A Conversation With Director Robert Stone Of Pandora’s Promise

There are few issues more necessary than the energy that powers our civilization. And yet, generating that vitality entails tough trade offs between human progress and the setting. Whether or not it was Prometheus who stole fireplace from the gods or Pandora who opened Zeus’ box, the human need for knowledge and improvement has typically conflicted with nature’s implacable will.

Nothing symbolizes this extra in the trendy age than nuclear power. Academy Award-nominated director Robert Stone’s provocative new documentary Pandora’s Promise, airing November seventh on CNN, takes a surprising look at this most controversial of energy applied sciences. I noticed Pandora’s Promise earlier this year on the Sundance Film Festival and interviewed Robert Stone in individual about this much-debated movie.

Pandora’s Promise interviews a series of notable environmentalists who were previously anti-nuclear activists but who modified their minds and became proponents of nuclear energy (director Robert Stone himself made this journey). Stewart Brand, Michael Shellenberger, Mark Lynas, and Gwyneth Craven make their case for why nuclear power (which gives off no CO2 emissions) is the most effective choice for fulfilling the quickly growing vitality wants of the planet with out rising fossil gas consumption.

Although I had a substantial bar of skepticism to overcome given the excessive-profile nuclear accidents which have occurred, the movie did take the time to look at these. Stone and his subjects traveled to the Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima nuclear plants and examined the design flaws that led to their notorious accidents (Chernobyl, for example, had no containment structure). The film argues that such reactors would by no means be built right this moment.

Pandora’s Promise also interviews nuclear scientists about what it states are the vastly better fourth generation of nuclear reactors (for which Bill Gates is funding a few of the analysis) that can recycle their own gas and are not possible to melt down. The movie contrasts this with the thousands of coal power plants that are being inbuilt China and the creating world today at huge environmental price.

While I do not know if nuclear vitality is the reply (I would prefer to know a lot more first), Pandora’s Promise did open my eyes to the costs of renewable power, reminiscent of with wind and solar (wind uses oil and gas-powered backup generators, photo voltaic panels are toxic to manufacture). It also inspired me to assume that there could also be cleaner, extra excessive-tech choices on the horizon to generate energy — choices we do not even know about, however that are price rigorously investigating.

Past the particular concern of nuclear energy, however, essentially the most interesting aspect of Pandora’s Promise is that it highlights the ethical crucial of using science to raise billions of individuals around the world out of poverty. This focus on improving human lives and alleviating poverty is notably missing from many discussions of the topic.

For instance, once i lived a year in Borneo as a teenager while my mother worked on an agricultural growth mission, the tribes-people we visited in the rainforest would increase the question: why ought to they stay poor and undeveloped while we within the West loved all of the comforts of electricity and know-how? Equally, a bright and idealistic cousin of mine who works within the electric utilities discipline in India asked me what proper the developed world has to demand that India not construct extra energy plants when electricity is essential to bettering the lives of a whole bunch of millions of their poor?

On condition that the greatest improve in vitality consumption is coming from China, India and the growing nations of Asia, Latin America, and Africa, we should discover a reasonable answer to this question.

Michael Shellenberger and different specialists in Pandora’s Promise ask why the worldwide south must be prevented from acquiring low cost and plentiful non-fossil gasoline power. They note that access to electricity is a key factor in working medical clinics, colleges, and the myriad applied sciences that lengthen and improve the standard of life. Shellenberger theorizes about nuclear vitality: “We can have a world the place some 10 billion people can dwell high-high quality, resource-intensive lives without killing the atmosphere.” Pandora’s Promise requires a middle ground between the extremes of ideology when one thing as vital as reconciling human improvement with the surroundings is at stake.

Robert Stone additional elaborated on these points once we spoke at the Sundance Film Festival about Pandora’s Promise. The interview has been edited for size.

GM: What has the impact been of changing your mind on this important issue?

RS: Well, it’s been a protracted course of for me. I used to be never an activist, so I was never on the market marching within the streets. My profession was launched with an anti-nuclear movie in 1988 [Radio Bikini]. That was an anti-nuclear weapons movie, not anti-nuclear energy, however we definitely conflated the two issues. I did, and it knowledgeable my worldview. So, sure, it’s a dangerous factor for me to come out and say this, but it’s true, and any person needs to shout this from the rooftops. We can’t just go on with ideological blinders on whereas the climate grows worse and worse, damaging the Earth an increasing number of. And issues that shouldn’t be political points are politically polarizing. I believe this movie form of cuts via the political morass as well as addressing the issues itself.

GM: One of the striking feedback you make in your Director’s Assertion is that Stewart Model introduced you to “a new and more optimistic view of an environmental motion that was pro-growth and pro-know-how.” May you inform me more about that?

RS: The philosophy of the environmental movement has always been that it deifies Mom Nature. It’s the concept that nature is sweet and pure and man, modern civilization, is a cancer on this pure, pristine factor known as the natural world. And we must always feel dangerous about this, and we should always retreat back to a extra harmonious life that’s an idealized, agrarian, nineteenth century life the place we’re getting all our vitality from wind and solar, and we’ll all eat organic meals and dwell in small communities, and we’ll retreat. That’s the philosophy.

