith, I think you really should take a closer look at European green parties. They are not irrelevant but successful, winning seats in parliaments etc. Close to 20 % of the vote in Germany.  And they have kept anti-GMO, anti-nuclear stance on their agendas.

    Is the US the right place to gauge relevance of the greens? The two-party system makes them largely irrelevant anyway.

  41. Marlowe Johnson Says:


    I find it increasingly strange that unequivocal support for nuclear power generation has become a litmus test for the ‘coherent climate policy’ club. there are plenty of other reasons to object to rapid expansion of nuclear generation anywhere and everywhere as soon as possible, no matter what.

    Anyone who is remotely familiar with how electricity planning actually plays out understands on the ground knows that there are plenty of regional variations and unique historical legacies that inform technology choices moving forward (e.g. grid constraints, access to water, integration with other grids, regulatory structure, conservation potential, demand projections, etc.). then there are the not so cut-and-dry issues. waste containment/disposal, decommissioning costs, weapon proliferation, etc to name a few.

    One final thought. Those who point to the intermittent nature of some renewables might do well to consider that things can get just as ugly from a grid management perspective when you’ve got more nuclear in the mix.

  42. Fred Says:

    KK’s perspective on moving beyond the limitations of traditional environmentalism which he perceptively observes and documents is persuasive. Traditional environmentalism has fallen into a stale and unproductive group think.

    The usefulness of this approach for improving the natural environment is supported by the observed positive correlation between the economic level of societies and the degree of care shown for the environment. Citizens of non-prosperous societies are often too preoccupied with day-to-day survival to pay heed to environmental issues. Or the resources are not available to provide both human sustenance and environmental stewardship.

    Keith’s perspective is a “win-win” for both society and the environment.

  43. Mary Says:

    @18 Marlowe: Just give me the list, and we’ll have a look. And if is an organization outside the US I’d be interested to learn how they manage.

  44. Marlowe Johnson Says:

    There’s a list? I don’t have it. Do you?

    I’m starting to feel like one of the titular characters from Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead.

  45. SBVOR Says:

    #37 (Tom Scharf) says:

    “do the math of energy production, at least start with how many windmills it takes to power Chicago, and what you would do when the winds stops blowing”

    (Bear with me as I feel out how much HTML is allowed in these comments — a preview feature would help.)

    A recent analysis suggests (much like the ethanol debacle) that wind power actually increases CO2 emissions (not that this should be of any concern):


  46. Nullius in Verba Says:


    “then there are the not so cut-and-dry issues. waste containment/disposal, decommissioning costs, weapon proliferation, etc.”

    You know there are answers to all of those, don’t you?

  47. Marlowe Johnson Says:


    There are answers and then there are answers. Which ones, I wonder, do you possess?

  48. SBVOR Says:

    As long as the so-called “profession” of so-called “journalism” is dominated by far Left environmental extremist hysteria mongers, we will not see anymore nuclear plants built anytime soon.

    These “journalists” continue to refer to the Fukushima nuclear “disaster”. Yet, only five people died in that “disaster”, none of them from radiation exposure.

    The Three Mile Island “disaster” produced zero fatalities and zero health impacts. Yet, the environmental scare mongering ensured that the USA would not build another nuclear plant for decades.

    Meantime, about 40,000 Americans die each year on the highway system. Yet, nobody is (so far) demanding that we shutdown the highway system. If this seems irrational, it is.

    Click here for a series of posts I’ve done on this topic.

  49. Mary Says:

    Sorry you have having trouble following Marlowe—I know you have had that issue in the past too.

    I asked for the organizations that are both pro-nuke and pro-GMO. You randomly named some organizations, but I am certain that some of them don’t fit that. So if you can refine your list to be those that meet the criteria, I’d be delighted to see it.

