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The French Nuclear Debate

LETTER FROM FRANCE: THOUGHTS ON NUCLEAR POWER
ECOLOGY, AND BIOFUELS
French Flag
Is Nuclear Power good for France?
List of French Nuclear Installations

Editor’s Note: Without at times annoying whoever may have made up their minds another way, it is much harder to otherwise search for answers to environmental challenges with the passion that we do. And in so doing we elicited a most passionate response from a visitor to EcoWorld who lives in France.

We think nuclear power is preferable to biofuel from rainforests, for example, and arguably better than hydropower at least according the wisdom of the preservationists. So we disagree here and there with anti-nuke folks. But preserving open speech is at least as sacred as preserving open space.

Nuclear power is something we believe needs to be vigorously debated. The green vs. brown characteristics of nuclear power can only be debated via reasoned analysis and ongoing dialogue. And to enable this process, journalistic skepticism is as crucial to society as scientific skepticism is crucial to science. In science a theory is continuously tested, and only hardens into an axiom of reality after years of exhaustive, interdisciplinary applied skepticism. In society, what we decide is beyond debate, how we organize our institutions, where we place our faith is constantly tested in the laboratory of reality. Ecology is everywhere. Debate is the crucible of truth.

Nuclear power is a topic we ran a few features on, and in one of them, “Nuclear Power – Cleanest & Coolest Choice?” the author was unabashadly pro-nuclear, and made mention of France’s reliance on nuclear power. This in turn prompted an email to the editor from a decidedly anti-nuclear person who lives in France. Her email was answered, both in a return email, and also in an EcoWorld blog post on 10-8-07 “The Nuclear Option.” The writer of this email, Therese Delfel, has consented to letting us publish her response using her name. So here is a letter from our esteemed correspondant in France. And perhaps we will comment, like anyone in the world might, using the original post again as the forum for this discussion of nuclear power. Let it be an open forum for open minds.

Is nuclear power green? We think in some situations nuclear power, as well as biofuel, can be appropriate choices. We also think global warming alarm is being used to sell everything to everyone, including biofuel and nuclear power. So we want to help restore debate that relies on reason instead of emotion, we want to help restore balance, we want to help encourage more scientific and journalistic skepticism, and let all credible positions have their say. Nuclear power, rainforest preservation, global warming, ‘smart growth,’ political ideology – and countless other vital issues all require constant skepticism, constant dialogue, constant freedom of speech, that the truth always ultimately prevails, and we continue to progress as a species.

- Ed “Redwood” Ring

Letter From France – Continuing thoughts on nuclear power, ecology, and biofuels.
by Therese Delfel, September 9, 2006

(original post and ongoing comments)

France Geography Map
The beautiful nation of France.
CIA World Factbook – France

—–Original Message—–

From: Therese Delfel

Sent: Tuesday, October 09, 2007 1:56 PM

To: Ed Ring

Subject: Nuclear Programs

Dear Ed Ring

Thank you for your reply which shows you care about your readers’ views.

Ecology can be defined via very simple,
“hands-on” questions:

1. Is the process taken from A to Z to assess what impact it leaves on the Planet?

2. Is the process at all necessary / acceptable / economically viable?

3. Is the process placed in perspective, i.e. after-effects over years or centuries taken into account?

In all three questions, nuclear energy falls short of providing any satisfying answer. All figures and examples to follow are for France but the dynamics are very much the same in all developed and developing countries.

From A to Z, Nuclear Power’s impact, economic viability and after-effects:

- Uranium is NOT a renewable source of energy unless it is enriched, and then only partly renewable and then it is a … WAR product.

- Uranium does NOT guarantee economic independance: France imports all of its uranium.

- The transportation is NOT safe and nor are the plants no matter how modern and upgraded they are. And what technology could safeguard them against earth quakes or terrorist attacks?

- If the cost of implementing and dismantling the plants is taken into account (at present financed by tax-payers), nuclear energy is the MOST EXPENSIVE energy and absolutely not competitive against market prices.

