by Douglas Black July 24, 2016
I am not a political activist, never even took a poli-sci course in college. But I do take politics very seriously for two reasons. One, I enjoy the debate, the argument, the opposing points-of-view. Two, I relish my right as an American to have and express my own unique point-of-view. Also because the decisions made by politicians are so goddamn important I don’t think giving them carte blanche is in anyone’s best interest, even those who have opinions I find repulsive. Okay, there are three reasons.
Back-to-back weeks of National Conventions is like eating Pizza and KitKat Bars while fishing in Canada with MLB and NFL Hall-of-Famers for me. You can use your own allegories. Suffice it to say I listen to all the speeches, read all of the news coverage, and examine both Party Platforms carefully. After all, I am an Independent and have voted all over the map. And I always vote.
This year the political climate is wilder than recent memory, although history records some outlandish behavior several generations ago. Who can forget the Adams Campaign of 1828 claiming evidence of Jacksons’ cannibalism while AJ’s operative’s labeled Quincy “that Pimp to the Coalition who provides young American girls for the amusement of the Russian Czar”. I wonder how a President Trump would welcome Vladimir Putin to the White House.
All of the theatrics, half-truths, and outright lies can be distracting. They are meant to be. So I like to start with the Official Party Platforms and compare their positions on a single issue. Energy.
First the Dems
The Democratic Party position on energy begins with the anchor statement “Climate change is an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time.” The first two words are banned from public use by Republican Governor Rick Scott and Trump has called climate change a “hoax”, so this should prove to be a divisive topic.
I would prefer to see the words “a defining challenge” replaced with “the defining challenge”. Historians of the 22nd century will know if I was correct.
Democrats point out that clean energy is the future, both as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to create construction jobs. Higher paying jobs. Dems also point to CO2 and methane as contributors to climate change and that they should be punitively priced to discourage their use rather than subsidized, which encourages more greenhouse gas production.
Specifically, “Democrats believe that carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases should be priced to reflect their negative externalities.” Negative Externalities is an Orwellian way of saying collateral damage, another Orwellian term for bad stuff.
Democrats call for “eliminating special tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuel companies”. These tax breaks have been in place for decades – Big Oil and Big Coal prefer to avoid talking about their government subsidies. That could cause some collateral damage to their bottom lines.
Regarding nuclear energy, the Democratic Platform says nothing specific. Their statement that “we must ensure federal actions do not significantly exacerbate global warming” and “we support taking steps to power the government with 100 percent clean electricity” could be construed as an opening for more nuclear power plants to be green-lighted.
Overall, the Democratic Platform on Energy push well-paying jobs as the country rapidly upgrades and converts its infrastructure toward a carbon-freeish system.
Now the GOP
The Republican Party Platform starts with the premise that we have more natural resources available to exploit than anyone else on Earth. Maybe so. This position is largely based on a presumption that coal is clean. “The Democratic Party does not understand that coal is an abundant, clean, affordable, reliable domestic energy resource.”
The word clean begs for a definition. If “dirty” implies harm, conversely “clean” should imply safe. In my book, emissions from coal-fired power plants, even so-called clean facilities which have yet to be successfully built, contain copious amounts of mercury, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and most concerning of all carbon dioxide in amounts that change our climate in ways unfriendly to life. Collateral Damage.
I applaud the Republicans’ stance on jobs growth through upgrading our electric grid and pipeline infrastructure. This is prudent from a safety perspective as well as capacity and maintenance. They boast of policies and bills they have proposed or passed to do just that in the Senate or the House (yet not both at the same time).
They plan on improving upon these policies “to find new ways to store electricity, a breakthrough of extraordinary import.” It has been my experience that one should not use a Magic Eight Ball to predict the future.
“Climate change is far from this nation’s most pressing national security issue.” Again, those historians of the 22nd century (including my grand-children and yours) will know for sure if this statement is prudent or complete buffoonery.
It may sound like I am more critical of one platform than the other. I don’t mean to be. In fact, here is where I begin to like the GOP statement. “We support lifting restrictions to allow responsible development of nuclear energy, including research into alternative processes like thorium nuclear energy.”
Thorium, a more abundant element that can be used in place of Uranium, is considered safer because it produces much shorter-lived radioactive isotopes. I won’t get into the gobbledygook and blah-blah-blah of the science, but storage of radioactive waste becomes more manageable.
Which brings me to Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The Republican Platform is adamant about State’s Rights (something they were opposed to at the start of the Civil War and the Abolition of Slavery, but that is off topic). “State’s Rights” would imply that Nevada could prevent the use of Yucca Mountain as a national depository for nuclear waste into perpetuity.
However, the Platform also says “we will end the Administration’s disregard of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act with respect to the long-term storage of nuclear waste”, which calls for the process to utilize Yucca Mountain to proceed to implementation. I support the latter rather than the former, but I am unclear as to a solid position by the Republicans. Vagaries are an art form in political rhetoric.
The Evolving Nuclear Issue
Clearly from my past work as a promoter of solar and wind energy, of energy efficiency, of sustainable energy and environmental issues, one would presume I would be solidly on the NO NUKES side of the fence. Positions are relative to one’s point-of-view. Ones POV is observed in the here and now, a context that evolves.
The here and now includes the reality of much, much greater demand for electricity. The here and now expects the entire fleet of vehicles running on electricity within a generation. The here and now also includes potential extinction level climate change due primarily to emissions.
In a “there and then” context of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl (Fukushima notwithstanding) I would be opposed to further construction of nuclear power plants as a solution to the human hunger for controllable electricity. But Next Generation Nuclear Power Plants are being built right now in Europe, India, Russia and other nations. Lessons have been learned from Fukushima. Technological advances are happening exponentially. I am all for nuclear power. All in.
So, if I were grading one political platform over the other, Republican or Democrat, based on the single issue of Energy, it would be Republican, simply because they have the stones to make a commitment toward nuclear.
But I still see an awful lot of collateral damage in both platforms.
Douglas Black is a historian, writer, photographer and amateur astrophysisist observing life from a room high above the streets of Chicago.