Saturday, November 29, 2008


Nuclear Green will be one year old next Friday. I will be writing a series of essays which will explain why and how nuclear power is green, and can be even greener.

Although I frequently criticize ideological Greens like Amory Lovins, Joe Romm, RalphNader, and David Roberts, I am myself a pragmatic environmentalist.  The earth is our human home, and if we plan to be here for a while, we need to take care of it.  If we don't, the consequence of our folly will cost us dearly.   The first thing we need to protect is the soil, because plant life is the source of most of our food.  If we waste our soil resources, we will eventually pay the price. 

Water is a second vital resource.  A great deal of food comes from the sea.  We need to protect both the sea,  as a home to life,  and as a a source of food.  We need to also protect waters underneath and on the lands surface.  

Mining is the long term removal of resources from the environment.  When resources are removed from the environment, replacing them is likely to be very costly.  Mining can be very detrimental to life, and to the long term interests of the human inhabitants of the Earth.  Some example of such mining include:

* The extraction of minerals vital to life and organic from the soil through the extraction of plant materials

* Overfishing of the seas

* Excessive withdrawal of water from aquifers

Pollution is the addition of waste from human activity in a way that is detrimental to the lives of human beings and to the well being of other life forms. Some examples of pollution include

* The recharging of aquifers with waters containing high levels of heavy metals, released into the environment by human activities

* The salinization of productive soil by over irrigation

* The discharge of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels

* The discharge of toxic levels of fertilizer into the sea from polluted rivers

The theory of biological evolution holds Inter-species competition for resources is inevitable, that climate, environments and habitats constantly change, and adaption to those changes are an inevitable part of life on earth. The extinction of species and the emergence of other species is a normal part of the the natural order.

We deny our species nature when we set for ourselves the task of protecting all life forms. We must remember that nature itself is a great destroyer of life forms, and habitats. The human species is not exempt from nature's destructive power. We seek to protect ourselves, through our protection of our habitat and of our environment. Nature can and will, however, destroy what we seek to protect. We have limited power to protect ourselves from nature, but within our limitations, we ought to protect what we have been given wisely. We have been given the air, the soil, and the water on and under the earth. Been green means to use these wisely, but to not imagine that we can prevent all alterations of the environment. Because we are her, we cannot completely protect the environment from our presence, and indeed we cannot protect the environment from our own folly.

To wish to protect a constantly changing environment from all environmental changes caused by our presence is is folly. To oppose any human activity simply because it will produce some environmental change is folly. To believe that we can always predict the environmental; consequences of our activities is another folly.

My Green means to be on the side of the human species within nature. Within nature always acknowledges the power of nature, and our limitations as life forms. It is both possible and inevitable that we will change the environment we live in, and this is a neutral fact for the earth as a home of life. Nothing we can do will destroy the earth, and it is unlikely that we can completely destroy the earth as a home to life. What we can greatly damage is the earth as our home.

Green means that if people are going to live for long on this planet, our adaption must achieve both flexibility and sustainability. Flexible because if we are here long, we will encounter great environmental catastrophes. An environmental mega event like the eruption of the Yellowstone super volcano would undoubtedly lead to widespread environmental disruption, although it would probably also add to soil fertility. Such an event is likely to occur in the next hundred thousand years. But an even greater natural disaster will undoubtedly occur within the next 20,000 years, and probably sooner, rather than later, within that time frame. That would be the end of the current interglacial climate phase, and a return to glacial climatic conditions. Nothing we as a species can match the destruction of the very potential for life that the return of glaciation would bring. Imagine all Canada covered by an ice mountain two miles high. This is not green nature it is all white, and it has happened many times before.

Our destructiveness is something within nature, we are a natural force. The notion that we must protect nature from ourselves is misguided. Nothing that happens in nature is unnatural. We need to protect ourselves within nature. That is all,

I will next turn to sustainability, and the very great confusion that this topic brings.


Finrod said...

