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Fukushima – A Global Threat That Requires A Global Response

In Uncategorized on October 28, 2013 at 2:30 pm
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Workers take soil samples in Ukedo, Japan, which was evacuated after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, August 30, 2013. Two and a half years after the Fukushima Daiichi plant belched plumes of radioactive materials over northeast Japan, the almost 83,000 refugees evacuated from the worst-hit areas are still unable to go home. (Photo: Tomas Munita / The New York Times

Oldspeak: “The history of TEPCO shows we cannot trust this company and its mistreated workforce to handle the complex challenges faced at Fukushima. The crisis at Fukushima is a global one, requiring a global solution….

The problems at Fukushima are in large part about facing reality – seeing the challenges, risks and potential harms from the incident. It is about TEPCO and Japan facing the reality that they are not equipped to handle the challenges of Fukushima and need the world to join the effort. 

Facing reality is a common problem throughout the nuclear industry and those who continue to push for nuclear energy. Indeed, it is a problem with many energy issues. We must face the reality of the long-term damage being done to the planet and the people by the carbon-nuclear based energy economy.” –Kevin Zeese & Margaret Flowers

“That’s really all it boils down to isn’t it? “We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.” –Carl Jung. We have to accept reality. Our energy sources and the systems of extraction and exploitation they require are unsustainable, incalculably toxic and dangerous. This is beyond dispute. Coal is not “Clean”. Diesel Gas is not “Clean”. Fracked methane gas is not “Clean” or “Natural”. Nuclear energy is not worth the gargantuan risks it poses to, well, everything that lives. We can’t waste time covering up, blame shifting or condemning past actions at this point. This incident is an ongoing, ever-expanding and uncontrolled release of massive quantities of radioactive material that threatens the planet. it is on a scale far beyond the capabilities of any one nation or corporation to stop or contain. May very well be beyond the capabilities of all nations. But we can’t keep extending and pretending that the Japanese are handing the disaster. An urgent and globally coordinated response is needed.” -OSJ

Related Story:

Fukushima Far From Over

Radioactive Rainwater Overwhelms Fukushima Nuclear Plant

By Kevin Zeese & Margaret Flowers @ Truthout:

The story of Fukushima should be on the front pages of every newspaper. Instead, it is rarely mentioned. The problems at Fukushima are unprecedented in human experience and involve a high risk of radiation events larger than any that the global community has ever experienced. It is going to take the best engineering minds in the world to solve these problems and to diminish their global impact.

When we researched the realities of Fukushima in preparation for this article, words like apocalyptic, cataclysmic and Earth-threatening came to mind. But, when we say such things, people react as if we were the little red hen screaming “the sky is falling” and the reports are ignored. So, we’re going to present what is known in this article and you can decide whether we are facing a potentially cataclysmic event.

Either way, it is clear that the problems at Fukushima demand that the world’s best nuclear engineers and other experts advise and assist in the efforts to solve them. Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds.org and an international team of scientists created a 15-point plan to address the crises at Fukushima.

A subcommittee of the Green Shadow Cabinet (of which we are members), which includes long-time nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman, is circulating a sign-on letter and a petition calling on the United Nations and Japanese government to put in place the Gundersen et al plan and to provide 24-hour media access to information about the crises at Fukushima. There is also a call for international days of action on the weekend of November 9 and 10. The letter and petitions will be delivered to the UN on November 11 which is both Armistice Day and the 32nd month anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The Problems of Fukushima

There are three major problems at Fukushima: (1) Three reactor cores are missing; (2) Radiated water has been leaking from the plant in mass quantities for 2.5 years; and (3) Eleven thousand spent nuclear fuel rods, perhaps the most dangerous things ever created by humans, are stored at the plant and need to be removed, 1,533 of those are in a very precarious and dangerous position. Each of these three could result in dramatic radiation events, unlike any radiation exposure humans have ever experienced.  We’ll discuss them in order, saving the most dangerous for last.

Missing reactor cores:  Since the accident at Fukushima on March 11, 2011, three reactor cores have gone missing.  There was an unprecedented three reactor ‘melt-down.’ These melted cores, called corium lavas, are thought to have passed through the basements of reactor buildings 1, 2 and 3, and to be somewhere in the ground underneath.

Harvey Wasserman, who has been working on nuclear energy issues for over 40 years, tells us that during those four decades no one ever talked about the possibility of a multiple meltdown, but that is what occurred at Fukushima.

It is an unprecedented situation to not know where these cores are. TEPCO is pouring water where they think the cores are, but they are not sure. There are occasional steam eruptions coming from the grounds of the reactors, so the cores are thought to still be hot.

The concern is that the corium lavas will enter or may have already entered the aquifer below the plant. That would contaminate a much larger area with radioactive elements. Some suggest that it would require the area surrounding Tokyo, 40 million people, to be evacuated. Another concern is that if the corium lavas enter the aquifer, they could create a “super-heated pressurized steam reaction beneath a layer of caprock causing a major ‘hydrovolcanic’ explosion.”

A further concern is that a large reserve of groundwater which is coming in contact with the corium lavas is migrating towards the ocean at the rate of four meters per month. This could release greater amounts of radiation than were released in the early days of the disaster.

Radioactive water leaking into the Pacific Ocean:  TEPCO did not admit that leaks of radioactive water were occurring until July of this year. Shunichi Tanaka the head of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority finally told reporters this July that radioactive water has been leaking into the Pacific Ocean since the disaster hit over two years ago. This is the largest single contribution of radionuclides to the marine environment ever observed according to a report by the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety.  The Japanese government finally admitted that the situation was urgent this September – an emergency they did not acknowledge until 2.5 years after the water problem began.

How much radioactive water is leaking into the ocean? An estimated 300 tons (71,895 gallons/272,152 liters) of contaminated water is flowing into the ocean every day.  The first radioactive ocean plume released by the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster will take three years to reach the shores of the United States.  This means, according to a new study from the University of New South Wales, the United States will experience the first radioactive water coming to its shores sometime in early 2014.

One month after Fukushima, the FDA announced it was going to stop testing fish in the Pacific Ocean for radiation.  But, independent research is showing that every bluefin tuna tested in the waters off California has been contaminated with radiation that originated in Fukushima. Daniel Madigan, the marine ecologist who led the Stanford University study from May of 2012 was quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying, “The tuna packaged it up (the radiation) and brought it across the world’s largest ocean. We were definitely surprised to see it at all and even more surprised to see it in every one we measured.” Marine biologist Nicholas Fisher of Stony Brook University in New York State, another member of the study group, said: “We found that absolutely every one of them had comparable concentrations of cesium 134 and cesium 137.”

In addition, Science reports that fish near Fukushima are being found to have high levels of the radioactive isotope, cesium-134. The levels found in these fish are not decreasing,  which indicates that radiation-polluted water continues to leak into the ocean. At least 42 fish species from the area around the plant are considered unsafe.  South Korea has banned Japanese fish as a result of the ongoing leaks.

The half-life (time it takes for half of the element to decay) of cesium 134 is 2.0652 years. For cesium 137, the half-life is 30.17 years. Cesium does not sink to the ocean floor, so fish swim through it. What are the human impacts of cesium?

When contact with radioactive cesium occurs, which is highly unlikely, a person can experience cell damage due to radiation of the cesium particles. Due to this, effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding may occur. When the exposure lasts a long time, people may even lose consciousness. Coma or even death may then follow. How serious the effects are depends upon the resistance of individual persons and the duration of exposure and the concentration a person is exposed to, experts say.

There is no end in sight from the leakage of radioactive water into the Pacific from Fukushima.  Harvey Wasserman is questioning whether fishing in the Pacific Ocean will be safe after years of leakage from Fukushima.  The World Health Organization (WHO) is claiming that this will have limited effect on human health, with concentrations predicted to be below WHO safety levels. However, experts seriously question the WHO’s claims.

The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Radiation is in the process of writing a report to assess the radiation doses and associated effects on health and environment. When finalized, it will be the most comprehensive scientific analysis of the information available to date examining how much radioactive material was released, how it was dispersed over land and water, how Fukushima compares to previous accidents, what the impact is on the environment and food, and what the impact is on human health and the environment.

Wasserman warns that “dilution is no solution.”  The fact that the Pacific Ocean is large does not change the fact that these radioactive elements have long half-lives.  Radiation in water is taken up by vegetation, then smaller fish eat the vegetation, larger fish eat the smaller fish and at the top of the food chain we will find fish like tuna, dolphin and whales with concentrated levels of radiation. Humans at the top of the food chain could be eating these contaminated fish.

As bad as the ongoing leakage of radioactive water is into the Pacific, that is not the largest part of the water problem.  The Asia-Pacific Journal reported last month that TEPCO has 330,000 tons of water stored in 1,000 above-ground tanks and an undetermined amount in underground storage tanks.  Every day, 400 tons of water comes to the site from the mountains, 300 tons of that is the source for the contaminated water leaking into the Pacific daily. It is not clear where the rest of this water goes.

Each day TEPCO injects 400 tons of water into the destroyed facilities to keep them cool; about half is recycled, and the rest goes into the above-ground tanks. They are constantly building new storage tanks for this radioactive water. The tanks being used for storage were put together rapidly and are already leaking. They expect to have 800,000 tons of radioactive water stored on the site by 2016.  Harvey Wasserman warns that these unstable tanks are at risk of rupture if there is another earthquake or storm that hits Fukushima. The Asia-Pacific Journal concludes: “So at present there is no real solution to the water problem.”

The most recent news on the water problem at Fukushima adds to the concerns. On October 11, 2013, TEPCO disclosed that the radioactivity level spiked 6,500 times at a Fukushima well.  “TEPCO said the findings show that radioactive substances like strontium have reached the groundwater. High levels of tritium, which transfers much easier in water than strontium, had already been detected.”

Spent Fuel Rods:  As bad as the problems of radioactive water and missing cores are, the biggest problem at Fukushima comes from the spent fuel rods.  The plant has been in operation for 40 years. As a result, they are storing 11 thousand spent fuel rods on the grounds of the Fukushima plant. These fuel rods are composed of highly radioactive materials such as plutonium and uranium. They are about the width of a thumb and about 15 feet long.

The biggest and most immediate challenge is the 1,533 spent fuel rods packed tightly in a pool four floors above Reactor 4.  Before the storm hit, those rods had been removed for routine maintenance of the reactor.  But, now they are stored 100 feet in the air in damaged racks.  They weigh a total of 400 tons and contain radiation equivalent to 14,000 times the amount released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

The building in which these rods are stored has been damaged. TEPCO reinforced it with a steel frame, but the building itself is buckling and sagging, vulnerable to collapse if another earthquake or storm hits the area. Additionally, the ground under and around the building is becoming saturated with water, which further undermines the integrity of the structure and could cause it to tilt.

How dangerous are these fuel rods?  Harvey Wasserman explains that the fuel rods are clad in zirconium which can ignite if they lose coolant. They could also ignite or explode if rods break or hit each other. Wasserman reports that some say this could result in a fission explosion like an atomic bomb, others say that is not what would happen, but agree it would be “a reaction like we have never seen before, a nuclear fire releasing incredible amounts of radiation,” says Wasserman.

These are not the only spent fuel rods at the plant, they are just the most precarious.  There are 11,000 fuel rods scattered around the plant, 6,000 in a cooling pool less than 50 meters from the sagging Reactor 4.  If a fire erupts in the spent fuel pool at Reactor 4, it could ignite the rods in the cooling pool and lead to an even greater release of radiation. It could set off a chain reaction that could not be stopped.

What would happen? Wasserman reports that the plant would have to be evacuated.  The workers who are essential to preventing damage at the plant would leave, and we will have lost a critical safeguard.  In addition, the computers will not work because of the intense radiation. As a result we would be blind – the world would have to sit and wait to see what happened. You might have to not only evacuate Fukushima but all of the population in and around Tokyo, reports Wasserman.

There is no question that the 1,533 spent fuel rods need to be removed.  But Arnie Gundersen, a veteran nuclear engineer and director of Fairewinds Energy Education, who used to build fuel assemblies, told Reuters “They are going to have difficulty in removing a significant number of the rods.” He described the problem in a radio interview:

“If you think of a nuclear fuel rack as a pack of cigarettes, if you pull a cigarette straight up it will come out — but these racks have been distorted. Now when they go to pull the cigarette straight out, it’s going to likely break and release radioactive cesium and other gases, xenon and krypton, into the air. I suspect come November, December, January we’re going to hear that the building’s been evacuated, they’ve broke a fuel rod, the fuel rod is off-gassing.”

Wasserman builds on the analogy, telling us it is “worse than pulling cigarettes out of a crumbled cigarette pack.” It is likely they used salt water as a coolant out of desperation, which would cause corrosion because the rods were never meant to be in salt water.  The condition of the rods is unknown. There is debris in the coolant, so there has been some crumbling from somewhere. Gundersen  adds, “The roof has fallen in, which further distorted the racks,” noting that if a fuel rod snaps, it will release radioactive gas which will require at a minimum evacuation of the plant. They will release those gases into the atmosphere and try again.

The Japan Times writes: “The consequences could be far more severe than any nuclear accident the world has ever seen. If a fuel rod is dropped, breaks or becomes entangled while being removed, possible worst case scenarios include a big explosion, a meltdown in the pool, or a large fire. Any of these situations could lead to massive releases of deadly radionuclides into the atmosphere, putting much of Japan — including Tokyo and Yokohama — and even neighboring countries at serious risk.”

This is not the usual moving of fuel rods.  TEPCO has been saying this is routine, but in fact it is unique – a feat of engineering never done before.  As Gundersen says:

“Tokyo Electric is portraying this as easy. In a normal nuclear reactor, all of this is done with computers. Everything gets pulled perfectly vertically. Well nothing is vertical anymore, the fuel racks are distorted, it’s all going to have to be done manually. The net effect is it’s a really difficult job. It wouldn’t surprise me if they snapped some of the fuel and they can’t remove it.”

Gregory Jaczko, Former Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission concurs with Gundersen describing the removal of the spent fuel rods as “a very significant activity, and . . . very, very unprecedented.”

Wasserman sums the challenge up: “We are doing something never done before – bent, crumbling, brittle fuel rods being removed from a pool that is compromised, in a building that is sinking, sagging and buckling, and it all must done under manual control, not with computers.”  And the potential damage from failure would affect hundreds of millions of people.

The Solutions

The three major problems at Fukushima are all unprecedented, each unique in their own way and each has the potential for major damage to humans and the environment. There are no clear solutions but there are steps that need to be taken urgently to get the Fukushima clean-up and de-commissioning on track and minimize the risks.

The first thing that is needed is to end the media blackout.  The global public needs to be informed about the issues the world faces from Fukushima.  The impacts of Fukushima could affect almost everyone on the planet, so we all have a stake in the outcome.  If the public is informed about this problem, the political will to resolve it will rapidly develop.

The nuclear industry, which wants to continue to expand, fears Fukushima being widely discussed because it undermines their already weak economic potential.  But, the profits of the nuclear industry are of minor concern compared to the risks of the triple Fukushima challenges.

The second thing that must be faced is the incompetence of TEPCO.  They are not capable of handling this triple complex crisis. TEPCO “is already Japan’s most distrusted firm” and has been exposed as “dangerously incompetent.”  A poll found that 91 percent of the Japanese public wants the government to intervene at Fukushima.

Tepco’s management of the stricken power plant has been described as a comedy of errors. The constant stream of mistakes has been made worse by constant false denials and efforts to minimize major problems. Indeed the entire Fukushima catastrophe could have been avoided:

“Tepco at first blamed the accident on ‘an unforeseen massive tsunami’ triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011. Then it admitted it had in fact foreseen just such a scenario but hadn’t done anything about it.”

The reality is Fukushima was plagued by human error from the outset.  An official Japanese government investigation concluded that the Fukushima accident was a “man-made” disaster, caused by “collusion” between government and Tepco and bad reactor design. On this point, TEPCO is not alone, this is an industry-wide problem. Many US nuclear plants have serious problems, are being operated beyond their life span, have the same design problems and are near earthquake faults. Regulatory officials in both the US and Japan are too corruptly tied to the industry.

Then, the meltdown itself was denied for months, with TEPCO claiming it had not been confirmed.  Japan Times reports that “in December 2011, the government announced that the plant had reached ‘a state of cold shutdown.’ Normally, that means radiation releases are under control and the temperature of its nuclear fuel is consistently below boiling point.”  Unfortunately, the statement was false – the reactors continue to need water to keep them cool, the fuel rods need to be kept cool – there has been no cold shutdown.

TEPCO has done a terrible job of cleaning up the plant.  Japan Times describes some of the problems:

“The plant is being run on makeshift equipment and breakdowns are endemic. Among nearly a dozen serious problems since April this year there have been successive power outages, leaks of highly radioactive water from underground water pools — and a rat that chewed enough wires to short-circuit a switchboard, causing a power outage that interrupted cooling for nearly 30 hours. Later, the cooling system for a fuel-storage pool had to be switched off for safety checks when two dead rats were found in a transformer box.”

TEPCO has been constantly cutting financial corners and not spending enough to solve the challenges of the Fukushima disaster resulting in shoddy practices that cause environmental damage. Washington’s Blog reports that the Japanese government is spreading radioactivity throughout Japan – and other countries – by burning radioactive waste in incinerators not built to handle such toxic substances. Workers have expressed concerns and even apologized for following order regarding the ‘clean-up.’

Indeed, the workers are another serious concern. The Guardian reported in October 2013 the plummeting morale of workers, problems of alcohol abuse, anxiety, loneliness, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression. TEPCO cut the pay of its workers by 20 percent in 2011 to save money even though these workers are doing very difficult work and face constant problems. Outside of work, many were traumatized by being forced to evacuate their homes after the Tsunami; and they have no idea how exposed to radiation they have been and what health consequences they will suffer. Contractors are hired based on the lowest bid, resulting in low wages for workers. According to the Guardian, Japan’s top nuclear regulator, Shunichi Tanaka, told reporters: “Mistakes are often linked to morale. People usually don’t make silly, careless mistakes when they’re motivated and working in a positive environment. The lack of it, I think, may be related to the recent problems.”

