Category Archives: Nuclear Energy

Dr. Chris Wright: “Critical and Informed Thinking Is Dangerous to the Powerful”

Mohsen Abdelmoumen: You wrote Worker Cooperatives and Revolution where you talk about workers’ cooperatives. In this fascinating book, we note your optimism about the coming of a new era where the human is at the center. You give the example of the cooperative New Era Windows, in Chicago. In your opinion, are we in a new era where the union of workers in the form of a cooperative will shape the future of the world?

Dr. Chris Wright: I think I may have been a little too optimistic in that book about the potential of worker cooperatives. On the one hand, Marx was right that cooperatives “represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new.” They’re microcosmic socialism, since socialism is just workers’ democratic control of economic activity, which is essentially what cooperatives are. Even in the large Mondragon firms that have seen some conflicts between workers and the elected management, there is still vastly more democracy (and more equal pay) than in a typical large capitalist enterprise.

Moreover, there’s an expanding movement in the U.S and elsewhere to seed new cooperatives and promote the transformation of existing capitalist firms into co-ops (which, incidentally, are often more productive, profitable, and longer-lasting than conventional businesses). Countless activists are working to spread a cooperative ethos and build a wide range of democratic, anti-capitalist institutions, from businesses to housing to political forms like participatory budgeting. (Websites like Shareable.net and Community-Wealth.org provide information on this movement.) This whole emerging “solidarity economy” is really what interested me when I was writing the book, though I focused on worker co-ops. I was struck that the very idea of a socialist society is just the solidarity economy writ large, in that all or the majority of institutions according to both visions are supposed to be communal, cooperative, democratic, and non-exploitative.

It’s true, though, that a new society can’t emerge from grassroots initiative alone. Large-scale political action is necessary, since national governments have such immense power. Unless you can transform state policy so as to facilitate economic democratization, you’re not going to get very far. Cooperatives alone can’t get the job done. You need radical political parties, mass confrontations with capitalist authorities, every variety of disruptive “direct action,” and it will all take a very, very long time. Social revolutions on the global scale we’re talking about take generations, even centuries. It probably won’t take as long as the European transition from feudalism to capitalism, but none of us will see “socialism” in our lifetime.

Marxists like to criticize cooperatives and the solidarity economy for being only interstitial, somewhat apolitical, and not sufficiently confrontational with capitalism, but, as I argue in the book, this criticism is misguided. A socialist transformation of the country and the world will take place on many levels, from the grassroots to the most ambitiously statist. And all the levels will reinforce and supplement each other. As the cooperative sector grows, more resources will be available for “statist” political action; and as national politics becomes more left-wing, state policy will promote worker takeovers of businesses. There’s a role for every type of leftist activism.

MA: Do you not think that the weakening of the trade union movement in the USA and elsewhere in the world further encourages the voracity of the capitalist oligarchy that dominates the world? Does not the working class throughout the world have a vital need for a great trade union movement?

CW: The working class desperately needs reinvigorated unions. Without strong unions, you get the most rapacious and misanthropic form of capitalism imaginable, as we’ve seen in the last forty years. Unions, which can be the basis for political parties, have always been workers’ most effective means of defense and even offense. In the U.S., it was only after the Congress of Industrial Organizations had been founded in the late 1930s that a mass middle class, supported by industrial unions with millions of members, could emerge in the postwar era. Unions were important funders and organizers of the American Civil Rights Movement, and they successfully pushed for expansion of the welfare state and workplace safety regulations. They can serve as powerful allies of environmentalists. It’s hard to imagine a livable future if organized labor isn’t resurrected and empowered.

But I don’t think there can be a return of the great postwar paradigm of industry-wide collective bargaining and nationwide social democracy. Capital has become too mobile and globalized; durable class compromises like that aren’t possible anymore. In the coming decades, the most far-reaching role of unions will be more revolutionary: to facilitate worker takeovers of businesses, the formation of left-wing political parties, popular control of industry, mass resistance to the global privatization and austerity agenda, expansion of the public sphere, construction of international workers’ alliances, etc.

Actually, I think that, contrary to old Marxist expectations, it’s only in the 21st century that humanity is finally entering the age of the great apocalyptic battles between labor and capital. Marx didn’t foresee the welfare state and the Keynesian compromise of the postwar period. Now that those social forms are deteriorating, organized labor can finally take up its revolutionary calling. If it and its allies fail, there’s only barbarism ahead.

MA: Your book Finding Our Compass: Reflections on a World in Crisis asks a fundamental question, namely, do we live in a real democracy?

CW: We certainly don’t. None of us do. The U.S. has democratic forms, but substantively it’s very undemocratic. Even mainstream political science recognizes this: studies have shown that the large majority of the population has essentially zero impact on policy, because they don’t have enough money to influence politicians or hire lobbyists. Practically the only way for them to get their voices heard is to disrupt the smooth functioning of institutions, such as through strikes or civil disobedience. We’ve seen this with the gilets jaunes protests in France, and we saw it when air traffic controllers refused to work and thus ended Donald Trump’s government shutdown in January 2019. We live in an oligarchy, a global oligarchy, which isn’t constrained much by the normal “democratic” process of voting.

But voting can be an important tool of resistance, especially if there are genuine oppositional candidates (like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example). In that case, society can start to become a little more democratic. So it remains essential for the left to organize electorally, even if it will take a while for there to be a big policy payoff.

MA: Do you not think a new crisis of capitalism is in progress? Does not the capitalist system generate crises?

CW: I’m not an economist, but anyone can see that capitalism has a deep-rooted tendency to generate crises. There’s a long tradition of Marxist scholarship explaining why crises of overproduction and underconsumption (among other causes) repeatedly savage capitalist economies; David Harvey, Robert Brenner, and John Bellamy Foster are some recent scholars who have done good work on the subject. A lot of it comes down to the fact that “excessive capitalist empowerment,” to quote Harvey, leads to “wage repression” that limits aggregate demand, which constrains growth. For a while the problem doesn’t really appear because people can borrow, and are forced to borrow more and more. But accumulation of debt can’t go on forever if there’s no growth of underlying income. Huge credit bubbles appear as borrowing gets out of control and capitalists invest their colossal wealth in financial speculation, and the bubbles inevitably collapse. Then things like the Great Depression and the Great Recession happen.

As horrible as economic crises are, leftists should recognize, as Marx did, that at least they present major opportunities for organizing. It’s only in the context of long-term crisis and a decline of the middle class that there can be a transition to a new society, because crisis forces people to come together and press for radical solutions. It also destroys huge amounts of wealth, which can thin the ranks of the hyper-elite. And the enormous social discontent that results from crisis can weaken reactionary resistance to reform, as during the 1930s in the U.S. (On the other hand, fascism can also take power in such moments, unless leftists seize the initiative.)

There is no hope without crisis. That’s the paradoxical, “dialectical” lesson of Marxism.

MA: You wrote an article about Obama’s mediocrity. Don’t you think that the current US President Donald Trump is competing with Obama in mediocrity?

CW: In the competition over who’s most mediocre, few people hold a candle to Trump. He’s just a pathetic non-entity, an almost impossibly stupid, ignorant, narcissistic, self-pitying, cruel, vulgar little embodiment of all that’s wrong with the world. He’s so far beneath contempt that even to talk about him is already to lower oneself. So in that sense, I suppose he’s a suitable ‘leader’ of global capitalism. Obama at least is a good family man, and he’s intelligent. But he’s almost as lacking in moral principles as Trump, and he has no moral courage at all. I don’t know what to say about someone who announced in 2014, as Israel was slaughtering hundreds of children in Gaza, that Israel has a right to defend itself, and went on to approve the shipment of arms to that criminal nation right in the midst of its Gaza massacre. He’s a self-infatuated megalomaniac without morality.

MA: You wrote in one of your articles that the US government considers its citizens as enemies by using generalized surveillance. Does not the real danger come from this system which spies on everyone?

CW: I think Glenn Greenwald is right that few things are more pernicious than an expansive “national security” state. Surveillance is a key part of it, facilitating the persecution of protesters, dissenters, immigrants, and Muslims. The so-called “law and order” state is a lawless state of extreme disorder, in which power can operate with impunity. It begins to approach fascism.

One danger of the surveillance state is that it might operate like Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon: because people don’t know when they’re being watched or targeted, they monitor and regulate themselves all the time. They avoid stepping out of line, being obedient drudges and consumers. Any misstep might sweep them up in the black hole of the police state’s bureaucracy. So they internalize subservience. Of course, in our society there are many other ways of making people internalize subservience. Surveillance is only one, though a particularly vicious and dangerous one.

Another reason to be concerned is that internet companies’ ability to “spy” on users allows them to censor content, whether on their own initiative or from political pressure. Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other such companies are constantly censoring leftists (and some on the right) and deleting their accounts. Critics of Israeli crimes are especially vulnerable, but they’re hardly alone. The only real way to solve this problem would be to make internet companies publicly owned, because private entities can do virtually whatever they want with their own property. It’s absurd that leftists can connect and coordinate and build movements only subject to the approval of Mark Zuckerberg and other corporate fascists. It’s also terrifying that a surveillance alliance can develop between corporate behemoths and governments. That’s another feature of fascism.

MA: How do you see the inhuman treatment of Julian Assange and the persecution of him by the British and American administrations?

CW: As left-wing commentators have said, the persecution of Assange is an assault on journalism itself, and on the very idea of challenging the powerful or holding them to account. In that sense, it’s an assault on democracy. But that’s pretty much always what power-structures are doing, trying to undermine democracy and expand their own power, so the vicious treatment of Assange is hardly a surprise. But I doubt that the U.S. and Britain will be able to win their war on journalism in the long run. There are just too many good journalists out there, too many activists, too many people of conscience.

MA: This capitalist society is based on consumption but boasts of concepts such as “freedom of expression”, “human rights”, “democracy”, etc. Don’t we live rather in a fascist system?

CW: I wouldn’t say the West’s political economy is truly fascist. It has fascist tendencies, and it certainly cares nothing for freedom of expression, human rights, or democracy. But civil society is too vibrant and gives too many opportunities for left-wing political organizing to say that we live under fascism. The classical fascism of Italy and Germany was far more extreme than anything we’re experiencing now, especially in the U.S. or Western Europe. We don’t have brownshirts marching in the streets, concentration camps for radicals, assassinations of political and union leaders, or total annihilation of organized labor. There’s still freedom to publish dissenting views.

But major power-structures in the U.S. would love to see fascism of some sort and are working hard to get there. And they have armies of useful idiots to do their bidding. American “libertarians,” for example, of whom there are untold millions, are essentially fascist without knowing it: they want to eliminate the welfare state and regulations of business activity so as to unfetter entrepreneurial genius and maximize “liberty.” They somehow don’t see that in this scenario, corporations, being opposed by no countervailing forces, would completely take over the state and inaugurate the most barbarous and global tyranny in history. The natural environment would be utterly destroyed and most life on Earth would end.

In one sense of fascism, Marxists from the 1920s and 1930s would, as you suggest, say we do live in a rather fascist system. For them, the term denoted the age of big business, or, more precisely, the near-fusion of business with the state. Insofar as society approached a capitalist dictatorship, it was approaching fascism. We don’t literally live under that kind of dictatorship, but without determined resistance it could well be our future.

MA: Isn’t there a need to reread Karl Marx? How do you explain the disappearance of critical thinking in Western society?

CW: I actually think there’s a lot of critical thinking in Western society. The rise of “democratic socialism” in the U.S. is evidence of this, as is the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. The left is growing internationally — although the right is too. But insofar as society suffers from a dearth of critical thinking, the reasons aren’t very obscure. Critical and informed thinking is dangerous to the powerful, so they do all they can to discourage it. Lots of studies have probed the methods of corporate and state indoctrination of the public, and the enormous scale of it. Noam Chomsky is famous for his many investigations of how the powerful “manufacture consent”; one of the lessons of his work is that the primary function of the mass media is to keep people ignorant and distracted. If important information about state crimes is suppressed, as it constantly is, and instead the powerful are continually glorified, well then people will tend to be uninformed and perhaps too supportive of the elite. It’s more fun, anyway, to play with phones and apps and video games and watch TV shows.

The mechanisms by which the business class promotes “stupidity” and ignorance are pretty transparent. Just look at any television commercial, or watch CNN or Fox News. It’s pure propaganda and infantilization.

As for Karl Marx: there’s always a need to read Marx, and to reread him. He and Chomsky are probably the two most incisive political analysts in history. But Marx was such an incredible writer too that he’s a sheer joy to read, and endlessly stimulating and inspiring. He rejuvenates you. (His political pamphlets on France, for instance, are stylistic and analytic masterpieces.) Besides, you simply can’t understand capitalism or history itself except through the lens of historical materialism, as I’ve argued elsewhere.

Of course, Marx wasn’t right about everything. In particular, his conception and timeline of socialist revolution were wrong. The “revolution,” if it happens, will, as I said earlier, be very protracted, since the worldwide replacing of one dominant mode of production by another doesn’t happen in a couple of decades. Even just on a national scale, the fact that modern nations exist in an international economy means socialism can’t evolve in one country without evolving in many others at the same time.

I can’t go into detail on how Marx got revolution wrong (as in his vague but overly statist notion of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”), but in Worker Cooperatives and Revolution I devote a couple of chapters to it. It’s unfortunate that most contemporary Marxists are so doctrinaire they consider it sacrilege if you try to update or rethink an aspect of historical materialism to make it more appropriate to conditions in the 21st century, which Marx could hardly have foreseen. They’re certainly not honoring the Master by thinking in terms of rigid dogma, whether orthodox Marxist or Leninist or Trotskyist.

MA: You are a humanist and the human condition is central in your work. Are you optimistic about the future of humanity?

CW: Frankly, no, I’m not. The forces of darkness just have too much power. And global warming is too dire a threat, and humanity is doing too little to address it. It’s worth reflecting that at the end of the Permian age, 250 million years ago, global warming killed off almost all life. If we don’t do something about it very soon, by the end of the century there won’t be any organized civilization left to protect.

And then there’s the problem of billions of tons of plastic waste polluting the world, and of the extinction of insects “threatening the collapse of nature,” and of dangerous imperialistic conflicts between great powers, and so on. I don’t see much reason for optimism.

We know how to address global warming, for example. But the fossil fuel industry and, ironically, environmentalists are acting so as to increase the threat. According to good scientific research, as reported in the new book A Bright Future (among many others), it’s impossible to solve global warming without exponentially expanding the use of nuclear power. (Contrary to popular opinion, nuclear power is generally very safe, reliable, effective, and environmentally friendly.) Renewable energy can’t get the job done. The world has spent over $2 trillion on renewables in the last decade, but carbon emissions are still rising! That level of investment in nuclear energy, which is millions of times more concentrated and powerful than diffuse solar and wind energy, could have put us well on the way to solving global warming. Instead, the crisis is getting much worse. Renewables are so intermittent and insufficient that countries are still massively investing in fossil fuels, which are incomparably more destructive than nuclear.

