The Fire Next Time

Australia Is Committing Climate Suicide

Don’t Let Australia’s Crisis Go to Waste

Public anger builds against Morrison

I borrow the title of James Baldwin’s 1963 best-seller that articulated his personal agonies in the civil rights movement. In our time what could galvanize people to stop the burning? I wish I had the skill and talent of Baldwin. A major part of Australia has already gone up in flames. The Amazon rainforest has just about reached a fiery tipping point. Will Africa be next?

Scott Morrison, Australia’s coal-fired prime minister, is leading his country to suicide, opines Richard Flanagan, a novelist whose recent piece caught the terror and the drama of what’s happening there.

The images of the fires are a cross between “Mad Max” and “On the Beach”: thousands driven onto beaches in a dull orange haze, crowded tableaux of people and animals almost medieval in their strange muteness—half-Bruegel, half-Bosch, ringed by fire, survivors’ faces hidden behind masks and swimming goggles. Day turns to night as smoke extinguishes all light in the horrifying minutes before the red glow announces the imminence of the inferno. Flames leaping 200 feet into the air. Fire tornadoes. Terrified children at the helm of dinghies, piloting away from the flames, refugees in their own country.

Bloomberg’s Daniel Moss puts the crisis in terms of statistics and money. But the problem is much more personal than that. And it’s the blindness of leadership that permitted the crisis come to its present head.

An area larger than Ireland has been destroyed, at least 25 people are dead, 2,000 homes have been razed, and 25 million acres of forest and bush have been wiped out. As many as a billion animals may have been incinerated since September, some species almost to extinction. Tourism, farming and consumer confidence have taken a hit. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been lambasted for too little action, too late. His government announced a $1.4 billion recovery fund over the weekend; with more than 100 fires still tearing through the country’s most populous state, more is bound to be needed.

Morrison’s government still maintains there is “no direct link between climate change and the country’s devastating bushfires, despite public anger, the anguish of victims and warnings from scientists.” This is more than ignorance; it’s murder. Morrison is captive to the coal industry and takes his stance from other climate criminals like Trump and Bolsonaro.

Finally, the activists are on the march in nine Australian cities. Led by student organizations, “tens of thousands” are expected to march this weekend. Melbourne will host the biggest protest. Yet it will take more than activism to displace Morrison & Company. It will take political power.

In 1963 Baldwin asked, “Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?” Now, it seems, some Australians have no choice except to flee to the sea shore, as in a bad apocalyptic movie. The leadership of climate deniers may not yet go up in smoke but we can hope for their eviction, and soon.

The Politics May Kill Us

Interstate 66, west of Washington, DC

The Challenging Politics of Climate Change

 How the Climate Crisis Is Killing Us, in 9 Alarming Charts

 Americans Increasingly See Climate Change as a Crisis, Poll Shows

 Elaine Kamarck of the Brookings Institution leads off her piece on climate and politics with a great quote from Colin Jost of Saturday Night Live (10/13/18):

We don’t really worry about climate change because it’s too overwhelming and we’re already in too deep. It’s like if you owe your bookie $1,000, you’re like, ‘OK, I’ve got to pay this dude back.’ But if you owe your bookie $1 million dollars, you’re like, ‘I guess I’m just going to die.’

So there are many reasons Americans (in particular) resist climate change, and Kamarck goes on to document these in a lengthy but very worthwhile essay you should read. In the most recent decade of Gallup’s polling, for instance, we learn that “almost half of the public believes that the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated.” A series of natural disasters and dramatic weather events leaves the public mostly unmoved. Jobs, the economy and healthcare top their list of concerns.

Then there’s partisanship. And the complex nature of the climate crisis. Plus jurisdiction and accountability: who’s responsible? by whose laws? And the lack of trust in government—at a new low since the administration of G.W. Bush. Finally, our elites demonstrate a lack of imagination, such as described by Amitav Ghosh in The Great Derangement (reviewed here): we don’t talk about climate in fiction or television or film. Is it too threatening?

Matt Simon in Wired tells us how climate is slowly killing us, referencing a massive study in The Lancet, a medical journal, on climate change and human health. Says one of the authors about living in a world 4 degrees warmer than in preindustrial times:

We have no idea what that looks like from a public health perspective, but we know it is catastrophic. . . . We know that it has the potential to undermine the last 50 years of gains in public health and overwhelm the health systems we rely on.

Simon’s series of graphics should properly scare you. Here’s one:

Scorched by Heat Waves

On he goes, with measures of wildfires roaring, diseases blooming, air conditioning heating up cities, crops declining, etc.

