Michael Lind would like you to know that it’s all hopeless, so you might as well frack

Japan is now admitting that its fuel rods have probably melted through, not just the reactor core, but the containment vessels as well. In other words, it’s now much worse than a simple meltdown. I’m still not convinced by the “nuclear is never safe” argument — especially when you compare the effects of the occasional nuclear disaster to the much graver effects of fossil fuel use — but this incident certainly makes a compelling case that our current plants are in no way disaster-proof.

And in related news, Michael Lind, the New America Foundation’s resident liberal-tweaker, argued in a Salon article last week that “Everything you’ve heard about fossil fuels may be wrong.” He’s particularly sanguine about the potential for “hydro-fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing, to bring us a new golden age of fossil fuel energy, this time largely centered around natural gas.

But wait (you say) — I’ve heard that hydro-fracking releases terribly toxic chemicals like benzene and hazardous elements like lead and radium into the ground water. Should I be concerned?

Not according to Michael Lind, master of the easy equivalence!

All energy sources have potentially harmful side effects. The genuine problems caused by fracking and possible large-scale future drilling of methane hydrates should be carefully monitored and dealt with by government regulation. But the Green lobby’s alarm about the environmental side-effects of energy sources is highly selective…. Many of the same Greens who oppose fracking because it might contaminate some underground aquifers favor wind turbines and high-voltage power lines that slaughter eagles and other birds and support blanketing huge desert areas with solar panels, at the cost of exterminating much of the local wildlife and vegetation. Wilderness preservation, the original goal of environmentalism, has been sacrificed to the giant metallic idols of the sun and the wind.

Yes — how dare these environmentalists worry about their children getting cancer when there are eagles on the line??? Try to green your way out of that, eco-nerds!

After taking fire from Andrew Leonard, another Salon writer, Lind added that although we could transition to wind and solar, it’s too politically unpalatable to be a realistic goal.

For political reasons alone, plans to replace fossil fuels by scaling up wind energy, solar energy and other renewables, or by massive, voluntary cuts in consumption will remain in the realm of fantasy.

So, just to be clear — for “political reasons” renewables are dead. But there will totally, for sure be the political will to regulate natural gas extraction. Okay.

The problem with Lind is not so much that he’s wrong on the major points — I agree that in the near-to-medium term we are probably stuck with some combination of fossil fuels and nuclear power for most of our energy needs — as that he’s engaging in a kind of liberal-baiting that has no parallel on the right. Julian Sanchez’s musings on “epistemic closure” in conservative circles aside, right-wing pundits almost never feel the need to attack the ideas of their fellow-travelers in the name of being “counter-intuitive.” Yet supposed progressives like Lind can’t seem to resist the allure of cleverness. “There! I’ve tied up fossil fuel dependence and global warming in a neat, thousand-word column — why can’t the rest of you be as smart as I am?” It’s almost enough to justify the right-wing caricature of liberals as self-regarding elitist jerks.

In case you think I’m exaggerating, here’s the final paragraph of Lind’s latter post:

American progressives like to boast that, unlike conservatives, they form a “reality-based community.” When it comes to realistic thinking about energy options, my fellow liberals need to live up to their boast.

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