Photo: Duncan Hull

Lies Hurt. Facts Matter. And So Does Resistance.

, senior analyst, Climate & Energy Program | December 12, 2016, 2:59 pm EST
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Any observer of truth will tell you that 2016 is a lie-soaked lost cause. Will 2017 see a pro-truth resistance? We’d better see to it.

We, the people, can be forgiven for some angst over the free-falling role of truth in our democracy.

We all took civics in school. We know democracy depends on reason and truth. So when your president-elect peddles conspiracy theories and continues to promote lies just weeks before his inauguration, you break a sweat. When he taps a climate denier to be the head of the agency tasked with solving climate change, you try not to panic. And when he taps the CEO of the world’s largest oil company to be our nation’s leading diplomat amidst the global climate crisis, you try not to break things.

But the truth, for all the abuse it’s taking, isn’t going anywhere soon.

Not only does reality function on facts, but a broad pushback against disinformation and outright lies is starting to take shape, driven by people from across American life who value reason and truth too much to put up with the foolishness. The madness, really.

It gives me hope that we can resist this descent and turn it around.

But to do so we need to collectively stay on it, push facts to the fore, and drive fact-free politics back to the wild-eyed fringes.

truth-duncam-ctr

Credit: Cause Collective, In Search Of The Truth.

There’s wrong and there’s wrong

One way of being “wrong” has to do with justice—the breach of law and of fairness across race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, class, ethnicity, and on. It’s a founding principle of this nation; we hold justice dear. But rhetoric during the presidential campaign and hateful actions in the weeks since the election show that this kind of wrong is now spreading.

Thankfully, a social movement is starting to take shape in the wake of the election. (So many early examples, like this and this and this.) Its very formation is to resist this kind of wrong. As in, we see what you’re doing, it’s wrong, and we will work to stop you.

The other way of being “wrong” is simpler. It’s the loud gameshow-buzz “wrong.” It’s just: No. You are factually incorrect. This wrong just requires rejection. As in, we see what you’re doing, you’re wrong, and we call BS.

In a better world, all moral folks would show up to right the first wrong. And all thinking folks would instinctively reject the second. But “post-truth” became Oxford’s word of the year because of the pervasiveness of truth-distortion, outright lying, and wild fabrication in the 2016 election cycle, and the unwillingness of enough people to call BS.

This election cycle showed that you can be flat-out wrong and not face the consequences because others don’t know better or don’t care.

Take for example Trump’s nominee, as of last week, to head the Environmental Protection Agency: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Pruitt has repeatedly distorted the truth about climate change—and now he’s nominated to lead the very agency most responsible for dealing with it.

Take also Trump’s pick, as of this weekend, to serve as Secretary of State: ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson. Tillerson has played a central role at ExxonMobil for years, a corporation called out by groups like mine for a decades-long disinformation campaign designed to sow doubt about sound climate science. And now he’s nominated to serve as our nation’s chief diplomat in a time of climate crisis.

Between false statements, distortions of truth, support of junk science, and questionable motives, these two deserve our rejection. And that of the Senate.

The facts aren’t going anywhere….

The president-elect has shown a confounding disregard for facts, and his surrogates have now famously spoken of facts simply not mattering anymore. But that is of course nonsense. Would you purchase a home without the key facts in hand? Can you pay your bills without verifiable funds in your account?

For that matter, is the Fed poised to raise interest rates in the absence of evidence of the need? Are our water resources managed by what’s measurably in the reservoir, or whether we feel that glass is half full or half empty? Did the US Department of Defense develop a climate change strategy based on whimsy, or on data and analysis?

Yes, bias can be introduced when values come in to play, and this can be a good thing (e.g., when society decides to recognize the intrinsic value of species or landscapes, or intangibles like well-being) or a bad thing (e.g., when we only value what certain messengers have to say and devalue all others).

But even when they are obscured, the facts, like the physics of climate change, are unchanged.

To paraphrase members of the climate community: belief in climate change is perfectly optional; participation is compulsory. The facts will eventually overwhelm all efforts to deny them.

john_adams_facts_are_stubborn_things

Credit: izquotes.com

… but they do need some tending.