In the face of all this a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll tells us that “A growing number of Americans describe climate change as a crisis, and two-thirds say President Trump is doing too little to tackle the problem.”

About 8 in 10 “say that human activity is fueling climate change, and roughly half believe action is urgently needed within the next decade if humanity is to avert its worst effects. Nearly 4 in 10 now say climate change is a “crisis,” up from less than a quarter five years ago.”

That story was posted September 13 of this year, Kamarck’s on September 23. So who’s right? With a well-earned mistrust of polls, I vote for Kamarck because she uses a wider time spread.

We have a lot of work to do.

Impeachment: More Time, More Evidence

The Impeachment Question

Climate Change in the American Mind: April 2019

Trump’s failure to fight climate change is a crime against humanity

Maybe if the Democrats can pull off their wonderful stunt of withholding the Impeachment Articles until McConnell gives them a “fair deal” in the Senate trial, that will give them time to explore some of the more outrageous things the Articles didn’t cover. That’s a long way of saying they need more evidence. I doubt that people will be convinced solely by what was presented to the House. If the Dems can hold out for more time and more investigations, the stain of impeachment will only spread.

Trump’s waffling and bluster about climate change could be one of those areas to explore. Some 69 percent of Americans believe that the climate crisis is very real and/or very threatening. One other ripe area is the Mueller report, which has been all but forgotten in the proceedings. It doesn’t pertain strictly to climate change but reveals an abundance of illegalities and obstructions. Linda Greenhouse of The Times:

The 182-page volume 2, which analyzes thirty-eight separate incidents as potential obstructions of justice . . .  reads like a cross between Wolf Hall and Richard III, depicting the White House under the shadow of the Russia investigation in a constant state of crisis, as the president’s top aides struggle to both serve their master and save their own skins—not only from his wrath but from the potential legal consequences of carrying out his orders.

My thinking is that people need more time to absorb the depth and extent of Trump’s behavior, which is an essential part of his failure to address climate change.

In August Jeffrey Sachs called this failure “a crime against humanity” and indicted Marco Rubio, Rick Scott and Ted Cruz along with Trump. He cites their total failure to respond to the hurricanes in Houston, Puerto Rico, North Carolina and Florida, in which literally thousands have died. “The first job of government is to protect the public,” and that requires education, legislation, full-scale preparedness and disaster response. Trump and his crew have deliberately ignored all this and made matters worse by eviscerating the EPA and slamming environmental science.

Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic in a reductive piece finds that Trump’s belief in carbonism explains all his actions over climate, including backing out of the Paris Agreement.

Carbonism is a belief that fossil fuels—which send carbon pollution spewing into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change and ocean acidification—have inherent virtue. That they are better, in fact, than other energy sources.

Well, Robinson, who couldn’t have figured that one out? Most of the world lives off carbon in its varied forms. “China burns over half of the world’s coal and will account for 50% of global CO2 emissions by 2030”: thus from Kenneth Richard, a smart climate writer who goes beyond carbonism. Remember that in July Trump delivered a major speech on environment without a mention of climate change.

The point of my declamation here is to urge the Democrats to explore the fiascoes of Trump & Co. on climate and see whether they can establish any more “crimes against humanity.” It will be but one of many he has committed.

Meditations on a Runaway Crisis

I make it a practice here of giving you three linked articles at the outset that reflect, to some degree, my opinions. It’s part of the tradition of argument to bolster one’s opinions with evidence. So maybe it’s time for my opinions unfiltered.

Climate has become an imponderable, a cloud that never dispenses rain, a storm that never breaks. By that I mean the more we understand the depths of climate change, the more stymied we are in doing something about it. Most of us who aren’t deniers recognize the enormity of the problem but despair of moving the political forces that are needed to attack it. We are immobilized.

As the heat, storms, floods and droughts become increasingly common, more and more people report instances of “climate grief,” high anxiety and depression about what they see ahead. It seems like “a massive government conspiracy to kill us all,” with people increasingly reporting feelings of despair and panic.

I’m not there yet, still too much of a rationalist to give in to despair, still looking to implement answers that are staring us in the face. I ask, what causes this immobility in the face of disaster? Are we like the fools who went to New Zealand’s White Island to watch the volcano explode and got killed in the process?

