Alibi V.14 No.10 • March 10-16, 2005 


Political Correctness in the Time of Global Warming

Nuclear power isn't PC.

Talking about nuclear power, except to condemn it, can get you busted by the political correctness cops and sentenced to an enviro re-education camp. Imagine endless days of group readings of Edward Abbey and public contrition for daring to ask what's wrong with harnessing the atom in the service of humanity.

Political correctness prohibits even reading certain books. Like New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici's hybrid autobiography and nuclear engineering text. Pete titled his book, A Brighter Tomorrow even though much of it retraces his personal history.

I have a confession: I have read the book. I have therefore committed a PC offense. Make that a crime spree: I have read the book, it is an important book, Domenici makes a lot of good points (with help from two co-authors), and environmentalists should read it.

Energy policy is one of the most important and costly fights environmentalists have waged. Domenici is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. For no other reason, anyone concerned about our future energy supply should be reading his book to learn how he thinks and where there is a possibility of working with him.

Knowing what Pete Domenici has to say about hydrocarbons, wind, photovoltaics and, yes, nuclear energy, is a lot more important than what Edward Abbey had to say about his hiking trips.

For those who need a PC justification in order to substitute Domenici for Abbey, try this: Edward Abbey is a dead white man who was a litterbug and had a lousy attitude towards women. Oh, and he wasn't very fond of Mexican immigrants, either. On the other hand, Pete Domenici is still kicking. He belongs to an ethnic minority. English is his second language. We should celebrate the fact that a son of immigrants has broken into the upper echelons of American power.

I've got one more politically correct prod. It's called global warming.

Global warming, or more accurately global climate change, is real and we're causing it. Only wackos, idiots, Exxon, Peabody Coal and corrupt politicians are still in denial. Feel free to insert "The Bush White House" anywhere in that list, unless you think I've got it covered.

Global climate change threatens the diversity of life on this planet. It threatens mankind's future. It is a runaway train coming straight for us. We need to do everything we can to save ourselves and our planet.

That means considering every alternative to fossil fuels, including nuclear energy.

In private conversations, knowledgeable people in the New Mexico environmental community admit safety objections to nuclear plants are pretty much overblown. In some national environmental groups there is a growing willingness among a few brave souls to raise the issue. But they dare not speak too loudly. It would upset campaign plans that bring in millions of dollars. For another, it would result in numerous decapitations—heads severed by sharp rebukes and the application of relentless peer pressure.

Right here in New Mexico, much of the advocacy work on energy and global climate change is financed by foundations opposed to nuclear energy. There is little chance the activists dependent upon those monies will suggest that all alternatives to fossil fuels be considered if that includes nuclear power.

New Mexico risks losing some of its most special places because the rising demand for natural gas has made it economical to develop previously unprofitable areas. The Yellowstone of the Southwest, Valle Vidal, is in the sights of Houston-based El Paso Corporation. The sprawling desert grandeur of Otero Mesa could succumb to gas exploration that doesn't make sense unless the price trends higher over the long term.

Environmentalists deserve their share of blame. They have fought nuclear power and pushed natural gas as the "transitional fuel" to the brave, new world of hydrogen. (Never mind how we will produce hydrogen in sufficient quantities to serve all our needs). Utilities have been building one new gas fired generating plant after another, but not enough to keep up with demand. The use of coal has increased to cover the shortfall. Whatever you think about nuclear energy, it is unquestionably a lot cleaner than coal, which unfortunately still provides 50 percent of this nation's electricity.

Nuclear waste? It's a real problem. But is it more serious than the consequences of continuing to alter the Earth's climate and imminently risk causing natural disaster? Technology doesn't stand still. Future generations will solve many problems that baffle us today. We at least owe them the chance of figuring it out, and still being able to marvel at Venice and polar bears.

I could go on and tell you more about Pete's book. But there's a knock at the door. It's men in Gore-Tex uniforms with green armbands. Black helicopters are circling overhead. Gotta run.