Monday, March 21, 2011

Atom Kraft? Nein Danke

I put one of these stickers on my MT-50 back in 1980

The dictum "you can't derive an 'ought' from an 'is'" suggests that whatever we might opine about nuclear power can be countered from some quarter or other with some other "argument."  Don't like radiation getting into the spinich?  Well, how bout the fact that coal dust gets into miners' lungs and slowly suffocates them to death, or that windmills kill thousands of innocent birds, or that BP pollutes the Gulf of Mexico.  And after you've been reduced to silence, there's the silent final coup de grace: so what do you want, that we go back to huddling around the wood stove and trying to read by candle light?  Well, wood smoke pollutes too, buddy.

This was pretty much how Rumsfeld "won" his arguments about the War in Iraq.  There's always somebody who will disagree.  So what?  He got enough traction with that to where, hey, we're still there, ain't we.  Down at the Texaco there's a guy who comes in every Tuesday with a new complaint about "electric cars," which he wants to assure all of us that he'll never ever buy.  Far as I know, no one has tried to "make" him buy one either.  He just feels the need to keep showing the world its profound folly, to even bring the damn things up, much less build one.  (This impulse was apparently shared by Limbaugh the other day, when he sneered that Japan didn't deserve the tragedy "nature" has delivered upon her because, after all, Japan gave the world the Prius.)  I don't know why the Right imagines that some big but nonexistent government is going to "make" everyone buy a Prius.  Ain't ever going to happen.  What might happen is, the economic circumstances of travel and fuel costs may at some point make owning a conventionally powered gasoline engine simply too dear for all but the most wealthy to consider as an option.  You cannot these days buy a steam car.  And you cannot these days get around on a horse, either--at least not as a regular mode of transportation.  (And by the way, when Gingrich and George Will suggest that the private passenger automobile is the true "American" vehicle, and that railroad transportation is "collectivist," they miss the point that roads as much as rails are a collective enterprise.  It was the horse which inspired true American individualism--because a horse didn't need no steenking roads.  But you might want to consider how the everydays of horse travel are pretty much always removed from view in the most heroic of your favorite Westerns--not much about how the critters must have water and food even when they are just "parked," nor about how they now and then kicked their tenders to death, or keeled over "way out there."   Want to see just one realistic appraisal of the horse in the modern world--watch Kirk Douglas in "Lonely are the Brave.")

So anyways, accepting that an ought can't follow from an is, let us soldier on.  Does it not bother you, gentle reader, that in the case of nuclear power we have a situation where we're producing tons and tons of material which is deadly poison to all life (as we know it) for the next 200,000 years or so, given that us humans have only been part of the story of the planet for about that long, and only have even a marginal written history for maybe a couple of thousand years, depending on what you call "history.  Doesn't it seem some what, ummmm, "hubristic," to just generate this deadly material to make electricity, with no good solution for what to do with it?  And isn't that one of the things brought to mind by this Japanese nuclear disaster--the third or fourth time since the '50s when a nuclear reactor has had major problems and leaked "significant" radiation.  That is, given that nuclear material is dangerous for 200,000 years, and we've had serious problems with reactors four times in 60 years, you do the math.  What the math suggests to me is that, over a time span relevant to nuclear poisioning, nearly every reactor is going to have a disaster of some kind.  And yet we are actually in a situation where a goodly number of other reactors are even sited on or near fault-lines!  WTF is that.  To quote La Palin I mean.

Ok.  So nothing I just said really "proves" we shouldn't be building nuclear reactors, or choosing to direct our long term energy grid in a nuclear direction.  But then humans do not follow the Kantian logic as a general matter do they?  If ought doesn't ever follow from is--and if that is a principle to keep in mind when we're confronted with a moral choice--well, why are we now shooting missles into Tripoli?  Or into Pakistan?   And why not into Ivory Coast?

I saw a quote last week.  I forget the mathematical term, but it doesn't really matter.  Let's call it a terrawatt for the sake of the point.  Humans these days, according to analysis, use 14 TW of energy per year to live as we live.  Of these 14 TW, 12 are derrived from fossil fuels.  During that same year, the sun delivers 86 TW of energy to the Earth.  (The sun is of course nuclear, but it is a safe distance from us.)  Today I saw a comment (over at Digby I think it was)--stating that the real turning point of recent American history was the fact that a majority of American voters decided that Jimmy Carter was a "loser," Dick Cheney a "winner."

As John Prine once said:

We are living in the future
I'll tell you how I know
I read it in the paper
Fifteen years ago
We're all driving rocket ships
And talking with our minds
And wearing turquoise jewelry
And standing in soup lines
We are standing in soup lines

Well of course we can just look at the surface of things.  The man with the turquoise rings on his long, thin fingers passes us a mysterious pipe, and tells us that we should give it a hit, just one toke, before we make a decision. His nails are long and rather dirty; his dark eyes glitter, and his smile is a bit too wide. 

Even back '50s there was more going on than immediately meets the eye.  I offer you a still from "The Wild Ones":  

Did they ever have fun making movies back in the day, or what?
I was just reading Kim Morgan's essay on "The Wild Ones" this morning, and borrowed the still from her essay.  She said they banned this movie in England until the late '60s because they were afraid biker gangs would get the idea to invade villages.  I have to wonder if, subliminally, there were other things motivating the censors. 

1 comment:

  1. nuclear power makes me terrified. always has.
    re libya, though, man i edited page 1 thursday and friday, and the stories and photos out of libya and yemen and bahrain showing rebels getting trapped and mowed down and crushed....i don't know how to help them and i don't know that bombing is the right course of action but nobody could read those stories or look at those pictures and not want to help them somehow.