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Posts Tagged ‘Environmental Disaster’

“I don’t know how to describe what I saw, it’s horrific… It’s like the end of the world”: Super Typhoon Haiyan Kills At Least 10,000, Makes 620,000 Climate Refugees

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2013 at 6:48 pm
A boy carrying a plastic bottle of water walks past a car which slammed into damaged houses after super Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban city, central Philippines November 10, 2013. REUTERS-Romeo Ranoco

Oldspeak: “Expect the death toll to rise significantly. Many of the worst affected areas have yet to be heard from. We are unable to adequately prepare for these increasing in frequency and devastating natural disasters. Rebuilding in devastated areas is folly. Extreme weather events will only get stronger and more devastating in the future. We’re still nibbling around the edges. We have to fundamentally change the way in which we organize our civilization. Profit and growth can no longer supersede the environment and climate. We must focus all our energy on creating climate resilient,environmentally co-existent, sustainable, low-growth, resource conserving communities. All old socioeconomic paradigms are no longer valid.” -OSJ

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Typhoon Haiyan: at least 10,000 reported dead in Philippine province

By Manuel Mogato & Roli Ng @ Reuters:

TACLOBAN, Philippines (Reuters) – Rescue workers struggled to reach ravaged towns and villages in the central Philippines on Monday as they tried to deliver aid to survivors of a powerful typhoon that killed an estimated 10,000 people and displaced more than 600,000.

The United Nations said some survivors had no food, water or medicine. Relief operations were hampered because roads, airports and bridges had been destroyed or were covered in wreckage, it said.

President Benigno Aquino, facing one of the biggest challenges of his three-year rule, deployed soldiers to the devastated city of Tacloban to quell looting and said he might impose martial law or a state of emergency to ensure security.

Super typhoon Haiyan destroyed about 70 to 80 percent of structures in its path as it tore through Leyte province on Friday, said police chief superintendent Elmer Soria. After weakening, the storm headed west towards Vietnam.

Huge waves from one of the strongest storms ever recorded swept away coastal villages. Some officials likened the destruction to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

“From a helicopter, you can see the extent of devastation. From the shore and moving a kilometer inland, there are no structures standing. It was like a tsunami,” said Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas, who was in Tacloban, Leyte’s capital, before the typhoon struck.

“I don’t know how to describe what I saw. It’s horrific.”

The Philippines government and disaster agency have not confirmed the latest estimate of the number of deaths from the storm, whose sustained winds reached 195 miles per hour (313 km per hour) with gusts of up to 235 mph.

Soria, quoting local officials, said the estimated death toll so far was 10,000. That could climb once rescuers reach remote villages along the coast.

Nearly 620,000 people were displaced and 9.5 million “affected” across nine regions, the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement. Local officials observed one mass grave of between 300 to 500 bodies in one area of Tacloban alone, it added.

About 300 people died in neighboring Samar province, said an official of the provincial disaster agency.

Across Tacloban, men, women and children walked carefully over splintered remains of wooden houses, searching for missing loved ones and belongings. Not one building seems to have escaped damage in the coastal city of 220,000 people, about 580 km (360 miles) southeast of Manila.

Witnesses and officials described chaotic scenes. The city and nearby villages were flooded, leaving floating bodies and roads choked with debris from fallen trees, tangled power lines and flattened homes.

Survivors queued in lines, waiting for handouts of rice and water. Some sat and stared, covering their faces with rags to keep out the smell of the dead from one of the worst disasters to hit the typhoon-prone Southeast Asian nation.

One woman, eight months pregnant, described through tears how her 11 family members had vanished, including two daughters. “I can’t think right now,” she said. “I am overwhelmed.”

U.S. MARINES ON WAY

About 90 U.S. Marines and sailors headed to the Philippines in a first wave of promised military assistance for relief efforts, U.S. officials said. President Barack Obama said the United States was ready to provide additional aid.

U.S. aid groups also launched a multimillion-dollar relief campaign. One group, World Vision, said a shipment of blankets and plastic tarpaulins would arrive from Germany on Monday as a first step in its plan to help 400,000 people.

An official of World Vision based in Cebu Province said there were early reports that as much as 90 percent of northern Cebu had been destroyed.

An aid team from Oxfam reported “utter destruction” in the northern-most tip of Cebu, the charity said.

The United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, said it was rushing emergency supplies to the Philippines.

“Reaching the worst affected areas is very difficult, with limited access due to the damage caused by the typhoon to infrastructure and communications,” UNICEF Philippines Representative Tomoo Hozumi said in a statement.

Most of the storm deaths appeared to have been caused by surging sea water strewn with debris that many said resembled a tsunami. Tacloban lies in a cove where the seawater narrows, making it susceptible to storm surges.

AQUINO SENDS IN TROOPS

Aquino said the government had deployed 300 soldiers and police to restore order in Tacloban.

Looters rampaged through several stores in the city, witnesses said. A TV station said ATM machines were broken open.

Mobs attacked trucks loaded with food, tents and water on Tanauan bridge in Leyte, said Philippines Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon.

“Tonight, a column of armored vehicles will be arriving in Tacloban to show the government’s resolve and to stop this looting,” Aquino said on Sunday.

Aquino has shown exasperation at conflicting reports on damage and deaths. One TV network quoted him as telling the head of the disaster agency that he was running out of patience.

“How can you beat that typhoon?” said defense chief Voltaire Gazmin, when asked whether the government had been ill-prepared.

“It’s the strongest on Earth. We’ve done everything we can, we had lots of preparation. It’s a lesson for us.”

The U.N.’s OCHA said aerial surveys showed significant damage to coastal areas with heavy ships thrown ashore, houses destroyed and vast tracts of agricultural land “decimated”.

The destruction extended well beyond Tacloban.

Officials had yet to make contact with Guiuan, a town of 40,000 people that was first hit. Baco, a city of 35,000 in Oriental Mindoro province, was 80 percent under water, the U.N. said.

There were reports of damage across much of the Visayas, a region of eight major islands, including Leyte, Cebu and Samar.

Many tourists were stranded. “Seawater reached the second floor of the hotel,” said Nancy Chang, who was on a business trip from China in Tacloban City and walked three hours through mud and debris for a military-led evacuation at the airport.

“It’s like the end of the world.”

Six people were killed and dozens wounded during heavy winds and storms in central Vietnam as Haiyan approached the coast, state media reported, even though it had weakened substantially since hitting the Philippines.

Vietnam authorities have moved 883,000 people in 11 central provinces to safe zones, according to the government’s website. ($1 = 43.1900 Philippine pesos)

(Additional reporting by Rosemarie Francisco and Karen Lema in Manila and Phil Stewart and Charles Abbott in Washington. Writing by Dean Yates; Editing by Christopher Wilson and Mark Bendeich)

TEPCO Readies For Extremely Dangerous, Never Before Attempted Operation To Remove 400 Tons Of “Spent” Nuclear Fuel At Fukushima

In Uncategorized on November 4, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Poolside: The spent-fuel pool of reactor 4 at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant

Oldspeak: “The operation to begin removing fuel from such a severely damaged pool has never been attempted before. The rods are unwieldy and very heavy, each one weighing two-thirds of a ton, The worst-case scenario could play out in death to billions of people. A true apocalypse. It will be one of the worst, but most important jobs anyone has ever had to do. And even if executed flawlessly, there are still many things that could go wrong.Christina Consolo, fallout researcher

“Should the attempt fail, a mishandled rod could be exposed to air and catch fire, resulting in horrific quantities of radiation released into the atmosphere. The resulting radiation will be too great for the cooling pool to absorb as it simply has not been designed to do so.

