Category Archives: Climate Change

And Galileo Wept


In some ways, we’re brilliant. Take the Republican party, for example. Their representatives have declared that climate change isn’t real, evolution isn’t proven, rape isn’t a problem, birth control isn’t necessary, and guns are great. And they still keep getting elected. Not that political parties need to be immersed in the latest science, but to claim as Bobby Jindal recently did that he has no opinion on evolution because he’s not a biological evolutionist makes you wonder if he has an opinion on gravity, having never studied Newton. Or for that matter, what’s his opinion on the speed of light?

Alas, we are enveloped in waves of such sophistries. For politicians to parrot a climate denier’s implausible assumptions or some Missouri popinjay’s insistence that rape isn’t real, is to insist on the kind of ignorance that  must be actively sought after, applauded, advanced. In fact, this kind of ignorance must be so cleverly calculated that it can compel workers to vote against their own interest, over and over, like what happened recently in Tennessee when Volkswagen allowed its workers to vote for union membership and they voted it down while holding placards produced by Americans for Prosperity, an Orwellian named front group designed to bust unions, among other things. Funded by the Koch brothers, natch.

The media enables the sideshow, of course. Talking heads like George F. Will lend a patina of Edwardian styled class to what is at best an intellectual Happy Meal. This despite actual journalism going on in the same paper (the Washington Post) pointedly refuting George Will’s erroneous claims:

“The new evidence — including satellite data showing that the average multiyear wintertime sea ice cover in the Arctic in 2005 and 2006 was nine feet thick, a significant decline from the 1980s — contradicts data cited in widely circulated reports by Washington Post columnist George F. Will that sea ice in the Arctic has not significantly declined since 1979.”

Thank you Juliet Eilperin and Mary Beth Sheridan of the Washington Post, for pointing out the obvious, but gratitude aside, what kind of editorial hack would allow a columnist to essentially make up facts, or, at minimum, distort interpretation such that the column says the exact opposite of what the science is trying to convey? Fred Hiatt, at the Washington Post, for one. The Wall Street Journal editorial page for another. Then of course, Fox News. But even the so-called liberal media usually gets the frame wrong for science disputes. When Republicans say there is no such thing as climate change, and Democrats reply that climate change is real, CNN and the like say, “Look, Democrats and Republicans are fighting again,” which is a kind of truth, but Gravity is real and so is climate change. Why not point that out? Maybe, as a followup question, someone could ask Republicans what their feelings are on black holes and whether or not the Earth revolves around the sun?

Last weekend, well over 310,000 climate activists descended on NYC out of pure frustration with this phenomena (estimates range from 310,000 to over 500,000). For years now, as the science community has essentially screamed that climate change is real, is happening, is dangerous and will cause untold millions to suffer and cost untold billions, our conservative politicians essentially said, “Meh” or “I can’t hear you.” Or they presented disingenuous arguments like Republican congressmen Rep. Steve Stockman from Texas who claimed sea level rise will not be an issue because when ice melts in a glass of water it does not overflow, failing to realize that much of the ice on the planet is on land and would run into the ocean. Jon Stewart spent a bit of time at Comedy Central schooling him (after asking repeatedly, “are you fucking kidding me?”), which might be funny, only Stockman happens to sit on the Science, Space, and Technology Committee for the US House of Representatives; and, as such, guides our national agenda. This is rather like putting a six-year-old intellect in charge of our national science priorities. I say this with apologies to six-year-olds everywhere.

Not all Republican climate deniers are too stupid to breathe, however. Those with a glimmer of intelligence fall back on various dodges and rationales provided by lobbyists from energy companies and PR firms whose roots were formed deep in other, older protracted public relations battles around tobacco and cigarettes. The Royal Society conducted a survey that found ExxonMobil had given $2.9 million dollars to such American groups that “misinformed the public about climate change,” 39 of which “misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence”. In 2006, the Royal Society issued a demand that ExxonMobil withdraw funding for climate change denial. The institution was ignored. Between 1989 and 2002 the Global Climate Coalition, a group of mainly United States businesses, used aggressive lobbying and public relations tactics to oppose action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight the Kyoto Protocol. The New York Times reported that “even as the coalition worked to sway opinion [towards skepticism], its own scientific and technical experts were advising that the science backing the role of greenhouse gases in global warming could not be refuted.” The lobbyists, of course, remained undeterred—their job wasn’t science, after all, it was persuasion. And they were good at their jobs.