- It generates a traffic and transportation unacceptable in terms of safety and ethics (hundreds of lorries crisscross France every day with their loads of nuclear fuel and waste). Like your children to be on their routes?

- 20% of total energy production is sold to neighbouring countries and 30% of total energy consumption could be… saved in an energy-saving program! Which means that already now, the 80% nuclear part could be reduced to less than 30% in grand total production.

- Testing in the Pacific was more than “a mistake”: it was criminal BUT every single country that operates nuclear plants HAS TESTED its bombs (be it in deserts or in oceans).

- There is NO “safe storing” in caves: it will leave 24 generations with our poisoned heritage, i.e. where we found breathtakingly beautiful tombs, precious stones and ores, they’ll find neatly layered waste in landfills and deadly nuclear waste that will kill for … 2,000 years! Would that be the definition of safety and the ethics of ecology?

- Ethically acceptable is when we know how to responsibly handle what we produce (and not hope others will learn at their own expense): would you give your baby a sharp knife in the knowledge that some day it will know how to use it? (this point is true for genetically engineered crops by the way).

- “We” is a commodity all too easily used these days: where “I” make mistakes (or worse), “others” should sort them out as “we” are all part of the big human family? What sort of “evolution” is that? This present generation is responsible for what it itself produces, consumes and destroys (even though everything is more subtle and intricate, the basics remain the same).

But my actual question is: why do you present nuclear generated cars as the alternative to biofuels ? There is NO link! (and the rush for biofuels is solely dictated by profit making, nothing to do with ecology at all… though the original idea may have been along the right line). We have reached a point where the question is not where to find more (of whatever, be it petrol, water, or anything else) but how to consume less!

Painting of Paris and the Eiffel Tower
Where is France bound? Will the earliest, biggest adopter
of nuclear power determine it was folly? Are better
sources of energy ready to replace nuclear power?

The technology for solar powered vehicles is as (if not more) advanced as so called biofuels (that I just as strongly oppose both because of rainforest destruction and because of impoverishment of local ethnicities AND promotion of GE crops).

Car sharing, public transportation and energy saving programmes are THE future of our planet (if there is one! For instance, who could pretend he cares about the environment when he sits all by himself in a powerful car and blows into the atmosphere the worth of hundreds of gallons of petrol over and over again? Figures in France show that the traffic would be cut down to one third of its present state if cars were shared and efficient public transportation systems implemented, i.e. no new destructive road networks, one third exhaust fumes and noise left, two thirds of petrol consumption redundant, etc.

Another example: passive houses (gradually implemented especially in Germany and Northern countries) consume zero energy (neither nuclear nor coal !) and even produce some that can be stored (or sold but not for profit).

To sum up my position: I just as strongly oppose biofuels as nuclear energy (for whatever purpose) AND genetically engineered crops for that matter, I actively support rainforest and biodiversity protection as well as fair exchanges with local ethnicities (see WildAid’s “Surviving Together” program, the Wildlife Alliance actions, etc.), I am a tireless advocate of solar energy (in every single possible context and country), of efficient energy-saving and car-sharing programs, of the building of “passive houses” and honestly, I have little hope that the governments, industrial barons and financial tycoons will ever care about the Planet if they don’t make a profit out of it but I do find it really difficult to cope with people who advocate greenwashed ecology.
And I do think that Dr Ed Wheeler’s article presents a dangerous and false view on Ecoworld’s website and that it should at the very least be counterbalanced by facts that prove his view mere greenwashing (and I am sorry but I cannot accept that Ecoworld should, implicitely or explicitely, endorse it. Even though I accept your apologies in his stead, you do advocate nuclear energy yourself!

So all in all and though I respect everyone’s opinions, I strongly believe that the only actual human evolution ever will be for everyone to assume their opinions in their full implications and effects and I’m not sure whether such articles as Dr Wheeler’s contribute to the spreading of more responsible ecology or rather to an urge for greenwashed consumption (that gives an easy “good conscience”)… and THAT is a heavy responsiblity in itself.

Best regards

Therese Delfel

May I add and insist that France is but one country, absolutely similar in its destrutive ways to all the developed and developing countries, better in some ways, worse in others but definitely in the same boat, so best not to take other countries as examples for making things worse or the worst.