Climate is like impeachment—the perfect disaster for the Trump era. We all stand by watching a process unfold that we can’t affect while Republicans blow smoke and defend the indefensible. As the climate outlook gets grimmer, with shocking UN reports and more detailed studies, we learn that the oceans are far worse off than we thought, that permafrost thawing in the Arctic will blow holes in our predictions of CO2 in the atmosphere, that the time to apply any fix gets shorter and shorter.

Some offer up palliatives like the Green New Deal when they should be pursuing more achievable first steps like a carbon tax. Some seem to wallow in their grief when they should be out marching in protest. Others look to a false savior like Trump or Boris. All seem to fear for the future.

I have no simple answers but one: get out of yourself and do something that will have political impact. You don’t need therapy, you need action. Politics is the key to all reform efforts and it must be the first response to climate change. Immediately, let’s vote out the Republicans, who are simply “unreachable” on climate. It’s a time for taking sides. The second step is to unify the unwieldy Democrats behind an achievable, staged program of amelioration. The right is always motivated by fear; let the left be motivated by solidarity and action.

David Roberts of Vox put it well here:

To motivate people to action, you have to give them meaningful changes to fight for, people to fight alongside, and, just as importantly, enemies to fight against. You can’t stay on the sidelines, welcoming everyone to the table. You have to pick a side.

Finally, grieving over climate is like grieving over Trump: it gets you nowhere. Pick a side and get to work. Accept the fact that, whether you like it or not, climate will be a political battle.

Trump on Climate Change

It’s possible that Trump doesn’t actually know what climate change is

Donald Trump’s New York Times Interview: Full Transcript

Trump says climate change not a hoax, not sure of its source

If we had better criteria for impeachment, the president’s remarks on climate would form Article One. Yet, after pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, he’s babbled and hedged so many times on this that, as Philip Bump wrote, maybe he doesn’t know what climate change is. More probably, he knows but must defend the energy interests that support him. And so he waffles to smoke out his critics.

As in his response to Philip Rucker of the Washington Post:

“I think about it all the time, Phil. And, honestly, climate change is very important to me,” Trump replied. “And, you know, I’ve done many environmental impact statements over my life, and I believe very strongly in very, very crystal clear, clean water and clean air. That’s a big part of climate change.”

In 2016, his climate comments were a way to disparage Obama:

“So he talks about the carbon footprint, okay, and how important the carbon footprint is, I’m not supposed to use hair spray in my hair because it affects the ozone,” Trump said. “Now it fits in an apartment that is totally sealed, but it goes up and it affects the ozone. I don’t think so, personally. But you know, there’s a lot of money being laid on this in that sense.”

Later in 2019, it was the carbon footprint again in a sarcastic tweet:

I think it is very important for the Democrats to press forward with their Green New Deal. It would be great for the so-called “Carbon Footprint” to permanently eliminate all Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil, Gas & the Military – even if no other country would do the same. Brilliant!

Then came this canard about wind turbines, which he had campaigned against because they would destroy views from his golf course:

“They’re all made in China and Germany, by the way, just in case you—we don’t make them here, essentially. We don’t make them here.” [This is not true.]

In October of this year, he backtracked on his earlier claim that climate change was a hoax. “I’m not denying climate change,” he said in the [60 Minutes] interview. “But it could very well go back. You know, we’re talking about over a … millions of years.” Earlier in 2012,

he sent a tweet stating, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” He later said he was joking about the Chinese connection, but in years since has continued to call global warming a hoax.

Shortly after the election Trump sat for an extended interview with New York Times staff. There was a lengthy, very smoky discussion about climate change. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. asked Trump in a puffball question whether he had an open mind about it. The response was classic Trump. Is it obfuscation or a reflection of his disordered state of mind?

My uncle was for 35 years a professor at M.I.T. He was a great engineer, scientist. He was a great guy. And he was . . . a long time ago, he had feelings—this was a long time ago—he had feelings on this subject. It’s a very complex subject. I’m not sure anybody is ever going to really know. I know we have, they say they have science on one side but then they also have those horrible emails that were sent between the scientists. Where was that, in Geneva or wherever five years ago? Terrible. Where they got caught, you know, so you see that and you say, what’s this all about. I absolutely have an open mind. I will tell you this: Clean air is vitally important. Clean water, crystal clean water is vitally important. Safety is vitally important.

And you know, you mentioned a lot of the courses. I have some great, great, very successful golf courses. I’ve received so many environmental awards for the way I’ve done, you know. I’ve done a tremendous amount of work where I’ve received tremendous numbers. Sometimes I’ll say I’m actually an environmentalist and people will smile in some cases and other people that know me understand that’s true. Open mind.