  50. Tom Scharf Says:

    @38 - I think we have all been through the back and forth on nuclear power already.  That being said, it is clear to me that it is the path of least resistance to lowering carbon output for energy production.  Burdensome energy taxes and intentional GDP reductions are simply unrealistic.  Beyond the technical aspects of it already being the nearest thing to a drop in replacement for many carbon intensive energy sources on the existing power grid, you cannot underestimate the real world power of it being politically palatable to the right, that is if you list actually accomplishing something useful in your environmental goals.  I just don’t see another realistic near term answer.  The reality on the ground is that the right will continue with business as usual, and the public will support that, until a viable compromise is on the table.  They have an economy to run (especially those ice cream factories).

  51. thingsbreak Says:

    Tom, you’re wonderfully demonstrating my point. You’re making a political argument now, but you implied a scientific justification in @37.

  52. jeffn Says:

    It’s funny to see these comments that of course environmentalists aren’t anti-nuclear. As Marlowe put it above:
    “OTOH, we don’t exactly have the luxury of time when it comes to climate change, so if it comes down to putting shovels in the ground to build some nukes instead of coal, go for it. If helping africa and asia adapt to climate change means developing GMO tech, so be it. ”
    Here’s the problem with that- we’ve been yapping about climate change for 24 years- nearly a quarter-century. This post is relevant because environmentalists are still saying no to nukes and GMO, have for every one of the 24 years, show no sign of slowing down. And, to make matters worse, it’s more obvious than ever that their opposition is wrong.
    If you really don’t grasp why Keith is interested in this, consider that the people you have a chance of convincing are more likely to be cynics than skeptics.
    A quarter-century into the “debate” about an “urgent crisis” and you still push for “alternatives” you know don’t work, mutter vague non-sense about the need to accept less consumerism, fly to Rio to talk about the need to fly less, and oppose the only viable solutions. Who wouldn’t be cynical about such a “movement?”

  53. Stu Says:

    As an anti nuclear protester some years ago now, I viewed nuclear technology as an old technology, relegated to a bygone and naive era of black and white television sets, ‘automobiles’ and leave it to beaver families fake smiling into the face of nuclear holocaust. I certainly didn’t consider myself ‘anti technology’- my technology was e-ink, the internet, and drive by wire hydrogen powered cars; I could talk to you about ‘biomimickry’ and industrial/chemical concepts of ‘cradle to cradle’. My favourite book was ‘The Diamond Age’ by Neal Stephenson. I don’t really think that way about nuclear anymore. But I can imagine why some environmentalists would feel confused or defensive about being called anti technology. Better to just spell it out (like you’ve done in this post Keith). The problem with nuclear isn’t environmentalists (or not just environmentalists). It’s likely that the problem is that its image hasn’t really been updated since the 50s utopian/distopian one. It’s become the great unspoken technology. Some months ago I was watching an energy specialist on Australian TV, who could not give a straight answer on whether Australia should be focusing on nuclear power alongside a range of other energy options. She simply could not bring herself to say that ‘yes, we’re looking into nuclear’, having been repeatedly asked the question. It was quite pathetic and weird to watch. An ‘energy expert’ getting all shy about nuclear…  

  54. Tom Scharf Says:

    …not to mention the other clean energy solution the low carbon people are almost entirely responsible for eliminating…hydro power.  Somethings has to give, some fish are going to die, a Chernobyl is going to happen once a century, coal miners are going to die a at a constant slow rate, the atmosphere is going to be little dirtier, dirty solar panel manufacturing will pollute the environment, and on and on.  Wishing this wasn’t so is only slightly better than pretending this trade off doesn’t have to be made.

  55. SBVOR Says:

    #54 (Tom):

    1) Unless the so-called “Progressives” complete their takeover of the global energy sector, it is extremely unlikely that a Chernobyl will ever happen again. That was a freak accident at a plant with a deeply flawed and very primitive design masterminded by Soviet incompetence.

    2) As an environmental scientist, I wish we would forget about this CO2 canard and focus instead on reducing or eliminating mercury emissions from coal fired plants. The rest of the coal related emissions are now very well controlled (in the USA).

