March against Reality

Is there anything more ridiculous and confused than Saturday’s Climate March in London? Apparently it was attended by some 5000 people- about the same number who would visit the London Eye every 90 minutes. The problem with marches is that they are good at addressing specific black-and-white issues: as a student I attended several marches in which we demanded more money for ourselves as students. I also attended single-issue protests such as demonstrations against nuclear power and nuclear weapons. How does this translate into something as complex as climate change- which has been characterised as a wicked problem -something with no straight forward solution and where the responses can very easily turn into boondoggles which make things worse. The problem with the climate change movement is that it has basically tried to position itself in much the same way, and so takes the form as a campaign against fossil fuels- which pretty quickly becomes a campaign against capitalism. This is clearly seen in the current Guardian advocacy series on climate which draws heavily on Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything. There is an interesting review of Klein’s book by Joseph Heath here. Heath points out that Klein is more concerned about how decarbonisation is achieved rather than actually achieving it- and because her whole thesis rests on the assumption that “climate science has handed them the most powerful argument against unfettered capitalism…” (is there a scientific consensus on this?) this means primarily taking pot shots at the fossil fuel industry. No surprise to see this reflected in the posters carried aloft on last weekend’s march, with one of the causes du jour, the anti-fracking movement jumping on the climate change bandwagon:     Embedded image permalink This is a profound confusion- a switch to natural gas that would be enabled by fracking in the UK and elsewhere is likely one of the fastest ways to reduce CO2 emissions, by replacing coal which emits twice the CO2. Science communicator and researcher Alice Bell posted her own home-made placard on Twitter after due thought and consideration: Why indeed- oh, well maybe to get to work, keep warm, eat and stuff like that was my reply. Fossil fuels are useful- extremely so- it is not stupid to use them, in fact it would be stupid not to. You might need them to travel to your next climate march for example- or use them as feedstocks to make plastic placards (ful marks to Alice for using recycled cardboard for hers). How about this one? Embedded image permalink Chicks dig guys with unreliable and intermittent performance? I don’t think so- not the chicks I have known in any case. We cannot just ban fossil fuels in the same way we banned or heavily regulated CFCs through the Montreal Protocol – in that case, the technology already existed for replacements and in any case CFCs were not the life-blood of the global economy in the same way that fossil fuels are. A March Against Fossil Fuels is more symbolic of a March Against Reality:   Despite the much-touted “consensus” on the science climate change, there is no consensus on what to do about it, and the many difficulties of replacing fossil fuels are not easily explained on simplistic placards aimed at herding  protestors with a single unified message. Moreover, Klein- along with much of the marching environmental movement- is strongly opposed to the one technology that could ultimately replace fossil fuels, for much the same reasons- capitalism. So, Klein invokes the scientific authority of James Hanson for his warnings of the dangers of climate change- but in the same breath rejects entirely his advocacy for CO2-free nuclear power as a solution. That technology is nuclear power. The fact is, as Kirsty Gogan of Energy for Humanity explains in the video below, most western nations could have already decarbonised their economies with nuclear power, as the French did more than 30 years ago- but the environmentalists stopped them. Now, if there was a march demanding “Nuclear Power Now!” – that would be a march I could believe in.


4 thoughts on “March against Reality

  1. rob yorke @blackgull

    Spot on. A low input vegan, bike peddling, cardboard placard waving marcher might have a vestige of legitimacy.
    Indeed, nuclear, the forgotten fuel, starts to look more attractive as many renewables stutter with funds and perception.

  2. “most western nations could have already decarbonised their economies with nuclear power, as the French did more than 30 years ago”

    The French have decarbonised their economy? Not really –

    Anyway, I agree that marches on complex issues like post-carbon transitions are often simplistic, self-contradictory affairs. But so too is the blanket assumption that “the one technology that could ultimately replace fossil fuels” is capitalism! Nonsense. I’m not sure what utopian version of capitalism you have in mind, but it can’t be the capitalism of systemic expansionist growth imperatives, planned obsolescence, pollution as externality and short-term accumulation of wealth (viz. liquidation of natural and social ‘capital’) as ultimate end.

    • Yes you are right- but France has *decarbonised* a lot more than most other comparable economies, in no small part thanks to nuclear, and is well below the EU average. I would have been better to say “France’s electricity supply”.
      I dont say that the only technology that could replace fossil fuels is “capitalism” that not being a technology, but that nuclear is the only energy source that could realistically do it, because of its vastly superior energy density and despatchable power.

  3. The only problem that I have with tree huggers protesting is that they are quite happy to utilise co2 emitting devices in order to reach the protest. If they came from their mud huts wearing grass skirts and walked I would have no issues with them.

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