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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Global warming? Blame environmentalists

    In case you missed the news, the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report stated that global warming is “”very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic (human-produced) greenhouse gas concentrations.”” Not particularly good news, but at least we know who to blame.

    The task now is to figure out how to tackle the problem, and ironically, it’s environmentalists who stand in the way. While focusing almost entirely on ways of reducing energy demand, that tunnel vision seems to prevent them from seeing any other way to stem global warming.

    The green movement has historically opposed nuclear energy, the production of which emits nothing but steam, and thus it inhibits what some consider our best shot at slowing the scourge of global warming.

    A recent International Energy Agency report showed that gas-driven vehicles are responsible for roughly 21 percent of global carbon emissions. The energy-production sector, on the other hand, accounts for 40 percent – nearly twice as much – of worldwide carbon emissions. Thus it would seem that anyone interested in curbing global warming would look first to stem the tide of greenhouse gases spewing out of fossil fuel-burning power plants around the world.

    If climate change is such a serious threat, environmentalists would do well to pursue more than one way of addressing it.

    Instead environmentalists, those beacons of eco-responsibility, have steadily opposed the spread of clean energy and have even helped effect an unofficial moratorium on nuclear power plant construction in the U.S.

    As the demand for energy skyrockets worldwide, it becomes more and more difficult to ignore the case for nuclear energy. Yes, there are less controversial ways to produce energy cleanly: wind farms, solar power and hydroelectric power come to mind.

    But despite their eco-friendliness, wind and solar energy have failed to reach mass feasibility; in 2005 Arizona’s own Palo Verde nuclear power plant produced more megawatt-hours of electricity than all U.S. solar and wind farms combined. Hydroelectric dams, on the other hand, require the right geography in order to be considered.

    So why has there always been such staunch opposition to going nuclear? Greenpeace and other environmentalist organizations cite Three Mile Island as evidence of the fact that nuclear energy is unsafe, but the Three Mile Island story is one of success, not failure. Not a single plant worker or nearby resident was harmed in the accident because all safety precautions were taken and worked according to plan.

    I recently had the opportunity to tour a small reactor facility in Cambridge, Mass., with a family member who works there as an engineer, and I was stunned at the seemingly endless number of safety precautions in place.

    Aside from absurdly thick concrete enclosures and futurisitc-looking radiation checkpoints, the plants designers even took care to maintain a very low level of atmospheric pressure inside sensitive parts of the facility in order to prevent the outrush of irradiated air in the unlikely event of an explosion that could cause a leak in the concrete casings.

    What’s more, nuclear expert John Moens of the U.S. Department of Energy assures me that such facilities are still required to submit “”Environmental Impact Statements”” to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in order to operate.

    So it seems that highly-educated nuclear energy experts are entirely assured of the safety of their craft, even despite the opposition from those who frankly don’t know enough to doubt them. These bright individuals have trouble understanding how the eco-conscious – of all people – could oppose nuclear energy.

    Thankfully, not everyone in the green community still clings to 1960s-era anti-nuclear dogma. Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore last year penned in The Washington Post: “”Thirty years on, my views have changed … because nuclear energy may just be the energy source that can save our planet from … catastrophic climate change.””

    A few other prominent environmentalists agree, yet for now, most environmentalists seem to see only one way of fighting global warming: regulation of (mainly) vehicular emissions. They demonize the likes of SUVs, while fossil fuel-burning power plants emit twice as much greenhouse gasses as all the world’s gas-guzzling autos combined.

    If climate change were such a serious threat, environmentalists would do well to pursue more than one method of retarding it. Capping vehicle emissions is a costly endeavor which addresses only one-fifth of the problem, according to the IEA estimates. It is, at best, a good start to tackling a big problem.

    It’s high time environmentalists saw the whole picture and lobbied for the cleanest method of large-scale energy production there is. Nuclear energy, like all of its alternatives, clearly has its risks and safety is rightly a priority – but if every dangerous innovation were cast aside for its risks, we would still be living in the Stone Age.

    David Francis is a pre-business sophomore. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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