As the nuclear calamity unfolds at Fukushima, a
long-standing conflict between world views has been thrown into sharp
relief. Now that the risks of nuclear power have been visibly
demonstrated yet again, a rising chorus of voices is urging us to turn
aside from the path of nuclear power, and to prepare for the future by
embracing renewable energy like wind and solar instead.
This well-meaning exhortation begs one important question. How
can we "prepare for the future" when we have no agreement on what kind
of future we want to see? On the one hand, the environmental movement
takes it for granted that a "good" future would contain a lot more
renewable energy and a lot less nuclear power. Others might see a good
future as one in which there was both nuclear power and renewable
energy, but no coal or oil. Both positions are valid, based on
different assessments of what the future may bring, and what sort of
future each side would prefer.
I take yet a different and perhaps more radical approach. I see coal,
oil, natural gas, nuclear, hydro power, renewable energy, enormous
mining operations, sprawling cities, electronic devices of all sorts
(including the computer I'm typing on) - all the technological enablers
of human activity - as the heads of a single Hydra. They are all
equivalent symptoms of the underlying dis-ease of Separation and Fear.
We feel we are separate from nature by virtue of our humanity, and we
are driven by our innate fear of chaos and uncertainty. This gives us a
hunger for control, for mastery and dominion, as well as a sense that
this is the proper order of the universe. In the search for our
"rightful place" as Masters of the Universe we ignore, dismiss and even
deny our own frailties, our interdependence with all other life and the
planet itself, and our own nature. We assume that we are clever enough
to go Mother Nature one better.
This is a hubris that has caused us to make Faustian pacts on every
side. It's not just nuclear power - it's the automobile, the electric
light and motor, the genetic engineering of plants, the plundering of
the world's photosynthetic capacity, the streamlining of genomes for
commercial gain, the elimination of whole species that dare to compete
with us for food and living space. Even renewable energy is not
blameless, standing as it does on the same control-craving foundation
as all our other activities.
Compared to the sheer magnitude of the overall damage we're doing to
the planet (and unavoidably to ourselves as well), nuclear power with
all its terrifying unseen hazards can be recognized, if viewed from a
slightly different angle, as little more than another minor sore on the
side of the metastasizing malignancy of runaway human technological
All is not lost however. At least not quite, and not quite yet. We do
have a million battles to fight if we are to claw our way back from the
brink. Fortunately there are billions of us to fight those battles.
Your battle might be nuclear power, global warming, food sovereignty or
urbanization, while mine might be Peak Oil, economic collapse, the
depletion of fresh water or genetic engineering, but I think it helps
all the warriors if we understand clearly what the stakes are, what are
the consequences of defeat, and what is the true casus belli. We need
to recognize that we are fighting a whole Hydra, not just the one
venemous head we have chosen to face. And it's the same Hydra for
all of us, despite the differences in our individual battles.
In my opinion, the predicament we're in has been woven of threads that
include our evolved neuropsychology, our innate cleverness, our general
lack of wisdom, and the technological and cultural structures that we
have created around us. We may be able to work our way free of this
monkey trap, but not unless we gain insight into our own nature,
lovingly nurture the wisdom we need to recognize what we're doing, and
the courage to say "No" to some of it. If we can do that, the problems
of nuclear power and all the rest will become much less threatening.
Can we accomplish such a radical transformation of human consciousness?
We are getting a wake-up call. it's time for us to heed it, and to do a
bit of growing up.
March 14, 2011