  56. Turboblocke Says:

    Maybe greens objecting to GM crops are not so daft after all. http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/05/new-superweed-evolution/Herbicide-resistant superweeds threaten to overgrow U.S. fields, so agriculture companies have genetically engineered a new generation of plants to withstand heavy doses of multiple, extra-toxic weed-killing chemicals.It’s a more intensive version of the same approach that made the resistant superweeds such a problem — and some scientists think it will fuel the evolution of the worst superweeds yet.These weeds may go a step further than merely being able to survive one or two or three specific weedkillers. The intense chemical pressure could cause them to evolve resistance that would apply to entire classes of chemicals.“The kind of resistance we’ll select for with these kinds of crops will be different from what we’ve seen in the past,” said agroecologist Bruce Maxwell of Montana State University. “They’ll select a kind of resistance that’s more metabolism-based, and likely resistant to everything.”Next-generation biotech crops erupted into controversy with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ongoing review of Enlist, a Dow-manufactured corn variety endowed with genes that let it tolerate high doses of both glyphosate, an industry-standard herbicide better known as Roundup, and a decades-old herbicide called 2,4-D.”

  57. Tom Scharf Says:

    @55 - Make no mistake, I am a nuclear supporter, but anytime you have a highly concentrated energy source (sometimes referred to as a bomb), there is the possibility of a disaster.  Chernobyl won’t happen again, but it is fair to say that the recent Japanese (partial) meltdown went a lot further toward disaster than many would have thought possible before the event.  I am of the mind that this showed the resilience of the safety systems in place, but certainly the nuclear industry is on the defensive here. Nuclear plants are an inviting terrorist target, and a van load of heavily armed men with a working knowledge of the plant’s systems who are hell bent on destruction would make me get in my car and drive away from my local nuke plant (60 miles) pretty quickly.  Faulty engineering, civil war, natural disaster, etc. can all be causes of a big problem.  I’m just saying by the time 2112 rolls around, I would not be surprised to see that a major event had occurred somewhere worldwide.  

    Does the fact this risk exists mean we should abandon nuclear power?  I think not.  Acknowledging it exists is also proper IMO.  Nuclear power is a crappy solution to the energy problem, but better than all the crappy solutions.

  58. Tim Burden Says:

    Has this really devolved to a platform to argue about whether nukes and GMOs are the right way to go?

    They are really, really important arguments but their resolutions have nothing to do with the blog post at hand. In that post, Kloor asserts that greens are anti-technology, and holds out as evidence the fact that many of us are anti-nuke and anti-GMO.

    It’s bare-arsed equivocation of the worst sort. The fact that one could very well be pro-technology and just not care much for those two technologies seems to escape him. He basically defines that possibility out of existence, with the handy “by this I mean” phrase.

    It would have been clearer and less provocative for him to state his claim directly: “old-style greens don’t like these two technologies that I like, and that makes me butt-hurt.”

    The other major conflationary flaw perpetrated here is that the (so-called) anti-technology tendency, the tendency to catastrophism, and the anti-growth tendency are all the same type of thing. They are not. The first and third are beliefs about how this thing should be solved, which are argued on their scientific merits. The second is a matter of messaging, and is argued in the context of whatever it is PR people use to measure these things. He then goes on to claim that all these things are driving young people away from environmentalism. As if by changing our beliefs about solutions to the problems, we would have better messaging, get through to more young people, and gain back our relevancy!

    Well hell, why stop at boring old cold war era nukes? Let’s go right for the solar collectors with microwave rectennae stationed at Lagrangian points, because it sounds cooler and therefore sells better and those crazy kids will sing songs and make tie-dyes again.

    The third conflationary confabulation is that there is even such a genotype as this mythic old-style enviro-religion which “brooks no dissent.” Poppycock. There are greens who are pro-nuke, anti-nuke, atheist, Catholic, pessimistic, optimistic, Utopian, Mad Max, H2O economy-lovers, actual Luddites, right-wingers (but mainly lefties), anarchists, young, and old; those who think that individuals hold the key, those who think that business holds the key, those who think that science holds the key, those who think that governments hold the key, and everything in between.

    Very broad strokes, Keith. Too broad. You went outside the lines.

