Monday, August 25, 2003

Greens Caused the Blackout? The Latest Chestnut from the Right.

The radical right is wasting no time in branding the Northeast blackout of 2003 the fault of "greens" preventing the construction of power plants. In a characteristic article making the rounds of the right wing blogs, boards and BBS's, J. Matthew Phipps declares: "Gone is NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard), to be replaced by the BANANA Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything...The recent blackout in the Northeast is just a symptom of our "Green BANANA" problem." After working up a lather, he maintains that greens "are the ones that have caused this by effectively driving environmental policy for the past three decades".

The more inventive rightwingnuts have even started blaming the French heat wave deaths on environmentalists. In this formulation, the assumption is made that more, unfettered nuclear energy would have provided enough energy to cool all those unfortunate victims down and prevent those deaths. But apparently environmentalists prevented that with their insistance that water temperatures in rivers where reactor superheated water flows remain under legal limits.

Better get used to this "greens cause all the ills of the world" mantra, because like all right wing rallying cries, this one has the facade of common sense to any who fail to look at the real issues for more than say 11 seconds, (which is to say a sizable portion of the electorate.) Contributing to the legitimacy of this POV is the fact that contested, controversial power plant projects make news. Construction of a power plant that no one objects to does not. In this case, if we want to fight the reflexive "more power plants" response to the Northeast blackout, the California energy crisis, the French heat wave and even the heartbreak of psoriasis, a few basic objective facts are in order.

Fact #1: Environmentalists have not stopped the growth of electricity generation, because that growth hasn't stopped. Looking at Department of Energy figures back through the life of the environmental movement, every single year since 1965 shows an increase in the amount of kilowatt hours generated, save two: 1982 and 2001. The former was caused by the deep recession of that year. The latter was caused by the 9/11 economic slowdown and the Enron debacle. So in all the years that the right wingnuts blame greens for shutting down our electricity growth, generation growth went from 1,147,531,895 kilowatt hours in 1966 to 3,719,484,531 kilowatt hours in 2001.

Fact #2: Environmentalists have not stopped the construction of power plants. While new nuclear plants have indeed been halted (for reasons owing more to Wall Street financial worries than the power of the anti-nuke movement), other forms of generation are cropping up like hotcakes. In the first 6 months of 2003 alone, 237 new power plants went online, with a summer capacity of over 27,000 megawatts. (Don't believe me? Look at the full list.)

Fact #3: Halting the growth of energy production in California did not cause the 2000-01 electricity crisis there. Despite the findings of courts and commissions of criminal acts in the California energy debacle, many people continue to push the chestnut that "California greens" shut down the power industry and therefore caused a shortage. It too does not stand up to scrutiny. State level figures show a steady increase in electricity generated. For example, California produced an additional net 20 million megawatt hours of electrical generation from 1990 to 1999, an increase of 12%.

Fact #4: A shortage of energy generation did not cause the Northeast blackout. The facts are still be collected on this one, but initial indications point to blackout caused by multiple failures of human and mechanical error on an overworked transmission grid. Far from implicating "greens", the main culprit appears to be procedures performed by FirstEnergy, a fiercely conservative nuclear utility and major funder of the Bush campaigns.

Fact #5: None of the 10,000 deaths attributed to the French heat wave was caused by a shortage of electrical power. No power outages occurred. Even if France miraculously built 100 more nuclear plants in the days before the heat wave, not a single life would have been saved, for all the nuke plants in the world can't cool a building that doesn't have an air conditioner.

Don't let the right wingnuts control the terms of debate on energy. Basic fact checking, as usual, demolishes their case.

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