Our challenge is to beat back a mindset that’s infusing American political discourse. Not because truth is dead. But because the worry is justified in this sense: democracy depends on objectivity, evidence, and truth to inform the political process, and in our current political discourse, those things are being actively abused. When they are abused, informed progress is thwarted. And from a climate change standpoint, as from a public health standpoint, an equity and justice standpoint, a nuclear security standpoint, a you-name-it standpoint, we have no time for going backwards or veering off in uninformed directions.

What’s more, lies hurt. At the moment, we see ordinary people speaking truth to power and being threatened and vilified. And we see the incoming administration seeking names of federal employees who have worked to develop climate policy. As George Orwell said “the further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.” But as he also said “freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

I don’t see us becoming an Orwellian post-truth society. (I do a little, usually around 3 a.m.) But the place of truth in a society—its role in informing reasoned choice and thus shaping and sustaining a sane and livable world—can be eroded if we fail to uphold and safeguard its value.

So, the facts need us.

And certain facts need us urgently

We should have no illusions. Based on available evidence, we should brace for a full-on assault against sound climate science and sensible clean energy policy. Climate deniers and their fossil fuel allies (and funders) are emboldened by Trump’s win.

The same people who peddled climate disinformation in the past—the chief reason we are decades behind in averting climate crisis—may draw on this playbook again. Defunding climate science, attacking climate scientists, and sowing confusion among the public—and this time, driving the country off of its clean energy path and back toward fossil-fuel dependence and massive corporate profits.

The millions of Americans who have, through reason and evidence, come to terms with the fact that the climate is changing, with real risks for people, and that human actions are largely to blame? Everybody needs to buckle up and hold tight to our powers of reason. The disinformation machine is roaring to life again.

climate-science-vs-fossil-fuel-fiction

Credit: UCS

A resistance is mustering

So, where the hell are the grownups? Starting to show up, I think. Today, actors from many walks of life seem to be awake to the post-truth threat—and many are pushing back. Here are just a few of my favorite recent examples from the science and climate change front.

  • In response to a range of signals about the role of established science in the next administration, more than 2,300 scientists signed an open letter to President-elect Trump, calling on him to ensure that science “continues to play a strong role in protecting public health and well-being.”
  • Subsequently, many hundreds of scientists have signed a letter pointedly calling on Trump to: “Publicly acknowledge that climate change is a real, human-caused, and urgent threat. If not, you will become the only government leader in the world to deny climate science. Your position will be at odds with virtually all climate scientists, most economists, military experts, fossil fuel companies and other business leaders, and the two-thirds of Americans worried about this issue.”
  • While Trump staffs up with climate deniers and proponents of US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, this pushback comes from the business world.
  • In response to the latest false Breitbart piece on global warming, the Weather Channel released this sharp video refutation with the title “Note to Breitbart: Earth Is Not Cooling, Climate Change Is Real and Please Stop Using Our Video to Mislead Americans.”
  • In response to the House Science Committee (which oversees vital agencies like the EPA and NOAA) tweeting Breitbart’s false story, many in the science community took to social media to reject both the original story and the misuse of what should be a trusted source for science—the Science Committee’s platform.
  • And in response to the nomination of Scott Pruitt, a “green and blue” coalition pushback is underway.

And this is just recently, nationally, in the climate arena. In response to the exploding practice of spreading lies and insisting they are true, world leaders, from President Obama, to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to Pope Francis, have denounced those responsible. There are many other examples, large and small. Consider adding yours below—I’d love to hear.

Ways to push back

To defend science, UCS will be working in the months ahead to organize our more than 17,000-member (and rapidly growing, join us!) science network to help with science watchdogging efforts. From exposing attacks in the media, communicating to policy makers, and informing the public, there will be a lot of opportunities to stand up for science. Other groups and coalitions are roaring into action too.

So, how does each of us get in on the resistance, whether in defense of scientific facts or just everyday truth? I don’t have THE answers, just some thoughts. Please add yours.

First, we stop the spread: We need to know fake news when we see it. There are suddenly lots of helpful resources to consult, like this one. Consult a list of fake news sites. Call out its disseminators. And be as kind as circumstances permit to the real people circulating this stuff: no one likes to be seen as foolish, and civility in general can use a boost.

Spot lies and fact check: If a claim seems dodgy, poke at it. These are odd times, it may be true, but it’s not too hard to check. Dozens of fact-checking organizations have signed on to an international code of fact-checking conduct. Here are just a few of the groups we can consult:

There is also a new, vetted resource for fact-checking climate change stories, specifically. Very excited about this entry.