In the worst-case scenario, the pool could come crashing to the ground, dumping the rods together into a pile that could fission and cause an explosion many times worse than in March 2011.” -RT

The complex has recently seen a series of setbacks, including highly toxic water gushing from storage tanks into the Pacific. The incidents, many of them caused by human error, have added to concerns about operator Tepco’s ability to safely dismantle the No. 1 plant” –Japan Times

“Ummm…. this can’t be good. Let me get this straight. TEPCO is going to attempt an extremely dangerous and never before tried operation that it originally planned to do in 2 years in 1 YEAR? So they’re going to rush through the job, and expect everything to go off (pun intended) without a hitch?! Given its record of mismanagement, unpreparedness, false information, human error and breathtaking incompetence handling this ongoing and ever worsening ecological and environmental catastrophe, i don’t understand why  responsibility is still being left to TEPCO to do anything!  Why would anyone with knowledge of the situation have ANY confidence that TEPCO could execute this operation successfully?!?! Sure they’re accepting international help, 2 years later, but this is an unprecedented event. A triple-meltdown, where nuclear cores have been lost, and there is no existing means to contain the perpetual radiation release. Expect a potentially life altering fuck up to kill billions of people. There are just too many ways this shitshow can go sideways real fast. ” –OSJ

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U.S. To Help With No. 1 Shutdown

Dangerous Operation Planned For Fukushima Plant

By RT:

Fukushima operator TEPCO is getting ready for its toughest and the most dangerous clean-up operation. In November it will try to remove 400 tons of spent fuel from plant’s Reactor No. 4. But even a little mistake may result in a new nuclear disaster.

The operation is scheduled to start in the beginning of November and be completed by around the end of 2014.

Under normal circumstances, the operation to remove all the fuel would take about 100 days. TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Co) initially planned to take two years, but reduced the schedule to one year in recognition of the urgency, as even a minor earthquake could trigger an uncontrolled fuel leak.

During this period TEPCO plans to carefully remove more than 1,300 used fuel rod assemblies, packing radiation 14,000 times the equivalent of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb, from their cooling pool.

The base of the pool where the fuel assemblies are situated is 18 meters above ground and the rods are 7 meters under the surface of the water.

TEPCO’s first task is to remove the debris from the Reactor No. 4 fuel pool.

Then, one by one, the fuel rods will be removed from the top store of the damaged building using a crane suspended above the crippled reactor.

Installation status of fuel removal cover of Unit 4 (Image from tepco.co.jp)Installation status of fuel removal cover of Unit 4 (Image from tepco.co.jp)

Previously a computer-controlled process, this time it has to be done completely manually. And this is what makes this removal operation extremely dangerous.

The fuel rods must be kept submerged and must not touch each other or break.

“The operation to begin removing fuel from such a severely damaged pool has never been attempted before. The rods are unwieldy and very heavy, each one weighing two-thirds of a ton,” fallout researcher Christina Consolo earlier told RT.

Should the attempt fail, a mishandled rod could be exposed to air and catch fire, resulting in horrific quantities of radiation released into the atmosphere. The resulting radiation will be too great for the cooling pool to absorb as it simply has not been designed to do so.

In the worst-case scenario, the pool could come crashing to the ground, dumping the rods together into a pile that could fission and cause an explosion many times worse than in March 2011.

“The worst-case scenario could play out in death to billions of people. A true apocalypse,” Consolo said.

Reactor No. 4 contains 10 times more Cesium-137 than Chernobyl did. This lets scientists warn that in case of another nuclear disaster, it will be the beginning of the ultimate catastrophe of the world and the planet.

“It will be one of the worst, but most important jobs anyone has ever had to do. And even if executed flawlessly, there are still many things that could go wrong,” Consolo said.

The World Nuclear Report, released in July 2013, said “the worst-case scenario” will require evacuation of up to 10 million people within a 250-kilometer radius of Fukushima, including a significant part of Tokyo.

Although some experts are skeptical, TEPCO is confident the operation will be a success. Last year two fuel rods were successfully removed from the pool in a test operation, but back then rod assemblies were empty and posed a far smaller threat.

The operation will be just one installment in the decommissioning process for the plant, and is forecast to take about 40 years and cost $11 billion.

TEPCO, responsible for the clean-up, is struggling to cope with the aftermath of the nuclear disaster, but with the crisis over radiation-contaminated water at the plant, it has been criticized for its ad hoc response to the disaster. In August TEPCO pleaded for overseas help to contain the radioactive fallout, after 18 months of trying to control it internally.

The Japanese government was also ordered to take a more active role in controlling the overflow of radioactive water being flushed over the melted reactors in Units 1, 2 and 3 at the plant.

Three of the Fukushima plant’s nuclear reactors were damaged by an earthquake-triggered tsunami on March 11, 2011, which led to a nuclear disaster. The plant has been accumulating radioactive water ever since. The government imposed a 20-kilometer ‘no-go’ zone around the plant area.

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.

Welcome To The “Era Of Persistent Conflict”: Pentagon Bracing For Public Dissent Over Climate & Energy Shocks

In Uncategorized on July 22, 2013 at 8:48 pm

https://i0.wp.com/www.davidicke.com/oi/extras/09/september/18_northcom.jpgOldspeak: “Why have Western security agencies developed such an unprecedented capacity to spy on their own domestic populations? Since the 2008 economic crash, security agencies have increasingly spied on political activists, especially environmental groups, on behalf of corporate interests. This activity is linked to the last decade of US defence planning, which has been increasingly concerned by the risk of civil unrest at home triggered by catastrophic events linked to climate change, energy shocks or economic crisis – or all three.” –Dr. Nafeez Ahmed.

“This is why your rights to dissent are being constricted. This is why your rights to assemble and petition your government for redress are being done away with. This is why the entire planet is being watched. This is why investigative journalists are being assailed, intimidated and subpoenaed. This is why whistleblowers are persecuted, hunted and silenced, zealously. This is why law-abiding citizens are being designated as “domestic terrorists”.  This is why more prisons than schools are being built. This is why the armed forces are training to operate in the homeland. The elites know what’s coming. They know there won’t be enough food, water, energy and living space for everyone. They know there will be vast areas of the planet rendered uninhabitable. This is why The Transnational Corporate Network and Governments are merging via a series of largely secret “treaties” and “trade agreements”. They know the people will not stand for it. They know there will be mass and persistent protest and unrest as the world as we know it crumbles, just as we are seeing in many other nations . They know we will need to be policed, controlled, repressed and imprisoned. War is coming. And you are the enemy.” –OSJ

By Dr. Nafeez Ahmed @ The U.K. Guardian:

Top secret US National Security Agency (NSA) documents disclosed by the Guardian have shocked the world with revelations of a comprehensive US-based surveillance system with direct access to Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft and other tech giants. New Zealand court records suggest that data harvested by the NSA’s Prism system has been fed into the Five Eyes intelligence alliance whose members also include the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

But why have Western security agencies developed such an unprecedented capacity to spy on their own domestic populations? Since the 2008 economic crash, security agencies have increasingly spied on political activists, especially environmental groups, on behalf of corporate interests. This activity is linked to the last decade of US defence planning, which has been increasingly concerned by the risk of civil unrest at home triggered by catastrophic events linked to climate change, energy shocks or economic crisis – or all three.

Just last month, unilateral changes to US military laws formally granted the Pentagon extraordinary powers to intervene in a domestic “emergency” or “civil disturbance”:

“Federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances.”

Other documents show that the “extraordinary emergencies” the Pentagon is worried about include a range of environmental and related disasters.

In 2006, the US National Security Strategy warned that:

“Environmental destruction, whether caused by human behavior or cataclysmic mega-disasters such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, or tsunamis. Problems of this scope may overwhelm the capacity of local authorities to respond, and may even overtax national militaries, requiring a larger international response.”

