A few months ago, a journalist asked Heather and me about our ideas for the future of Mothers for Nuclear. How would we try to change the conversation on nuclear power? “Are you aiming high, or are you just planning on talking to your friends and neighbors?,” he asked. Something about the tone of his voice got under my skin. It was like if we answered this the wrong way, he would hang up the phone and write us off as nothing more than a glorified book club.
I remember feeling the enormity of our challenge weighing down on me in that one question. How can two moms expect to make a splash in the sea of public opinion? “We have big ideas,” we answered. Of course we will talk with our friends and neighbors, but we will reach beyond our own backyard. When we hung up the phone, I felt overwhelmed.
Last week we spent some time with our kids at a local park. No ulterior motives, just some good old-fashioned fun. But a chance encounter with another mom gave us some encouraging -- and surprising -- insights about connecting with people about issues such as nuclear energy’s critical role in fighting climate change.
That day in the park, we ran around with our kids – ripped jeans, barefoot, dirty faces, uncombed hair – looking for some adventure. After making myself nauseous on a playground feature, I took a break on a bench next to Heather and another mom. The conversation went from school to kid fashion to the latest kid illnesses, and then to nuclear power. It always comes around to nuclear power – we can’t help it.
It was a long conversation, interrupted by skinned knees and snacks. It went something like this, paraphrased of course:
Mom-on-the-park-bench: I’m antinuclear, always have been.
Because I’m an environmentalist, and a mom. Nuclear power is dangerous. Don’t try to change my mind (smiles).
Actually, nuclear power is the safest form of reliable energy, according to peer-reviewed medical studies.
OK, I’ll look at a reference if you send it to me.
You said you’re an environmentalist – do you care about climate change?
Did you know that nuclear power plants emit no greenhouse gases while producing electricity? In terms of life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear is one of the best forms of power that we have. Taking existing plants offline would be a step in the wrong direction for climate.
Oh… can you send me that too?
Well, regardless, I’m worried about earthquakes.
Yeah, we are too. We live in California, after all. But we’re not worried about the nuclear plant’s performance during an earthquake.
Because nuclear plants are designed for earthquakes. And nuclear plants all over the world have been through earthquakes – big ones – and they’ve been fine.
OK, well then I’m worried about the waste.
You mean used nuclear fuel? We think it’s the best kind of waste. It’s not emitted into the air like pollutants or greenhouse gases from fossil fuels. It’s completely contained and monitored, and it’s hurting no one.
We talked for a while longer, learning more about this mom and where she’s coming from. Then out of nowhere she blurted out, “I kind of hate you right now.”
You hate us? The dialogue thus far had been cordial. Plenty of smiles, understanding nods, listening, questioning. Hate was not where I thought this was going. “What do you mean?” I asked her.
She said something like this: “You’re making me rethink my long-held belief, and I can see that my position may be based on my ideology instead of facts. I have so many other demands on my time, I don’t really want to make the effort to look into this. But now that I see the gaps in my position, I owe it to myself to take another look. So I kind of hate you for that. But thank you.”
It was one of the most genuine self-reflections that I’d heard in a long while. And it transported me back in time, to that awkward interview with the journalist. We certainly want to participate in the global conversation on nuclear energy, and we’re making strides all the time. But those face-to-face, heart-to-heart conversations should not be trivialized. They matter just as much, or even more, than any meme or video or bit of media that we produce.
If we could, we would take the time to personally connect with people across the world. What we consistently find is that people everywhere care about the same things – protecting our loved ones and protecting the planet for them. When we make that connection, the discussion about nuclear power becomes an open exploration of facts instead of a battle of emotions.
There are some moments when we kind of hate Mothers for Nuclear too. It’s tempting to respond in kind to propaganda, without challenging our most basic assumptions and beliefs. What is behind those sensational headlines? What does the science say? What are experts in the field saying? Etc. It’s an uncomfortable process, but it’s making us into better people. If moms on school playgrounds across the world are willing to question long-held assumptions, we may still stand a chance in facing our enormous humanitarian and environmental challenges.
Have you had a conversation like this lately? Make a connection, challenge your long held beliefs and show compassion. Share what you know. Change the world.