Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Yeah cigarettes kill but uranium's okay

Thank you for mining uraniumThank You for Smoking is an ingenious little movie that caught me by surprise with it's cleverness. It made me wonder if tobacco and uranium have any similarities. Of course smoking uranium may give you more than lung cancer, but perhaps there are some political similarities?

The movie itself is about a lobbyist for the company, Big Tobacco, who serves as the frontman for a 'research institute' funded by Big Tobacco. Fairly straightforward. We're familiar with this kind of story. Our lobbyist should be nasty and disappointing because he lobbies for Big Tobacco, but instead, we love him because he's clever, witty, confident (albeit a little shallow and vain) and connects with his son — but mostly because we don't get to see any really gritty pieces of unethical behaviour.

The movie works because Big Tobacco is so easily recognisable as the archetypal "evil multinational". But it made me think... What if the company was, say Big Petroleum (denying global warming)? Suddenly it doesn't fit the archetype so precisely. What about Big Softdrink (denying soft drinks are bad for kids)? The line is even more grey. Or what about Big Mobile (denying mobile phone radiation causes cancer)... or Big Water (denying recycled water is dangerous to drink)? Considering most people don't seriously believe mobile phone use leads directly to cancer and many (including me personally) believe recycled water can be completely safe to drink, we certainly couldn't accuse the lobbyists for Big Mobile and Big Water of being on the wrong side of the common ethics. Yet the lobbyists for Big Tobacco, Big Oil and Big Water all use precisely the same methods — a point subtly underscored by the movie.

How is it relevant to us Aussies right here right now? Currently there is a lot of discussion about whether it is appropriate, safe, sustainable, affordable and generally sensible for Australia to rely in a big way on nuclear energy. It's a tough question, but seems to me the gods are on the side of a nuclear powered Australia at this point.

In February we were told Sweden is set to be the world's first oil-free economy in a few years thanks to nuclear power. Then, this spring, the Branson-Murdoch-Gore climate change juggernaut[*] has been combining to increase political pressure for sound environmental policy (especially given the report, via ABC, yesterday that we're almost as hot as we were a million years ago). Traditional Aussie greenies are saying we should do it. The Roy Morgan poll shows Aussies are swiftly coming around to the idea. So who's opposing it, and is the opposition sensible?

Next month the Hawke Centre here in Adelaide is hosting a debate on the issue: essentially Mark Diesendorf (of Sustainability Centre Pty Ltd and UNSW) vs Ian Hore-Lacy (of Uranium Information Centre). The Sustainability Centre[1] is a for-profit consultancy (presumably self-funded), UNSW[2] as we know is a university, and the Uranium Information Centre is a foundation funded by "companies involved in uranium exploration, mining and export in Australia".[3]

So it seems Mr Hore-Lacy is the lobbyist for Big Uranium and can enjoy all the ethical shadowiness that role affords him. Given that the odds already seemed to be stacked towards a go-ahead for nuclear power stations in Australia, he should be able to trounce Diesendorf...

Let's see. I look forward to an interesting and hopefully informative debate.

* This article is only available to those with a Crikey subscription. I won't reprint the article. The essence is that three big players have combined to create immense political force for the general greens movement. The juggernaut is so named because 1) Richard Branson just pledged to invest $3 billion into renewable energy; 2) Rupert Murdoch has apparently started greening up the face of News Corp's newspapers and other media around the world; 3) As we know, Al Gore did An Inconvenient Truth and is centering his political campaign around it.

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