I would name that the Romantic view of environmentalism. And what we’re ushering in here is a more Enlightened view of environmentalism, which says, look, we’re right here, human beings are right here, and there’s going to be more of us and we’re going to need more energy, we’re going to be placing extra stresses and extra calls for on the planet. That is actuality. It will occur. We need to lift billions of people out of poverty, and we will eat extra sources doing that. We will not leave these individuals behind. How do we try this — and never destroy the setting? And the option to do that’s to use excessive expertise, not by rejecting high know-how. The secret is power — and why not use a supply of energy that’s environmentally benign and that basically can energy civilization forever? Why will we reject it? Properly, we reject it for a complete host of political and ideological causes that frankly are completely out of date.

GM: The two completely different viewpoints that you have alluded to appear to be the Romantic, or Rousseauian view, that sees Nature as the final word good, and something humanity does to move away from nature, any type of civilization as being inherently corrupting and enslaving – and the Enlightenment view of Locke and others who see civilization and know-how as ennobling things that enhance human life. … Your film also exhibits a striking set of graphics of the world 10 – 20 – 50 years from now, what the energy wants can be … and it is actually shocking. Let me ask you about some other types of power. Did you speak at all to scientists about things like antimatter reactors, positron reactors? There is research into them, they usually use even much less gas than nuclear.

RS: I believe we have received tons of things on the horizon that we cannot even imagine. The explanation we told the story of the IFR — the Integral Quick Reactor within the movie — is it’s an excellent example of a fourth era reactor that billions of dollars was put into. We developed it, we made it work, the entire thing’s there. GE has really commercialized it. It’s known as the Prism. They’re able to go, however it was cancelled for political causes. Fifty years from now goes to be too late. We want to do this now. In reality now it is already too late. We’re going to have to do this proper now and we’re going to have to prepare for rising sea levels. However to postpone on scaling again on fossil fuels dramatically for an additional fifty years — that just can not happen. … There are additionally different kinds [of reactors]. Coats There are these small modular reactors, small modular light water reactors that work, too. There are all kinds of recent nuclear applied sciences which might be very, very thrilling. We have simply got to get the political will to start out and start to market them.

GM: I respect what you mentioned about how this shouldn’t be a political challenge. And but on the left it has been recognized with the environmental motion and on the appropriate it’s been identified with energy firms. I assumed it was refreshing within the movie that you were quite agnostic in approaching these issues.

RS: You already know, there’s no cause for this to be a political difficulty. All of us have kids, all of us want the longer term to be higher. There’s nothing political about this at all. It’s just because climate change turned recognized with the left for a wide range of causes. Going again to the ’70s, the left wanted wind and photo voltaic, and when climate change got here alongside they did use it as a device to get people to advertise wind and photo voltaic — and that’s a fact — and the correct has always been in favor of nuclear power and noticed those [wind and photo voltaic] technologies as ineffective and due to this fact concluded that local weather change should be a hoax. So that happened. I do not assume Al Gore being the general public face of climate change did an incredible service to anybody when it comes to depoliticizing this. So, there’s really no cause. The Sierra Membership began off being pro-nuclear within the ’60s as a result of they noticed it as a very good alternative to constructing dams, which is what they have been organized in opposition to.

GM: As you say, all of us need the world to be a cleaner and a better place. You say which you can have both: you possibly can love nature but it’s also possible to settle for progress and science.

RS: It is the only option to preserve nature, at this level. Until you consider that we are able to retreat and go back to this fashion of life that most likely by no means was in the first place — and completely write off the growing world. … The environmental movement has simply not addressed lifting billions of people out of poverty. You have a look at what needs to be executed, and they just go, “how are we going to feed all these folks,” you understand, wishing it will go away. And in order that to me is a very detrimental and pessimistic and apocalyptic vision that has infused environmentalism and that has got to go. I’m not going to observe somebody who thinks we’re doomed. And many of them do — they think we’re doomed.

GM: That’s the Malthusian viewpoint. I want the optimistic viewpoint, as a result of the best way of nature and the human race and all species is to increase outward: purchase more information, purchase better ways of dwelling. What do you consider increasing outwards by going to different planets?

RS: We’ll see — that’s an awesome point! And that i point this out: this Romantic vision — where man is dangerous and nature is nice, it fully ignores the Beatles, the Sistine Chapel, the fact that we understand the universe and have found out the large Bang. There’s a means to take a look at humanity as nature’s best accomplishment. And never as nature’s cancer.

GM: Thank you for saying that. I love nature and the setting, but I’ve been concerned a few pressure in the environmental motion that talks about humanity being a virus on the planet, that talks about a Inexperienced Genocide. So far as we all know, we are the only intelligent beings in the universe, and Ray Kurzweil says we may very well be essentially the most advanced beings within the universe.

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RS: It’s entirely potential that we’re the one issues in the universe that know the universe is here. You already know, that’s a reasonably cool factor. … I think what I am advocating is an Enlightenment of the environmental movement. And I feel that is happening. And I believe we’re reaching a tipping point because this is changing into so obvious to everyone that something dramatic needs to be finished and that what we’ve been doing will not be efficient in the least. So I’m hopeful this movie may help that occur.

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