Boston’s booming waterfront faces an uncertain future as climate change in the form of rising sea levels threatens to literally wash away tens of billions of dollars in new development, from condominium and office high-rises to shops, restaurants and museums.
It’s easy to blame President Donald Trump, the world’s leading ignoramus who recently declared “I don’t believe it” when confronted with a 1,500-page federal report on the crisis.
But if Trump and his Republican lackeys in Congress are to blame for our nation’s current paralysis in the face of an escalating climate disaster, militant environmentalists have their fair share of the blame for getting us to where we are today.
Unwilling to budge from their obsessive focus on wind and solar, hardline environmental activists have done their best to take off the table any realistic, short-term alternatives to bridging the vast gap to a carbon-free future.
Decades of emotionally charged, factually dishonest fearmongering has succeeded in making the only realistic short-term solution to provide that bridge to the future – nuclear power – too politically radioactive to be considered for a mass expansion.
“The China Syndrome,” a hit 1979 thriller starring Jane Fonda, popularized the myth preached by radical environmentalists that every nuclear plant is some sort of neutron bomb ready to blow at any time and end life as we know it.
Those fears would look ridiculous, even laughable, today – if it weren’t for the looming climate catastrophe we now face.
Yes, there was Chernobyl, the product of a monumentally incompetent and corrupt Soviet state with little regard for the safety or basic welfare of its subjects and, far more recently, the Fukushima disaster, the result of a tsunami that followed a devastating earthquake.
Yet nuclear power has been remarkably safe around the world and nowhere more so than in the U.S., where deaths involving mishaps at commercial nuclear power plants have been rare to the point of nonexistent, let alone a Hollywood-style reactor meltdown.
The same certainly can’t be said of coal-fired power plants. All that carbon coal-fired power plants spew into the environment has not only helped raise global temperatures, it has also lowered the lifespans of innumerable people around the world thanks to various respiratory ailments.
With stricter regulation and the phasing out of some coal plants, the death toll has fallen to a few thousand people a year in the U.S., down from 30,000 a year in 2000, the Clean Air Task Force notes.
That’s before we take into account the toll on coal miners, with black lung disease having claimed the lives of more than 76,000 since 1968, the Smithsonian Magazine notes, citing federal labor statistics.
Carbon-Neutral Plants Disappear
Given how successful opponents have been in tarring nuclear power plants as radioactive volcanoes just ready to blow at any time, any reassessment of nuclear power faces a very steep climb.
Power companies looking to build new nuclear plants face a herculean permitting task, even in jurisdictions in the Deep South which have been friendlier to such development.
In many other parts of the country, it’s probably a near-impossible task. No sane power company exec would propose building a new nuclear plant in New England, home to an epic, years-long battle over the commissioning of the Seabrook nuclear power plant in New Hampshire.
Just keeping the current lineup of nuclear power stations up and running is proving to be a doomed proposition. Today the five nuclear plants left in New England face an uncertain future and four have already been shuttered.
And guess what? Electricity generated by traditional, carbon-spewing power plants has filled void in the power grid left by the nuke plant closures, with renewables like wind and solar unable to do the job.
Activists Reject Reasonable Alternatives
It’s not just nuclear power that is on the hit list of enviro fanatics.
Natural gas and hydro power are also deemed unacceptable to those with fantasies of a wind and solar powered world where everyone grows their own organic crops and life reverts to a quite imaginary pre-industrial state of bliss.
Natural gas, of course, does put carbon into the atmosphere, and if not closely supervised and regulated can cause big problems, as the misery Columbia Gas triggered in the Merrimack Valley surely attests. But gas-fired plants are a significant step up from dirty, coal burning power generators.
As for hydro power, apparently that’s not good enough either for hardline environmental activists. Green groups like the Sierra Club have joined lobbyists for fossil fuel-driven power plants to oppose a 145-mile transmission line that would bring badly needed hydro power from Quebec to Massachusetts.
The fallout from global warming is starting to hit home, from fire-ravaged California to increasingly flood-prone coastal cities like Boston.
The clock is ticking. And it’s time to stop demonizing nuclear power, natural gas and hydro power and get real about finding solutions that will actually have a meaningful and immediate impact.
Scott Van Voorhis is Banker & Tradesman’s columnist; opinions expressed are his own. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.