Democrats: Get Your Priorities Straight

The Most Pressing Issue for Our Next President Isn’t Medicare

Voters want more climate-change debate, but the Democratic event gave less than 10 minutes to the issue

The climate science is clear: it’s now or never to avert catastrophe

I couldn’t watch the last Democratic debate. I was busy talking politics with two friends, which was more enlightening than what the Dems offered. The debate format is just not for serious debate. It’s mostly for probing your opposing candidates’ weaknesses, establishing your own bona fides, and coming up with a quotable crumb for the press.

The Democrats seem pulled between two opposing forces—what the polls show to be the dominant issues for voters and what are in fact the most pressing issues. That is to say, they haven’t yet found the right political formula to move the voters left. Climate change, the world’s most urgent and least fixable problem, got less than 10 minutes’ consideration in the debate. And so the pattern of denial continues.

 . . . Climate experts also worry that a lack of specific policy with price tags and the limitations of a debate format relegate the topic to low priority, even as Wall Street and Corporate America step up their own attention on the issue.

Wednesday’s question lineup was also reflective of current headlines. The Trump impeachment hearings, taxes and foreign policy dominated the debate.

And the outrageous amount of time devoted to health care in earlier debates is just pandering to what the Dems perceive to be voters’ concerns. As some of you know, I worked on the Clinton heath care reform in ’93-’94 and understand how deep the problem is. It’s the most immediate and pressing issue for most voters.

But other big challenges loom, not just with climate but with the parlous state of American democracy, as David Leonhardt mentioned. Consider: voting rights, the collapse of the GOP, the rank inequality in our country, energy, the middle class erosion. Yet, in a sense they are all tied in to climate change.

People like Bill McKibben have been ringing the alarm bells for a long time. Maybe the noise (along with increasingly strong and numerous protests) has finally penetrated a few brains.

McKibben says the climate crisis doesn’t work anything like the health care crisis. The math is against us and the scenario for reducing emissions to nothing in twenty years is an “ungodly steep slope.”

Here’s another way of saying it: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported last autumn that if we hadn’t managed a fundamental transformation of the planet’s energy systems by 2030, our chance of meeting the Paris temperature targets is slim to none. And anyone who has ever had anything to do with governments knows: if you want something big done by 2030, you better give yourself a lot of lead time. In fact, it’s possible we’ve waited too long: the world’s greenhouse gas emissions spiked last year, and—given Trump, Bolsonaro and Putin—it’s hard to imagine we won’t see the same depressing thing this year.

2030: that’s only ten years, Democrats. Are Sanders and Warren the only ones talking candidly about climate? If Booker, Klobuchar and Harris want to revive their faltering campaigns, getting serious about climate might be a way to start.

The Conservatives’ Addiction to No!

Don’t bother waiting for conservatives to come around on climate change

What Motivates Voters More Than Loyalty? Loathing

The GOP’s Opposition to Impeachment Is (Terrifyingly) Principled

They say no to everything: no to impeachment, immigration, voter registration, Merrick Garland, anything Obama tried to do, anything the liberals advocate. However, it’s increasingly hard to say no to climate change.

Their negativism is owing not just to mutual antagonism and the partisanship everyone complains of; it’s built in to the conservative mindset. What liberals understand as democracy and justice is implicitly rejected by conservatives as threat to their programme. Their constituencies are not just the fossil fuel complex but the major power groups in society, the interests that basically run things. For many conservatives, I think, it boils down to fears of a “socialist” takeover that will marginalize them forever.

Their tactics, if you can call them that, have included: increased lawlessness, voter suppression, total politicizing of judgeships, foreign policy fiascos, flagrant giveaways to the private sector, and rampant corruption.

Climate change, if it’s acknowledged at all, is a liberal plot, a hoax, an act of God, a natural series of events not due to human activity. Take your pick. In the face of that intransigence, the persistent liberal argument that the climate crisis is man-made is just futile, says David Roberts of Vox.

Those who fear change, prize order, and pine for an imagined past without all the troubling present-day changes—i.e., conservatives—will be more open to messages emphasizing the maintenance of purity and glories of the past.

 . . . The tragic but inescapable fact at the core of climate change is that we are in an era of loss. The stable weather patterns, fertile soil, and biodiversity enjoyed by our ancestors—the biophysical status quo—is going away, whether we like it or not. It’s too late to save it.