Call BS: If we hear elected officials distort the truth, we need to find ways to call them on it. For now, we can call their office and complain; we can call their local paper; we can encourage others to on social media and give them the contact information they need.

When media outlets spread falsehoods (the egregious kind, not the inadvertent errors that can arise in the reporting process), we can call them out in similar ways. And we can help restore the truth in the public’s eye by, for example, writing a fact-based letter to the editor, or providing a fact-based comment on a fact-distorting post. (And if this gets uncivil, as it too often does, we must walk away from said comments and not look back.) I’m not suggesting this will be pleasant. But if we value honesty and truth, we need to start demanding it.

Pick our fights: The ideological fringe from which fake news originated may never be convinced that, e.g., Hillary Clinton is not running a child sex ring out of a pizzeria. The facts, in their world view, are often just part of the cover up. It’s important for us to save our energy and let it go when someone is unreachable.

Support good journalism: Knowing the internet to be a firehose of information, let’s choose our sources of news and commentary with care. When we see brave work, demanding and ferreting out the truth, let’s praise it and share it. And when we know our sources are good, let’s subscribe, pay, and support their work. As one Senator recently lamented, “It’s the biggest crisis facing our democracy, the failing business model of real journalism.” May the fake news infection drive many of us back to the remaining bastions of quality reporting, and to new ones stepping up to fill the void, with cash in hand. As more of us do this, a reasoned, informed political discourse can be restored.

Speak our truth: And each of us has watch the world closely, draw our best, reasoned conclusions about what’s right and true, and speak our truth to power.

To an honest New Year

Let’s let go the handwringing. In many ways, it was bound to come to this.

Long-standing and growing trends—the debasing of legitimate journalism, the rise of hyper-partisan cable news outlets, the success of a fake-news business model that thrives on the ever-expanding reach of social media—have now helped give us an unapologetically ill-informed and injudicious new opinion-leader in Donald Trump. The scenario is complete.

But now, we Americans who value evidence, trust in science, and want the truth,

who fear the undermining of social and environmental progress and reject the groundless, irrational, and shortsighted reasons given,

and who frankly, just don’t like being made the fool,

we need to stand and be counted for the objective truth and the cold hard facts on which it stands.

Posted in: Global Warming, Science and Democracy Tags:

Support from UCS members make work like this possible. Will you join us? Help UCS advance independent science for a healthy environment and a safer world.

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  • backwardsevolution

    FactCheck.org
    politifact.org
    washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/
    snopes.com/

    OMG, a puppy writes an article. The Washington Post? “The Russians are coming” Washington Post? The Washington Post who wrote the article citing PropOrNot as a credible source? PropOrNot listed 200 great fact and truth-telling Internet sites as being “pro-Russian”. These sites you list are arms of the deep state, but you are too young to know that yet. Read some of these articles to find out:

    https://theintercept.com/2016/12/10/anonymous-leaks-to-the-washpost-about-the-cias-russia-beliefs-are-no-substitute-for-evidence/

    http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2016/12/washington-post-backlash.html

    https://market-ticker.org/akcs-www?post=231717

    And anything by this guy:

    https://sjlendman.blogspot.ca/

    Of course, this is not about science, but to cite these four sites as truth-tellers is like me saying I’ve got a 24″ waist. Be very skeptical.

  • Bruzker

    Very stimulating article, thank you! Something I want to see more about: I fear petitions are going to be used as kindling by the new administration. I therefore want to see more creative ideas towards civil disobedience! This is a fight for our very future and the future of my Grandchildren and do not take this lightly.

    • Erika Spanger-Siegfried

      Greetings! I think petitions are a great way of putting leaders on notice, but I share your thought that they must be an early move in a series of increasingly forthright steps. There is certainly a growing climate movement and civil disobedience is a tool they deploy, as needed. For more, you might start with: https://peoplesclimate.org/

  • Stephen Williams

    Good essay, Erika! I urge you to follow your own advice and help the Union of Concerned Scientists get past its own bias towards nuclear power. Consider that France managed to get to an 80% CO2-free electric grid in a mere 15 years. In the same amount of time, Germany has only gotten to 15% of its electricity from wind and solar, and its CO2 reductions have stalled for 6 years in a row. I’m pro-renewables, but I’m even more pro-fixing ameliorating climate change. Renewables-alone are just not going to do it, as the empirical data shows.

