How Finland’s Green Party Chose Nuclear Power
Finland’s Greens have made nuclear energy part of their environmentalist vision. Here’s how the party made it happen and why Europe is set to follow.
Tea Törmänen and Marco Visscher have written a new firsthand account of how Finland’s Green Party learned to embrace nuclear power. While around 60 percent of the country has a positive opinion on nuclear energy—two nuclear reactors generate a third of the country’s entire electricity needs—it is only recently that it was endorsed by the Green Party. As is often the case with anti-nuclear activists, the case against it took the form of climate defeatism:
For a party that takes democracy very seriously, voting can take a long time. A few passionately anti-nuclear party members took the opportunity to speak out, hoping to convince the audience to delete each and every pro-nuclear proposal. Their arguments: nuclear is expensive, prone to accidents and terrorism, and its radioactive waste cannot be handled safely. We had heard and disputed these arguments a thousand times.
This time, however, the urgency of the moment seemed to overwhelm the opposition. One anti-nuclear member argued that it is too late to stop the climate crisis anyway, and since nuclear power cannot function during a crisis, we must not use it. This defeatist attitude shocked us; in the audience, several attendees began to laugh in disbelief. This was an incredible statement for a party that takes combating climate change as one of its major goals. The fight was over.
When at last it was time to vote by raising colored paper slips, all the proposals were accepted. Finland had a pro-nuclear Green Party.
Once information about the advantages and misconceptions around nuclear power is shared with the public at large, they tend to become pro-nuclear. However, this support can lie dormant when a more entrenched old guard blocks the levers of power—in this case, the older wings of many green movements around the world. It’s only when crises like the Ukraine War emerge does an inflection point occur, and the preexisting popular support for nuclear power can manifest real gains. Whether this moment can be utilized correctly depends on whether Törmänen’s success can be replicated elsewhere.
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How Elite Reforms Enabled the British Empire
If the steam engine had been invented in medieval England, it probably would’ve never taken off. The barriers to industry and independent enterprise were too great for it to get implemented. After all, the original Luddite strikes were about the ability of technology to outmode traditional forms of production.
In medieval England and the rest of the Europe, the guild system was one way by which technological and economic progress were stopped in their tracks. In Davis Kedrosky’s new article on the barriers to development in medieval England and how the country overtook its peers by removing them, the dissolution of the guild system is shown to be one of the key reforms.
Guilds were allowed a monopoly over apprenticeship and were given the ability to set price floors, discouraging would-be technological innovators. At the same time as the Dissolution of the Monasteries, in which former Church lands were freed up for secular use, the English state began the process of dissolving the guilds:
The state played an important role in this precipitous decline. During the Reformation of the 1530s and 1540s, the Crown dissolved all religious guilds and confiscated the religious property of occupational guilds. It was also increasingly reluctant to grant state charters to organizations outside London, leaving provincial guilds reliant on the circumscribed authority of borough authorities. In 1584, for example, the guilds of York lobbied for the right to inspect and control a guild-free zone under Church control, but the town’s MPs failed to convince Parliament. Improved transportation and widespread urbanization promoted competition between urban areas, undermining local monopolies. And a grudgingly pro-market elite pressured the judiciary to reject guild restrictions or let them expire. Judges in London decided in 1598 that a rule imposed by the merchant-tailors’ guild requiring members to get half their cloth dressed by a fellow member was monopolistic, and thus illegal. In 1620, the Privy Council—the king’s advisory court—declared that guilds in provincial towns were “generally injurious” and stopped granting incorporations.
Other various “Olsonian crises” during the medieval period opened windows of opportunity for major institutional reform. While most of Western Europe experienced the Black Death and a subsequent erosion of serfdom, it was only in England where a monarch had to formally negotiate his authority after a civil war with his lords, resulting in the signature of the Magna Carta.
While documents similar to the Magna Carta were made throughout Europe in the thirteenth century, it was only in England where proto-parliamentary bodies continuously grew in power through negotiations with the Crown. This organic evolution strengthened the institutions of the English state even as power devolved from the king’s person.
In 1215, military failures and civil war weakened the rule of King John. Taking advantage of his weak position, his barons pressed him into accepting the Magna Carta, limiting his ability to govern arbitrarily. While the document itself shouldn't be treated anachronistically as a constitution, it did provide a basis for personal freedoms, universal access and subjection to a common law, and a centralized legal system organized by royal courts. This was the first “Olsonian crisis” of the English state—a moment when the temporary weakness and disorganization of vested interests grants outside parties a window of opportunity where they can set up a new institutional system.
While other countries like Italy, Spain, or Hungary made similar—sometimes even more binding—treaties at about the same time, in England, continuous reissuances and adaptations for the rest of the century made it the ideological basis for a new body. The 1258 Provisions of Oxford, issued by the rebellious Baron Simon de Montfort, provided for a regular national assembly. Representatives of the towns and shires met in 1265. The famous “Model Parliament” was convened by Edward I in 1295, under the maxim quod omnes tangit, ab omnibus tractari et approbari debet—“What touches all should be considered and approved by all.”
As the same class of aristocrats—and later on, merchants—grew in political power, they found ways to profit from the increasing commercialization of the English economy. Increased foreign trade and colonial ventures created a revenue stream for rent-seeking lords who would’ve otherwise been dependant on agrarian sources. By removing economic barriers like serfdom and guilds, institutions that would nip innovation in the bud were resigned to the dustbin of history. Instead, elite-driven reforms enabled the economic dynamism that would align with their own interests. These elite economic incentives undergirded the dynamism that drove the British Empire.
Here’s what’s been on the front page lately:
Institutional Reforms Built the British Empire by Davis Kedrosky. At the dawn of the early modern period, elite-driven transformations in law and political economy primed Britain to become one of the most powerful, industrialized empires ever known.
How Finland’s Green Party Chose Nuclear Power by Tea Törmänen and Marco Visscher. Finland’s Greens have made nuclear energy part of their environmentalist vision. Here’s how the party made it happen and why Europe is set to follow.
Palladium Podcast 82: Jesse Velay-Vitow on the Geopolitics of Climate Change. Jesse Velay-Vitow joins Ash Milton to discuss how recent geopolitical realignments, energy crises, and migration patterns will shape the course of the twenty-first century.
The Genealogy of Chinese Cybernetics by Dylan Levi King. Qian Xuesen helped China gain nuclear weapons and theorized Dengist cybernetics. Although a brilliant physicist, he made dangerous missteps as an advisor to power.
The Transformations of Science by Geoff Anders. Science originated in taking no one at their word, but today we’re told to “trust the science.” Can we balance these two impulses?
That’s all for now.