The price of oil continued its relentless rise to a record high, indicative of our addiction to the stuff.
If we want to prevent our burning of fossil fuels causing environmental catastrophe, we need to build lots of nuclear power stations. And we need to start doing so fast.
This is heresy for the environmental movement. But, to its intense embarrassment, the argument is not being made by the nuclear industry but by James Lovelock, father of the Gaia theory, and something of a patron saint to greens.
His argument is that the dangers of nuclear have been exaggerated, and anyway are insignificant compared to the dangers of lethal heat waves and rising sea levels.
Jeremy Paxman spoke to James
Lovelock and to the editor of the
Ecologist magazine, Zac Goldsmith.
He began by asking Dr Lovelock why
he thought that the Greens had
misunderstood the Greens issue.
I think that it relates to their
history, that a lot of it grew up
from CND. There was a valid reason
back in the Cold War for being
scared about nuclear war. It was a
dreadful threat, but nuclear weapon
is a different thing all together.
Zac Goldsmith, why do you
have this particular blind spot
about nuclear weapon?
I don't see it as a blind spot. To
suggest that nuclear power, is a solution
to climate change is madness. I think
it's almost as frightening as
climate change. It's frightening
across the board, but in
particular, I would say on security issues. I
remember a week before the planes
hit the twin towers ahead of
Kojima, the French nuclear industry was
asked on a British radio station,
what would happen if a plane hit
a nuclear power plant in France? He
thought for a while and he said it
could not happen. It was illegal to
fly planes that low over power
plants, well, it's illegal to fly
into buildings in New York, but it
happens. I remember at the time,
British Nuclear Fuels admitted they
were not in a position to deal with
that sort of threat. So we have to
ask ourselves, what would happen if
a plane hit a nuclear power plant.
The fact is that depending on the
winds, if we are lucky, so on, you
could lose up to a third of your land
mass to radiation indefinitely. That's
a hell of a risk to take.
James, try to persuade him?
Well, I don't agree with his figures at all,
but it's not really the point, how
ever bad one may make nuclear out
to be, it's nowhere near as bad as
the threat that is facing us from
How do you deal with the fact, Zac
Goldsmith, you are talking about a
theoretical risk, nonetheless it is
a risk, but we know that last
summer alone tens of thousands of
people die, apparently
as a consequence of global warming.
That is something that we know has
I am 100% behind Dr Lovelock's
thesis on climate change, his research
is probably the most important research
as anyone's into this, but I don't see it
as a choice between climate change and
nuclear power. Alternatives do exist.
What are they?
Well the biggest ever study done
into energy conservation was done
under the Clinton administration.
It showed if you spent $5 billion,
which is a fraction of the cost of
a nuclear power plant, $5 billion
into converting half a million
building in the States to energy
conservation, energy efficiency,
you would be saving $1.5 a year. If
that was the case, and Amory Lovins
and other experts, the eminent experts
in energy issues, think that we could
probably reduce our energy demand
by four fifths with energy conservation.
If you slash that figure and allow
for exuberance, you still have a
massively reduced energy gap,
which could be realistically dealt with
by a combination of solar, some more
hydro winds, tidal and so on,
technologies which already exist.
James, is there an alternative to a rapid
massive investment in nuclear power?
I don't see it. I would
agree with Zac, it would be well
worth doing in energy conservation.
Likewise, I think we should use
renewables, wherever we can, but
the problem is I don't see any of
that producing enough of the
enormous amount of energy that we
use, in time. You see the threat to
future generations is already
established, we have done so much
damage to the world that even if we stop
burning fossil fuel now, at this
instance, there would still be a
reckoning going on for hundreds, if not for a
thousands of years. So we don't
have any time, really, if what one feels
for future generations but to
stop. I can't see how anything
other than nuclear can fill in the
You are singing much the same tune
as the Government, which appears to
have abandoned nuclear power, but
equally is not acting with any dexterity or
speed, on the questions of conservation.
I mean, what is the alternative?
I think that the government is too
fixated on big wind farms across
the country. There will be a
problem as people feel under
Here, here, I do agree with Zac!
You do agree? That is good news. I
think there is so many different
alternatives There is a whole
village next door to me in Devon
which is powered by a
small hydro plant which cost
virtually nothing to put in place,
which is now working. There are
bio-mass projects which are
incredibly exciting. I think we
need to be more flexible, more
open-minded to the various
alternatives, not necessarily
fixate on the huge, centralised
projects, which are bound to create
a lot of local opposition, some of
which I have sympathy with.
Well, the problem that I
see it is not just a matter of
buildings, so on, it's swinging the
public round. We saw only last year,
or the year before, the petrol
protest, because of sensible legislation to
keep the fuel price from escalating, to keep
the price of fuel rising, there
was an enormous public protest. I
don't think that people understand
what they are up against in that one of the
main jobs is going to be getting you
people in the media to get the
public to understand just how
serious is the threat before us. I
see it as very like 1938, before
the Second World War, people were
faffing around, talking, everybody
knew there was going to be a war,
but the suggests as to what should
be done about it were amazingly
diverse. The left were saying we
should disarm, the right were saying
let Hitler go like a mad dog
against Russia and all will be well.
We are in a similar position to
that now, I think.
This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.