[OPE] Leave the oil in the soil?

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@tiscali.nl)
Date: Sat Feb 16 2008 - 15:10:15 EST


I don't think that's fair. I don't recall ever having attacked Niger Delta activists or Ecuadorian indigenous people or progressive people in Calgary and Oslo, or Alaskan environmentalists, whoever they are. How can I argue rationally with people who have already imputed to me viewpoints which I don't even hold? I don't even want to.  But it's true I avoid a lot of leftist and green circles, becaused I do not want to be lumped in with a lot of positions, mentalities and lifestyles I am not in favour of anyway. And I haven't written much on it. 

A lot of development aid politics and environmental politics these days is "ideology-driven", it is a sort of quasi-religion with its own authorities where any dissent is regarded as heresy or sacrilege, whereas I am interested in facts and rational arguments, rather than a emotional gush, moral imagery, or an affirmation of faith. 

The main reason why I opposed the introduction of nuclear reactors in New Zealand in 1976-78 was because, apart from the inherent dangers of radioactive material, it did not make economic sense, and the goverment in due course realised that. Instead they built hydro dams, but guess what? They ended up selling a lot of cheap power e.g. to an aluminium smelter at Bluff point smelting Australian bauxite, which didn't really create many jobs either. The smelter, now owned by Sumitomo and Rio Tinto, consumes about 15% of the country's electric power and produces plenty greenhouse gas, but the finished product goes mostly to Japan, there is in fact not even any industry that processes it in New Zealand. Some "development strategy". Lateron, the NZ electric power supply was largely privatised, but all that achieved was that the regional power companies were bought up, forming monopolies, and in large part ended up being owned by a handful of foreign companies, while the New Zealand consumer faces larger and larger power bills. Economic rationality had very litle to do with all that, it was more a question of "who gets the revenue stream". Since everyone must use electricity, the profits are guaranteed. The state-owned electricity grid worked very well for a long time, it's just that at a certain point it became a lucrative private investment opportunity. Here in Holland we also have a lot of "competing" power suppliers now, but in reality the price differences are slight, and the power bills go up anyway. In time, these power companies will buy each other up as well. 

I'm neither pro-nuclear nor anti-nuclear "on principle", it just depends on the specifics of the case. In order to devise a reasonable energy policy in a specific situation takes a lot of technical, social and economic knowledge, and it's a good idea if there's a rational public discussion about the pro's and con's of different options. Often however there isn't even any rational public discussion, that's the point, there I agree with you. 

If an efficient nuclear fusion technology was devised, eliminating a lot of waste problems, I'd probably be in favour of it. 

I've seen plenty techno-hippies driving around in SUVs and sporting their designer kitchens, flying off to conferences to make all sorts of "green" arguments, not even realising that their whole lifestyle depends on everything they say they're opposed to. It seems pretty silly to me. I am not really interested in a Manichean politics. The root problem remains a capitalism in which people make more money from property deals than from making things that enhance the quality of life.

Integrating ecological concerns into a progressive politics takes a lot of careful thought, otherwise you just end up attracting all the wrong people, and become trapped in all kinds of projects of dubious merit. I don't have all the answers to that, but I know from experience what to avoid.


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