Thanks to such work, politicians have reversed their positions and moved away from supporting efforts to push for renewables and other ways to lessen our carbon footprint. Consider this: the 2012 Republican nomination battle saw Romney, Gingrich, and Pawlenty all disavow their past support for climate science and climate protection. In one debate, Pawlenty was challenged on his climate change efforts as head of the National Governors Association and governor of Minnesota, and he replied: “It was a mistake, and I’m sorry … You’re going to have a few clunkers on your record, and we all do, and that’s one of mine. … I made a mistake.” As Newt Gingrich took heat for a TV ad in which he and Speaker Nancy Pelosi sat together and spoke on behalf of climate action, he repeatedly declared it was “the dumbest thing I’ve done in the last four years.” Mitt Romney, who prioritized climate change action as governor of Massachusetts, used his speech accepting the Republican nomination to take a dig at President Obama’s concern over climate change, then repeated the line on Meet the Press, insisting: “I’m not in this race to slow the rise of the oceans or to heal the planet.”

Scientists came to a decisive view on the dangers of global warming in the 1980s, the Reagan era, when faith in the power of unfettered markets surged and it was harder than ever to make the case for collective action, market regulation and a strong role for the state. But tough national and international regulations is exactly what the crisis requires. Conservatives fought this not only because it aligned them with wealthy corporations whose deep pockets enabled their candidacies, but because it also aligned with their general principle that less government was always better.

Worse, though, in the world of the conservative ideologue, there’s a growing conviction that an environmental scientist is a potential 5th columnist. They call this the ‘watermelon’ theory on the environmental movement, green on the outside, red on the inside, because any effort toward stronger regulations is socialist, apparently. Does your organically cleaned washroom breed Bolsheviks? This is delusional, to be sure, but delusional world views have real world consequences. Galileo was sentenced to house-arrest and died a broken man in 1642. Shortly before he died, imprisoned and exhausted, Galileo denied what he knew to be true and finally agreed with the Catholic church: okay, whatever, the Sun revolves around the Earth. No oceans failed or worlds boiled into oblivion because of his capitulation, which, of course, will be the consequences of denying that anthropocentric global warming is real.

By the way, the Catholic church did not admit that they had made a mistake on that little matter of the Earth revolving around the Sun until 1992.

Obama’s New Climate Initiative—And What He Didn’t Say

Global Development

Wedged somewhere between the SCOTUS decision dismantling section 4 of the Voting Rights Act and the other decisions from last week that more wisely struck down DOMA and Proposition 8 and just before Wendy Davis’ remarkable filibuster against a draconian Texas Bill (SB5) that would have closed abortion clinics across the state of Texas was a speech that might just save the planet. Naturally, the major cable outlets decided not to cover it.

At Georgetown University, last Tuesday, Obama delivered a true stemwinder on climate change, outlining the man made causes and reconfirming the scientific consensus. More importantly he emphasized the moral dimension of fighting climate change, arguing that preserving the environment for our children and our children’s children takes precedence over the convenient politics of today.

“Those of us in positions of responsibility, we’ll need to be less concerned with the judgment of special interests and well-connected donors and more concerned with the judgment of posterity,” Obama said, “because you and your children, and your children’s children, will have to live with the consequences of our decisions.

In an odd way, despite the awkward timing of his speech, landing smack in the middle of one of the busiest news cycles of the season, his argument is fitting, and consistent with the DOMA ruling and even Wendy Davis’ marvelous filibuster. They all spring from a similar sense of moral outrage.

Since the beginning of the Obama administration, main stream environmentalists have been playing a kind of hide and seek game with the administration who wanted to make the argument that environmentalism was economically efficient, without necessarily relying on the far more important point that lack of carbon caps could effectively destroy our planet.

In his big Tuesday speech, however, the President went full climate hawk, with an extensive discussion of climate science, extreme weather impacts, the absurdity of denial, and the moral urgency of action.
“The question is not whether we need to act,” Obama said in his speech at Georgetown University. “The question is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late.”