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Top 10 Capitalist Myths that You Should Know About

Capitalism makes everything possible.

Capitalism leads to wealth, wealth leads to investment, investment spawns innovation, and through glorious creative destruction, today’s innovations surpass and replace yesterday’s, creating more wealth. Through capitalist initiative, civilization has advanced beyond the wildest imaginings of our forbears. Today we cure diseases that were incurable. We cultivate miracle crops to feed the world. There is no problem in that cannot eventually be solved if we just give capitalist entrepreneurs free rein.

Yet in spite of compelling evidence, the capitalist system remains challenged. Globalization, privatization, the growth of intellectual property law, industrialization, mechanization, and free trade have all spawned resistance. Voices raised include socialists, environmentalists, indigenous peoples, humanitarians and even other capitalists.

The following Capitalist Myths, each embraced by far too many capitalists, dangerous when adopted blindly, can be amended or eliminated through more serious debate. Capitalism is a powerful force for positive change, but cannot realize its full potential unless it acknowledges and confronts its myths, and assimilates positive ideas from belief systems besides its own.

Myth #1
Global Free Trade is Always Best

El Salvador Countryside
What is Fair and Free Trade?
Read “Global Exchange”

Not always. While a world of unfettered free trade can create faster overall economic growth, that same growth can cause some societies and countries to become worse off. Suddenly introduced global free trade can turn an entire country’s economy and fledgling local industries upside-down. Foreign investment often focuses on over-development of single commodities that can go bust. Increased foreign investment and global trade usually ride into a country alongside debt. Going into countries using international legal weaponry to enforce free flow of capital and foreign ownership of local assets isn’t always best. Alongside free trade there is fair trade, an equally elusive and worthy goal.

Myth #2
Cheaper is Always Better

Price competition is a pillar of capitalism, but many measures of value do not immediately or easily translate into quantities of money. How can the happiness of a people, or the health of an ecosystem appear on the financial statements of a multinational corporation? Hire lower-paid employees and lay them off and move to another country as soon as it’s cheaper there, then move again. Mechanize the workplace and make workers commodities. Log forests on cheap land, pay massive short-term profits into dividends and close the company. Strip-mine oceans with driftnets 50 miles long and kill off the final scattered fish with high-tech sonar detection systems. Capitalist competition means more, cheaper, faster; cheaper goods, cheaper shelter, and cheaper protein, but it’s not always better.

Myth #3
Capitalism has European Roots

Only some capitalists are European. The functions of capitalism; property ownership, monetary exchange, trade, competition, value creation and entrepreneurship, easily predate Europe and exist and originate from most everywhere. Private individual wealth and multinational corporations come from diverse cultures. That the Europeans have been successful capitalists doesn’t mean they invented capitalism, and it doesn’t automatically consign capitalism to European values and prerogatives. Critics of capitalism point their fingers at the west more than the west deserves. Capitalism is part of human nature.

Myth #4
Intellectual Property is Sacred

Sunrise in Rishi Valley
Where does public domain begin?
Read “Monocultures of the Mind”

Absolutely not! Patents for inventions that incorporate life forms, mimic natural processes or copy native remedies and recipes are walking on legal thin ice. “Business method” patents are complete baloney and should be repealed. Maybe copyrights last too long, and royalties cost too much. The public domain is under attack and it’s shrinking. Farmers who save and reuse seed from their own crops, inadvertently or effortlessly cross-pollinated with windblown genetic material that somebody patented should not be prosecuted. Open source legal precedents are already set in the software industry. Stakes are high. Intellectual property law run rampant becomes an expensive and devastating tool for oligarchic and other vested interests to outlaw competition. How capitalist is that? It’s time to reverse this trend. There is an intangible commons, too.

Myth #5
Industrialization is the Only Alternative

From a global perspective industrialization is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean developing countries should develop now or else. Countries that would have enjoyed relative stability if they’d never industrialized can be sorely disrupted by sudden financial flight. Single commodity economies with debt service blow in the wind. When a country commits to industrialize they place high bets in limited areas and they run this risk. Moreover, because global productivity constantly improves, especially in the high-tech era we live in, the longer a country waits to develop, the less they will have to pay for their new industries. Countries should not be rushed into industrialization because it’s supposedly in their interests.

