Nuclear Crisis and the Me Generation

As the country’s latest war gets underway in oil-rich Libya, a potential nuclear meltdown in Japan hangs over our heads, and the nation’s thirst for energy only continues. Is nuclear power the solution to U.S. energy woes? I don’t know, but this much is clear: nuclear power is yet another example of how we believe we can get something for nothing.

Perhaps the War in Libya will push off the front page the potential nuclear meltdown in Japan. But that won’t change reality: a growing world dependence on nuclear power with little knowledge of what to do with its waste.

The nuclear question is much like the budget crises that gripped the country’s attention before Japan, Libya and other hot news items temporarily bumped them from our consciousness. When it comes to federal, state and municipal budgets, we refuse to own up to the choices and trade-offs that confront us. For instance, while we hack away at federal discretionary spending (all of 12-13%), we continue to give tax breaks to the wealthiest among us, and refuse to come to grips with what deserves tax-dollar support. At issue is what do we truly value, and what programs, services and investments best reflect our values?

Over the course of the last two weeks, colleagues and friends have bombarded me with the recurrent theme of how selfish they think we Americans have become. It’s true, I believe, we often want something for nothing. What’s more, as economic, social and political conditions worsen, people only hunker down more and try to protect what they have. That’s human nature.

And yet, before going any further, I must add that I do not believe most Americans are intrinsically selfish, or will not sacrifice for some larger cause. I do not base this belief on mere conviction, but on how I have seen Americans step forward to help and support one another in times of need – both now and historically.

The problem, as I see it, is that no one is articulating a larger cause that is compelling, authentic and inclusive. It’s time!

So, on nuclear power, absent any genuine discussion on how this nation will address its energy needs, we keep barreling ahead seemingly in denial about the potential hazards of this energy source. Of course, risks come with all sources of energy, including even wind. But wouldn’t a real discussion about the nation’s energy policy do us all good?

I have great faith in American ingenuity and innovation to find ways to move forward on energy and many other concerns. While we as a nation have made a multitude of mistakes throughout our history, we’ve also found ways to bring about exceptional progress.

But such progress is not the result of burying our heads, or denying risks, or simply continuing down well-worn paths. Progress, instead, comes from confronting our challenges, addressing underlying causes, and being called to a larger cause.

It’s time.