Climate change

June 10, 2010

Public advocacy on nuclear power and climate change


Guest Post by Rob Parker. Rob is a civil engineer with over 30 years experience in both design and engineering construction of dams, freeways, water treatment and general infrastructure. More recently, when confronted by the environmental impacts of our patterns of consumption and growth, he decided to look at ways to influence our political policies. Its turned out to be much harder than first thought. He was a candidate for the NSW Labour Party in the State seat of Goulburn before realising the massive difficulties in getting the ALP to address climate change in a meaningful way. Rob lives in the NSW village of Berrima and campaigns on rational ways to address climate change.

This post is looks at methods to get nuclear power accepted within Australia as the primary defence against climate change. I have read with interest and gained inspiration from many of Barry’s contributors. Peter Lang’s posts, in particular, are a mine of information which have helped me to sift the “greenwash” from the good stuff.

Over the past five years I have experienced many twists and turns in climate change campaigning in Australia. Many of us have gone through the hopes for renewable energy as a benign solution to this wicked problem and come out the other end into a more hardnosed reality. The problem in Australia is that our political operatives are locked into policies designed only to get them elected. These policies are completely ineffective and also prolong inaction. Many contributors to this site will be familiar with the patter.

The most hardnosed of the realists have come to the position that society will not act on climate change if it impacts upon their perceived economic welfare. They have formed the opinion that the only viable solution requires that nuclear power becomes cheaper than all other sources. When this happens the environment will be the beneficiary.

Faced with actually doing something the political operatives have tied the climate change debate up in a complex web of emissions trading schemes and public subsidies for ineffectual technologies. None of them harm the status quo but like many acts of futility the debate descends into two bald men fighting over a comb.

Hopes were raised this year when the Liberals announced that their new policy would be that of direct action. Unfortunately both Abbott and Hunt squibbed it. They could have built upon Howard’s policies which with the benefit of hindsight were far more promising than anything that Labor has come up with. As an ex active member of the ALP I now recognise that the Howard Government did vastly more on effective climate change policies than the Rudd or any Labor State Government.

It was after all the Howard government who:

• established the Australian Greenhouse office,

• got the nuclear power issue going with Gittus and then Switkowski,

• were central to the Asia Pacific Partnership which does good work on improving industrial energy efficiency,

• Undertook much of the design of an emissions trading scheme

• initiated programmes for domestic energy efficiency.

• Engaged with Indonesia on programmes to reduce deforestation

As we head towards a Federal election I propose ways in which contributors could share their ideas with the electorate. It would be a great shame if all the good work and passion spent was not more widely disseminated.

There is a very big group in the electorate who are sympathetic to nuclear power and know that most renewable solutions are “greenwash” but there is another sizeable group who is fearful. They waver depending upon the effectiveness and not necessarily the truthfulness of a presenter having caught a bad case of the Caldicotts. Barry Brook and I experienced this at Melbourne Town Hall earlier this year when emotive arguments for concentrated solar power in Spain trumped those for nuclear power. To convince the waverers it is essential to create a passionate narrative which we must take out into the community.

Not all action will be on a grand scale. Some are not comfortable on a soap box but are quite prepared to quietly lobby.

This list hope contains a variety of possibilities. It’s a starting point which contributors can expand upon:

• Write letters to your local newspaper. Local community newspapers are more thoroughly read than the major city papers and the journalists will readily print wise but edgy articles particularly if you do the work for them.

• “Beard the Lion in his den”. Go to Greenpeace meetings. Join your local climate change or environmental groups or even start one. It’s essential to make lobbying groups accountable and to do it in a friendly and discussive manner. It can be lonely but each time I’ve tried people come out to you if you look approachable. Last year at Wollongong’s Walk Against Warming I used the smiley faced atom “Nuclear Power – Yes Please” as a poster. It got discussion going, some heated and some perplexed.

• Join a political party. Members of our parties are amongst the most motivated and moral in our communities. Humble party members engage in thankless unpaid work because they believe in the processes that guide our communities and they crave ideas. Politicians of the two main parties are steadily isolating their members because of the internal contradictions of their policies and the tango between party machines and the media. The membership will give you a good hearing and may even champion your cause. Within the ALP I never failed to get a pro nuclear position endorsed at branch level.

• Visit your local politician and state the case for nuclear power and environmental protection, preferably with three or four likeminded souls and better still if you have the endorsement of a local group. Give them a simple document stating your position – nothing too complex and ask them to bring it to the attention of the relevant minister. That’s their job – they represent you. At times they will be provocative but present the message simply, firmly and courteously.

• Church groups can be effective. Many see a real contradiction with man’s treatment of God’s gift. I have observed groups within the Uniting, Anglican and Catholic communities developing strong pro environment positions.

Most of these actions involve going out and meeting new people and that’s not always easy. Many engineering and scientific types such as myself feel more comfortable with likeminded souls who help us refine our ideas. One such is James Hansen whose delivery at the Seymour Centre in Sydney was the best most heartfelt plea for action on climate change I have ever experienced. In his quiet, slow methodical unveiling of the storey he very sensitively linked observed science with an unfolding human tragedy. James is a profoundly good man and he laid it all out for a very appreciative audience.

Within Australia we are fortunate to have Barry Brook’s massive energy, ideas and public advocacy. He sets us a great example. I’d be interested to know what other contributors think of following his example with increased public advocacy and the methods to achieve it.

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