"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Carbon-industrial Complex’

Apocalypse Now: A Thirsty, Violent World

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2015 at 9:41 pm

Photograph by Mauricio Lima/The New York Times/Redux

 

Oldspeak: “The various physical calamities that confront the world are hard to separate, but growing hunger and the struggle to find clean water for billions of people are clearly connected. Each problem fuels others, particularly in the developing world—where the harshest impact of natural catastrophes has always been felt. Yet the water crisis challenges even the richest among us… “Unfortunately, the world has not really woken up to the reality of what we are going to face, in terms of the crises, as far as water is concerned,” Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the International Panel on Climate Change, said at a conference on water security earlier this month. “If you look at agricultural products, if you look at animal protein, the demand for which is growing—that’s highly water intensive. At the same time, on the supply side, there are going to be several constraints. Firstly because there are going to be profound changes in the water cycle due to climate change.” -Michael Specter

“Things are going to shit much faster than most realize. We’re running out of the only natural resource that matters. Water. Omnicidally, We’re actively poisoning it in many places, for environment-destroying, dirty energy and agriculture. Actual shooting resource wars have already begun in other parts of the world, we have legally fought resource wars here in the U.S. As conditions deteriorate, and people get more thirsty, will they get more violent? Time will tell.” -OSJ

By Michael Specter @ The New Yorker:

Angry protesters filled the streets of Karachi last week, clogging traffic lanes and public squares until police and paratroopers were forced to intervene. That’s not rare in Pakistan, which is often a site of political and religious violence.

But last week’s protests had nothing to do with freedom of expression, drone wars, or Americans. They were about access to water. When Khawaja Muhammad Asif, the Minister of Defense, Power, and Water (yes, that is one ministry), warned that the country’s chronic water shortages could soon become uncontrollable, he was looking on the bright side. The meagre allotment of water available to each Pakistani is a third of what it was in 1950. As the country’s population rises, that amount is falling fast.

Dozens of other countries face similar situations—not someday, or soon, but now. Rapid climate change, population growth, and a growing demand for meat (and, thus, for the water required to grow feed for livestock) have propelled them into a state of emergency. Millions of words have been written, and scores of urgent meetings have been held, since I last wrote about this issue for the magazine, nearly a decade ago; in that time, things have only grown worse.

The various physical calamities that confront the world are hard to separate, but growing hunger and the struggle to find clean water for billions of people are clearly connected. Each problem fuels others, particularly in the developing world—where the harshest impact of natural catastrophes has always been felt. Yet the water crisis challenges even the richest among us.

California is now in its fourth year of drought, staggering through its worst dry spell in twelve hundred years; farmers have sold their herds, and some have abandoned crops. Cities have begun rationing water. According to the London-based organization Wateraid, water shortages are responsible for more deaths in Nigeria than Boko Haram; there are places in India where hospitals have trouble finding the water required to sterilize surgical tools.

Nowhere, however, is the situation more acute than in Brazil, particularly for the twenty million residents of São Paulo. “You have all the elements for a perfect storm, except that we don’t have water,” a former environmental minister told Lizzie O’Leary, in a recent interview for the syndicated radio show “Marketplace.” The country is bracing for riots. “There is a real risk of social convulsion,” José Galizia Tundisi, a hydrologist with the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, warned in a press conference last week. He said that officials have failed to act with appropriate urgency. “Authorities need to act immediately to avoid the worst.” But people rarely act until the crisis is directly affecting them, and at that point it will be too late.

It is not that we are actually running out of water, because water never technically disappears. When it leaves one place, it goes somewhere else, and the amount of freshwater on earth has not changed significantly for millions of years. But the number of people on the planet has grown exponentially; in just the past century, the population has tripled, and water use has grown sixfold. More than that, we have polluted much of what remains readily available—and climate change has made it significantly more difficult to plan for floods and droughts.

Success is part of the problem, just as it is with the pollution caused by our industrial growth. The standard of living has improved for hundreds of millions of people, and the pace of improvement will quicken. As populations grow more prosperous, vegetarian life styles often yield to a Western diet, with all the disasters that implies. The new middle classes, particularly in India and China, eat more protein than they once did, and that, again, requires more water use. (On average, hundreds of gallons of water are required to produce a single hamburger.)

Feeding a planet with nine billion residents will require at least fifty per cent more water in 2050 than we use today. It is hard to see where that water will come from. Half of the planet already lives in urban areas, and that number will increase along with the pressure to supply clean water.