Couched within that context, Obama went on to strike a blow at polluting industries by announcing that the Executive branch EPA would start capping carbon output, regulating carbon like any other pollutant.

“Today about 40 percent of America’s carbon pollution comes from our power plants,” said the president, “Right now there are no limits to the amount of carbon pollutions those plants can dump into the air. None.”
“We’ve got to fix that… So today for the sake of our children and the health and safety of all Americans, I’m directing the Environmental Protection Agency to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants and complete new pollution standards for both new and existing power plants.”

All over the country, you could hear oil and coal executives’ anguished screams.

The really nice thing about this? It depends on Congress doing exactly nothing; which is excellent news since that has been their default position for the last 5 years. Instead, the EPA, an executive branch agency will carve into the carbon levels of new and existing plants forcing them to use carbon neutral technologies.

“We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society,” Obama quipped.

There’s more. Obama also called for an end to the public financing of new coal plants overseas:

“Today I’m calling for an end of public financing for new coal plants overseas, unless they deploy carbon capture technologies, or there’s no other viable way for the poorest countries to generate electricity. And I urge other countries to join this effort. I’m directing my administration to launch negotiations toward global free trade in environmental goods and services, including clean energy technology, to help more countries skip past the dirty phase of development and join a global, low-carbon economy.”

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune was cautiously optimistic, “President Obama is finally putting action behind his words.” He said, but he remained steadfast in his call for an end to the Keystone XL Pipeline, which wasn’t explicitly ruled out by the president, who said, “I know there’s been… a lot of controversy surrounding the proposal to build the pipeline, the Keystone pipeline that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf. And the State Department is going through the final stages of evaluating the proposal. That’s how it’s always been done.

But I do want to be clear. Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interests.

And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact — the net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. ”

To give you a sense of the stakes, the Keystone XL pipeline is not only a symbolic heart for the environmental movement in the U.S., but former NASA researcher and climate scientist James Hansen told the New York Times that if the Keystone pipeline were to go through it would be “game over for the climate.”

Outside of the Keystone Pipeline which remains an open question, environmentalists are also concerned about existing and upcoming trade agreements and what the President’s language on trade actually means. Again, it’s open for interpretation and the historical precedents aren’t favorable. The fact that no specific mention was made of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement which will likely be voted out this fall may be cause for concern. Sometimes what you don’t say is as important as what you do say.

Traditionally, free trade agreements like the kind the US is currently seeking to implement on the Pacific rim, the so-called TPP or Trans-Pacific Partnership grant foreign investors the power to sue governments in international tribunals for enforcing environmental laws. This is a problem. It’s also one reason why the Trans-Pacific Partnership is barely mentioned by this administration or the courtier press, even in speeches that explicitly address environmental issues. In fact, when the TPP is presented to congress it will likely be as a ‘fast-track’ piece of legislation which means no modifications will be allowed to the treaty and not much time for review of its thousand plus pages.

Again, this is a problem because such trade agreements have traditionally elevated individual corporations and investors to equal standing with each signatory country’s government.

For example, what’s known of the TPP so far would empower corporations to skirt national courts and sue our governments before tribunals of private sector lawyers under WTO jurisdiction; they could sue on such grounds as loss of ‘expected future profits.’

Most environmentalists can list on both hands the negative impact such rulings might have. The Department of Energy could lose its authority to regulate exports of natural gas to countries that have signed a “free trade” agreement with the U.S. The TPP could eliminate the government’s prerogative to determine whether the mass export of natural gas to TPP countries – including Japan, the world’s largest natural gas importer – is in the public interest. The resulting surge in natural gas exports would not only raise gas and electricity prices for consumers, but would ramp up the dangerous, chemical-laden practice of fracking.

But it’s actually worse than that. Not only could domestic agencies lose their teeth to effectively regulate. Such agencies, protectors of our public resources, our commons, can also be sued by corporations for interfering in profit driven trade.

