I owe George Monbiot an apology. Last week, I published an article for Project Censored in which I included a few choice snippets of a debate aired on DemocracyNow! The debate was between world renowned anti-Nuclear activist and co-founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Dr. Helen Caldicott, and famous author and The Guardian columnist George Monbiot. I will not reprint the entire segment of the article, in which I quoted and commented on the two sides. However, here is the one paragraph, or shall I say sentence, that Monbiot took exception to:
“Monbiot started off the debate by stating, “coal is hundreds of times more dangerous than nuclear power, not just because of climate change, though, of course, climate change is a big one, but also because of industrial accidents and because of the impacts of pollution on local people.” Monbiot went on to defend the nuclear industry and its track record.”
The next day, Monbiot sent me an email:
“Monbiot went on to defend the nuclear industry and its track record.”
That is completely untrue, as I’m sure you are aware. I remain a fierce critic of the nuclear industry, and I made no attempt defend it or its record. Instead I questioned some of the unscientific claims that Helen was making. I would be grateful if you could amend your copy accordingly.
Wow, Manbiot just came to my website and called me a liar. A great way to introduce oneself. How could he be so “sure” he knew I was making a “completely untrue” statement?
Well, it turns out that I wasn’t aware that my statement was “completely untrue.” In fact, I was not clear at all about what had Monbiot’s panties all up in a wad? I thought George (I feel like I can call him George now, since he called me Dean) had provided an extremely powerful and well articulated argument supporting the nuclear industry and its track record. Had George been wearing some of those fancy men’s vinyl Euro bikinis, or perhaps a leather studded thong? Both undie choices can be extremely uncomfortable, cause chaffing, crimp the family jewels, and ultimately make one extremely irritable. As a former underwear manufacturer, I was about to suggest to Monbiot he switch over to a nice pair of relaxed fitting organic cotton boxers. Perhaps he should look at the Maggies Organics catalog?
Later that day, March 31, 2011, I posted George’s email to me and a quick response. I essentially asked George, “What the hell are you talking about?”
Okay, George, are you sure I’m aware this sentence is untrue? I am happy to read that you are a fierce critic of the nuclear industry. However, I don’t believe you came off like a fierce critic in your debate with Dr. Helen Caldicott on DemocracyNow!
In the debate you state, “I’m very worried that the global response to what’s happening in Fukushima will be to shut down nuclear power stations around the world and to cancel future nuclear power stations,…”
You also state, “that so far the death toll from Chernobyl amongst both workers and local people is 43. “
Which Caldicott called a “lie.”
Caldicott also claimed, “. You’ve bought the propaganda from the nuclear industry.”
You claim in your email to me, “I questioned some of the unscientific claims that Helen was making.”
Yet, Dr. Helen Caldicott is a scientist and co-founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility. It certainly wouldn’t be very responsibly of her to lie or make unscientific claims.
And so, if I amend my article, I might write something like, “While Monbiot claims to be a fierce critic of the nuclear industry, in his debate with Caldicott he appeared to defend the nuclear industry and its track record.”
I know this might not sound satisfactory to you, but these are opinion columns and this is my opinion, which seems to have been shared by Helen.
I think you should write an article addressing your assertion that Caldicott is making unscientific claims and why you believe you are not defending the nuclear industry and its track record. If you like, I will post it on my website.
In subsequent emails, George seemed to question my honor and intellectual abilities. I soon received an unsolicited email with a twenty-two page report including 135 citations, from an environmental consultant named Paul Mobbs. The report starts off declaring:
“I met George Monbiot many years ago, during the various roads and land campaigns of
the early 1990s – not long after the security guards at the Batheaston/Swainswick bypass usned “minimum reasonable force” to bust his foot, after which he limped from event-to-event on a crutch. As far as nuclear power goes, George has been sitting on the fence for a while now; this week he fell off, on the pro-nuclear side… I log-on to my network and download today’s news headlines, collected by my automated on-line information collection system… Oh dear; oh dearrrry dear! George Monbiot has “fallen”; off the fence, that is. That’s really going to stir the crowd. A few years ago another member of the Oxford eco-set, Mark Lynas, did something similar, and has now made quite a comfortable niche for himself in the “business” of climate change. He was following other leading “environmentalists” who, over recent years, have embraced a more non-confrontational viewpoint that seeks a truce with politics and industry in order to try and create change. Stewart Brand, for example, once the darling of the American counterculture, has since morphed into a vendor of big solutions o the problems of the human ecological crisis. Interestingly, following on from last year’s Channel 4 documentary, What the Green Movement Got Wrong , Monbiot criticised both Lynas and Brand for the role they played in the programme, and their massaging of objective fact in order to make an ecological perspective fit within the paradigm of corporate power…”
Mobbs goes on to lay out his case against George’s position on nuclear power. Mobbs’ main point appears to be that George is using a false economic framework. Mobbs’ writes, “I think George is framing the questions according to a set of pre-conceived ideas about energy and the economic process that are demonstrably invalid.” Mobbs then delves into intricate details illustrating his criticism of my friend George.
