Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Greenpartywatch: GP candidate faces axe for trying to save the planet

A storm is brewing in the Green Party over an article by Chris Goodall, their PPC in Oxford West and Abingdon, arguing that nuclear power will be necessary as part of the solution to climate change.

He goes where Mark Lynas and Stephen Tindale have gone before. Many leading environmentalists now take the view that nuclear is just too useful a source of low-carbon energy to do without; that concerns over nuclear waste, while valid environmental concerns, pale into insignificance compared to climate change.

Opponents frame the debate as "nuclear v renewables", but this is just framing. Let's take as read support for renewables and efficiency. Then what? Where is the rest of our energy coming from?

Realistically, what nuclear is up against is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). A good idea, but not yet, and perhaps not ever, a technology ready to be deployed. If you are convinced that CCS will work, then you can probably afford to be anti-nuclear. But why would you be so convinced?

Here is a question I put to Steve Webb MP, in a Lib Dem Voice webchat way back.

Do you agree that we should be looking to make progress on carbon emissions, primarily with techonlogies that exist, such as wind, nuclear, CSP, CHP, rail, and smart meters rather than gambling on technologies that might never exist, such as CCS, much better PV, and particular road transport solutions? Where technologies look promising, but don't yet work, rather than buy inferior versions of them, supporting that inferiority, why don't we offer prizes to companies that bring them to viability?
And he responded

We should certainly use readily available technologies such as CHP and smart meters as far as possible. But Carbon Capture is essential to the planet. China and India are rolling out new unabated coal-fired power stations at an alarming rate. Unless those emissions get captured we are all in trouble. So investing in CCS research has got to be a priority. In terms of prizes for companies that bring forward new ideas, in a world of carbon rationing and carbon markets, there ought to be strong economic 'prizes' for green technology - the key is to remove the barriers which prevent them getting to the commercial viability stage.
The position on nuclear - too little too late - had been given previously.

To support this policy it seems necessary to believe that CCS will actually work, and to be willing to gamble the planet's future on it working. Carbon capture is essential to the planet? Nuclear is too little too late. One could just as well say the opposite. Nuclear is essential to the planet, and CCS is too little too late. The second position has the advantage that nuclear is known to work, and building CCS-ready plant actually means building dirty coal plant.

So we face the same questions the Greens do, and we will continue to debate them, just as the Greens, er, oh...

Mr Goodall’s remarks had left many party members “seriously concerned”, the Green Party leader, Caroline Lucas, MEP, said last night. “It is of great concern to me that a candidate should be promoting a policy which is at odds with the party manifesto, and I shall be taking that forward,” she said. ...  Asked if this would include disciplinary action and possibly even de-selection as a candidate, Ms Lucas would only say: “We will be taking appropriate measures.”

What really bothers me about this - because of course parties should be able to remove candidates who reject their values - is that Goodall's position is being seen by the Green party not as a contribution to the debate on how to save the planet, but as a rejection of the idea that we should be saving the planet - as a rejection of the party's values.

And this way madness lies. If you happen to believe that technology A will do a job better than technology B, for empirical practical reasons, this says nothing about your political values. If, when you explain your reasons, people invoke disciplinary procedures, that does suggest a deliberate attempt to keep heads in the sand and protect sacred cows from any kind of criticism.

But as I have said in the past, it is only by debating these questions openly, by taking evidence on the chin when it hurts, that we stand any chance in the long run of getting the right answers.

Chris Goodall, if you're listening, have a look as well at some of the benefits of trade, enterprise, and science.