    Please also consider that fears of nuclear power and radiation have been vastly exaggerated. To this day, we are still aware of less than 100 deaths as the result of nuclear power accidents–most of those due to the Chernobyl accident. There _may_ be more premature deaths due to Chernobyl in the future, but 30 years after the accident, the death toll is surprisingly low. Radiation just isn’t as dangerous as we once assumed. And no one has died or will die as a result of radiation released from the Fukushima accident. Meanwhile, some 3 million people die a year from air pollution from fossil fuels and millions more will die if we don’t do something about climate change.

    And please don’t be fooled by voluminous junk science with regard to the effects of radiation on populations. Look at the epidemiological studies and the review of the literature by the Chernobyl Forum and health physics experts.

    Our future depends on smart people like members of the Union of Concerned Scientists moving past their biases and evaluating what is actually been successful in decarobonizing energy. There’s good reason the IPCC, IEA, Obama Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and many environmentalists are pro nuclear power. I hope you will evaluate the evidence fairly and join us.

    • Erika Spanger-Siegfried

      Hello Stephen, Thanks for weighing in with these thoughtful comments. I’m not part of the nuclear team, but let me just say that, in general, UCS believes that nuclear power must remain on the table as a means of combating climate change. Check out my colleague’s blog here for more on that position: http://blog.ucsusa.org/david-wright/climate-change-and-nuclear-power-397

      • Stephen Williams

        Hi Erika. Thanks for your reply! The article you pointed me at, however, is clearly anti nuclear. It is exactly the sort of anti-science scare mongering that pushed me to drop my membership from UCSC. There’s also no effort in the article to provide a reasoned comparison of natural gas, wind and solar, and nuclear power.

        The article states, “We do not believe nuclear reactors are yet sufficiently safe and secure.” As I mentioned in my original comment, less than 100 people are known to have died as the result of radiation released from civilian nuclear power accidents. That’s over 16,000 cumulative years of civilian reactor operation across the globe with less than 100 known deaths. Per kWh, that’s safer than any other major form of electricity generation. In the U.S., where I live, not a single human being has died as the result of a civilian reactor meltdown. Same goes for reactors in submarines in the U.S., where the crew live in the vessel with an operating reactor.

        Outside of the Soviet Union, the worst civilian reactor accident (Fukushima) killed no one, and no one is expected to die. So what exactly is it that UCSC is afraid of?

        If UCSC cares about human life, nuclear power is a potent way to save lives. One study estimates that, by displacing fossil fuel burning, nuclear power has already saved some 1.8 million people from premature death.

        As for a reasoned comparison of low carbon sources of energy, the article states: “However, new reactors are not currently economical compared to electricity generation from natural gas or from other low-carbon energy sources such as wind and solar.”

        First of all, natural gas is not “low carbon”. It emits half as much CO2 as coal. Second, natural gas itself is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, and there is no way to obtain natural gas without it leaking in significant amounts. So I don’t understand why the article compares natural gas to nuclear power. Yes, natural gas is cheaper if one doesn’t care about global warming, but obviously UCSC does care. So I don’t understand why the writer of the article would make such a point.

        As for comparing wind and solar to nuclear, it is not an equivalent comparison. Currently, wind and solar cannot be deployed without some other source of energy to deal with their intermittency. So one must take into account the entire ecosystem (so to speak) that must be built to support the shortcomings of wind and solar before talking about cost. Unless wind and solar have hydro backup (or nuclear), the options are bad—natural gas (in the U.S.) or coal (or an as-yet-nonexistent form of grid-level, non-hydro storage). And because these fossil fuel plants have to ramp up and down quickly, the CO2 savings from wind and solar are limited.

        As for the “issue” of nuclear waste, it is only an issue because of the anti-nuclear power movement. From Carter banning fuel reprocessing by executive order, to Democrats under Clinton killing the IFR program (which could have used up our stockpiles of nuclear waste _and_ plutonium, leaving behind waste that would be radioactive for only 300 years or so), to Harry Reid blocking storage of “waste” (really spent fuel—a valuable resource) at Yucca Mountain, the “issue” of waste occurs because the anti-nuclear power movement apparently likes it that way.

