Sunday, March 25, 2007


Global warming and Habermas

This is an article on the global warming crisis worth reading. It deals briefly with the history of the idea, the contours of the problem, the urgency of action. It suggests that nuclear power is necessary in the short term (the next two decades) since we can't wait for alternatives to step into the fossil-fuel gap.

On the history:

The basic science of [global warming] was not in dispute, but the area was also not one of much scientific interest except to one or two mavericks.//One of them was a young American physicist called James Hansen, whose 1967 PhD thesis studied Venus and came to the conclusion that it was the greenhouse effect which made the planet so warm...

I find it impressive how ahead of the game Jurgen Habermas was in Legitimation Crisis:

Even on optimistic assumptions, however, one absolute limitation on growth can be stated...namely, the limit of the environment's ability to absorb heat from energy consumption. (p. 41)

He went on to point out that while this ecological limit upon economic growth applied to "all complex social systems" (i.e. regardless of their economic organisation), the principles of capitalist organisation severely constrained the possible means of dealing with the problem. This was written in 1973, and since it now appears to be in some ways "too late" it's a pity more people didn't listen to him then.

Nuclear power is not the answer:

1. Mining of raw nuclear materials is as much polluting (if not more so) as the mining for oil or coal.

2. There is no solution for nuclear waste. A nuclear melt-down of a power plant is far more dangerous and polluting.

3. Behind the "innocent" nuclear energy lobby, stands the nuclear weapons industry promoting its terrible technologies. We've seen it before, in Pakistan and India. Peaceful nuclear energy "surprisingly" became a deadly threat hanging above the heads of hundreds of millions. That's why there's this hype and fear around the Iran issue.

Both environmentally as well as geopolitically, nuclear power is not at all as safe as usually is presented. That doesn't mean we should not try to find, research or try alternative energy sources. It only means that nuclear power is definitely not such an alternative.

All your points are valid BD, and of course there are real defects and risks inherent in nuclear energy, and doesn't seem a very sustainable solution in the long run...but if climate change is already at the stage of emergency then we may not have the time to wait for other non-carbon alternative sources of energy to develop sufficiently.

Now I tend to wonder whether there is any viable solution to the ecological problem so long as the idea of perpetual economic growth remains unchallenged and non-capitalist (specifically egalitarian) social organisation of the economy remains off the table as an ecologically sound means of maintaining and improving living standards for the majority of people. But failing revolution, I begin to think nuclear energy may have a role to play in the short term.
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