Under current trade agreements, for example, governments have paid over $3 billion to foreign corporations in investor-state disputes under existing U.S. trade and investment deals. Over 85% has been handed to corporations attacking oil, mining, gas, and other environmental and natural resource regulatory policies. Exxon-Mobil just won a case over a Canadian province’s offshore oil regulations and a case has been filed against Quebec’s moratorium on fracking.

Corporations have also used investor-state cases as pressure tactics to avoid having to pay for environmental damages. Even the mere threat of an investor-state loss can pressure governments to weaken environmental and health policies.

In the 1990s, U.S. based Ethyl Corporation challenged a Canadian environmental ban of the gasoline additive MMT, considered a dangerous toxin, under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) investor-state provisions. Although many U.S. states ban the substance and the investor-state tribunal made no final ruling, an intermediate loss was enough to push the Canadian government to revoke the ban, settle with the foreign corporation for $13 million in taxpayer compensation and issue a public statement that the chemical was safe. No scientific evidence needed, apparently.

So it’s good to remember that along with Obama’s soaring rhetoric about our children’s future, and our moral obligation to ensure it, there are huge systemic issues at play, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Free Trade Agreements, in general, that are still not being talked about openly—in very specific ways.

The Carbon Cliff

NOAA - Artic Ice Fall

A wonderful photograph floated around the time of the 2008 bank bailout crisis, with an image of one of the big banks on Wall Street in front of which is a hand-held cardboard sign reading simply, “Jump, you fuckers”….The ongoing ‘serious people’ discussion surrounding the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ deserves the same response. Our social safety net doesn’t need cutting; our debt can survive just fine as it is (at least in the short-term), and if taxes go up on the wealthiest 2% in this country, so much the better. I’m sure Republicans will find the political will to reduce taxes for everyone below that threshold, once the ‘cliff’ has been summarily ‘crossed’; and if they don’t, come election time, we’ll find ourselves with that many fewer Republicans. Again, a winning situation. So, let’s not talk in fearful tones of the fiscal cliff—let’s instead talk about the much more important carbon cliff we’re about to step off.

Last week, in Doha, Qatar, the survival of the human race was being decided by diplomats from around the globe. You would never guess that from the press coverage the climate talks have garnered in the US media, which approaches nil. Yet the stakes are incredibly high. Much higher than the hand wringing kabuki surrounding the fiscal cliff. There is ample evidence that if nothing is done on the way to the carbon cliff, our comeuppance is going to be immediate and devastating– for ourselves and future generations. In fact, it’s already here. The unhappy statistics are well documented, and I posted some links below for those interested.

An unseasonably warm winter means children can swim in Lake Michigan in December, but we’ll suffer super droughts and super storms, with poorer undeveloped nations suffering disproportionately. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2012 will almost certainly be the hottest year on record for the continental US. “After a warmer-than-average November, only an exceptionally-cold December could prevent 2012 from being warmer than 1998, the year that currently holds the record. In 2012 Arctic sea ice also hit a record low, covering only 24 percent of the Arctic Ocean. The previous low was 29 percent, set in 2007. Additionally, the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere increased by 3 percent last year, which makes it almost impossible to keep global warming to only a couple degrees, according to climate scientists.”

In its World Energy Outlook report, the International Energy Agency cautions that, unless world leaders take bold action by 2017, all of the carbon emissions allowable by 2035 will be “locked in” by existing energy infrastructure. Indeed, both the IEA and professional-services firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers warn that business-as-usual emissions will cause an increase of 4-6 degrees this century. Moreover, the UN Environment Program’s recent Emissions Gap Report highlights the inadequacy of global carbon-reduction efforts, noting that the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has increased by 20% since 2000.

In the face of certain climate devastation, the talks at Doha were utterly supine. Rather than strengthen the Kyoto protocol, backers of Kyoto will dwindle from 2013 to a group including the European Union, Australia, Ukraine, Switzerland and Norway. Together they account for less than 15 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions.

Of the original Kyoto group — Russia, Japan and Canada — are pulling out, saying that it is time for big emerging economies led by China and India to join in setting targets for limiting their surging emissions. The United States, of course, signed but never ratified Kyoto.

