American Socialist, September 1957

Man must live in harmony with his given environment, cherish and protect it as a trust for future generations. Conservation can be a faith and a creed for mankind.

The Religion of Conservation

by Reuben W. Borough

(Reuben Borough was editor of Upton Sinclair’s EPIC News in the thirties, and a California leader of the Wallace movement in the forties.)

F OR many months now I have been verbally exploding at the breakfast table over the steady stream of tragedies headlined in the Los Angeles Times. I have been repeating over and over again an old colloquialism from boyhood days: ‘We’re too big for our pants!’ I repeat it here with two recent examples of the current scientific and industrial anarchy of the profit-takers fresh in mind:

1)   The aircraft collision a short while back in the San Fernando Valley that took the lives of five airmen and two high school students and injured more than 70 other persons—an impossible occurrence in any socially responsible economy.

2)  The spectacular automation triumph at the Holmes Foundry, Sarnia, Ontario, which manufactures engine blocks for the Ford Motor Company. This plant, which before mechanization in 1954 employed 475 men, reduced its working force after mechanization by 100 men, dropped one working day from the week, and still shot its output up so successfully that it met its entire year’s production quota in six months! The plant is now closed: What greater proof could you have of the intellectual acumen of modern science and modern industry?

We are indeed ‘too big for our pants!’ We know how to produce but we will not produce without criminal waste and destruction, in contempt of the Psalmist’s reminder that not only the Earth but ‘they that dwell therein’ are the Lord’s.

The subject of this article is: The Religion of Conservation. By ‘religion’ I mean an over-all faith and conviction that bind man in reason and logic to a consistent attitude toward the universe and, more directly, toward the Earth Planet, the natural scene of his activities. By ‘conservation’ I mean the preservation of this scene, the safeguarding of nature’s resources, their expansion wherever and whenever necessary and possible, and the abstention from action, individual or social, that impairs or destroy them.

What should this consistent attitude of man toward universe be? My answer is that he should accept it, not rail against it; and that if he is in good health, individually, socially and politically, he will accept it. Moreover should accept it, not in any semi-neutral manner but frank friendliness and love and, even at times, with passionate exultation. This moving scene around him is his home. He is inextricably part of it—body, mind, so all of him—and he can never be banished from it. He wrapped in it, cradled in it, sustained by it every hour of day and night, and at the end he will lie down in it a be at rest in it.

SUPPOSING, then, that man does bring himself en rapport with life, what will be the result? Obviously, this present society, he will act. He will not merely remain an ecstatic poet, commendable as that role may be. will take the oath of allegiance to the Earth Planet and universe. He will join the army of the Militant Conservationists—he will go to war against the enemies of Mother Nature.

So now he finds himself committed to causes, ennobling causes that deal with his day and reach beyond his day it the distant future. These causes are varied but they are concerned with the defense of the natural environment against defilement by profiteering special interests ~ the wastage of the natural resources by these same forces

The purity and integrity of air, water, soil, are vital to him. Thus he is engaged in continuous battle with established and familiar forms of industry and transport that spout poisonous fumes and waste from smoke stacks and exhaust pipes. Thus he must expose and excoriate barbarian cities that pollute streams, lakes, sea, with their floods of raw sewage. Thus he must bring every social, political and educational pressure against such earth-husbandry abuses as over-grazing of the range and repetitive and similar unscientific crop practices. Thus he fight destruction of the forests and resist over-concentration of population in vast industrial centers.

But these engagements, in the long range of time, are, all, mere skirmishes. For a new terror now infects the against which he must rally his full faculties—the of atomic energy. Little need be said here as to the effects of nuclear explosions. My readers know the meaning of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But they are not sufficiently acquainted, I am sure, with the menace to life of a peace-time nuclear reactor plant in industrial operation at its current stage of development. All of us should have such acquaintance. Certainly our citizen of the Earth Planet, committed to love for and reverence for life should have acquaintance.

Atomic energy for military and peacetime uses has so far been developed almost entirely by the United States government. Into this business it has poured literally billions of dollars. The basis for peacetime uses has been chiefly through development of the nuclear reactor which by fission (splitting) of the uranium atom releases the energy which creates the heat which in turn the steam which in turn generates the electricity intended for industrial, commercial and residential use. The indispensable fuel for this nuclear reactor plant is the Uranium rod or slug which the United States government alone produces from uranium ore. And this uranium ore is produced by a new subsidized mining industry with several thousand employees, which depends entirely upon the government’s guaranteed market with its liberal price per ton and its liberal incentive rewards for initial production.

Yet despite these basic facts, the federal government may not build, own, or operate a single nuclear reactor plant. This right is farmed out, under a system of licenses established by Congressional action, predominantly to private interests by the pro-corporation Atomic Energy Commission. In less than 50 years, if this program of ‘partnership’ with business persists and if atomic power is established as economically feasible, publicly owned power resting by that time largely on vanishing fuel sources, will be wiped off the map. Then watch the rates soar!

BUT it is not with the high costs of monopoly control that our citizen with the reverence for life is here concerned. It is with the frightening hazards of plant operation under socially irresponsible ownership bent exclusively on profits. For the nuclear reactor can be a deadly weapon —a weapon of annihilation—against the world and all those that dwell therein.