The history of TEPCO shows we cannot trust this company and its mistreated workforce to handle the complex challenges faced at Fukushima. The crisis at Fukushima is a global one, requiring a global solution.

In an open letter to the United Nations, 16 top nuclear experts urged the government of Japan to transfer responsibility for the Fukushima reactor site to a worldwide engineering group overseen by a civil society panel and an international group of nuclear experts independent from TEPCO and the International Atomic Energy Administration , IAEA. They urge that the stabilization, clean-up and de-commissioning of the plant be well-funded. They make this request with “urgency” because the situation at the Fukushima plant is “progressively deteriorating, not stabilizing.”

Beyond the clean-up, they are also critical of the estimates by the World Health Organization and IAEA of the health and environmental damage caused by the Fukushima disaster and they recommend more accurate methods of accounting, as well as the gathering of data to ensure more accurate estimates. They also want to see the people displaced by Fukushima treated in better ways; and they urge that the views of indigenous people who never wanted the uranium removed from their lands be respected in the future as their views would have prevented this disaster.

Facing Reality

The problems at Fukushima are in large part about facing reality – seeing the challenges, risks and potential harms from the incident. It is about TEPCO and Japan facing the reality that they are not equipped to handle the challenges of Fukushima and need the world to join the effort.

Facing reality is a common problem throughout the nuclear industry and those who continue to push for nuclear energy. Indeed, it is a problem with many energy issues. We must face the reality of the long-term damage being done to the planet and the people by the carbon-nuclear based energy economy.

Another reality the nuclear industry must face is that the United States is turning away from nuclear energy and the world will do the same. As Gary Jaczko, who chaired the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission at the time of the Fukushima incident says “I’ve never seen a movie that’s set 200 years in the future and the planet is being powered by fission reactors—that’s nobody’s vision of the future. This is not a future technology.” He sees US nuclear reactors as aging, many in operation beyond their original lifespan.  The economics of nuclear energy are increasingly difficult as it is a very expensive source of energy.  Further, there is no money or desire to finance new nuclear plants. “The industry is going away,” he said bluntly.

Ralph Nader describes nuclear energy as “unnecessary, uneconomic, uninsurable, unevacuable and, most importantly, unsafe.”  He argues it only continues to exist because the nuclear lobby pushes politicians to protect it. The point made by Nader about the inability to evacuate if there is a nuclear accident is worth underlining.  Wasserman points out that there are nuclear plants in the US that are near earthquake faults, among them are plants near Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, DC.  And, Fukushima was based on a design by General Electric, which was also used to build 23 reactors in the US.

If we faced reality, public officials would be organizing evacuation drills in those cities.  If we did so, Americans would quickly learn that if there is a serious nuclear accident, US cities could not be evacuated. Activists making the reasonable demand for evacuation drills may be a very good strategy to end nuclear power.

Wasserman emphasizes that as bad as Fukushima is, it is not the worst case scenario for a nuclear disaster. Fukushima was 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the center of the earthquake. If that had been 20 kilometers (12 miles), the plant would have been reduced to rubble and caused an immediate nuclear catastrophe.

Another reality we need to face is a very positive one, Wasserman points out “All of our world’s energy needs could be met by solar, wind, thermal, ocean technology.” His point is repeated by many top energy experts, in fact a carbon-free, nuclear-free energy economy is not only possible, it is inevitable.  The only question is how long it will take for us to get there, and how much damage will be done before we end the “all-of-the-above” energy strategy that emphasizes carbon and nuclear energy sources.

Naoto Kan, prime minister of Japan when the disaster began, recently told an audience that he had been a supporter of nuclear power, but after the Fukushima accident, “I changed my thinking 180-degrees, completely.” He realized that “no other accident or disaster” other than a nuclear plant disaster can “affect 50 million people . . . no other accident could cause such a tragedy.” He pointed out that all 54 nuclear plants in Japan have now been closed and expressed confidently that “without nuclear power plants we can absolutely provide the energy to meet our demands.”  In fact, since the disaster Japan has tripled its use of solar energy, to the equivalent of three nuclear plants. He believes: “If humanity really would work together . . . we could generate all our energy through renewable energy.”

To learn more, click here.

Related articles by Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese:

Carbon-Free, Nuclear-Free Energy Economy Is Inevitable

Vibrant Movement for Green Energy Economy

Gang Green or Fresh Greens?

US Climate Bomb is Ticking: What the Gas Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know

America’s Secret Fukushima Poisoning the Bread Basket of the World

The Rule of Law in Times of Ecological Collapse – Truthout

Dirty Energy’s Dirty Tactics: Boulder on the Front Lines of the Renewable Energy Future

To hear Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers interview with Harvey Wasserman of NukeFree.org Fukushima – A Global Threat That Requires a Global Response click here.

Environmental Collapse: The Sixth Stage Of Collapse

In Uncategorized on October 26, 2013 at 8:57 pm

http://sillymickelsapocalypticwakeupcall.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/559624_4730113134571_700653948_n.jpgOldspeak: Dmitri Orlov is back with a brilliant addendum to his eerily prescient 2008 “The Five Stages Of Collapse“. Writing about  the all important stage of collapse he’d neglected to mention then.  Indeed, it is the only problem left worth preparing for. At the end of this stage Environmental Collapse, there is no other problem to be concerned with. The jig is up, there’s no home. The irony is we’re systematically eradicating the last remnants of people who know how we need to live to start reversing the damage we’ve done to our Mother. Relentlessly and increasingly exhausting at a non-renewable rate our essential ‘ecosystem services” for contrived reality driven “profit”. “Extend and pretend” can only go on for so much longer.” -OSJ

We don’t want to change who we are in order to live in harmony with nature; we want nature to live in harmony with us while we remain who we are. In the meantime, we are continuing to wage war on the sorry remnants of the tribes that had once lived in balance with nature, offering them “education,” “economic development” and a chance to play a minor role in our ruinous, negative-sum economic games. Given such options, their oft-observed propensity to do nothing and stay drunk seems like a perfectly rational choice. It minimizes the damage. But the damage may already have been done…

It seems like letting global industrial civilization collapse and all the nuclear power plants cook off is not such a good option, because it will seal our fate. But the alternative is to “extend and pretend” and “kick the can down the road” while resorting to a variety of environmentally destructive, increasingly desperate means to keep industry running: hydraulic fracturing, mining tar sands, drilling in the Arctic and so on. And this isn’t such a good option either because it will seal our fate in other ways…

Because, you see, there is also the sixth stage which I have previously neglected to mention—environmental collapse—at the end of which we are left without a home, having rendered Earth (our home planet) uninhabitable.

This tragic outcome may not be unavoidable. And if it is not unavoidable, then that’s about the only problem left that’s worth solving. The solution can be almost arbitrarily expensive in both life and treasure. I would humbly suggest that it’s worth all the money in the world, plus a few billion lives, because if a solution isn’t found, then that treasure and those lives are forfeit anyway.”
Dmitri Orlov
Related Story:
By Dmitri Orlov @ Club Orlov:
I admit it: in my last book, The Five Stages of Collapse, I viewed collapse through rose-colored glasses. But I feel that I should be forgiven for this; it is human nature to try to be optimistic no matter what. Also, as an engineer, I am always looking for solutions to problems. And so I almost subconsciously crafted a scenario where industrial civilization fades away quickly enough to save what’s left of the natural realm, allowing some remnant of humanity to make a fresh start.
Ideally, it would start of with a global financial collapse triggered by a catastrophic loss of confidence in the tools of globalized finance. That would swiftly morph into commercial collapse, caused by global supply chain disruption and cross-contagion. As business activity grinds to a halt and tax revenues dwindle to zero, political collapse wipes most large-scale political entities off the map, allowing small groups of people to revert to various forms of anarchic, autonomous self-governance. Those groups that have sufficient social cohesion, direct access to natural resources, and enough cultural wealth (in the form of face-to-face relationships and oral traditions) would survive while the rest swiftly perish.
Of course, there are problems even with this scenario. Take, for instance, the problem of Global Dimming. The phenomenon is well understood: sunlight reflected back into space by the atmospheric aerosols and particulates generated by burning fossil fuels reduces the average global temperature by well over a degree Celsius. (The cessation of all air traffic over the continental US in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 has allowed climate scientists to measure this effect.) If industrial activity were to suddenly cease, average global temperatures would be jolted upward toward the two degree Celsius mark which is widely considered to be very, very bad indeed. Secondly, even if all industrial activity were to cease tomorrow, global warming, 95% of which is attributed to human activity in the latest (rather conservative and cautious) IPCC report, would continue apace for the better part of the next millennium, eventually putting the Earth’s climate in a mode unprecedented during all of human existence as a species.
On such a planet, where the equatorial ocean is hotter than a hot tub and alligators thrive in the high Arctic, our survival as a species is far from assured. Still, let’s look at things optimistically. We are an adaptable lot. Yes, the seas will rise and inundate the coastal areas which over half of us currently inhabit. Yes, farmland further inland will become parched and blow away, or be washed away by the periodic torrential rains. Yes, the tropics, followed by the temperate latitudes, become so hot that everyone living there will succumb of heat stroke. But if this process takes a few centuries, then some of the surviving bands and tribes might find a way to migrate further north and learn to survive there by eking out some sort of existence in balance with what remains of the ecosystem.
We can catch glimpses of what such survival might look like by reading history. When Captain James Cook landed on the shore of Western Australia, he was the first white man to encounter aboriginal Australians, who had up to that point persisted in perfect isolation for something like 40.000 years. (They arrived in Australia at about the same time as the Cromagnons displaced the Neanderthals in Europe.) They spoke a myriad different languages and dialects, having no opportunity and no use for any sort of unity. They wore no clothes and used tiny makeshift huts for shelter. They had few tools beyond a digging stick for finding edible roots and a gig for catching fish. They had no hoards or stockpiles, and did not keep even the most basic supplies from one day to the next. They had little regard for material objects of any sort, were not interested in trade, and while they accepted clothes and other items they were given as presents, they threw them away as soon as Cook and his crew were out of sight.
They were, Cook noted in his journal, entirely inoffensive. But a few actions of Cook’s men did enrage them. They were scandalized by the sight of birds being caught and placed in cages, and demanded their immediate release. Imprisoning anyone, animal or person, was to them taboo. They were even more incensed when they saw Cook’s men catch not just one, but several turtles. Turtles are slow-breeding, and it is easy to wipe out their local population by indiscriminate poaching, which is why they only allowed the turtles to be taken one at a time, and only by a specially designated person who bore responsibility for the turtles’ welfare.
Cook thought them primitive, but he was ignorant of their situation. Knowing what we know, they seem quite advanced. Living on a huge but arid and mostly barren island with few native agriculturally useful plants and no domesticable animals, they understood that their survival was strictly by the grace of the surrounding natural realm. To them, the birds and the turtles were more important than they were, because these animals could survive without them, but they could not survive without these animals.
Speaking of being primitive, here is an example of cultural primitivism writ large. At the Age of Limits conference earlier this year, at one point the discussion turned to the question of why the natural realm is worth preserving even at the cost of human life. (For instance, is it OK to go around shooting poachers in national parks even if it means that their families starve to death?) One fellow, who rather self-importantly reclined in a chaise lounge directly in front of the podium, stated his opinion roughly as follows: “It is worth sacrificing every single animal out there in order to save even a single human life!” It took my breath away. This thought is so primitive that my brain spontaneously shut down every time I tried to formulate a response to it. After struggling with it for a bit, here is what I came up with.
Is it worth destroying the whole car for the sake of saving the steering wheel? What use is a steering wheel without a car? Well, I suppose, if you are particularly daft or juvenile, you can use it to pretend that you still have a car, running around with it and making “vroom-vroom!” noises… Let’s look at this question from an economic perspective, which is skewed by the fact that economists tend view the natural realm in terms of its economic value. This is similar to you looking at your own body in terms of its nutritional content, and whether it would make good eating. Even when viewed from this rather bizarre perspective that treats our one and only living planet as a storehouse of commodities to be plundered, it turns out that most of our economic “wealth” is made possible by “ecosystem services” which are provided free of charge.
These include water clean enough to drink, air clean enough to breathe, a temperature-controlled environment that is neither too cold nor too hot for human survival across much of the planet, forests that purify and humidify the air and moderate surface temperatures, ocean currents that moderate climate extremes making it possible to practice agriculture, oceans (formerly) full of fish, predators that keep pest populations from exploding and so on. If we were forced to provide these same services on a commercial basis, we’d be instantly bankrupt, and then, in short order, extinct. The big problem with us living on other planets is not that it’s physically impossible—though it may be—it’s that there is no way we could afford it. If we take natural wealth into account when looking at economic activity, it turns out that we consistently destroy much more wealth than we create: the economy is mostly a negative-sum game. Next, it turns out that we don’t really understand how these “ecosystem services” are maintained, beyond realizing that it’s all very complicated and highly interconnected in surprising and unexpected ways. Thus, the good fellow at the conference who was willing to sacrifice all other species for the sake of his own could never be quite sure that the species he is willing to sacrifice doesn’t include his own.
In addition, it bears remembering that we are, in fact, sacrificing our species, and have been for centuries, for the sake of something we call “progress.” Aforementioned Captain Cook sailed around the Pacific “discovering” islands that the Polynesians had discovered many centuries earlier, his randy, drunken, greedy sailors spreading venereal disease, alcoholism and corruption, and leaving ruin in their wake wherever they went. After the plague of sailors came the plague of missionaries, who made topless Tahitian women wear “Mother Hubbards” and tried to outlaw fornication. The Tahitians, being a sexually advanced culture, had a few dozen different terms for fornication, relating to a variety of sex acts. Thus the missionaries had a problem: banning any one sex act wouldn’t have made much of a dent, while a ban that enumerated them all would read like the Kama Sutra. Instead the missionaries chose to promote their own brand of sex: the “missionary position,” which is best analyzed as two positions—top and bottom. The bottom position can enhance the experience by taking a cold shower, applying blue lipstick and not breathing. I doubt that it caught on much on Tahiti.
The Tahitians seem to have persevered, but many other tribes and cultures simply perished, or continue to exist in greatly diminished numbers, so depressed by their circumstances that they are not interested in doing much beyond drinking beer, smoking cigarettes and watching television. And which group is doing the best? That’s the one that’s been causing the most damage. Thus, the rhetoric about “saving our species from extinction” seems rather misplaced: we have been doing everything we can to drive it to extinction as efficiently as possible for a few centuries now, and we aren’t about to stop because that would be uncivilized.
Because, you see, that’s who we are: we are educated, literate, civilized persons. The readers of this blog especially are economically and environmentally enlightened types, their progressivism resting on the three pillars of pointing out financial Ponzi schemes, averting environmental devastation and eating delicious, organic, locally grown food. We do wish to survive collapse, provided the survival strategy includes such items as gender equality, multiculturalism, LGBT-friendiness and nonviolence. We do not wish to take off all of our clothes and wander the outback with a digging stick looking for edible tubers. We’d rather sit around discussing green technology over a glass of craft-brewed beer (local, of course) perhaps digressing once in a while to consider the obscure yet erudite opinions of one Pederasmus of Ülm on the endless, glorious ebb and flow of human history.
We don’t want to change who we are in order to live in harmony with nature; we want nature to live in harmony with us while we remain who we are. In the meantime, we are continuing to wage war on the sorry remnants of the tribes that had once lived in balance with nature, offering them “education,” “economic development” and a chance to play a minor role in our ruinous, negative-sum economic games. Given such options, their oft-observed propensity to do nothing and stay drunk seems like a perfectly rational choice. It minimizes the damage. But the damage may already have been done. I will present just two examples of it, but if you don’t like them, there are plenty of others.
For the first, you can do your own research. Buy yourself an airline ticket to a tropical paradise of your choice and check into an oceanside resort. Wake up early in the morning and go look at the beach. You will see lots of dark-skinned people with wheelbarrows, buckets, shovels and rakes scraping up the debris that the surf deposited during the night, to make the beach look clean, safe and presentable for the tourists. Now walk along the beach and beyond the cluster of resorts and hotels, where it isn’t being continuously raked clean. You will find that it is so smothered with debris as to make it nearly impassable. There will be some material of natural origin—driftwood and seaweed—but the majority of the debris will be composed of plastic. If you try to sort through it, you will find that a lot of it is composed of polypropylene and nylon mesh and rope and styrofoam floats from the fishing industry. Another large category will consist of single-use containers: suntan lotion and shampoo bottles, detergent bottles, water bottles, fast food containers and so on. Typhoons and hurricanes have an interesting organizing effect on plastic debris, and you will find piles of motor oil jugs next to piles of plastic utensils next to piles of water bottles, as if someone actually bothered to sort them. On a beach near Tulum in México I once found an entire collection of plastic baby sandals, all of different colors, styles and vintages.
Left on the beach, the plastic trash photo-degrades over time, becoming discolored and brittle, and breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. The final result of this process is a microscopic plastic scum, which can persist in the environment for centuries. It plays havoc with the ecosystem, because a wide variety of animals mistake the plastic particles for food and swallow them. They then clog their digestive tracts, causing them to starve. This devastation will persist for many centuries, but it has started already: the ocean is dying. Over large areas of it, plastic particles outnumber plankton, which forms the basis of the oceanic food chain.
The ravages of the plastics plague also affect land. Scraped together by sanitation crews, plastic debris is usually burned, because recycling it would be far too expensive. Plastic can be incinerated relatively safely and cleanly, but this requires extremely high temperatures, and can only be done at specialized facilities. Power plants can burn plastic as fuel, but plastic trash is a diffuse energy source, takes up a lot of space and the energy and labor costs of transporting it to power plants may render it energy-negative. And so a lot of plastic trash is burned in open pits, at low temperatures, releasing into the atmosphere a wide assortment of toxic chemicals, including ones that affect the hormonal systems of animals. Effects include genital abnormalities, sterility and obesity. Obesity has now reached epidemic proportions in many parts of the world, affecting not just the humans but other species as well. Here, then, is our future: chemical plants continue to churn out synthetic materials, most of these find their way into the environment and slowly break down, releasing their payload of toxins. As this happens, people and animals alike turn into obese, sexless blobs. First they find that they are unable to give birth to fertile male offspring. This is already happening: human sperm counts are dropping throughout the developed world. Next, they will be unable to give birth to normal male babies—ones without genital abnormalities. Next, they will be unable to produce male offspring at all, as has already happened to a number of marine species. Then they go extinct.
Note that no disaster or accident is required in order for this scenario to unfold, just more business as usual. Every time you buy a bottle of shampoo or a bottle of water, or a sandwich that comes wrapped in plastic or sealed in a vinyl box, you help it unfold a little bit further. All it takes is for the petrochemical industry (which provides the feedstocks—oil and natural gas, mostly) and the chemical plants that process them into plastics, to continue functioning normally. We don’t know whether the amount of plastics, and associated toxins, now present in the environment, is already sufficient to bring about our eventual extinction.
But we certainly don’t want to give up on synthetic chemistry and go back to a pre-1950s materials science, because that, you see, would be bad for business. Now, you probably don’t want to go extinct, but if you decided that you will anyway, you would probably want to remain comfortable and civilized down to the very end. And life without modern synthetics would be uncomfortable. We want those plastic-lined diapers, for the young and the old!
This leaves those of us who are survival-minded, on an abstract, impersonal level, wishing for the global financial, commercial and political collapse to occur sooner rather than later. Our best case scenario would go something like this: a massive loss of confidence and panic in the financial markets grips the planet over the course of a single day, pancaking all the debt pyramids and halting credit creation. Commerce stops abruptly because cargos cannot be financed. In a matter of weeks, global supply chains break down. In a matter of months, commercial activity grinds to a halt and tax revenues dwindle to zero, rendering governments everywhere irrelevant. In a matter of years, the remaining few survivors become as Captain Cook saw the aboriginal Australians: almost entirely inoffensive.
One of the first victims of collapse would be the energy companies, which are among some of the most capital-intensive enterprises. Next in line are the chemical companies that manufacture plastics and other synthetic organic chemicals and materials: as their petrochemical feedstocks become unavailable, they are forced to halt production. If we are lucky, the amount of plastic that is in the environment already turns out to be insufficient to drive us all to extinction. Human population can dwindle to as few as a dozen breeding females (the number that survived one of the ice ages, as suggested by the analysis of mitochondrial DNA) but in a dozen or so millennia the climate will probably stabilize, the Earth’s ecology recover, and with it will the human population. We may never again achieve a complex technological civilization, but at least we’ll be able to sing and dance, have children and, if we are lucky, even grow old in peace.
So far so good, but our next example makes the desirability of a swift and thorough collapse questionable. Prime exhibit is the melted-down nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan. Contrary to what the Japanese government would want everyone to believe, the situation there is not under any kind of control. Nobody knows what happened to the nuclear fuel from the reactors that melted down. Did they go to China, à la China Syndrome? Then there is the spent nuclear fuel pool, which is full, and leaking. If the water in that pool boils away, the fuel rods burst into flames and melt down and/or explode and then, according to some nuclear experts, it would be time to evacuate the entire northern hemisphere. The site at Fukushima is so radioactive that workers cannot go anywhere near it for any length of time, making it rather fanciful to think that they’ll be able to get the situation there under control, now or ever. But we can be sure that eventually the already badly damaged building housing the spent nuclear fuel will topple, spilling its load and initiating phase two of the disaster. After that there will be no point in anyone going to Fukushima, except to die of radiation sickness.
You might think that Fukushima is an especially bad case, but plants just like Fukushima dot the landscape throughout much of the developed world. Typically, they are built near a source of water, which they use as coolant and to run the steam turbines. Many of the ones built on rivers run the risk of the rivers drying up. Many of the ones built on the ocean are at risk of inundation from rising ocean levels, storm surges and tsunamis. Typically, they have spent fuel pools that are full of hot nuclear waste, because nobody has figured out a way to dispose of it. All of them have to be supplied with energy for many decades, or they all melt just like Fukushima. If enough of them melt and blow up, then it’s curtains for animals such as ourselves, because most of us will die of cancer before reaching sexual maturity, and the ones that do will be unable to produce healthy offspring.
I once flew through the airport in Minsk, where I crossed paths with a large group of “Chernobyl children” who were on their way to Germany for medical treatment. I took a good look at them, and that picture has stayed with me forever. What shocked me was the sheer variety of developmental abnormalities that were on display.
It seems like letting global industrial civilization collapse and all the nuclear power plants cook off is not such a good option, because it will seal our fate. But the alternative is to “extend and pretend” and “kick the can down the road” while resorting to a variety of environmentally destructive, increasingly desperate means to keep industry running: hydraulic fracturing, mining tar sands, drilling in the Arctic and so on. And this isn’t such a good option either because it will seal our fate in other ways.
And so it seems that there may not be a happy end to my story of The Five Stages of Collapse, the first three of which (financial, commercial, political) are inevitable, while the last two (social, cultural) are entirely optional but have, alas, already run their course in many parts of the world. Because, you see, there is also the sixth stage which I have previously neglected to mention—environmental collapse—at the end of which we are left without a home, having rendered Earth (our home planet) uninhabitable.
This tragic outcome may not be unavoidable. And if it is not unavoidable, then that’s about the only problem left that’s worth solving. The solution can be almost arbitrarily expensive in both life and treasure. I would humbly suggest that it’s worth all the money in the world, plus a few billion lives, because if a solution isn’t found, then that treasure and those lives are forfeit anyway.