“Unfortunately, the world has not really woken up to the reality of what we are going to face, in terms of the crises, as far as water is concerned,” Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the International Panel on Climate Change, said at a conference on water security earlier this month. “If you look at agricultural products, if you look at animal protein, the demand for which is growing—that’s highly water intensive. At the same time, on the supply side, there are going to be several constraints. Firstly because there are going to be profound changes in the water cycle due to climate change.”

Floods will become more common, and so will droughts, according to most assessments of the warming earth. “The twenty-first-century projections make the [previous] mega-droughts seem like quaint walks through the garden of Eden,” Jason Smerdon, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said recently. At the same time, demands for economic growth in India and other developing nations will necessarily increase pollution of rivers and lakes. That will force people to dig deeper than ever before into the earth for water.

There are ways to replace oil, gas, and coal, though we won’t do that unless economic necessity demands it. But there isn’t a tidy and synthetic invention to replace water. Conservation would help immensely, as would a more rational use of agricultural land—irrigation today consumes seventy per cent of all freshwater.

The result of continued inaction is clear. Development experts, who rarely agree on much, all agree that water wars are on the horizon. That would be nothing new for humanity. After all, the word “rivals” has its roots in battles over water—coming from the Latin, rivalis, for “one taking from the same stream as another.” It would be nice to think that, with our complete knowledge of the physical world, we have moved beyond the limitations our ancestors faced two thousand years ago. But the truth is otherwise; rivals we remain, and the evidence suggests that, until we start dying of thirst, we will stay that way.

 

 

The World We Are Shaping Is Feeling The Strain: Nearly Half The Systems Crucial To Planetary Stability Are Compromised

In Uncategorized on January 22, 2015 at 6:29 pm

The world we are shaping is feeling the strain

Oldspeak:On the eve of this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a team of scientists led by Will Steffen of the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University and the Australian National University report in the journal Science that the world has now crossed four of nine planetary boundaries within which humans could have hoped for a safe operating space…. The four boundaries are climate change, land system change, alterations to the biogeochemical cycle that follow phosphorus and nitrogen fertiliser use, and the loss of a condition called “biosphere integrity”…. Transgressing a boundary increases the risk that human activities could inadvertently drive the Earth System into a much less hospitable state, damaging efforts to reduce poverty and leading to deterioration of human wellbeing in many parts of the world, including wealthy countries”, said Professor Steffen. “In this new analysis we have improved the quantification of where these risks lie…. Although the human burden of population has soared from 2.5bn to more than 7bn in one lifetime, in 2010, the scientists say, the OECD countries that are home to 18% of the world’s population accounted for 74% of global gross domestic product, so most of the human imprint on the Earth System comes from the world represented by the OECDIt is difficult to over-estimate the scale and speed of change. In a single human lifetime humanity has become a planetary-scale geological force.” -Tim Radford

“Translation: A small percentage of  “Rich”, “successful”, “productive”, ” economically viable” hyper-consumptive people  in “developed” countries have become a planetary scale geologic force, that has wrought enough destruction and disruption of the ecology which supports all life, to bring about Earth’s 6th Mass Extinction. In the process, they’ve enslaved, exploited and extracted all that’s crossed their paths, for the purposes of their own enrichment, to the detriment of all. This is probably why we’ll continue to race toward the cliff of planetary ecological collapse and extinction unabated. Those who’ve created this calamity are in charge of fixing it. Not gonna happen.  I feel it’s fitting here to quote Audre Lorde: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change…. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.” This reality forces us to reconsider how we think of wealth, success, productivity, and economy. The way we think about them has brought us to the brink of extinction and the destruction of a life-habitable world. -OSJ

By Tim Radford @ Climate News Network:

The world risks being destabilised by human activity, scientists report, most of it the work of a rich minority of us.

LONDON, 16 January, 2015 – Humans are now the chief drivers of change in the planet’s physical, chemical, biological and economic systems according to new research in a series of journals. And the humans most implicated in this change so far are the 18% of mankind that accounts for 74% of gross domestic productivity.

And the indicators of this change – dubbed the “planetary dashboard” – are 24 sets of measurements that record the acceleration of the carbon cycle, land use, fisheries, telecommunications, energy consumption, population, economic growth, transport, water use and many other interlinked aspects of what scientists think of as the Earth System.

Although these indicators chart change since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, the most dramatic acceleration – the scientists call it the Great Acceleration – seems to have begun in 1950. Some researchers would like to set that decade as the start of a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, from Anthropos, the ancient Greek word for mankind.

