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March 14, 2011


Cameron Brown

As I recall, Newman also traces the history of conceptual distinctions between perverting, perfecting, and recreating nature that I think is relevant here. I'm not sure what he has to say about nuclear power, but it seems to me our use of it is best described by the first or third category, inclusive: it's a perversion of nature in view of past and present disasters, the hazards of uranium mining, an unmanageably dangerous legacy of waste, etc. And it's a recreation of nature - in the sense of a transmutation - insofar as it gives us something for nothing (well, almost nothing).

Harnessing genuinely sustainable sources of energy, on the other hand, can be thought of as perfecting our place in nature. We can no more exhaust the wind than we can apples in a well-tended orchard - I take this in a way to be Aristotle's point: the perfective is analogous to that which grows, and in this way is renewable. Of course, creating a new hydroelectric reservoir radically alters an environment, but it remains a habitat, a place where things grow.

Actually, I'm not sure how sound this interpretation is. For one, the area around Chernobyl has become a very interesting habitable place. Two, it may be some kind of mechanical, medium-sized object prejudice that we privilege things like mills because we can easily grasp how they operate, whereas we have no such familiarity with atomic and sub-atomic processes.

Either way, this isn't to deny the view of nuclear power as a doomed quest to perfect nature. For these are both conceptual and rhetorical categories: when industry boosters claim to be 'perfectionists', opponents may respond by calling them 'perverts'.

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