  59. SBVOR Says:

    @57 (Tom),

    1) The problem with the Fukushima power plants was that they required electricity in order to cool the core. The current generation of nuclear power plants (Generation III reactors) do not require any electricity to maintain proper cooling in the reactor core. One more potential problem solved.

    2) Preventing terrorists from gaining access to a nuclear power plant is probably impossible to achieve 100% of the time. Preventing them from creating a catastrophe once they enter is probably trivial.

  60. Tom Scharf Says:

    I hate arguments from analogy…so obviously one is coming here:

    The risk of nuclear power is a societal decision.  This type of societal risk trade off is done all the time, but is much more pronounced in these types of “all the people die in one big event” type of disasters that a large scale nuclear disaster would entail.  In the same way airline crashes give people a disproportionate view of the safety of airline travel.  Very safe overall, with an occasional quite messy event.  

    A more relevant local analogy though is the societal decisions on the trade-offs in road design.  No right thinking person would design a system in which we place two teenagers texting on cell phones in control of 2 ton vehicles at a closing speed in excess of a hundred miles an hour only to pass within ten feet of each other….and do this thousands, millions of times a day.  

    The result is a statistical certainty, and equally measurable carnage and untold suffering of family and friends.  And yet…

    Society. Accepts. It.

    1,000,000 people have died on American roads in the last 25 years.  How many Americans have died due to nuclear accidents in the past 25 years?  Is nuclear energy what we should be awake at night worrying about?  

    The simple cold fact is that there are “acceptable losses” to society in a huge number of endeavors, food inspection, gun rights, healthcare, the justice system, flu pandemic prevention, DHS screening procedures, etc.  In the grand scheme, the risk of energy production is pretty low in my book.

    Funny that nobody ever protests two way road designs.

  61. Tom Scharf Says:

    @58 - I think if you mean by “catastrophe” that a terrorist would be able to detonate some sort of nuclear explosion, this is correct.  However it is less clear that a rogue nuclear scientist with a working knowledge of the plant’s system would be unable to force a meltdown through seemingly low tech methods.  Take an axe to the cooling pipes, destroy the control rods, etc.  And one supposes the target would not be a the most up to date shiny safe plant either.  Even simply stealing the nuclear material for a dirty bomb is a threat.  Certainly they have thought these scenarios through, and tried to prevent them, but I’m not buying that systems are foolproof in this manner.  It’s hard enough preventing disaster when someone is not intentionally trying to cause it.

  62. Tom Scharf Says:

    @58 - Agreed on the Japanese nuclear design issue, but this is imminently a foreseeable design risk.  The chances of this scenario happening were ultra low unless maybe there was a huge earthquake disabling nuclear plants country wide and the electrical backup systems were disabled by a secondary disaster such as a tsunami. Well then maybe there could be a problem…but still disaster was avoided even in the midst of exploding containment domes, radiation releases, reactors fires and melting, inability to monitor the reactors properly and such.  Nobody was feeling very confident in the weeks following the earthquake that the situation was stable.  It was a close call.  I’m confident future reactors will be even safer, and the historical evidence shows that even the “old” reactor designs are very safe. Like I said, I have one in my effective backyard and don’t lose any sleep over it. 

  63. SBVOR Says:


    Your points are all reasonable, logical and well rooted in quantitative data and historical experience — that is precisely why virtually all “Progressives” will completely reject everything you have to say.

  64. Michael Larkin Says:

    Tom Scharf #59: Please, can you tell me how you managed to get paragraph breaks in your post?

  65. Tom Fuller Says:

    Michael, if you click on the two blue arrows in the menu, the comment shifts into HTML mode. Place your cursor after the <p> that closes a line. Enter twice. That gives you the line break. After that, if you finish your comment in the HTML editor, you can just hit line breaks normally, with two returns.

  66. Tom Fuller Says:

    I’m sorry Michael. that should be the </p> mark.

    Testing my own instructions here.

