Sina-cism: Hey Paris, we’ll always have science

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To hear the media tell the tale, the recent United Nations climate talks in Paris were remarkable for achieving a deal to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement is supposed to hold world temperature increases to less than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

Activists were pleased, but when all 196 of the world’s nations agree on something, you can be sure that something is nothing of real substance.

To the extent that the planet needs saving, political promises and unenforceable goals won’t get it done. Markets will, because real change, including in energy production and use, is always driven by economics.

It bears noting that Paris was chosen for these talks because France has been among the world’s leaders in reducing its reliance on carbon. The French produce more than 90 percent of their electricity from non-carbon sources.

The media and the climate activists paid little attention to the source of much of France’s electricity – nuclear power [Editor’s note: Indeed, about 75 percent, says the World Nuclear Association.]. Yet without the power of the atom, France would be contributing far more to the problems of the global climate.

That brings us to two other items in the news, one obvious and one much less so.

The obvious one is the unseasonably mild weather. It’s as if Old Man Winter has been fired in favor of Jack Defrost.

Some love the change in the weather, and either discount any link to climate change, or declare that if this is what global warming means, by all means let’s have more of it. But others worry that our current mildness is a harbinger of a permanently changed and very problematic future.

Whichever view you take, consider the following:

In June, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission began inviting comments on proposals to change safety standards for low-level radiation exposure. The NRC is acting in response to some scientists who have long objected to LNT, the linear no-threshold model of radiation exposure.

Simply put, LNT holds that there is no safe level of radiation exposure, and that repeated doses of low-level radiation have a cumulative effect equivalent to a single large dose.

But critics have long argued that studies don’t bear that out. One of the most prominent of these critics is Edward J. Calabrese, a longtime professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Calabrese has written, lectured and taught on these topics for decades, and insists that there is a level below which radiation has no detectable harmful effect. He advocates a theory known as hormesis, which holds that organisms can adapt to background radiation levels.

It puzzles me that so many climate activists – while skeptical of government and industry generally – readily accept claims advanced by the United Nations and any data that reinforce what they believe about the climate, while dismissing any results that do not support their views.

Most recently, Calabrese published a paper in the journal Environmental Research in which he argues that scientists in the 1940s and 1950s falsified reports and distorted findings to support the LNT model in spite of evidence against it.

“The implications of such fraudulent actions,” he wrote, “are profound and likely to affect: human health risk assessment, adoption and use of new techniques, cost benefit assessments at multiple societal levels, toxic tort actions/decisions, and in the education of the public on vast areas of environmental health and medical treatment practices.”

It is important to note that Calabrese is not in this paper arguing directly for more nuclear energy, or nuclear energy as a means of combating global warming. He is building a case against LNT.

But the implication is clear. If the LNT model is flawed, then decades of thinking about radiation exposure and safety limits has been colored by bad science.

That, in turn, may well have had a profound effect upon how Americans view nuclear energy. It could help explain why so many Americans profess to follow science, but ignore science when it points to nuclear energy as an important means of combating global warming.

More specifically, it puzzles me that so many climate activists – while skeptical of government and industry generally – readily accept claims advanced by the United Nations and any data that reinforce what they believe about the climate, while dismissing any results that do not support their views.

These activists are smart people with good intentions. Many do important and useful work on behalf of human rights, democracy, sustainable agriculture, and more. They insist that science shows our world needs saving.

If they’re right, they surely owe it to themselves and the world to follow science wherever it leads. If the LNT model is flawed, and the safest and best way to cool Mother Earth is through nuclear energy, will they be prepared to lead that fight?

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