Two years later, the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Army Modernisation Strategy described the arrival of a new “era of persistent conflict” due to competition for “depleting natural resources and overseas markets” fuelling “future resource wars over water, food and energy.” The report predicted a resurgence of:

“… anti-government and radical ideologies that potentially threaten government stability.”

In the same year, a report by the US Army’s Strategic Studies Institute warned that a series of domestic crises could provoke large-scale civil unrest. The path to “disruptive domestic shock” could include traditional threats such as deployment of WMDs, alongside “catastrophic natural and human disasters” or “pervasive public health emergencies” coinciding with “unforeseen economic collapse.” Such crises could lead to “loss of functioning political and legal order” leading to “purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency…

“DoD might be forced by circumstances to put its broad resources at the disposal of civil authorities to contain and reverse violent threats to domestic tranquility. Under the most extreme circumstances, this might include use of military force against hostile groups inside the United States. Further, DoD would be, by necessity, an essential enabling hub for the continuity of political authority in a multi-state or nationwide civil conflict or disturbance.”

That year, the Pentagon had begun developing a 20,000 strong troop force who would be on-hand to respond to “domestic catastrophes” and civil unrest – the programme was reportedly based on a 2005 homeland security strategy which emphasised “preparing for multiple, simultaneous mass casualty incidents.”

The following year, a US Army-funded RAND Corp study called for a US force presence specifically to deal with civil unrest.

Such fears were further solidified in a detailed 2010 study by the US Joint Forces Command – designed to inform “joint concept development and experimentation throughout the Department of Defense” – setting out the US military’s definitive vision for future trends and potential global threats. Climate change, the study said, would lead to increased risk of:

“… tsunamis, typhoons, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural catastrophes… Furthermore, if such a catastrophe occurs within the United States itself – particularly when the nation’s economy is in a fragile state or where US military bases or key civilian infrastructure are broadly affected – the damage to US security could be considerable.”

The study also warned of a possible shortfall in global oil output by 2015:

“A severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity. While it is difficult to predict precisely what economic, political, and strategic effects such a shortfall might produce, it surely would reduce the prospects for growth in both the developing and developed worlds. Such an economic slowdown would exacerbate other unresolved tensions.”

That year the DoD’s Quadrennial Defense Review seconded such concerns, while recognising that “climate change, energy security, and economic stability are inextricably linked.”

Also in 2010, the Pentagon ran war games to explore the implications of “large scale economic breakdown” in the US impacting on food supplies and other essential services, as well as how to maintain “domestic order amid civil unrest.”

Speaking about the group’s conclusions at giant US defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton’s conference facility in Virginia, Lt Col. Mark Elfendahl – then chief of the Joint and Army Concepts Division – highlighted homeland operations as a way to legitimise the US military budget:

“An increased focus on domestic activities might be a way of justifying whatever Army force structure the country can still afford.”

Two months earlier, Elfendahl explained in a DoD roundtable that future planning was needed:

“Because technology is changing so rapidly, because there’s so much uncertainty in the world, both economically and politically, and because the threats are so adaptive and networked, because they live within the populations in many cases.”

The 2010 exercises were part of the US Army’s annual Unified Quest programme which more recently, based on expert input from across the Pentagon, has explored the prospect that “ecological disasters and a weak economy” (as the “recovery won’t take root until 2020”) will fuel migration to urban areas, ramping up social tensions in the US homeland as well as within and between “resource-starved nations.”

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was a computer systems administrator for Booz Allen Hamilton, where he directly handled the NSA’s IT systems, including the Prism surveillance system. According to Booz Allen’s 2011 Annual Report, the corporation has overseen Unified Quest “for more than a decade” to help “military and civilian leaders envision the future.”

The latest war games, the report reveals, focused on “detailed, realistic scenarios with hypothetical ‘roads to crisis'”, including “homeland operations” resulting from “a high-magnitude natural disaster” among other scenarios, in the context of:

“… converging global trends [which] may change the current security landscape and future operating environment… At the end of the two-day event, senior leaders were better prepared to understand new required capabilities and force design requirements to make homeland operations more effective.”

It is therefore not surprising that the increasing privatisation of intelligence has coincided with the proliferation of domestic surveillance operations against political activists, particularly those linked to environmental and social justice protest groups.

Department of Homeland Security documents released in April prove a “systematic effort” by the agency “to surveil and disrupt peaceful demonstrations” linked to Occupy Wall Street, according to the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF).

Similarly, FBI documents confirmed “a strategic partnership between the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the private sector” designed to produce intelligence on behalf of “the corporate security community.” A PCJF spokesperson remarked that the documents show “federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.”

In particular, domestic surveillance has systematically targeted peaceful environment activists including anti-fracking activists across the US, such as the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, Rising Tide North America, the People’s Oil & Gas Collaborative, and Greenpeace. Similar trends are at play in the UK, where the case of undercover policeman Mark Kennedy revealed the extent of the state’s involvement in monitoring the environmental direct action movement.

A University of Bath study citing the Kennedy case, and based on confidential sources, found that a whole range of corporations – such as McDonald’s, Nestle and the oil major Shell, “use covert methods to gather intelligence on activist groups, counter criticism of their strategies and practices, and evade accountability.”

Indeed, Kennedy’s case was just the tip of the iceberg – internal police documents obtained by the Guardian in 2009 revealed that environment activists had been routinely categorised as “domestic extremists” targeting “national infrastructure” as part of a wider strategy tracking protest groups and protestors.

Superintendent Steve Pearl, then head of the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (Nectu), confirmed at that time how his unit worked with thousands of companies in the private sector. Nectu, according to Pearl, was set up by the Home Office because it was “getting really pressured by big business – pharmaceuticals in particular, and the banks.” He added that environmental protestors were being brought “more on the radar.” The programme continues today, despite police acknowledgements that environmentalists have not been involved in “violent acts.”

The Pentagon knows that environmental, economic and other crises could provoke widespread public anger toward government and corporations in coming years. The revelations on the NSA’s global surveillance programmes are just the latest indication that as business as usual creates instability at home and abroad, and as disillusionment with the status quo escalates, Western publics are being increasingly viewed as potential enemies that must be policed by the state.

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed

 

 

Fukushima Uncontained: Nuclear Plant Continuosly Releasing 93 Billion Becquerels Of Radiation A DAY Into Pacific Ocean For Years

In Uncategorized on April 9, 2013 at 7:07 pm

https://i1.wp.com/img.allvoices.com/thumbs/event/609/480/75214631-danger-radiation.jpgOldspeak: “The bottom line is that the reactors have lost containment. There are not “some leaks” at Fukushima. “Leaks” imply that the reactor cores are safely in their containment buildings, and there is a small hole or two which need to be plugged. But scientists don’t even know where the cores of the reactors are. That’s not leaking. That’s even worse than a total meltdown.” This is a daily, ongoing ecological catastrophe. Being ignored and denied  by American and by proxy Japanese goverments to preserve and proliferate pro-nuclear energy policy. Why is this profoundly dangerous, toxic and perpetually contaminating energy source being propped up as viable? Our ecosystem is continuously being contaminated by deadly radiation. It’s being transported around the planet via water and air. How is this part of American environmental policy? It is destroying the environment!? Tell your elected officials you want to your food, air and environment tested for radiation.  You want to know what’s being done to protect the public and environment from this ongoing catastrophe.  I, for the first time in two years, heard a 1 minute mention of the conditions at the plant just now on Free Speech TV on the Thom Hartman Show. Zero coverage in corporate controlled media. ”

 By Washington’s Blog:

You may have heard that Tepco – the operator of the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plants – announced a large leak of radioactive water.

You may have heard that the cooling system in the spent fuel pools at Fukushima has failed for a second time in a month.

This is newsworthy stuff … but completely misses the big picture.

