So yesterday I stumbled on this article from the SMH, which is talking about Australia’s new Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel. Recently annoucned, Dr. Finkel will be moving into the position in 2016. The main point of this article is a couple of statements made by Dr. Finkel regarding Australia’s use of coal, and the need to move towards a carbon-free energy system.
His position seems to be that that we should transition to entirely renewable energy, but that nuclear should ‘absolutely be considered’. Both parts of these comments are very good to hear, not only is there now a voice that will push seriously for renewable energy, it is also a pragmatic voice that is OK with using nuclear power as an interim, low-carbon, constant supply energy source.
At this point it is really quite shocking that Australia hasn’t moved towards using nuclear energy. Of all the countries in the world, we are perhaps one of the best suited for nuclear energy: we have an incredible amount of empty land, that is currently going unused, far away from any people and any risk of accidental health effects (which is also a good place to store any waste); we are right in the middle of a tectonic plate and as such do not suffer from frequent earthquakes that can damage nuclear reactors (I’m looking at you Japan); and we have 31% of the world’s uranium, an incredibly valuable resource that we currently make no use of.
Ecomodernism is a environmental philosophy that can be seen as a bit of a reactionary development to the radical philosophies of mainstream environmentalists.
Proponents of ecomodernism, like their environmentalist colleagues, fight for the reduction of the human impact on the world. However, the ecomodernist movement favours the use and development of technologies that will allow humanity to do so. By this I mean that the ecomodernists do not reject growth and technological development in the way that many ‘greenies’ do. Ecomodernism promotes the use of GMOs, agricultural intensification, synthetic foods, water desalination and waste recycling. In regards to energy production, they favour ‘de-carbonizing’ energy, by switching to high energy-density energy sources, such as nuclear power. They also reject the idea of ‘organic’ agriculture and many renewable technologies, because of their inefficient use of space.The idea of ecomodernism is that we are going to have an impact on the Earth no matter what we do, but if we can be as efficient with that impact as possible, the world will benefit in the long run.
The main point of contention this movement finds is with the ‘degrowth’ and ‘steady-state economy’ movements, which argue for a reduction in growth and technological inputs. Many challenge the ecomodern rejection of renewable energy, especially in light of their plan to ‘de-carbonize’ the energy grid. Where these criticisms seem to fall down is that they don’t take into account the aspirations of developing nations around the world. It is all very well and good to say to developed nations that they need to stop expanding and put all their energy into being ‘in tune’ with nature, but for us to tell people in a developing nation that they have to stop growing, and not use any of our technological developments seems to be a form of classism and quite paternalistic.
The ‘rational’ viewpoint of the ecomodernist movement seems to be a bit of fresh air in the environmental debate, although it is not without its valid criticisms. Maybe this is a different framing of the issue that will be more successful in convincing people who consider themselves environmentalists to be more open to the benefits of nuclear power?