What a Tree Whispered to Me

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Photo by Dave on Unsplash

When I first wrote about Climate Change back in 1989–90, I was motivated by a reason which I have not written about since way back then. It has been hard to admit what the reason was for my unrelenting advocacy of a fission future. Early on to tell the truth about why I was advocating nuclear power was to damage the case for it. I was labeled a crackpot and crazy. The real reason I began to passionately pursue alternatives to fossil fuels was not completely about climate change. However, when I first put forth the REAL reason, I endured serious ridicule, so I put the “story” away.

In 2020 though, I think it might help the case. It will at least help environmentalists understand why I have been able to stand up to their vicious and vehement ridicule all these years. It has not been easy though. The issue of climate change and what to do about it drove me from the liberal left establishment as well. For I believed their fear was a danger to the global environment.

Here is the REAL reason I have passionately pursued fission as an answer to climate change. You see I am a real tree-hugger. I talk to trees and I feel like they talk to me…sometimes. What follows is excerpted from the original 1989 text of What a Tree Whispered to Me.

On Earth Day 1989, I experienced my own personal nuclear epiphany.
The light bulb that went on over my head was partially lit by the Exxon Valdez disaster but really did not come to full brightness until this Earth Day. I was standing there admiring some coast redwoods planted next to Highway 50 in Rancho Cordova, California. Something about redwood trees and Earth Day just seems to go together, especially when you are in Northern California. I noticed how brown and burnt the new growth was on the little grove of trees.

It is a dirty little secret of the Sacramento Valley that smog is pretty bad. I remembered the California coast redwood was allegedly very tolerant of exhaust fumes. If this was what happened to trees that were tolerant of roadside air pollution, I wondered what the pollution intolerant species looked like.

I then heard this voice in my head…as if it was the trees communicating with me, “Yeah, we’d be far better off if Rancho Seco was online and functional.”

I was taken aback, because it was loud and clear in my head. I had been of the age when fission was seen as a savior to the planet. I recall being at Disneyland in the Dupont area….I think,but there at Disneyland there was a model of a future city. It was idyllic with a monorail circling the city. In the center of the city on a low hill was a small nuclear reactor powering an ALL electric city below. However, ever since Three Mile Island and Chernobyl I, along with everyone else, no longer believed fission was a boon to humanity.

After the encounter with the trees though, I started to actually think about the idea again. I always try to listen to what trees are telling me at all times. It is a function of my pagan beliefs. Most of the time trees ignore people even when we come with our chain saws, but sometimes they speak…I believe. I began to see how the anti-nuclear power environmentalists were doing a great disservice to these trees and by extension the global environment as a whole. The trees and the world would do better on nuclear power instead of the burning of fossil fuels was the clear message I had been given on that Earth Day.

Most people who know me find me to be a pretty “green” individual and it may have been more so back then. With that kind of reputation in my own social circles, I thought that I could push the idea of pro-nuclear environmentalism. I thought that the logic of it was so self-evident that not only would the Rancho Seco reactor stay open, but I would be able to get national attention to this new way of thinking. Unfortunately, the concept of a pro-nuclear environmentalist was an oxymoron to many and difficult for people to accept. I sustained quite a bit of abuse trying to advocate the idea.

Back then a decade before the turn of the century, just convincing people that climate change was happening was difficult. In those days, the left agreed that there was climate change, though they almost uniformly referred to it as Global Warming. Calling it Global Warming ten years after there were some histrionics around a New Ice Age was problematic. Additionally, the fact all of their alternatives revolved around so-called renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind or tidal electrical generation lent itself to the conservative narrative the renewable movement was more about a desire to change American lifestyles and culture and not addressing an actual environmental threat.

If the climate was truly changing these alternatives did not make sense to me. I felt that there was very little modeling being done on what it meant to farm industrial amounts of energy out of the atmosphere. Thirty years ago, I postulated that industrial amounts of power pulled from the natural world would almost definitely have an effect on weather patterns. I was called a crackpot by many at the time, especially since I had no academic standing. However, this hypothesis has now been supported by actual research.

On the right, there was some support for my ideas about firing up the nuclear reactors, but they had to be convinced of the fact that climate change was happening. Every time I wrote about the fact that the only industrial strength electrical generation which did not spew waste into the atmosphere we had was fission, I had to also write a lot about the certainty I felt about the changing climate.