But the left is adamant against nuclear power, and it’s very hard even to publish an article favorable to it. Only biased and misinformed articles are published, with some exceptions. So the left is working to exacerbate global warming, just as the right is. Why? Ultimately for ideological reasons: most leftists like the idea of decentralization, dispersed power, community control of energy, and anti-capitalism, and these values seem more compatible with solar and wind energy than nuclear. The nuclear power industry isn’t exactly a model of transparency, democracy, or political integrity.

But the Guardian environmental columnist George Monbiot is right: sometimes you have to go with a lesser evil in order to avoid a greater one, in this case the collapse of civilization and probably most life on Earth. Is that a price environmentalists are willing to pay so they can preen themselves on their political virtue? So far, it seems the answer is yes.

We humans have to break free of our tribal ways, our herd-thinking ways. We have to be more willing to think critically, self-critically, and stop being so complacent and conformist. The younger generation, actually, seems to be leading the way, for instance with the Extinction Rebellion and all the exciting forms of activism springing up everywhere. But we still have a terribly long way to go.

I haven’t lost hope, but I’m not sanguine. The next twenty or thirty years will be the most decisive in human history.

Renewable Energy Is Not the Answer; Nuclear Is

“It’s always a good idea to start by asking about the facts.” So advises Noam Chomsky. “Whenever you hear anything said very confidently, the first thing that should come to mind is, ‘Wait a minute, is that true?’” De omnibus dubitandum—doubt everything—was Karl Marx’s motto and should be the motto of every thinking person. Question even or especially what the tribe most takes for granted.

In the era of climate change, when fossil fuels are known to be driving civilization straight into the ocean, the idea that liberal and left-wing tribes take most for granted is “Renewable energy!” It is shouted confidently from every public perch. Renewable energy, scaled up to replace fossil fuels and even nuclear, is declared the only possible salvation for humanity. It has such obvious advantages over every other energy source that the world has to go 100% renewables ASAP.

Obviously!

But wait a minute—is that true?

Let’s try to shed the religious thinking, look objectively at the facts, and come to a conclusion about this most important of subjects: how to power the future and hopefully save the world.

Renewable energy emits greenhouse gases

First, consider the claim that renewable energy has no carbon emissions. This is true, in a sense, for wind and solar farms (as it is for nuclear energy), which in themselves emit virtually no greenhouse gases. It isn’t true for hydropower, however, which in 2016 produced 71% of all electricity generated by renewable sources. According to one study, hydroelectric dams worldwide emit as much methane (a potent greenhouse gas) as Canada, from decaying vegetation and nutrient runoff. Another study concluded they produce even more carbon dioxide than methane.

“These are massive emissions,” one expert comments. “There are a massive number of dams that are currently proposed to be built. It would be a grave mistake to continue to finance those with the impression that they were part of the solution to the climate crisis.”

And yet in every scenario projected by renewables advocates, hydropower is absolutely essential. For instance, Stanford Professor Mark Jacobson’s famous—and deeply flawed—proposal to run the U.S. on 100% renewables by 2050 assumes the country’s dams could add turbines and transformers to produce 1,300 gigawatts of electricity, over 16 times their current capacity of 80 gigawatts. (According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the maximum capacity that could be added is only 12 gigawatts, 1,288 gigawatts short of Jacobson’s assumption.)

The International Energy Agency projects that by 2023, wind and solar together will satisfy a mere 10% of global electricity demand, while hydroelectric power will satisfy 16%. Nearly all the rest will be produced by fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

Burning biomass, too, which is a renewable energy source, releases large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. “It does exactly the opposite of what we need to do: reduce emissions,” says an expert in forest science and management.

Even leaving aside hydropower and biomass, the use of wind and solar dramatically increases greenhouse gas emissions compared to nuclear energy. This is because, given the intermittency and the diluted nature of solar and wind energy, a backup source of power is needed, and that source is natural gas. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a guru of the renewables movement, himself acknowledges this fact:

We need about 3,000 feet of altitude, we need flat land, we need 300 days of sunlight, and we need to be near a gas pipe. Because for all of these big utility-scale solar plants—whether it’s wind or solar—everybody is looking at gas as the supplementary fuel. The plants that we’re building, the wind plants and the solar plants, are gas plants.

The burning of natural gas; i.e., methane, emits about half as much carbon dioxide as the burning of coal. So natural gas is better than coal, but not nearly good enough if we want to solve climate change. Even worse, many millions of tons of unburned methane are leaked every year from the American oil and gas industry—and methane is more than 80 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide. So these leaks cancel out much of the environmental good that wind and solar farms are supposedly doing.

In other words, the fact that wind and solar farms typically operate far below their capacity (because of seasonal changes and the unreliability of weather) necessitates that a more reliable power source “supplement” them. In fact, as researchers Mike Conley and Tim Maloney point out, strictly speaking it is the renewable source that acts as a supplement for the oil or natural gas plants linked to the renewables. A solar farm with a capacity of one gigawatt, for instance, will on average operate at only about 20% of its capacity, which means that if a gigawatt of energy is really to be produced, the majority will have to be provided by the “backup” fossil fuel plant(s).

The upshot is that an anti-nuclear and pro-renewables policy means an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

California is a good example. Like other states in the U.S and countries in the Western world, it has been closing its nuclear power plants—despite their safety, reliability, effectiveness, and environmental friendliness. The carbon-free nuclear plants have been replaced with renewables + natural gas, which is to say, they’ve been replaced mostly with natural gas (prone to methane leaks). After it closed the San Onofre nuclear plant in 2013, California missed its CO2 emissions targets as a result.

In New England, after the premature closing of the nuclear power plant Vermont Yankee in 2014, CO2 emission rates rose across New England, reversing a decade of declines. When Massachusetts’ last remaining nuclear plant, Pilgrim, closed last month, much more electricity generation was lost than the state generates with all its solar, wind, and hydropower combined. Several new fossil fuel plants and a couple of small solar and wind farms will take the place of Pilgrim, increasing carbon dioxide emissions.

In their new book A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow, Joshua Goldstein and Staffan Qvist give other examples. Between 1970 and 1990, due to its construction of nuclear power plants, Sweden was able to cut its carbon emissions by half even as its electricity consumption more than doubled. Germany, by contrast, emits about twice as much carbon pollution per person as Sweden despite using one-third less energy per person, because it has chosen to phase out its nuclear power while introducing renewables.

This means that Germany has simply substituted one (relatively) clean energy source for another, while doing virtually nothing to decarbonize. Its energy production remains dominated by coal, and greenhouse gas emissions are around a billion tons a year.

A more sensible policy would have been to build more nuclear plants and phase out coal. Or at least to let the existing nuclear plants continue to operate while adding renewables, which then would have displaced coal.

ExxonMobil likes renewable energy

The fact that renewable energy directly and indirectly causes far more greenhouse gas emissions than nuclear should already tell us it isn’t a solution to climate change.

Indeed, the willingness of the oil and gas industry in recent years to promote and invest in renewables is itself significant. Over the last three years, the five largest publicly traded oil and gas companies have invested over a billion dollars in advertising and lobbying for renewables. “Natural gas is the perfect partner for renewables,” ads say. “See why #natgas is a natural partner for renewable power sources,” Shell tweets.

By pretending to care about the environment, these companies not only burnish their reputations but also are able to associate natural gas with clean energy, which it very much is not. The formula “renewables + natural gas” thus serves a dual purpose. In fact, it serves a triple purpose: it also distracts from nuclear power, which, unlike renewables, is an immediately viable alternative to oil and gas.

Nuclear power, not renewable energy, is what the fossil fuel industry really fears. The reason is simple: the energy in nuclear fuel is orders of magnitude more concentrated than the energy in oil, gas, coal, and every other source. (Which is why nuclear reactors produce vastly less waste than everything from coal to solar.) If governments invested in a global Nuclear New Deal, so to speak, they could make fossil fuels largely obsolete within a couple of decades. Not even Mark Jacobson’s wildly unrealistic $15-20 trillion 100% renewables plan envisions such a fast transition.

Because of the diffuse and intermittent nature of wind and solar energy, all the world’s investment in renewables didn’t prevent the share of low-carbon power in generating electricity from declining between 1995 and 2017. Western countries’ shuttering of nuclear power plants in these decades was a disaster for the environment.

Another way to appreciate the disaster is to consider that global carbon emissions are actually rising, even as the world spent roughly $2 trillion on wind and solar between 2007 and 2016. (This is similar to the amount spent on nuclear in the past 55 years.) So much for the gospel of renewable energy!

Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry has been smiling on the sidelines, giving millions of dollars to groups like the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, and many others that work to kill nuclear power and thus exacerbate climate change. (Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are particularly active in the war on nuclear—and they refuse to disclose their donors. Could it be because they receive an unseemly amount from oil and gas companies?)

We have eleven years

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 special report, we have eleven years left to avoid potentially irreversible climate disruption.

António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, has called on global leaders to “demonstrate how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent over the next decade and achieve net zero global emissions by 2050.” They’re supposed to meet in New York in September 2019 to answer this call.

The only conceivable way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the scale called for is to aggressively embrace nuclear power. It is cost-competitive with all other forms of electricity generation except natural gas—although if you take into account the long-term environmental costs of using natural gas (or oil or even renewables), nuclear is probably the cheapest of all.

A worldwide rollout of nuclear power plants on the scale necessary to save civilization would certainly take longer than eleven years, but we can at least make substantial progress by then. If, that is, we pressure our governments to stop subsidizing oil, natural gas, and the renewables they go hand-in-hand with and instead massively invest in nuclear.

It’s time to stop doing the bidding of fossil fuel interests and get serious about saving the world.

It’s Time to Embrace Nuclear Energy

It is a tragic irony of the contemporary environmentalist movement that in its opposition to nuclear energy, it is doing the bidding of the fossil fuel industry and increasing the likelihood of climate apocalypse. This is the inescapable implication of the new book A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow, by Joshua S. Goldstein and Staffan A. Qvist. The anti-nuclear stance to which Green Parties, for example, are so fervently committed may seem enlightened, but, in fact, it is dangerous and destructive. What an informed environmentalist movement would demand above all is a rapid and globally coordinated acceleration of nuclear power plant construction, ideally at a rate of 500 or even 750 new reactors a year. This would set us on track to completely eliminate fossil fuels from the world’s electricity generation within a couple of decades, as well as displacing coal as a heat source for buildings and industrial use. We would be well on the way to making the planet livable for our descendants.

A Bright Future is hardly the only recent book to make the case for nuclear power. Others include Gwyneth Cravens’ Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy, Charles D. Ferguson’s Nuclear Energy: What Everyone Needs to Know, and Scott L. Montgomery and Thomas Graham Jr.’s Seeing the Light: The Case for Nuclear Power in the 21st Century. What these and other books make clear is that the “green” shibboleths about nuclear energy’s being dangerous, polluting, proliferation-prone, wasteful, vulnerable to terrorist attack, and excessively expensive are vastly overstated. The truth is closer to the opposite—although in the United States, because of the byzantine regulatory environment and the multiplicity (rather than standardization) of reactor designs built and operated by private companies, the economic costs of building a reactor are indeed very high.

The advantages of nuclear power

A Bright Future is framed by two contrasting stories: that of Sweden and that of Germany. From 1970 to 1990, due to its construction of nuclear power plants, Sweden was able to cut its carbon emissions by half even as its economy expanded and its electricity generation more than doubled. Germany has taken a different path, which has led to its emitting about twice as much carbon pollution per person as Sweden despite using one-third less energy per person and having approximately the same per capita GDP.

What Germany has done is to install large capacities of renewables, mostly wind and solar power, such that by 2016 they made up more than a quarter of electricity production and 15 percent of total energy production. At the same time, however, Germany cut nuclear power by roughly an equivalent amount, which means it only substituted one carbon-free source for another. CO2 emissions have hardly decreased at all, in fact, going up slightly in recent years. German energy remains dominated by coal, and greenhouse gas emissions remain around a billion tons a year.

Decades of anti-nuclear propaganda have colored public attitudes in the West, but, as Goldstein and Qvist explain, nuclear energy has many advantages. For one thing, like renewable sources, it produces no carbon emissions (although over its entire life-cycle, from mining materials to decommissioning the plants, there are some emissions—as with renewables). Unlike solar and wind but like coal, it provides baseload power, which is to say it reliably and cheaply generates energy around the clock to satisfy the average electricity demand. Renewable sources can be more flexibly deployed to match changes in demand, so they have an important role to play during periods of peak energy use, but they also tend to be intermittent and unreliable, unlike nuclear.

Goldstein and Qvist give abundant evidence for the latter claim. “As a rule of thumb,” they note, “nuclear power produces at 80–90 percent of capacity on average over the year, coal at around 50–60 percent, and solar cells around 20 percent.” In 2013, Europe saw an entire month in which solar produced at only 3 percent of capacity because of the lack of sunshine. Wind is somewhat more reliable than sunlight: at a massive 2,700-acre wind farm in Romania, for example, which has 240 wind turbines each as tall as a fifty-story skyscraper, production in 2013 was a little less than 25 percent of capacity. And the total capacity of this enormous wind farm was 600 megawatts, a fraction of a large nuclear power plant.

In fact, the amount of space and material needed for a solar or wind farm to produce as much energy as a large nuclear plant is mind-boggling. Take the example of Ringhals, a plant in Sweden. On just 150 acres it can produce up to 4 gigawatts of electricity, 24/7. A wind farm that was to produce as much energy would require three times the power capacity because wind is so variable. That is, it would require about 2,500 wind turbines 650 feet high, spread over 400 square miles. And its energy production would be intermittent, sometimes much higher than demand and sometimes much lower.

A solar farm equivalent to Ringhals would need a capacity of at least 20 gigawatts and would cover 40 to 100 square miles. “Imagine driving down a highway at 65 mph, with solar cells stretched out for a mile to the right of you and a mile to the left. It would take you about half an hour before you got to the end of the solar farm.”

Think of the environmental (and aesthetic) costs of building scores of such immense wind and solar farms to replace both coal and nuclear.

Waste and safety

Another advantage of nuclear energy is how little waste it produces. Public fears about radioactive waste are absurdly disproportionate to the reality. In the United States, “the entire volume of spent fuel from fifty years of nuclear power—a source that produces one-fifth of U.S. electricity—could be packed into a football stadium, piled twenty feet high.” Spent fuel rods can be safely stored in water for several years, becoming less radioactive, and then transferred to dry storage in concrete casks that contain the radiation. They can remain in these casks for over a hundred years. Longer-term storage, for hundreds of thousands of years, can involve burying material deep underground, as the U.S. military does for its waste from nuclear weapons.