A solution for avoiding the sixth stage must be found, but I don’t know what that solution would look like. I do find it unsafe to blithely assume that collapse will simply take care of the problem for us. Some people may find this subject matter so depressing that it makes them want to lie down (in a comfortable position, on something warm and soft) and die. But there may be others, who still have some fight left in them, and who do wish to leave a survivable planet to their children and grandchildren. Let’s not expect them to use conventional, orthodox methods, to work and play well with others, or to be polite and reasonable in dealing with the rest of us. Let’s just hope that they have a plan, and that they get on with it.

28 Signs That The West Coast Is Being Absolutely Fried With Radiation From Fukushima Nuclear Plant

In Uncategorized on October 26, 2013 at 6:39 pm

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Oldspeak: “With recent news of a typhoon threatening Fukushima nuclear plant, causing land collapses around the planta 7.3 magnitude earthquake hitting 231 miles off the coast of Japan,  forcing evacuation of workers from the plant, it’s not a matter of if there will be a catastrophic collapse of the spent fuel pool in unit 4, but when. Meanwhile, this ongoing ecological disaster is continuing unabated, with 300 tons of radioactive water flowing into the pacific EVERY DAY which is causing severe and unpredictable damage to the ocean environment. 30 billion becquerels of radioactive cesium and another 30 billion becquerels of radioactive strontium continue to leak into the outer ocean every day. The negative effects are beginning to be seen in wildlife & the environment and humans. it’s a time bomb and it’s still ticking. Japan is obviously not up to the task of containment or clean up. A global response in required. Not silence from government agencies tasked with monitoring & reporting on radioactivity in our environment. Not a virtual media black out.  Not continued acceptance of radioactive produce from the contaminated area. Not allowing the same company whose plant caused the disaster, be in charge of the clean up & containment but mostly cover up of the horrors at the site.” -OSJ

“It is critical that we all understand the true consequences of radiation exposure so that proper monitoring is conducted in all those who were exposed to radioactive fallout. Ultimately, what is at stake is the universal right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of the affected population. This should be the guiding principle in evaluating the health effects of the nuclear catastrophe.” –Physicians For Social Responsibility

 

By Michael Snyder @ Activist Post:

The map below comes from the Nuclear Emergency Tracking Center. It shows that radiation levels at radiation monitoring stations all over the country are elevated. As you will notice, this is particularly true along the west coast of the United States. Every single day, 300 tons of radioactive water from Fukushima enters the Pacific Ocean. That means that the total amount of radioactive material released from Fukushima is constantly increasing, and it is steadily building up in our food chain.
Ultimately, all of this nuclear radiation will outlive all of us by a very wide margin. They are saying that it could take up to 40 years to clean up the Fukushima disaster, and meanwhile countless innocent people will develop cancer and other health problems as a result of exposure to high levels of nuclear radiation. We are talking about a nuclear disaster that is absolutely unprecedented, and it is constantly getting worse. The following are 28 signs that the west coast of North America is being absolutely fried with nuclear radiation from Fukushima…

1. Polar bears, seals and walruses along the Alaska coastline are suffering from fur loss and open sores

Wildlife experts are studying whether fur loss and open sores detected in nine polar bears in recent weeks is widespread and related to similar incidents among seals and walruses.

The bears were among 33 spotted near Barrow, Alaska, during routine survey work along the Arctic coastline. Tests showed they had “alopecia, or loss of fur, and other skin lesions,” the U.S. Geological Survey said in a statement.

2. There is an epidemic of sea lion deaths along the California coastline…

At island rookeries off the Southern California coast, 45 percent of the pups born in June have died, said Sharon Melin, a wildlife biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service based in Seattle. Normally, less than one-third of the pups would die.   It’s gotten so bad in the past two weeks that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared an “unusual mortality event.”

3. Along the Pacific coast of Canada and the Alaska coastline, the population of sockeye salmon is at a historic low.  Many are blaming Fukushima.

4. Something is causing fish all along the west coast of Canada to bleed from their gills, bellies and eyeballs.

5. A vast field of radioactive debris from Fukushima that is approximately the size of California has crossed the Pacific Ocean and is starting to collide with the west coast.

6. It is being projected that the radioactivity of coastal waters off the U.S. west coast could double over the next five to six years.

7. Experts have found very high levels of cesium-137 in plankton living in the waters of the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the west coast.

8. One test in California found that 15 out of 15 bluefin tuna were contaminated with radiation from Fukushima.

9. Back in 2012, the Vancouver Sun reported that cesium-137 was being found in a very high percentage of the fish that Japan was selling to Canada…

• 73 percent of mackerel tested
• 91 percent of the halibut
• 92 percent of the sardines
• 93 percent of the tuna and eel
• 94 percent of the cod and anchovies
• 100 percent of the carp, seaweed, shark and monkfish

10. Canadian authorities are finding extremely high levels of nuclear radiation in certain fish samples…

Some fish samples tested to date have had very high levels of radiation: one sea bass sample collected in July, for example, had 1,000 becquerels per kilogram of cesium.

11. Some experts believe that we could see very high levels of cancer along the west coast just from people eating contaminated fish

“Look at what’s going on now: They’re dumping huge amounts of radioactivity into the ocean — no one expected that in 2011,” Daniel Hirsch, a nuclear policy lecturer at the University of California-Santa Cruz, told Global Security Newswire. “We could have large numbers of cancer from ingestion of fish.”

12. BBC News recently reported that radiation levels around Fukushima are “18 times higher” than previously believed.

13. An EU-funded study concluded that Fukushima released up to 210 quadrillion becquerels of cesium-137 into the atmosphere.

14. Atmospheric radiation from Fukushima reached the west coast of the United States within a few days back in 2011.

15. At this point, 300 tons of contaminated water is pouring into the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima every single day.

16. A senior researcher of marine chemistry at the Japan Meteorological Agency’s Meteorological Research Institute says that “30 billion becquerels of radioactive cesium and 30 billion becquerels of radioactive strontium” are being released into the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima every single day.

17. According to Tepco, a total of somewhere between 20 trillion and 40 trillion becquerels of radioactive tritium have gotten into the Pacific Ocean since the Fukushima disaster first began.

18. According to a professor at Tokyo University, 3 gigabecquerels of cesium-137 are flowing into the port at Fukushima Daiichi every single day.

19. It has been estimated that up to 100 times as much nuclear radiation has been released into the ocean from Fukushima than was released during the entire Chernobyl disaster.

20. One recent study concluded that a very large plume of cesium-137 from the Fukushima disaster will start flowing into U.S. coastal waters early next year

Ocean simulations showed that the plume of radioactive cesium-137 released by the Fukushima disaster in 2011 could begin flowing into U.S. coastal waters starting in early 2014 and peak in 2016.

21. It is being projected that significant levels of cesium-137 will reach every corner of the Pacific Ocean by the year 2020.

22. It is being projected that the entire Pacific Ocean will soon “have cesium levels 5 to 10 times higher” than what we witnessed during the era of heavy atomic bomb testing in the Pacific many decades ago.

23. The immense amounts of nuclear radiation getting into the water in the Pacific Ocean has caused environmental activist Joe Martino to issue the following warning

Your days of eating Pacific Ocean fish are over.

24. The Iodine-131, Cesium-137 and Strontium-90 that are constantly coming from Fukushima are going to affect the health of those living the the northern hemisphere for a very, very long time.  Just consider what Harvey Wasserman had to say about this…

Iodine-131, for example, can be ingested into the thyroid, where it emits beta particles (electrons) that damage tissue. A plague of damaged thyroids has already been reported among as many as 40 percent of the children in the Fukushima area. That percentage can only go higher. In developing youngsters, it can stunt both physical and mental growth. Among adults it causes a very wide range of ancillary ailments, including cancer.

Strontium-90’s half-life is around 29 years. It mimics calcium and goes to our bones.

25. According to a recent Planet Infowars report, the California coastline is being transformed into “a dead zone”…

The California coastline is becoming like a dead zone.

If you haven’t been to a California beach lately, you probably don’t know that the rocks are unnaturally CLEAN – there’s hardly any kelp, barnacles, sea urchins, etc. anymore and the tide pools are similarly eerily devoid of crabs, snails and other scurrying signs of life… and especially as compared to 10 – 15 years ago when one was wise to wear tennis shoes on a trip to the beach in order to avoid cutting one’s feet on all the STUFF of life – broken shells, bones, glass, driftwood, etc.

There are also days when I am hard-pressed to find even a half dozen seagulls and/or terns on the county beach.

You can still find a few gulls trolling the picnic areas and some of the restaurants (with outdoor seating areas) for food, of course, but, when I think back to 10 – 15 years ago, the skies and ALL the beaches were literally filled with seagulls and the haunting sound of their cries both day and night…

NOW it’s unnaturally quiet.

26. A study conducted last year came to the conclusion that radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster could negatively affect human life along the west coast of North America from Mexico to Alaska “for decades”.

27. According to the Wall Street Journal, it is being projected that the cleanup of Fukushima could take up to 40 years to complete.

28. Yale Professor Charles Perrow is warning that if the cleanup of Fukushima is not handled with 100% precision that humanity could be threatened “for thousands of years“…

Conditions in the unit 4 pool, 100 feet from the ground, are perilous, and if any two of the rods touch it could cause a nuclear reaction that would be uncontrollable. The radiation emitted from all these rods, if they are not continually cool and kept separate, would require the evacuation of surrounding areas including Tokyo. Because of the radiation at the site the 6,375 rods in the common storage pool could not be continuously cooled; they would fission and all of humanity will be threatened, for thousands of years.

Are you starting to understand why so many people are so deeply concerned about what is going on at Fukushima?

Is Our System of Government Incapable Of Meeting The Challenges We Face?

In Uncategorized on October 22, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Oldspeak:We have entered a “long emergency” in which a myriad of worsening eco-logical, social, and economic problems and dilemmas at different geographic and temporal scales are converging as a crisis of crises. It is a collision of two non-linear systems—the biosphere and biogeochemical cycles on one side and human institutions, organizations, and governments on the other. But the response at the national and international levels has so far been indifferent to inconsistent, and nowhere more flagrantly so than in the United States, which is responsible for about 28 percent of the fossil-fuel carbon that humanity added to the atmosphere between 1850 and 2002.

The “perfect storm” that lies ahead is caused by the collision of changing climate; spreading ecological disorder (including deforestation, soil loss, water shortages, species loss, ocean acidification); population growth; unfair distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of economic growth; national, ethnic, and religious tensions; and the proliferation of nuclear weapons—all compounded by systemic failures of foresight and policy…

Part of the reason for paralysis is the sheer difficulty of the issue. Climate change is scientifically complex, politically divisive, economically costly, morally contentious, and ever so easy to deny or defer to others at some later time. But the continuing failure to anticipate and forestall the worst effects of climate destabilization in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence is the largest political and moral failure in history. Indeed, it is a crime across generations for which we have, as yet, no name.

Barring a technological miracle, we have condemned ourselves and posterity to live with growing climate instability for hundreds or even thousands of years. No government has yet shown the foresight, will, creativity, or capacity to deal with problems at this scale, complexity, or duration. No government is prepared to make the “tragic choices” ahead humanely and rationally. And no government has yet demonstrated the willingness to rethink its own mission at the intersection of climate instability and conventional economic wisdom. The same is true in the realm of international governance. In the words of historian Mark Mazower: “The real world challenges mount around us in the shape of climate change, financial instability . . . [but there is] no single agency able to coordinate the response to global warming….

These issues require us to ask what kind of societies and what kind of global community do we intend to build? It is certainly possible to imagine a corporate-dominated, hyper-efficient, solar-powered, sustainable world that is also grossly unfair, violent, and fascist. To organize society mostly by market transactions would be to create a kind of Ayn Randian hell that would demolish society, as economist Karl Polanyi once said. Some things should never be sold—because the selling undermines human rights; because it would violate the law and procedural requirements for openness and fairness; because it would have a coarsening effect on society; because the sale would steal from the poor and vulnerable, including future generations; because the thing to be sold is part of the common heritage of humankind and so can have no rightful owner; and because the thing to be sold—including government itself—should simply not be for sale.