Sooner or later, with more climate disasters, this notion of loss, one imagines, will have to penetrate to the conservative naysayers. Who can say how they will respond? Those so imbued with the power of No! and the status quo ante may never come to accept the ultimate change that is climate change. Eric Levitz put it in more strictly political terms:

To acknowledge anthropogenic climate change is to empower liberals, open the door to additional taxes and regulations, and threaten the power of the fossil fuel industry. The Republican Party as currently constituted will simply never do those things. Ever. The arguments are secondary.

 

For Greta, the Timing Was Problematic

It’s Greta’s World

The World’s Oceans Are in Danger, Major Climate Change Report Warns

Why the right’s usual smears don’t work on Greta Thunberg

Well, she got upstaged by impeachment. Some stories will always capture the media, but that’s not to deny the reality and power of what Greta told the UN leaders last week. She got a ton of pushback and some nastiness from the right-wing, e.g.,

“She’s ignorant, maniacal and is being mercilessly manipulated by adult climate bedwetters funded by Putin,” ranted C-list climate denier Steve Milloy, somehow fitting all the mutually contradictory stereotypes about powerful women into his pea brain at once.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison found her remarks would cause “needless anxiety” in his country’s children. Oh dear. How will those youngsters respond to his building more coal-fired plants and the country’s dismal record on climate change?

By putting her faith in science, Greta managed to slough off most of this stuff. She has achieved some kind of political miracle and gotten 4 million-plus people to go along with her. Maybe it’s her Asperger’s that gave her this power. Or the unassailable facts of climate change.

The bad news keeps coming. One of our most respected sources on climate study, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently reports that the oceans are rapidly becoming hotter, more acidic, losing oxygen, dramatically affecting fish stocks, coastal flooding, marine heat waves, and more.

While the report recommends that nations sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions to lessen the severity of most of these threats, it also points out that countries will need to adapt to many changes that have now become unavoidable.

Only when the politicians and “world leaders” accept the fact that time is running out, will the possibilities for real change emerge. Most are still phumphing around the emergency and that’s what got Greta so angry.

On Twitter she wrote: “When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning!”

Joe’s Gibberish

Would You Leave Joe Biden Alone With Trump?

A Joe Biden presidency would be a climate catastrophe

In Second Democratic Debate, Candidates Criticize Biden’s Climate Plans

Excuse me, but after listening to and watching Joe Biden doddering through his responses at the third Democratic debate Thursday night, you have to wonder how he is still the front-runner. His climate change plan is better than nothing but goes less than halfway to get the job done.

“Middle-ground solutions, like the vice president has proposed . . . are not going to save us,” James Inslee has said. “Literally the survival of humanity on this planet and civilization as we know it is in the hands of the next president,” and God save us if that’s Joe Biden.

It’s not just his climate plan, folks. It’s him. And how his mind works—or produces the bloviations that expose it.

The Democratic front-runner cannot speak in complete sentences when he is feeling tired or defensive. And 90 minutes of debate is enough to make him tired. And a reference to something that he said about race in the 1970s is enough to make him defensive.

These were my three main takeaways from the Democratic Party’s third presidential primary debate in Houston on Thursday. And they’ve left me rather apprehensive about the prospect of the Democrats sending Joe Biden into battle against Donald Trump next year. . . . If Biden can’t keep his talking points straight for an entire evening, what shape will he be in after running the gauntlet between today and his televised showdowns with the president next fall? And if a pointed question from an ABC News anchor can reduce him to spasms of anxious blather, how well will he hold up when Trump comes after his family?

And just how seriously does he take the threat of climate change? When he got caught out taking big funds from a fossil fuel guy, the NY Daily News ran this headline: “Biden claims he doesn’t take fossil fuel cash at NYC fundraiser co-hosted by fossil fuel company co-founder.” He called that a misrepresentation.

Linguistic giveaways from two of the front-runners repeatedly bother me. Biden’s fillers are “the fact of the matter” and “look”; Bernie’s is “let me be clear.” The other candidates in Thursday’s debate thankfully avoided most thought padding like this.

At the debate ABC News’ Linsey Davis asked him what responsibility Americans should take to repair the damage of slavery. Joe answered:

Well, they have to deal with the . . . Look, there is institutional segregation in this country. And from the time I got involved, I started dealing with that. Redlining, banks, making sure that we are in a position where — Look, we talk about education. I propose that what we take is those very poor schools, the Title 1 schools, triple the amount of money we spend from $15 to $45 billion a year. Give every single teacher a raise to the equal of . . . A raise of getting out of the $60,000 level.