Associated Press notes:

Experts suspect a continuous leak into the ocean through an underground water system, citing high levels of contamination in fish caught in waters just off the plant.

(Tepco graphics of the Fukushima plants even appear to show water directly flowing from the plant to the ocean. And see this.)

In fact, Japanese experts say that Fukushima is currently releasing up to 93 billion becquerels of radioactive cesium into the ocean each day.

How much radiation is that?

A quick calculation shows that Chernobyl released around ten thousand times more radioactive cesium each day during the reactor fire. But the Chernobyl fire only lasted 10 days … and the Fukushima release has been ongoing for more than 2 years so far.

Indeed, Fukushima has already spewed much more radioactive cesium and iodine 131 than Chernobyl. The amount of radioactive cesium released by Fukushima was some 20-30 times higher than initially admitted.

Fukushima also pumped out huge amounts of radioactive iodine 129 – which has a half-life of 15.7 million years. Fukushima has also dumped up to 900 trillion becquerels of radioactive strontium-90 – which is a powerful internal emitter which mimics calcium and collects in our bones – into the ocean.

And the amount of radioactive fuel at Fukushima dwarfs Chernobyl … and so could keep leaking for decades, centuries or millenia.

The bottom line is that the reactors have lost containment. There are not “some leaks” at Fukushima. “Leaks” imply that the reactor cores are safely in their containment buildings, and there is a small hole or two which need to be plugged. But scientists don’t even know where the cores of the reactors are. That’s not leaking. That’s even worse than a total meltdown.

So what are the consequences for people living outside of Fukushima itself?

They could be quite severe, indeed.

Nearly 3 Years Later The Oil Is Still There. New 7 Mile Oil Slick Observed At Site Of BP’s Massive 2010 Oil Spill Goes Unreported By Major Media Outlets

In Uncategorized on January 29, 2013 at 2:06 pm

https://i1.wp.com/www.wggb.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/BP-Oil-Spill.jpgOldspeak: “While oil company BP and Gulf Coast states paint a picture of sparkling beaches, booming businesses, smiling fishermen and waters bursting with fresh seafood with their disingenuous propaganda films -errr, commercials, touting the progress and safety of the Gulf of Mexico, Significant amounts of oil is still present in the area of the disaster. This calamity is ongoing. This vital ecosystem is continuously being polluted, at multiple sites, and it’s largely being ignored.  Safety, transparency, and reality are not considered. Profit once again is paramount.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6lW8qPK6_A&feature=player_embedded

By Washington’s Blog:

Wings of Care provided new photos of an oil slick in the area of the Gulf oil spill, noting:

Here is the large surface slick that has been sitting over the Macondo area since last autumn, with as yet no explanation from BP or the US Coast Guard as to its origin. Its persistence, even after the weeks of rough weather we have had in recent weeks and months, suggests that its flow is substantial. Scientists who have sampled it have found evidence of manmade products such as drilling mud.

Wings of Care provided an update yesterday:

The most troubling vision today was the Macondo area itself. The slick that we had first noticed last fall, which was spreading over the area within a half-mile or so of the scene of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, was huge today. It stretched over 7 nautical miles in the south-north direction and was almost a mile wide in some spots. There were some patches of rainbow sheen and even some weathered oil (brownish “mousse”), although overall it remained a light surface sheen.

***

There are patches of rainbow and weathered “mousse” in it as well, which we have not seen out there for many months.

Stuart Smith provides context:

In Louisiana, we are blessed to have a one-woman environmental protection agency by the name of Bonny Schumaker. A retired NASA physicist and pilot, Schumaker has found a way to merge her love of all creatures and her passion for flying to create an amazing operation called On Wings Of Care. She flies animal rescue missions but since 2010 has also devoted a lot of her energy toward helping her fellow citizens learn the truth about the aftermath of BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster.

When the authorities wanted to restrict the public’s access to the site of the massive spill, Schumaker and her flights have documented both the scope of the spill and the extent of damage to marine life — and she hasn’t let up. In August 2011 and again in October 2012, her photographic evidence has forced BP, the U.S. Coast Guard, and other agencies to acknowledge and to investigate new sightings of fresh oil sheens near where BP’s rig blew up and sank. We’re still not satisfied with BP’s response to the problem, and we’re concerned that the oil may actually be coming from fissures under the sea.

One thing is undeniably clear from the photographic evidence: The oil is still there, 33 months after the explosion.

***

Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey (who may win election to the U.S. Senate later this year) said of the ongoing problems at the site: “Back in 2010, I said BP was either lying or incompetent. Well, it turns out they were both. This is the same crime scene, and the American public today is entitled to the same information that BP was lying about in 2010 so that we can understand the full dimension of the additional environmental .”

Background: the ongoing leak; BP’s criminal liability.

Geoengineering: Fundamentally Changing The Oceans, Skies & Climate But At What Cost?

In Uncategorized on November 1, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Oldspeak:”The appeal is easy to understand. Geoengineering offers the tantalizing promise of a climate change fix that would allow us to continue our resource-exhausting way of life, indefinitely… The scariest thing about this proposition is that models suggest that many of the people who could well be most harmed by these technologies are already disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Imagine this: North America decides to send sulfur into the stratosphere to reduce the intensity of the sun, in the hopes of saving its corn crops — despite the real possibility of triggering droughts in Asia and Africa. In short, geoengineering would give us (or some of us) the power to exile huge swaths of humanity to sacrifice zones with a virtual flip of the switch” –Naomi Klein Geoengineering is yet another example of a disturbing trend in our technologically advanced society. We increasingly get “desired effects” by employing profitable chemical toxins to solve problems. Too many bugs on the food? Spray chemical toxins on it.  Increase in mental heath problems? Consume chemicals toxins to fix it.  Need to extract more dirty energy? Use more chemical toxins to extract it. Not enough rain? Seed clouds with chemical toxins to make it rain more. Too much sun? Spray toxic chemicals in the stratosphere to “bleach the sky” so it will reflect light back in to space. Or spray chemical toxins directly on your skin. All this increase in toxicity in an already too toxic environment to mask the fact that our toxic energy based civilization is what needs to change dramatically and immediately. Ever increasing growth, consumption, and the toxicity that comes with it is profitable. Balance, conservation and sustainable toxin-free resource management is not. And therein lies the problem. Again. Greed trumps common sense. And we’ll all suffer as result.

By Naomi Klein @ The New York Times:

FOR almost 20 years, I’ve been spending time on a craggy stretch of British Columbia’s shoreline called the Sunshine Coast. This summer, I had an experience that reminded me why I love this place, and why I chose to have a child in this sparsely populated part of the world.

It was 5 a.m. and my husband and I were up with our 3-week-old son. Looking out at the ocean, we spotted two towering, black dorsal fins: orcas, or killer whales. Then two more. We had never seen an orca on the coast, and never heard of their coming so close to shore. In our sleep-deprived state, it felt like a miracle, as if the baby had wakened us to make sure we didn’t miss this rare visit.

The possibility that the sighting may have resulted from something less serendipitous did not occur to me until two weeks ago, when I read reports of a bizarre ocean experiment off the islands of Haida Gwaii, several hundred miles from where we spotted the orcas swimming.

There, an American entrepreneur named Russ George dumped 120 tons of iron dust off the hull of a rented fishing boat; the plan was to create an algae bloom that would sequester carbon and thereby combat climate change.

Mr. George is one of a growing number of would-be geoengineers who advocate high-risk, large-scale technical interventions that would fundamentally change the oceans and skies in order to reduce the effects of global warming. In addition to Mr. George’s scheme to fertilize the ocean with iron, other geoengineering strategies under consideration include pumping sulfate aerosols into the upper atmosphere to imitate the cooling effects of a major volcanic eruption and “brightening” clouds so they reflect more of the sun’s rays back to space.