On the eve of this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a team of scientists led by Will Steffen of the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University and the Australian National University report in the journal Science that the world has now crossed four of nine planetary boundaries within which humans could have hoped for a safe operating space.

The four boundaries are climate change, land system change, alterations to the biogeochemical cycle that follow phosphorus and nitrogen fertiliser use, and the loss of a condition called “biosphere integrity”.

Past their peak

The scientists judge that these boundary-crossing advances mean that both present and future human society are in danger of destabilising the Earth System, a complex interaction of land, sea, atmosphere, the icecaps, natural living things and humans themselves.

“Transgressing a boundary increases the risk that human activities could inadvertently drive the Earth System into a much less hospitable state, damaging efforts to reduce poverty and leading to deterioration of human wellbeing in many parts of the world, including wealthy countries”, said Professor Steffen. “In this new analysis we have improved the quantification of where these risks lie.”

The Science article is supported by separate studies of global change. These were backed by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, also headquartered in Stockholm, which publishes an analysis in the journal the Anthropocene Review.

Meanwhile a team of European scientists warn in the journal Ecology and Society that out of 20 renewable resources (among them the maize, wheat, rice, soya, fish, meat, milk and eggs that feed the world) 18 have already passed their peak production.

And a separate team led by scientists from Leicester University in Britain has even tried to pinpoint the day on which the Anthropocene era may be said to have commenced. In yet another journal, the Quaternary International, they nominate 16 July, 1945: the day of the world’s first nuclear test.

Unequal world

This flurry of research and review is of course timed to help world leaders at Davos concentrate on the longer-term problems of climate change, environmental degradation, and food security, in addition to immediate problems of economic stagnation, poverty, conflict and so on. But these immediate challenges may not be separable from the longer-term ones. To ram the message home, the authors will present their findings at seven seminars in Davos.

In the Anthropocene Review, Professor Steffen and his co-authors consider not just the strains on the planet’s resources that threaten stability, but also that section of humanity that is responsible for most of the strain.

Although the human burden of population has soared from 2.5bn to more than 7bn in one lifetime, in 2010, the scientists say, the OECD countries that are home to 18% of the world’s population accounted for 74% of global gross domestic product, so most of the human imprint on the Earth System comes from the world represented by the OECD.

This, they say, points to the profound scale of global inequality, which means that the benefits of the so-called Great Acceleration in consumption of resources are unevenly distributed, and this in turn confounds efforts to deal with the impact of this assault on the planetary machinery. Humans have always altered their environment, they concede, but now the scale of the alteration is, in its rate and magnitude, without precedent.

“Furthermore, by treating ‘humans’ as a single, monolithic whole, it ignores the fact that the Great Acceleration has, until very recently, been almost entirely driven by a small fraction of the human population, those in developed countries”, they say.

“…What surprised us was the timing. Almost all graphs show the same pattern. The most dramatic shifts have occurred since 1950”

The IGBP-Stockholm Resilience Centre co-operation first identified their 24 “indicators” of planetary change in 2004, and the latest research is a revisitation. In 2009, researchers identified nine global priorities linked to human impacts on the environment, and identified two, ­ climate change and the integrity of the biosphere, ­ that were vital to the human condition. Any alteration to either could drive the Earth System into a new state, they said.

In fact, since then, greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise, and accordingly global average temperatures have steadily increased, along with sea levels. At the same time, habitat destruction, pollution and hunting and fishing have begun to drive species to extinction at an accelerating rate.

Almost all the charts that make up the planetary dashboard now show steep acceleration: fisheries, one of the indicators that seems to have levelled off, has probably done so only because humans may have already exhausted some of the ocean’s resources.

“It is difficult to over-estimate the scale and speed of change. In a single human lifetime humanity has become a planetary-scale geological force”, said Prof Steffen. “When we first aggregated these datasets we expected to see major changes, but what surprised us was the timing. Almost all graphs show the same pattern.

“The most dramatic shifts have occurred since 1950. We can say that 1950 was the start of the Great Acceleration. After 1950 you can see that major Earth System changes became directly linked to changes related to the global economic system. This is a new phenomenon and indicates that humanity has a new responsibility at a global level for the planet.” ­­­­–­ Climate News Network

 

The Pacific Ocean Has Become Acidic Enough to Dissolve Sea Snails’ Shells: Acidification Is Happening Sooner & On A Larger Scale Than Scientists Predicted; Coastal Biomes Under Threat