The only silver lining? Under an extension agreement reached Saturday, there will be a possibility for tightening targets in 2013 and 2014. The conference agreed to hold a first session of talks from April 29 to May 2, 2013, in Bonn, Germany, perhaps another in September 2013, and at least two sessions in 2014 and two in 2015. In short, they kicked the carbon cliff can down the road.
The conference did not oblige developed nations to give a timetable about how they would achieve a promised tenfold increase in aid to $100 billion a year by 2020 (originally agreed to in 2009—by, among others, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton). In fact, with regard to financing, the focus shifted from building alternative energy infrastructure, carbon sequestering or mitigation to ways of salvaging civilization from the devastating effects of climate change AFTER it occurs.

Curiously, like our market driven healthcare system, rather than treating a diabetic’s diet we are waiting until the effects are so dire that the patient’s foot or leg needs amputation—and only then will we be willing to pay for it. This is the worst sort of short-term thinking, driven almost entirely by a narrow view of the immediate bottom line. With just a little political will and foresight we could set up a carbon tax, eliminate our ridiculous subsidies for fossil fuels (a perverse incentive if there ever was one), and use the subsequent freed up funds to invest heavily in solar, wind and other carbon free or carbon neutral technologies creating a green jobs boom in the bargain. The EU is well on the way with such a program, but the largest economy on Earth right now, next to China, has refused to budge. The result is inertia at talks where bold action was the only rational course: what amounts to a death wish for the world.
Jared Diamond author of Collapse has a video out in which he makes a point that is painfully obvious:

DIAMOND: “There are so many societies in which the elite made decisions that were good for themselves in the short run and ruined themselves and societies in the long run.

Why didn’t the Mayan kings just look out the windows of the Palaces and see the forests getting chopped down, soil being eroded down at the valley bottom. Why didn’t the kings say `stop it’? Well the kings had managed to insulate themselves from the consequences of their actions – in the short run. Even while the forests were being chopped down, they were still being fed well by the commoners, they were in their wonderful palaces. And the kings didn’t recognize that they were making a mess until it was too late, when the commoners rose in revolt.

Similarly, in the United States at present, the policies being pursued by too many wealthy people and decision makers are ones that — as in the case of the Mayan kings — preserve their interests in the short run but are disastrous in the long run.”

Meanwhile, our ridiculous media stoke fears of a politically generated fiscal cliff which is almost wholly fabricated in DC while ignoring the very real carbon cliff that increasingly threatens every citizen in the world.


For more information:

False Summit -by George Monbiot

“We were wrong about peak oil: there’s enough in the ground to deep-fry the planet.”

From: False Summit, by George Monbiot, Mon 2 Jul 2012:

“The facts have changed, now we must change too. For the past 10 years an unlikely coalition of geologists, oil drillers, bankers, military strategists and environmentalists has been warning that peak oil – the decline of global supplies – is just around the corner. We had some strong reasons for doing so: production had slowed, the price had risen sharply, depletion was widespread and appeared to be escalating. The first of the great resource crunches seemed about to strike.
Among environmentalists it was never clear, even to ourselves, whether or not we wanted it to happen. It had the potential both to shock the world into economic transformation, averting future catastrophes, and to generate catastrophes of its own, including a shift into even more damaging technologies, such as biofuels and petrol made from coal. Even so, peak oil was a powerful lever. Governments, businesses and voters who seemed impervious to the moral case for cutting the use of fossil fuels might, we hoped, respond to the economic case.
Some of us made vague predictions, others were more specific. In all cases we were wrong. In 1975 MK Hubbert, a geoscientist working for Shell who had correctly predicted the decline in US oil production, suggested that global supplies could peak in 1995. In 1997 the petroleum geologist Colin Campbell estimated that it would happen before 2010. In 2003 the geophysicist Kenneth Deffeyes said he was “99% confident” that peak oil would occur in 2004. In 2004, the Texas tycoon T Boone Pickens predicted that “never again will we pump more than 82m barrels” per day of liquid fuels. (Average daily supply in May 2012 was 91m.) In 2005 the investment banker Matthew Simmons maintained that “Saudi Arabia … cannot materially grow its oil production”. (Since then its output has risen from 9m barrels a day to 10m, and it has another 1.5m in spare capacity.)
Peak oil hasn’t happened, and it’s unlikely to happen for a very long time.
A report by the oil executive Leonardo Maugeri, published by Harvard University, provides compelling evidence that a new oil boom has begun. The constraints on oil supply over the past 10 years appear to have had more to do with money than geology. The low prices before 2003 had discouraged investors from developing difficult fields. The high prices of the past few years have changed that.
Maugeri’s analysis of projects in 23 countries suggests that global oil supplies are likely to rise by a net 17m barrels per day (to 110m) by 2020. This, he says, is “the largest potential addition to the world’s oil supply capacity since the 1980s”. The investments required to make this boom happen depend on a long-term price of $70 a barrel – the current cost of Brent crude is $95. Money is now flooding into new oil: a trillion dollars has been spent in the past two years; a record $600bn is lined up for 2012.
The country in which production is likely to rise most is Iraq, into which multinational companies are now sinking their money, and their claws. But the bigger surprise is that the other great boom is likely to happen in the US. Hubbert’s peak, the famous bell-shaped graph depicting the rise and fall of American oil, is set to become Hubbert’s Rollercoaster.
Investment there will concentrate on unconventional oil, especially shale oil (which, confusingly, is not the same as oil shale). Shale oil is high-quality crude trapped in rocks through which it doesn’t flow naturally.
There are, we now know, monstrous deposits in the United States: one estimate suggests that the Bakken shales in North Dakota contain almost as much oil as Saudi Arabia (though less of it is extractable). And this is one of 20 such formations in the US. Extracting shale oil requires horizontal drilling and fracking: a combination of high prices and technological refinements has made them economically viable. Already production in North Dakota has risen from 100,000 barrels a day in 2005 to 550,000 in January.
So this is where we are. The automatic correction – resource depletion destroying the machine that was driving it – that many environmentalists foresaw is not going to happen. The problem we face is not that there is too little oil, but that there is too much.
We have confused threats to the living planet with threats to industrial civilisation. They are not, in the first instance, the same thing. Industry and consumer capitalism, powered by abundant oil supplies, are more resilient than many of the natural systems they threaten. The great profusion of life in the past – fossilised in the form of flammable carbon – now jeopardises the great profusion of life in the present.
There is enough oil in the ground to deep-fry the lot of us, and no obvious means to prevail upon governments and industry to leave it in the ground. Twenty years of efforts to prevent climate breakdown through moral persuasion have failed, with the collapse of the multilateral process at Rio de Janeiro last month. The world’s most powerful nation is again becoming an oil state, and if the political transformation of its northern neighbour is anything to go by, the results will not be pretty.
Humanity seems to be like the girl in Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth: she knows that if she eats the exquisite feast laid out in front of her, she too will be consumed, but she cannot help herself. I don’t like raising problems when I cannot see a solution. But right now I’m not sure how I can look my children in the eyes.”
“Here are some of the things I try to fight: undemocratic power, corruption, deception of the public, environmental destruction, injustice, inequality and the misallocation of resources, waste, denial, the libertarianism which grants freedom to the powerful at the expense of the powerless, undisclosed interests, complacency.”

Going into 2012

As things settle down after the holidays, we get back into gear by planning for a new year and contemplating the time that’s rushing past us, so I think both of these articles are good.

Why Libertarians Must Deny Climate Change
George Monbiot highlights the dichotomy between the ideology and practice of conservatives dealing with property rights and environmental issues. They can’t have their cake and eat it too. “This is the point at which libertarianism smacks into the wall of gritty reality and crumples like a Coke can.”

In Commemorating Our Soon-to-Be Lost Vernacular, David Sirota thinks of his one-year-old son and considers the loss of a “harrowing 10”. Starting 2012 with a list like this is to say we have our work cut out for us!

Welcome back. I hope your last two weeks were great!

By the way, APV is having a January fund drive to raise $1,000. Click here to see how well we’re doing, and donate if you like!

The Alliance for Progressive Values’ statement on the August 23rd 2011 East Coast Earthquake and its significance in the debate over Nuclear Power.

The Alliance for Progressive Values’ statement on the August 23rd 2011 East Coast Earthquake and its significance in the debate over Nuclear Power.