The risks are huge. Ocean fertilization could trigger dead zones and toxic tides. And multiple simulations have predicted that mimicking the effects of a volcano would interfere with monsoons in Asia and Africa, potentially threatening water and food security for billions of people.

So far, these proposals have mostly served as fodder for computer models and scientific papers. But with Mr. George’s ocean adventure, geoengineering has decisively escaped the laboratory. If Mr. George’s account of the mission is to be believed, his actions created an algae bloom in an area half of the size of Massachusetts that attracted a huge array of aquatic life, including whales that could be “counted by the score.”

When I read about the whales, I began to wonder: could it be that the orcas I saw were on their way to the all-you-can-eat seafood buffet that had descended on Mr. George’s bloom? The possibility, unlikely though it is, provides a glimpse into one of the disturbing repercussions of geoengineering: once we start deliberately interfering with the earth’s climate systems — whether by dimming the sun or fertilizing the seas — all natural events can begin to take on an unnatural tinge. An absence that might have seemed a cyclical change in migration patterns or a presence that felt like a miraculous gift suddenly feels sinister, as if all of nature were being manipulated behind the scenes.

Most news reports characterize Mr. George as a “rogue” geoengineer. But what concerns me, after researching the subject for two years for a forthcoming book on climate change, is that far more serious scientists, backed by far deeper pockets, appear poised to actively tamper with the complex and unpredictable natural systems that sustain life on earth — with huge potential for unintended consequences.

In 2010, the chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology recommended more research into geoengineering; the British government has begun to spend public money in the field.

Bill Gates has funneled millions of dollars into geoengineering research. And he has invested in a company, Intellectual Ventures, that is developing at least two geoengineering tools: the “StratoShield,” a 19-mile-long hose suspended by helium balloons that would spew sun-blocking sulfur dioxide particles into the sky and a tool that can supposedly blunt the force of hurricanes.

THE appeal is easy to understand. Geoengineering offers the tantalizing promise of a climate change fix that would allow us to continue our resource-exhausting way of life, indefinitely. And then there is the fear. Every week seems to bring more terrifying climate news, from reports of ice sheets melting ahead of schedule to oceans acidifying far faster than expected. At the same time, climate change has fallen so far off the political agenda that it wasn’t mentioned once during any of the three debates between the presidential candidates. Is it any wonder that many are pinning their hopes on a break-the-glass-in-case-of-emergency option that scientists have been cooking up in their labs?

But with rogue geoengineers on the loose, it is a good time to pause and ask, collectively, whether we want to go down the geoengineering road. Because the truth is that geoengineering is itself a rogue proposition. By definition, technologies that tamper with ocean and atmospheric chemistry affect everyone. Yet it is impossible to get anything like unanimous consent for these interventions. Nor could any such consent possibly be informed since we don’t — and can’t — know the full risks involved until these planet-altering technologies are actually deployed.

While the United Nations’ climate negotiations proceed from the premise that countries must agree to a joint response to an inherently communal problem, geoengineering raises a very different prospect. For well under a billion dollars, a “coalition of the willing,” a single country or even a wealthy individual could decide to take the climate into its own hands. Jim Thomas of the ETC Group, an environmental watchdog group, puts the problem like this: “Geoengineering says, ‘we’ll just do it, and you’ll live with the effects.’ ”

 The scariest thing about this proposition is that models suggest that many of the people who could well be most harmed by these technologies are already disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Imagine this: North America decides to send sulfur into the stratosphere to reduce the intensity of the sun, in the hopes of saving its corn crops — despite the real possibility of triggering droughts in Asia and Africa. In short, geoengineering would give us (or some of us) the power to exile huge swaths of humanity to sacrifice zones with a virtual flip of the switch.

The geopolitical ramifications are chilling. Climate change is already making it hard to know whether events previously understood as “acts of God” (a freak heat wave in March or a Frankenstorm on Halloween) still belong in that category. But if we start tinkering with the earth’s thermostat — deliberately turning our oceans murky green to soak up carbon and bleaching the skies hazy white to deflect the sun — we take our influence to a new level. A drought in India will come to be seen — accurately or not — as a result of a conscious decision by engineers on the other side of the planet. What was once bad luck could come to be seen as a malevolent plot or an imperialist attack.

There will be other visceral, life-changing consequences. A study published this spring in Geophysical Research Letters found that if we inject sulfur aerosols into the stratosphere in order to dial down the sun, the sky would not only become whiter and significantly brighter, but we would also be treated to more intense, “volcanic” sunsets. But what kind of relationships can we expect to have with those hyper-real skies? Would they fill us with awe — or with vague unease? Would we feel the same when beautiful wild creatures cross our paths unexpectedly, as happened to my family this summer? In a popular book on climate change, Bill McKibben warned that we face “The End of Nature.” In the age of geoengineering, we might find ourselves confronting the end of miracles, too.

Mr. George and his ocean-altering experiment provides an opportunity for public debate about an issue essentially absent during the election cycle: What are the real solutions to climate change? Wouldn’t it be better to change our behavior — to reduce our use of fossil fuels — before we begin fiddling with the planet’s basic life-support systems?

Unless we change course, we can expect to hear many more reports about sun-shielders and ocean fiddlers like Mr. George, whose iron dumping exploit did more than test a thesis about ocean fertilization: it also tested the waters for future geoengineering experiments. And judging by the muted response so far, the results of Mr. George’s test are clear: geoengineers proceed, caution be damned.

 

The author, most recently, of “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.”

Crucial Issues That Obama & Romney Avoid

In Uncategorized on October 16, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Oldspeak: “There are two issues of overwhelming significance, because the fate of the species is at stake: environmental disaster, and nuclear war…  Elections are run by the public relations industry. Its primary task is commercial advertising, which is designed to undermine markets by creating uninformed consumers who will make irrational choices — the exact opposite of how markets are supposed to work, but certainly familiar to anyone who has watched television. It’s only natural that when enlisted to run elections, the industry would adopt the same procedures in the interests of the paymasters, who certainly don’t want to see informed citizens making rational choices.”Noam Chomsky. Chomsky brilliantly elucidates 2 major issues of a constellation of vital issues that are largely ignored by corporate controlled political parties. The reason is that both candidate have similar positions on many more issues than they most think . Privatization (education, health care, politics, war, public sector, etc) , dirty energy, cutting the social safety net, poverty, currency devaluation, “free trade”, militarization, stripping of civil liberties, warrantless surveillance, deregulation, targeted assassination, regime change, covert/perpetual war.  etc etc…. Corporate controlled media dutifully ‘reports’ on the differences between the selected candidates, not asking any questions challenging status quo worldview and ideology.  Focusing the ovine populace on inane minutiae like how often a candidate drinks water, facial expressions, flag pin size, way of standing, competence of the moderator,  etc etc etc… never once questioning the waves of bald-faced lies, exaggerations, misrepresentations and mangled-truths that come out of the candidates mouths.  Then they switch coverage to “spin rooms” where corporate approved “surrogates” “allow the campaigns to coordinate their message and serve it up as a buffet-style meal for news reporters: All the quotes you can eat“. All this effort expended to perpetuate a blinding illusion of choice. “Ignorance is Strength”

By Noam Chomsky @ Chomsky.info:

With the quadrennial presidential election extravaganza reaching its peak, it’s useful to ask how the political campaigns are dealing with the most crucial issues we face. The simple answer is: badly, or not at all. If so, some important questions arise: why, and what can we do about it?

There are two issues of overwhelming significance, because the fate of the species is at stake: environmental disaster, and nuclear war.

The former is regularly on the front pages. On Sept. 19, for example, Justin Gillis reported in The New York Times that the melting of Arctic sea ice had ended for the year, “but not before demolishing the previous record — and setting off new warnings about the rapid pace of change in the region.”