  67. Eli Rabett Says:

    Tim Burden pretty well expressed Eli’s POV (as well as thingsbreak, Marlow and others to be named later). While the framing is important, Dean in #1 nailed the purpose which is to establish the Breakthrough Institute and its allies as the “real” environmentalists. To do so requires disestablishmentenvironmentalism of the the highest order.

  68. grypo Says:

    For the most part, I agree that people in general should be more educated on the connections between nukes - GMO’s and climate change. Let’s face it, neither are wildly popular ideas among the general public and we can blame enviros and the press for this problem. For environmentalists, the question itself is much more complicated. They do offer another technological option replace of nukes and their is lots of room for agreement, if we can keep existing nukes on-line and find economically sound subsidies to increase both energy sources from taxing carbon. Calling them anti-tech based on this is not correct. And I believe, even if they stick out their hold out on GMO’s we can do what we need to do (without enviros) if we treat the technology as a human enterprise that has one goal - feed hungry people, instead of allowing a small conglomeration of corporations control it. Technology is, BTW, just a long line of humans building upon their own and past accomplishments of their species. Their is no reason why such important technology should only be offered to countries that can afford it.

    What I find poor in the article is using that poll to offer evidence that enviros have turned off young people. There is no causation there. It seems from the comments of the author that the next generations are turned off politics and general and they do not act because they realize they do have the power to do so. They are just smarter than the previous generation and have lapsed into disenfranchis. In other news, that same generation is more favorable to socialism than capitalism and:

    “By a margin of 3 to 1, Americans say they would be more likely to vote for a political candidate
    who supports a ‘revenue neutral’ tax shift. This shift would increase taxes on coal, oil and natural gas, and reduce the federal income tax by an equal amount, while creating jobs and decreasing pollution.

    61 percent of Americans say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports such a tax shift, while 20 percent say they would be less likely.”


    Somebody is doing something right.

  69. Marlowe Johnson Says:


    well done sir. anyone who can use ‘butt-hurt’ and ‘conflationary confabulation’ in a single post deserves of admiration of the highest order. This one’s for you.

  70. jeffn Says:

    Tim Burden at #58 makes some good points here:

    “The other major conflationary flaw perpetrated here is that the (so-called) anti-technology tendency, the tendency to catastrophism, and the anti-growth tendency are all the same type of thing. They are not. The first and third are beliefs about how this thing should be solved, which are argued on their scientific merits. The second is a matter of messaging, and is argued in the context of whatever it is PR people use to measure these things.”

    Since they are good points, let’s address them. Is the “anti-technology tendency” really being “argued on (its) scientific merits?” Kloor, along with Monbiot and Lynas, have demonstrated clearly that it is not- the arguments are largely exaggerations or outright lies. The movement’s prefered so-called alternatives have a body of evidence showing their ineffectiveness. So the anti-technology tendency is confirmed.
    Is the anti-growth tendency being argued on its “scientific merits?” Of course not, it’s a matter of faith that a world without growth would be cleaner. In fact, the scientific evidence is abundant and clear that only areas with economic growth have the resources and the spare time to be green, much less the tendency to reduce their birth rates.

    Finally, the catastrophism “is a matter of messaging” measured by “the PR people.” So, we agree the message has been measured and the result is…. The messaging is really bad. It has failed utterly to convince and the very real dishonesty inherent in it is now even counter-productive to the larger message.

    Rational people, when they discover that the evidence disproves their theories, re-examine the theories. This requires intellectual curiosity about the evidence, rather than knee jerk rejection of heresy.

  71. Tim Burden Says:

    @Marlowe #69: Thanks!

  72. Tim Burden Says:

    @jeffn #70: yeah but my point is that these things have been well-argued elsewhere and should be argued elsewhere, not in the context of a grab-bag smear against a non-existant enviro-cult. Up here in Canada, we call that an Omnibus Bill

  73. Marlowe Johnson Says:


    dark days up here eh?

    makes you wonder if the Yanks were on to something with the whole divided government thing…

  74. Michael Larkin Says:

    Tom fuller #65 and 66

    Many thanks-

    Am testing it now.

