science is political

Submitted by naught101 on Mon, 10/09/2006 - 23:56

I like Dan Carmody's articles. They're often very scientific, always amusing and, at least the science part, if not the hippy-bashing part, is usually pretty objective. But I sometimes get the picture that this isn't always a matter of choice, but sometimes a matter of lack of political awareness. And don't get me wrong Dan, I'm not claiming you're less politically aware than the average aussie, or even less aware than me. I think this is a wide spread problem, and it affects all of us. Infact, we are the cause, and we affects everything else.


I love science. The great thing about science is that it is always trying to prove itself wrong. That means that, if it's done right, it's nearly always right... if that makes sense. If it's not right it changes. Which is why I like Dan's articles. They inform me of bits of science that I hadn't previously heard of. Perhaps the best one being the Naturalistic Fallacy article. Trust my friends weren't such beautiful people, they would have long ago got sick of me sue to that article. But I've got a bone to pick with Dan's latest article. (lucky I'm supposed to be editing this mag, and got to read it early eh?)


Nuclear fusion eh? Ok. Let's start from the start. Dan assumes that:

  1. Hippies call all types of nuclear energy, and even nuclear science “nuclear” and fail to acknowledge that there may be potentially good uses of nuclear practice

  2. that those good form may include Nuclear Fission


First off: Dan, I would consider myself a hippy, to some extent. Perhaps environmentalist would be a better word, but I think that might be what you were referring to anyway (and a side note- most environmental/hippy types don't really consider “hippy” an insult, even when it's coming from the most idiotic bogan). If that is correct, I agree, nearly every environmentalist means “fission” when they say “nuclear.” BUT this is in no way something restricted to environmentalism. it's something that's a problem with the broader community as a whole. And I wouldn't say it's the enviro movement's fault that this is the case.


Try looking up news report on Chernobyl and Three Mile island. How many say “the Nuclear Fission reactor at ...” or “the (insert relevant name here) Fission power station?” not many I'd reckon. most would say “the Chernobyl nuclear power station” or some such. Also, check out Howard's “Nuclear Task force” and see if they are doing anything other than finding a good excuse to dig up uranium and either sell it to china, or build a couple of reactors and processing plants to piggy-back their way with the US to becoming a Nuclear Power (If you get a chance to hear novocastrian Wayne Reynolds talk on this topic, jump at it). there's that word again! but it's not talking about hydrogen bombs is it? nope. plutonium. amazing. Not only that, but the government is using the science (or at least the hype) of climate change to push the “Nuclear Debate” - and they aren't talking about fusion. At the same time, whenever anyone approaches Howard about the need for real action on climate change, he spews some bullshit about the science not being proof enough, or emissions cuts being bad for the economy (wonder if he'll still be saying that when Kiribili is underwater and it doesn't rain on the east coast any more? How's your fucking economy gonna fix that Howard?).


I would suggest that the media and government, are probably your main culprits, and thank you for making you hypothesis falsifiable (not that I just did conclusively, mind you).


Now on to point two, and here's where the politics comes in. Nuclear Fission is potentially great, but it's also a potentially huge sidetrack that may never be really feasible. ITER is still only just building it's reactor, and it's only an experiment. there IS another experiment in the US, DEMO, which is about to start, and IF it works, may, in a few decades, be the first commercial fusion power station. unfortunately, that may be a few decades too long. According to the International Panel on Climate Change (probably the world's most respected body of scientist, climate experts and ..gasp.. business interests) last report, in 2003 (third assessment report), reduction needed were around 60% by 2050. the Fourth report, due out in November has been partially leaked, and is much harsher, with the emissions cuts required estimated at around 80-90% in the same time frame. Sorry Dan, but even if we managed to get all the infrastructure ready in time Fission still wouldn't dig us out of our hole, due to the “40 years off” that's always quoted. On the other hand, proper efficiency measures, a good mix of wind (which is now up to 23% in Denmark), solar thermal and thermal storage (photovoltaics are next to useless at the moment), geothermal, wave and tide power, and a political switch from the federal government funding the fossil fuel industry to the tune of 9 billion dollars a year (Deisendorf, 2003) to subsidising the renewable energy sector instead could easily get us out of danger of serious climate change. and we wouldn't even need any new technologies. on top of that, we would have communities in control of their own power generation, and be on our way to a society more in control of the means of living.


And that's the thing, Dan. every, every thing we do has political ramifications. Buying clothing generally means you're accepting, nay, encouraging a system which uses slave labour, under any other name. writing only on one side of a sheet of paper means you are, through market forces, taking part in the destruction of Tasmania's forests, some of the oldest, and most beautiful in the world. thinking of getting married? if you've been reading opus, you'd know that a plain gold wedding band uses stupid amounts of water, poisons the landscape with cyanide, and displaces indigenous peoples (not just in the valuable wetlands at Lake Cowal, but also at Manchu Pichu and many other places). Even flushing the toilet is a political act. think of the water you're wasting! we're in a drought! Infact, if you really think about it, flushing the toilet really encompasses all those things. where was you toilet bowl made? in a sweatshop? or in a plant now so mechanised that all it's workers have been laid off? are you wiping you arse on old growth? is the copper or petroleum plastic in those pipes from Oktedi or Nigeria? chances are your (and my) answer to all those questions is yes – and the same goes for nearly any other thing you will ever do. every action has a political re-action.


And that's the root of the problem Dan. You say science can save the world. Not only with Fusion, but also with your Genetic Engineering article last year, and perhaps other I might have missed or forgotten about. but you're wrong, Dan, oh so wrong. science, as much as I love it can never save the world. Only people can save the world. and the problem is, usually, that science is controlled by those eteemed few with power, money, and a vested interest in seeing that the world stays that way. the problem with genetic engineering isn't that it creates mutants, or that it will create superweeds, or that it will increase the likelyhood of cancer, or any other hippy shit like that. The problem is that companies like mosanto control the new GE species. that's right, Monstano actually owns the “rights” to whole species. Monsanto owns life itself. And if you try to fuck with them, you will get cut down like the tall GE poppy they will make you out to be.


The same goes for fusion. Even if it could work in time, and saves us from the threat of severe climate change, it would still leave the control of power (electricity) in the hands of the powerful. the average person would be entirely controlled by the rich few with enough money to fund and own a power station. Renewables, on the other hand, would mean that each and every individual, family and community group would have the power in their hands, to control their own lives. on top of that, they would have direct access to the knowledge of what effects their every day actions, like turning on and airconditioner or heater, have on the real world, something which even the most politically aware people don't really have under the current system.


Fusion isn't the answer Dan, renewables are. It really doesn't matter that greenies now use the word “nuclear” to describe fission, cause we aren't trying to demonise just one part of the nuclear industry. We're not about saving small bits of woodland, or single species in single swamps. we recognise that it's all connected. The western capitalist political system is the basis of nearly everthing that's wrong with this planet, from the smallest loss of biodiversity, to human rights, to the entire fucking planet getting an acidic atmosphere make-over. We're trying to bring down the whole military industrial complex, and if on branch of science needs to take a few punches then so be it. science can deal with it. By all means, research fusion. it looks like it could be really useful in the future. but right now, what we really need is something we've never had: freedom. and fusion just isn't going to do it.


Ned Haughton


originally published in the last opus (Newcastle Uni Student Mag) of the year (sorry dan), 2006 (thanks liesel!)



or I just have a broader definition than you. often here in aus, and I'm sure in other countries too, anyone with green tendancies gets labelled a hippy. I'm just trying to reclaim that somewhat.

most certainly not all "real" hippies have grey hair, a bald patch and a pony tail. perhaps you're being just a little bit biased there.