To rebut the concerns about radioactive waste, it surely suffices to point out that spent fuel has been stored around the world for almost 70 years with apparently no adverse health effects at all.

Other energy sources produce waste as well. When the life of solar cells is over after twenty-five years, their waste remains toxic for many decades and requires special handling for disposal. Coal waste, both solid and airborne, is not only orders of magnitude more voluminous than nuclear waste—as is true of solar waste, too—but is also toxic for centuries, and contains radioactive elements. Goldstein and Qvist observe, in fact, that if you live next to a coal plant you’ll get a higher dose of radiation than if you live next to a nuclear power plant. (Humans are continually exposed to small doses of radiation that have zero or negligible health effects.)

In general, nuclear power is incredibly safe. Three famous nuclear accidents have occurred: Three Mile Island in 1979, which had no health effects because of the containment structure that surrounded the partially melted core; Chernobyl in 1986, which caused a few dozen deaths in the short term (though possibly 4,000 in the long term, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency) and was the product of terrible reactor design, terrible on-site errors by operators, and terrible bureaucratic incompetence and secretiveness by the Soviet government; and Fukushima in 2011, which caused no deaths from radiation exposure. (The authors investigate this question in depth and conclude that, on the worst possible assumptions, several people might eventually get cancer because of the accident.)

How does this record stack up against other energy sources? Coal kills at least a million people every year from particulate emissions that lead to cancer and other diseases. It also has a terrible safety record, including toxic wastes that are usually located near poor communities and coal-mining accidents that still happen multiple times a year around the world.

Methane, or natural gas, not only emits about half as much carbon dioxide as coal but also is liable to explode from time to time, killing anywhere from several people to hundreds (as when 300 children were killed in an explosion at a Texas school in 1937). And fracking, to extract oil or gas, has negative impacts on public health and the environment.

Oil, too, is less safe than nuclear (leaving aside Soviet incompetence). It spills and it blows up, as with the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, and oil trains can derail and explode, as happened in Canada in 2013, when 47 people were killed.

Hydroelectric dams are not at all safe. If a dam fails, thousands of people downstream can die. In Banquiao, China in 1975, for example, 170,000 people died when a dam burst. Dam failures have killed thousands in the U.S.; just in 2017, crises in California and Puerto Rico forced the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people.

Imagine if nuclear energy had a record remotely comparable to coal or hydropower! Worldwide, the whole industry probably would have been shut down long ago.

An uncertain future

A Bright Future is far too rich to do justice to in a single article, but Goldstein and Qvist also address the issues of possible terrorist attacks on power plants and, in more depth, nuclear proliferation. Regarding the latter, the record over the decades since nuclear technology was developed is reassuring, due in large part to the very effective IAEA and the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But even if nuclear energy weren’t as remarkably safe as it is, we should ask ourselves if it would still be worth including as a major part of a “diversified portfolio” of clean energy. Why are we willing to tolerate so many deaths and risks from coal, oil, hydropower, and natural gas while demanding none from nuclear? (And even then, nuclear has a bad reputation!) Even if a fatal accident occurred from nuclear power every year or every few years, might that not be an acceptable cost if the benefit were a massive mitigation of climate change? We accept risks in every other sphere of life, as when driving cars, living near seismic fault lines, riding airplanes, etc. It’s odd that we rail against nuclear energy because it isn’t 100 percent risk-free.

The simple fact is that we can’t solve climate change without accelerating the construction of nuclear power plants. Since the energy in nuclear fuel is millions of times more concentrated than wind or solar power, nuclear power can “scale up” much faster than renewables. “What the world already knows how to do in ten to twenty years using nuclear power,” the authors write, “would take more than a century using renewables alone.”

And yet in the U.S., reverse action is being taken. Nuclear power plants are being shut down prematurely for political reasons, as in Vermont, California, and Massachusetts, and producers are often abandoning plans to build new plants after facing endless litigation, regulation, opposition from anti-nuclear groups, and competition from cheap and highly subsidized fossil fuels. When a plant is shut down, what that means, first, is that renewables that are introduced afterwards are not contributing to decarbonization but are simply replacing a clean (and far more powerful) energy source. Second, fossil fuels have to fill most of the gap, which causes a rise in carbon emissions.

For example, after the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant closed in 2014, carbon dioxide emission rates rose across New England, reversing a decade of declines. When Massachusetts’ last remaining nuclear power plant, Pilgrim, closed last month, much more electricity generation was lost than the state generates with all its solar, wind, and hydropower combined. Several new fossil fuel plants will mainly take the place of Pilgrim.

Thus, Greenpeace and other anti-nuclear groups with money and political clout can congratulate themselves on exacerbating climate change.

Globally there are bright spots for nuclear energy, mostly in the developing world. Goldstein and Qvist discuss this topic in detail, placing some hope in Russia, China, and India, which are much friendlier to nuclear power than the U.S. They also devote a chapter to “next-generation technologies” that are being developed, such as thorium reactors, which have advantages over uranium, and fusion, which has advantages over fission.

But despite these (and other) bright spots, and despite the book’s overall optimism, after I had finished reading I couldn’t help feeling very, very worried about the future. We know how to address climate change. But the vast funds of the fossil fuel industry and the anti-nuclear movement, together with mass ignorance, may yet doom us in the long run. We have, it seems, a decade or two to wake up and demand government action.

Renewables, yes. But even more important: nuclear power.

Water, Water, Water: War Against Humanity

Capitalism is broken. It is like a gun pointed at the heart of the planet. And it’s got these characteristics which mean that it will essentially, necessarily destroy our life support systems. Among those characteristics are the drive for perpetual economic growth on a finite planet. You just can’t support that ecologically. Things fall apart. It also says, well, anyone has got a right to buy as much natural wealth as their money allows, which means that people are just grabbing far more natural wealth than either the population as a whole or the planet itself can support.

— George Monbiot

Below a short piece I wrote for the Newport (OR) News Times. Sort of like shadow boxing, writing traditional news pieces to at least prop up some of the deep deep issues tied to broken Capitalism.

Note that capitalism would never be allowed in the article, let alone the reality of how broken capitalism is. Imagine, the pigs in politics, the war mongers, the Venezuela wannabe killers, all those elites running their mouths and groins in their spasms of narcissism.

Imagine how many communities in the USA are failing, near failing, about to fail, because the billionaires and the war mongers and the Industrial Complex of felons — pharma, ed, legal, finance, IT, AI, insurance, banking, energy, chemicals, prisons, ag — are hell bent on abandoning any humanity in their insanity and their sick elitism and their bizarre anti-people and community logic.

Thousands of dams about to fail in the USA. Water systems that shoot out lead and a thousand other chemicals that kill brains and DNA. Imagine the conservative society of civil engineers giving the USA a D- for infrastructure. Imagine the failing education system. Imagine the mass murdering media following all the dog nose in rear end stories.

This story, of course, is about $70 million a city is supposed to get for a failing duo of earthen dams. Newport on the Cascadia Subduction Zone, where an earthquake will set off many other earthquakes and tsunamis.

The whole lovely Oregon Coastline will turn into a McCormac “The Road” dystopia.

The UN recently sounded the alarm that urgent action is needed if Arab states are to avoid a water emergency. Water scarcity and desertification are afflicting the Middle East and North Africa more than any other region on Earth, hence the need for countries there to improve water management. However, the per capita share of fresh water availability there is already just 10 percent of the global average, with agriculture consuming 85 percent of it.

Another recent study has linked shrinking Arctic sea ice to less rain in Central America, adding to the water woes in that region as well.

There you have it — the stupidity of this country flailing about the world with empire on steroid and smart phones, and every community in the USA is facing sea ice inundation problems because those communities near the oceans have a heck of a lot of influence on the rest of the middle of America. Money money money — and the spigots go right to the pockets of the Fortune 1000 and the Aspen Institute fellows and the Davos crowd.

So, on a community level, Newport faces big issues because the dams will fail and the cascading disasters of no water for months will cause disease and depopulation.

Ironies beyond ironies. We will NOT stop pumping emissions into the air. Read Jamail’s piece above, “The Last Time There Was This Much CO2, Trees Grew at the South Pole.”  Science. Reality.

The schizophrenia of the rich and deplorables backing trump or pelosi or biden or any of the two manure pile candidates yet every community faces kissing bugs invading, housing crisis after rental crisis, wage theft, huge thefts of human futures. Billions of people on earth stolen. So the rich and the sick people on FOX and CNN get off on the chaos they set forth.

From River to TapNewport’s Water System is an Engineering Miracle Delivering a Fragile, Vulnerable Resource to us All

Newport’s state of the art water treatment plant along Big Creek impressed the mayor and some of the council-members as we toured the facility after a presentation on the very real future water crisis that could befall not just Newport, but all the towns serviced by the water facility.

The message was clear from Newport’s Public Works Director: a new dam has to be built for the public’s health, safety and economic welfare. The public works director emphasized that 10,000 residents of Newport use water, but also another 40,000 additional temporary residents also suck up the water during tourist season. Add to that 50,000 number the huge seasonal water demands of the fishing industry and year-round clean water needs of the Rogue Nation brewery.

“In the event of an earthquake, the dams most likely could fail,” Tim Gross said. “We are looking at two to six months after a major Cascadia event (fault line earthquake) to rebuild a dam and replace the infrastructure that supplies water.”

He likened a dam failure here to what happened after Hurricane Katrina – people left the city, and millions upon millions of dollars in GDP were lost. “If the dams fail, it would be hard for this community to recover.”

There are projected population growths of 30 percent or more for Newport by 2030, and a new brewery in the works, so in reality, water demand will possibly double. Much of what Gross presented to the 20 or so people attending April 29th’s Town Hall at the Water Plant was pretty “technical” in a geo-engineering way, but the overarching message was clear.

Each year delayed on construction adds a few million dollars more added in inflationary costs. “I’ve been working on this for eight years,” he said. “This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

Council-member David Allen emphasized that Senate Bill 894, sponsored by Sen. Roblan and Rep. Gomberg, was just referred to the Ways and Means Committee. It’s a $44 million general fund grant to be put forward for this project.

The reality is four years of geotechnical work already invested to study the two dams’ subsurface conditions point to the same thing – “the soils under both dams fail in a 3.5 earthquake.” This is spongy soil holding back millions of gallons of water;  that is, it’s “silty sand, clayey silt, and silty clay alluvium overlying Nye Mudstone.”

The failure probability for these two dams giving out 60-feet down and then causing overspills is high in a rather low intensity 3.5 (on the Richter scale) quake.

We all know about the Cascadia Subduction Zone, and the hundreds of faults that spiderweb throughout the coast, from sub-sea land masses to the coastal and beyond terrestrial areas. Our communities have various disaster preparedness plans tied to earthquakes and resulting tsunamis.

No amount of food and water will suffice, however, if the toilets can’t be flushed and water won’t be piped into sinks for months on end. It’s the resulting disasters that truly affect a community after the initial impact of a natural calamity such as a quake and tsunami.

Ironically, Gross stated that a three-day study workshop in October 2018 “was a career highlight for me . . . working with these people . . . the smartest people I have ever met.”  The experts looked at studies, projections and cost estimates for a new dam coming in at $70 million. For Gross (and others), there are basic questions surrounding a $70 million project to build an RCC (roller compacted concrete) dam between both the existing earth dams on Big Creek:

  1. What will work?
  2. How much will it cost to maintain?
  3. Will it be resilient?

We’re talking about two earthen dams built in 1951 and 1955 and dozens of geophysical tests on site and in the laboratory, with some pretty high-power members of the international community who study dams, seismic events on infrastructure, and others who have dam remediation and building in their portfolios.

Other options like rebuilding or rehabilitating the two dams or constructing a desalinization plant or even building a new dam miles away at Rocky Creek are off the table. The only thing really in play is Alternative Six: No Action, which is still an option the City has to weigh against the possible risk of losing the only drinking water source for Newport in case of a seismic event.

Ironically, a new embankment dam (not a great choice) would require 10,000 truck trips to bring in materials; 30,000 truck trips for a new earthen dam, all of which would ruin a community the size of Newport. This RCC dam proposal, however, requires less construction materials and would be utilizing some old logging roads. The project is outlined in many phases, including building a road around Big Creek, building a water pipeline to allow for water to be continuously supplied to users during construction, then building the dam, and doing stream restoration.

In the end, the plant manager, Steve Stewart, who has worked for the Public Works Department 30 years, makes a plain selling point – “I love my job because I like providing a clean product to the community. I drink it out of the tap every day and am proud of what we do here.”

Gross emphasized that many Oregon communities are facing similar challenges with aging dams needing replacing. The biggest and least expensive push for Gross is getting the community behind conservation, and, more importantly, gaining an appreciation that water is always available and can’t be taken for granted.  Newport is part of the Mid-Coast Water Planning Partnership which is a group of 70 entities and stakeholders representing diverse water interests in the region from Cascade Head to Cape Perpetua. The group’s goal is to not only understand water resources and create an integrated plan, but to carry forth on better water management in the region over the next 50 years.

So, yes, milquetoast in some ways, the piece above, but how else can this stuff get through . . . and this is the reality of mainstream America and even small town news — never ever question the business community, the timber industry, the fish industry, even the oh-so hip beer and ale community. You see, we have to work on bio-regionalism and stopping the unchecked growth in communities that can’t weather the current storm of neoliberalism and assault capitalism, let alone the future implosions of climate change and in our case, earthquakes!

Worse yet, though, and no matter how much George Monbiot or Dahr Jamail or Bill McKibbeon or any one that is part of the Extinction Rebellion or even ecosocialists like myself to realize it’s game over. Simple stuff, stopping more liquefied natural gas trains, pipelines, ports and ships crossing the seas to move that fossil fuel to the engines of consumption.

Coos Bay, Oregon, and this project, Jordan Cove LNG, is emblematic of the broken systems of capitalism and the broke pipes of compliant democracy. Here:

Headline — “Coos Bay Braces for Jordan Cove Impacts.” Imagine that, we are still attempting to stop those mafia style energy companies, trying to get our own state to stop this project, but it’s all theater, and the provokers purveyors of this sickness — multiple corporations, transnational banking, etc. — don’t give a shit about the environmental and economic breakdown of all these ships criss-crossing. We are addicted to fossil fuel and oil, to the point as a species we will give up water and food — pink shrimp, Dungeness crab, halibut and salmon, for the turn of a shekel:

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is expected to issue a final decision on the Jordan Cove LNG terminal and pipeline project early next year.

