It is time to stop apologising for the deliberate ignorance of others

9 November 2017

Thirty-one years ago, in Soviet-ruled Ukraine, a mishap of a barely-explicable type in a reactor design adopted nowhere else in the world caused a catastrophic industrial accident. 

Thirty-one years later, yesterday to be more precise, experts in Bonn, Germany, faced repeated questioning relating to this incident, by activists who had placed themselves there, deployed as a distraction from a critical message:  that nuclear technology is the key to effectively dealing with climate change.

This is not ok.

In 1990, it would have been entirely reasonable to interrogate the impacts of the Chernobyl accident, given the opportunity to hear from nuclear proponents and experts in radiation biology and health.

It also would have been entirely reasonable to have asked a younger James Hansen "but how sure can you really be that this warming you detect is human-caused? How can you be sure it will continue? How can you be sure other Earth-systems will not respond as a control?".

At the Conference of Parties climate talks, no one would bother arguing those latter points other than a matter of degree (pun unavoidable).  At most, such an interlocutor would be told to read the work of the IPCC and come back later with an intelligent question. They may not even get that much.

So it must become for the deliberately perpetrated 'ignorance' relating to a three-decades past industrial accident.

No one who has reached my position, being an outspoken advocate for the use of nuclear technology, like my friends in Bonn, has got there without reading the reports of the UNSCEAR and the World Health Organisation relating to the health impacts of the Chernobyl accident. 

None of us knew, before we did that, that the most enduring health outcomes are psychological and psycho-social, the product of fear, the same fear these carefully placed individuals stoke 31 years later.

But we all found those reports, and we found those answers within, and why?

Because the answers mattered to us more than the questions.

Those who want to keep us from building a brighter world are addicted to the questions. They are, in every sense, merchants of doubt, an expression that will be familiar to anyone involved with climate change.

It is not our job to excuse and make allowances for deliberate ignorance: it is our job to denounce it, loudly and clearly, every single time.

Anyone who has dealt with public speaking on nuclear will know: such questions are sometimes sincere; other times they are vexatious. Almost immediately, your gut tells you which it is.

So denunciation will take a range of forms but the practice has to become second nature. 

Enough is enough. I went through the journey from anti-nuclear to a nuclear proponent. It took years. We need to accelerate that journey for others on a massive scale. 

So while keeping our empathy for sincerity when we find it, when we find those who are there for no other reason than to slam on the brakes, we must call them out. 

Three decades of time-wasting over the basics is long enough.

Am I talking about climate change or nuclear power there?

Take your pick.

Ben Heard, for Bright New World.

Ben HeardComment