So what is to be done?…. Canadian writer and activist Naomi Klein proposes that we strengthen and deepen the practice of democracy even as we enlarge the power of the state. “Responding to climate change, requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook and that we do so with great urgency. We will need to rebuild the public sphere, reverse privatizations, relocalize large parts of economies, scale back overconsumption, bring back long-term planning, heavily regulate and tax corporations, maybe even nationalize some of them, cut military spending and recognize our debts to the global South. Of course, none of this has a hope in hell of happening unless sit is accompanied by a massive, broad-based effort to radically reduce the influence that corporations have over the political process. That means, at minimum, publicly funded elections and stripping corporations of their status as “people” under the law.” –David W. Orr

“So we know what needs to be done, the know the problem requires a globally coordinated response, we know it needs to start happening LAST WEEK. “But the continuing failure to anticipate and forestall the worst effects of climate destabilization in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence is the largest political and moral failure in history.” Why? Greed and insatiable thirst for more have so thoroughly infected the totalitarian psyches of our most powerful and influential “citizens”. They have co-opted the political systems of the world, buying major influence over its workings. Drastically restricting and obstructing any meaningful environment based reforms. The information dissemination systems say very little about the perilous future that is all but guaranteed by the unrelenting, increasingly dangerous and toxic extraction and burning of fossil fuels  There is no indication these systems will change anytime soon. The people will have to drive the change if there is to be any.” -OSJ

By David W. Orr @ Alter Net:

The following is excerpted from The State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Possible [2] by the Worldwatch Institute. Copyright 2013 by the Worldwatch Institute. Reproduced by permission of Island Press, Washington DC.

The first evidence linking climate change and human emissions of carbon dioxide was painstakingly assembled in 1897 by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius. What began as an interesting but seemingly unimportant conjecture about the effect of rising carbon dioxide on temperature has turned into a flood of increasingly urgent and rigorous warnings about the rapid warming of Earth and the dire consequences of inaction. Nonetheless, the global dialogue on climate is floundering while the scientific and anecdotal evidence of rapid climate destabilization grows by the day.

We have entered a “long emergency” in which a myriad of worsening eco-logical, social, and economic problems and dilemmas at different geographic and temporal scales are converging as a crisis of crises. It is a collision of two non-linear systems—the biosphere and biogeochemical cycles on one side and human institutions, organizations, and governments on the other. But the response at the national and international levels has so far been indifferent to inconsistent, and nowhere more flagrantly so than in the United States, which is responsible for about 28 percent of the fossil-fuel carbon that humanity added to the atmosphere between 1850 and 2002.

The “perfect storm” that lies ahead is caused by the collision of changing climate; spreading ecological disorder (including deforestation, soil loss, water shortages, species loss, ocean acidification); population growth; unfair distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of economic growth; national, ethnic, and religious tensions; and the proliferation of nuclear weapons—all compounded by systemic failures of foresight and policy. As a consequence, in political theorist Brian Barry’s words, “it is quite possible that by the year 2100 human life will have become extinct or will be confined to a few residential areas that have escaped the devastating effects of nuclear holocaust or global warming.”

Part of the reason for paralysis is the sheer difficulty of the issue. Climate change is scientifically complex, politically divisive, economically costly, morally contentious, and ever so easy to deny or defer to others at some later time. But the continuing failure to anticipate and forestall the worst effects of climate destabilization in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence is the largest political and moral failure in history. Indeed, it is a crime across generations for which we have, as yet, no name.

Barring a technological miracle, we have condemned ourselves and posterity to live with growing climate instability for hundreds or even thousands of years. No government has yet shown the foresight, will, creativity, or capacity to deal with problems at this scale, complexity, or duration. No government is prepared to make the “tragic choices” ahead humanely and rationally. And no government has yet demonstrated the willingness to rethink its own mission at the intersection of climate instability and conventional economic wisdom. The same is true in the realm of international governance. In the words of historian Mark Mazower: “The real world challenges mount around us in the shape of climate change, financial instability . . . [but there is] no single agency able to coordinate the response to global warming.”

The Problem of Governance

In An Inquiry into the Human Prospect, in 1974, economist Robert Heilbroner wrote: “I not only predict but I prescribe a centralization of power as the only means by which our threatened and dangerous civilization will make way for its successor.” Heilbroner’s description of the human prospect included global warming but also other threats to industrial civilization, including the possibility that finally we would not care enough to do the things necessary to protect posterity. The extent to which power must be centralized, he said, depends on the capacity of populations, accustomed to affluence, for self-discipline. But he did not find “much evidence in history—especially in the history of nations organized under the materialistic and individualistic promptings of an industrial civilization— to encourage expectations of an easy subordination of the private interest to the public weal.”

Heilbroner’s conclusions are broadly similar to those of others, including British sociologist Anthony Giddens, who somewhat less apocalyptically proposes “a return to greater state interventionism”—but as a catalyst, facilitator, and enforcer of guarantees. Giddens believes the climate crisis will motivate governments to create new partnerships with corporations and civil society, which is to say more of the same, only bigger and better. David Rothkopf of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace likewise argues that the role of the state must evolve toward larger, more innovative governments and “stronger international institutions [as] the only possible way to preserve national interests.”

The performance of highly centralized governments, however, is not encouraging—especially relative to the conditions of the long emergency. Governments have been effective at waging war and sometimes in solving— or appearing to solve—economic problems. But even then they are cumbersome, slow, and excessively bureaucratic. They tend to fragment agencies by problem, rather like mailbox pigeonholes, but the long emergency will require managing complex systems over long time periods. Might there be more agile, dependable, and less awkward ways to conduct the public business in the long emergency that do not require authoritarian governments, the compromises and irrational messiness of politics, or even reliance on personal sacrifice? Can these be made to work over the long time spans necessary to stabilize the climate? If not, how else might we conduct the public business? Broadly, there are three other possibilities.

First, champions of markets and advanced technology propose to solve the climate crisis by harnessing the power of markets and technological innovation to avoid what they regard as the quagmire of government. Rational corporate behavior responding to markets and prices, they believe, can stabilize climate faster at lower costs and without hair-shirt sacrifice, moral posturing, and slow, clumsy, overbearing bureaucracies. The reason is said to be the power of informed self-interest plus the ongoing revolution in energy technology that has made efficiency and renewable energy cheaper, faster, less risky, and more profitable than fossil fuels. In their 2011 book, Reinventing Fire, Amory Lovins and his coauthors, for example, ask whether “the United States could realistically stop using oil and coal by 2050? And could such a vast transition toward efficient use and renewable energy be led by business for durable advantage?” The answer, they say, is yes, and the reasoning and data they marshal are formidable.

But why would corporations, particularly those in highly subsidized extractive industries, agree to change as long as they can pass on the costs of climate change to someone else? Who would pay for the “stranded” oil and coal reserves (with an estimated value in excess of $20 trillion) that cannot be burned if we are to stay below a 2 degree Celsius warming—often thought to be the threshold of catastrophe? Would corporations continue to use their financial power to manipulate public opinion, undermine regulations, and oppose an equitable sharing of costs, risks, and benefits? How does corporate responsibility fit with the capitalist drive to expand market share? Economist Robert Reich concludes that given the existing rules of the market, corporations “cannotbe socially responsible, at least not to any significant extent. . . . Supercapitalism does not permit acts of corporate virtue that erode the bottom line. No corporation can ‘voluntarily’ take on an extra cost that its competitors don’t also take on.” He further argues that the alleged convergence of social responsibility and profitability is unsupported by any factual evidence.

There are still larger questions about how large corporations fit in democratic societies. One of the most insightful students of politics and economics, Yale political scientist Charles Lindblom, concluded his magisterial Politics and Marketsin 1977 with the observation that “the large private corporation fits oddly into democratic theory and vision. Indeed, it does not fit” (emphasis added). Until democratized internally, stripped of legal “personhood,” and rendered publicly accountable, large corporations will remain autocratic fiefdoms, for the most part beyond public control.

These issues require us to ask what kind of societies and what kind of global community do we intend to build? It is certainly possible to imagine a corporate-dominated, hyper-efficient, solar-powered, sustainable world that is also grossly unfair, violent, and fascist. To organize society mostly by market transactions would be to create a kind of Ayn Randian hell that would demolish society, as economist Karl Polanyi once said. Some things should never be sold—because the selling undermines human rights; because it would violate the law and procedural requirements for openness and fairness; because it would have a coarsening effect on society; because the sale would steal from the poor and vulnerable, including future generations; because the thing to be sold is part of the common heritage of humankind and so can have no rightful owner; and because the thing to be sold—including government itself—should simply not be for sale.

A second alternative to authoritarian governments may lie in the emergence of national and global networks abetted by the Internet and advancing communications technology. They are decentralized, self-replicating, and sometimes self-correcting. In time, they might grow into a global system doing what traditional governments and international agencies once did—but better, faster, and cheaper. Some analysts believe that the old model of the nation-state is inadequate to meet many of the challenges of the long emergency and is losing power to a variety of novel organizations. Anne-Marie Slaughter of Princeton University, for one, envisions networks of “disaggregated states in which national government officials interact intensively with one another and adopt codes of best practices and agree on coordinated solutions to common problems,” thereby sidestepping conventional inter-governmental practices and international politics.

Below the level of governments there is, in fact, an explosion of nongovernmental organizations, citizens’ groups, and professional networks that are already assuming many of the functions and responsibilities once left to governments. Writer and entrepreneur Paul Hawken believes that the world is already being reshaped by a global upwelling of grassroots organizations promoting sustainable economies, renewable energy, justice, transparency, and community mobilization. Many of the thousands of groups Hawken describes are linked in “global action networks,” organized around specific issues to provide “communication platforms for sub-groups to organize in ever-more-specialized geographic and sub-issue networks.” Early examples include the International Red Cross and the International Labour Organization.

Recently clusters of nongovernmental groups have organized around issues such as common property resources, global financing for local projects, water, climate, political campaigns, and access to information. They are fast, agile, and participatory. Relative to other citizens’ efforts, they require little funding. But like other grassroots organizations, they have no power to legislate, tax, or enforce rules. In Mark Mazower’s words, “Many are too opaque and unrepresentative to any collective body.” Much of the same, he believes, can be said of foundations and philanthropists. By applying business methods to social problems, Mazower writes, “Philanthrocapitalists exaggerate what technology can do, ignore the complexities of social and institutional constraints, often waste sums that would have been better spent more carefully and wreak havoc with the existing fabric of society in places they know very little about.” Moreover, they are not immune to fashion, delusion, corruption, and arrogance. Nor are they often held account-able to the public.

So what is to be done? Robert Heilbroner proposed enlarging the powers of the state. Green economy advocates believe that corporations can lead the transition through the long emergency. Others argue that an effective planetary immune system is already emerging in the form of networks. Each offers a piece in a larger puzzle. But there is a fourth possibility. Canadian writer and activist Naomi Klein proposes that we strengthen and deepen the practice of democracy even as we enlarge the power of the state. “Responding to climate change,” she writes:

“requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook and that we do so with great urgency. We will need to rebuild the public sphere, reverse privatizations, relocalize large parts of economies, scale back overconsumption, bring back long-term planning, heavily regulate and tax corporations, maybe even nationalize some of them, cut military spending and recognize our debts to the global South. Of course, none of this has a hope in hell of happening unless sit is accompanied by a massive, broad-based effort to radically reduce the influence that corporations have over the political process. That means, at minimum, publicly funded elections and stripping corporations of their status as “people” under the law.

Democracy, Winston Churchill once famously said, is the worst form of government except for all the others ever tried. But has it ever been tried? In columnist Harold Myerson’s words, “the problem isn’t that we’re too democratic. It’s that we’re not democratic enough.” The authors of the U.S. Constitution, for example, grounded ultimate power in “we the people” while denying them any such power or even much access to it.

Political theorist Benjamin Barber proposes that we take some of the power back by revitalizing society as a “strong democracy,” by which he means a “self-governing community of citizens who are united less by homogeneous interests than by civic education and who are made capable of common purpose and mutual action by virtue of their civic attitudes and participatory institutions rather than their altruism or their good nature.” Strong democracy requires engaged, thoughtful citizens, as once proposed by Thomas Jefferson and John Dewey. The primary obstacle, Barber con-cedes, is the lack of a “nationwide system of local civic participation.” To fill that void he proposes, among other things, a national system of neighborhood assemblies rebuilding democracy from the bottom up.

Political theorists Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson similarly propose the creation of deliberative institutions in which “free and equal citizens (and their representatives), justify decisions in a process in which they give one another reasons that are mutually acceptable and generally accessible, with the aim of reaching conclusions that are binding in the present to all citizens but open to challenge in the future.” Reminiscent of classical Greek democracy, they intend to get people talking about large issues in public settings in order to raise the legitimacy of policy choices, improve public knowledge, and increase civil discourse. (See Box 26–1.) A great deal depends, they concede, on the durability and vitality of practices and institutions that enable deliberation to work well.

Political scientists Bruce Ackerman and James Fishkin propose a new national holiday, Deliberation Day, on which citizens would meet in structured dialogues about issues and candidates. They believe that “ordinary citizens are willing and able to take on the challenge of civic deliberation during ordinary times” in a properly structured setting that “facilitates genuine learning about the choices confronting the political community.”

Legal scholar Sanford Levinson believes, however, that reforms will be ineffective without first repairing the structural flaws in the U.S. Constitution, which is less democratic than any of the 50 state constitutions in the United States. He proposes a Constitutional Convention of citizens selected by lottery proportional to state populations to remodel the basic structure of governance. Whether this is feasible or not, the U.S. Constitution has other flaws that will limit effective responses to problems of governance in the long emergency.

Philosophers have argued through the ages that democracy is the best form of government, and some have claimed that the deeper it is, the better. By “deeper” they mean a structure that spreads power widely, engages more people, and invites them to take a more direct role in the shaping of policy.

Most liberal (current) democracies do not meet that definition, being republican in form and thus giving most power and decision making responsibility to elected representatives. In some of these republics, democracy is even further degraded. In the United States, for instance, Supreme Court decisions over the years have established that there is essentially no difference in civic standing between individual citizens and corporations or other private interests that can and do spend billions of dollars on political advertising, lobbying, and propaganda (over $8 billion in the 2010 election cycle).

But it is not simply such distortions of democracy that compel a closer look at the benefits of deepening it. The democracies that most of the industrial world lives in have been derided by political theorist Benjamin Barber as “politics as zookeeping”—systems designed “to keep men safely apart rather than bring them fruitfully together.” In fact there are major potential advantages in bringing people fruitfully together in the political arena, not least with respect to the environmental crises that beset humanity now. Paradoxically, one of the weaknesses of liberal democracy may be not that it asks too much of its citizens but that it asks too little. Having mostly handed off all responsibility for assessing issues and setting policy to elected politicians, voters are free to indulge themselves in narrow and virulently asserted positions rather than having to come together, work to perceive the common good, and plot a course toward it.

One antidote to this is deliberation. Deliberative democracy can take many forms, but its essence, according to social scientist Adolf Gundersen, is “the process by which individuals actively confront challenges to their beliefs.” It can happen when someone reads a book and thinks about what it says, but in the public sphere more generally it means engaging in pairs or larger groups to discuss issues, com-pare notes, probe (not attack) one another’s assertions, and take the opportunity to evolve a personal position in the interests of forging a collective one. Deliberative democracy, in Gundersen’s words, “challenges citizens to move beyond their present beliefs, develop their ideas, and examine their values. It calls upon them to make connections, to connect more firmly and fully with the people and the world around them.” When arranged to address environmental aims, deliberative democracy “connects the people, first with each other and then with the environment they wish not simply to visit, but also to inhabit.”

Given the uneven record of democracies in educating their people into citizenship, true deliberation might be difficult to learn, especially in countries where the politics are strongly adversarial. Deliberative democracy is a “conversation,” Gundersen says, “not a series of speeches.” Conversations involve respectful listening—not just waiting to talk—as well as speaking. Yet there is an untapped hunger for it that can be released when the circumstances are conducive. And Gundersen has established through 240 hours of interviews with 46 Americans that deliberation about environmental matters “leads citizens to think of our collective pursuit of environmental ends in a more collective, long-term, holistic, and self-reflectiveway.” Such thinking might be the indispensable foundation for achieving anything like sustainability.

In this regard the U.S. Constitution is typical of others in giving no “clear, unambiguous textual foundation for federal environmental protection law,” notes legal scholar Richard Lazarus. It privileges “decentralized, fragmented, and incremental lawmaking . . . which makes it difficult to address issues in a comprehensive, holistic fashion.” Congressional committee jurisdiction based on the Constitution further fragments responsibility and legislative results. The Constitution gives too much power to private rights as opposed to public goods. It does not mention the environment or the need to protect soils, air, water, wildlife, and climate and so it offers no unambiguous basis for environmental protection. The commerce clause, the source for major environmental statutes, is a cumbersome and awkward legal basis for environmental protection. The result, Lazarus notes, is that “our lawmaking institutions are particularly inapt for the task of considering problems and crafting legal solutions of the spatial and temporal dimensions necessary for environmental law.”

The U.S. Constitution is deficient in other ways as well. Posterity is mentioned only in the Preamble, but not thereafter. The omission, understandable when the Constitution was written, now poses an egregious wrong. In 1787, the framers could have had no premonition that far into the future one generation could deprive all others of life, liberty, and property without due process of law or even good cause. And so, in theologian Thomas Berry’s words: “It is already determined that our children and grandchildren will live amid the ruined infrastructures of the industrial world and amid the ruins of the natural world itself.” The U.S. Constitution gives them no protection whatsoever.

Further, with a few notable exceptions—such as in Ecuador—most constitutions pertain only to humans and their affairs and property. We privilege humans, while excluding other members of the biotic community. A more expansive system of governance would extend rights of sorts and in some fashion to species, rivers, landscapes, ecologies, and trees, as legal scholar Christopher Stone once proposed. In Thomas Berry’s words: “We have established our human governance with little regard for the need to integrate it with the functional order of the planet itself.” In fact, from our bodies to our global civilization we are part of a worldwide parliament of beings, systems, and forces far beyond our understanding. We are kin to all that ever was and all that ever will be and must learn what that fact means for governance.

Building the Foundations of Robust Democracies

The history of democracy is complex and often troubled. In classical Athens it lasted only 200 years. Political philosopher John Plamenatz once wrote that “democracy is the best form of government only when certain conditions hold.” But those conditions may not hold in established democracies in the long emergency ahead and may be impossible in less stable societies and failed states with no history of it. The reasons are many.