The Coos Bay Channel widening project is not as far along in the regulatory process. Earlier this month, the port hit the “90% design” milestone in completing their permit application. An Army Corps of Engineers spokesman said they don’t expect to have the Draft Environmental Impact Statement completed until March 2020.

Port CEO John Burns says the channel-widening project is the next big step for the port, which hopes to attract larger vessels and more shipping traffic overall.

“We look at the global Maritime Fleet, the size of ships. If we were going to be an international player we’ve got to be able to at least bring in ships of that size,” Burns said. “Otherwise, we will not be competitive with other ports on the West Coast.”

The project would significantly widen and deepen a little more than 8 miles of the Coos Bay shipping channel. Currently the channel is 350 feet wide and 37 feet deep. The new plan would widen the channel to 450 feet and 45 feet deep. The spoils would be dumped at a site offshore.

Regardless, the physical characteristics of Coos Bay would change significantly if the projects go through. The port’s proposed channel widening project would remove enough earth to fill a football field-sized skyscraper the height of Mount Bachelor. Add the fill Jordan Cove needs to remove for its project, and that shaft of earth rises higher than Mount Hood.

Federal environmental reports for Jordan Cove and a previous Coos Bay dredging project characterize the ecological, water quality and hydrologic impacts as temporary and within reasonable limits.

Thus, we are cooked, because we have trained PR spinners and bloodless engineers and financial creeps and legal felons in our elite schools and other schools to live in a world with no ethics other than getting the most our of earth as quickly as possible. They end up as government shills and they end up as these pigs running Jordan Cove.

Project after project like this is unfolding now and for the future. Not just the USA, but Russia and China and Europe and Canada and Australia and Japan. It’s not about retrenchment, but energy for more fabrication of a false humanity, for more pies in the sky — hell ships to Mars, the Moon, to asteroids, while a majority on earth can’t even collect clean water daily. Imagine that, we have allowed the schools, colleges, media, military, government, punishment sectors of our so-called advanced Western world, and those in the Far East, to sink ecosystems, which in turn, sinks communities Big Time.

Polluted minds with hubris dripping out of their veins and orifices is what the new normal is for so-called CEOs, public servants (disservants) and public “intellectuals” like Gates (sic).

Citizens against LNG or Jordan Cove are small in numbers because of the deplorable thinking processes people have garnered from deplorable media and deplorable parenting and deplorable jobs and deplorable politicians and deplorable Americanism — hence, there are a shit-load of deplorables out there ready to sacrifice food and water for a job!

Hundreds protest Veresens Jordan Cove LNG Open House Events

You won’t see Naomi Klein or the stars of the New Green Deal tackle the very real battles going on now in community after community, which is how capitalism has always worked — divide and conquer, propaganda on steroids, military and police strong arming, legal entrenchment, political pimping and prostituting: by the corporations the polluters, the murderers.

Schizophrenia — Democracy Now

On Wednesday, the House of Commons became the first parliament in the world to declare a climate emergency. This is Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn.

“We have no time to waste. We are living in a climate crisis that will spiral dangerously out of control unless we take rapid and dramatic action now. This is no longer about a distant future. We’re talking about nothing less than the irreversible destruction of the environment within our lifetimes of members of this house.”

It is highly significant, because it provides leverage for people like myself, for people like Extinction Rebellion, the youth climate strikers, to actually say, “Well, now you MPs, you members of Parliament, have declared a climate emergency; you have to act on it.” And, of course, it’s not clear that they’ve completely thought through the implications of this. I mean, on the same day, yesterday, that this climate emergency was declared, there was a legal ruling saying a third runway at Heathrow Airport can go ahead. Well, look, this is an emergency. And that means we need to start retiring fossil fuel-based infrastructure rather than building more of it.

The major banks, the oil companies, the politicians in the pockets of banks and oil companies, the military industrial-services-delivery-marketing complex, the Trumps and the Bidens, the entire mess that is American bullshit bifurcation of brain cells —  I will fight for the good of my rich kids and family to be free of pollution, to be well cared for, well educated (sic), blessed (sic) with opportunities to make money and live in safe neighborhoods and see the world and dodge taxes . . .  but the pain, suffering, slavery, pollution, despair, displacement, well, that’s all good for my corporation’s marks:  those  tired, your poor,  huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, the homeless, tempest-tost.

The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

immigrants seeing the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper

A Positive Vision For What The Green New Deal Could Be

We interviewed Dahr Jamail about his new book, “The End of Ice,” for our podcast, Clearing the FOG, this week. It will be available Monday. Jamail describes the grim reality of human-caused climate distortion. The bottom line is: It is here. It is accelerating. We need to take swift action to attempt to mitigate it and adapt to it as best we can.

The Green New Deal was introduced this week by Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Markey. It is best described by Jason Grumet, head of a conservative Washington, DC think tank, as “a mirror that allows anyone to see their own interest.” It is a resolution that Members of Congress can support because it doesn’t challenge their corporate donors while it gives the illusion of addressing the climate crisis.

The Green New Deal has received mixed responses from the climate justice movement. Some see it as a positive because the idea was introduced in Congress, while others raise serious concerns that its contents leave too much wiggle room for things to stay the same. What becomes of the Green New Deal is up to us to determine.

This photograph taken on December 4, 2009 shows a glacier in the Everest region some 140 km (87 miles) northeast of Kathmandu. The Himalayan glaciers provide water for more than a billion people in Asia, but experts say they are melting at an alarming rate, threatening to bring drought to large swathes of the continent within decades. (Photo/Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images)

The Climate Crisis is Here

Dahr Jamail stated that while the amount of climate devastation he described in his book is severe, new reports since his book show the climate crisis continues to worsen. In January, scientists reported that Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica has a giant hole under it, two-thirds the size of Manhattan, and is melting faster than they thought. It alone could raise sea level globally by two feet.

Another new study finds that ice in the Himalayan Mountains is melting faster than the global average and could practically disappear in this century. They write that if we continue with the same level of carbon emissions, global temperatures will rise by 4.2º to 6.5ºCelsius by the end of the century, far higher than the goal of keeping global warming below 1.5ºC and far more disastrous.

It’s not as if our lawmakers are unaware of the crisis. US intelligence analysts cited the climate crisis as a significant threat to global stability in their recent Worldwide Threat Assessment because of loss of resources like water and resultant migration. They also alerted Congress members that some US military bases are at risk because of rising seas and storms.

The most recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which is considered a conservative document, calls for immediate action to attempt to keep the increase in temperature below 1.5ºC to give the best chance of human adaptation. The current levels of fires, storms, drought and more are the result of a 1ºC temperature rise, and they will worsen exponentially as the temperature goes up. The IPCC states, “limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require ‘rapid and far-reaching’ transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities.”

Climate activists visited 50 congressional offices December 10 demanding support for a Green New Deal. (Rachael Warriner)

The Door is Open for a Green New Deal

The Green New Deal, which could create such a transition, is an idea that has finally broken through into the mainstream public dialogue. Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez has been working on it since she won her seat last November. She started with the idea of having a Green New Deal committee, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected that and created a Select Committee on the Climate Crisis headed by Congresswoman Kathy Castor instead. The committee has little power. It can neither subpoena witnesses to testify in hearings nor draft legislation.

In his analysis of the blue wave, which he calls a “corporate wave,” Nick Brana of Movement for a People’s Party describes the committee as “a public relations stunt for the fossil fuel industry.” He says, “It is worse than nothing to have a committee that pretends to be doing something while ensuring that nothing gets done to address climate change and other urgent environmental crises.”

This week, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey introduced “H. Res. 109 – Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal.” It is a resolution, not a bill, that provides a framework for the Democrat’s Green New Deal. It is remarkably vague. It does not even contain keywords such as “oil,” “gas,” “coal,” “nuclear,” or “fossil fuels.”

Several groups have criticized the resolution. The Indigenous Environmental Network listed a number of concerns, from the use of terms that would permit market mechanisms for managing carbon, which would allow fossil fuel companies to keep extracting oil and gas, to not specifying what is meant by clean and renewable energy to failing to recognize the sovereignty of Indigenous Nations, and more. Food and Water Watch cited significant omissions in the resolution, writing that it needs to “halt the expansion of fossil fuels immediately, ensure that the transition to 100% renewable energy happens by 2035 at the latest, [and] exclude dirty energy sources like nuclear power…”

Whitney Webb explains that the Green New Deal leaves a lot for corporations to like and views it as an effort timed to benefit the Democrats in the 2020 elections, rather than a serious attempt to address the climate crisis. She compares it to the Green Party’s version of the Green New Deal, which calls for an immediate halt to investment in fossil fuels, 100% renewable energy by 2030, defined as wind, solar, tidal and geothermal, the creation of a Renewable Energy Administration tasked with supporting the development of cooperatively-owned energy and reducing the military by 50% to help finance the transition.

Community-owned solar panels (From the Institute for Local Self Reliance)

A Vision for a Green New Deal

Even if it is primarily an election season ploy for Democrats, to the millions of people who worry about the climate crisis and are pushing for solutions, the Green New Deal is an opportunity to define the transformations we need. That’s how Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson views it. He calls on “the Left to intervene” to make sure the Green New Deal doesn’t support the “market-based capitalist extractive system.” Akuno states that an ideal Green New Deal would prioritize reparations through financial compensation and decolonization.

Susan Scherarth and Sean Sweeney write that market mechanisms must be replaced with the concept of energy democracy, “public and social ownership of energy, to serve both social and ecological needs…” They view energy as a public good and a human right, not a commodity. Other writers argue that the Green New Deal must include a new agency that supports the development of energy cooperatives, much like the Green Party’s Renewable Energy Administration proposal. The Backbone Campaign takes that even farther with Solutionary Rail, a plan to create electric rail that moves people, freight and locally-produced renewable energy around the country. We interviewed Bill Moyer and Steve Chrismer about it on Clearing the FOG in 2016.

Current industrial farming techniques contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. Elizabeth Henderson writes that sustainable agriculture must be part of the Green New Deal and outlines what that looks like. It includes support for agricultural cooperatives and family farms, unions for farm workers, regenerative farming and a just transition to end factory farms and the use of toxic chemicals.

Financing the Green New Deal is another opportunity to have an impact on transforming the economy. Ellen Brown describes how using a network of public banks to finance the transition to the new energy economy would not only avoid using tax dollars but would also generate a return to the government. We have long argued that instead of the profits from the transition going to Wall Street, they could be used to finance a universal basic income, which would reduce or eliminate poverty.

These are just some of the ideas that could be used to fill in the gaps of the Green New Deal and ensure it is both transformational in a way that ends wealth inequality and effectively addresses the climate crisis. Adam Simpson interviewed Johanna Bozuwa of the Democracy Collaborative, Anthony Torres of the Sierra Club and Evan Weber of the Sunrise Movement about their ideas for creating a new economy through the Green New Deal. We need to keep the public debate going on these issues to generate a common vision of what the Green New Deal could be.

From SeeWhatGrows.org.

What Next?

There are many ways that we can make a transformative Green New Deal a reality even with a Congress that is bought by the polluting industries who profit by destroying the planet and hope to profit from attempting to fix it. The Sunrise Movement, a youth-led movement focused on the Green New Deal, is organizing people to impact Congress with their current week of action. They led protests in Congress over the past few months.

To win, there will have to be a movement outside of Congress that builds a national consensus for what the Green New Deal must be. If you are a member of an activist or community group of any kind, you can generate discussion and action about it.

On top of that, we need to continue the current work to shut down new fossil fuel and nuclear infrastructure, create democratized renewable energy programs and push for policies at the local level that put in place the changes we need to transportation, housing, food and farming, and the economy. There is something for everyone to do in their community.

Through all of this, we need to prioritize the voices and wisdom of those who are the most impacted by our current dirty energy and unfair economy and respect the sovereignty of Indigenous Nations to control what happens on their land.

The Green New Deal as a concept has arrived. Where it goes from here is up to us.

Human Extinction by 2026?

There is almost unanimous agreement among climate scientists and organizations – that is, 97% of over 10,000 climate scientists and the various scientific organizations engaged in climate science research – that human beings have caused a dramatic increase in the amount of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide released into Earth’s atmosphere since the pre-industrial era and that this is driving the climate catastrophe that continues to unfold.

However, there is no consensus regarding the time frame in which this climate catastrophe will cause human extinction. This lack of consensus is primarily due to the global elite controlling the public perception of this time frame with frequent talk of ‘the end of the century’ designed to allow ongoing profit maximization through ‘business as usual’ for as long as possible. Why has this happened?

When evidence of the climate catastrophe (including the pivotal role of burning fossil fuels) became incontrovertible, which meant that the fossil fuel industry’s long-standing efforts to prevent action on the climate catastrophe had finally ended, the industry shifted its focus to arguing that the time frame, which it presented as ‘end of the century’, meant that we could defer action (and thus profit-maximization through business as usual could continue indefinitely). Consequently, like the tobacco, sugar and junk food industries, the fossil fuel industry has employed a range of tactics to deflect attention from their primary responsibility for a problem and to delay action on it.

These well-worn tactics include suggesting that the research is incomplete and more research needs to be done, funding ‘research’ to come up with ‘evidence’ to counter the climate science, employing scholars to present this ‘research’, discrediting honest climate scientists, infiltrating regulatory bodies to water down (or reverse) decisions and recommendations that would adversely impact profits, setting up ‘concerned’ groups to act as ‘fronts’ for the industry, making generous political donations to individuals and political parties as well as employing lobbyists.

As a result of its enormous power too, the global elite has been able to control much of the funding available for climate science research and a great deal of the information about it that is made widely available to the public, particularly through its corporate media. For this reason, the elite wields enormous power to shape the dialogue in relation to both the climate science and the time frame.

Therefore, and despite the overwhelming consensus noted above, many climate scientists are reluctant to be fully truthful about the state of the world’s climate or they are just conservative in their assessments of the climate catastrophe. For example, eminent climate scientist Professor James Hansen referred to ‘scientific reticence’ in his article ‘Scientific reticence and sea level rise‘, scientists might be conservative in their research – for example, dependence upon historical records leads to missing about one-fifth of global warming since the 1860s as explained in ‘Reconciled climate response estimates from climate models and the energy budget of Earth‘ – and, in some cases, governments muzzle scientists outright. But many of the forces working against full exposure of the truth are explained in Professor Guy McPherson’s article ‘Climate-Change Summary and Update‘.

However, in contrast to the elite-managed mainstream narrative regarding the climate time frame, there is a group of courageous and prominent climate scientists who offer compelling climate science evidence that human beings, along with millions of other species, will be extinct by 2026 (and perhaps as early as 2021) in response to a projected 10 degree celsius increase in global temperatures above the pre-industrial level by that date.

