Today I was speaking to a colleague about Fukushima and its implications on public attitudes to nuclear as a way to mitigate climate change. After I mentioned George Monbiot’s recent investigative journalism on anti-nuclear claims, he responded by asking: Okay, sure, that’s one person, but conversely, how many pro-nuclear environmentalists have turned anti-nuclear as a result of Fukushima?
Well, that’s actually a good question, and I don’t really know the answer. So perhaps you can help? (see below for my preliminary sketch). What I’d like to do is compile a list of the following:
– Prominent pro-nuclear advocates who have subsequently become anti-nuclear in their sentiments
– Prominent anti-nuclear people who have changed their mind and switched to support of nuclear energy
The above two are binary choices, but there are other possible (more middle-of-the-road) attitudinal changes that would also be worth considering:
– Anti-nuclear to neutral (or neutral to anti-)
– Pro-nuclear to neutral (or neutral to pro-), and finally…
– Folks who formerly said “we can displace fossil fuels with 100 % renewable energy” but subsequently changed their mind after assessing the hard numbers
The largest group of people are almost certainly those that haven’t changed their mind on this matter (or at least not for a long while), and there is probably not a lot of point listing these. Some obvious examples include Bruno Comby (always a pro-nuclear environmentalist?) and Helen Caldicott (perpetually anti-nuclear). Further, as far as I’m aware, no prominent environmental group (Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy, etc.) seems to have changed their position either, but if you know some that have, then they ought to be listed too.
Okay, to make this exercise tractable, we need some boundaries, so this is what I suggest:
1. The people involved should be prominent and (relatively) independent (e.g., public intellectuals and scientists, well-known environmentalists, politicians, celebrities? etc.). By ‘independent’ I mean those who have no clear vested financial interest in taking any particular position (difficult to be sure of, I acknowledge, given that everyone has some hook to hang their hat on).
2. The change in position must be in some way verifiable (e.g., by a little internet research, with links to evidence provided). This is why I’ve chosen to focus on public figures — really the only ‘statistical cohort’ against which such an exercise is feasible. My intent here is not to downplay the importance of the decisions of the general public, or those who have been working ‘behind the scenes’ on environmental issues for many years — I’m simply being practical about what can/cannot be demonstrated.
3. The timing of this change in attitude should be established. Was the decision to change tack influenced by a particular event (such as the Fukushima crisis), or did it perhaps occur gradually? It would also be interesting to note any who has ‘flip-flopped’ on the issue (e.g., anti- to pro- to anti- again, in response to events).
If you think I’ve missed any important criteria, let me know.
Okay, to kick of this exercise, I’ll list a few people who fit into some of these categories (Edit: List now starting to be updated thanks to comments):
– Anti- to pro-: George Monbiot (environmental journalist, went anti- to neutral in 2009, pro- in 2011); Mark Lynas (author of “Six Degrees”, 2008); Stewart Brand (author of “Whole Earth Catalog”, 2005); Dick Smith (Australian entrepreneur, 2011); Ben Heard (eco-consultant, 2010); Patrick Moore (co-founder of Greenpeace, 2003); Stephen Tindale (former director of Greenpeace, 2009); Chris Smith (chairman of the Environment Agency, 2009); Chris Goodall (Green Party activist and prospective parliamentary candidate, 2009); Gwyneth Cravens (author, 2007); Hugh Montefiore (a founder of Friends of the Earth, 2004); Chicco Testa (Italian politician, 2008); Ian McEwan (author, 2010); Steve Kirsch (US entrepreneur, 2008); Tony Blair (former UK PM, 2006); Al Franken (Democrat Senator and media host, 2011)
– Neutral to pro-: James Lovelock (Gaia theory, 2004); Bob Hawke (former Australian Prime Minister, 2008); Bob Carr (former NSW Premier, 2008); Jared Diamond (scientist and author, 2005); Jesse Jenkins, Michael Shellenberger & Ted Nordhaus (Breakthrough Institute, 2008-2010 [was anti-, pre-2000, then neutral from 2004-2008])
– “Can do with 100% renewables” to “nuclear required”: ; Jim Hansen (climatologist, 2008); Barry Brook (biologist and risk modeller, 2009), David Mackay (physicist, ?maybe, 2008); Jeffrey Sachs (economist, 2009)
– Flip-Flopper: Tim Flannery (environmentalist and author, 2006-2011)
Right, over to you. Please provide your examples in the comments below that add to (or correct) my list, and also try to fill out the other categories. As these come in, and are verified, I’ll update this top post to reflect the new information.
I’ll also add more examples myself below, as I have time to research them. Note that the short initial list I’ve provided above is not meant (at this stage) to ‘prove’ that more have gone from anti- to pro- than the reverse — these are just people I’m (currently) more familiar with.
With a bit of effort, we should be able to come up with quite a comprehensive and representative sample. (Perhaps sufficient to do some interesting analyses on?) I look forward to what we can, collectively, come up with. To me, it’s a very interesting question to try to answer, because it will provide an insight into what is affecting people’s attitudes on this very important energy-climate issue.