For one, citizens in most democratic societies have become accustomed to comfort and affluence, but democracy “requires citizens who are willing to sacrifice for the common good and [restrain] their passions,” notes political theorist Wilson Carey McWilliams. How people shaped by consumption will respond politically in what will certainly be more straitened times is un-known. Political analyst Peter Burnell cautions that “democratization does not necessarily make it easier and can make it more difficult for countries to engage with climate mitigation.”

Even in the best of times, however, representative democracies are vulnerable to neglect, changing circumstances, corruption, the frailties of human judgment, and the political uses of fear—whether of terrorism or sub-version. They tend to become ineffective, sclerotic, and easily co-opted by the powerful and wealthy. They are vulnerable to militarization, as James Madison noted long ago. They are susceptible to ideologically driven factions that refuse to play by the rules of compromise, tolerance, and fair play. They work differently at different scales. And they cannot long endure the many economic and social forces that corrode political intelligence and democratic competence.

Democracies are also vulnerable to what conservative philosopher Richard Weaver once described as the spoiled-child psychology, “a kind of irresponsibility of the mental process . . . because [people] do not have to think to survive . . . typical thinking of such people [exhibits] a sort of contempt for realities.” Psychologists Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell believe that the behavior Weaver noted in the 1940s has now exploded into a full-blown “epidemic of narcissism.” Such failures of personality, judgment, and character could multiply under the stresses likely in the long emergency.27

We are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. There is no good case to be made for smaller governments in the long emergency unless we wish to sharply reduce our security and lower our standards for the public downward to a libertarian, gun-toting, free-for-all—Thomas Hobbes’s nightmare on steroids. On the contrary, it will be necessary to enlarge governments domestically and internationally to deal with the nastier aspects of the long emergency, including relocating people from rising oceans and spreading deserts, restoring order in the wake of large storms, managing conflicts over diminishing water, food, and resources, dealing with the spread of diseases, and managing the difficult transition to a post-growth economy. On the other hand, we have good reason to fear an enlargement of government powers as both ineffective and potentially oppressive.

Given those choices, there is no good outcome that does not require something like a second democratic revolution in which we must master the art and science of governance for a new era—creating and maintaining governments that are ecologically competent, effective at managing complex systems, agile, capable of foresight, and sturdy over an extraordinary time span. If we intend for such governments to also be democratic, we will have to summon an extraordinary level of political creativity and courage. To meet the challenges of the late eighteenth century, James Madison argued that democracy required a free press that served a well-informed and engaged citizenry, fair and open elections, and reliable ways to counterbalance competing interests. But he feared that even the best government with indifferent and incompetent citizens and leaders would sooner or later come to ruin.

In our time, strong democracy may be our best hope for governance in the long emergency, but it will not develop, persist, and flourish without significant changes. The most difficult of these will require that we confront the age-old nemesis of democracy: economic oligarchy. Today the majority of concentrated wealth is tied, directly or indirectly, to the extraction, processing, and sale of fossil fuels, which is also the major driver of the long emergency. Decades of rising global inequality have entrenched control in a small group of super-wealthy individuals, financiers, corporations, media tycoons, drug lords, and celebrities in positions of unaccountable authority.

In the United States, for example, the wealthiest 400 individuals have more net wealth than the bottom 185,000,000 people. Six Walmart heirs alone control as much wealth as the bottom 42 percent of the U.S. population. Rising inequality in the United States and elsewhere reflects neither efficiency nor merit. And beyond some threshold it divides society by class, erodes empathy, hardens hearts, undermines public trust, incites violence, saps our collective imagination, and destroys the public spirit that upholds democracy and community alike. Nonetheless, the rich do not give up easily. According to political economist Jeffrey Winters, the redistribution of wealth has always occurred as a result of war, conquest, or revolution, not as a democratic decision or from the benevolence of plutocrats.

Toward the end of his life, historian Lewis Mumford concluded that the only way out of this conundrum is “a steady withdrawal” from the “megamachine” of technocratic and corporate control. He did not mean community-scale isolation and autarky, but rather more equitable, decentralized, and self-reliant communities that met a significant portion of their needs for food, energy, shelter, waste cycling, and economic support. He did not propose secession from the national and global community but rather withdrawal from dependence on the forces of oligarchy, technological domination, and zombie-like consumption. Half a century later, that remains the most likely strategy for building the foundations of democracies robust enough to see us through the tribulations ahead.

In other words, the alternative to a futile and probably bloody attempt to forcibly redistribute wealth is to spread the ownership of economic assets throughout society. From the pioneering work of progressive economists, scholars, and activists such as Scott Bernstein, Michael Shuman, Gar Alperovitz, Ted Howard, and Jeff Gates we know that revitalization of local economies through worker-owned businesses, local investment, and greater local self-reliance is smart economics, wise social policy, smart environmental management, and a solid foundation for both democracy and national resilience.

Simultaneously, and without much public notice, there have been dramatic advances in ecological design, biomimicry, distributed renewable energy, efficiency, ecological engineering, transportation infrastructure, permaculture, and natural systems agriculture. Applied systematically at community, city, and regional scales, ecological design opens genuine possibilities for greater local control over energy, food, shelter, money, water, transportation, and waste cycling. It is the most likely basis for revitalizing local economies powered by home-grown efficiency and locally accessible renewable energy while eliminating pollution, improving resilience, and spreading wealth. The upshot at a national level is to reduce the need for government regulation, which pleases conservatives, while improving quality of life, which appeals to liberals. Fifty years ago, Mumford’s suggestion seemed unlikely. But in the years since, local self-reliance, Transition Towns, and regional policy initiatives are leading progressive changes throughout Europe and the United States while central governments have been rendered ineffective.

A second change is in order. Democracies from classical Athens to the present are only as vibrant as the quality and moral power of the ideas they can muster, mull over, and act upon. Debate, argument, and civil conversation are the lifeblood of the democratic process. In our time, said to be an age of information, one of the most striking characteristics is the triviality, narrowness, and often factual inaccuracy of our political conversations. Much of what passes for public dialogue has to do with jobs and economic growth, but it is based on economic theories that fit neither biophysical reality nor the highest aspirations of humankind. The rules of market economies are said to date from Adam Smith 237 years ago, but those of natural systems are 3.8 billion years old. Allowed to run on much longer, the mismatch will destroy us.

At the dawn of the modern environmental era, in 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act required all federal agencies to “utilize a systematic, interdisciplinary approach which will insure the integrated use of the natural and social sciences and the environmental design arts in planning and in decision-making.” Nonetheless, the government and corporations, foundations, and nonprofit organizations still work mostly by breaking issues and problems into their parts and dealing with each in isolation. Separate agencies, departments, and organizations specialize in energy, land, food, air, water, wildlife, economy, finance, building regulations, urban policy, technology, health, and transportation as if each were unrelated to the others.

Reducing wholes to parts is the core of the modern worldview we inherited from Galileo, Bacon, and Descartes. And for a time it worked economic, scientific, and technological miracles. But the price we pay is considerable and growing fast. For one, we seldom anticipate or account for collateral costs of fragmentation or count the benefits of systems integration. We mostly focus on short-term benefits while ignoring long-term risks and vulnerabilities. Imponderables and non-priced benefits are excluded altogether. The results corrupt our politics, economics, and values, and they undermine our prospects.

Nonetheless, we administer, organize, and analyze in parts, not wholes. But in the real world there are tipping points, surprises, step-level changes, time delays, and unpredictable, high-impact events. To fathom such things requires a mind-set capable of seeing connections, systems, and patterns as well as a perspective far longer than next year’s election or an annual balance sheet. Awareness that we live in systems we can never fully comprehend and control and humility in the face of the unknown gives rise to precaution and resilient design.

One example of this approach comes from Oberlin, a small city of about 10,000 people with a poverty level of 25 percent in the center of the U.S. “Rust Belt.” It is situated in a once-prosperous industrial region sacrificed to political expediency and bad economic policy, not too far from Cleveland and Detroit. But things here are beginning to change. In 2009, Oberlin College and the city launched the Oberlin Project. It has five goals: build a sustainable economy, become climate-positive, restore a robust local farm economy supplying up to 70 percent of the city’s food, educate at all levels for sustainability, and help catalyze similar efforts across the United States at larger scales. The community is organized into seven teams, focused on economic development, education, law and policy, energy, community engagement, food and agriculture, and data analysis. The project aims for “full-spectrum sustainability,” in which each of the parts supports the resilience and prosperity of the whole community in a way that is catalytic—shifting the default setting of the city, the community, and the college to a collaborative post-cheap-fossil-fuel model of resilient sustainability.

The Oberlin Project is one of a growing number of examples of integrated or full-spectrum sustain-ability worldwide, including the Mondragón Cooperative in Spain, the Transition Towns movement, and the Evergreen Project in Cleveland. In different ways, each is aiming to transform complex systems called cities and city-regions into sustainable, locally generated centers of prosperity, powered by efficiency and renewable energy. Each is aiming to create opportunities for good work and higher levels of worker ownership of renewably powered enterprises organized around necessities. The upshot is a global movement toward communities with the capacity to withstand outside disturbances while preserving core values and functions. In practical terms, resilience means redundancy of major functions, appropriate scale, firebreaks between critical systems, fairness, and societies that are “robust to error,” technological accidents, malice, and climate destabilization. In short, it is human systems designed in much the way that nature designs ecologies: from the bottom up.

It is time to talk about important things. Why have we come so close to the brink of extinction so carelessly and casually? Why do we still have thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert? How can humankind reclaim the commons of atmosphere, seas, biological diversity, mineral re-sources, and lands as the heritage of all, not the private possessions of a few? How much can we fairly and sustainably take from Earth, and for what purposes? Why is wealth so concentrated and poverty so pervasive? Are there better ways to earn our livelihoods than by maximizing consumption, a word that once signified a fatal disease? Can we organize governance at all levels around the doctrine of public trust rather than through fear and com-petition? And, finally, how might Homo sapiens, with a violent and bloody past, be redeemed in the long arc of time?

Outside of Hollywood movies, stories do not always have happy endings. Human history, to the contrary, is “one damn thing after another” as an undergraduate history major once famously noted. And one of those damn things is the collapse of entire civilizations when leaders do not summon the wit and commitment to solve problems while they can. Whatever the particulars, the downward spiral has a large dose of elite incompetence and irresponsibility, often with the strong aroma of wishful thinking, denial, and groupthink abetted by rules that reward selfishness, not group success.

In the long emergency ahead, the challenges to be overcome are first and foremost political, not technological or economic. They are in the domain of governance where the operative words are “we” and “us,” not those of markets where the pronouns are “I,” “me,” and “mine.” At issue is whether we have the wherewithal, wisdom, and foresight to preserve and improve the human enterprise in the midst of a profound human crisis. Any chance for us to come through the trials of climate destabilization in a nuclear-armed world with 10 billion people by 2100 will require that we soon reckon with the thorny issues of politics, political theory, and governance with wisdom, boldness, and creativity.

“We’re seeing things we’ve never seen before…Everything out there is dead.” : Gulf Of Mexico Ecosystem In Crisis 3 Years After BP Oil Spill

In Uncategorized on October 21, 2013 at 3:13 pm
Over three million pounds of oiled material have been found in Louisiana this year. (Photo: Erika Blumenfeld / Al Jazeera)

Over three million pounds of oiled material have been found in Louisiana this year [Erika Blumenfeld/Al Jazeera]

Oldspeak: “Three and a half years later, BP is spending more money – I want you to hear this – they are spending more money on television commercials than they have on actually restoring the natural resources they impacted.” –Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.  Three years after well blowout, declining seafood catches and deformities point to an environment in distress.” –Dahr Jamail

“Governor Jindal was being kind. BP willfully & irreparably destroyed an entire ocean ecosystem to conceal the magnitude of their toxic waste spill & minimize their legal liability. And they are spending ass tons more money trying to convince people that everything is just fine, when the reality is everything is just bad to WORSE, than they are trying to restore or clean the ecosystem they destroyed. Ignore the BP produced propaganda films crowing about how the gulf’s beaches are open, and its seafood is safe, and how stringent their safety protocols and new drilling technologies are. It’s all bullshit. Tar and oil is still washing up on beaches, fish and wildlife stocks have plummeted, some are just gone & fishing commerce has ground to near halt. There is no safe way to drill for the toxic waste that is crude oil in ocean ecosystems. Corporate media has turned a blind eye to this ongoing disaster while a major ocean ecosystems depended on financially by mulitiple U.S. gulf states is slowly and surely dying. No signs of recovery in sight. We power our civilization on toxic wastes. Where ever these toxins are extracted, spilled, released or disposed of, death and destruction follows. Without exception. We are losing 200 species of biodiversity per day. This is not sustainable. That there are powerful energy and financial corporations exploring ever more extreme and damaging means of extracting and exploiting ever more toxic wastes known to be the prime cause of the coming global ecological collapse, while governments give them massive subsidies to do so is sheer MADNESS. Our systems of governance and economy are no longer able to respond effectively to clear and present dangers threatening all living things , they are in fact accelerating the progression toward the dangers. This can only go on for so much longer.” -OSJ

By Dahr Jamail @ Al Jazeera:

New Orleans, US – Hundreds of kilograms of oily debris on beaches, declining seafood catches, and other troubling signs point towards an ecosystem in crisis in the wake of BP’s 2010 oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

“It’s disturbing what we’re seeing,” Louisiana Oyster Task Force member Brad Robin told Al Jazeera. “We don’t have any more baby crabs, which is a bad sign. We’re seeing things we’ve never seen before.”

Robin, a commercial oyster fisherman who is also a member of the Louisiana Government Advisory Board, said that of the sea ground where he has harvested oysters in the past, only 30 percent of it is productive now.

“We’re seeing crabs with holes in their shells, other seafood deformities. The state of Louisiana oyster season opened on October 15, and we can’t find any production out there yet. There is no life out there.”

According to Robin, entire sectors of the Louisiana oyster harvest areas are “dead or mostly dead”. “I got 10 boats in my fleet and only two of them are operating, because I don’t have the production to run the rest. We’re nowhere near back to whole, and I can’t tell you when or if it’ll come back.”

State of Louisiana statistics confirm that overall seafood catch numbers since the spill have declined.

‘Everything is down’

Robin is not the only member of the Gulf’s seafood industry to report bleak news. Kathy Birren and her husband own Hernando Beach Seafood, a wholesale seafood business, in Florida.

Shrimp with tumours continue to be found along the impact zone, from Louisiana to Florida [Dean Blanchard]

“I’ve seen a lot of change since the spill,” Birren told Al Jazeera. “Our stone crab harvest has dropped off and not come back; the numbers are way lower. Typically you’ll see some good crabbing somewhere along the west coast of Florida, but this last year we’ve had problems everywhere.”

Birren said the problems are not just with the crabs. “We’ve also had our grouper fishing down since the spill,” she added. “We’ve seen fish with tar balls in their stomachs from as far down as the Florida Keys. We had a grouper with tar balls in its stomach last month. Overall, everything is down.”

According to Birren, many fishermen in her area are giving up. “People are dropping out of the fishing business, and selling out cheap because they have to. I’m in west-central Florida, but fishermen all the way down to Key West are struggling to make it. I look at my son’s future, as he’s just getting into the business, and we’re worried.”

Dean Blanchard, owner of a seafood business in Grand Isle, Louisiana, is also deeply troubled by what he is seeing. “We have big tar mats coming up on Elmers Island, Fouchon, Grand Isle, and Grand Terre,” Blanchard told Al Jazeera. “Every time we have bad weather we get fresh tar balls and mats.”

Blanchard said his business generates only about 15 percent of what it did before the spill. “It looks like it’s getting worse,” he said. “I told my wife when she goes to the mall she can only spend 15 percent what she used to spend.”

Blanchard has also seen shrimp brought in with deformities, and has taken photographs of shrimp with tumours (see above). Others lack eyes. He attributes the deformities to BP’s use of toxic dispersants to sink the spilled oil.

Eyeless shrimp, along with other seafood abnormalities, have become common in many areas along the Gulf Coast [Erika Blumenfeld/Al Jazeera]

“Everybody living down here watched them spray their dispersants day in and day out. They sprayed our bays and our beaches,” he said. “We got a problem, because BP says they didn’t spray down here, but we had a priest that even saw them spraying. So either we got a lying priest, or BP is lying.”

BP and the Coast Guard have told the media they have never sprayed dispersants within 10 miles of the coast, and that dispersants have never been used in bays.

A decades-long recovery

On a more sombre note, Dr Ed Cake, a biological oceanographer and a marine biologist, believes it will likely take the Gulf decades to recover from the BP disaster.

“The impacts of the Ixtoc 1 blowout in the Bay of Campeche in 1979 are still being felt,” said Cake, referring to a large oil spill near the Mexican coast, “and there are bays there where the oysters have still not returned. My prediction is we will be dealing with the impacts of this spill for several decades to come and it will outlive me.”

According to Cake, blue crab and shrimp catches have fallen in Mississippi and Alabama since the spill, and he also expressed worries about ongoing dolphin die-offs. But his primary concern is the slow recovery of the region’s oyster population.

“Mississippi recently opened their season, and their oyster fisherman are restricted to 12 sacks of oysters a day. But they can’t even reach six,” Cake said. “Thirty sacks would be a normal day for oysters – that was the previous limit – but that is restricted now because the stocks just aren’t there.”

Cake’s conclusion is grim. “Here in the estuarine areas, where we have the oysters, I think it’ll be a decade or two before we see any recovery.”

BP previously provided Al Jazeera with a statement on this topic, a portion of which read: “Seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is among the most tested in the world, and, according to the FDA and NOAA, it is as safe now as it was before the accident.”

BP claims that fish lesions are naturally common, and that before the spill there was documented evidence of lesions in the Gulf of Mexico caused by parasites and other agents.

More oil found

The second phase of the ongoing federal trial against BP investigates whether the company’s actions to halt the flow of oil during the blowout were adequate, and aims to determine how much oil was released.

“BP is mounting an aggressive legal and public relations campaign to shield itself from liability and minimise the amount of oil spilled in the Gulf, as well as the ongoing impacts from the disaster,” said Jonathan Henderson, an organiser for the Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental group.

