To quote the interview’s intro, Solnit is the author of twelve books. She is a journalist, essayist, environmentalist, historian, and art critic; she is a contributing editor to Harper’s, a columnist for Orion, and a regular contributor to Tomdispatch.com and The Nation; she’s also written for, among other publications, the L.A. Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the London Review of Books.
She talks in the interview about writing, activism, Thoreau, politics, knowledge, mystery, nuclear power, and beauty. She’s done a good deal of work arguing against nuclear power and arguing for the cause of environmentalism in general. When I asked her how she replies to those who claim that “nuclear is the only answer,” she said this:
Well, the first problem is that they still think like big science–that there is “the answer.” In fact, there are hundreds of little answers that don’t include nuclear, including scaling back our consumption and travel and building better and using a lot of the elegant new engineering to do everything more efficiently and actually doing something about all the renewable energy sources that are out there–maybe having a new renewable/sustainable energy project like the Manhattan Project or race to the moon if they want some big-science action. A lot of what people are trying to hang on to when they embrace nukes is the opportunity to do things pretty much the way they’ve always done them: sloppily, wastefully. Nukes are the last best chance of not changing. Or so they think. My friend Chip Ward–a brilliant, uproarious writer and antinuclear/environmental activist in Utah–points out that, presuming we’re looking for “the answer,” nuclear power isn’t it. It takes insane amounts of carbon-producing endeavor to mine and refine the uranium ore, build the power plants, and if we started tomorrow they wouldn’t be online anywhere soon enough to make a difference in the narrow window we’ve got. So even in carbon-emissions terms and the race to stop screwing up the climate, they’re not the answer.
She also had this line, which I quite like: “A lot of what people are trying to hang on to when they embrace nukes is the opportunity to do things pretty much the way they’ve always done them: sloppily, wastefully. Nukes are the last best chance of not changing.”
The nuclear part is just one fifth of the discussion, but since I’d devoted some posts to that issue in the past I highlight it here for the blog readers. It isn’t the only science related aspect in her work, but it may be the most direct.
But please read the entire interview. There are a series of excellent lines and, by following the entire piece, you get a good sense of how writing, art, beauty, nuclear wars (“for nuclear testing in Nevada was a war, against the desert and its inhabitants”), and the pleasures of engagement and wonder fit together in her body of work. Then go check out her new book (published just last month) for visions of hope and community, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. (Here’s one recent review of it.)