The Most Dangerous Time

Al Gore and Ralph Nader should be tasked to articulate the vision. The battle must be against the conventional thinking of all those, like the New York Times, who reported this week that these disasters are inevitable because “the world has no workable alternatives able to operate as sufficient scale.” That’s insane. No one has tried to put conservation first, and adopt a crash program of renewables like the war production days of World War II, when the tanks and jeeps rolled out of Detroit.

Some will ask, reasonably, whether conservation and renewables are enough to meet our projected energy needs. Nothing is simple or objective. The fundamental need is to summon the political will to cut wasteful consumption. The case for nukes and oil rests on the dangerous assumption of unlimited access to world supply in order to meet unlimited gluttony. That’s a deep issue. In the meantime, our energy policy should be based on conservation and renewables first, not the other way around. Every other option is expensive, unhealthy and lethal. If a new energy policy proves insufficient to meet our legitimate needs, then and only then should fossil fuels or nukes be considered – which would result on a vastly reduced dependency for future generations.

According to a comprehensive study thirty years ago, California could have achieved a self-sustaining energy future by now. At the time, Californians were being told we needed a nuclear plant every five miles along our coast. Along came the No Nukes crusade and Jerry Brown, and in the end California created 1.5 million clean energy jobs and $50 billion in consumer savings, leaving only two nukes cooking on our coastline. In that moment, all things seemed possible. Then Brown was dubbed “Governor Moonbeam” and was defeated on the national scene. His ideas were taken up a decade later by candidate Al Gore, and it took a stolen election to stop Gore. Then came the Bush-Cheney-Big Oil administration and the Iraq War. We’re still stuck in the tar sand, so to speak. But it’s important to remember how quickly progressive moments and progress coalitions can rise, fall and rise again.

The time is at hand when many Americans will feel compelled to rebel against the threat to everyday life from these clueless powers that be, ranging from terrorism to radiation to the death of species. All the campaign contributions and media manipulation of the corporations – General Electric still owns 49 percent of NBC – cannot reverse the growing public perception that the world is out of control.

The Long War must be ended. We cannot afford it, cannot win it. The president and congressional Democrats must wake up and follow the recent admonition of the Democratic National Committee to begin significant withdrawals this year, or face a serious erosion of voter support in 2012.

At the same time the peace movement must join with environmentalists and domestic reformers to take the vital steps toward energy conservation, which can liberate us from the oil-coal-nuclear addiction.

Since the Congress is hopeless in terms on conservation spending for now, activists can start in places like California with a campaign to bring back Jerry Brown the First, and shut down the pressurized water reactors at San Onofre and Diablo Canyon. Many other regions like Vermont, Ohio and New York can join the fight against the nukes in their backyards.

It is estimated that 20 percent of electrical energy nationwide comes from 104 nukes, 31 of them having the same design as the Fukushima reactor. Instead, Congressmen like Ed Markey [D-Mass.] and Henry Waxman [D- Calif.] should hold hearings to draft and advocate a plan for achieving that 20 percent with conservation and renewables, region by region until the federal government is forced to follow.

Our environmental leaders should learn from this disaster, abandon their expedient flirtation with nuclear power, and provide no further respectable cover for the nuclear industry’s attempted revival. Just this week, President Obama was poised to discuss joint nuclear development with the Latin American countries he is visiting. Those plans have been scrubbed. But the U.S. has lobbied successfully for nuclear plants with India, with little public opposition. If nuclear power in Iran makes some Americans nervous, wait until the public learns the nuclear ambitions of the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Egypt and even Saudi Arabia.

The same goes for deepwater drilling and coal. From bay to bay and mine to mine, local efforts by groups like the Sierra Club can raise the cost of the reckless fossil fuel path, and pressure for tougher conservation standards for residential and commercial development. Organized labor should back the Steelworkers and the Apollo Alliance in framing the “green jobs” debate, arguing for a new generation of energy-efficient infrastructure as well.

The movements will only come together – locally and in broader networking – if the need comes from below, from the rank and file activists already longing for greater unity.

Without knowing or naming it, millions of Americans have been building a Long Movement for justice, peace and environmental sanity for a long time. Through ups and downs, victories and defeats and near misses, this vast movement can be a source of rich experience, creativity, accomplishments and memory. We must hope now for another Movement Time in response to the dangerous default of our institutions.



  1. Joe Weinstein says

    And the good news is that instead of nuclear they are ready to give us clean natgas, obtained by fracking. (Oh, the gas itself is clean all right. As Lehrer sang in 1965, ‘Just one thing you must beware, don’t drink the water and don’t breathe the air’.) If you don’t have the time to see GASLAND, just remember one fact: Cheney and company engineered the Congress and President to allow gas frackers wholesale violation of the Clean Water Act.

    In brief, it you are (or can claim to be) extracting gas, you have the right to dump all kinds of published and unpublished carcinogenic chemicals into leased exploration ground, no matter that you know full well that they will come back into streams and wells.

    At least the nuke guys don’t yet have the right to dump spent nuke wastes into wherever they can lease..

    Yes, per Grumet, ‘the world is fundamentally a set of relative risks.’ Funny how (at least during the OBushma era) that always turns out to mean that at any given time at least one kind of profound eco-crime is politically correct in DC.

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