The unsolved problem of radioactivity, says Waldemar Kaempffert in the May-June issue of the Foreign Policy Association’s Headline Series, is ‘the bane of the engineer who must design a power reactor.’ He continues:

‘Deadly radioactive rays contaminate everything. They contaminate the water or other liquid which serves as a coolant and which is pumped to the heat exchanger, there to raise steam. They contaminate the walls of the reactor. They contaminate the aluminum cans in which the uranium rods or slugs are contained, the coil of pipe in which the coolant circulates, the coolant itself. Everything is contaminated. The time comes when the reactor must be virtually rebuilt.

‘Moreover, every reactor must be associated with a chemical plant to purify contaminated spent uranium. Somehow the absorption of too many flying neutrons must be reduced and, if possible, stopped. How this is to be done efficiently is one of the major tasks of the scientists who are trying to improve reactors.’

The more general type of devastation that can be wrought by the operation of these nuclear reactor plants in their current stage of development is tersely set forth in an exhibit from the Paris National Museum of Natural History, shown in Cambridge, England:

‘The uncontrolled utilization of ionic energy and the multiplication of atomic and thermo-nuclear experiments constitute a threat to flora and fauna and to man himself.

‘Danger may arise from: Experimental atomic explosions. Radio-active dust and waste ejected by the chimneys of atomic factories. Water used in atomic factories and subsequently returned to rivers or poured into the sea. Immersion at the bottom of the sea of containers holding atomic waste.’

With the foregoing disclosures in this possession, what is this loyal citizen of the Earth Planet, this defender of the natural environment, going to say on the matter of the development and ownership of atomic power? I think he is going to say this:

‘We certainly do want to explore all the possibilities of atomic energy for peacetime purposes. We want to know as soon as possible whether its costs can be so reduced as to make it economically feasible in industry and science. But, in view of the risks of both its development and industrial use, atomic power must not be surrendered into private hands. Atomic power—all atomic power—must be publicly owned, publicly developed, publicly operated, under management responsible to the whole of society and not to private profit-takers.’

Finally, this citizen of the Earth, with his religion of conservation, must delve into this whole question of power at the base of modern industry. He must exert every conceivable pressure, social, economic, political, to compel a shifting from the depletable to the non-depletable sources. Coal, oil, gas, are on the way out—they will be only minor power sources ‘by the end of the century. Both the life span of nuclear energy derived from the split uranium atom and the extent of uranium sources are uncertain, although there are optimistic predictions. The fact remains, how. ever, that uranium is depletable.

WHERE then will this Earth-and universe-conscious citizen turn? If he has mastery of society, he will turn to the great non-depletables, the sun, the moon, and the winds, and he will command the shift. Proudly he will point to publicly owned hydro as proof of the wisdom of his decision. Here is a power resource, linked to the drifting mists and rains of the ageless hydrologic cycle, which, if its potential were fully realized, could meet the what economy’s present needs. It is true that with the rapidly expanding power requirements of the nation it would be inadequate in the not-distant future, but it is a fixed supply—it does not decrease from year to year as does the energy from coal, oil, gas, and the uranium atom. Moreover, it is a clean power, polluting neither sky, earth or sea. And instead of impairing the earth’s resources, it expands them. Its multiple-purpose dams provide not only all power and light but flood control, irrigation, stream regulation and navigation, recreation and a new and revolutionary regional frontier.

The inexhaustibility, from the view-point of man, of three the power resources of sun, moon, and wind is obviously indisputable.

For more than two billion years the sun has been crashing the earth’s surface with its nuclear energy, delivering enough power to run all the industries of the United States from collector-mirrors on 100-mile square of desert.

The power of the moon—the tide-creating pull on the reads earth’s oceans—has long fascinated the scientific and engineering mind. In the 1930’s, Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed the harnessing of the massive ebb and flow of the waters of Maine’s Passamaquoddy Bay as a Works Progress Administration project. His board of three eminent engineers contended that the planned dams and high-tide basins could furnish electricity at economical rates. But the reactionaries in Congress entered boisterous denials and buried the scheme under an avalanche of anti-’socialist’ and anti-’boondoggling’ allegations.

That the uses of the winds, with the exciting historic mark, background of their great mills against the sky, could be fully considerably extended under scientific direction is conceded by high authority. Present mechanisms convert the wind’s energy into low-load electric power which definitely pays off in areas remote from water power. But whether these mechanisms could ever be made competitive to present-day power supplies is a matter of conjecture.

The problem of the conversion of power from these various non-depletable sources has never been under sustained and organized inquiry in the United States. This is a job beyond the immediate capacities of the isolated laboratories of the private enterprisers—they cannot solve the problem in time. Public enterprise can and must solve it. The loyal citizen of the Earth Planet must marshal the political forces necessary to that end. The long and ruthless raid of Greed upon the basic wealth of Nature must be stopped. Loving care must take the place of the befoulment and destruction of man’s environment. This is the inescapable task and responsibility of the religion of conservation.

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