Remember Extinction Rebellion? They’re the group that spent a lot of energy harassing London commuters last year (among other stupid stunts). One of the group’s spokespeople, Zion Lights, has left the group behind and has become a champion for nuclear power. According to Lights, the turning point was a television interview in which Andrew Neil asked her to defend claims made by the group’s founders. Specifically, the claim that “billions” of people were going to die as a result of climate change.
The video of the interview is below and it is pretty cringe-inducing. Neil keeps hammering away at this claim about billions dying and Lights keeps backpedaling. “I’ve seen young girls on television, part of your demonstration…crying because they think they’re going to die in five or six years time, crying because they don’t think they’ll ever see adulthood,” Neil said. He continued, “And yet there is no scientific basis for the claims that your organization is making.” Here’s Zion Lights take on that moment in a piece published today by the Telegraph:
I couldn’t defend those numbers because they didn’t have a basis in science. So I was faced with an awful choice on live TV: either I could stand up for science or I could defend XR. I had to choose the former, because for me, sticking with the evidence is the most important thing of all.
Note that this is not a minor point to concede for a member of a group called “Extinction Rebellion.” The whole justification for the group’s extreme actions in the street is that young people are rejecting their own imminent deaths. Once you step away from that unsupportable claim, it’s a lot harder to defend the group’s extremism across the board.
So when Neil pointed out that the renewable energy targets the group was publicly demanding (100% by 2025) would put an end to air travel, Lights replied, “possibly” as if that were a minor thing. But you can tell that she’s toeing the party line at that point. She doesn’t really believe that’s reasonable. In her piece today, Lights admits that some environmentalists really do expect people to live very constrained lives, lives which few of them have actually experienced.
There are some members of environmental groups who truly believe we should live extremely constrained lifestyles, much like people in the Punjab village my parents are from. I have spent time there and it was heartbreaking. In many villages in the region they have no electricity and no infrastructure. Children die from health problems we in the West can easily cure.
Some of those who promote an eco-austerity agenda will tell you, “They live simpler lives so they’re happy.” Believe me: they are not. My parents never once looked back after leaving for the UK. They, like everyone, wanted the vaccines and hospitals and technology we have in the West. People who argue we need to all live with less – as I once did – should think hard about what this actually means. I am personally happy to live with less, but decades of behavioural science study has not convinced most people to take the same path. We need to accept it’s not going to happen, and look to solutions instead.
The focus on solutions is where we get to nuclear power. Lights says many in the environmental movement are strongly against nuclear but she now believes it’s the only credible way to move away from reliance on fossil fuels in the near future:
Many within XR argue in favour of replacing fossil fuels entirely with renewables. I favour a pragmatic approach, rather than peer-group tribal pressure to stick to an outdated mainstream green line. Once you demand that all our power must come from wind and solar, you seriously constrain our options to achieve net zero carbon emissions in the timescale required. To make a serious contribution to decarbonising the UK economy, solar parks would need to cover whole counties, and wind farms dominate most of our coastline and uplands. With less or even no nuclear energy, we would need to devote even more of our land to industrial scale renewables, leaving much less for farming and nature…
Unfortunately much of the green movement, including a fair proportion of those in XR, is steeped in an anti-nuclear mindset, when any rational, evidence-based approach shows that a strategy including nuclear energy is the only realistic solution to driving down emissions at the scale and speed required.
There are so many of the Extinction Rebellion types in the environmental movement who think that by shouting about impossible solutions in the loudest voice possible they are helping. I don’t think they realize how much harm they are doing to their own cause by putting off reasonable people who can tell pretty quickly that they aren’t really serious about what they are saying. If they were serious, they would sound a bit more like Zion Lights does now, i.e. drop the doom-saying and present practical options like support for more nuclear energy. But for now Lights remains an exception to the rule.
Here’s the Andrew Neil interview. Below that is a more recent interview by Sky News Australia in which Lights describes her turn to support for nuclear power.