Before outlining the essence of this article, it is worth noting that the website on which it is posted is Arctic News and the editors of this site post vital articles on the world’s climate by highly prominent climate scientists, such as Professor Peter Wadhams (Emeritus Professor of Polar Ocean Physics at Cambridge University and author of A Farewell to Ice: A Report from the Arctic), Dr Andrew Glikson (an Earth and paleoclimate scientist who is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University), Professor Guy McPherson who has written extensively and lectures all over the world on the subject, and ‘Sam Carana’, the pseudonym used by a group of climate scientists concerned to avoid too many adverse impacts on their research, careers and funding by declaring themselves publicly but nevertheless committed to making the truth available for those who seek it.

So, in a few brief points, let me summarize the evidence and argument outlined in the article ‘Will humans be extinct by 2026?’

The Climate Science of Destruction of the Biosphere

In the Arctic, there is a vast amount of carbon stored in soils that are now still largely frozen; this frozen soil is called permafrost. But as Arctic temperatures continue to rise and the permafrost thaws, in response to the warming that has occurred already (and is ongoing) by burning fossil fuels and farming animals for human consumption, much of this carbon will be converted into carbon dioxide or methane and released into the atmosphere. There is also a vast amount of methane – in the form of methane hydrates and free gas – stored in sediments under the Arctic Ocean seafloor. As temperatures rise, these sediments are being destabilized and will soon result in massive eruptions of methane from the ocean floor. ‘Due to the abrupt character of such releases and the fact that many seas in the Arctic Ocean are shallow, much of the methane will then enter the atmosphere without getting broken down in the water.’

Adversely impacting this circumstance is that the sea ice continues to retreat as the polar ice cap melts in response to the ongoing temperature increases. Because sea ice reflects sunlight back into Space, as the ice retreats more sunlight hits the (dark-colored) ocean (which absorbs the sunlight) and warms the ocean even more. This causes even more ice melt in what becomes an ongoing self-reinforcing feedback loop that ultimately impacts worldwide, such as triggering huge firestorms in forests and peatlands in North America and Russia.

More importantly, however, without sea ice, storms develop more easily and because they mix warm surface waters with the colder water at the bottom of shallow seas, reaching cracks in sediments filled with ice which acts as a glue holding the sediment together, the ice melt destabilizes the sediments, which are vulnerable to even small differences in temperature and pressure that are triggered by earthquakes, undersea landslides or changes in ocean currents.

As a result, huge amounts of methane can erupt from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean and once this occurs, it will further raise temperatures, especially over the Arctic, thus acting as another self-reinforcing feedback loop that again makes the situation even worse in the Arctic, with higher temperatures causing even further methane releases, contributing to the vicious cycle that precipitates ‘runaway global warming’.

‘These developments can take place at such a speed that adaptation will be futile. More extreme weather events can hit the same area with a succession of droughts, cold snaps, floods, heat waves and wildfires that follow each other up rapidly. Within just one decade [from 2016], the combined impact of extreme weather, falls in soil quality and air quality, habitat loss and shortages of food, water, shelter and just about all the basic things needed to sustain life can threaten most, if not all, life on Earth with extinction.’

The article goes on to outline how the 10 degree increase (above the pre-industrial level) by 2026 is likely to occur. It will involve further carbon dioxide and methane releases from human activity (particularly driving cars and other vehicles, flying in aircraft and eating animal products, as well as military violence), ongoing reduction of snow and ice cover around the world (thus reflecting less sunlight back into Space), an increase in the amount of water vapor (a greenhouse gas) in the atmosphere, a falling away of ‘aerosol masking’ (which has helped reduce the impact of emissions so far) as emissions decline, as well as methane eruptions from the ocean floor. If you would like to read more about this and see the graphs and substantial documentation, you can do so in the article cited above: ‘Will humans be extinct by 2026?’

The Ecology of Destruction of the Biosphere

Not that these scientists, who focus on the climate, discuss it but there are other human activities adversely impacting Earth’s biosphere which also threaten near-term extinction for humans, particularly given their synergistic impacts.

For example, recent research has drawn attention to the fact that the ‘alarming loss of insects will likely take down humanity before global warming hits maximum velocity…. The worldwide loss of insects is simply staggering with some reports of 75% up to 90%, happening much faster than the paleoclimate record rate of the past five major extinction events’. Without insects ‘burrowing, forming new soil, aerating soil, pollinating food crops…’ and providing food for many bird species, the biosphere simply collapses.

Moreover, apart from ongoing destruction of other vital components of Earth’s life support system such as the rainforests – currently being destroyed at the rate of 80,000 acres each day – and oceans which is generating an extinction rate of 200 species (plants, birds, animals, fish, amphibians, insects and reptiles) each day with another 26,000 species already identified as ‘under threat’ some prominent scholars have explained how even these figures mask a vital component of the rapidly accelerating catastrophe of species extinctions: the demise of local populations of a species.

In addition, relying on our ignorance and our complicity, elites kill vast areas of Earth’s biosphere through war and other military violence, subject it to uncontrolled releases of radioactive contamination and use geo-engineering to wage war on Earth’s climate, environment and ultimately ourselves.

Separately from all of this, we live under the unending threat of nuclear war.

This is because insane political and corporate elites are still authorizing and manufacturing more of these highly profitable weapons rather than dismantling them all (as well as conventional weapons) and redirecting the vast resources devoted to ongoing military killing (US$1.7 trillion annually) to environmental restoration and programs of social uplift.

By the way, if you think the risk of nuclear war can be ignored, you might find this recent observation sobering. In a review of (former US nuclear war planner) Daniel Ellsberg’s recent book The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, Earth and paleoclimate scientist Dr Andrew Glikson summarized the book as follows:

This, then, is the doomsday machine. Not simply the existence of fission weapons or unspeakably destructive hydrogen bombs, but the whole network rigged together: thousands of them on hair-trigger alert, command and control equipment built in the 1970s and ’80s, millions of lines of antique code sitting on reels of magnetic tape or shuffled around on floppy discs even now. An architecture tended by fallible and deeply institutionalized human beings.

So, irrespective of whether elites or their agents or even we acknowledge it, Earth’s biosphere is under siege on many fronts and, very soon now, Earth will not support life. Any honest news source routinely reports one or another aspect of the way in which humans are destroying the Earth and perhaps suggests courses of action to respond powerfully to it. This, of course, does not include the insane global elite’s corporate media, which functions to distract us from any semblance of the truth.

How did all this happen?

How did human beings end up in a situation that human extinction is likely to occur within eight years (even assuming we can avert nuclear war)? And is there any prospect of doing enough about it now to avert this extinction?

To answer the first question briefly: We arrived at this juncture in our history because of a long sequence of decisions, essentially made by elites to expand their profit, power and privilege, and which they then imposed on us and which we did not resist powerfully enough.

In any case, the key questions now are simply these: Is it too late to avert our own extinction? And, if not, what must we do?

Well, I am not going to dwell on it but some scientists believe it is too late: we have already passed the point of no return. Professor Guy McPherson is one of these scientists, with a comprehensive explanation and a great deal of evidence to support it in his long and heavily documented article ‘Climate-Change Summary and Update‘.

So, the fundamental question is this: If we assume (highly problematically I acknowledge) that it is possible to avert our own extinction by 2026, what must we do?

Because we need to address, in a strategic manner, the interrelated underlying causes that are driving the rush to extinction, let me first identify one important symptom of these underlying causes and then the underlying structural and behavioral causes themselves. Finally, let me invite your participation in (one or more aspects of) a comprehensive strategy designed to address all of this.

As in the past, at least initially, the vast bulk of the human population is not going to respond to this crisis in any way. We need to be aware of this but not let it get in our way. There is a straightforward explanation for it.

Fear or, far more accurately, unconscious terror will ensure that the bulk of the human population will not investigate or seriously consider the scientific evidence in relation to the ongoing climate catastrophe, despite its implications for them personally and humanity generally (not to mention other species and the biosphere). Moreover, given that climate science is not an easy subject with which to grapple, elite control of most media in relation to it (including, most of the time, by simply excluding mention of key learning from the climate scientists) ensures that public awareness, while reasonably high, is not matched by knowledge, which is negligible.

As a result, most people will fearfully, unintelligently and powerlessly accept the delusions, distractions and denial that are promulgated by the insane global elite through its various propaganda channels including the corporate media, public relations and entertainment industries, as well as educational institutions. This propaganda always includes the implicit message that people can’t (and shouldn’t) do anything in response to the climate catastrophe (invariably and inaccurately, benignly described as ‘climate change’).

A primary way in which the corporate media reports the issue but frames it for a powerless response is to simply distribute ‘news’ about each climate-related event without connecting it either with other climate-related events or even mentioning it as yet another symptom of the climate catastrophe. Even if they do mention these connections, they reliably mention distant dates for phenomena like ‘heatwaves’ repeating themselves and an overall ‘end of century’ time frame to preclude the likelihood that any sense of urgency will arise.

The net outcome of all this, as I stated above, is that the bulk of the human population will not respond to the crisis in the short term (as it hasn’t so far) with most of what limited response there is confined to powerlessly lobbying elite-controlled governments.

However, as long as you consider responding – and by responding, I mean responding strategically – and then do respond, you become a powerful agent of change, including by recruiting others through your example.

But before I present the strategy, let me identify the major structural and behavioral causes that are driving the climate catastrophe and destruction of the biosphere, and explain why some key elements of this strategy are focused on tackling these underlying causes.

The Political Economy of Destruction of the Biosphere

The global elite ensures that it has political control of the biosphere as well as Space by using various systems, structures and processes that it largely created (over the past few centuries) and now controls, including the major institutions of governance in the world such as national governments and key international organizations like the United Nations.

It does this, for example, so that it can economically utilize, via the exploitative mechanisms of capitalism and its corporations (which the elite also created), domains of the biosphere rich in resources, particularly fossil fuels, strategic minerals and fresh water. The elite will use any means – including psychological manipulation, propaganda issued by its corporate media, national educational institutions, legal systems and extraordinary military violence – to achieve this outcome whatever the cost to life on Earth.

In short, the global elite is so insane that its members believe that killing and exploiting fellow human beings and destroying the biosphere are simply good ways to make a profit. Of course, they do not perceive us as fellow human beings; they perceive and treat us as a great deal less. This is why, for example, the elite routinely uses its military forces to attack impoverished and militarily primitive countries so that they can steal their resources.

But they are happy to steal from those of us living in western economies too, with Professor Barbara G. Ellis issuing the latest warning about yet another way this could easily happen.

Anyway, because of elite control of governments, it is a waste of time lobbying politicians if we want action on virtually all issues that concern us, particularly the ‘big issues’ that threaten extinction, such as the climate catastrophe, environmental destruction and war (especially the threat of nuclear war). While in very limited (and usually social) contexts (such as issues in relation to the right of women to abortions or rights for the LGBTQIA communities), when it doesn’t significantly adversely impact elite priorities, gains are sometimes made (at least temporarily) by mobilizing sufficient people to pressure politicians. This has two beneficial outcomes for elites: it keeps many people busy on ‘secondary issues’ (from the elite perspective) that do not impact elite profit, power and privilege; and it reinforces the delusion that democracy ‘works’.

However, in the contexts that directly impact elite concerns (such as their unbridled exploitation of the biosphere for profit), politicians serve their elite masters, even to the extent that any laws that might appear to have been designed to impede elite excesses (such as pollution generated by their activities) are readily ignored if necessary, with legal penalties too insignificant to deter phenomenally wealthy corporations.

Of course, if any government does not obey elite directives, it is overthrown. Just ask any independently-minded government over the past century. For a list of governments overthrown by the global elite using its military and ‘intelligence’ agencies since World War II, see William Blum’s book Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II or, for just the list, see ‘Overthrowing other people’s governments: The Master List’.

How does the elite maintain this control over political, economic, military, legal and social structures and processes?

The Sociology of Destruction of the Biosphere

As explained in the literature on the sociology of knowledge, reality is socially constructed. That is, if an individual is born or introduced into a society in which particular institutions are in control and behaviors such as chronic over-consumption, unlimited profit-making, rampant exploitation of the environment and grotesque violence against (at least some) people are practiced, then the typical individual will accept the existence of these institutions and adopt the behaviors of the people around them even though the institutions and behaviors are dysfunctional and violent.

But while the sociology of knowledge literature recognizes that children ‘must be “taught to behave” and, once taught, must be “kept in line”’ to maintain the institutional order, this literature clearly has no understanding of the nature and extent of the violence to which each child is actually subjected in order to achieve the desired ‘socialization’. This terrorization, as I label it, is so comprehensive that the typical child quickly becomes incapable of using their own intellectual and emotional capacities, including conscience and courage, to actually evaluate any institution or behavior before accepting/adopting it themselves. Obviously then, they quickly become too terrified to overtly challenge dysfunctional institutions and behaviors as well.

Moreover, as a result of this ongoing terrorization, inflicted by the significant adults (and particularly the parents) in the child’s life, the child soon becomes too (unconsciously) afraid to resist the behavioral violence that is inflicted on them personally in many forms, as outlined briefly in the next section, so that they are ‘taught to behave’ and are ‘kept in line’.

In response to elite-driven imperatives then, such as ‘you are what you own’ to encourage very profitable over-consumption, most people are delusionarily ‘happy’ while utterly trapped behaving exactly as elites manipulate them – they are devoid of the psychological capacity to critique and resist – and the elite-preferred behavior quickly acquires the status of being ‘the only and the right way to behave’, irrespective of its dysfunctionality.

In essence: virtually all humans fearfully adopt dysfunctional social behaviors such as over-consumption and profit-making at the expense of the biosphere, rather than intelligently, conscientiously and courageously analyzing the total situation (including the moral and ecological dimensions of it) and behaving appropriately in the context.

Given the pervasiveness and power of elite institutions, ranging from those mentioned above to the corporate media and psychiatry, resistance to violent socialization (of both children and adults) requires considerable awareness, not to mention courage.

And so our fear makes virtually all of us succumb to the socialization pressure (that is, violence) to accept existing institutions and participate in widespread social behaviors (such as over-consumption) that are dysfunctional and violent.

The Psychology of Destruction of the Biosphere

This happens because each child, from birth, is terrorized (again: what we like to call ‘socialized’) until they become a slave willing to work and, in industrialized countries at least, to over-consume as directed.

Under an unrelenting regime of ‘visible’, ‘invisible’ and ‘utterly invisible’ violence, each child unconsciously surrenders their search in pursuit of their own unique and powerful destiny and succumbs to the obedience that every adult demands. Why do adults demand this? Because the idea of a powerful child who courageously follows their own Self-will terrifies adults. So how does this happen?