Even Louisiana’s Republican Governor Bobby Jindal agrees. Jindal recently said, “Three and a half years later, BP is spending more money – I want you to hear this – they are spending more money on television commercials than they have on actually restoring the natural resources they impacted.”

As far away from the blowout site as Florida, researchers continue to find oil in both Tampa Bay and Sarasota Bay.

In Louisiana, according to the LA Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), more than 200 miles of shoreline have “some degree of oiling”, including 14 miles that are moderately or heavily oiled. From March through August of this year, over three million pounds of oiled material have been collected in Louisiana, more than double the amount over the same time period last year.

In addition, the CPRA reports that “investigations into the chemical composition of MC252 [BP’s Macondo well] oil samples demonstrate that submerged oil is NOT substantially weathered or depleted of most PAH’s [polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons],” and “disputes…findings relied on by the USCG [US Coast Guard] that Deepwater Horizon oil is non-toxic”.

The agency also expresses concerns that “submerged oil may continue to pose long term risk to nearshore ecosystems”.

“New impacts to the Gulf’s ecosystem and creatures also continue to emerge,” Henderson told Al Jazeera. “This year alone, the National Marine Fisheries Service has recorded 212 dolphins and other marine mammal standings in the northern Gulf. A new scientific study conducted by NOAA, BP and university researchers also shows significant negative impacts on tiny organisms that live on the sea floor in a 57 square mile area around the Deepwater Horizon well site.”

Numerous other impacts have been documented since the disaster began, including genetic disruptions for Gulf killifish, harm to deepwater corals,, and the die-off of tiny foraminifera that are an important part of the Gulf’s food chain.

Ongoing studies continue to reveal toxins from BP’s spill in water, soil, and seafood samples.

Meanwhile, fishermen in BP’s impact zone wonder if things will ever return to normal. “Our future is very, very dim, and there are no sponge crabs out there, which is the future,” Robin concluded. “I’ve never seen this in my lifespan. I’m not seeing a future, because everything out there is dead.”

Irreconcilable Differences: Capitalism And A Sustainable Planet

In Uncategorized on October 19, 2013 at 6:42 pm

https://i0.wp.com/cdn7.triplepundit.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/CapitalismVsEarth-208x300.pngOldspeak:No amount of fiddling with capitalism to regulate and humanize it … can for long disguise its failure to conserve the wealth and health of nature. Eroded, wasted, or degraded soils; damaged or destroyed ecosystems; extinction of biodiversity, species; whole landscapes defaced, gouged, flooded, or blown up … thoughtless squandering of fossil fuels and fossil waters, of mineable minerals and ores, natural health and beauty replaced by a heartless and sickening ugliness. Perhaps its greatest success is an astounding increase in the destructiveness and therefore the profitability of war.” -Wendell Berry

“Market-based Capitalism is unsustainable. it is no longer possible for unfettered unregulated all-consuming capitalism to continue. The fate of our home is more surely sealed every day it does. There is no capital on a dead planet. Environmental conservation trumps market conservation. We need environment based systems.  Systems built on conservation, localization, synchronicity, regeneration, sustainability, abundance, transparency, equality, democracy, & anarcho-syndicalism.” –OSJ

By Gary Olson @ Dissident Voice:

People who own the world outright for profit will have to be stopped; by influence, by power, by us.

— Wendell Berry1

The need for more studies confirming that we’re approaching an irreversible ecological crisis, the tipping point beyond human control, is over. James Hansen, the world’s most eminent climatologist is so certain of this evidence that he’s added civil disobedience to his resistance repertoire. Along with legal challenges, expert testimony and lobbying governments, the 72-year-old grandfather advocates direct action by a mobilized citizenry. He’s been arrested several times, most recently in protests again the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.

This project would transport raw, toxic tar sands (bitumen) from Alberta, Canada to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. In addition to destroying northern forests and endangering our drinking water, Keystone XL will emit a staggering amount of global warming pollution into the environment. Just a few weeks ago, Hansen and some former NASA colleagues wrote that “Burning all fossil fuels, we conclude, would make most of the planet uninhabitable by humans … and would leave just a fraction of humanity clinging to life atop Earth’s highest ridges.”

That the corporate carbon industrial complex remains obdurate in the face of all evidence isn’t surprising but it does reveal the inadequacy of piece meal reform. Simply stated, market based responses won’t save us because there is an irreconcilable conflict between capitalist economic growth ad infinitum and the survival of the planet as we know it. Even the looming prospect of ecocide won’t keep fossil fuels in the ground, resources worth trillions to oil and gas corporations.

As labor rights activist Shamus Cooke puts it, those capitalists who fail to obtain a return on their investments (growth) lose money. This relentless imperative, “this holy shrine of growth cannot be surgically removed from the capitalist body; the body itself was born ill.” And because renewable energy isn’t as profitable as oil,” a majority of capitalist investment will continue to go towards destroying the planet.” Recently, when asked about opposition to the XL Pipeline, ExxonMobil’s CEO Rex Tillerson candidly replied, “My philosophy is to make money.”

As if to reinforce this point, profiting from global warming is the next big thing. I’m reminded of Bob Mankoff’s 2002 cartoon in The New Yorker where a corporate executive declares to an audience of peers, “And so, while the-end-of-the-world scenario will be rife with unimaginable horrors, we believe the pre-end period will be filled with unprecedented opportunities for profits.” Mankoff’s clever prescience is perversely confirmed by a recent Bloomberg headline: “Investors Embrace Climate Change, Chase Hotter Profits.” Because Wall Street now assumes that climate change is “inevitable,” the only remaining question is how to profit from it?

This goes far beyond selling more potent sun screens, inflatable rafts and anti-pollution breathing masks. Billions of dollars are being invested in Australian farmland (far from the ocean) and hedge funds trading in something called “weather derivatives.” Investments are flowing into the mining of copper and gold in Greenland where glacier-free land has suddenly become accessible. Arctic tourism, gas exploration and new shipping lanes through melting polar regions are all climate change, money-making ventures. In anticipation of major droughts, Bayer, Monsanto and BASF have filed some 55 patents for “climate ready” seeds. Green technology is already passé as investors scramble for their final piece of a planet in dire jeopardy.

Working for reforms is not unimportant but capitalism cannot prevent the ruination of the biosphere. My sense is that climate activists who fail to acknowledge this basic truth — we might term them “capitalism deniers” — have no chance of reversing our slide toward the ecological apocalypse.

For myself, as a grandfather of two little guys and nearing my retirement from full-time teaching, the prospect of of engaging in civil disobedience, being a serial arrestee on behalf of the environment is appealing for the next stage of my life. I like to imagine Jackson and Zinn’s parents having a true story to tell the boys when they plead: “Tell us again about how Grandpa tried to stop the bad guys who didn’t care about all the animals, plants and people on earth.”

  1. Writer and Farmer Wendell Berry on Hope, Direct Action, and the ‘Resettling’ of the American Countryside,” Yes! []

Gary Olson is professor and chair of the political science department at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. He is the author of Empathy Imperiled: Capitalism, Culture, and the Brain (New York: Springer-Verlag, 2013). He can be reached at: olson@moravian.edu. Read other articles by Gary.

The Folly Of Empire

In Uncategorized on October 19, 2013 at 5:25 pm

2013.10.14.HedgesOldspeak: “The American citizen thus lives in a world where fantasy is more real than reality, where the image has more dignity than the original,” Daniel J. Boorstin wrote in his book “The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America.” “We hardly dare face our bewilderment, because our ambiguous experience is so pleasantly iridescent, and the solace of belief in contrived reality is so thoroughly real. We have become eager accessories in the great hoaxes of the age. These are the hoaxes we play on ourselves.”

Culture and literacy, in the final stage of decline, are replaced with noisy diversions and empty clichés. The Roman statesman Cicero inveighed against their ancient equivalent—the arena. Cicero, for his honesty, was hunted down and murdered and his hands and head were cut off. His severed head and his right hand, which had written the Philippics, were nailed onto the speaker’s platform in the Forum. The roaring crowds, while the Roman elite spat on the head, were gleefully told he would never speak or write again. In the modern age this toxic, mindless cacophony, our own version of spectacle and gladiator fights, of bread and circus, is pumped into the airwaves in 24-hour cycles. Political life has fused into celebrity worship…. Sensual pleasure and eternal youth are our overriding obsessions…. Education is primarily vocational. Intellectuals are cast out and despised. Artists cannot make a living. Few people read books. Thought has been banished, especially at universities and colleges, where timid pedants and careerists churn out academic drivel. “Although tyranny, because it needs no consent, may successfully rule over foreign peoples,” Hannah Arendt wrote in “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” “it can stay in power only if it destroys first of all the national institutions of its own people.” And ours have been destroyed….

Our elites and bureaucrats exhaust the earth to hold up a system that worked in the past, failing to see that it no longer works. Elites, rather than contemplate reform, which would jeopardize their privilege and power, retreat in the twilight of empire into walled compounds like the Forbidden City or Versailles. They invent their own reality. Those on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms have replicated this behavior. They insist that continued reliance on fossil fuel and speculations will sustain the empire. State resources, as Tainter notes, are at the end increasingly squandered on extravagant and senseless projects and imperial adventures. And then it all collapses.

Our collapse will take the whole planet with it.

It is more pleasant, I admit, to stand mesmerized in front of our electronic hallucinations. It is easier to check out intellectually. It is more gratifying to imbibe the hedonism and the sickness of the worship of the self and money. It is more comforting to chatter about celebrity gossip and ignore or dismiss what is reality.” -Chris Hedges

“There’s only so much longer we can continue to regard contrived reality more seriously than actual reality. We must come to terms with the consequences of our actions: the collapse of our civilization and our planet.  As Orwell predicted, lies have become truth… “Natural Gas” a.k.a. Methane is, “clean” and is “better for the environment”. Energy companies constantly pepper the airwaves with their deceptive propaganda. Never mind that emissions of increasingly massive quantities of methane into the atmosphere, is certain to lead to runaway global warming and irreversable non-linear feedback loops. Our president proudly crows about how much natural gas and oil we’re producing domestically. Leaving unmentioned the untold waste, contamination, and destruction of natural resources required to produce it. This is simply not sustainable.  We cannot continue to support individuals and institutions that focus on contrived reality and psudo-events. The U.S. is wholly and certainly in the process of Orlov’s “5 stages of  collapse” That is reality right now. We have to accept it and figure out a way forward.  Jung said it best: “We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.”  -OSJ

By Chris Hedges @ Truthdig:

The final days of empire give ample employment and power to the feckless, the insane and the idiotic. These politicians and court propagandists, hired to be the public faces on the sinking ship, mask the real work of the crew, which is systematically robbing the passengers as the vessel goes down. The mandarins of power stand in the wheelhouse barking ridiculous orders and seeing how fast they can gun the engines. They fight like children over the ship’s wheel as the vessel heads full speed into a giant ice field. They wander the decks giving pompous speeches. They shout that the SS America is the greatest ship ever built. They insist that it has the most advanced technology and embodies the highest virtues. And then, with abrupt and unexpected fury, down we will go into the frigid waters.

The last days of empire are carnivals of folly. We are in the midst of our own, plunging forward as our leaders court willful economic and environmental self-destruction. Sumer and Rome went down like this. So did the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires. Men and women of stunning mediocrity and depravity led the monarchies of Europe and Russia on the eve of World War I. And America has, in its own decline, offered up its share of weaklings, dolts and morons to steer it to destruction. A nation that was still rooted in reality would never glorify charlatans such as Sen. Ted Cruz, House Speaker John Boehner and former Speaker Newt Gingrich as they pollute the airwaves. If we had any idea what was really happening to us we would have turned in fury against Barack Obama, whose signature legacy will be utter capitulation to the demands of Wall Street, the fossil fuel industry, the military-industrial complex and the security and surveillance state. We would have rallied behind those few, such as Ralph Nader, who denounced a monetary system based on gambling and the endless printing of money and condemned the willful wrecking of the ecosystem. We would have mutinied. We would have turned the ship back.

The populations of dying empires are passive because they are lotus-eaters. There is a narcotic-like reverie among those barreling toward oblivion. They retreat into the sexual, the tawdry and the inane, retreats that are momentarily pleasurable but ensure self-destruction. They naively trust it will all work out. As a species, Margaret Atwood observes in her dystopian novel “Oryx and Crake,” “we’re doomed by hope.” And absurd promises of hope and glory are endlessly served up by the entertainment industry, the political and economic elite, the class of courtiers who pose as journalists, self-help gurus like Oprah and religious belief systems that assure followers that God will always protect them. It is collective self-delusion, a retreat into magical thinking.

“The American citizen thus lives in a world where fantasy is more real than reality, where the image has more dignity than the original,” Daniel J. Boorstin wrote in his book “The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America.” “We hardly dare face our bewilderment, because our ambiguous experience is so pleasantly iridescent, and the solace of belief in contrived reality is so thoroughly real. We have become eager accessories in the great hoaxes of the age. These are the hoaxes we play on ourselves.”

Culture and literacy, in the final stage of decline, are replaced with noisy diversions and empty clichés. The Roman statesman Cicero inveighed against their ancient equivalent—the arena. Cicero, for his honesty, was hunted down and murdered and his hands and head were cut off. His severed head and his right hand, which had written the Philippics, were nailed onto the speaker’s platform in the Forum. The roaring crowds, while the Roman elite spat on the head, were gleefully told he would never speak or write again. In the modern age this toxic, mindless cacophony, our own version of spectacle and gladiator fights, of bread and circus, is pumped into the airwaves in 24-hour cycles. Political life has fused into celebrity worship. Education is primarily vocational. Intellectuals are cast out and despised. Artists cannot make a living. Few people read books. Thought has been banished, especially at universities and colleges, where timid pedants and careerists churn out academic drivel. “Although tyranny, because it needs no consent, may successfully rule over foreign peoples,” Hannah Arendt wrote in “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” “it can stay in power only if it destroys first of all the national institutions of its own people.” And ours have been destroyed.

Sensual pleasure and eternal youth are our overriding obsessions. The Roman emperor Tiberius, at the end, fled to the island of Capri and turned his seaside palace into a house of unbridled lust and violence. “Bevies of girls and young men, whom he had collected from all over the Empire as adepts in unnatural practices, and known as spintriae, would copulate before him in groups of three, to excite his waning passions,” Suetonius wrote in “The Twelve Caesars.” Tiberius trained small boys, whom he called his minnows, to frolic with him in the water and perform oral sex. And after watching prolonged torture, he would have captives thrown into the sea from a cliff near his palace. Tiberius would be followed by Caligula and Nero.

“At times when the page is turning,” Louis-Ferdinand Céline wrote in “Castle to Castle,” “when History brings all the nuts together, opens its Epic Dance Halls! hats and heads in the whirlwind! Panties overboard!”

The anthropologist Joseph Tainter in his book “The Collapse of Complex Societies” looked at the collapse of civilizations from the Roman to the Mayan. He concluded that they disintegrated because they finally could not sustain the bureaucratic complexities they had created. Layers of bureaucracy demand more and more exploitation, not only of the environment but the laboring classes. They become calcified by systems that are unable to respond to the changing reality around them. They, like our elite universities and business schools, churn out systems managers, people who are taught not to think but to blindly service the system. These systems managers know only how to perpetuate themselves and the system they serve, although serving that system means disemboweling the nation and the planet. Our elites and bureaucrats exhaust the earth to hold up a system that worked in the past, failing to see that it no longer works. Elites, rather than contemplate reform, which would jeopardize their privilege and power, retreat in the twilight of empire into walled compounds like the Forbidden City or Versailles. They invent their own reality. Those on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms have replicated this behavior. They insist that continued reliance on fossil fuel and speculations will sustain the empire. State resources, as Tainter notes, are at the end increasingly squandered on extravagant and senseless projects and imperial adventures. And then it all collapses.

Our collapse will take the whole planet with it.

It is more pleasant, I admit, to stand mesmerized in front of our electronic hallucinations. It is easier to check out intellectually. It is more gratifying to imbibe the hedonism and the sickness of the worship of the self and money. It is more comforting to chatter about celebrity gossip and ignore or dismiss what is reality.

Thomas Mann in “The Magic Mountain” and Joseph Roth in “Hotel Savoy” brilliantly chronicled this peculiar state of mind. In Roth’s hotel the first three floors house in luxury the bloated rich, the amoral politicians, the bankers and the business owners. The upper floors are crammed with people who struggle to pay their bills and who are steadily divested of their possessions until they are destitute and cast out. There is no political ideology among decayed ruling elites, despite choreographed debates and elaborate political theater. It is, as it always is at the end, one vast kleptocracy.

Just before World War II, a friend asked Roth, a Jewish intellectual who had fled Nazi Germany for Paris, “Why are you drinking so much?” Roth answered: “Do you think you are going to escape? You too are going to be wiped out.”

Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

 

 

 

“Take Back The Streets”: Civil Rights Report Finds Police Worldwide Criminalize Dissent, Assert New Powers in Crackdown on Protests

In Uncategorized on October 17, 2013 at 1:17 pm

https://i0.wp.com/i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/dam/assets/111115095413-occupy-evict-story-top.jpg

Oldspeak: “In a major new report, the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations details a global crackdown on peaceful protests through excessive police force and the criminalization of dissent. The report, “Take Back the Streets: Repression and Criminalization of Protest Around the World,” warns of a growing tendency to perceive individuals exercising a fundamental democratic right — the right to protest — as a threat requiring a forceful government response. The case studies detailed in this report show how governments have reacted to peaceful protests in the United States, Israel, Canada, Argentina, Egypt, Hungary, Kenya, South Africa and Britain. The report’s name comes from a police report filed in June 2010 when hundreds of thousands of Canadians took to the streets of Toronto to nonviolently protest the G-20 summit. A senior Toronto police commander responded to the protests by issuing an order to “take back the streets.” Within a span of 36 hours, more than 1,000 people — peaceful protesters, journalists, human rights monitors and downtown residents — were arrested and placed in detention…” – Amy Goodman & Juan Gonzalez

“Ever notice how when you see news of protest, in any particular protest/rebellion/revolution around the world, the police look the same? Dark colored. Armored. Heavily armed. Deploying chemical weapons. And brutal, usually without provacation from peaceful demonstrators.  The response of the State to peace and lawful dissent is violence, brutality, repression and mass arrests. The global control grid is continually growing, taking shape. We can take solace in the fact that our planet cannot continue to support the energy demands needed to maintain it. it is inevitable that the continued unsustainable  growth and complexity of this apparatus will at some point cause it to collapse on itself. in addition to extinguishing life on earth as we know it.” –OSJ

By Amy Goodman & Juan Gonzalez @ Democracy Now:

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to a major new report detailing the global crackdown on peaceful protests, both through excessive police force and the criminalization of dissent. The report is called “Take Back the Streets: Repression and Criminalization of Protest Around the World.” It was put out by the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations. The name of the report, “Take Back the Streets,” comes from a police report filed in June 2010, when hundreds of thousands of Canadians took to the streets of Toronto to nonviolently protest the G-20 summit. A senior Toronto police commander responded to the protests by issuing an order to, quote, “take back the streets.” Within a span of 36 hours, over a thousand people—peaceful protesters, journalists, human rights monitors and downtown residents—were arrested and placed in detention.

AMY GOODMAN: According to the report, what happened in Canada is emblematic of government conduct in the face of protest around the world: the tendency to perceive individuals exercising a fundamental democratic right—the right to protest—as a threat requiring a forceful government response. The case studies detailed in this report show how governments have reacted to peaceful protests in the United States, in Israel, Canada, Argentina, Egypt, Hungary, Kenya, South Africa and Britain.

For more, we’re joined by co-editor of the report, Abby Deshman, a lawyer and program director with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. We’re also joined by Anthony Romero. He is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, author of the book In Defense of Our America: The Fight for Civil Liberties in the Age of Terror. And still with us, Hossam Bahgat—he is the founder and executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Abby, talk about the report.

ABBY DESHMAN: Sure. This is a collaboration between multiple domestic human rights and civil liberties organizations, that we’ve really come together to group our domestic work, group our national work and identify trends in how we feel the governments are responding to democratic dissent and protest in the streets. And, you know, gathering together this number of practitioners to really provide practitioners’ notes shows that there are very disturbing trends. People are taking to the streets across the world, and governments are responding with excessive use of force, criminalization and repression.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, when you say “disturbing trends,” governments have never looked kindly on dissent within their borders or by their own citizens. What do you see as new about what is occurring now? Because I remember years back when we at Democracy Now! covered the Seattle World Trade Organization protests live, there clearly were some new tactics by both the nonviolent protesters as well as the government response.

ABBY DESHMAN: Well, partly what’s new—I mean, at least for me; I’m young in this game—but partly what’s new is massive uprising in the streets. I think we are seeing, in the past three, five years, record numbers of people, in recent memory, taking to the streets. And we are seeing new police tactics—the numbers of arrests, the massive, hundreds of people rounded up at a time. There are new policing weapons: long-range acoustic devices, sonic cannon, excessive amounts of tear gas being used in Egypt. These are trends that are currently surfacing in multiple countries.

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Romero, talk about the United States.

ANTHONY ROMERO: Well, it’s important to put the United States in the global context. And normally when we think about protest and freedom of speech, we think that’s been a right that’s been well established and well respected. And yet, you point out the difficulties we’ve seen with the WTO protesters, the protesters with the Occupy movement and, in particular, this case study that we highlight in Puerto Rico, a place where most Americans don’t think of Puerto Rico as part of the United States, but it is. The Constitution applies. Over four—close to four million American citizens live there. And yet, you have the second-largest police department in the nation, only second to New York City Police Department, and the massive levels of repression and shutdown of—of arrests, of tear-gassing, of beating of students, of labor leaders, the level of impunity that lasted for years, until the ACLU filed a report, lobbied our Justice Department, filed a lawsuit, and then the Justice Department stepped in, only recently, to try to put the Puerto Rico Police Department under better control of rule of law.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this whole tactic of picking people up en masse and then holding them, supposedly while protests continue, basically pulling them out without any real charges just to get them off the streets?

ANTHONY ROMERO: We saw that New York, right? I mean, that’s how they—that’s how they dealt with many of the protests here in New York, especially after the conventions—during the conventions, where they corralled record numbers of people, arrested them in record time, in ways that were just astonishing, held them often incommunicado for 24, 36, 48 hours—a form of preventive detention, if you will.

And I think one of the things we have to bear in mind is like, look, our government is shut down. Our government is not working. People are frustrated. People may take to the streets as an important part of demonstrating their unrest, their unhappiness with our government. And so, how we protect the rights of individuals to protest and to dissent is critically important, especially in our democracy, that’s so fundamentally broken down and at loggerheads at the moment. The people—it’s the government of the people, by the people and for the people. And when the government doesn’t respond to the people, the people have to take the government back.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But to follow up on this, because what the police departments do is they don’t mind having to deal with lawsuits later on. You know, years later they end up paying these settlements to protesters who had their civil liberties violated, but at that moment they’re able to effectively shut down the dissent. So, I’m wondering how can you, as a civil liberties lawyer, find—what ways can the courts be utilized to prevent these kinds of occurrences from repeating themselves over and over again?

ANTHONY ROMERO: I think part of it, you have to—even in cases where they infringe on civil liberties and freedom of speech and expression, you have to sue, to use that as a deterrent for further police departments, to shame them, to cost taxpayers money. We have to work with police departments, those that are open to it, to hear what their concerns are for public safety. They have real concerns around public safety; they can be addressed.

We also have to make sure that we don’t allow the excessive use of less lethal force. I mean, one of the things we’ve seen in the reports on Puerto Rico, as much in Egypt and Canada and Argentina, has been the increased use of police of certain weapons, of certain tactics, which they say is less lethal, but they end up in deaths. We have deaths in the arrests in Puerto Rico. We have deaths in Argentina. We certainly have deaths in places like Egypt. And so we have to make sure that we hold the police accountable for those—for those actions.

AMY GOODMAN: And then the issue of surveillance, like our last headline today—

ANTHONY ROMERO: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —this undercover officer in the infamous West Side Highway videotape of the motorcycle gang and the guy with the SUV, that one of these officers, it turns out, was—one of these motorcycle riders was an officer, undercover, and he was undercover in Occupy Wall Street, as well—

ANTHONY ROMERO: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —picked up at Grand Central.

ANTHONY ROMERO: When you look at the fact that it’s not just what they do at the protest itself, but prior to the protests the surveillance, prior to the protests the infiltration. We have police departments who brazenly brag about sending in undercover cops to pretend they’re part of the protest movements as a way to derail them or to shape them in the ways they want. All of this, in the context after 9/11, where any activity that disagrees with the government is—often vehemently, is seen as potential terrorist activity or a potential terrorist plot, the powers of the government to use of surveillance, infiltration, the police tactics, they all have to be seen as one part of an effort to shut down and to dispel dissent. We see it. We see the fact that there’s a quell on public dissent. Muslims are less likely to express themselves now. We hear that from our clients. We hear that from our—some of the litigation we bring. And so, it’s a very pernicious part that’s very, very real and often not uncovered until we put out reports like this.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Abby, the Canadian example of the G-20 summit, what most surprised you in terms of as you were unearthing what happened there and the civil liberties violations?

ABBY DESHMAN: Well, actually, how high the police orders went. You know, we thought that this was a coordinated response. We saw that there was consistency, a really defined point in time when the policing turned during the G-20. We then had confirmation that there were orders all the way from the top, that these were not random acts by individual commanders panicking under situations, that these really were decisions that were taken by very senior police leaders to violate not only the rights of citizens, but their own policies and procedures about how to deal with protests, and really that they were taking notes from an international scene where this had happened before. We had not seen this technique in Canada. It was clear that it had happened at previous G-20 summits, and they were importing these policies.

AMY GOODMAN: Hossam Bahgat, we were just talking about the level of repression in Egypt, but fit this into this global context.

HOSSAM BAHGAT: Yes. While Egypt might be an extreme case, of course, because we have sort of crossed the threshold from just the violent repression of protests to mass and deliberate killings, really the trend in Egypt fits with the trend identified by the report in all of these case studies. We see, as Abby and Anthony mentioned, that the mass protests are not, of course, a new phenomenon, but they are taking new shapes. And whether it’s the Arab uprisings, the protests in Turkey and Brazil, the anti-austerity mass protests in Europe, the Occupy movement here, they are going to continue.

And we see the right to protest publicly and the right to dissent as an essential part of democracy. There is an attempt on the other side, by governments, to reduce the democratic rights of individuals to just voting, to being called in once every few years to cast a vote and then be sent home and leave the governance to the people that have been elected. The people refuse. The people see that, in many countries, the democratic institutions—and we’re talking in the United States here, but the democratic institutions around the world are not working and are not necessarily reflecting the wills of the people. And the people are going to continue to take their demands, yes, through channels like the media and civil society and labor unions and others, but they are going to go on the street, and they are going to protest publicly. And states need to know that they have a responsibility not just to protect this right, but to even enable people to express these rights, because the only other alternative—the killings that we’re seeing in Egypt or the killings that even started in Syria as just violence in the face of peaceful protests and turned into civil wars—these are recipes for only pushing the situation into very, very dangerous directions. And the violent response only leads to even violent protests.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, and, Abby, I wanted to ask you—much was made, obviously, in Egypt and during the Arab Spring of the impact of social media and the use of the Internet by dissidents to mobilize, to communicate. In your report, did you dwell into the responses of government officials in terms of how they responded to the change in tactics of the popular movements?

ABBY DESHMAN: Yeah, absolutely. Police do say that they need new tactics because people can mobilize more quickly. Things are going out on Twitter, and then a large crowd forms. Things are very mobile on the ground. But the truth is, in my experience, during the G-20, we knew exactly what was going to happen, because it was on the Internet, it was on social media. The protesters themselves had classified their protests in terms of levels of risk. So I actually am very skeptical of those claims that they need new powers in order to try to police these new forms of protest. We knew exactly what was going to happen during the G-20 protests. They followed that pattern. The police simply weren’t prepared and then violated rights as their reaction.

AMY GOODMAN: And how should the state deal with violence?

ABBY DESHMAN: Well, the state does need to respond to violence. But I would say the state overresponds to violence, particularly in protests. So, there may be one or two or even 10 or 30 people in a crowd of thousands, tens of thousands, that commit property damage, that commit violent acts. The state often takes that as an authority to abrogate the rights of every single person in that crowd. They need to respond to violence. They need to protect the rights of all the other people in that crowd who are peacefully protesting and exercising their democratic rights. Their role is to facilitate protest, not to find excuses to shut it down.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the U.S. cutting military aid to Egypt, Hossam? How does that play into what the military government does with the protesters? Does it change?

HOSSAM BAHGAT: I mean, in Egypt, especially after the massacres, of course, our position was that there should be investigations, there should be an independent fact finding, and there should be accountability. And until that takes place and until the government also accepts responsibility for these killings, there should be a suspension of the provision of any arms or tools of repression from any country in the world. We’re not just talking about the U.S. military assistance. And any resumption of the sale of weapons or the provision of weapons or tools of repression to the Egyptian government must be conditioned on accepting the retraining and provision of, you know, new tools for riot control, but that business should not continue just as usual when it comes to Egypt.

Especially when—exactly like Abby said, the problem is now, in all of these demonstrations that we are seeing, in the report, all around the world, there is—there is always a few protesters that are going to use violence. The trend we’re seeing now is that governments use this to dub the entire protest—20,000, 30,000—as non-peaceful or as violent. And that leads to two things: One, the peaceful participants that are not using violence are, again, lumped together with the others and are deprived of their rights as peaceful protesters; and even those that do engage in stone throwing or other violence are robbed of all their other rights, including their right to life, of course. And the states are just using this as an excuse, sometimes through infiltration by provocateurs into these protests, in order to just remove entire protests outside the realm of protection of law.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to get back to Anthony Romero in terms of this whole idea of the Obama administration finally doing something in Egypt to cut off some of the military aid to the—to the coup leaders. How has the Obama administration dealt with the increasing repression by local police on public protesters? Has there been any—any actions by the Justice Department to try to rein this in, or have they basically been supportive?

ANTHONY ROMERO: They’ve basically been supportive. I mean, to be clear, the ACLU doesn’t take positions on foreign policy or the U.S. aid to Egypt, but we do look very closely about how our government, federal government, works with state and local governments. And the level of collusion between the federal agents, the FBI, and local police departments has become very troubling, the way they track and the way they monitor and do surveillance on Muslims. So, one of the key cases we have now is in New York City with the New York City Police Department, but it involves the FBI and the federal government. You see it in the immigration context, if you pull the camera back a little further back, where you find the FBI and the DOJ and Department of Homeland Security working with local sheriffs and police.

AMY GOODMAN: You have a case against Arpaio in Arizona.

ANTHONY ROMERO: Oh, it’s exactly that.

AMY GOODMAN: The sheriff, Joe Arpaio.

ANTHONY ROMERO: The sheriff, Arpaio, who resists a federal order from a federal judge to have a monitor and to have any type of accountability. But Arpaio was created by the policies of Janet Napolitano. I mean, Arpaio is not just a one—

AMY GOODMAN: When she was governor or head of the Department of Homeland Security?

ANTHONY ROMERO: Well, I would say more in the Department of Homeland Security, because it’s exactly that type of collusion that she encouraged—the 287(g) programs, the Secure Communities programs, that insisted that federal government officials work with local law enforcement officials. Now, Sheriff Arpaio has gone off the farm, but the fact is that there are too many local police departments that are working with the federal government on things like surveillance, on immigration, on dissent, on protest. And so, I think actually part of the responsibility does come from the federal government.

Bigger Than That- (The Difficulty Of) Looking At Climate Change In The Age Of Inhuman Scale

In Uncategorized on October 13, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Oldspeak:Some things are so big you don’t see them, or you don’t want to think about them, or you almost can’t think about them. Climate change is one of those things. It’s impossible to see the whole, because it’s everything…. it’s a complete system thrashing out of control, so that it threatens to become too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, too wild, too destructive, too erratic for many plants and animals that depend on reliable annual cycles. It affects the entire surface of the Earth and every living thing, from the highest peaks to the depths of the oceans, from one pole to the other, from the tropics to the tundra, likely for millennia — and…it’s already here.

It’s not only bigger than everything else, it’s bigger than everything else put together.  But it’s not a sudden event like a massacre or a flood or a fire, even though it includes floods, fires, heat waves, and wild weather.  It’s an incremental shift over decades, over centuries.  It’s the definition of the big picture itself, the far-too-big picture. Which is why we have so much news about everything else, or so it seems.

To understand climate change, you need to translate figures into impacts, to think about places you’ll never see and times after you’re gone. You need to imagine sea level rise and understand its impact, to see the cause-and-effect relations between coal-fired power plants, fossil-fuel emissions, and the fate of the Earth. You need to model data in fairly sophisticated ways. You need to think like a scientist.” –Rebecca Solnit

“Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick….” -OSJ

It was the stuff of fantasy, of repeated failed expeditions and dreams that wouldn’t die.  I’m talking about the Northwest Passage, that fabled route through Arctic waters around North America.  Now, it’s reality.  The first “bulk carrier,” a Danish commercial freighter with a load of coal, just traveled from Vancouver, Canada, to Finland, cutting a week off its voyage, skipping the Panama Canal, and even, according to the Finnish steel maker Ruukki Metals, for whom the coal was intended, “reducing its greenhouse gas emissions because of fuel savings.” 

When dreams come true, it’s time to celebrate, no?  Only in this case, under the upbeat news of the immediate moment lies a far larger nightmare.  Those expeditions from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries failed to find the Northwest Passage because Arctic sea ice made the voyage impossible.  There simply was no passage.  No longer.  Thanks to global warming, the melting of ice — glaciers are losing an estimated 303 billion tons of the stuff annually worldwide — staggers the imagination.  The Greenland ice shield is turning into runoff ever more rapidly, threatening significant sea level rise, and all of the melting in the cold north has, in turn, opened a previously nonexistent Northwest Passage, as well as a similar passage through Russia’s Arctic waters.

None of this would have happened, as the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change pointed out in its latest report, if not for the way the burning of fossil fuels (like that coal the Nordic Orion took to Finland) has poured carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  In other words, we created that Arctic passage and made it commercially viable, thus ensuring that our world, the one we’ve known since the dawn of (human) time, will be ever less viable for our children and grandchildren.  After all, the Arctic with its enormous reservoirs of fossil fuels can now begin to be opened up for exploitation like so much of the rest of the planet.  And there can be no doubt about it: those previously unreachable reserves will be extracted and burned, putting yet more CO2 into the atmosphere, and anyone who tries to stop that process, as Greenpeace protestors symbolically tried to do recently at an oil rig in Arctic Russia, will be dealt with firmly as “pirates” or worse.  That dream of history, of explorers from once upon a time, is now not just a reality, but part of a seemingly inexorable feedback loop of modern fossil-fuel production and planetary heating, another aspect of what Michael Klare has grimly termed the Third Carbon Age (rather than a new Age of Renewables).

If we don’t need a little perspective on ourselves and our world now, then when? Fortunately, TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit is here to offer us both that perspective and some hope for what we can do in the face of well-funded climate denialism and fossil-fuel company boosterism”. –Tom

By Rebecca Solnit @ TomsDispatch:

Late last week, in the lobby of a particularly unglamorous downtown San Francisco building, a group of passionate but polite activists met with a bureaucrat who stepped forward to hear what they had to say about the fate of the Earth. The activists wanted to save the world.  The particular part of it that might be under their control involved getting the San Francisco Retirement board to divest its half a billion dollars in fossil fuel holdings, one piece of the international divestment movement that arose a year ago.

Sometimes the fate of the Earth boils down to getting one person with modest powers to budge.

The bureaucrat had a hundred reasons why changing course was, well, too much of a change. This public official wanted to operate under ordinary-times rules and the idea that climate change has thrust us into extraordinary times (and that divesting didn’t necessarily entail financial loss or even financial risk) was apparently too much to accept.

