Column: Science can solve problems, if we'll let it

"Fear is the demagogue's best friend..."

Gaius Phlebitis, Roman bartender

Well, the doomsday soothsayers screwed up again. Big time! No, I'm not a Johnny-come-lately getting on the bandwagon with those who pooh-poohed the predicted Y2K Millennium disasters. If you'll go back to one of my earlier 1999 columns, you'll see that I never did take Y2K seriously because I had faith that the software industry would solve our problems well ahead of time.

I remember the Trial Lawyers Association in one of their main publications gleefully predicting enough personal injury lawsuits forthcoming from Y2K catastrophes to line their pockets for the next millennium. Yes, I'm well aware that some Y2K difficulties may still arise over the next few weeks, but they'll pale by comparison to what was predicted by the doom vultures.

If you search your memory, you can come up with numerous instances where the press and media were willing accomplices with those who, for their own political agendas, were ready and able to predict catastrophic environmental consequences to the Gulf War, Three Mile Island, Love Canal, Chernobyl and a host of other unfortunate happenings.

These doomsayers consistently deny that scientists have the intelligence or capacity to deal with their own creations. After all, behind every scientist is a greedy corporation, right? Wrong!

Let's look at the Gulf War. Environmental kooks were screaming that it would be years, if ever, before we could extinguish the oil well fires set by Sadaam Hussein in Kuwait. It was also predicted that the smoke and soot would encircle the earth, causing acidic pollution, lowering the pH of our water supplies as well as the oceans while causing irreparable vegetation damage. It was going to be the next thing to Armageddon!

But these soothsayers failed to take into account a guy named Red Adair from Texas, who had made a handsome living for decades putting out oil and gas fires far bigger and more devastating than those in Kuwait. Red and his team had all the Kuwait fires out in weeks, not years! And nobody on this side of the great drink, or in Europe for that matter, saw any smoke. Of course, a lot of sand got polluted in camel country.

True, Three Mile Island was and is a genuine set back, but it has been contained and is likely to remain contained without loss of life. When you consider the length of time society has been generating nuclear energy and the number of countries who are largely dependent upon nuclear power, the safety record has been phenomenal. Chernobyl? A catastrophe which was predicated and confirmed how not to design and build nuclear reactors. A communist gift to humanity.

Every worthwhile technological arena has come with major or minor catastrophic price tags. Automobiles, aviation, rockets, ships, explosives, chemistry, medicine, surgical techniques, radiology and on and on. In science, it's called the learning curve, mankind's willingness to take calculated risks, hopefully minimal but not always, for mankind's future!

Unfortunately, oftentimes there are political aspects to fear mongering. We've got a good example right her in Nevada concerning nuclear waste storage. We've been bombarded by unceasing propaganda by politicians who know that one of the best ways to election in Nevada is to be opposed to nuclear waste storage anywhere in Nevada. Politicians need an enemy in order to appear fearless and what more toothless "enemy" than the nuclear power industry?

To listen to these guys you'd think Nevada was a clone of the Garden of Eden. I've flown over every square inch of Nevada, and in my opinion outside of possible mining, the majority of our state isn't suitable for much other than things like storage. I can see why members of Congress who don't live in Nevada feel that Nevada is the one state which aesthetically and productively would suffer less than other states for having nuclear waste storage. It's a sad fact!

To say that science can't cope with the design safety factors required to guarantee our safety in both storing and shipping nuclear waste is ignorant and dishonest! Is there any wonder why we're inundated by doomsday soothsayers when the media are as technically deficient as our politicians and state bureaucrats? Who are politicians relying on for technical guidance? Only those who are willing to prostitute themselves by reinforcing what politicians want to hear.

Even the guy who heads Nevada's anti-nuclear waste department can't pronounce the word "nuclear." He calls it "nucular." Where are the genuine technical advisers, those who've been part of the nuclear industry or the AEC, and could give us unbiased fats? Really, this should be an embarrassment. And I thought Gov. Guinn was sharper than his predecessors.

Well, to you negative doom peddlers I say get the hell out of the way during this next millennium and let those who can create, create. Let those who can solve problems, solve them. Let those who can move society forward, move it.

Science can and will make progress without harming society. And science will repair delicate balances which have been damaged through ignorance. With God's help, only science, not the politics of fear, can maintain that balance. Have faith!

Bob Thomas is a Carson City businessman, local curmudgeon and former member of the Carson City School Board and Nevada State Assembly.


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