Unfortunately, far too easily and, strange though it may seem, it is not just the ‘visible’ violence (such as hitting, screaming at and sexually abusing) that we normally label ‘violence’ that causes the main damage, although this is extremely damaging. The largest component of damage arises from the  ‘invisible’ and ‘utterly invisible’ violence that we adults unconsciously inflict on children during the ordinary course of the day. Tragically, the bulk of this violence occurs in the family home and at school.

So what is ‘invisible’ violence? It is the ‘little things’ we do every day, partly because we are just ‘too busy’. For example, when we do not allow time to listen to, and value, a child’s thoughts and feelings, the child learns to not listen to themself thus destroying their internal communication system. When we do not let a child say what they want (or ignore them when they do), the child develops communication and behavioral dysfunctionalities as they keep trying to meet their own needs (which, as a basic survival strategy, they are genetically programmed to do).

When we blame, condemn, insult, mock, embarrass, shame, humiliate, taunt, goad, guilt-trip, deceive, lie to, bribe, blackmail, moralize with and/or judge a child, we both undermine their sense of Self-worth and teach them to blame, condemn, insult, mock, embarrass, shame, humiliate, taunt, goad, guilt-trip, deceive, lie, bribe, blackmail, moralize and/or judge.

The fundamental outcome of being bombarded throughout their childhood by this ‘invisible’ violence is that the child is utterly overwhelmed by feelings of fear, pain, anger and sadness (among many others). However, mothers, fathers, teachers, religious figures and other adults also actively interfere with the expression of these feelings and the behavioral responses that are naturally generated by them and it is this ‘utterly invisible’ violence that explains why the dysfunctional behavioral outcomes actually occur.

For example, by ignoring a child when they express their feelings, by comforting, reassuring or distracting a child when they express their feelings, by laughing at or ridiculing their feelings, by terrorizing a child into not expressing their feelings (for instance, by screaming at them when they cry or get angry), and/or by violently controlling a behavior that is generated by their feelings (for example, by hitting them, restraining them or locking them into a room), the child has no choice but to unconsciously suppress their awareness of these feelings.

However, once a child has been terrorized into suppressing their awareness of their feelings (rather than being allowed to have their feelings and to act on them) the child has also unconsciously suppressed their awareness of the reality that caused these feelings. This has many outcomes that are disastrous for the individual, for society and for the biosphere because the individual will now easily suppress their awareness of the feelings that would tell them how to act most functionally in any given circumstance and they will progressively acquire a phenomenal variety of dysfunctional behaviors, including some that are violent towards themself, others and/or the Earth.

Moreover, terrorizing the child has many flow-on effects. For example, once you terrorise a child into accepting certain information about themself, other people or the state of the world, the child becomes unconsciously fearful of dealing with new information, especially if this information is contradictory to what they have been terrorized into believing. As a result, the child will unconsciously dismiss new information out of hand.

In short, the child has been terrorized in such a way that they are no longer capable of learning (or their learning capacity is seriously diminished by excluding any information that is not a simple extension of what they already ‘know’). This is one important explanation why some people are ‘climate deniers’ and most others do nothing in response to the climate catastrophe.

Consequently, under this onslaught of terror and violence, the child surrenders their own unique Self and takes on their socially constructed delusional identity which gives them relief from being terrorized while securing the approval they crave to survive.

So if we want to end violence against the biosphere, we must tackle this fundamental cause. Primarily, this means giving everyone, child and adult alike, all of the space they need to feel, deeply, what they want to do, and to then let them do it (or to have the emotional responses they naturally have if they are prevented from doing so).

For some insight into the critical role that school plays in reducing virtually all children to wage slaves for employment in some menial or ‘professional’ role or as ‘cannon fodder’ for the military, while stripping them of the capacity to ask penetrating questions about the very nature of society and their own role in it, see ‘Do We Want School or Education?’

In summary, given that human society is so dysfunctional, beginning with the fact that human beings do not know how to parent or educate their children to nurture their unique and extraordinary potential, humans face a monumental challenge, in an incredibly short time frame, to have any chance of survival.

And we are going to have to fix a lot more things than just our destruction of the biosphere if we are to succeed, given that ecologically destructive behavior and institutions have their origin in dysfunctional psychology, societies and political economy.

To reiterate, however, it is our (often unconscious) fear that underpins every problem. Whether it is the fear getting in the way of our capacity to intelligently analyze the various structures and behaviors that generate the interrelated crises in which we now find ourselves or the fear undermining our courage to act powerfully in response to these crises, acknowledging and dealing with our fear is the core of any strategy for survival.

So what’s the plan?

Let’s start with you. If you consider the evidence in relation to destruction of our biosphere, essentially one of two things will happen. Either you will be powerful enough, both emotionally and intellectually, to grapple with this evidence and you will take strategic action that has ongoing positive impact on the crisis or your (unconscious) fear will simply use one of its lifelong mechanisms to remove awareness of what you have just read from your mind or otherwise delude you, such as by making you believe you are powerless to act differently or that you are ‘doing enough already’. This immobilizing fear, whether or not you experience it consciously, is a primary outcome of the terrorization to which you were subjected as a child.

So, if you sense that improving your own functionality – so that you can fully access your emotional responses, conscience and courage – is a priority, try ‘Putting Feelings First‘.

If you already feel able to act powerfully in response to this multi-faceted crisis, in a way that will have strategic impact, you are invited to consider joining those participating in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth‘, which outlines a simple plan for people to systematically reduce their consumption, by at least 80%, involving both energy and resources of every kind – water, household energy, transport fuels, metals, meat, paper and plastic – while dramatically expanding their individual and community self-reliance in 16 areas, so that all environmental concerns are effectively addressed. You might also consider signing the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World‘.

If you are interested in nurturing children to live by their conscience and to gain the courage necessary to resist elite violence fearlessly, while living sustainably despite the entreaties of capitalism to over-consume, then you are welcome to make ‘My Promise to Children‘. To reiterate: capitalism and other dysfunctional political, economic, military, legal and social structures only thrive because our dysfunctional parenting robs children of their conscience and courage, among many other qualities, while actively teaching them to overconsume as compensation for having vital emotional needs denied.

If you are interested in conducting or participating in a campaign to halt our destruction of the biosphere (or any other manifestation of violence for that matter) you are welcome to consider acting strategically in the way that the extraordinary activist Mohandas K. Gandhi did. Whether you are engaged in a peace, climate, environment or social justice campaign, the 12-point strategic framework and principles are the same.

The two strategic aims and a core list of strategic goals to end war and to end the climate catastrophe, for example, are identified in ‘Campaign Strategic Aims‘ and, using these examples, it is a straightforward task to identify an appropriate set of strategic goals for your local environment campaign. As an aside, the strategic framework to defend against a foreign invading power or a political/military coup, to liberate your country from a dictatorship or a foreign occupation, or to defeat a genocidal assault is explained in ‘Nonviolent Defense/Liberation Strategy‘.

If you would like a straightforward explanation of ‘Nonviolent Action: Why and How it Works‘ and an introduction to what it means to think strategically, try reading about the difference between ‘The Political Objective and Strategic Goal of Nonviolent Actions‘.

If you anticipate violent repression by a ruthless opponent, consider planning and implementing any nonviolent action according to the explanation in ‘Nonviolent Action: Minimizing the Risk of Violent Repression‘.

Finally, if you are going to do nothing in response to this crisis, make it a conscious decision to do nothing. This is far preferable to unconsciously and powerlessly doing nothing by never even considering the evidence or by simply deluding yourself. It also allows you to consciously revise your decision at some point in future if you so wish.

Conclusion

The evidence in relation to destruction of the Earth’s biosphere, leading to ongoing and rapid degradation of all ecosystems and their services, is readily available and overwhelming. The many and varied forms of destruction are having synergistic impact. An insignificant amount of the vast evidence in relation to this destruction is sampled above.

There is a notable group of prominent climate scientists who present compelling evidence that human extinction will occur by 2026 as a result of a projected 10 degree celsius increase in global temperatures above the pre-industrial level by this date. The primary document for this is noted above and this document, together with the evidence it cites, is readily available to be read and analyzed by anyone.

Largely separately from the climate catastrophe (although now increasingly complicated by it), Earth’s sixth mass extinction is already advancing rapidly as we destroy habitat and, on our current trajectory, all species will soon enter the fossil record.

Why? Because we live in a world in which the political, economic, military, legal and social structures and processes of human society are utterly incapable of producing either functional human beings or governance mechanisms that take into account, and respect, the ecological realities of Earth’s biosphere.

So, to reiterate: We are on the fast-track to extinction. On the current trajectory, assuming we can avert nuclear war, some time between 2021 and 2026 the last human will take their final breath.

Our only prospect of survival, and it still has only a remote chance of succeeding, is that a great number of us respond powerfully now and keep mobilizing more people to do so.

If you do absolutely nothing else, consider rearranging your life to exclude all meat from your diet, stop traveling by car and aircraft, substantially reduce your water consumption by scaling down your ownership of electronic devices (which require massive amounts of water to manufacture), and only eat biodynamically or organically grown whole food.

And tell people why you are doing so.

This might give those of us who fight strategically, which can include you if you so choose, a little more time to overturn the structural and remaining behavioral drivers of extinction which will require a profound change in the very nature of human society, including all of its major political, economic, military, legal and social institutions and processes (most of which will need to be abolished).

If this sounds ‘radical’, remember that they are about to vanish anyway. Our strategy must be to replace them with functional equivalents, all of which are readily available (with some briefly outlined in the various documents mentioned in the plan above).

‘It won’t happen’, you might say? And, to be candid, I sincerely believe that you are highly probably right. I have spent a lifetime observing, analyzing, writing about and acting to heal dysfunctional and violent human behavior and, for that reason, I am not going to delude myself that anything less than what I have outlined above will achieve the outcome that I seek: to avert human extinction. But I am realistic.

The insane individuals who control the institutions that are driving extinction will never act to avert it. If they were sane enough to do so, they would have been directing and coordinating these institutions in taking action for the past 40 years. This is why we must resist them strategically. Moreover, I am only too well aware that the bulk of the human population has been terrorized into powerlessness and won’t even act. But our best chance lies in offering them our personal example, and giving them simple and various options for responding effectively.

It is going to be a tough fight for human survival, particularly this late in the ‘game’. Nevertheless, I intend to fight until my last breath. I hope that you will too.

Energy: Missing from the Nuclear Story

One of my first memories of watching TV during the early 1950s was ads promoting leaded gasoline for reducing engine knock.  Little did I suspect the strange history of that gas.  By the beginning of World War I, it became clear that the internal combustion automobile was edging out its rival steam cars and electric cars.  Shortly afterwards, Thomas Midgley began researching how to remove the knocking “ping” sound from gasoline-powered cars.

Midgley devoted no fewer than six years of his life searching for a fuel additive that would have a “no-knock” effect.  He found that corn alcohol would be too expensive.  Benzene would also be effective, but it would be impossible to manufacture enough.  Both oxygen and chlorine increased knock.  Aniline, selenium oxychloride and tellerium worked, but produced an awful smell.  Examining one element after another in a periodic table of the time, he finally found a gasoline additive: tetraethyl lead. Since poisonous effects of lead were well known, the product was labeled “ethyl gasoline.”

Multiple states banned sale of ethyl gasoline, prompting a retort from Midgley that car exhaust contained far too little lead to cause concern.  A vice-president of a new gas company proclaimed that leaded motor fuel was a “gift of God” as Midgley told his partner that they could make 3¢ from each gallon of leaded gasoline in the 20% of the market they could corner.  During the next few decades, leaded gasoline caused immeasurable damage to human organ systems as well as causing violent behavior from neurological impairment.

This is the most dramatic story from Richard Rhodes’ (2018) Energy: A Human History.  Much of Energy is a hodgepodge of personality sketches of those having a role in scientific discoveries. Some of the anecdotes are fascinating.  When the power of steam was being harnessed to move people and things, a contest determined that a steam locomotive attached to the object it was pulling was more efficient than the then popular method of having a stationary engine pull freight uphill with a rope.

Other accounts illustrate how technological changes affected workers.  James Watt used nitrous oxide to rid natural gas of its smoke and smell so it could be employed for night-time lighting.  Mill owners then lengthened the working day to 14 hours.

The shock of the book comes after the author completes 18 of his 20 chapters. As Rhodes delves into the most recent of technologies, nuclear power, the reader finds Rachel Carson, Ralph Nader, and Helen Caldicott being compared to misanthropes such as Thomas Malthus, Paul Ehrlich and followers of Adolf Hitler. This bizarre connection is based on the writings of one obscure author who predated Carson with a description of destruction caused by the over-reproduction of “undesirable people.”

Rhodes claims that the environmental movement unknowingly brought “anti-humanist” ideology into its visions of a simpler world.  By advocating a society less dependent on complex technology, environmentalists are ostensibly condemning untold millions of impoverished humans to disease and starvation.

The author insists that only nuclear power can save humanity from energy poverty and, thus, rejection of nuclear power is elitist.  What about nuclear radiation poisoning, which is critical to nuclear dangers?  Rhodes presents a case which may well become the next generation of pro-nuclear apologies.  Reviewing theories of 1926, he accuses Herman Muller of committing the original sin of radiation theory after his discovery that low doses of radiation caused genetic mutation in fruit flies. Muller developed the critically important “linear no-threshold” (LNT) model which postulates a “linear” relationship between the quantity of radiation received and the likelihood of cell damage, or, that there is no dose of radiation so small that it is without negative effects.

Rhodes’ attempts to discredit Muller have three disturbing characteristics. First, he bases his arguments on character attacks against scientists and environmentalists. Next, he minimizes or ignores large bodies of data.

Third, his arguments lack internal consistency as he repeatedly contradicts information from different parts of the book.  For example, on p. 324 he claims nuclear power is “carbon-free energy” but on p. 332 says nuclear power creates greenhouse gases during “construction, mining, fuel-processing, maintenance, and decommissioning.”

Rhodes borrows his denunciations of Muller from an article by Edward Calabrese, who brags to have unearthed evidence that Muller suppressed research in 1946.  During his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Muller did not acknowledge that he had received a paper that Calabrese thinks contradicted the LNT theory.  Calabrese’ charge, repeated by Rhodes, is absurd, both because it is ridiculous to think that a Nobel Prize speech would be changed due to one unreplicated finding and because Muller was later instrumental in ensuring the publication of that paper.

It is currently Calabrese, rather than Muller, who is discredited, largely due to his increasingly weird assertions that acceptance of the LNT theory was due to “falsifying and fabricating the research record.”  Calabrese’s objectivity is also called into question by his funding from the nuclear industry and companies such as ExxonMobil, Dow Chemical, and General Electric.

