Guest essay by James Wanliss
Every technology has costs and benefits. Horses and oxen can draw carts but they also draw flies. Fire can cook food, but can also burn down the kitchen. Energy use allows us to feed our children, but environmentalists claim human energy use causes global warming, which will fatally transform the planet.
Yet one of the safest and cleanest energy sources, one which emits no carbon dioxide gas, also elicits hysterical behavior from the Green movement. Environmentalists have a knee jerk reaction to nuclear power. They are against it.
For instance, advocacy group Greenpeace writes that it “has always fought – and will continue to fight – vigorously against nuclear power because it is an unacceptable risk to the environment and to humanity. The only solution is to halt expansion of nuclear power, and to shut down existing plants.”
Environmentalist policy causes consumers to pay higher bills for renewables compared to coal and nuclear. Environmentalist ideology is backward looking because it thinks of de-development of industrial society as positive. The result—one hopes it is an unintended consequence—of environmentalist policy is poor countries staying poor because energy on a massive scale is requisite for human development. Green energy policy shows only contempt for the aspirations of the poor.
Environmentalist ideology afflicts not only energy policy, but other technologies too. Take spaceflight as an example.
The past year has been a stunning time in the space sciences. On July 14, 2015, NASA’s nuclear-powered New Horizons probe breezed past Pluto, capturing history’s first close-up looks at the little rock that couldn’t. You may remember, until recently Pluto was the ninth and smallest planet in our solar system. Pluto was then declared a dwarf planet, but the mighty mite could make a comeback because of data gleaned from New Horizons.
The $723 million New Horizons mission launched in January 2006. It was proposed in 1989, the same year NASA’s Voyager 2 probe zoomed past Neptune, getting the first up-close looks at that stunning, blue “ice giant.” But is questionable whether the mission could fly today because of the political clout of the out of control environmental movement, represented first of all by Barack Obama, arguably America’s first truly green president.
It took more than a decade of hard work and wrangling before New Horizons graduated from concept to full-fledged NASA mission. Forgotten in the excitement of the flyby is the tortured history of New Horizons as environmentalists sought to block the mission at every turn.
Environmentalist knee-jerk opposition to nuclear power was the central complaint.
The powerful advocacy groups Greenpeace and ‘Friends of the Earth’ were at the forefront of opposition and many environmentalists picketed the launch site.
Nonetheless, with the Bush administration friendly to nuclear power and open to scientific innovation, just less than a decade ago New Horizons defied the greens and blasted off to Pluto – a target nearly 3 billion miles (4.8 billion km) from our planet.
Thanks to nuclear powered engines the robot ship sped away from earth at speeds approaching 36,000 miles per hour. This is the fastest flight of any spacecraft and allowed New Horizons to speed past the Moon about nine hours from launch. Less than a decade later it threaded the needle of Pluto’s orbit.
Not too shabby of an achievement when one considers that this is equivalent to shooting a thread through the eye of a needle located 300 m (1000 ft) away, or sinking a hole in one between Jerusalem and Kathmandu. Not too shabby.
The launch of another nuclear powered mission would be impossible today. The green ideology—flower power—has consequences not only in the energy sector but in virtually every aspect of modern life. Going green means not only increased poverty, it means not going to Pluto. The choice really is ‘Pluto or bust’.
James Wanliss, Ph.D., is Professor of Physics at Presbyterian College, Clinton, SC. He is a Senior Fellow and Contributing Writer for The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, and author of Resisting the Green Dragon: Dominion, Not Death. He has published over 50 peer-reviewed physics articles, has held the NSF CAREER award, and does research in space science and nonlinear dynamical systems under grants from NASA and NSF.