It’s easy to know when a published author has a new title to sell – there’s a trickle of publicity – and sometimes a book review, or a photograph-and-interview in a respected broadsheet or “Berliner” format newspaper.
Not so for Mark Lynas, no. He’s graduated to the “School of Sensationalism”, it seems, by penning and selling his story to the Daily Mail. Not only that, it seems he’s allowed the editor to clip his words into some truly clunky, faulty arguments :-
“You mustn’t believe the lies of the Green zealots. And I should know – I was one : By MIKE LYNAS : Last updated at 2:40 AM on 4th July 2011”
Apart from slinging the apparent slur “zealot”, mud which should really only be reserved for fundamentalist religionists, I would suggest, the headline accuses “Greens” of lying. How in the world he expects to have an open discussion with anybody in the Green Party, the green movement or just ordinary green consumers in future, I know not. This is really pitching his stall in the industrialists’ camp before he even starts.
It’s true, the headline could have been written by somebody at the Daily Mail’s newsroom – it bears all the hallmarks of “spittle-laden invective” we so commonly endure from the Daily Mail – but Lynas could have refused this obvious taunt, surely ? Is he not a man of peace ?
“…U-turn: Mark Lynas has changed his views about nuclear power…As an environmental campaigner who has also performed a radical about-face on the issue of nuclear power, I believe Huhne is absolutely right…”
As for a change of mind, well, that’s not quite accurate – Mark Lynas has been “agnostic” or “pro” nuclear power for some time now, perhaps even forever. So this is not a Damascene path-to-light conversion.
As far as I can tell, and I’m sure somebody can correct me if I’m incorrect, Mark Lynas has never interviewed anybody in the nuclear power industry, or former employees and contractors in the nuclear power industry, he’s never studied Physics or Engineering, and never done any in-depth research into the nuclear power industry of today, so I suspect he could get his views about nuclear power from the business press, or the glowingly pro-industrial Smith School in Oxford, near to his home, a few miles by foot and bus, in Wolvercote.
“…Finally the Government is seeing sense about nuclear power. Last week, Energy Secretary (and former nuclear sceptic) Chris Huhne made a spectacular U-turn and backed a new generation of nuclear power stations…”
I suspect that the real reason for the apparent “U-turn” on nuclear power that Chris Huhne has conducted has perhaps more to do with saving his job, as there are unconfirmed suggestions that he is desperately trying to avoid being strung up for allegedly not taking some points on his driving licence over an alleged speeding offence :-
Back to the Daily Mail piece :-
“”…Far from being a ‘failed technology’ (as he once described it), he said Britain needs nuclear electricity generation to get ‘off the oil hook’ and now reforms will be introduced to encourage businesses to invest in it…”
Nuclear electricity cannot get the UK off the oil hook – oil is used for driving, not electricity. Very basic error. Do you see a rapid increase in the number of milk float-based mini-cars on British roads ? I thought not.
“…Atomic energy, while far from perfect…”
Ah yes, just tell that to the far-from-perfect Japan. Remember Fukushima Daiichi ?
“…Atomic energy…is an essential option to combat two looming problems: climate change, caused by man-made carbon emissions, and a growing ‘energy gap’ by which Britain generates far less electricity than it needs, sending fuel bills soaring…”
Wrong on both counts, I would hazard.
Firstly, regarding the claimed reduction in carbon emissions for nuclear power. Analysis of the increasing energy needed to mine and refine uranium by Ben Sovacool suggests that the carbon emissions related to nuclear power are going up :-
Secondly, nuclear power cannot bridge the UK’s electricity generation gap. It won’t be available when we need it – the critical period is in the next 5 to 10 years. Plus, the mix of electricity generation that is required to meet the UK’s renewable energy targets will not need nuclear “baseload” – in fact nuclear power could unbalance the power grid.
If only Mark Lynas would actually talk to some power engineers – there are some fine universities in London that can introduce him to the topic of load balancing in electricity grids – he might begin to understand why nuclear power’s time is numbered.
It was on the way out of business well before Three Mile Island :-
It’s an industry of ageing, leaking, rusting, crumbling buildings that should be allowed to pass away gracefully, not in a string of “unplanned outages”, as these failures in plant operation are commonly known.
“…Surprisingly, nuclear power may be more environmentally friendly than many types of renewable energy, such as wind and solar power…”
Have a look at the environmental conditions around uranium mines, and you might change your mind.
“…Wind turbines can kill birds and bats, while solar power, if employed on a grand scale, will take up a lot of land space…”
David MacKay, also a nuclear power advocate (although a more pragmatic one that most nuclear power “devotees”), has shown that cats and cars kill more birds than wind turbines every would :-
And climate change is killing bats in increasing numbers :-
So both Mark Lynas’ arguments about the environmental dangers to wildlife from wind power are non-starters – although they’re good enough for Daily Mail readers, it seems.
As for wind power and solar power taking up lots of land space, we need to discuss the real problem with land use. There are milions of cars, trucks and buses on the world’s roads that burn oil to move. To replace the carbon emissions from oil in the short term, biofuels are needed. There’s not much progress on fronts like algae biodiesel, so the answer for biooil is a collection of very land-intensive crops, such as sugarcane, corn and oilseed rape. Mark Delucchi and Mark Jacobson have shown that converting all vehicles to electrical power would vastly reduce the amount of land needed to power them, but that conversion of the vehicle fleet could take decades, so expect to see a growing competition between land for food use and land for fuel growing :-
Mark Lynas compounds his errors as he carries on, “…Also, as much as Greens are enthusiastic about solar electricity, in cloudy countries such as ours it is extremely inefficient and expensive…”
Germany is an example of a country on a similar latitude to ours who are finding that using state subsidies to grow their solar production is paying off :-
Lynas then appears to drop a total clanger, “…Nuclear power, on the other hand, is one of the cheapest ways of producing electricity…”. No, no, no. Nobody in their right minds can claim that nuclear power is cheap. There are countless “levelised cost of production” or “levelized cost of production” studies that show that nuclear power can cost dearly.
Lynas claims for nuclear power “…it is much safer than many environmentalists would have us believe…” It’s not the environmentalists who are claiming that nuclear power holds dangers – you need to talk to the engineers and safety agencies and read their reports of the ongoing faults, accidents and incidents at nuclear power facilities.
Lynas conflates two separate issues, “…The objection of environmentalists to nuclear power — fears about the dangers of nuclear waste and the cost of decommissioning it — are overblown, which explains why many people don’t like the Greens…”
Yes, it’s true that a number of the population “don’t like the Greens” – that’s partly because of the sterling work of such media marvels as the Daily Mail – who are never neutral, it seems, and appear to revel in taking succour from social discord.
And as for the concern about radioactive waste and the cost of deommissioning nuclear power stations and permanent waste disposal – well – over half the UK’s energy budget is allocate to these very things, if I remember rightly. The only reason they appear “cheap” is because the taxpayer has to pay for them and the enormous costs don’t appear on billpayers’ direct debits.
This is just becoming tiring. How many inaccuracies are there in total in this one piece ? Do I have to debunk them all ? Or will other people take on the responsibility of countering the rest ?
“The God Species — How The Planet Can Survive The Age Of Humans” by Mark Lynas (Fourth Estate, £14.99).
“Nuclear Power – The Big Debate : George Monbiot : On Thursday 7th July, I’ll be thrashing out the issues with Greenpeace and others. Come along if you can…”