Differences Among Friends on Energy

Blog discussion

Friendly and UnFriendly responses to Friends Energy Project

The ideas expressed on this site have been a challenge generally for Friends, who maintain two conflicting commitments. They wish to give a fair hearing to divergent views, and at the same time they hold to truths they feel have stood the test of time. One of the gifts of traditional Friends Process is a method for seasoning new ideas and collectively discerning Truth. This process is sometimes honored more in self-image than in practice. The tension between these worthy goals has been particularly evident as Friends debate energy and the environment.

Friends hold a range of views on energy and the environment. On the whole, Friends, like the larger society, became interested in climate change after seeing the film, An Inconvenient Truth. While climate skepticism is no longer as common among Friends, many see global warming as only one of many concerns, with social justice issues or other environmental worries (such as water and air pollution) carrying greater weight. The solutions many Friends envision resemble those energy policies or environmental causes they liked before they had ever heard of climate change—for instance, solar energy and individual choices about simple living. The fear of science and technology, particularly nuclear power and transgenic crops (GMOs), remains strong. Increasingly, however, Friends are reconsidering their entire approach to energy and environmental issues in the light of the threats from climate change.

Among those who have embraced climate change as a concern, there remains much disagreement, particularly in these areas:

Of these controversies among Friends, the conflict over nuclear power is probably the most heated to date. Some Friends have always supported nuclear power. Others have come to this view more recently. A sizeable number, however, maintain a stalwart and unwavering opposition to nuclear energy as part of the solution to the climate crisis. They have many fears: that building more power plants increases the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation; that the mining and processing of uranium and the eventual storage of radioactive wastes present an unacceptable threat to human health and the environment; that the risk of accidents is too great; that large, centralized power sources controlled by big business are better avoided in favor of locally controlled sources. An underlying assumption is that big business cannot be trusted, and that government cannot be trusted to regulate big business. Most compelling of all is the hope and belief that sufficient investments in other power sources, such as wind and solar, will make nuclear power unnecessary.  

Many Friends cling to the belief that conservation—relying on voluntary individual behavior change—is the most critical factor in addressing environmental concerns, and should obviate the need for nuclear energy. Unfortunately, those who espouse behavior change in theory often find it hard to do in practice. While some Friends have made major changes in behavior, such as giving up driving and flying, not all share a sense that such changes are moral acts.   

In debating these and other conflicts of opinion, Friends disagree on what are reliable sources of fact. It is difficult to find the truth among so many contradictory viewpoints. In particular, Friends tend to fall into opposing camps regarding scientific knowledge versus direct revelations and spiritual discernment. Friends Energy Project is firmly aligned with scientific thinking, getting the science from scientists (peer review is a must, and the most reliable reports are the major reports coming from organizations like Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and National Academy of Sciences). Friends, like much of the public, often dismiss these sources or assume they are in agreement with their own beliefs.

Concerns Excluded from Current Debate

The eventual challenge will be for Friends to confront the hard issues, the ones society has to wrestle with before legislators can do something about them without losing their elected offices. While Friends engage in passionate debate about technology choices, the easiest of the hard issues, they largely ignore questions that require our attention:

Friends Process in Theory and Practice

“We continue to have the challenge of disagreeing with those we love and loving those with whom we disagree.” (Thought to be from an Ohio Yearly Meeting Epistle, mid 1990’s).

In addition to differing opinions about what is true, and what is important in the practical world, there are questions about process which Friends would do well to discuss more frequently and in greater depth. What are we called to do as individuals? Corporately? How do we check whether solutions we are drawn to are actually effective? Are we called as individuals to reduce our own consumption, and if so, how? Is there a role for Friends Meetings to play in encouraging GHG reduction, through either personal or corporate behavior change? How can Friends be part of facilitating communication among people with very different beliefs? Among themselves? How much energy do we give to protesting/changing others vs. changing ourselves? What is Friends process for recognizing and reversing errors of opinion or information? How do Friends hear divergent views when one of their own “speaks truth” to the established views of the community? (It’s always harder to handle doubt within than to challenge wrongs without.)

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