  75. Michael Larkin Says:

    Great, Tom! It worked! :-)

  76. jeffn Says:

    #72, I think Keith’s point is to ask what it will take to get moving. A step in that direction is asking if the movement is part of the problem.
    We’re coming into an election season. There will be no shortage of folks eager to portray Republicans as “anti-science.” We saw it in the party primary. Not one candidate in the GOP primary was opposed to deploying nuclear power or GMO. Not one. Moderate Dems and all independents know that. They’re also opposed to the dumber “solutions” that seem to be preferred by the movement.
    So, there’s a choice - spend the next six months and possibly 4-8 years playing partisan games like the movement did when Bush was in office. Games that appeal only to sophomores and partisans who know they aren’t true. Or do something about the “urgent crisis.” Matters not to me, the movement is shooting itself in the foot with the games and I don’t think there is an urgent crisis (in part because you guys consistently choose games over solutions).

  77. Marcus Griswold Says:

    Interesting observations.  I think your thoughts lend true to the climate communication research showing that to reach people we need to talk about consumption.  The question is what are we consuming - i imagine more sustainable products, more alternative energy, more products that purchase land…etc.  I personally see the reduced success of the environmental movement being couched in the lack of clear messages, when NGOs argue endlessly about points that are actually irrelevant to the public and the communication by each group ultimately doesn’t provide the public with similar solutions.  If you spent time in DC or elsewhere, the industry knows how to develop consistent, clear talking points…Lastly, regarding your point on environmentalism being an issue of depriving. You are probably correct on this piece.  What we need is more time outside, more access to nature, more opportunities to see wolves, more electric vehicles, more opportunities to walk to work, more clean water….

  78. Tim Burden Says:

    @jeffn #76: but now you make the same mistakes Kloor makes: “nuclear and GMO are right, everything else is dumb, and so because some greens are anti-nuke, therefore there is a consistently dumb anti-technology enviro-cult that is ruining it for us ‘progressives’”.

    Just doesn’t follow bra.

    There are pro-nuke greens and anti-nuke greens. Trust me, because I have been both. It’s a crucial argument, and there’s a lot at stake. But I’d hate to see anyone capitulate on one side or the other because it doesn’t send the right messaging. That’s frankly a stupid way to decide things.

  79. Eli Rabett Says:

    If anti-GMO and anti-nuclear are such losing issues, why is the Green Party in Germany such a success?  Just asking.

  80. Tim Burden Says:

    @myself #78: put another way, it’s like muddling policy and politics together. Whether to support nukes as a last resort in a program to decarbonize is a policy matter. Whether to be alarmist or not is a matter of politics. It is a fallacy to muddle them.

  81. Tom Fuller Says:

    “Germany’s Green Party used to be the model for upstart political parties in the country. But now it appears that the new Internet-freedom Pirate Party is on an even more rapid path to nationwide success. And it has overtaken the Greens in public opinion polls, as well.According to a survey released by the pollsters at Forsa for broadcaster RTL on Tuesday, the political newcomers currently enjoy 13 percent of voter support and are now the third most popular party in the country ahead of the environmentalist Greens, which lagged behind at 11 percent.”http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,826540,00.html

  82. Jeffn Says:

    78 & 80
    Who’s talking about nuclear as a last resort? It’s been clear since the 1980s that nuclear is going to be necessary yet we just saw he first plant approval in 30 years in the US. The only people responsible for that delay are environmentalists and their enablers in the Democratic party.
    That delay was just not possible in a world where anyone takes climate change seriously, but it is in a world that doesn’t. If you cant take your crisis seriously, don’t expect it of others.
    I do agree that the decision to be alarmist was political. Because the the “solutions” offered by the alarmist really are dumb. At least when they’re coherent- ask someone to detail how they would achieve rapid population reduction and/or negative growth.

  83. Tom Scharf Says:

    @79 - Germany will now use coal for energy instead of nuclear.  Another grand victory for the greens!  A parody of the highest order.

