No, really. We have been critical of John Kerry for some foolish things he has said on climate and of others for foolish expectations they have expressed about him and his boss. But late in November the former Secretary of State and now United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate said two things about climate that are extremely sensible and also somewhat courageous in the current, uh, climate. First, he endorsed nuclear power because of its emissions profile and second, he said he used to be against nuclear but has changed his mind. “Given this challenge we face today, and given the progress of fourth-generation nuclear, go for it. No other alternative. Zero emissions.” Which creates a more promising basis for discussion than most of what is being said on the subject.
Of course he was immediately heckled for not appreciating the danger of a radioactive meltdown. Which indicates the sad level of current public discussion, since obviously a man who helped organize the first Earth Day in Massachusetts and was firmly anti-nuclear back in the day has heard of Chernobyl and atomic weapons and all that stuff. But he has also heard of the progress made in safety and probably knows that the open societies never build reactors that dangerous even if the people who designed Fukuyama were either on drugs or should have been.
If we were inclined to nitpick his statement we would observe that nuclear is not actually “zero emissions” and not only because of the carbon footprint of their ongoing operations including vehicular traffic. The cement industry is such a large contributor to human GHGs that it normally gets a shout-out in those colourful charts of the carbon cycle. But nuclear reactors are not the only power plants that use cement so it’s not a big issue.
Kerry’s words are likely to get him in trouble with the usual suspects for a number of reasons, one of which is that many people on the left seem emotionally averse to anything nuclear because they watched Dr. Strangelove as a kid or something. (The original Greenpeace voyage, remember, back when it was still the “Don’t Make A Wave” committee, was to oppose an American nuclear test in Amchitka). And if we may be catty, the original name arose because the protestors claimed the test would cause an earthquake and a tsunami, which it did not do. (Then somebody went “Peace” and somebody else said “Let’s make it a green peace” and marketing history was made.)
Nor were they ultimately able to get in the way of the test or even observe it. But they had the last laugh, because the “Cannikin” nuclear test on Nov. 6 1971 was not just the largest-ever underground U.S. nuclear test, it was the beginning of the end; after about 50 a year in the 1960s the numbers dropped to under 30 after 1973 then tapered off and stopped entirely in 1992. But nuclear weapons are one thing and nuclear power is quite another. Which brings us to a remarkably important truth that Kerry blurted out rather incidentally in the course of his remarks as though it were uncontroversial. Namely “No other alternative.”
Perhaps all he meant to say is that we have no alternative than to find alternative fuels because, he thinks, we cannot maintain our way of life without energy and we cannot continue to use fossil fuels. But those three words also casually swept aside wind, solar, hydrogen and we suppose peat moss and geothermal as well, conceding that barring major technological developments and also for wind and solar a revision of the laws of physics, these trendy and highly subsidized forms of energy cannot possibly become the mainstay of our advanced civilizations. (For instance a former investment expert involved in the subprime debacle named Bill Blain, who says “I absolutely believe climate change is the biggest challenge humanity faces”, nevertheless warns that the UK faces a “serious crisis over its carbon-neutral green energy costs” and indeed “All it takes for a financial crash is a couple of snowflakes to roll down the hill and trigger an avalanche. One sector it might start is in renewables.” All we need right now.)
His enlightenment on nuclear and apparently on renewables does not mean Kerry is out of the woods yet. He still says a lot of pompous and foolish things, including that the upcoming COP26 summit in Glasgow is “the last best chance the world has to come together in order to do the things we need to do to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis.” Spurious invocations of Lincoln (specifically his Dec. 1 1862 Annual Message to Congress) do as much for your credibility as spurious invocations of Churchill, and Kerry’s comment was also boldly vague or vaguely bold (“worst consequences” being here a complete weasel phrase) on just how urgent the urgency is. On the other hand he did say "Three years ago, we were told we have 12 years to avoid those consequences. Three of those years were lost because we had Donald Trump, who didn’t believe in any of it. And now we have nine years left to try to do what science is telling us we need to do.” Which again has that “scientists say” meme but, on the plus side, suggests that he’s going to keep counting down and in nine years either say “Mission accomplished” or “Might as well quit” so either way we can stop worrying.
Just kidding. But nevertheless his nuclear insight is valuable. Indeed we have long argued in this newsletter that support for nuclear is pretty much a sanity test for climate alarmists. If you don’t believe there’s a man-made global warming crisis, you might prefer fossil fuels though in our view nuclear offers significant non-GHG-related advantages from security of energy supply to affordability especially in countries lacking hydrocarbon or hydroelectric resources. But if you really think fossil fuels have got to go, and you won’t endorse nuclear including for spurious safety reasons, you are insane.
John Kerry just proved he was sane. Many people will not thank him for it. But we do.