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Elon Musk Goes Nuclear – OpEd

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Over the last few weeks I have been making the point on Twitter and to television audiences that Europe empowered Putin to invade Ukraine by becoming dependent on him for energy.

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You can watch one segment here:

Many people were surprised to learn that Europe produced more natural gas than Russia 15 years ago. Then, two things happened. First, Russia built nuclear plants so it could export its natural gas abroad, rather than use it at home to produce natural gas. Second, Europe reduced its natural gas production, including from fracking, under pressure from climate activists. It now turns out that some of those anti-fracking activists were funded by Putin.

The head of NATO, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and a French professor have all documented funding from Russia for anti-fracking activism in Europe.

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The strong response to my tweets shows just how badly the news media have misinformed the public on energy and environmental issues, as I documented at length in Apocalypse Never.

Now, as we collectively face global economic recession, blackouts, and food shortages due to high oil prices, many people are coming around to nuclear. That includes solar power advocate Elon Musk, who has finally adopted the position my colleagues and I have been making since 2016: we must keep operating our nuclear plants, and re-start the ones that shut down.

You might have heard the fear-mongering about nuclear plants in Ukraine. We pushed back against it on Twitter and helped prevent a new panic.

Musk even comes out in support of our view that we need more, not less, oil and gas production.

A journalist who used to work for one of the world’s largest newspapers messaged me last week to say, “Suspect you are having a few people mention you were very right of late?”

I told her it felt nice to be vindicated. But it’s hard to feel happy when so many people are suffering, not just in Ukraine, but globally, due to high energy prices.

As I described at length in Apocalypse Never, energy and food should be abundant and cheap. They are what allows for our remarkable prosperity. When they aren’t abundant and cheap it’s because somebody doesn’t want them to be, for financial, political, or ideological reasons.

It took a crisis for people to realize all of this. “Only a crisis,” wrote the economist Milton Friedman, “produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.”

That’s what Environmental Progress has done since 2016. We developed alternatives to existing policies and kept them alive until the politically impossible — nuclear energy — became the politically inevitable.

While we many never banish anti-human Malthusianism to the landfill of bad ideas, we can continue to marginalize it, and hold it responsible for the damage it causes.

Change is coming. We are clearly entering a new era, not just a post-post-Cold War period, but likely a post-post-War era, too. Whether that’s good or bad is up to us. Environmental Progress and I will continue fighting to make sure it is a period of abundance, not scarcity.

Michael Shellenberger

Michael Shellenberger is a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment,” and president of Environmental Progress. Follow him on Twitter @ShellenbergerMD.

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