The melting is much faster than predicted by sophisticated computer models and the most recent U.N. report on global warming. New data indicate that summer ice might be gone by 2020, with severe consequences. Previous estimates had summer ice disappearing by 2050.

“But governments have not responded to the change with any greater urgency about limiting greenhouse emissions,” Gillis writes. “To the contrary, their main response has been to plan for exploitation of newly accessible minerals in the Arctic, including drilling for more oil” — that is, to accelerate the catastrophe.

This reaction demonstrates an extraordinary willingness to sacrifice the lives of our children and grandchildren for short-term gain. Or, perhaps, an equally remarkable willingness to shut our eyes so as not to see the impending peril.

That’s hardly all. A new study from the Climate Vulnerability Monitor has found that “climate change caused by global warming is slowing down world economic output by 1.6 percent a year and will lead to a doubling of costs in the next two decades.” The study was widely reported elsewhere but Americans have been spared the disturbing news.

The official Democratic and Republican platforms on climate matters are reviewed in Science magazine’s Sept. 14 issue. In a rare instance of bipartisanship, both parties demand that we make the problem worse.

In 2008, both party platforms had devoted some attention to how the government should address climate change. Today, the issue has almost disappeared from the Republican platform — which does, however, demand that Congress “take quick action” to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency, established by former Republican President Richard Nixon in saner days, from regulating greenhouse gases. And we must open Alaska’s Arctic refuge to drilling to take “advantage of all our American God-given resources.” We cannot disobey the Lord, after all.

The platform also states that “We must restore scientific integrity to our public research institutions and remove political incentives from publicly funded research” — code words for climate science.

The Republican candidate Mitt Romney, seeking to escape from the stigma of what he understood a few years ago about climate change, has declared that there is no scientific consensus, so we should support more debate and investigation — but not action, except to make the problems more serious.

The Democrats mention in their platform that there is a problem, and recommend that we should work “toward an agreement to set emissions limits in unison with other emerging powers.” But that’s about it.

President Barack Obama has emphasized that we must gain 100 years of energy independence by exploiting fracking and other new technologies — without asking what the world would look like after a century of such practices.

So there are differences between the parties: about how enthusiastically the lemmings should march toward the cliff.

The second major issue, nuclear war, is also on the front pages every day, but in a way that would astound a Martian observing the strange doings on Earth.

The current threat is again in the Middle East, specifically Iran — at least according to the West, that is. In the Middle East, the U.S. and Israel are considered much greater threats.

Unlike Iran, Israel refuses to allow inspections or to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It has hundreds of nuclear weapons and advanced delivery systems, and a long record of violence, aggression and lawlessness, thanks to unremitting American support. Whether Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, U.S. intelligence doesn’t know.

In its latest report, the International Atomic Energy Agency says that it cannot demonstrate “the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran” — a roundabout way of condemning Iran, as the U.S. demands, while conceding that the agency can add nothing to the conclusions of U.S. intelligence.

Therefore Iran must be denied the right to enrich uranium that is guaranteed by the NPT and endorsed by most of the world, including the nonaligned countries that have just met in Tehran.

The possibility that Iran might develop nuclear weapons arises in the electoral campaign. (The fact that Israel already has them does not.) Two positions are counterposed: Should the U.S. declare that it will attack if Iran reaches the capability to develop nuclear weapons, which dozens of countries enjoy? Or should Washington keep the “red line” more indefinite?

The latter position is that of the White House; the former is demanded by Israeli hawks — and accepted by the U.S. Congress. The Senate just voted 90-1 to support the Israeli position.

Missing from the debate is the obvious way to mitigate or end whatever threat Iran might be believed to pose: Establish a nuclear weapons-free zone in the region. The opportunity is readily available: An international conference is to convene in a few months to pursue this objective, supported by almost the entire world, including a majority of Israelis.

The government of Israel, however, has announced that it will not participate until there is a general peace agreement in the region, which is unattainable as long as Israel persists in its illegal activities in the occupied Palestinian territories. Washington keeps to the same position, and insists that Israel must be excluded from any such regional agreement.

We could be moving toward a devastating war, possibly even nuclear. Straightforward ways exist to overcome this threat, but they will not be taken unless there is large-scale public activism demanding that the opportunity be pursued. This in turn is highly unlikely as long as these matters remain off the agenda, not just in the electoral circus, but in the media and larger national debate.

Elections are run by the public relations industry. Its primary task is commercial advertising, which is designed to undermine markets by creating uninformed consumers who will make irrational choices — the exact opposite of how markets are supposed to work, but certainly familiar to anyone who has watched television.

It’s only natural that when enlisted to run elections, the industry would adopt the same procedures in the interests of the paymasters, who certainly don’t want to see informed citizens making rational choices.

The victims, however, do not have to obey, in either case. Passivity may be the easy course, but it is hardly the honorable one.

High Radiation Levels Detected In Santa Monica, Los Angeles, Pacific Seawater/Seafood Radioactive; Media & Government Turn Blind Eye

In Uncategorized on June 12, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Oldspeak:Southern California is still getting hit by Fukushima radiation at alarmingly high levels that will inevitably increase as the main bulk of radioactive  Pacific Ocean water reaches North America over the next two years. High radiation readings in Santa Monica and Los Angeles air during a 42-day period from late December to late January strongly suggest that radiation is increasing in the region including along the coast in Ventura County. Even with government, University of California and this reporter’s tests showing high radiation in the air, water, food and dairy products in this state, the state and federal governments cut off special testing for Fukushima radionuclides more than half a year ago.” –Michael Collins This ongoing disaster is an existential threat. Untold millions of tons of radioactive water has been continuously dumped into the Pacific Ocean, radiation has been detected in rain, snow, air, water &  food in a number of places far away from the west coast. Why has the level of concern of state and federal governments been so low? Why has radioactivity testing been stopped? Why is the Ventura County Reporter the only news outlet reporting on this acute threat to the lives of millions of Americans? It’s become clear that this ongoing catastrophe will be ignored until it is no longer possible to do so. By then it will be too late to do anything about it. WHY?! In the mean time people living in pacific coast bordering regions should take steps to protect themselves. Avoid seafood. Stay inside during rainstorms. Avoid the beach. Limit your time outdoors. ”

Related Stories:

“Absolutely Every One” – 15 Out of 15 – Bluefin Tuna Tested In California Waters Contaminated with Fukushima Radiation

California Slammed With Radiation: Fukushima Radiation Plume Hit Southern & Central California

“Planetary Genocide”: Fukushima One Year Later : The Poisoning Of Planet Earth Continues

Read more By Michael Collins @ The Ventura County Reporter:

Plutonomy & The Precariat: On The History Of The U.S. Economy In Decline

In Uncategorized on May 11, 2012 at 5:22 pm

Oldspeak:”We’re really regressing back to the dark ages. It’s not a joke.  And if that’s happening in the most powerful, richest country in history, then this catastrophe isn’t going to be averted — and in a generation or two, everything else we’re talking about won’t matter. Something has to be done about it very soon in a dedicated, sustained way.” –Dr. Noam Chomsky
Empires in decline follow the same general pattern. High debt, unsound economic policies, intransigent political corruption, perpetual war and increases in war funding to the detriment of all else , privatized military, environmental degradation, looting of resources from throughout the empire rather than producing  things, systems deplete their resource base beyond levels that are ultimately sustainable. All these conditions exist in the American Empire. Something has to be done about fundamentally changing these conditions before it’s too late.

