In a videotaped presentation that Dr. James Hansen and Michael Shellenberger made during COP 23 in Bonn, Germany called “Nuclear power? Are renewables enough?” Dr. Hansen said this:
“This morning I found this quotation which was from JFK:
‘The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived and dishonest—but the myth—persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.’
That is a very relevant quotation to the situation that we have with regard to nuclear power.”
Myths can lead to genocide but can they destroy the planet?
It has been said that after food, water, shelter and companionship, the thing people need most is stories. If our need for them is so great, then it stands to reason that our fascination for stories comes from something deeply engrained in our psyches, possibly related to our survival instincts. Stories and myths convey a wide range of meanings and messages to us but it is clear that, at a minimum, we embrace stories and myths for their ability to help us navigate within our dangerous world.
Stories can be true or untrue but they tend to appeal to our love of adventure or romance. Myths, on the other hand, seem to be those stories that deal most closely with our fears. As human beings fear the unknown more than anything, myths tend to involve fantasy creatures—ghosts and goblins, witches and warlords, gnomes and dragons, vampires, werewolves and demons, etc. From the frightening images our brains conjure, we know instinctively that these creatures are bad — presumably out to get us — so while myths may give us goose-bumps and a thrill, even keep kids from peering under beds or into closets after the lights go out — what they may be teaching us is not to probe too deeply where evil lies.
Unfortunately, human myths don’t stop when childhood does. In real life, we succumb to adult-style myths all the time. These are gross exaggerations and mischaracterizations developed about people or things designed to warp perceptions so as to “demonize” the target and make them seem threatening. Leading up to and during the 2016 election, there was considerable demonization of Hillary Clinton. During the Third Reich, the Nazi regime created an enormous amount of propaganda designed to demonize Jews, which served to make people turn against neighbors and accept the need for increasingly dehumanizing and brutal treatment. When frightened, we want to shut our eyes—literally and figuratively—to block out horribly scary images of the things that frighten us and have someone get rid of them. Today, this explains the reactions that many people have about nuclear energy: they have heard so many terrible things about nuclear—possibly millions killed at Chernobyl and thousands at Fukushima—that they just don’t want to think about it. And what about all of the radioactive materials escaping out into the ocean? Myths about radiation and its gruesome effects have permeated popular culture through television and movies (just think about Godzilla or even “Blinky,” “The Simpson’s three-eyed fish). These ideas have never been dispelled and the images — such as the one on the right — are so disturbing that gullible people are fully convinced that the only good nukes are “No Nukes.” This scary image circulated for years, but is not what people want you think it is: it is actually a depiction of wave height following the earthquake.
Nuclear energy is scary because it involves one of our most advanced sciences and is not well understood. Plus, politicians have played political football with the waste issue, so we can claim “there is no solution.” Even worse, it is possible to connect the development of nuclear bombs with nuclear energy, and few people like atomic weapons, so why not condemn both for the same reasons?
Well, the reason is that nuclear energy actually saves lives. It’s clean generation is reported to have displaced a huge amount of coal generation, which would have caused more than 1.8 million additional premature deaths. Plus, because we needed to eliminate emissions a decade ago, increasing numbers of experts are calling for more nuclear power to be built alongside more solar and wind, so that we can transition away from fossil fuels within a few decades.
Finally, nearly all of the “myths” about nuclear energy — especially the vast numbers killed by nuclear accidents — are untrue. There were not hundreds of thousands or millions of people hurt by Chernobyl. The actual number is under 50. The Fukushima melt-down, which occurred in the aftermath of an earthquake and a tsunami that swept away over 15,000 people, killed no one as a result of radiation leakage—although the evacuation itself generated enough panic to cause deaths to occur from trampling and heart attacks.
The reality is very different as Dr. Hansen so eloquently explained: “Actually, existing nuclear power is very safe: More people die in one day from the air pollution from fossil fuels than have died in our 50-year history of nuclear power plants, so they are actually pretty safe already. (At: 16:00 mins on video).
Myths have been used effectively to justify genocides, wars, slavery, and mass incarceration (see the following). At this point in time, with climate change threatening to turn our atmosphere into a crematorium, scientists are telling us in no uncertain terms that we need nuclear power to enable our transition away from carbon-emitting fuels as quickly as possible. In fact, we don’t actually have the luxury of going along with the myths and having those perpetrating these untruths to be proven wrong. That would be too late to save the planet or future generations. The planet and especially the human race, will suffer immeasurably.