In Uncategorized on May 5, 2014 at 11:28 am

First evidence of marine snails from the natural environment along the U.S. West Coast with signs that shells are dissolving. (Credit: NOAA)Oldspeak: “A new study, among the first to examine how the process called ocean acidification impacts marine life, has confirmed that about half of all the pteropods off the west coast are fighting off the acid burn. It builds on previous work that has shown pteropods dissolving in other waters; it’s a disturbing trend, considering they’re a key link in the oceanic food chain….research determined that “large portions of the shelf waters are corrosive to pteropods in the natural environment…This is worrisome, not just because it’s kind of horrifying on a micro-level—imagine the air that surrounds you slowly eroding, say, your cartilage—but because these sea snails are a major food source for other important species like salmon, herring, and mackerel. Their disappearance would radically transform the coastal biome.” -Brian Merchant

It’s happening now. I’m not speculating about the distant future. The first crack in our global life support system is widening now and we are about to experience our first major systems failure….We are on the threshold of the first major eco-system collapse of the Homocene…What the great majority of people do not understand is this: unless we stop the degradation of our oceans, marine ecological systems will begin collapsing and when enough of them fail, the oceans will die… And if the oceans die, then civilization collapses and we all die… It’s as simple as that.”  -Captain Paul Watson

“It really is that simple. The degradation of our oceans is not stopping, it is in fact accelerating. The Pacific Ocean will continue to be transformed into a radioactive acid bath. Marine ecological systems will continue to collapse, and that will be that.  We’re fucked. There is no fixing this. There is no avoiding extinction.” -OSJ

 

Related Story:

NOAA-led researchers discover ocean acidity is dissolving shells of tiny snails off the U.S. West Coast

 

By Brian Merchant @ Vice Magazine:

Meet the tiny, translucent “sea butterfly,” whose home is currently being transformed into an acid bath. Off the US’s west coast, there are anywhere between 100 and 15,000 of these free-swimming sea snails per square meter. And the oceans are beginning to dissolve the tiny shells right off their backs.

A new study, among the first to examine how the process called ocean acidification impacts marine life, has confirmed that about half of all the pteropods off the west coast are fighting off the acid burn. It builds on previous work that has shown pteropods dissolving in other waters; it’s a disturbing trend, considering they’re a key link in the oceanic food chain.

The world’s oceans have absorbed a third of humans’ carbon emissions, a process that increases their acidity. Scientists have long noted the changing chemistry of the waters, and voiced concern that this leaves calcium-based creatures, like coral and pteropods, extremely vulnerable. Now, it appears, they have proof.

“These are some of the first insights into how marine creatures are affected by acidification,” Dr. Nina Bednarsek told me in a phone interview. She’s the lead author of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration study, which was just published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society BThe research determined that “large portions of the shelf waters are corrosive to pteropods in the natural environment.”

“Fifty percent of those pteropods are affected by acidification,” Bednarsek said. “It’s a lot—more than we expected.” And sooner. She tells me that acidification is happening sooner and on a larger scale than scientists predicted. “This is just an indication of how much we are changing the natural environment,” she said.

The study estimates “that the incidence of severe pteropod shell dissolution owing to anthropogenic [ocean acidification] has doubled in near shore habitats since pre-industrial conditions across this region and is on track to triple by 2050.” In other words, thanks to human carbon pollution, twice as many marine creature shells are dissolving as were before the industrial era. And three times as many will be dissolving by mid-century.

Image: NOAA

This is worrisome, not just because it’s kind of horrifying on a micro-level—imagine the air that surrounds you slowly eroding, say, your cartilage—but because these sea snails are a major food source for other important species like salmon, herring, and mackerel. Their disappearance would radically transform the coastal biome.

Acidification primarily effects the snails’ outer shell layer, and is especially dangerous to juveniles, which are born with very tiny shells. The outer shell, which is comprised of “a more soluble form, they are just dissolved away. In that sense, shells are getting more thin,” Bednarsek said. “It is just a few micron in juveniles. If you dissolve that, the whole shell can just disappear in two months time.”

This means they have to use precious energy to try to build shells with less soluble materials, while the absence of a shell restricts mobility and leave them vulnerable to infection. So is this an existential threat to a highly prevalent species?

“Yes, basically,” Bednarsek said.

“By 2100, 50 percent of the oceans would no longer be viable for pteropods,” Dr. Richard Freely, the study’s co-author, told me, if we continue emitting carbon pollution apace. And that’s exactly what’s expected to happen.

“Estimates of future carbon dioxide levels, based on business as usual emission scenarios, indicate that by the end of this century the surface waters of the ocean could be nearly 150 percent more acidic, resulting in a pH that the oceans haven’t experienced for more than 20 million years,” NOAA estimates.