        I could go on and on. But the core issue is that UCSC is at odds with the IPCC, IEA, EPA and Obama Administration. But UCSC is unable to articulate a rational argument as to why this is so.

      • Joffan

        The blog article you share is now three years old, and is riddled with excuses for opposing the most potent tool currently available to reducing fossil fuel use. What I would like to see is some more objective statement about what the UCS actually sees as a threshold of acceptability for risks, instead of this picking on at issues that in themselves don’t actually shift the risk needle (like the spent fuel in casks nonsense).

  • Edward Frederick Ezell

    An wonderful essay! Well done! Thank you for your fine work!

    • Erika Spanger-Siegfried

      Thank you, Edward! Much appreciated.

  • Ike Bottema

    I’d be more open to listen to your concerns — because many, if not most are real — however your selective choice of science that you support dulls the message I’m afraid. Wake up and examine your own phobia, that being radiation. Consider that nuclear fission energy is the safest energy supply we currently have available to us. Realize that diffuse and intermittent energy sources just doesn’t cut it. Shame on you for holding back progress towards energy prosperity for all societies. Double shame for not realizing that we absolutely need nuclear to mitigate climate change. Just do the math, it’s not that complicated.

    • Erika Spanger-Siegfried

      Hello Ike, For the record UCS does not oppose nuclear power, and as we note on our website “limiting the worst effects of climate change may also require other low- or no-carbon energy solutions, including nuclear power. Nuclear power produces very few lifecycle carbon emissions. It also faces substantial economic challenges, and carries significant human health and environmental risks. UCS strongly supports policies and measures to strengthen the safety and security of nuclear power.”

      • Ike Bottema

        Really? You say UCS does not oppose nuclear yet you then in the next breath offer only criticisms including ” [nuclear] carries significant human health and environmental risks” Is that so? Doesn’t any human endeavor include risk of some fashion? What sort of standard is being applied by UCS to to compare relative human health and environmental risks of various industrial processes? Focusing just on energy, just how much safer than any other source of power does nuclear have to be?

        I’d like to believe that UCS does not oppose nuclear power yet actions
        speak louder than words. Can you cite any examples wherein UCS has NOT
        been critical of even a single nuclear reactor? Exactly what are the
        safety and security criteria that meet the lofty standards of UCS?

      • Andy Gunther

        Seems to me UCS points to clearly documented risks associated with nuclear power, many of which are human problems rather than technological problems. One example is the enforcement of fire regulations. I think we can all agree a fire at a nuclear power plant is a serious safety concern. And yet, fire safety regulations are not enforced (http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/nuclear_power/ucs-nrc-fire-regulations-5-2-13.pdf?_ga=1.181064549.315190556.1466396874).

        Similarly, UCS has advocated for realistic and sophisticated inspections and testing of nuclear power plant’s capacity to repel a terrorist attack (http://allthingsnuclear.org/elyman/the-nrcs-security-inspections-at-nuclear-power-plants-are-again-under-attack). And UCS has pointed out how inattention to well-documented problems with boric acid damage contributed to the very serious safety problems at the Davis-Bessie nuclear power plant (http://allthingsnuclear.org/dlochbaum/fission-stories-131-you-cant-fix-stupid).

        The extremely serious consequences associated with operational problem at nuclear power plants requires a level of vigilance (and a commitment to expensive but necessary protocols) that is not a consistent feature of our nuclear industry. UCS is the only organization that I have seen with the sophistication and commitment to bring these issues forward.

        In this manner, UCS is for “safe nuclear power”, and is not reflexively “anti-nuclear.”

      • Stephen Williams

        The problem, Andy, is that all forms of energy generation and collection have inherent dangers. There is a context in which to evaluate the safety of our energy sources.

        Currently, some 3 million people die prematurely every year due to burning fossil fuels. And, as you well know, burning that material (as well as biomass) contributes to global warming, which has potentially catastrophic consequences for humanity.

        But these issues seem to pale, for some people it seems, compared to safety breaches at nuclear plants even though, in the U.S., not a single human being has lost their life as the result of these safety breaches.

        And what are the “extremely serious consequences” you speak of? You do know that, as the Chernobyl Forum has found, less than 100 people are known to have died from civilian nuclear power plant meltdowns? Some 30 years after the Chernobyl accident the expected deaths have yet to be seen. This doesn’t mean that yet more people might still die as a result of the accident, but it does point to the fact that these accidents are far less deadly than we once believed. As a result, the WHO now considers it inappropriate to apply the linear no threshold hypothesis to populations. (If we did, we’d have to recommend evacuating entire populations of countries such as Finland, which have high levels of natural background radiation.)