Calabrese’s hostility could also be due to the near-universal rejection of his “hormesis” theory that small levels of radiation benefit human health.  In 2006, Calabrese made arguments for hormesis to the international Committee on Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation which rejected them in favor of the LNT model. The LNT model is accepted by a long list of agencies and health organizations.

Many researchers have documented effects of low level radiation (LLR) from the various stages of nuclear power production, background radiation, X-rays and CT scans.  Since Muller’s first experiments on fruit flies, other studies show these insects being susceptible to radiation levels 50 times lower than found then.  As fruit fly research faded away, by the 1970s it was replicated with mice.

Recent research on over 110,000 workers cleaning up after the Chernobyl disaster found significant leukemia increases, even at low doses.  Another study of 300,000 nuclear workers in the US, UK and France also showed leukemia increases with extremely low radiation exposure.  Parallel investigations in the UK, France, Switzerland and Germany demonstrated 30% to 40% increases of childhood leukemia for those living close to nuclear power plants.  An estimated 20% of childhood leukemia in Great Britain is due to background radiation.

Children are particularly susceptible to radiation damage because their tissue is growing rapidly.  Chronic exposure to radiation is also linked to multiple myeloma, lung cancer, thyroid cancer, skin cancer and cancer of the breast and stomach.

The many agencies and scientific societies scrutinizing these and vastly more studies are well aware that accepting Rhodes’ belief that LLR causes no harm or Calabrese’s belief that it is good for you could be very bad for humanity and particularly disastrous for children and nuclear industry workers.  It could lead to the elimination of regulations that many argue are already too weak and irregularly enforced.  One point rarely addressed is that each study tends to focus on a single source of radiation.  Relaxing rules could result in increased poisoning from multiple sources.

This brings up the “Precautionary Principle.”  It says that if there is doubt about the safety of a substance, the burden of proof that it is safe lies with those who advocate it, rather than burdening those who question it with the responsibility to prove its harm.  In other words, “Better safe than sorry.”  The phrase “Precautionary Principle” is not even included in the index of Energy, much less discussed.  Rhodes’ approach suggests a “Throw-caution-to-the-wind Principle.”

Rhodes glibly dismisses Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima as accidents that need not have happened had people been more careful.  In other words, if humans did not behave as humans, there would be no nuclear disasters.

The author is either ignorant of the Price-Anderson Act of 1957 or deliberately chose to sidestep it.  That legislation was passed to encourage private companies to build nuclear power plants by limiting total liability.  Many currently worry that a plant near them might melt down, causing damage far into the billions, with the company not having to fully compensate its victims.  If Rhodes truly believed his own claims regarding the safety of nuclear plants, he would advocate the repeal of Price-Anderson as unnecessary.  “Price-Anderson” also does not appear in the book’s index.

Rhodes belittles concerns regarding nuclear waste, proposing to bury it for 1000 years and let our descendants cope with it.  Rational people do not want to encumber their grandchildren with the legacy of leukemia. Again, the author forgets what he wrote in a previous chapter, that the half life of U238 is 4.5 billion years.  Most people who made it through middle school realize that this time period exceeds 1000 years.

Rhodes seems unaware that some types of radwaste can actually become more radioactive with the passage of time, due to the production of daughter atoms with short half lives.  Radioactivity can initially increase for thousands of years before activity declines – the dangerous interval can persist much longer than the lapse between the building of Egypt’s pyramids and today.

Nor does he seem aware that every nuclear plant must discharge enormous quantities of hot water into an adjacent river or ocean, whose aquatic life is seriously harmed.  Nor does he recognize that earth itself is unstable, subject to earthquakes, floods and other calamities, which is a problematic issue for St. Louis dumps that house some of the original wastes from the Manhattan Project.  That waste, and waste from a conventional dump which is now smoldering, are inching their way towards each other, which is a burning issue for those living nearby.

Many, many people for many different reasons and living in different times (including the future) do and will take issue with the irresponsible claim that nuclear waste is not dangerous.

It never occurs to Rhodes to contrast the potential horror from someone dropping a bomb on a nuclear power plant to bombing a solar panel or wind installation.  Worse, he advocates global proliferation of nuclear power to states vastly less capable of protecting themselves than are the current nuclear powers.  Rhodes seems to forget what he wrote in earlier chapters directly linking the Atoms for Peace program of the Eisenhower era to the expansion of nuclear weapons.  Nor does he remember his earlier discussion of the need to use a form of uranium fuel at that time which would “reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation.”

The difference between Rhodes’ early warning against nuclear proliferation and his ringing endorsement of the same in the last two chapters is just one of the ways he contradicts himself.  More serious is the contrast in tone, style and conceptualization in the two portions of the book.  In the major portion of his work, Rhodes repeatedly describes government agencies’ covering up evidence that threatens corporate profits.  But in the final portions of the book, government agencies are recast as an interlocking conspiracy to block the nuclear industry from completing its humanitarian goal of providing cheap, clean energy to the world’s poor.

More subtle is the way Rhodes hints at energy conservation before ditching the idea in his conclusion.  He describes the way that James Watt improved the steam engine by moving the condensation process in order to save energy.  Later, he seems about to expand the idea of conserving energy when he notes that many “began to question if growth was good.”

This question would challenge the corporate assumption that a quality life comes from possessing an increasing number of objects and propose that energy abundance best be resolved by using energy more efficiently to produce goods (including housing) that endure.  Rhodes never follows this dream and, instead, concludes his book by swallowing the “Happiness = More Stuff” model hook, line and sinker.

Failing to explore the potential of conserving energy, Rhodes accepts that increasing energy can only be provided with nuclear power and follows in the footsteps, not only of Edward Calabrese but also of those he criticizes.  Like Thomas Midgley’s portrayal of “fanatical health cranks,” he describes icons of the environmental movement as “extremists.”  Mimicking Calabrese’ characterization of consensus on the LNT radiation theory as “not real but faked,” he describes the “disingenuousness” of antinuclear activists.  Rather than pointing to a solution for climate change, his radiation denial mirrors Donald Trump’s climate denial in its derogation of scientific research and its personality attacks.

The great environmental challenge of our time it to understand that the many sources of biodestruction are all interconnected and must be confronted simultaneously, rather than disparaging one danger to focus on another.  Addressing species extinction could not move forward by ridiculing concern with toxic pollution.  The extreme threat of climate change will not move closer to resolution by trivializing the menace of nuclear power.  Rhodes’ book on Energy epitomizes what environmentalists should avoid – it does not chart the path that humanity should tread.

A Fatal Incompatibilty: Big Business and Human Survival

Dramatic as the title of the article is, it is becoming increasingly clear that this is not hyperbole or hysterics. It is the only logical conclusion one can arrive at if one analyses the facts of our current situation as a species.

Commerce has existed for thousands of years, with private and government-owned companies providing goods and services for sale, largely unregulated for most of that time. Of course, government has always had the capacity to intervene where business practices have been found to be unsafe or unethical, for the protection of society.

As economies have developed beyond a mostly agricultural foundation into a consumer-driven industrial system, corporations have gained increasing economic, social and political influence. Although there is now an enormous quantity of legal regulation in relation to the conducting of business (in the developed world particularly) corporations exert such a huge influence on countries (democratic or otherwise) that we could accurately be described as living in an age of corpocracy. The infiltration of governments by corporate interests is so severe that governments are almost powerless to prevent the wholesale destruction of our environment and huge damage to humanity without causing a worldwide economic collapse.

Most corporations are not owned by one or a few individuals any more. Generally a large number of unknown individuals (shareholders) own them, to whom the directors are solely answerable. In almost all cases, the priority of the shareholders is the maximising of dividends and share prices, which companies achieve by creating as much profit as possible within a given time frame; e.g., per quarter year.

As a result of this priority of creating profits, above all other activities, companies have a long history of ignoring ethical concerns or paying lip-service to such issues in order to avoid any negative impacts on profitability. Considering the continual impact of corporate donations and lobbying on the political process and subsequent regulation, it is clear that corporations have deliberately attempted to prevent or diminish assessment and legislation that might adversely affect them.

There are a multitude of examples of big business attempting to conceal nefarious practices or to prevent any actions to control or end them. It would be easy to write a huge tome on the subject but here I am only going to refer to a few of the most famous and serious examples of corporate irresponsible behaviour.

The production of energy that fueled the industrial revolution, the expansion of commerce, science, technology and the massive growth of human populations is a dirty business. This began with the discovery of coal and its crucial role in the use of steam power. It was clear from the start that coal was at times dangerous to mine, potentially explosive and extremely dirty to burn, as is still the case today. Crude oil and natural gas have long since overtaken coal as energy sources of prime importance, but these too are flammable/explosive and extremely damaging to the environment when burned but particularly so if leaked. Nuclear power, the youngest of the destructive energy industries, likes to portray itself as clean when the reality could not be more different. Apart from well-known polluting disasters such as Three Mile Island, Sellafield, Chernobyl and Fukushima, nuclear power produces huge quantities of troublesome waste that remain radioactive. This waste remains dangerous for centuries or millenia and the industry still has no way to decontaminate it or to guarantee permanent safe storage.

Throughout its history the energy industry has downplayed or dismissed health and environmental concerns in order to continue maximising profits – any changes that have arisen have been fought against and succeeded only due to overriding public pressure. Examples of this are the smog and acid rain from coal burning, lead poisoning due to tetraethyl lead in petrol, radiation leaks in nuclear power stations, oil and gas spills in the marine environment and most recently contamination of land and water from fracking. In each case, despite clear scientific evidence to the contrary, the energy industry has attempted to dismiss dangers, conceal or discredit incriminating data, avoid accepting responsibility and minimising reparations for disastrous incidents.

Even now, when overwhelming scientific evidence proves that these industries are polluting, unsafe and detrimental to all life on Earth, they continue not just to fight for their survival but try to expand and curtail any attempts to contain them. All this is still occurring despite almost universal government and public acknowledgement of the need to gradually close down these industries in order to secure the future of humanity.

The same problem is to be found in a wide variety of other industries. The tobacco industry is one of the most obvious examples – for decades it has fought against regulation despite knowing, all along, that its products are dangerous and entirely detrimental to health. The pharmaceutical industry was most famously scandalised by the Thalidomide catastrophe of the 1950s and 1960s but despite many benefits to humanity this industry is also responsible for repeated cover-ups, creating wide-scale dependency on addictive prescription drugs, over-prescription of antidepressants, causing antibiotic resistance through over-use and environmental pollution, all in the name of profit expansion.

Plastics, an offshoot of the oil industry, seemed like a manufacturing miracle but it has turned out to be a nightmare for humanity and a vast number of the world’s species. Despite increasing evidence of planet wide pollution and damage to huge numbers of species, including humans, the industry continues to fight against change and much needed regulation instead of attempting to transition to bio-plastics and reinvent itself.

Another major offender is the agricultural and food industry, which has been hugely responsible for the degradation of the environment. Apart from continual reckless deforestation, agriculture is responsible for damaging top soil run-off and pollution of rivers and seas with pesticides and fertilizers. In the 1960s DDT famously caused huge numbers of bird, insect and animal deaths as well as dangers to humans leading to it being banned. Despite improvements in regulations, pesticides continue to have a catastrophic effect on the environment (bees in particular) and contamination of our food and water is still occurring all across the globe. Irresponsible farming practices are degrading the environment, increasing desertification, causing water contamination and biodiversity loss; overfishing is depleting the oceans; genetically modified organism of questionable safety are entering the food chain, all of which is despite wide-spread public opposition.

These are just a few areas that I’ve chosen, but the list is almost endless – in virtually every area of industry and corporate activity attempts have been and are being made to circumvent or decrease regulation, deny responsibility and avoid adopting practices that will affect profitability. Self-regulation and government regulation has almost entirely failed to prevent unchecked growth at the expense of humanity and the environment we depend on. Perhaps the side-effects of industrial society were not so evident decades ago and one can assume businesses generally are not created with the intention to destroy the fabric of life. However, due to decades of solid scientific evidence, no-one can plead ignorance any longer regarding the dire situation humanity has placed itself in.

Short-sighted as it is, governments are so influenced by the corporate sector and by fear of economic instability that they are able to offer little more than token gestures or reforms over such a long timescale that they are too little, too late. Apart from a sudden and catastrophic economic collapse, there is little to indicate that the behemoth of corporate big business is likely to change its destructive practices in any significant way or stop attempting to prevent or diminish restrictions upon it.

So given, that the corporate world is most likely to continue to act against the greater interests of humanity (and ultimately itself) what can we do about the situation? Although we may feel powerless as individuals to effect change in the world, especially when faced with the enormous power of the corpocracy, we do in truth wield massive economic power. In the absence of governments fighting our corner with any sincerity, it is up to us to wield the only weapon we have in the effort to force corporations to change their ways.

The one and hugely powerful weapon we have is our choice as consumers. What corporations want and need most of all is our money; without it they cannot function and without consumers to buy their products they have no reason to exist. While campaigning to governments should not be abandoned, it is of unpredictable worth, with no guarantee of success – another approach is required. Direct action in the form of consuming less or withdrawal of custom has an immediate and severe effect on any business if enough people are prepared to take part.

If we meekly wait for government regulation to kick in and curtail the rampant irresponsibility of the corporate sector, then there is little chance of major change happening before the collapse of human society is unpreventable. If, however, we as concerned consumers, vote with our wallets and also let companies know why we are doing so, then businesses that wish to survive will be forced to change. In a revitalized society where the consumer calls the shots businesses that are able to embrace environmentalism, revolutionize their products and methods will succeed. In the past, when businesses that failed to adapt to new trends or new technology they simply disappeared, sometimes extremely rapidly. That is still the case today. Businesses that fail to adapt to consumer demand for ecologically responsible trade and a move away from putting profit above all else can be forced to change their stance or face extinction.

Personally I would rather suffer the economic effects of irresponsible businesses ceasing to exist than see the continued rapid extinction of species and degradation of our planet. Ultimately we as individuals have the power to change our own behaviour and demand that corporations change theirs. The time available to bring this transition about is not unlimited. In a decade or two it may already be too late; now is the time to turn the tables on big business and force it to change its ways.

Nuclear Disaster at Chernobyl: Reality and Unreality

With the escalating doom of climate change hovering over us, it is tempting to push nuclear horror to the back of our minds.  To those of us who grew up in the 1950s, it was omnipresent.  Nuclear war could not exist without nuclear power and on April 26, 1986 the world experienced a form of nuclear horror it will never forget.

Why did Unit 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear plant explode on that day?  Did operator error cause it? Was design flaw the reason?  Should we look deeper into the Soviet system for the cause?  Or should we look deeper still into the very existence of nuclear power?

