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“If Everyone Is Special Then No One Is”

image credit: Photo 156550155 / Women © Roman Samborskyi |
Nevelyn Black's picture
Writer, Independent

Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

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  • Feb 11, 2022

When Syndrome said “With everyone super, no one will be,” he was essentially saying that if everyone has super powers, they won't be unique anymore, instead it will be normal to possess powers, and therefore, not super. I’m quoting an animated film but bear with me for a moment.  If everyone wins or is rewarded for doing nothing or for not meeting expectations then what incentive is there for others to do the work?  Opposers to the European Commission’s proposal to label natural gas and nuclear power generation as "green" are making a similar point.

Austria's chancellor Karl Nehammer responded to the news by saying "nuclear power is neither green nor sustainable.”  

"I cannot understand the decision of the EU," Nehammer said. 

”This decision is wrong," environment minister, Leonore Gewessler said.

The European Commission says it has decided that both types of energy can classify as "sustainable investment" if they meet certain targets.  So standards will be set and requirements must be met.  A very technical set of rules, called the "EU Taxonomy,” would explain what qualifies as “sustainable.  But will this change elevate the status of nuclear and natural gas power generation or diminish clean standards for renewables already bearing a “sustainable investment” label? How will it impact investments in energy?

European Commissioner Mairead McGuinness said "we need to use all the tools at our disposal" to reach the climate-neutral target.  By labeling these energy types as sustainable, they hope to reach climate goals sooner and with the help of private investors.  Private investment was "key", McGuinness said, and the proposals were "setting out strict conditions to help mobilize finance to support this transition, away from more harmful energy sources like coal.”   

Some believe inclusion is the only way to reach climate goals but the debate continues.  

”The inclusion of gas and nuclear (with conditions/caveats) in the EU taxonomy reflects a pragmatic approach. It's inconceivable that we can transition to a zero emissions power sector without some contribution from gas or nuclear.” - Ian Simm, founder and CEO at Impax Asset Management.  

"The taxonomy already has inherent contradictions, allowing activities in the EU preferential treatment relative to other countries or regions. At the end of the day this is a political decision.” Iain Richards, head of responsible investment at Columbia Threadneedle. 

"So today, the second part of the taxonomy, with gas and nuclear, for me is basically useless. It's useless on two aspects. The first one, it's useless because I do not agree with the vision that if gas and nuclear are not in the taxonomy then it will become very difficult to finance these projects; I do not think so. I think the big nuclear plants will be financed anyway…Then it's also useless because the delegated act clearly states that the reporting will be two-fold. You will be able to report with or without gas and nuclear, and I'm pretty sure that the majority of responsible investors will use the without gas and nuclear figures to report, so I think it will have no impact on the investment decision."  - Philippe Zaouati, CEO of Mirova.

Could the plan fail to increase private investments and is this greenwashing?  In the animated adventure, Syndrome’s plans were foiled by the Incredibles but no need to take drastic measures.  The decision to label both controversial industries as "green" is not yet final. The European Parliament and the council of heads of state have four months to consider the suggestion.  Austria and Luxembourg have both threaten to take legal action if the European Commission moves forward with its plans.  

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 11, 2022

Great article, Nevelyn, but mostly I just wanted to comment to congrulate you on the best Disney reference on an Energy Central article I've seen to date!

Nevelyn Black's picture
Nevelyn Black on Feb 16, 2022

Thanks Matt!

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Feb 11, 2022

So, I had to read this article just to see the "great" Disney reference mentioned by Matt.  Great article BTW.  For me - the issue is - is anything really truly "green" and or sustainable.  Solar power has its downfalls - like the chemicals that have to be disposed of when they expire.  The minerals we have to mine to build the panels.  Wind power has its downfalls - when these behemoths retire what do we do with all that waste - currently, most of the parts are not recyclable.  Have you seen the size and mass of a single blade on a windmill?  Not to mention they are not great for our birds.  Nuclear has its issue - the waste - where do we store it safely.  Also, no matter how safe we make nuclear power there is always the risk of something going wrong.  Maybe not to the scale of Chernobyl but it could potentially be devastating to the environment.  I could go on.  I think we all need to just remember this when we push for one thing over the other.  I can't imagine how tough it is to be a utility right now - with all the pressures of meeting certain CO2 reductions by x date.  

Nevelyn Black's picture
Nevelyn Black on Feb 16, 2022

Thanks Audra.  Had to respond to "Wind power has its downfalls..." and sometime literally it seems...  Have you seen this article on 300ft fallen wind turbine in Wales.  There's definitely going to be some fallout from that.  Just hope it'll be an isolated incident.

Dudley McFadden's picture
Dudley McFadden on Feb 14, 2022

The notion that nuclear is neither green nor sustainable is open to discussion, but it's a much bigger stretch to consider natural gas extracted from the ground and pumped hundreds of miles green and sustainable.  Well, but then again, carbon-fibre blades for wind turbines and lithium batteries for solar farms aren't exactly green and sustainable either.  Luxembourg and Austria are icy countries, unsustainable places to live without imported natural gas.  When are they planning to replace gas space heating with imported electrical power?

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Apr 15, 2022

This is a good example of what makes it difficult to discuss climate change and the energy transition rationally. People approach it as if we were discussing cultural values. As if it were all subjective. 

The energy transition isn't a sports game. Yet we approach it as if it were. We make ourselves fans of particular energy technologies and opponents of others, cheer on "our" team, boo the others, and argue about labels. 

Nature doesn't give a damn about labels. Virtue signaling will not accomplish anything. There are objective criteria we should be focusing on: life cycle greenhouse gas emissions, materials cost and land usage, scalability, and collateral impact to the environment and other life on earth.

By all objective criteria, nuclear power is an order of magnitude greener and more sustainable than the energy technologies to which we like to apply those labels. Even natural gas -- with CCS -- has much lower greenhouse gas emissions than "green" hydrogen when the supposedly green hydrogen is produced by power on a grid not yet fully decarbonized.

Nevelyn Black's picture
Thank Nevelyn for the Post!
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