This week, high profile environmentalists like George Monbiot (‘The Fukushima crisis should not spell the end of nuclear power‘) and Mark Lynas (‘What does the Japanese Quake Crisis Say About Nuclear Power’) wrote in defence of nuclear power putting the energy debate in a climate change context and debating the CO2 cost of stalling on nuclear versus emissions from coal. Here Justin Kenrick responds (it’s worth reading also Pat Kane’s piece for Caledonia Mercury here)…

Surely the choice is not between nuclear and coal but between:

(i) continually refuelling and expanding an economy that is destroying people and planet


(ii) making a rapid transition to resilient low energy relocalised livelihoods that can tread more lightly.

Accepting the rules of the economic game (with all it’s political, social and environmental consequences) means we end up choosing the lesser of two evils.

Powerful systems have always sought to maintain themselves by saying: if you don’t support us, the alternative will be far worse.

In contrast, the liberating aspects of this society – the same society that gave rise to the dominant economic model – have always emerged from the movements that have refused the choice of evils on offer, and insisted that we can be, we are, and we always have been a better world than that.

George Monbiot has been and continues to be a powerful force in one such current movement, and I am deeply grateful for his extraordinary week in week out spadework on all our behalfs. I just happen to think he’s missing the bigger picture on this one. But doubtless he would say the same of me, and who am I to judge?

It seems that how we frame that bigger picture is what always determines what happens next. This  points to the need to always reflect on whether our ‘bigger picture’ is simply a reflection of the dominant ideology of entrenched power relations, or is a true reflection of reality.

The current impacts of climate change – whether in the rain forests here in Africa or in the Arctic – and the Fukushima disaster are both clear cases of reality breaking through.

My hunch is that people like George Monbiot and Mark Lynas – in effectively championing nuclear power – are trying to challenge what they see as a dominant ideology in the environmental movement.

However what needs to be challenged in this movement is not some apparently totemic opposition to nuclear power, but rather the opposite.

What needs to be challenged is our refusal to really recognise the magnitude of change we each need to engage in – through rapid personal, community, cultural, legal and political change – to unhook ourselves from the convenience of high energy consumption.

If we cannot make the transition from a high energy economy (e.g. If we cannot feed ourselves without one) then we are stuffed. If we can make the transition, then we need not be stuffed.

We cannot know for sure whether we can make that transition, but we do know for sure that the powers that be always maintain themselves by saying there is no alternative.

If the road we are on leads over the sheer edge of a cliff, then we need to change direction, not continue driving rapidly at it – whatever the fuel source.