Sunday, May 10, 2020

Even If MIchael Moore Is For It, Degrowth Is Still a Terrible Idea

I have not seen Michael Moore's new documentary, Planet of the Humans, nor do I intend to now that I have a sense of what it's about.
The excellent Leigh Phillips does a highly effective demolition job on the new film on Jacobin:
"In a swerve toward the Malthusian politics of degrowth and, remarkably, even embracing the fringe ideology of “anti-civilization,” Planet of the Humans declares that the problems caused by industrial civilization cannot be solved by industrial civilization.
Progress is a dangerous myth, the film argues; there are too many humans consuming too much stuff, so everyone in developed countries — including the working class — needs to consume less, while the planet as a whole must be depopulated down to a more sustainable number.
For all of Michael Moore’s many and generous contributions to progressive and humanist politics over the decades, such arguments are, well, literally anti-progressive and anti-human.
And we don’t need them anyway. Our host of very real and challenging environmental problems are primarily caused not by growth — either of people or of the economy — but by the incentive structure inherent to any market system.
Rather than telling a world currently wracked by a global pandemic that is already slashing economic growth while killing hundreds of thousands that this is basically what we want but done in a nicer fashion, we should be embracing the regulation and economic planning we need to save the planet and all the people on it."
This does seem daft and, as Phillips notes, basically anti-progressive and anti-working class. Phillips also does a nice job of explaining the necessary relationship between variable renewables--no matter how price competitive as an energy source--and "firm" energy sources.
And, yes, that does include nuclear.As Phillips notes, there is a reason the IPCC's recommended pathways toward net-zero carbon emissions all include a substantial role for nuclear. Which means that any Green New Deal worthy of its name will have to include nuclear, much as that may distress many people on the left.
"The reason we can’t just rely on hydroelectricity and geothermal energy alone and not nuclear alongside them is that the former two are geographically limited. You can build a fossil fuel plant or a nuclear plant anywhere, but you have to have mountains and valleys for hydro, or sit atop a geologically active zone (such as the Pacific’s “Ring of Fire”) for conventional geothermal. (The reach of geothermal can be extended significantly via enhanced geothermal systems, or EGS, which depends upon hydraulic fracturing to pump water into cracks in hot rocks underground, but this is still not an option that can be used everywhere.)
While the filmmakers don’t touch nuclear energy in the documentary, as part of promotion, they have made it clear they oppose that option, too. Michael Moore told a YouTube livestream that one of his earliest actions as a political activist was to take part in the anti-nuclear movement of the late 1960s and early ’70s (which, ironically, at the time, argued that we should embrace more coal instead of uranium).
It’s time for the post–Cold War environmental movement — and, yes, figures like Bernie Sanders — to rethink their stance on nuclear power. We now know that nuclear power has the fewest deaths per kilowatt-hour of any energy source, that a single return flight from New York to London exposes a passenger to more ionizing radiation than a lifetime’s exposure of a nuclear plant worker, and that in any case, next-generation reactors physically cannot melt down.
There is a reason why each of the four illustrative pathways toward net-zero emissions by 2050, compatible with keeping within 1.5°C of warming above pre-industrial times and offered by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), assumes between 100 and 500 percent of current nuclear generation. According to the IPCC’s latest climate change assessment, nuclear energy has an average carbon intensity across its full life cycle of just 12 grams of CO2-equivalent per kilowatt-hour, the same as offshore wind — but, unlike wind, it’s available 24-7. Utility-scale solar photovoltaic power, which is intermittent, hits a median of 48 grams."

Michael Moore has defended the rights and interests of working people for decades. But his new film, Planet of the Humans, embraces bad science on renewable energy and anti-humanist, anti–working class narratives of overpopulation and overconsumption.

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