Climate Justice or Climate Action?
Climate change is not a morality play. It is a global threat that could render much of the earth unlivable and increase the frequency and lethality of natural disasters like hurricanes. It follows that governments should be doing everything within their power to reduce the amount of carbon being pumped into the atmosphere while still meeting the (growing) energy needs of their population. Unfortunately, for some climate activists with ties to the White House, the vague goal of “environmental justice” is more important than using all of the available tools to fight climate change.
Justice over Progress?
Last month the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, a group tasked by President Biden with advising the government on environmental justice (a term they define vaguely as “the just treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, or ability, with respect to the development, implementation, enforcement, and evaluation of laws, regulations, programs, policies, practices, and activities, that affect human health and the environment.”), released a report in which they opposed using nuclear power and carbon capture technology to combat climate change. The council (whose members include activists and organizers alongside a few academics) described nuclear power and carbon capture as “Examples of The Types of Projects That Will Not Benefit A Community” without providing any further explanation as to why those projects would not benefit a community.
What makes a statement like this so concerning is that this council consists of a number of representatives from activist groups and unions, many of whom played a role in turning out voters to help get President Biden elected in 2020. These people have a legitimate claim on the president’s support, and when they are making the case against nuclear power and carbon capture, it’s reasonable to assume that he will listen to them.
Science versus morality
If climate change is the severe global threat that scientists have claimed, then it would follow that every possible tool should be used to prevent it. Just as a terminally ill patient is open to trying experimental and unproven drugs, policymakers should be willing to try anything to combat climate change (although it is important to keep in mind that neither carbon capture and nuclear power are experimental or unproven). To say, as the council does, that these options don’t deserve even the slightest consideration is to rob policymakers of some of their weapons in the fight against one of the most dangerous threats to our survival.
Some environmentalists have always been uncomfortable with solutions such as carbon capture and nuclear power because of fears that nuclear power can lead to meltdowns, concerns about nuclear power being a centralized source of energy, and concerns that carbon capture will permit the continued existence of fossil fuels. But trying to diagnose these fears is less important than combating them. Those who support using every available tool need to continue making the case that climate change represents a grave threat to human life, and the only way to defeat it is to use whatever means are available. They should remind the public that climate change is a scientific challenge, not a morality play between good guys and bad guys, and not an exercise in making a small group of activists feel better about themselves. The future of the planet is at stake.