Number two, make sure that we bring in to the help with the stud — the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. The problems that come from home, we need . . . We have one school psychologist for every 1,500 kids in America today. It’s crazy. The teachers are required — I’m married to a teacher. My deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them.

Make sure that every single child does, in fact, have three, four, and five-year-olds go to school. School! Not daycare, school. We bring social workers into homes of parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It’s not want they don’t want to help. They don’t know want— They don’t know what quite what to do. Play the radio. Make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night. The phone — make sure the kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school — er, a very poor background will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.

Davis: Thank you, Mr. Vice-President.

Biden: No, I’m going to go like the rest of them do, twice over, okay? Because here’s the deal. The deal is that we’ve got this a little backwards. And by the way, in Venezuela, we should be allowing people to come here from Venezuela. I know Maduro. I’ve confronted Maduro. Number two, you talk about the need to do something in Latin America. I’m the guy that came up with $740 million to see to it those three countries, in fact, change their system so people don’t have to chance to leave. You’re all acting like we just discovered this yesterday! Thank you very much.

No, thank you very much, Joe.

P.S. More evidence from the debate of Biden’s mental stumbles.

Playing Politics with Nuclear Energy

Democrats are divided on using nuclear energy to stop climate change

 On Climate, Sanders and Warren Must Go Nuclear

 Why Nuclear Power Must Be Part of the Energy Solution

The 3,122-megawatt Civaux Nuclear Power Plant in France, which opened in 1997

In his latest denial of reality, Trump got out his sharpie and altered Hurricane Dorian’s direction to send it 650 miles west to Alabama. And naturally he refuses to admit he was wrong. The press is having a field day.

For a much longer timeframe, the opponents of nuclear power have engaged in a similar denial of reality and good scientific evidence. They have mounted protests and lobbied Congress for years and are now coming up against the overpowering reality of climate change. Nuclear will have to be in the energy mix, whether they like it or not. We cannot mitigate the problem without it.

Now, most of these deniers are Democrats and so the presidential candidates have walked on eggshells over this issue. Finally in the recent CNN climate town halls, Cory Booker and Andrew Yang came out in favor of pursuing nuclear and developing the technology. Others waffled; Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren said no. Perhaps, as their understanding of energy options deepens, they will change their tune. Or maybe not: there are lots of votes out there that might go against them if they go nuclear.

Nuclear now provides 20 percent of US total energy output. And yet, says the Union of Concerned Scientists, “nearly 35 percent of the country’s nuclear power plants, representing 22 percent of US nuclear capacity, are at risk of early closure or slated to retire.” The reasons? They are unprofitable, costly to operate, need upgrading. But you don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Nuclear produces near-zero emissions, its biggest selling point. It doesn’t shut down when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine. The two downsides people point to are: the accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima and the storage of waste. Storing nuclear waste is something we know how to do. The problem is political, per the evidence of Yucca Mountain.

And we have learned something from both meltdowns and their aftereffects. One, similar events could and should never happen again. Surprisingly, the health consequences have been much less severe than expected. Two, safety will not come cheap, and new power plants are expensive. New, smaller modular reactors may be the answer; thorium as a fuel poses less storage risk than uranium.

It will take a hardnosed view of energy policy and a commitment to state-owned nuclear power plants to get us to anything like scale in an effective climate policy. Scientists and many planners know this. France did it in the ‘80s, and the transformation worked.

I think the lefties on the Democratic side may be getting the message, slowly. Eric Levitz wrote a very good summary of the problems and processes here. He says:

The political center’s ideological hangups are a much bigger obstacle to rational climate policy than the left’s. As David Wallace-Wells writes, the gap between “political realism” and scientific realism on climate policy is vast and ever-growing. We have procrastinated past the point when incremental, nudge-based approaches to emissions reduction could be described as serious. . . . We have already put enough carbon in the climate to ensure that our planet will grow increasingly inhospitable for the rest of our lives, and the longer we wait to find an alternative means of powering our civilization, the more inhospitable it will become, and the more human beings will needlessly suffer and die. The available evidence suggests that decarbonizing at a remotely responsible pace will require us to transcend the neoliberal era’s taboo against ambitious state planning and industrial policy. . . .

We know what happens when a country committed to scaling up renewables decommissions its nuclear plants—it starts burning more coal.

P.S. The Future Looks Like Salt Reactors

P.P.S. Some of the real problems with nuclear that I didn’t address.