Just before 2 p.m. on the afternoon of August 23rd an earthquake, centered near Mineral, Virginia, but felt as far away as New York City and Boston struck the East Coast of the United States. The quake has been measured at between a 5.8 and 5.9 on the Richter scale, making it a strong seismic event. While initial reports indicated that the quake occurred comparatively near the earth’s surface and caused little immediately visible damage and no loss of life, it raises serious questions nonetheless about the ability of the many nuclear power facilities in the affected area to withstand a severely disruptive seismic event.

The power industry has been quick to down play the chances of any particular event happening in any particular year. They have lauded their safety measures in the “remote” event such a disaster did occur and a reactor was damaged, and they have consistently minimized the impact of such damage on the communities near the facilities. Until very recently the threat of earthquakes to plants in the Eastern region of the country has been ignored. Yet a study commission by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2005 (and still not completed), on seismic hazards to the domestic commercial nuclear power industry identified serious concerns with two dozen plants, mostly in the Midwest and East. The study expresses specific concerns over a magnitude 6 earthquake occurring and quote “surprising us” in the East. In August of 2010 the NRC released estimates of the risks associated with the nation’s 104 existing commercial facilities: of the top ten reactors in the most danger of damage from earthquake, nine (9) were in the East including the North Anna site in Virginia whose risk factor increased by 38%. In light of these factors and the ongoing catastrophic events in Japan stemming from the earthquake/tsunami/meltdown less than six months ago, and with the repeated questions about security, design and fail-safe issues that continue to dog the industry, APV believes it is time to step back and seriously reconsider the future of nuclear power in Virginia and in the United States.

In Virginia, the two reactors at the aging North Anna nuclear power plant in Louisa County (7 out of 10 on the NRC risk list) shut down during the quake. The North Anna facility lost outside power and was forced to use its diesel generators (one of which failed), to power the pumps that keep the fuel rods from overheating and the reactor from melting down. Dominion Power, which operates the plant at North Anna, claims that the generators can provide enough electricity to supply power to emergency safety systems indefinitely, but of course this presupposes that the generators themselves have not been damaged and have enough fuel to operate, and that the Lake Anna Dam which supplies water to the plant has not been damaged as well, neither of which is assured during an ongoing disaster. Had the quake’s damage to local roads and rail lines been more severe, as is often the case in major seismic events, we might now be counting down the hours until the generators ceased to work and a crisis ensued. North Anna sits a mere forty (40) miles northwest of the state capitol in Richmond (metropolitan area population 1.2 million). Moving such a large group of people in the short time frame generated by a possible core meltdown would be nearly impossible under the best of circumstances, and in the event of a serious emergency (earthquake, hurricane, tornadoes) with transportation, communications and other logistical apparatus compromised, the idea of mass evacuations is simply laughable. And Richmond is not alone. There’s a nuclear plant fifty (50) miles outside of the nation’s capitol in Maryland, and the Indian Point facility (Ramapo Fault Line), is within twenty five (25) miles of the New York City skyline (8.3 million people). Twelve (12) facilities from North Carolina to Michigan reported unusual events on the 23rd. We can be glad that no serious damage appears to have been done this time, but we cannot remain complacent in the face of real threats.

As the catastrophe in Fukushima prefecture illustrates, large scale, devastating events do occur. These are not hypothetical worst case scenarios. The Surry plant in southeastern Virginia shut down in April of 2011 due to damage from tornadoes. While earthquakes are not common on the East Coast, they are clearly not unheard of as recent events prove and the North Anna plant (which Dominion Power is planning to expand), was built directly on the Spotsylvania Fault Line that runs through central Virginia. The Mid-Atlantic is prone to hurricanes the severity and frequency of which are predicted to rise in the future due to global climate change. Again, in the event of possible widespread damage to infrastructure in affected areas, there are legitimate questions about how well the emergency measures for the facilities will perform.

Nuclear technology is inherently unsafe. Even under the best of circumstances the reactors are incredibly complex systems designed to use some of the most dangerous substances in the world to essentially boil water. Even with multiple safe guards, things can go wrong, the unexpected can happen, a series of small events can cascade out of control in a short time and very bad things can occur, affecting large populations and national and international economies.