Myth #6
Property is Sacred.

Sea Turtle
Who Owns the Oceans?
Read “David Brower’s Legacy”

Never. Too much of the property we might consider sacred is also shared between us. If the air is unhealthy for people to breath, or the water too poisonous for fishermen to fish, some property owner’s prerogative, and resultant pollution, is definitely not sacred. Productive assets necessary to society, especially when controlled by monopolies, cartels, or foreign financial interests, must be regulated to ensure sustainable practices and a safety net for the poor. Property rights defenders are correct to call regulations “takings,” but that per se is not at issue. Governments must regulate trade to enforce “free trade,” they must regulate commerce to encourage and enable competition, and they should help protect the weak; all of which can translate into “takings” in some form. The only question is when, and how much.

Myth #7
Democracy-Capitalism is the End-Point of Civilization

Really now? Then go explain how corporate welfare fits into this rosy picture, for starters. Democracy-Capitalism has today’s media and mainstream academic endorsements, but utopia nonetheless eludes modern civilization. To strive for democracy-capitalism, ideally, is an ongoing fight against tyranny and oligarchy from any group, creed or political ideology. Capitalists can be tyrants. Democracies can be belligerent. The form of capitalism and the ethics of democratic societies are diverse and subtle and need constant reexamination. Congratulating democracy-capitalism as the end-point of civilization shouldn’t discourage or take the place of relentless investigation and reporting, healthy dissent, and meaningful public debate.

Myth #8
Privatize Public Works

Mountain in Distance
Can Everything be Privatized?
Read “The Giants of Water”

It depends. Many if not all public works provide necessities such as water and energy that cannot be found anywhere else. These necessities should be offered free to those who cannot afford to pay. Privately operated public works, owned by foreign interests, could in unregulated free-trade environments be managed as cash-cows, exporting profits into a multi-national conglomerate instead of back into the local economy. There is no monopoly on corruption, which can affect private corporations inside or outside a country just as severely as it might affect public administrations anywhere. Public works can succeed as mostly public or mostly private operations.

Myth #9
Maximize Quarterly Profits

This is a canard disguised as a rationalization turned into an obligation compelling a property owner to cut down all the trees in their forest, or pump out all the water from their aquifer, selling to the highest bidder as quickly as possible. Every industry has its culprits, compulsive competitors who cut every corner, cook the books, betting the farms, heedless of the ultimate payback. In the name of short-term gain people can become puppets and chattel, worthy enterprises ignored and abandoned, and the earth stripped. In the long run human rights always prevail, ecosystems are stewarded, and business is sustainable. It is much easier for a long-term capitalist to profit without creating victims and collateral damage. If all that really mattered were to maximize quarterly profits the world would already be a wasteland.

Myth #10
Greed is Good

Pure crap. Greed is a sin, not a virtue, but it can be confused and conflated with one of capitalism’s moral appeals; that capitalism offers, hopefully, a competitive and pluralistic game where no one sinful, awful faction can ever dominate. In this pragmatic model greed is not good it is contained. But capitalism, ideally, also depends on a totally voluntary moral framework and consensus in societies that greed is not good. Only then does capitalism better avoid caricature and condemnation. Only then do capitalist visions have more universal appeal and overall joy.

Capitalism at its best is the engine that will bring peace and prosperity to humanity, eliminate poverty and disease, and protect the earth. But building enthusiasm for capitalism throughout the world requires patience and compromise, possibly slower but more sustainable economic and corporate growth, and more diverse patterns of ownership.

To proliferate faster, more capitalists might prefer not myths that only emphasize the economic game, but instead visions of a better world. Visions where most everyone, especially the avid capitalists, believe that humanity and ecology weigh in equally alongside winning.

Ed Ring is Editor and CEO of EcoWorld Inc., publisher of www.EcoWorld.com.

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