In other words, the oceans are on track to become an acidic mess, and plenty of things that lived in them for millions of years may simply no longer be able to. The future, it seems, is a place where sea snails’ shells begin dissolving in acid as soon as they’re born. And then, eventually, a place without sea snails.

ExxonMobil Carbon Asset Risk Report: ‘Climate Change, And Specifically Global Climate Policies, Are “Highly Unlikely” To Stop it From Selling Fossil Fuels For Decades To Come’

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2014 at 7:10 pm

CREDIT: AP/Hadi Mizban

Oldspeak: “Exxon is the first major oil and gas producer to publish a Carbon Asset Risk report to address investor concerns over how market forces and environmental regulations might impact the production of some of its reserves. The company agreed to publish the report several weeks ago.

“Exxon Mobil has acknowledged the significant risks climate change poses to its business, the likelihood of a price on carbon, and growing momentum to address climate change — yet still calls a low-carbon scenario unlikely,” Andrew Logan, Director, Oil & Gas Program, Ceres“. -Ari Phillips

“Short Translation: “Business as usual to continue apace. Earth’s 6th Mass Extinction will continue, unabated, and in all probability, accelerated.  i mean, come on, the U.S. Canada, Russia, China, Denmark, Norway, have been meeting to divvy up the fossil fuel resources and shipping routes to be exploited when the Arctic completely melts. While climate “mitigation” plans go unmade, climate instability acceleration plans are in full effect. That means continued and accelerated warming, sea level rise, ocean warming and acidification, perpetual drought, water scarcity, food scarcity, habitable land scarcity, and eventually extinction. There is no other probable outcome at this time. We need to stop pretending that there is.” -OSJ

Exxon Is Behind The Landmark Climate Report You Didn’t Hear About

 

 

By Ari Phillips @ Climate Progress:

Climate change is already impacting all continents. But it isn’t yet impacting all companies. The latest installment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report released on Monday confirmed the former. A report released by Exxon Mobil the same day about how greenhouse gas emissions and climate change factor into its business model found that climate change, and specifically global climate policies, are “highly unlikely” to stop it from selling fossil fuels for decades to come.

Exxon is the first major oil and gas producer to publish a Carbon Asset Risk report to address investor concerns over how market forces and environmental regulations might impact the production of some of its reserves. The company agreed to publish the report several weeks ago after Arjuna Capital, a sustainable wealth management platform, and As You Sow, a non-profit promoting environmental corporate responsibility, agreed to drop a shareholder resolution on the issue. These shareholders have concerns that Exxon Mobil’s assets will become worth less as fossil fuel restrictions come into place in coming years and climate change becomes an even more immediate and dire societal problem.

In the report, Exxon didn’t feel the need to sound any alarm bells.

“We know enough based on the research and science that the risk (of climate change) is real and appropriate steps should be taken to address that risk,” Ken Cohen, Exxon’s government affairs chief, told the AP in an interview Monday. “But given the essential role that energy plays in everyone’s lives, those steps need to be taken in context with other realities we face, including lifting much of the world’s population out of poverty.”

Exxon said they take the risk of climate change seriously, but steps to address the problem “will be most effective if they are informed by global energy demand and supply realities, and balance the economic aspirations of consumers.”

Balancing these economic aspirations means that carbon dioxide emissions from energy sources peak around 2030 and begin to decrease within a decade after that as demand for access to electricity and heat is offset by increased efficiency and advances in low-carbon and renewable technologies.

Natasha Lamb, director of equity research at Arjuna Capita, told the AP that while the report is a milestone, she was disappointed that it failed “to explain what would happen if society did in fact adopt policies that would lead to sharply lower emissions, something known broadly as a low-carbon standard.”

The world will require 35 percent more energy in 2040 than in 2010, according to the report, and Exxon Mobil does not believe that new forms of energy will be able to supplant traditional hydrocarbons in that period.

“Exxon Mobil has acknowledged the significant risks climate change poses to its business, the likelihood of a price on carbon, and growing momentum to address climate change — yet still calls a low-carbon scenario unlikely,” Andrew Logan, director of the Oil & Gas Program at Ceres, said in a statement. “Investors disagree, and will continue to push Exxon Mobil to align their planning with this reality.”

“This reality” being the one depicted in the new IPCC report that warns of the breakdown of food systems, new and prolonged poverty traps, and increased risks of violent conflicts and civil war. These warnings go far beyond investor’s concerns, and would require a commitment from Exxon Mobil to address — not just a statement of acknowledgement.