We all have a responsibility to put aside the fears about nuclear energy that are based upon myths and to be willing to explore the facts. We are working hard to present them for you on this website.
Demonizing myths that humans have believed, justifying egregious, murderous treatment of others
It appears from even a cursory review of the history of the successful use of myths for political, cultural and economic purposes, that people who have been brought to the point of believing demonizing myths are willing to commit murder and even genocide to protect themselves from that threatened evil. The following is a list of groups which have been successfully demonized, at great social cost.
Target and Time
The Beneficiaries and the Costs
Images that Demonize
Native American Indians: from the earliest colonial settlements in the 17th century until the 1920s.
American Indians were seen as untrustworthy, blood-thirsty savages, who will never be “civilized.”
European Settlers and later US state and federal governments used these myths to justify the expansion of white settlers combined with systematic efforts to contain and eliminate indigenous peoples. The result was centuries of continuous strife, the decimation of many indigenous tribes, their loss of territory and the loss of native Americans’ ethic of preserving the land for future generations.
Women: 1840 through to 1920s, when the 19th Amendment finally passed.
Women are too child-like, emotional and irrational to be able to use good judgment in politics and need protection from men.
With respect to the U.S., white men who held all the economic and political power and made all of the decisions about women’s rights. Benefitted from having women serve them and have few opportunities to be independent.
|Jewish People||1933 – 1945, the Third Reich, during the time that Adolph Hitler ruled Germany.||Nazi propagandists portrayed Jews as an “alien race” that fed off the host nation, poisoned its culture, seized its economy, and enslaved its workers and farmers. Jews were not the only ones demonized by the Nazis. (from The Holocaust Encyclopedia)
||Hitler wanted to create a cohesive, uniform and obedient group, so used Nazi propagandists to justify identifying groups for exclusion, inciting hatred and helping to induce pariah status to minimize their political power. Nazi propaganda played a crucial role in selling the myth of Aryan superiority to Germans who longed for unity, national pride and greatness. Propaganda justified elimination measures against the “outsiders”: Jews, Sinti and Roma, homosexuals, political dissidents, and Germans viewed as genetically inferior and harmful to “national health” (people with mental illness and intellectual or physical disabilities, epileptics, congenitally deaf and blind persons, chronic alcoholics, drug users, and others).|
|Japanese||In the period leading up to and including World War II, peaking after the bombing of Pearl Harbor||Anti-Japanese propaganda sought to dehumanize the culture, depicting a racially disparaging, evolutionarily inferior, barbaric character. As a result, Japanese culture was viewed with suspicion and even disdain.||In the WWII era, many Americans worried that citizens of Japanese ancestry would act as spies or saboteurs for the Japanese government. Fear, not evidence, drove the U.S. to place over 127,000 Japanese-Americans in concentration camps for the duration of WWII. Anti-Japanese sentiment may be strongest in China, North Korea, and South Korea due to atrocities committed by the Japanese military.|
|African Americans||From the beginnings of the slave trade in the 1700s until well into the civil rights era.||Anti-Negro myths are nearly too numerous to be able to cover them all. They are all disparaging and suggest inferior status, including that they had no native culture, have inferior intelligence, or have violent tendencies, often depicting them as apes and savages, etc. Many similar themes were used to justify enslavement and violence towards them.||Myths about people of the negro race have been used for several centuries in the U.S. to deny these people full rights as human beings and as citizens. These myths have been trotted out to deprive black slaves of freedom, of education, of proper respect for individuals or families and to deprive them of protections available to other races under the Constitution. These myths justified kidnapping whole villages from Africa and brutally forcing them into slavery, predominantly for the benefit of southern white plantation owners. Despite the Civil War, the legal declarations — Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — that have sought to restore full rights to negroes, and the profound changes that were the result of the Civil Rights era, aspects of the original myths persist, causing both conscious and unconscious forms of discrimination and violence, forcing communities of people to have to proclaim truths such as “Black Lives Matter.”||
|Muslims/ Arabs||Anti-Muslim sentiment has existed for a long time, but it has peaked since 9/11 and is continuing to grow under Trump, as he has been particularly guilty of trying to enact discriminating legislation based upon myths.||This image pretty much sums up the myth, which includes regarding Middle Easterners as violent, backward and radicalized.||Anti-Muslim and anti-Arab myths have been used to justify Western interventions in the Middle East, most if not all of which have been designed to help insure that the flow of oil continues unabated.|