  84. Marlowe Johnson Says:

    Despite much media talk of money earmarked for climate protection being diverted to build new coal plants, a 2011 report for the German federal ministry of economics and technology suggests that this is an oversimplification. Yes, Germany is likely to build several new coal plants in the near future, but the country’s share of coal-fired generation will decline rapidly—with or without an exit from nuclear power. 

    You were saying Tom?

  85. Marlowe Johnson Says:

    Despite much media talk of money earmarked for climate protection being diverted to build new coal plants, a 2011 report for the German federal ministry of economics and technology suggests that this is an oversimplification. Yes, Germany is likely to build several new coal plants in the near future, but the country’s share of coal-fired generation will decline rapidly—with or without an exit from nuclear power.  

  86. Eli Rabett Says:

    The greens and the pirates are running neck and neck, but the pirates are not taking votes from the greens but rather mostly from the FDP and the two major parties.  The FDP is in serious danger of falling out of the game (you need 5%).

  87. BBD Says:


    Interesting link - thanks. I have spent a little while now looking at the BNerzA Table 1, Scenarios A and B, both of which strike me as implausible. The proportion of SPV in the mix is too high, especially in Scenario B, increased NG capacity notwithstanding. I will be fascinated to see the outcome, but will risk a prediction: this is grossly over-optimistic and they are in for a nasty surprise within half a decade. You can of course save this away and brandish it under my nose should the opportunity ever arise :-)

    I should add that I would *dearly love* to see the German experiment work. I just don’t think it will. The good news here is that it is being done. It will end much debate of this kind permanently.

  88. Tim Burden Says:

    @jeffn #82: And there you go, trying to argue the nuke case in a thread that has nothing to do with the nuke case.

    There are legitimate arguments on both sides of the nuke case. Go argue them in a place that will matter. Doing it here in the context of an attempt to smear anybody who doesn’t agree with you as an old fuddy-duddy enviro-cultist is self-defeating. Because all you’re doing is participating in a particularly convoluted ad hominem attack.

    The important fact remains that we should be able to argue against (or for) nukes without being labelled an idiot, or as a Luddite who wants us all to live in a cave.

    On the alarmism issue, (to the politics now, and away from the policy) I side with Dave Roberts:

    My instincts all tell me that a Goldilocks message on climate only serves to soothe and anesthetize. Alarm isn’t enough, it isn’t a complete communications strategy, but surely, in an alarming situation, we must begin with alarm.

    [From Tim Burden: That seems reasonable to me, and I’m sure it seems reasonable to you whether or not you agree with it. And because it is at least a reasonable position, holding it cannot make Dave Roberts or myself a cult member. That boat don’t float.

  89. Tim Burden Says:

    I’d appreciate an edit from Keith Kloor to fix my broken blockquote above. Cheers!

  90. Keith Kloor Says:


    You’re in luck! I’ll be building on my arguments, as there is appears to be an interested audience for them (and I’m not referring to climate skeptics, either), notwithstanding the carping I’ve received. 

  91. Tim Burden Says:

    @kk #90: Fantastic! Because they’re (obviously) all worthy of debate. But please, break them out of this omnibus bill approach so we can argue them seriously without getting labelled.

  92. jeffn Says:

    #88 I agree with your comment:
    “The important fact remains that we should be able to argue against (or for) nukes without being labelled an idiot, or as a Luddite who wants us all to live in a cave.”

    How you argue against nukes matters. And the point applies to other areas of science, no? We should be able to argue for or against the proposition of a man-made global warming catastrophe without being labelled an idiot.

    The problem though is the contradiction. Here we have a claim- urgent action is necessary, followed by a set of options: Alternative A, B, C, D. 24 years later, we’re still waiting for the environmental movement to accept any of the alternatives available to us. Meanwhile, the movement has been called out, by it’s own, as being untrustworthy on nuclear, natural gas, GMO, and I would add renewable energy (where the tendency is to exaggerate performance and underestimate cost). Those are technical- scientific - questions. Then on top of that is the incoherent political solutions- population control, negative growth international climate justice treaty.