By Tom Engelhardt & Noam Chomsky @ TomsDispatch:

By Tom Engelhardt:

If you had followed May Day protests in New York City in the mainstream media, you might hardly have noticed that they happened at all.  The stories were generally tucked away, minimalist, focused on a few arrests, and spoke of “hundreds” of protesters in the streets, or maybe, if a reporter was feeling especially generous, a vague “thousands.”  I did my own rough count on the largest of the Occupy protests that day. It left Union Square in the evening heading for the Wall Street area.  I walked through the march front to back, figuring a couple of thousand loosely packed protesters to a block, and came up with a conservative estimate of 15,000 people.  Maybe it wasn’t the biggest protest of all time, but sizeable enough given that Occupy, an organization without strong structures but once strongly located, had been (quite literally) pushed or even beaten out of its camps in Zuccotti Park and elsewhere across the country and toward oblivion.

It’s true that if you were checking out the Nation or Mother Jones, you would have gotten a more accurate sense of what was going on.  Still, didn’t the great protest movement of our American moment (on a planet still in upheaval) deserve better that day? And no matter what you read in the mainstream, here’s what you would have known nothing about: this country is increasingly an armed camp and those marchers, remarkably relaxed and peaceable, were heading out into a concentration of police that was staggering and should have been startling.

Cops on motor scooters patroled the edges of the march, which was hemmed in by the usual moveable metal barricades.  Police helicopters buzzed us at rooftop level.  The police managed to alter the actual path of the marchers partway along and the police turnout — I estimated up to 75 cops, three deep on some street corners doing nothing but collecting overtime — was little short of incomprehensible.

Though Occupy marchers used to chant, “Whose streets, our streets!” it was never so.  The streets belong to the police.  If this is the democracy and freedom to dissent that American officials constantly proclaim to the world as one of our core values, then pinch me.  If most of it is even legal, I’d be surprised.  But when it comes to legality, we’re past all that.  So any march on a sunny day is instantly imprisoned, and the protesters turned into a captive audience.  When young people break out of the barricades and the serried ranks of cops and head in unexpected directions, it has the unmistakable feel of a jailbreak.

The fact is that, in a country whose security forces are up-armored to the teeth from the Mexican border to Union Square, just behind any set of marchers, you can feel the unease of those in power, edging up to fear.  And no wonder.  We remain in a “recovery” that’s spinning on a dime.  Let the Eurozone falter and begin to fall, the Chinese housing bubble pop, or the Persian Gulf go up in flames, and hold onto your signs.  Like Bloomberg in the Big Apple, many mayors sent in their paramilitaries (with a helping hand from the Department of Homeland Security) to get rid of the “troublemakers.”  Only problem: their real problems run so much deeper and when the next “moment” comes, Occupy could look like a march in the park (which, in many inspirational ways, it largely was).  In the meantime, the streets increasingly belong to the weaponized.  Americans who protest blur into the “terrorists” who, since 9/11, have been the obsession of what passes for law enforcement.

If you want some sense of just what’s lurking under the surface of all the police drones and helicopters and tanks and even mini-drone submarines, what underpins our fragile, edgy moment, then check out this talk TomDispatch regular Noam Chomsky gave.  It’s excerpted from his new book Occupy, with special thanks to its publisher Zuccotti Park Press. Tom

By Noam Chomsky:

The Occupy movement has been an extremely exciting development. Unprecedented, in fact. There’s never been anything like it that I can think of.  If the bonds and associations it has established can be sustained through a long, dark period ahead — because victory won’t come quickly — it could prove a significant moment in American history.

The fact that the Occupy movement is unprecedented is quite appropriate. After all, it’s an unprecedented era and has been so since the 1970s, which marked a major turning point in American history. For centuries, since the country began, it had been a developing society, and not always in very pretty ways. That’s another story, but the general progress was toward wealth, industrialization, development, and hope. There was a pretty constant expectation that it was going to go on like this. That was true even in very dark times.

I’m just old enough to remember the Great Depression. After the first few years, by the mid-1930s — although the situation was objectively much harsher than it is today — nevertheless, the spirit was quite different. There was a sense that “we’re gonna get out of it,” even among unemployed people, including a lot of my relatives, a sense that “it will get better.”

There was militant labor union organizing going on, especially from the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations). It was getting to the point of sit-down strikes, which are frightening to the business world — you could see it in the business press at the time — because a sit-down strike is just a step before taking over the factory and running it yourself. The idea of worker takeovers is something which is, incidentally, very much on the agenda today, and we should keep it in mind. Also New Deal legislation was beginning to come in as a result of popular pressure. Despite the hard times, there was a sense that, somehow, “we’re gonna get out of it.”

It’s quite different now. For many people in the United States, there’s a pervasive sense of hopelessness, sometimes despair. I think it’s quite new in American history. And it has an objective basis.

On the Working Class

In the 1930s, unemployed working people could anticipate that their jobs would come back. If you’re a worker in manufacturing today — the current level of unemployment there is approximately like the Depression — and current tendencies persist, those jobs aren’t going to come back.

The change took place in the 1970s. There are a lot of reasons for it. One of the underlying factors, discussed mainly by economic historian Robert Brenner, was the falling rate of profit in manufacturing. There were other factors. It led to major changes in the economy — a reversal of several hundred years of progress towards industrialization and development that turned into a process of de-industrialization and de-development. Of course, manufacturing production continued overseas very profitably, but it’s no good for the work force.

Along with that came a significant shift of the economy from productive enterprise — producing things people need or could use — to financial manipulation. The financialization of the economy really took off at that time.

On Banks

Before the 1970s, banks were banks. They did what banks were supposed to do in a state capitalist economy: they took unused funds from your bank account, for example, and transferred them to some potentially useful purpose like helping a family buy a home or send a kid to college. That changed dramatically in the 1970s. Until then, there had been no financial crises since the Great Depression. The 1950s and 1960s had been a period of enormous growth, the highest in American history, maybe in economic history.

And it was egalitarian.  The lowest quintile did about as well as the highest quintile. Lots of people moved into reasonable lifestyles — what’s called the “middle class” here, the “working class” in other countries — but it was real.  And the 1960s accelerated it. The activism of those years, after a pretty dismal decade, really civilized the country in lots of ways that are permanent.

When the 1970s came along, there were sudden and sharp changes: de-industrialization, the off-shoring of production, and the shift to financial institutions, which grew enormously. I should say that, in the 1950s and 1960s, there was also the development of what several decades later became the high-tech economy: computers, the Internet, the IT Revolution developed substantially in the state sector.

The developments that took place during the 1970s set off a vicious cycle. It led to the concentration of wealth increasingly in the hands of the financial sector. This doesn’t benefit the economy — it probably harms it and society — but it did lead to a tremendous concentration of wealth.

On Politics and Money

Concentration of wealth yields concentration of political power. And concentration of political power gives rise to legislation that increases and accelerates the cycle. The legislation, essentially bipartisan, drives new fiscal policies and tax changes, as well as the rules of corporate governance and deregulation. Alongside this began a sharp rise in the costs of elections, which drove the political parties even deeper into the pockets of the corporate sector.

The parties dissolved in many ways. It used to be that if a person in Congress hoped for a position such as a committee chair, he or she got it mainly through seniority and service. Within a couple of years, they started having to put money into the party coffers in order to get ahead, a topic studied mainly by Tom Ferguson. That just drove the whole system even deeper into the pockets of the corporate sector (increasingly the financial sector).

This cycle resulted in a tremendous concentration of wealth, mainly in the top tenth of one percent of the population. Meanwhile, it opened a period of stagnation or even decline for the majority of the population. People got by, but by artificial means such as longer working hours, high rates of borrowing and debt, and reliance on asset inflation like the recent housing bubble. Pretty soon those working hours were much higher in the United States than in other industrial countries like Japan and various places in Europe. So there was a period of stagnation and decline for the majority alongside a period of sharp concentration of wealth. The political system began to dissolve.