 

No End In Sight: California Boils In Worst Ever 400 Year Drought; Water Shortages Intensify; U.S. Food Supply Threatened

In Uncategorized on February 7, 2014 at 6:24 pm

California-Drought-2013

Oldspeak: “The worst drought in the history of the state of California is happening right now.  And considering the fact that the rest of the nation is extremely dependent on produce grown in California and cattle raised in the western half of the U.S., this should be of great concern to all of us… California Governor Jerry Brown has just declared a water emergency, and reservoirs throughout the state have dropped to dangerously low levels. Unless a miracle happens, there is simply not going to be enough water to go around for the entire agriculture industry… The reason why the agriculture industry in California is so important is because it literally feeds the rest of the nation…. And it isn’t just the U.S. that is dealing with this kind of drought.  The largest freshwater lake in China that was once about twice the size of London, England has almost entirely dried up because of the ongoing drought over there…. Meanwhile, global demand for food just continues to rise… If this drought ends and the western half of the nation starts getting lots of rain, this could just be a temporary crisis…. However, the truth is that scientific research has shown that the 20th century was the wettest century in the western half of the country in 1000 years, and that we should expect things to return to “normal” at some point.-Michael Snyder

“It should be obvious that our civilization is a planetary wide progress trap. We extract ever more toxic and non-renewable energy, which requires that we use and poison ever more of our most precious, rapidly dwindling and irreplaceable resource water, the burning of that energy has heated and altered the planet to pre-human conditions, and the climate will at some point we don’t know change to be uninhabitable for most life on earth. The U.S. food supply is under acute threat, so much so, the U.S. Agriculture secretary had to come out and say “When you take a look at the intensity of the storms that we have seen recently and the frequency of them, the length of drought, combined with these snowstorms and the sub-zero weather that we’ve experienced, the combination of all those factors convinces me that the climate is changing. And it’s going to have its impact, and will have its impact and is having its impact on agriculture and forestry.” The western U.S. and other regions around the world have entered an era of mega-drought. Our actions are accelerating the destruction of the resources we need to survive. We need to start preparing to do with less. Less food, less water, less arable land, less breathable air. The age of abundance is coming to a close.” -OSJ

By Michael Snyder @ The Economic Collapse:

If the extreme drought in the western half of the country keeps going, the food supply problems that we are experiencing right now are only going to be the tip of the iceberg.  As you will see below, the size of the U.S. cattle herd has dropped to a 61 year low, and organic food shortages are being reported all over the nation.  Surprisingly cold weather and increasing demand for organic food have both been a factor, but the biggest threat to the U.S. food supply is the extraordinary drought which has had a relentless grip on the western half of the country.  If you check out the U.S. Drought Monitor, you can see that drought conditions currently stretch from California all the way to the heart of Texas.  In fact, the worst drought in the history of the state of California is happening right now.  And considering the fact that the rest of the nation is extremely dependent on produce grown in California and cattle raised in the western half of the U.S., this should be of great concern to all of us.

A local Fox News report that was featured on the Drudge Report entitled “Organic food shortage hits US” has gotten quite a bit of attention. The following is an excerpt from that article…

Since Christmas, cucumbers supplies from Florida have almost ground to a halt and the Mexican supply is coming but it’s just not ready yet.

And as the basic theory of economics goes, less supply drives up prices.

Take organic berries for example:

There was a strawberry shortage a couple weeks back and prices spiked.

Experts say the primary reasons for the shortages are weather and demand.

And without a doubt, demand for organic food has grown sharply in recent years.  More Americans than ever have become aware of how the modern American diet is slowly killing all of us, and they are seeking out alternatives.

Due to the tightness in supply and the increasing demand, prices for organic produce just continue to go up.  Just consider the following example

A quick check on the organic tree fruit market shows that the average price per carton for organic apples was $38 per carton in mid-January this year, up from an average of just $31 per carton last year at the same time. At least for apple marketers, the organic market is heating up.

Personally, I went to a local supermarket the other day and I started to reach for a package of organic strawberries but I stopped when I saw that they were priced at $6.99.  I couldn’t justify paying 7 bucks for one package.  I still remember getting them on sale for $2.99 last year.

Unfortunately, this may only be just the beginning of the price increases.  California Governor Jerry Brown has just declared a water emergency, and reservoirs throughout the state have dropped to dangerously low levels.