        And note that the Soviet-era Chernobyl plant had no containment building. No plant operating today operates without that protection.

        And though the Fukushima meltdown was a disaster financially and for those needlessly not allowed to return to their homes (due to fear mongering radiation–see above statement on Finland), the fact is, no one died or expected to die as a result of the release of radiation.

        And humanity has the ability to learn from mistakes, such as making sure backup generators are sufficiently above sea level so that a Fukushima-style meltdown cannot be repeated. (And, in fact, TEPCO was warned of the issue and failed to take action.)

        The fact is, though UCS is for “safe nuclear power”, UCS puts the safety bar so high that it is, in effect, anti-nuclear. It’s this sort of thinking that allows 3 million people a year to continue to die prematurely as a result of fossil fuel burning and massive quantities of CO2 to be emitted.

        Civilian nuclear power reactors have run for some 16,000 cumulative years across the planet resulting in less than 100 deaths. I simply cannot understand how that’s not safe enough for the time being so we can put nuclear power to work in averting climate change and the huge environmental and human toll of fossil fuel use.

      • Andy Gunther

        Hi Stephen:

        Thanks for the detailed and respectful response. You and I are certainly in agreement that every form of energy generation and collection have their inherent risks and impacts, that the disease, morbidity, and mortality from fossil fuel combustion are a major problem (and a strong argument for a cost on carbon), and on the need to decarbonize our energy system to eliminate the most serious consequences of global warming.

        I find the fact that “less than 100 people have died” from nuclear meltdowns to be a bit beside the point. This is completely consistent with the severe risks from nuclear power being of low probability but very high consequence. The “extremely serious consequences” I noted include the potential for a major radiation release near a population center (due to reactor malfunction caused by human error or terrorist attack), or the use of conventional explosives on any of the undefended pools of high-level waste currently stored at reactor sites around the country. One such accident would drastically alter the statistics you note regarding deaths per reactor operating years.

        The impacts from Chernobyl, which are still unfolding, I consider extremely serious (projection of 27,000 cancer deaths: http://allthingsnuclear.org/lgronlund/how-many-cancers-did-chernobyl-really-cause-updated).

        In addition, I also consider the consequences of Fukushima to be extremely serious. For example, 5 years after the Fukushima accident, 80,000 people remain displaced from their homes, and the clean-up costs are approaching $200 billion (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-tepco-fukushima-costs-idUSKBN13Y047). That is a serious consequence, and doesn’t even include the indirect effects of displacement and economic disruption. Also, Fukushima is located in the countryside. Many US reactors are located close to major metropolitan areas—and the consequences of an accident at one of these reactors could be far graver. Moreover, the radiation exposure from Fukushima was minimized by the direction of the wind at the time of release, and the impacts could have been much more severe if the wind was blowing another direction (http://www.nature.com/news/much-of-fukushima-s-fallout-was-gone-with-the-wind-1.12528).

        While the risks of nuclear power seem very high to me, right now what is preventing more plant construction is not concerns about safety but rather concerns about cost. Despite the subsidies provided to nuclear power (including socializing the cost of decommissioning, nuclear waste, liability, and the link to proliferation), plant proponents are unable to attract private capital to their projects as costs continue to escalate (http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear-power/cost-nuclear-power#.WFrQrbYrJPU). This is another strong reason to place a price on carbon emissions, something UCS supports.

      • Stephen Williams

        Hi Andy. Thanks for your thoughtful response.

        It does appear, though, that UCS is a bit behind the times with regard to what we’ve learned about the dangers of radiation. For example, you point me to a UCS article (“How Many Cancers Did Chernobyl Really Cause?—Updated Version”) which does not take into account the latest findings from UNSCEAR and the Chernobyl Forum. Thirty years after the Chernobyl accident, the projection of 27,000 cancer deaths cited in the article has simply not materialized. It doesn’t make sense to continue to refer to those old projections if time has not born them out.