There has always been a gap between public policy and public will, but it just grew astronomically. You can see it right now, in fact.  Take a look at the big topic in Washington that everyone concentrates on: the deficit. For the public, correctly, the deficit is not regarded as much of an issue. And it isn’t really much of an issue. The issue is joblessness. There’s a deficit commission but no joblessness commission. As far as the deficit is concerned, the public has opinions. Take a look at the polls. The public overwhelmingly supports higher taxes on the wealthy, which have declined sharply in this period of stagnation and decline, and the preservation of limited social benefits.

The outcome of the deficit commission is probably going to be the opposite. The Occupy movements could provide a mass base for trying to avert what amounts to a dagger pointed at the heart of the country.

Plutonomy and the Precariat

For the general population, the 99% in the imagery of the Occupy movement, it’s been pretty harsh — and it could get worse. This could be a period of irreversible decline. For the 1% and even less — the .1% — it’s just fine. They are richer than ever, more powerful than ever, controlling the political system, disregarding the public. And if it can continue, as far as they’re concerned, sure, why not?

Take, for example, Citigroup. For decades, Citigroup has been one of the most corrupt of the major investment banking corporations, repeatedly bailed out by the taxpayer, starting in the early Reagan years and now once again. I won’t run through the corruption, but it’s pretty astonishing.

In 2005, Citigroup came out with a brochure for investors called “Plutonomy: Buying Luxury, Explaining Global Imbalances.” It urged investors to put money into a “plutonomy index.” The brochure says, “The World is dividing into two blocs — the Plutonomy and the rest.”

Plutonomy refers to the rich, those who buy luxury goods and so on, and that’s where the action is. They claimed that their plutonomy index was way outperforming the stock market. As for the rest, we set them adrift. We don’t really care about them. We don’t really need them. They have to be around to provide a powerful state, which will protect us and bail us out when we get into trouble, but other than that they essentially have no function. These days they’re sometimes called the “precariat” — people who live a precarious existence at the periphery of society. Only it’s not the periphery anymore. It’s becoming a very substantial part of society in the United States and indeed elsewhere. And this is considered a good thing.

So, for example, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, at the time when he was still “Saint Alan” — hailed by the economics profession as one of the greatest economists of all time (this was before the crash for which he was substantially responsible) — was testifying to Congress in the Clinton years, and he explained the wonders of the great economy that he was supervising. He said a lot of its success was based substantially on what he called “growing worker insecurity.” If working people are insecure, if they’re part of the precariat, living precarious existences, they’re not going to make demands, they’re not going to try to get better wages, they won’t get improved benefits. We can kick ’em out, if we don’t need ’em. And that’s what’s called a “healthy” economy, technically speaking. And he was highly praised for this, greatly admired.

So the world is now indeed splitting into a plutonomy and a precariat — in the imagery of the Occupy movement, the 1% and the 99%. Not literal numbers, but the right picture. Now, the plutonomy is where the action is and it could continue like this.

If it does, the historic reversal that began in the 1970s could become irreversible. That’s where we’re heading. And the Occupy movement is the first real, major, popular reaction that could avert this. But it’s going to be necessary to face the fact that it’s a long, hard struggle. You don’t win victories tomorrow. You have to form the structures that will be sustained, that will go on through hard times and can win major victories. And there are a lot of things that can be done.

Toward Worker Takeover

I mentioned before that, in the 1930s, one of the most effective actions was the sit-down strike. And the reason is simple: that’s just a step before the takeover of an industry.

Through the 1970s, as the decline was setting in, there were some important events that took place.  In 1977, U.S. Steel decided to close one of its major facilities in Youngstown, Ohio. Instead of just walking away, the workforce and the community decided to get together and buy it from the company, hand it over to the work force, and turn it into a worker-run, worker-managed facility. They didn’t win. But with enough popular support, they could have won.  It’s a topic that Gar Alperovitz and Staughton Lynd, the lawyer for the workers and community, have discussed in detail.

It was a partial victory because, even though they lost, it set off other efforts. And now, throughout Ohio, and in other places, there’s a scattering of hundreds, maybe thousands, of sometimes not-so-small worker/community-owned industries that could become worker-managed. And that’s the basis for a real revolution. That’s how it takes place.

In one of the suburbs of Boston, about a year ago, something similar happened. A multinational decided to close down a profitable, functioning facility carrying out some high-tech manufacturing. Evidently, it just wasn’t profitable enough for them. The workforce and the union offered to buy it, take it over, and run it themselves. The multinational decided to close it down instead, probably for reasons of class-consciousness. I don’t think they want things like this to happen. If there had been enough popular support, if there had been something like the Occupy movement that could have gotten involved, they might have succeeded.

And there are other things going on like that. In fact, some of them are major. Not long ago, President Barack Obama took over the auto industry, which was basically owned by the public. And there were a number of things that could have been done. One was what was done: reconstitute it so that it could be handed back to the ownership, or very similar ownership, and continue on its traditional path.

The other possibility was to hand it over to the workforce — which owned it anyway — turn it into a worker-owned, worker-managed major industrial system that’s a big part of the economy, and have it produce things that people need. And there’s a lot that we need.

We all know or should know that the United States is extremely backward globally in high-speed transportation, and it’s very serious. It not only affects people’s lives, but the economy.  In that regard, here’s a personal story. I happened to be giving talks in France a couple of months ago and had to take a train from Avignon in southern France to Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris, the same distance as from Washington, DC, to Boston. It took two hours.  I don’t know if you’ve ever taken the train from Washington to Boston, but it’s operating at about the same speed it was 60 years ago when my wife and I first took it. It’s a scandal.

It could be done here as it’s been done in Europe. They had the capacity to do it, the skilled work force. It would have taken a little popular support, but it could have made a major change in the economy.

Just to make it more surreal, while this option was being avoided, the Obama administration was sending its transportation secretary to Spain to get contracts for developing high-speed rail for the United States, which could have been done right in the rust belt, which is being closed down. There are no economic reasons why this can’t happen. These are class reasons, and reflect the lack of popular political mobilization. Things like this continue.

Climate Change and Nuclear Weapons

I’ve kept to domestic issues, but there are two dangerous developments in the international arena, which are a kind of shadow that hangs over everything we’ve discussed. There are, for the first time in human history, real threats to the decent survival of the species.

One has been hanging around since 1945. It’s kind of a miracle that we’ve escaped it. That’s the threat of nuclear war and nuclear weapons. Though it isn’t being much discussed, that threat is, in fact, being escalated by the policies of this administration and its allies. And something has to be done about that or we’re in real trouble.

The other, of course, is environmental catastrophe. Practically every country in the world is taking at least halting steps towards trying to do something about it. The United States is also taking steps, mainly to accelerate the threat.  It is the only major country that is not only not doing something constructive to protect the environment, it’s not even climbing on the train. In some ways, it’s pulling it backwards.

And this is connected to a huge propaganda system, proudly and openly declared by the business world, to try to convince people that climate change is just a liberal hoax. “Why pay attention to these scientists?”

We’re really regressing back to the dark ages. It’s not a joke.  And if that’s happening in the most powerful, richest country in history, then this catastrophe isn’t going to be averted — and in a generation or two, everything else we’re talking about won’t matter. Something has to be done about it very soon in a dedicated, sustained way.

It’s not going to be easy to proceed. There are going to be barriers, difficulties, hardships, failures.  It’s inevitable. But unless the spirit of the last year, here and elsewhere in the country and around the globe, continues to grow and becomes a major force in the social and political world, the chances for a decent future are not very high.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor Emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy.  A TomDispatch regular, he is the author of numerous best-selling political works, most recently, Hopes and Prospects, Making the Future, and Occupy, published by Zuccotti Park Press, from which this speech, given last October, is excerpted and adapted. His web site is www.chomsky.info.