ON A TRAIN SOMEWHERE IN THE BELGIAN COUTRYSIDE — The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) embarrassed itself with almost no people showing up for its panel discussion and media event at the United Nations COP21 climate talks in Paris. Worse for the NRDC, its “star” panelist – India’s Additional Secretary Susheel Kumar – strongly advocated more nuclear power production in defiance of NRDC’s longtime opposition to nuclear power.
United Nations officials claim more than 40,000 people are taking part in the COP21 climate talks. Even though the vast majority of attendees are environmental activists, I counted no more than a dozen people at the NDRC event as I strolled past rows and rows of empty seats to take one of many empty seats in the front row. Apparently, NRDC is irrelevant and/or uninteresting even among the thousands of likeminded environmental activists attending COP21.
The NRDC panel included two NRDC big shots and Kumar. Kumar announced India is setting a goal to produce 40 percent of its power from energy sources that do not emit carbon dioxide. The two NRDC big shots devoted much of their discussion time to fawning all over India for its pledge and emphasizing how India’s commitment illustrates that all nations can and should follow India’s lead.
As Kumar announced India’s commitment and NRDC fawned all over it, I couldn’t help but think of India’s nuclear program. Was there more to India’s 40-percent pledge than NRDC was letting on?
Fortunately for me, there were so few people in the room that there was no chance my question would go unanswered. Shortly after the question-and-answer portion of the program started, I raised my hand. The NRDC master of ceremonies saw my hand go up, made eye contact with me, and then furtively scanned the room looking for any other hands that might be raised.
Perhaps he recognized me for my work with the Heartland Institute. Perhaps he didn’t recognize me personally but was wary of me for wearing a sport coat and dress shirt at an event populated by environmental activists who likely didn’t know what a sport coat or dress shirt are. Either way, he was looking for a life raft. In a room with merely a dozen attendees – and probably much fewer than that actually paying attention rather than surfing the web on their energy-guzzling smartphones – no life raft was available. Realizing he couldn’t blatantly ignore my question in front of the two or thee members of the media in the room who also must see my hand up in the front row, he called on me.
How much of India’s 40-percent pledge would be met by nuclear or hydro power? I asked Additional Secretary Kumar.
At the mention of nuclear power, Kumar beamed. India plans to dramatically increase its investment in nuclear power, Kumar explained. Not only that, but India intends to assist other developing nations ramp up their nuclear power, too.
OOPS!!! Sitting so close to the NRDC big shots on stage, I could see the blood rush to their faces and their cheeks turn red. NRDC has long opposed nuclear power, and now their star panelist was using an NRDC press conference to champion nuclear power not only for India, but for developing nations all over the world.
NRDC, which promotes itself as “the nation’s most effective environmental action group,” has an annual budget of approximately $120 million per year. That’s about $10 million person attending their poorly attended media event on the grandest climate action stage in the world. And for all that money, their own star witness enthusiastically championed nuclear power as the primary means to meet environmental activist demands to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
It doesn’t get any more embarrassing than that.