The mass media aren’t exactly helping. Last Saturday, for instance, the New York Times gave its story on the International Panel on Climate Change’s six-years-in-the-making report on the catastrophic future that’s already here below-the-fold front-page placement, more or less equal to that given a story on the last episode of Breaking Bad. The end of the second paragraph did include this quote: “In short, it threatens our planet, our only home.” But the headline (“U.N. Climate Panel Endorses Ceiling on Global Emissions”) and the opening paragraph assured you this was dull stuff. Imagine a front page that reported your house was on fire right now, but that some television show was more exciting.

Sometimes I wish media stories were organized in proportion to their impact.  Unfortunately, when it comes to climate change, there is not paper enough on this planet to properly scale up a story to the right size.  If you gave it the complete front page to suggest its import, you would then have to print the rest of the news at some sort of nanoscale and include an electron microscope for reading ease.

Hold up your hand. It’s so big it can block out the sun, though you know that the sun is so much bigger. Now look at the news: in column inches and airtime, a minor controversy or celebrity may loom bigger than the planet. The problem is that, though websites and print media may give us the news, they seldom give us the scale of the news or a real sense of the proportional importance of one thing compared to another.  And proportion, scale, is the main news we need right now — maybe always.

As it happens, we’re not very good at looking at the biggest things. They may be bigger than we can see, or move more slowly than we have the patience to watch for or remember or piece together, or they may cause impacts that are themselves complex and dispersed and stretch into the future. Scandals are easier.  They are on a distinctly human scale, the scale of lust, greed, and violence. We like those, we understand them, we get mired in them, and mostly they mean little or nothing in the long run (or often even in the short run).

A resident in a town on the northwest coast of Japan told me that the black 70-foot-high wave of water coming at him on March 11, 2011, was so huge that, at first, he didn’t believe his eyes. It was the great Tohoku tsunami, which killed about 20,000 people. A version of such cognitive dissonance occurred in 1982, when NASA initially rejected measurements of the atmosphere above Antarctica because they indicated such a radical loss of ozone that the computer program just threw out the data.

Some things are so big you don’t see them, or you don’t want to think about them, or you almost can’t think about them. Climate change is one of those things. It’s impossible to see the whole, because it’s everything. It’s not just a seven-story-tall black wave about to engulf your town, it’s a complete system thrashing out of control, so that it threatens to become too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, too wild, too destructive, too erratic for many plants and animals that depend on reliable annual cycles. It affects the entire surface of the Earth and every living thing, from the highest peaks to the depths of the oceans, from one pole to the other, from the tropics to the tundra, likely for millennia — and it’s not just coming like that wave, it’s already here.

It’s not only bigger than everything else, it’s bigger than everything else put together.  But it’s not a sudden event like a massacre or a flood or a fire, even though it includes floods, fires, heat waves, and wild weather.  It’s an incremental shift over decades, over centuries.  It’s the definition of the big picture itself, the far-too-big picture. Which is why we have so much news about everything else, or so it seems.

To understand climate change, you need to translate figures into impacts, to think about places you’ll never see and times after you’re gone. You need to imagine sea level rise and understand its impact, to see the cause-and-effect relations between coal-fired power plants, fossil-fuel emissions, and the fate of the Earth. You need to model data in fairly sophisticated ways. You need to think like a scientist.

Given the demands of the task and the muddle of the mainstream media, it’s remarkable that so many people get it, and that they do so despite massive, heavily funded petroleum industry propaganda campaigns is maybe a victory, if not enough of one.

Four months ago, two bombers in Boston murdered three people and injured hundreds in a way spectacularly calculated to attract media attention, and the media obeyed with alacrity. Climate change probably fueled the colossal floods around Boulder, Colorado, that killed seven people in mid-September, but amid the copious coverage, it was barely mentioned in the media. Similarly, in Mexico, 115 people died in unprecedented floods in the Acapulco area (no significant mention of climate change), while floods reportedly are halving Pakistan’s economic growth (no significant mention), and 166 bodies were found in the wake of the latest Indian floods (no significant mention).

Climate change is taking hundreds of thousands of lives in Africa every year in complex ways whose causes and effects are difficult to follow. Forest fires, very likely enhanced by climate change, took the lives of 19 firefighters facing Arizona blazes amid record heat waves in July.  Again, climate change generally wasn’t the headline on that story.

(For the record, climate change is clearly helping to produce many of the bigger, more destructive, more expensive, more frequent disasters of our time, but it is impossible to point to any one of them and say definitely, this one is climate change.  It’s like trying to say which cancers in a contaminated area were caused by the contamination; you can’t, but what you can say is that the overall rise in cancer is connected.)

Not quite a year ago, a climate-change-related hurricane drowned people when superstorm Sandy hit a place that doesn’t usually experience major hurricane impact, let alone storm surges that submerge amusement parks, the New York City subway system, and the Jersey shore. In that disaster, 148 people died directly, nearly that many indirectly, losses far greater than from any terrorist incident in this country other than that great anomaly, 9/11. The weather has now become man-made violence, though no one thinks of it as terrorism, in part because there’s no smoking gun or bomb — unless you have the eyes to see and the data to look at, in which case the smokestacks of coal plants start to look gun-like and the hands of energy company CEOs and well-paid-off legislators begin to morph into those of bombers.

Even the civil war in Syria may be a climate-change war of sorts: over the past several years, the country has been hit by its worst drought in modern times. Climate and Security analyst Francesco Femia says, “Around 75 percent of [Syrian] farmers suffered total crop failure, so they moved into the cities. Farmers in the northeast lost 80 percent of their livestock, so they had to leave and find livelihoods elsewhere. They all moved into urban areas — urban areas that were already experiencing economic insecurity due to an influx of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees. But this massive displacement mostly wasn’t reported. So it wasn’t factoring into various security analyses. People assumed Syria was relatively stable compared to Egypt.”

Column Inches, Glacial Miles

We like to think about morality and sex and the lives of people we’ve gotten to know in some fashion. We know how to do it. It’s on a distinctly human scale. It’s disturbing in a reassuring way.  We fret about it and feel secure in doing so. Now, everything’s changed, and our imaginations need to keep pace with that change. What is human scale anyway? These days, after all, we split atoms and tinker with genes and can melt an ice sheet. We were designed to think about human-scale phenomena, and now that very phrase is almost as meaningless as old terms like “glacial,” which used to mean slow-moving and slow to change.

Nowadays glaciers are melting rapidly or disappearing entirely, and some — those in Greenland, for example — have gushing rivers of ice water eating through their base. If the whole vast Greenland ice sheet were to melt, it could raise global sea levels by 23 feet.

We tend to think about climate change as one or two or five things: polar ice, glaciers melting, sea-level rise, heat waves, maybe droughts. Now, however, we need to start adding everything else into the mix: the migration of tropical diseases, the proliferation of insect pests, crop failures and declining crop yields leading to widespread hunger and famine, desertification and flooded zones and water failures leading to mass population shifts, resource wars, and so many other things that have to do with the widest systems of life on Earth, affecting health, the global economy, food systems, water systems, and energy systems.

It is almost impossibly scary and painful to contemplate the radical decline and potential death of the oceans that cover 70% of the Earth’s surface and the dramatic decrease of plankton, which do more than any other type of organism to sequester carbon and produce oxygen — a giant forest in microscopic form breathing in what we produce, breathing out what we need, keeping the whole system going. If you want to read something really terrifying, take a look at the rise of the Age of Jellyfish in this review of Lisa-Ann Gershwin’s book Stung!: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean. Maybe read it even if you don’t.

Only remember that like so much about climate change we used to imagine as a grim future, that future is increasingly here and now. In this case, in the form of millions or maybe billions of tons of jellyfish proliferating globally and devouring plankton, fish eggs, small fish, and bigger creatures in the sea we love, we know, we count on, we feed on, and now even clogging the water-intake pipes of nuclear power plants. In the form of seashells dissolving in acidic waters from the Pacific Northwest to the Antarctic Ocean. In the form of billions of pine-bark beetles massacring the forests of the American West, from Arizona to Alaska, one bite at a time.

It’s huge. I think about it, and I read about it, following blogs at Weather Underground, various climate websites, the emails of environmental groups, the tweets of people at 350.org, and bits and pieces of news on the subject that straggle into the mainstream and alternative media. Then I lose sight of it. I think about everything and anything else; I get caught up in old human-scale news that fits into my frameworks so much more easily. And then I remember, and regain my sense of proportion, or disproportion.

The Great Wall, Brick by Brick

The changes required to address climate change are colossal, but they are made up of increments and steps and stages that are more than possible. Many are already underway, both as positive changes (adaptation of renewable energy, increased energy efficiency, new laws, policies, and principles) and as halts to destruction (for example, all the coal-fired plants that have not been built in recent years and the Tar Sands pipeline that, but for popular resistance, would already be sending its sludge from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico). The problem is planetary in scale, but there is room to mitigate the worst-case scenarios, and that room is full of activists at work. Much of that work consists of small-scale changes.

As Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune put it last week, “Here’s the single most important thing you need to know about the IPCC report: It’s not too late. We still have time to do something about climate disruption. The best estimate from the best science is that we can limit warming from human-caused carbon pollution to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — if we act now. Bottom line: Our house is on fire. Rather than argue about how fast it’s burning, we need to start throwing buckets of water.”

There are buckets and bucket brigades. For example, the movement to get universities, cities, churches, and other entities to divest their holdings of the top 200 fossil-fuel stocks could have major consequences. If it works, it will be achieved through dedicated groups on this campus or in that city competing in a difficult sport: budging bureaucrats. It’s already succeeded in some key places, from the city of Seattle to the national United Church of Christ, and hundreds of campaigns are underway across the United States and in some other countries.

My heroes are now people who can remain engaged with climate change’s complex and daunting facts and still believe that we have some leeway to determine what happens. They insist on looking directly at the black wall of water, and they focus on what we can do about the peril we face, and then they do it. They do their best to understand scale and science, and their dedication and clarity comes from connecting their hearts to their minds.

I hear people who are either uninformed or who are justifying disengagement say that it’s too late and what we do won’t matter, but it does matter, because a rise in the global temperature of two degrees Celsius is going to be very, very different from, say, five degrees Celsius for almost everything living on Earth now and for millennia to come. And there are still many things that can be done, both to help us adapt to the radical change on the way and to limit the degree of change to which we’ll have to adapt. Because it’s already risen .8 degrees and that’s been a disaster — many, many disasters.

I spent time over the last several months with the stalwarts carrying on a campaign to get San Francisco to divest from its energy stocks. In the beginning, it seemed easy enough. City Supervisor John Avalos introduced a nonbinding resolution to the Board of Supervisors, and to everyone’s surprise it passed unanimously in April on a voice vote. But the board turned out only to have the power to recommend that the San Francisco Retirement Board do the real work of divesting its vast holdings of fossil-fuel stocks. The retirement board was a tougher nut to crack.

Its main job, after all, is to ensure a safe and profitable pension fund and in that sense, energy companies have, in the past, been good investments. To continue on such a path is to be “smart about the market.” The market, in the meantime, is working hard at not imagining the financial impact of climate change.

The failure of major food sources, including fishing stocks and agricultural crops, and the resultant mass hunger and instability — see Syria — is going to impact the market. Retirees in the beautiful Bay Area are going feel it if the global economy crashes, the region fills with climate refugees, the spectacularly productive state agricultural system runs dry or roasts, and the oceans rise on our scenic coasts. It’s a matter of scale.  Your investments are not independent of nature, even if fossil-fuel companies remain, for a time, profitable while helping destroying the world as humanity has known it.

Some reliable sources now argue that fossil-fuel stocks are not good investments, that they’re volatile for a number of reasons and due to crash. The IPCC report makes it clear that we need to leave most of the planet’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground in the coming decades, that the choice is either to fry the planet or freeze the assets of the carbon companies. Activists are now doing their best to undermine the value of the big carbon-energy corporations, and governments clued in to the new IPCC report will likely join them in trying to keep the oil, gas, and coal in the ground — the fossil fuel that is also much of the worth of these corporations on paper. If we’re lucky, we’ll make them crash. So divesting can be fiscally sound, and there is a very strong case that it can be done without economic impact. But the crucial thing here isn’t the financial logistics of divestment; it’s the necessity of grasping the scale of things, understanding the colossal nature of the problem and the need to address it, in part, by pressuring one small group or one institution in one place.

To grasp this involves a feat of imagination and, I think, a leap of faith: a kind of conviction about what matters, about living according to principle, about understanding what is too big to be seen with your own eyes, about correlating data on a range of scales. A lot of people I know do it. If we are to pull back from the brink of catastrophe, it will be because of their vision and their faith. You might want to thank them now, and while your words are nice, so are donations. Or you might want to join them.

That there is a widespread divestment movement right now is due to the work of a few people who put forth the plan less than a year ago at 350.org. The president has already mentioned it, and hundreds of colleges are now in the midst of or considering the process of divesting, with cities, churches, and other institutions joining the movement. It takes a peculiar kind of genius to see the monster and to see that it might begin to be pushed back by small actions — by, in fact, actions on a distinctly human scale that could still triumph over the increasingly inhuman scale of our era.

Hold up your hand. It looks puny in relation to the sun, but the other half of the equation of scale is seeing that something as small as that hand, as your own powers, as your own efforts, can matter. The cathedral is made stone by stone, and the book is written word by word.

If there is to be an effort to respond to climate change, it will need to make epic differences in economics, in ecologies, in the largest and most powerful systems around us. Though the goals may be heroic, they will be achieved mostly through an endless accumulation of small gestures.

Those gestures are in your hands, and everyone’s. Or they could be if we learned to see the true scale of things, including how big we can be together.

Rebecca Solnit writes regularly for TomDispatch, works a little with 350.org, and is hanging out a lot in 2013 with the newly arrived Martin, Thyri, Bija Milagro, and Camilo, who will be 80 in the unimaginable year of 2093. Her most recent book is The Faraway Nearby.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

 

 

Last Hours of Humanity: Warming the World to Extinction

In Uncategorized on October 13, 2013 at 6:12 pm

(Image: <a href=" http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-106825397/stock-photo-refinery-with-smoke-and-global-warming-concept.html?src=NbITD5enX9lI4lerT943VQ-1-0"> via Shutterstock </a>)

Oldspeak:Will several centuries of burning fossil fuels release enough carbon into the atmosphere to mimic the effects of past volcanic and asteroid activity and provoke a mass extinction?

If our burning fossil fuels warms the oceans enough that that methane melts and is quickly released into the atmosphere, the Earth will be in its sixth mass extinction.

And make no mistake about it, the animals and plants that are most heavily hit by mass extinctions are those that are largest and at the top of the food chain.

That means us.

We must stop the carbon madness and move, worldwide, to renewable 21st century energy sources.” –Thom Hartmann

“The grim reality is, we’re ALREADY in earth’s sixth mass extinction. We’re witnessing its beginning. We’re losing 200 species PER  DAY. irreversible positive feedbacks have already begun.  Accelerated ocean acidification/warming/deoxygenation/mass extinctions , massive increases in methane releases globally  and permafrost melt have methane levels in the arctic higher than they’ve been in 400,000 years.  Phytoplankton, the organisms crucial to all life on earth, producers of half the worlds oxygen and sequestering carbon have decreased 40% since 1950. And there are no serious efforts to stop the extractive energy systems that are creating  these catastrophic positive feedbacks, in fact these systems are being EXPANDED.  The show is going on, whether we want to see it or not.” -OSJ

By Thom Hartmann @ Truthout:

If you were standing outdoors looking at the distant and reddening sky 250 million years ago as the Permian Mass Extinction was beginning, unless you were in the region that is known as Siberia you would have no idea that a tipping point had just been passed and soon 95% of all life on earth would be dead.

It’s almost impossible to identify tipping points, except in retrospect.

For example, we have almost certainly already past the tipping point to an ice-free Arctic. And we are just now realizing it, even though that tipping point was probably passed a decade or more ago.

This is critically important because in the history of our planet there have been five times when more than half of all life on Earth died. They’re referred to as “mass extinctions.”

One – the one that killed the dinosaurs – was initiated by a meteorite striking the Earth. The rest all appear to have been initiated by tectonic and volcanic activity.

In each case, however, what happened was that massive amounts of carbon-containing greenhouse gases – principally carbon dioxide, were released from beneath the Earth’s crust and up into the atmosphere.

This provoked global warming intense enough to melt billions of tons of frozen methane on the oceans floors. That pulse of methane – an intense greenhouse gas – then brought the extinction to its full of intensity.

While in the past it took continental movement or an asteroid to break up the crust of the earth enough to release ancient stores of carbon into the atmosphere, we humans have been doing this very aggressively for the past 150 years by drilling and mining fossil fuels.

So the question:

Will several centuries of burning fossil fuels release enough carbon into the atmosphere to mimic the effects of past volcanic and asteroid activity and provoke a mass extinction?

Geologists who study mass extinctions are becoming concerned. As more and more research is coming out about the massive stores of methane in the Arctic and around continental shelves, climate scientists are beginning to take notice, too.

The fossil fuel companies are sitting on roughly 2 trillion tons of underground carbon. That, in and of itself, is enough to warm the earth by 5 or 6°C, and is an amount of carbon consistent with tipping points during past mass extinctions.

There are an additional estimated 2 trillion tons of methane stored in the Arctic and probably 2 to 5 times that much around continental shelves all around the Earth.

If our burning fossil fuels warms the oceans enough that that methane melts and is quickly released into the atmosphere, the Earth will be in its sixth mass extinction.

And make no mistake about it, the animals and plants that are most heavily hit by mass extinctions are those that are largest and at the top of the food chain.

That means us.

We must stop the carbon madness and move, worldwide, to renewable 21st century energy sources.

This is why we’ve produced a short documentary on this topic, and a short e-book titled The Last Hours of Humanity: Warming the World to Extinction that you can find at www.lasthours.org.

Please check it out and share it with as many friends as possible.

The future of humanity is at stake.