        Additionally, though the article uses some data from the 2008 Chernobyl Forum report, it neglects some of the Chernobyl Forum’s own conclusions, such as:

        “There is no scientific evidence of increases in overall cancer incidence or mortality rates or in rates of non-malignant disorders that could be related to radiation exposure. The incidence of leukaemia in the general population, one of the main concerns owing to the shorter time expected between exposure and its occurrence compared with solid cancers, does not appear to be elevated. Although those most highly exposed individuals are at an increased risk of radiation-associated effects, the great majority of the population is not likely to experience serious health consequences as a result of radiation from the Chernobyl accident. Many other health problems have been noted in the populations that are not related to radiation exposure.”

        (http://www.unscear.org/unscear/en/chernobyl.html)

        From the health physics experts I’ve corresponded with and whose writings I’ve read, the situation remains the same 8 years after that report. The predictions of extra deaths from cancer simply haven’t born out in the real world. That doesn’t mean, even though the cancers have not occurred after 30 years, that some extra cancers could not still occur; but as three decades have passed, it certainly calls in to question such predictions (hence, the Chernobyl Forum conclusions back in 2008). So not only has the Chernobyl Forum articulated that there is no scientific evidence that these predictions are valid, but the World Health Organization (WHO) said the same in 2012. In fact, the WHO has said that the LNT hypothesis used by the UCS article that you pointed me at is now only valid when applied to risk management. The way UCS applied LNT in the said article is now considered invalid by the WHO. (http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS_UN_approves_radiation_advice_1012121.html)

        Not only is the UCS position with regard to Chernobyl based on what is now considered an invalid method of predicting deaths from cancer for a population, citing the Chernobyl-style accident as a reason to claim that nuclear power isn’t safe doesn’t make sense. It’s akin to claiming that a Boeing jet is unsafe because double-winged propeller-driven planes crashed in the past. No civilian reactor today runs without a containment building (as did the Soviet-era Chernobyl reactor). A Chernobyl-style accident is not possible by definition.

        As for citing forced relocations (such as at Fukushima) as a reason for not supporting nuclear power, it seems you have neglected the reason for those relocations. The relocations occurred because of fear and ignorance, not because of a real danger to the inhabitants of Fukushima. Those forced relocations resulted in some 1600 deaths, yet the expected death toll from radiation is zero. In other words, the crux of the issue seems to be the scientific community’s inability to unite behind the current and best understanding of the effects of low-level radiation on human beings and impart this understanding to the public. As best we know, low level radiation is not terribly dangerous; whereas fear mongering low level radiation is. (See the efforts of Christopher Busby to scare Fukushima residents, for example.)

        As for your concern about nuclear power being subsidized, it seems misplaced given that all forms of energy are subsidized. I can’t see how wind and solar, for example, could even be in the energy picture without subsidies. And if you look at what Germany, for example, has gotten for spending 100s of billions of Euros on wind and solar, the results are dismal. No CO2 reductions for 6 years straight, and wind and solar account for just 15% of electricity (3% of total energy) in Germany. Whereas France, which has had 80% or more CO2-free electricity for decades and leads Europe with a 95% CO2-free electricity grid. And then there are the issues around grid penetration of solar and wind due to their intermittency. No one has solved this issue in the real world on a large scale, yet many places like Germany forge ahead anyway with poor results.

        All the best scenarios from the IPCC and IEA include nuclear power, as I understand it. And we’ve learned that the fears of radiation have been greatly overestimated in the past and that LNT is inappropriate when applied to populations. (If it were true, we should be evacuating Finland and other locations with high levels of background radiation, and we should be shutting down the airline industry due to increased levels of radiation airline workers are exposed to daily.)

        So, when you write that you “consider the consequences of Fukushima to be extremely serious,”, I have to say I agree, but for very different reasons. No doubt, cleanup of the Fukushima plant is expensive, but the ill-informed relocations and obsessive degree of clean up are artifacts of what we now know to be inappropriate applications of the LNT hypothesis. If we all become informed about the lack of danger from low-level radiation (and in the case of a nuclear accident, after iodine-131 has decayed, of course), we can ameliorate the most dangerous result of a nuclear accident—public fear.

        For an excellent article on this subject, please see a recent paper in “Biological Theory” (http://radiationeffects.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Epidemiology-Without-Biology-Springer-2016.pdf).

        Thanks for taking time to discuss this with me. I appreciate it.