Very interesting, Charles. I feel this is somewhat parallel to the ideas from two comments I made on Depleted Cranium, Which (with a little editing) I hereby provide for your consideration:

"What bugs me the most about this natural vs. unnatural meme, is the implied dualism of a conflict between the benign and the malignant, where Man stands apart from nature as an outside force."
(Comment by DV82XL on DepCran, to which I responded as follows):

This is the ancient Christian doctrine whereby we are to some extent rulers above nature, and to some extent exiles from our originally intended unity with it.
I propose that we must view things otherwise. Yes, there is a certain ‘natural’ (ie, pre-existent) material ‘economy’ which humans developed within and have grown beyond. We are in the very early stages of designing and laying the foundations of an encompassing ‘intentional’ economy, and the techniques employed therein may occasionally conflict with the dictates of the ‘natural’ economy. It should be pointed out, of course, that by using the term ‘dictates’, I have attributed intentionality to the natural system. It can be very difficult to do otherwise, given the structure of language without everything sounding forced and clunky. What I mean is that the ‘commonly presumed’ good for the natural environment is not always best served by human activities undertaken to safeguard human survival (for instance, a Brazilian farmer clearing the rainforest for cropland is reducing biodiversity in the process).
Now we reach an interesting point: Given that the ‘natural environment’ has no overall intentionality, by what logic can it be asserted that the efforts of environmentalists to halt human activity is any less an interference in the processes of nature than the farmer thus scrutinized?
It is my opinion that with sufficiently advanced technology and economic development (and we pretty much have all the tech in hand now) our species can divorce the requirements for survival from the normal operations of the natural ecosystem. We’re not there yet, but with sufficient development and deployment of advanced nuclear power, artificial food production (vertical farming and the like), recycling technology and enhanced concentrated urbanization, we have it within our power to live in immense style and also let the natural ecology of this planet go off on its own natural trajectory unhindered by our intervention, be that intervention benign or malign.
Of course, that would be an extreme scenario. The most likely outcome is that we will continue to engage with the natural environment, and foster it in whatever way seems good to us at the time, once we have the spare capacity to really kick back and think what we want to do with this world.

The Greens are riding this pre-existing Christian prejudice and getting away with it because few people bother examining it in much depth. I believe it will be possible (and in time, easy) for us to establish artificial material ‘economies’ which are convenient for us and sustainable in the long term unto an extremely distant futurity. What the Greens are currently calling ‘nature’ is not the universe in its entirety, but merely the particular still-frame of one planet’s ecology as revealed by twentieth century biological and ecological science. This one field, this one phenomenon, this particular instance which seems so vast to us, but must be put into proper perspective, is the image upon the altar to which Green observance is held due.
There are a couple of bait-and-switch operations going on here. The state of the terrestrial ecosystem at one particular point in its history (say about 10KY ago) is held up as the Edenic ideal which must be reached, although the natural system is (of course!) in a constant state of flux. Also, there is no proper distinction made between ‘nature’ so defined, and true nature, which is the objective reality of the actual physical universe and the laws and processes of the various phenomena therein.
The ‘artificial economies’ (integrated survival and prosperity systems of which our current global economy is the merest eastern glimmer before the true dawn) I’m proposing will doubtless be viewed by Green ideologues and polemicists as ‘unnatural’, but only through the lens of dishonesty of a particular brand of ‘crystal sphere thinking’, which deliberately takes a particular subset of knowledge out of context and raises it on high as a cultish idol.

Cyril R said...

Hi Charles, what do you think about using geothermal to stop pressure and temperature from building up in the Yellowstone magma chambers?

Could be a great way of stopping the Yellowstone disaster, and get some power out of it.

Of course the environmentalists don't want anything built in Yellowstone National Park...

Anonymous said...

Similarly I've been wondering if methane could be extracted from the Siberian clathrates, in order to prevent the catastrophic global warming disaster which would result if the methane was released into the atmosphere...


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