In my mind, my close attachment to the environment in California pushed me forward despite the ridicule that was heaped upon me. After all, I had been a gardener in California my whole life. I actually kept rain logs and temperature logs for the places that I lived at and gardened. It was clear to me, but those on the right could not accept the fact the climate was changing through fossil fuel burning. It was a very frustrating time for me.

It was why I broke from the left/right axis. I began to reject both the Democrats and the Republicans as obstructionist. I actually hired an artist to create a caricature of Uncle Sam with an eye patch on each eye.

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Uncle Sam with Eye Patches on Both Eyes

The idea being that poor old Uncle Sam was being blinded by conservatives and liberals. On Uncle Sam’s right eye was the patch “Liberalism” blocking ideas that came from the right. On Uncle Sam’s left eye was the patch “Conservatism” blocking ideas that came from the left. I felt that the left/right war was blocking any forward progress on climate change.

My strong strong belief in the Gaia Hypothesis and powerful connection to trees meant I could stand the heat. I had to bear witness. I could not lie and say this did not happen especially when it was so germane to what was occurring in the world. It has been the left that has been the most vicious and probably had a lot to do with the birth of Libertarian-Socialism: American Style. A book which uses a strong fission agenda to transform the country and the globe. Until the trees tell me different I will continue to fight the good fight in their name.

So, fast forward now thirty years on. I cannot believe we are still arguing about this. I fear oil money has something to do with that. In the 21st century, despite the increasing climate change, skeptics have rebooted their disbelief of human-caused climate change. Climate Change IS happening.

There can be little doubt that it is occurring. It is now very easy to come up with supporting facts from “weighty” authorities that climate change is real. I no longer feel that I need to write thousands of words in support of the idea that the climate is changing. It is clearly happening. There is rapid loss of ice in Greenland:

There is land being exposed that has not seen the sun for MANY millennia.

I strongly believe that eventually the skeptics will have to pipe down. However, the environmental left continues to push renewable energy as the answer in spite of the fact that climate is changing so very fast now. How can we even decide where we should build wind turbines or install solar panels when climate change is accelerating? They have no cogent answer to this query.

Instead many become strident and proclaim the changing climate is an “existential” crisis to force the investment of billions in THEIR solutions. I have bristled at this assertion for a couple of reasons. One, if there is such an existential crisis, then IMMEDIATELY stopping the spewing of fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere is paramount. Only fission offers an immediate solution. The reactors are already there, but they are being shut down foolishly. Two, if one engages in histrionics, one’s position is diminished in my opinion. I never saw climate change as a threat to humanity, but rather a threat to animals and plants that would be unable to adapt as well as poorer humans that could not easily pay for a local fix.

For the most part, calling climate change an existential crisis was to engage in the same hysteria of the environmentalist doomsayers of the seventies. Their hysteria in my estimation had a lot to do with the growing army of climate change skeptics so recently after predictions of a new Ice Age. It is this hysteria that started the corrosion of public trust in science, which I wrote about extensively in essays like How Americans Came to Distrust Science.

I call it hysteria because sea level rise is not going to kill ALL of humanity. It just causes great disruptions and localized death and suffering along coastlines. Greater and more frequent extreme weather events kill people for sure, but I never felt that these events were going to kill ALL of us. It just seemed like it was going to be disruptive and deadly. These facts should be sufficient, but Climate Change can spark pandemics too, so perhaps calling it an existential crisis now is not hysteria.

I must write about fission. The trees implore me to do my best and to do what I can do. That is the beauty of being a writer, is it not? One can write about anything and thus bring gravitas to one’s opinions through the IDEAS and not through academic titles. Nonetheless, I understand that to many I don’t have the academic standing or scientific training to write about this, but the trees push me forward.

The only way to stop Climate Change from getting WORSE is to fire up the nuclear reactors NOW! It is the only way to start limiting carbon emissions significantly and immediately without changing everything about the way humans go about their economic activity on the planet. We need to do this now because the tipping point has long since been passed. Climate Change IS happening and where that goes no one knows. We can only mitigate…or “bend the curve” as they say these days.

Anyone who is saying that renewable sources can address this crisis is foolish. At this point, weather patterns are changing rapidly. By the time we built this or that energy generation plant of wind turbines or solar panels, the renewable resource may no longer be in the correct place. Tidal energy generation, which is one of the most consistent generators among renewable sources is at risk due to significant sea level rise. Will environmentalists finally get on board and help or will they continue to obstruct the only solution we have as they have done for the last thirty years?

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