    Forget nukes for a moment, they’re merely an obvious example. If this issue is to be addressed, the people who claim to be most concerned about it must be the ones who are most serious about it. Environmentalists do not demonstrate seriousness when they argue by fairy-tale - whether it’s exaggerations about fracking, nukes, the ability to power German industry with solar panels, feeding 5 billion with small-scale organic farming, the joys of a world with negative growth.
    Marlowe -84 and 85, renewable will work because the ministry says so? Seriousness.

  93. Marlowe Johnson Says:


    what sort of over/under will you give me? I think you’re overly pessimistic about the ability of grid investments + pricing reforms to manage the transition



  94. BBD Says:


    It’s about having far, far too much intermittency. Germany has subsidised itself a massive pile of SPV, but it is drifting further and further away from sustainable baseload capacity. Look at Scen A: +34.7GW wind/SPV by 2022. Scen B: + 66.9GW wind/SPV. But conventional falls by -13.8GW (A) and -7.3GW (B) for the same period. It does not add up. Too much intermittency and nothing at all by way of detail about energy storage (and this is *massively* problematic for SPV, which is why I picked up on there being too much SPV in the projected mixes). It doesn’t hang together. I sense wishful thinking.

    We shall see how it pans out. One thing is clear: Germany will increase the proportion of renewables in its energy mix aggressively, and we will all learn and benefit from the experience.

  95. Tim Burden Says:

    @jeffn #92:

    How you argue against nukes matters. And the point applies to other areas of science, no? We should be able to argue for or against the proposition of a man-made global warming catastrophe without being labelled an idiot.

    Uhhh…nope. That’s a third category, outside of policy and politics, called science. There is scientific consensus on this matter. It’s a serious waste of time to bother with it.

    The only things left for non-scientists to argue about are the set of proposed solutions, that is, policy, and the messaging.

    Policy is informed by science, but since there are other factors - human, economic, political, etc. - policy is not just science.

  96. marco valente Says:

    Hi Keith. My comment here is on similar lines to the one I made on the Discov.Mag post (comment#34). Recapping it here very briefly.  Eco-disaster: Yes, I agree there is a broad spectrum of colors when it comes to envisioned futures (from dark scenarios to positive visions). But to remind you that warning signs, increasingly now in the Anthropocene due to the scale of our impacts, are needed. Anti-growth brigade: Growth of what? A few comments in the DiscovMag post raised the issue of what is meant by growth, for it isn’t a “value-free” term to use at all. Economic growth? GDP, with all the negative consequences linked to it? Best -

  97. Russell Says:

    I wish Keith would apply himself to analyzing  the greatest policy question urban farming raises. The subject’s enthusiasts have yet to quantify the potential convertibility of skyscraper walls , tenement roofs ,and green spaces like Central Park  to sources of crops priced high enough to pay modern  American urban real estate taxes.Autarchy begins at home, and if New York is to achieve fiscal coherence, it must domesticate its sources of sin taxes and concentrate contraband production within the five boroughs. To do otherwise invites the creeping takeover of  Mayor Bloombergen’s beloved municipal bond business by the financial wizards of such perennially in-surplus cities as Medelin and Cali.In addition to embracing biodiversity- what better means of mitigation in the face of warming than planting tropical crops?,  replacing the grass in Central Park with fields of <i>Papiver somniferum</i>, planting <i.C. sativa indica</i> medians on park Avenue and the West Side Drive, and converting wasted downtown hotel atrium space into vertical <i>cocarias</i> planted with Peru’s most productive <i> Erythroxylon</i> clones could do much to arrest the balance of payments, and reduce drug smuggling into the Port of New York.Intensively replanting the suburbs with tobacco could reduce the risk of Lyme disease as well.

  98. NewYorkJ Says:

    Since 2008, coal consumption has been dropping hard in the U.S., with wind, natural gas, and hydro filling the gap (see Jan. 2012 EIA report), with perhaps a contribution from energy efficiency.  While I’m uneasy about Germany’s nuclear decision and don’t think it’s wise to take it off the table, I’m not convinced increased coal will be an inevitable result.

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