In May 2018, Basic Books released Serhii Plokhy’s “Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe.”  It could well become the definitive story of that disaster.  Chernobyl will raise eyebrows.  The book features detailed interviews with key actors, meticulous research, and then a big “uh-ooh.”

Plokhy delves into the background of the infamous nuke, including its site selection in 1966, its location by the river and town both named Prypiat, and intense discussions over the type of reactor to build.  Should they construct the safer but more expensive VVER (Water-Water Energy Reactor) or the cheaper and more powerful RBMK (High Power Channel Reactor) which lacked a cement containment shield?

The author goes beyond looking at the people involved in building the plant and describes their mutual relationships and their interactions with construction problems and delays.  These personal relations figured heavily into the uncertainty and miscommunication regarding a turbine test that led to the explosion – something unexpected that plant operators had been assured was impossible.

The book could also gain widespread attention from its documentation of the spreading levels of disbelief.  Not knowing that burning nuclear material is completely different from other fires, dozens of firefighters were exposed to lethal and near-lethal levels of radiation.

The night of the explosion plant director Victor Briukhanov closed his ears to reports of radiation measurements.  When he finally understood how dire the situation was, politicians refused to heed his advice to evacuate the neighboring town.  Even as plant workers were admitted into the hospital with acute radioactive poisoning, seven Prypiat weddings went on as scheduled.

The terror was multiplied as actors began to realize that the “experts” had no idea of what to do.  Some said the reactor should be covered with sand, clay, boron and lead.  Others replied that would needlessly sacrifice the lives of helicopter pilots dropping the mixture and could increase the chance of a new explosion.

Some identified the main threat as the reactor burning down to the water table and causing a new steam explosion.  They focused on removing the water.  Others said that was not possible.  The unsure politicians decided to try virtually everything.

Spreading disbelief gave rise to wave after wave of cover-ups.  Attempts to conceal the dangers from Prypiat residents morphed into hiding them from all of the Ukraine.  Hoodwinking efforts spread to Russia and then to the entire world.

The cover-ups turned into blame games that festered in the Ukraine from 1987 on.  Hoping to sidetrack discussion of the faulty plant design, Moscow bureaucrats put Ukrainian operators on trial.  But Ukrainians knew that designers of the RBMK had promised that it was so safe that it had no need for a concrete containment structure and could be installed on Red Square in Moscow.  Events were seen as an assault on Ukrainian national pride.

While nationalists wrote of Chernobyl as a malicious plot by Moscow, literary artists and academics who had previously praised the “modernity” of nuclear power now joined in its vilification.  At the end of the 1980s Ukrainian environmentalists were portraying Chernobyl as a symptom of Moscow’s eco-imperialism.

By 1990, many political candidates linked denuclearization with Ukrainian independence and the new parliament approved a five year moratorium on new nukes.  That moratorium was annulled in 1993 as rulers of the newly independent Ukraine decided that the country’s market economy needed energy and employment and that nuclear power could provide both.

The big factor that could advance the popularity of Plokhy’s Chernobyl is its constant portrayal of the Soviet system as the ultimate cause of the disaster with the alternative being the safer nukes constructed by western countries.  Count on the US nuclear industry to give a standing ovation to that conclusion.

This is the “uh-ooh.” Do we really need cold war propaganda masquerading as insight to bring down the nuclear behemoth?  Instead, let’s take a realistic account of problems with the full life cycle of nuclear power:

  • mining uranium exposes every living creature in its path to radiation;
  • milling radioactive material exposes workers and nearby residents;
  • transporting nuclear fuel by rail or truck to a plant potentially exposes every living thing along the route;
  • everyday operations of nukes exposes people to radiation leaks and “near misses;”
  • the Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima catastrophes continue to be devastating for millions;
  • decommissioning a nuke affects workers as it permanently degrades the surrounding area;
  • transportation of nuclear waste to a storage site again threatens every living thing en route;
  • storage of radioactive waste for millions of years has the same potential to unravel the web of life as does climate change and poses the question: How can the short term economic benefits possibly outweigh the costs of nuclear storage for eternity?
  • military use of nuclear material has always lurked behind claims of economic benefits, meaning that all nuclear power plants increase the likelihood of war; and,
  • perils of the destructive potential of nukes inherently require a monolithic and controlling state, as opposed to wind and solar power which are vastly less risky.

By catering to the crafted misperception that explosions are the single, solitary danger of nukes and barely mentioning or ignoring these obvious hazards, the book sidesteps the big picture.

Plokhy briefly notes that Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” nuclear weapon expansion forced the USSR to escalate in response, even though it was seeking an opposite course.  In doing so, the author refutes his own claim that the root cause of the Soviet plan to increase nuclear power was its internally driven urge to expand production.

If the ultimate cause of the Chernobyl explosion could be shifted from operator error and design flaw to an alleged Soviet fascination with nukes, then why not shift the cause further to the US-sponsored nuclear expansion which provoked the response by the USSR?  An honest analysis of the devastation of Chernobyl would identify nuclear technology itself as the fundamental problem, regardless of the country employing it.

Even though the book refers to the 1979 Three Mile Island meltdown in the US and Japan’s 2011 meltdown at Fukushima, it continuously blames Soviet incompetence for Chernobyl.  Clearly the author has an axe to grind against the bureaucratic mode of production and this muddles his explanations.

In particular, it muddles interpretation of nasty efforts to cover up the catastrophe at every step of its unfolding.  Yes, Soviet bureaucrats were less than forthcoming in the extreme. Interpreting this as a symptom of Sovietism implies that rulers of capitalist society are beacons of truth and openness.  To put it mildly, this is false.

Immediately after the Three Mile Island meltdown US citizens were told that there were no radiation releases; then “informed” that the radiation was “insignificant;” then told that fuel inside the core did not melt and no one needed to evacuate the area.  Similarly, volumes could be written of cover-ups of agrochemicals and other toxins, climate denial, and under-reporting of species extinctions in the US and they would still barely scratch the surface of what we do not hear.

Asking readers to believe that Western nukes are somehow “safer” than Chernobyl is a bit like saying that a high school shooter who kills 4 students is “safer” than one who kills 17.

In the 1950s, my parents heard the promise that nuclear plants would soon be producing electricity that was “too cheap to meter.”  When an elementary school student, I participated in absurd “duck and cover” exercises.  As the sirens were going off, we marched into the hall, sat with our backs to the wall, ducked our heads down and covered them with our hands.  As if that would protect us from a nuclear fallout.  A decade later, others who had the same childhood experience created the famous poster including those instructions and ending with the command to put your head down between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.

Though assuring readers that US reactors are safer than Soviet-era ones, the author fails to mention the Price-Anderson Act, passed in 1954 at the dawn of the nuclear era to encourage private companies to build nukes by limiting total liability to $700 million.  The hushed-up fear was that no one would insure a nuke if the power company had to pay out untold billions of dollars in damages.  If US nukes are “relatively” safe, then there is no need for Price-Anderson and it should be repealed.  The fact that no power company advocates this is proof that they could never pay out-of-pocket for the full damage one of their nukes could cause.

How can a statement be true and false at the same time?  It is true if the facts given are correct.  It can simultaneously be false if it cherry-picks those facts in order to manufacture a broad interpretation divorced from reality.  Plokhy shows how to do this in an account of Chernobyl.

One of the biggest pieces he leaves out of the Chernobyl puzzle is the number of deaths caused by the accident.  Plokhy briefly quotes the estimates of 4000 by the UN and 90,000 by Greenpeace International.  But he relies most heavily of the figure of 5000 cancer deaths by WHO in 2006.  He does not even mention the far more thorough 2009 study by Yablokov, Nesterenko and Nesterenko published by the New York Academy of Sciences. That analysis cites much more research, covers a much larger area, includes projected future radiation poisoning, examines a broader range of cancers and birth defects, and estimates 985,000 deaths.

After documenting the incredible suffering in the Ukraine, the author of Chernobyl makes an astounding call for more international cooperation in EXPANDING nuclear power.  Though providing a fascinating story of what happened there, he ends up amplifying the very problem he condemns.

• This review was first published at Green Social Thought

 

Korea: What the Generals Aren’t Telling You

The retired Generals on the talk-show circuit look grim.  They say if the US attacks North Korea, it will retaliate and bomb Seoul, South Korea’s capitol.  Hundreds of thousands could die.  The Generals look even grimmer.  There will be a ground invasion.  Result? A possible 20,000 casualties per day.

No one mentions the X factor.

James Mattis, H.R. McMaster, Rex Tillerson, John Kelly, Nickki Haley – not a peep from them either.

In his State of the Union address the President lingers on the gruesome death of Otto Warmbier, promises “Resolve.” Trump also won’t touch it.

Twenty-four.  South Korea has 24 operating nuclear power plants.

Fact: All of the recent US-coalition wars have involved countries where there were no – repeat no – large, operating nuclear power plants.  Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya.  None of them had or has any large, commercial nuclear-reactors at the time of these wars.  Thus, bombing missions, for all their hideous destructiveness, have not put at risk, the huge amounts of cesium-137, strontium-90 and other deadly radioactive contaminants in reactor cores.

So how do 24 nuclear power plants change the equation regarding a US war versus North Korea – a war which, by most predictions, quickly morphs into a war both on South and North Korea soil?

After the US launches a strike (pre-emptive or not) the Kim Jong Un regime unleashes artillery located immediately north of the DMZ.  Hidden behind blast doors – the doors open for firing and then close up again – this fire-power is also buried deep in granite mountains.  According to the DC-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, North Korea has thousands of these medium and long-range rockets.

Presumably, the US bombers (some nuclear-armed) tightly massed in Guam, the hundreds of Tomahawk ballistic missiles aboard US nuclear submarines and destroyers, the huge arsenal of bombs aboard US aircraft carriers, plus an array of Japanese and South Korean fighter jets, would indeed constitute the Fire and Fury which President Trump has so famously described.  The border and key North Korean cities are immediately pulverized.  Yet, even if the North Korean artillery could be 80 to 90% neutered, still, there would be a counter-strike of some sort.

Where do the artillery and rockets land?

Well within range is the busy metropolis of Seoul and environs (population 25.6 million). This fact alone ought to drive all sides to the negotiation table pronto.  But there is more.

Most of Korea’s 24 nuclear power plants are located in the south, way beyond the range of said artillery.  There’s an exception.  The Hanul reactors located at Uljin are about midway down the South Korean portion of the peninsula.  Here, right on the east coast six reactors sit side-by-side.  A strike could simultaneously disable one, two or more nukes.  Not to mention possibly jeopardizing the on-site pools where old (and highly radioactive) reactor cores are cooling down.

Estimates are that the North’s artillery range is about 100 miles.  If that range is accurate then Kim Jong Un’s rockets would – just barely – fall short of the Hanul complex. (Uljin is about 110 miles from the DMZ.)

It’s not just a direct hit that could compromise the Hanul nukes.  A North Korea strike on Seoul and other South Korean cities could, either deliberately or by accident, take out electric substations, high voltage transmission lines and/or other key aspects of the electric power grid.

Sounds unlikely?  Well, it’s exactly what happened during the first year of the 2003 war in Iraq.  Baghdad was without regular electricity for months.  The power would flicker on for a few moments, flicker off.  Then, there’d be a black-out for the next 22-or-so hours.

There’s a big difference between Iraq and Korea.  The electrical grid in Iraq had been badly degraded by two wars, plus years of harsh UN sanctions.  But ask any of the people who lived (or are currently living) in the midst of long-term war – say in Aleppo or Sana – for them regular electricity is a fond and distant memory.

The mind balks at the image of a huge nuclear power plant in the midst of a rubblelized city.  The mind screams no.  No.  The chaos of war doesn’t jibe with these delicate and complex machines – machines that require near-perfection of both operating components and of personnel.

Besides, we already know what happens to a big nuclear power plant when the grid goes out.  It’s called Fukushima.  In that case, an earthquake and a tsunami cut off power, jeopardizing the reactor’s core-cooling systems.  Presto, a flat out emergency.  The emergency backup diesel generators had to kick in.

The generators did not kick in.  (They were flooded).  Result?  Three core meltdowns. And reactors that – to this day – are still pouring deadly radioactivity into the environment.

Okay, that was Fukushima.  Why assume history will repeat itself?  Sometimes, it does.  Sometimes, it doesn’t.

Backup generators might work perfectly at Hanul.  After all South Korea is one of the most highly-industrialized, tech-savy countries on the planet.

Besides, post-Fukushima, electric utilities around the world made changes that assure even more reliability and redundancy for backup systems.  Right?  Reactors now have emergency diesel generators that won’t go the way of Fukushima.

Yet…even if all backup systems in a nuclear power plant work exactly as planned, there’s always the something that wasn’t planned.  There’s one little bolt that might shear off.

South Korea is the country where back in 2013 a scandal rocked the nuclear industry.  According to World Nuclear News, over one hundred people were “indicted for falsifying safety certificates.”  The sub-standard parts included control cables vital to emergency shut-down-procedures.  The CEO of Korea Electric and Power Company, who had received a huge bribe, was forced to resign.  Later that year there were four more top executives at the same company accused of taking bribes.  None of this is particularly inspiring regarding the current state of Korea’s nukes.

Let’s assume those nuclear power plant scandals are over.  Then, can’t we just put our hopes on North Korea deciding NOT to respond if attacked?  Or assume its response will be so minimal as to be ineffective?  Can’t we eliminate artillery from the equation?  Oh, yes and let’s mentally jettison the few decrepit submarines the North Koreans have lurking about.  Also forget Russia and China and how they might respond.  Presto, the skies are wide open for whatever the US wants to deliver.

Sorry, no go.  It’s not worth the risk.  A disaster at a nuclear reactor in Korea would be an utter catastrophe for Korea, its citizens, and its land.  It would also be a catastrophe for the planet.  The Sea of Japan with its rich harvest of shrimp, tuna, and other fish would be at risk.  Japan itself could be at risk.  Depending upon which way the winds were blowing, dangerous contaminants could head north towards Russia, then sweep across the Pacific towards the coast of Alaska and then on down to California.

Citizens of the planet need to look this threat stark in the face.  Ignoring the threat is the worst we can do.

The Generals must start thinking about it.

The US pilots climbing into the cockpits of F-35 fighter-bombers in Guam should think about it.  The Koch Brothers should think about it.  Senator Tammy Duckworth should think about it.  (Just back from a recent trip to Korea, she warned “Americans simply are not in touch with just how close we are to war on the Korean peninsula.”)  The millions watching the Winter Olympics should think about it.

Bernie should think about it.  John Lewis and Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren should think about it.  We all, great and small, must think about it.

And the world needs to roar.  It is unacceptable.  It cannot happen.  No war in a country where there is one operating commercial nuclear power plant – much less twenty-four.  Period.  End of Story.