      • SA Kiteman

        But the point is, Andy, the Union of Confused Scientists think those issues are uniquely terrifying wrt nuclear energy. Why? There have been two worst case “disasters” with nuclear power. The cummulative deaths from said “disasters” have been about 60. It seens plausible that due to hormesis, the final death rate (specifically, “lifetimes lost”) will be NEGATIVE. Meanwhile, an oil train crashed in a small town up north and killed ~50. And the two worst hydroelectric disasters have killed in excess of 100,000 people. So, 60 vs 100,000. Why isn’t the Union of Confused Scientists talking about the “health and environmental risks” of hydro rather than nuclear.

        Simply, the UCS is filled with liars.

      • In this manner, UCS is for “safe nuclear power”, and is not reflexively “anti-nuclear.”

        Above we have living proof that the ruse works.

        An hour hardly goes by when an airliner is not grounded because of a maintenance problem.

        Thousands of airliners are flying overhead with cracks in their structure.

        Engine fires are quite common but not nearly as common as pilot errors.

        Yet, flying is still the safest way to travel.

        Do we need a disgruntled ex-airline or aerospace employee being paid by an anti-airline organization to write blog articles attacking the airline and aerospace industry? Of course we don’t, and we don’t need the UCS antinuclear peanut gallery either.

        If you trust the FAA to regulate a viciously competitive industry with razor-thin profit margins flying millions of people around the world in pressurized aluminum tubes with skins no thicker than a cereal box upon wings filled with highly flammable liquids attached to engines with turbine blades spinning at ungodly revolutions per minute through air so cold and rarefied that it would prove fatal in minutes day in and day out …then why don’t you trust the NRC to regulate nuclear power stations, which are not only simpler and safer than any airliner, but also don’t fly?

      • What’s the difference between a lie and repeating information you’ve been told is true, but never bothered to verify? Are they guilty of lying or are they guilty of never bothering to verify what they have been told is true?

        It also faces substantial economic challenges…

        And renewables don’t? Germany is demonstrating the real world cost of trying to reduce emissions with only renewables; $30 billion a year, according to Germany’s economics ministry. $30 billion a year would pay for forty custom built $7.5 billion Generation III AP1000 reactors over ten years ($30B/year x 10years = $300B, $300B/$7.5B = 40 AP1000 reactors). Add those to existing reactors and they could supply about 97% of Germany’s electricity by 2025. And their emissions reductions have been flat for the last six years …six years of carbon in the atmosphere we can’t get back.

        …carries significant human health and environmental risks

        Does it really, or are you repeating information you’ve been told is true, but never bothered to verify?

        http://i.imgur.com/82PVZJN.jpg

      • SA Kiteman

        That 0.04 deaths/TWh for nuclear is based on an old estimate for long term deaths from Chernobyl, deaths that have not been showing up as expected. Indeed, the deathrate for cancer is DOWN in the effected areas, not up. So it may be that the Chernobyl accident will wind up cumulatively saving lives, not taking them.

      • SA Kiteman

        Gee, another part of “the record” that gives lie to Erika’s statement “for the record” that they are not Anti-NuPow.

      • SA Kiteman

        Sorry Erika, but your record gives lie to your statement “for the record”.

        Nuclear power has economic issues because of gross exaggerations of its “human health and environmental risks”. In other words, you claim to not be opposed to nuclear power but then lie with every breath to oppose it.

        If you indeed “do not oppose” nuclear power, then reject your adherence to the demonstrably false Linear No-Threshold (LNT) Model and allow nuclear power to go forward unchained by malicious lies.

  • Jason

    Well said. It has been a disturbing time, but I agree that in some way it was only a matter of time that something like this would happen, given the attitudes of one our major political parties. I realize now that I was far too complacent on these issues during the Obama years. I saw the progress that was being made, and just assumed that trend would continue.

    Has there been any discussion around a march on Washington or some other type of organized protests? I have to believe that there are now enough people like me, willing to take action, that the numbers could be significant.

    • Erika Spanger-Siegfried

      Thanks for weighing in, Jason. Yes, there is a march on Washington slated for April 29th, and by all indications, it’ll be a big one. (The NYC march had ~400k participants, and that was during politically favorable times for climate action.) More information can be found here: https://peoplesclimate.org/ I expect UCS and members will be there in force. Hope to see you there!

      • Jason

        Thanks Erika, I will most definitely be there!