Nuclear power will not let us off the hook
The unfortunate thing about Howard’s current nuclear agenda is not his inquiry into the viability of expanding uranium mining and developing a nuclear power industry in Australia.
Nor is it that the inquiry has the appearances of a done deal, with an outcome tipped towards supporting the nuclear gravy train so desired by the Howard government and the mining, uranium, and nuclear lobbies.
What is unfortunate is that business and political interests are hijacking the global warming crisis to protect their financial future and power interests. Seeing the writing in the coal dust, they determined to protect their industries and financial futures from demands that they make the necessary concessions to reduce their carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.
Nuclear power has become Australian industry’s saviour – this white steed promises them a way out of cutting energy consumption and cutting emissions to reduce their global warming debt. By pursuing the false promise of nuclear power as a clean, green and low carbon dioxide emitting energy source, industry hopes to continue consuming as much energy as it wishes, and believes it is forestalling a future climate disaster – or rather forestalling any criticism that it isn’t doing enough to tackle the crisis.
It’s also no coincidence that nuclear power helps open up more profit opportunities for industry. It also redirects many environmentalists’ criticism away from industry’s CO2 emissions and ties-up our energies in the nuclear debate.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t some sectors of the business community that accept the reality of the global warming crisis and the need to do something about it – legitimately. However, the agenda setting argument is about whether nuclear power can deliver us from global warming – or rather deliver us from the hard choices and sacrifices this crisis demands of us.
Global warming has become the key to making nuclear power more palatable to an Australian public hungry for quick-fixes to the crisis we’ve helped create for over a generation. It also offers powerful spin opportunities: if we are against nuclear power, then we must be ‘climate change deniers’. How the tables have changed.
Howard’s nuclear agenda is also unfortunate because we are missing the opportunity to seriously examine – and change – our consumption habit.
Global warming initially put the spotlight on the CO2 impact of our cars, our households, our lifestyles, even our offices, and industry on our planet. Meanwhile so long as the focus was on domestic energy wastage and changing consumption habits, industry was able to avoid greater scrutiny on its own role as a greenhouse gas culprit.
Industry wants to maintain the status quo: to keep on making more stuff, shipping it vast distances to ‘markets’ across the globe, convincing people that they are ‘consumers’ who really couldn’t do without this stuff (i.e. creating those markets), then joyfully selling it to ‘consumers’, who in turn keep borrowing more money to buy this stuff, and dumping previous stuff to make room for new stuff.
Of course, this means being able to use as much energy they want, as cheaply as possible, with as little inconvenience as they can.
The danger, I think, was when industry realised the possibility of real, widespread consumer change in our energy behaviour and consumption. They want the vicious cycle of consumption and production to continue, and resent the few gains that the environmental movement’s been making in convincing us that our consumption habits are costing the earth.
I suspect that industry is threatened far more by the possibility that our consumption habit would change fundamentally (and by how the change would bite into their profit margins), rather than the changes that may be imposed on them to curtail greenhouse gas emissions.
Reduced consumption today would hurt industry more than any imagined, future climate disaster.
That is why nuclear power is their white stallion – it promises business as usual, and lets us – personally and collectively – off the hook for how our consumption habits and energy wastage are warming our planet.
We can’t afford excuses like this.