Unless a miracle happens, there is simply not going to be enough water to go around for the entire agriculture industry.  The following is an excerpt from an email from an industry insider that researcher Ray Gano recently shared on his website

Harris farms has released a statement saying they will leave about 40,000 acres fallow this year because the FEDS have decided to only deliver 10% of the water allocation for 2014. Lettuce is predicted to reach around $5.00 a head (if you can find it). Understand the farmers in the Salinas valley are considering the same action. So much for salad this summer unless you grow it yourself.

The reason why the agriculture industry in California is so important is because it literally feeds the rest of the nation.  I shared the following statistics yesterday, but they are so critical that they bear repeating.  As you can see, without the fruits and vegetables that California grows, we would be in for a world of hurt

The state produces 99 percent of the artichokes grown in the US, 44 percent of asparagus, a fifth of cabbage, two-thirds of carrots, half of bell peppers, 89 percent of cauliflower, 94 percent of broccoli, and 95 percent of celery. Leafy greens? California’s got the market cornered: 90 percent of the leaf lettuce we consume, along with and 83 percent of Romaine lettuce and 83 percent of fresh spinach, come from the big state on the left side of the map. Cali also cranks a third of total fresh tomatoes consumed in the U.S.—and 95 percent of ones destined for cans and other processing purposes.

As for fruit, I get that 86 percent of lemons and a quarter of oranges come from there; its sunny climate makes it perfect for citrus, and lemons store relatively well. Ninety percent of avocados? Fine. But 84 percent of peaches, 88 percent of fresh strawberries, and 97 percent of fresh plums?

Come on. Surely the other 49 states can do better.

Are you starting to understand how much trouble we could be in if this drought does not end?

About now I can hear some people out there saying that they will just eat meat because they don’t like vegetables anyway.

Well, unfortunately we are rapidly approaching a beef shortage as well.

On January 1st, the U.S. cattle herd hit a 61-year low of 89.3 million head of cattle.

The biggest reason for this is the 5 year drought that has absolutely crippled the cattle industry out west…

Back in the late fall 2013 there was a freak snowstorm that killed close to 300,000+ cattle. This is a major hit to the cattle market.

I know in Texas where they still have a 5 year drought they are dealing with, they are having to ship grass bails in from Colorado, Utah and other parts of the country just to feed the cattle. Ranchers are sending their female cattle to the slaughter houses becasue they can not afford to feed them anymore. It is the females that help re-stock the herd. SO if you are slaughtering your females, your herd does not grow. It is expected that the US will not see cattle herd growth returning until 2017, maybe even later.

This is a problem which is not going away any time soon.

According to the Washington Post, the U.S. cattle herd has gotten smaller for six years in a row, and the amount of beef produced is expected to drop to a 20 year low in 2014…

The U.S. cattle herd contracted for six straight years to the smallest since 1952, government data show. A record drought in 2011 destroyed pastures in Texas, the top producing state, followed the next year by a surge in feed-grain prices during the worst Midwest dry spell since the 1930s. Fewer cattle will mean production in the $85 billion beef industry drops to a 20- year low in 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

It would be hard to overstate how devastating this ongoing drought has been for many ranchers out west.  For example, one 64-year-old rancher who lives in Texas says that his herd is 90 percent smaller than it was back in 2005 because of the drought

Texas rancher Looney, who is 64 and has been in the cattle business his whole life, said his herd is still about 90 percent below its size from 2005 because of the prolonged dry weather. It will take years for the pastures to come back, even if there is normal rainfall, he said. About 44 percent of Texas was in still in drought in the week ended Jan. 7, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

And it isn’t just the U.S. that is dealing with this kind of drought.  The largest freshwater lake in China that was once about twice the size of London, England has almost entirely dried up because of the ongoing drought over there.

Meanwhile, global demand for food just continues to rise.

If this drought ends and the western half of the nation starts getting lots of rain, this could just be a temporary crisis.

However, the truth is that scientific research has shown that the 20th century was the wettest century in the western half of the country in 1000 years, and that we should expect things to return to “normal” at some point.

So is that happening now?

Over the past couple of years, I have warned that Dust Bowl conditions are starting to return to the western half of the United States.  Just see this article, this article and this article.

Now the state of California is experiencing the worst drought that it has ever gone through and “apocalyptic” dust storms are being reported in Colorado and Nevada.

Just because things seem like they have always been a certain way does not mean that they will always stay that way.

Things out west are rapidly changing, and in the end it is going to affect the lives of every man, woman and child in the United States.