The article that finally pushed Mobbs’ into writing his lengthy critic of Monbiot was published in The Guardian on March 22, 2011. Here George pronounces his new found love for nuclear power:
“You will not be surprised to hear that the events in Japan have changed my view of nuclear power. You will be surprised to hear how they have changed it. As a result of the disaster at Fukushima, I am no longer nuclear-neutral. I now support the technology.”
However, if you read the entire article, you will find the highly nuanced argument George is actually making:
“Even with a much lower population than today’s, manufactured goods in the land-based economy were the preserve of the elite. Deep green energy production – decentralised, based on the products of the land – is far more damaging to humanity than nuclear meltdown….
Yes, I still loathe the liars who run the nuclear industry. Yes, I would prefer to see the entire sector shut down, if there were harmless alternatives. But there are no ideal solutions. Every energy technology carries a cost; so does the absence of energy technologies. Atomic energy has just been subjected to one of the harshest of possible tests, and the impact on people and the planet has been small. The crisis at Fukushima has converted me to the cause of nuclear power.”
Mobbs’ makes a complex, yet compelling case as to why he believes George’s economic model is wrong. This article, and writer, could not even begin to give the environmental economics debate justice. However, as I said at the top of the column, I owe George Monbiot an apology. I unintentionally misstated his position.
While I write editorials, which are essentially opinion columns, I do strive to present the facts accurately. It was certainly honest and accurate for me to state that from my perspective, George went on to “defend the nuclear industry and its track record.” This was not an intentionally untrue statement, nor a jab at George. This is my opinion. However, since my exchange of emails with both George and Mobbs’, over the last few days, I have learned a great deal more about my friend George.
For example, I no longer believe he has a problem with his undies. Ladies and gentlemen, the jewels are protected. What George wished to make perfectly clear to me is that while he supports the technology of nuclear power, he does not support the industry and its track record. In fact, as I have illustrated above, his March 22 article makes that exact point.
I love cars, but I am not a fan of the auto industry. In the U.S., we bailed out 2/3 of the industry because of gross mismanagement. A few years back, after U.S. gas prices hit an all time high of $4 a gallon, people started buying hybrids and other full efficient Japanese cars. This left the U.S. auto industry high and dry, with a huge inventory of gas guzzling SUVs, and a massive amount of debt. Debt the U.S. tax payers ultimately picked up the bill for. I can appreciate George’s nuanced point of view in which one can love the technology but the not industry and their track record.
Therefore, I apologize to George for not clearly stating his position. What appeared to me to be a defense of the industry and its track record, was, in George’s mind, a defense of the technology. Nonetheless, in reality, I’m not sure how easily the technology of nuclear power and the industry/history can be separated from each other. Regardless, it is a point I can intellectually appreciate. I also don’t know why a famous author and columnist would even respond to a student writers’ blog posting? Yet, George made it perfectly clear to me that he is not advocating for the nuclear industry. George declares he intends to remain a fierce critic.
I no longer believe George’s tighty-whities are too snug. Nor unlike him, have I questioned his honestly and intellectual abilities. Yet, the twit Brit spit on me in his personal emails, and thus deserves a spanking. He has not convinced me to support nuclear power. However, he has made a compelling case for his position. I appreciate George given me the opportunity to clarify my article and his stated position. Additionally, I hope to avoid a new barraged of emails by George Monbiot that question my personal integrity, claim I am knowingly making more untrue statements, and if I were honorable and intelligent person, would amend my copy.