To the existing and very real dangers posed by tornadoes, hurricanes, forest fires, flooding, terrorist attacks, design flaws and human error we must now reconsider the threat of damage from earthquakes. The North Anna plant was rated to withstand an earthquake of 5.9 to 6.2, the East Coast quake was variously reported at 5.8, 5.9 and 6.0. We can’t know exactly what the seismic readings at the plant were during the quake since the equipment used to measure and collect the data was removed over a decade ago because of budget cuts.

Nuclear energy is not clean (uranium mining is dangerous to the environment, local populations and the miners doing the digging, and there is still no widely accepted long term plan for storing the deadly radioactive waste the reactors produce).

Nuclear energy is not safe (reactors are tempting targets for terrorist sabotage or theft of nuclear material).

Nuclear energy is not cheap (nuclear energy costs a fortune to develop and still requires subsidies to keep rates competitive, and when one factors in the price of clean-up following an accident the cost skyrockets).

The events of August 23rd 2011 should be a wake up call for the people of Virginia and the nation as a whole to rethink in what direction we should go with our energy future. We will be told that because nothing very bad happened this time, that we can ignore the looming threat posed by an energy system predicated on the perpetual control of highly unstable radioactive materials by fallible humans. The Alliance for Progressive Values suggests a moratorium on further plant construction until more study can be done into minimizing the dangers posed by already existing plants and with an eye to their eventual decommission. We call for a renewed emphasis on clean, renewable, non-centralized sources of energy like wind, solar and tidal to power our state and nation in the 21st century.

In our relief at the relative lack of harm done by the east coast quake, let us not lose sight of the lesson we have been taught.

Stephanie Rodriguez, President, Alliance for Progressive Values.

BREAD – A Warning Ignored

Detail of George Segal's "Depression Bread Line" at Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ

Tomgram: Christian Parenti, Staff of Life, Bread of Death

And this, the experts tell us, is only the beginning.  The price of our loaf of bread is forecast to increase by up to 90% over the next 20 years. That will mean yet more upheavals, more protest, greater desperation, heightened conflicts over water, increased migration, roiling ethnic and religious violence, banditry, civil war, and (if past history is any judge) possibly a raft of new interventions by imperial and possibly regional powers.

And how are we responding to this gathering crisis?

Well, there’s room for improvement. In fact, our contribution of military aggression seems to be counter-productive. Realizing the nature and causes of regional hunger is critical to predicting violent conflict and government failure at home and elsewhere. Our humanitarian fabric is weakened by state policy. Fleeing hunger, a move to survive, is an unraveling condition forced on our neighbors in the world today, and unheeded, unattended will certainly be part of our undoing.

“Already the poorest on this planet spend 80% of what incomes they have on food staples and those prices are expected to double in the next two decades.”

This is a good article that includes Breaking Bread – a TOMCAST EPISODE with Christian Parenti discussing critical issues that cause hunger, and his well received new book. Climate change, crop shortages, drug cash, state policy and violent conflict are merged into a recipe for disaster – a warning that should not be ignored.

A recent case in point, the mass exodus of starving Somalis is here.

A Solstice Approaches, Unnoticed ~ by James Carroll

Have we “lost our grip on the knowledge with which we became human: our familiarity with the physical universe we live in”? If so, we have this day in common and can celebrate a great opportunity to “Pay attention!”

A Solstice Approaches, Unnoticed
by James Carroll

Global warming is burning down the American West – Global warming –

You know it’s funny how all we hear is this talk of rugged individualism and the solitary, “don’t tread on me” ethos of the West, and then when their states catch fire it’s all about the scramble for federal aide from the elitist blue states on the coasts.  Talkin’ secession out of one side of your mouth and asking for more federal dollars from the other may fly in Texas, but it’s getting pretty old back east.  Make no mistake, we’re all Americans, and we help each other when we’re in need, that’s our way, but one gets a little tired of being lectured about the “junk science” of climate change by people who swear the earth is 6,000 years old and then being asked to bail them out when the golf course they built in the middle of the desert burns down.

Global warming is burning down the American West – Global warming –