U.N. Bodies & Health Authorities Now Being Advised To Prepare For A Global Temperature Rise of 4°C

In Uncategorized on November 26, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Oldspeak: “The link between rapid climate change and human extinction is basically this: the planet becomes uninhabitable by humans if the average temperature goes up by 4-6°C. It doesn’t sound like a lot because we’re used to the temperature changing 15°C overnight, but the thing that is not mentioned enough is that even a 2-3°C average increase would give us temperatures that regularly surpass 40°C (104°F) in North America and Europe, and soar even higher near the equator. Human bodies start to break down after six hours at a wet-bulb (100% humidity) temperature of 35°C (95°F).“-Nathan Curry

We are already planning for a 4°C world because that is where we are heading.  I do not know of any scientists who do not believe that. We are just not tackling the enormity of the task we face to keep it below the agreed 2°C danger threshold. “If we had the kind of politicians we really need we could still put in place policies that can save the planet from going over the danger level. But there is no evidence at the moment that we have that quality of politicians, so we all have to be prepared for the most likely scenario, which is a 4°C rise in temperature.  If we do not prepare to adapt we simply won’t be able to.” –Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College in London

“Ignore the propaganda. On our present course, life as we know it will end.  There is no technology that will enable us  to adapt adequately to the climactic changes to come.   There are already parts of the world where it is no longer possible for ‘normal’ life to continue.  People who are studying the climate are preparing for a uninhabitable world. Are you?” -OSJ

By Paul Brown @ Climate News Network:

UN bodies and health authorities are being advised to prepare for a world temperature rise of 4°C because scientists no longer believe that politicians are capable of holding the temperature rise below the internationally agreed limit, 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College in London, was speaking at a conference here which also heard that some parts of the world were already in danger of becoming too hot for humans to inhabit.

Science and health professionals were invited by the Global Climate and Health Alliance to assess this bleak future for the human race at the end of the first week of climate talks, where little progress has been made to slow global warming.

Wrong kind of politicians

Professor Maslin said: “We are already planning for a 4°C world because that is where we are heading. I do not know of any scientists who do not believe that. We are just not tackling the enormity of the task we face to keep it below the agreed 2°C danger threshold.

“If we had the kind of politicians we really need we could still put in place policies that can save the planet from going over the danger level. But there is no evidence at the moment that we have that quality of politicians, so we all have to be prepared for the most likely scenario, which is a 4°C rise in temperature. If we do not prepare to adapt we simply won’t be able to.”

Professor Maslin said that scientists were in a Catch 22 situation. They wanted to tell politicians that it was still possible to save the planet and had shown how to do it in the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, released in September. At the same time scientists were aware that there was not the political appetite to deal with the problem.

He said all UN bodies were now being advised to prepare for a rise of 4°C, because there is no evidence to show that the world is prepared to turn away from the present pathway of rising carbon emissions.

Currently the temperature has risen 0.8°C on pre-industrial levels, and with the increase this year to 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere it will rise further towards the 2°C threshold.

Professor Maslin said: “I think everybody outside the scientific arena has underestimated the size of the problem.”  The average American emits 16 tons of carbon dioxide a year, the average UK citizen 8 tons and the average Chinese 5 tons.

Every country, he said, had to reduce their citizens’ emissions to 2 tons per person to avoid dangerous climate change. “That is a big ask, particularly for a country like China which is still growing fast.”

Dr. Liz Hanna, from the Australian National University’s National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, said parts of her country were already reaching the threshold° where it was impossible for normal life to continue because of the heat.

Killing their workers

She said the Australian Government was ignoring climate change and still expecting places like Darwin to expand. But that was unlikely because they would soon become untenable.  “If employers ask people to continue to work in temperatures above 37°C, they will be killing them in increasing numbers,” she said.

Dr Hanna said humans were well suited to living in cool conditions and felt comfortable in temperatures between 20°C and 23°C because their muscles produced heat from within.

But in parts of Arizona, Australia and India temperatures were reaching – and for days staying above – the thermal maximum of endurance, which was around 37°C, the core heat of the human body.  Above that temperature, and sometimes below, depending on the combination of heat, humidity and air speed, keeping cool put too much strain on the heart and people began to die.

She said that she was studying how human societies could survive such daytime temperatures and continue to work. “There could be some night working, or people could work, rest in cool rooms, and then work again, but their productivity would drop and it would be economically unviable to have factories or farms in such conditions.”

Her researches were focusing on how to keep essential services like farming, police, ambulance, district nurses, construction and mining going in a warming world. “Obviously these people will be risking their lives if they continue to try and work outside when the ambient temperature is above 37°C,” she said. – Climate News Network

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.

Irreconcilable Differences: Capitalism And A Sustainable Planet

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

https://i1.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.