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Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

Fukushima – A Global Threat That Requires A Global Response

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

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

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

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

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

Related Story:

Fukushima Far From Over

Radioactive Rainwater Overwhelms Fukushima Nuclear Plant

By Kevin Zeese & Margaret Flowers @ Truthout:

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

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

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

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

The Problems of Fukushima

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Solutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facing Reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To learn more, click here.

Related articles by Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese:

Carbon-Free, Nuclear-Free Energy Economy Is Inevitable

Vibrant Movement for Green Energy Economy

Gang Green or Fresh Greens?

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

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

The Rule of Law in Times of Ecological Collapse – Truthout

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

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

Irreconcilable Differences: Capitalism And A Sustainable Planet

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

https://i1.wp.com/cdn7.triplepundit.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/CapitalismVsEarth-208x300.pngOldspeak:No amount of fiddling with capitalism to regulate and humanize it … can for long disguise its failure to conserve the wealth and health of nature. Eroded, wasted, or degraded soils; damaged or destroyed ecosystems; extinction of biodiversity, species; whole landscapes defaced, gouged, flooded, or blown up … thoughtless squandering of fossil fuels and fossil waters, of mineable minerals and ores, natural health and beauty replaced by a heartless and sickening ugliness. Perhaps its greatest success is an astounding increase in the destructiveness and therefore the profitability of war.” -Wendell Berry

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

By Gary Olson @ Dissident Voice:

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

— Wendell Berry1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Government Is Necessary: The People Can Rule Better Than the Elites

In Uncategorized on May 7, 2013 at 7:46 pm

Oldspeak: “Transformation requires a combination of education about solutions, resistance to stop policies or projects that are causing harm, and working together to create solutions to our urgent crises.  One of the greatest obstacles to change in the United States is the Democratic Party. While it is true that the Wall Street agenda of the Republican Party is dangerous, the Democratic Party is even more dangerous because it can act on the same agenda without much more than a whimper by many of those who would protest if the Republicans did the same thing. Fortunately, more people are opening their eyes to the duopoly… This is the US managed democracy: a system that only allows the election of corporate duopoly candidates backed by great wealth. The current system is designed to exclude third-party candidates and low-income and minority voters. And the system is designed to hinder building the grassroots movement that is necessary for social transformation. The urgency of our current crises demands that we break from the current structure and create something new based on principles such as community, cooperation, participation and sustainability. Most people recognize what must be done, and many communities are already taking action.” –Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese.  Vesting power in corporate sponsored politicians will inexorably lead to government for the corporations, by the corporations.  One can see this in any number of obvious examples. Multi-trillion dollar bailouts for corporations who repeatedly engage in criminal business practices that crashed the global economy, while the people who need bailouts most are saddled with debt, austerity measures, & poverty-stricken existence. Unwavering commitment by corporocrats to continue investing resources in earth and life killing dirty energy sources. Unequal enforcement of the law, based on caste, where high caste citizens generally avoid punishment, for heinous offenses like laundering drug money for terrorists any falsely foreclosing on people’s homes while middle and low-caste citizens are incarcerated at historic rates for non-crimes like walking between subway cars, and bidding on land T Unprecedented prosecution of patriotic and law-abiding  Americans; government whistleblowers who’ve tried to expose fraud, waste and illegality.  Etc, etc, etc, ad infinitum. This state of affairs cannot continue. Government for the people and by the people needs to be restored. Democracy’s gone, oligarchical collectivism reigns.”

By Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese @ Truthout:
More people are taking action in their communities to meet their basic needs because of government corruption at all levels that protects the status quo when urgent change is needed. People are moving on many fronts to challenge the system and create the world they want to see.On Earth Day, another step was taken to challenge elite rule. A new alternative government was announced. It is an extension of the Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala Green Party campaign for president and vice president. The Green Shadow Cabinet currently consists of more than 80 activists, scientists, lawyers, advocates, economists, health professionals, labor leaders and artists who are independent of the corporate duopoly and are actively working on solutions to the crises we face. These top-level people in their fields have taken on this responsibility as volunteers. (Full disclosure: Margaret Flowers serves as secretary of health and Kevin Zeese as attorney general, and both serve on the administrative committee of the Shadow Cabinet.) The cabinet comes at a time when people are increasingly ready to leave the corrupt two-party system. With President Obama supporting cuts to Social Security and Medicare, drone-bombing countries with which we are not at war, and appointing Wall Street and other big business interests to his cabinet, many voters are searching for somewhere to go. Even the former head of the Democratic Party, Howard Dean, is talking about leaving the Democrats.

The cabinet will serve as an independent voice in US politics, putting the needs of people and protection of the planet ahead of profits for big corporations. Members of the cabinet will demonstrate what an alternative government could look like. However, creating an alternative form of governance will depend in large part on what people do at the local level.

Another World Is Possible; Another Government Is Necessary

Shadow cabinets have existed in other countries throughout history. They are usually created by opposition parties as a way to show what they stand for as they work toward regaining power. This Shadow Cabinet is different in a few aspects.

First, the Green Shadow Cabinet is a response to the corruption and dysfunction of the current economic and political systems. There are real solutions to the crises we face and majorities of the public support these solutions, but both parties in government are not considering them and are, in fact, doing the opposite.

The people could rule better than the elites, and that is why it is time for the people to take matters into our own hands. As cabinet member Christopher Cox explained on the day of the announcement, “There is no time for slow incremental change.” Cox also affirmed that “We have the possibility of addressing these issues at the level of humanity.” The Cabinet is not waiting, but is taking action now to encourage people to build a government that is really of, by and for the people.

And second, because political debate in the United States is limited to what the two corporate parties allow, the Cabinet will bring attention to real solutions to our crises that are not being discussed. At present, there is no discussion of full employment, even though that is a critical ingredient to creating an economy that works for everyone. There is no discussion of ending the carbon-nuclear–based energy economy, despite the crisis of climate change, the risks of carbon-nuclear energies to air, water, and life, and the obvious end of the cheap oil and gas era.

One of the goals of the Shadow Cabinet is to inject these issues into the US political dialogue. For example, here are excerpts of statements some cabinet members released on the day the Cabinet was announced:

  • Two members of the economic team wrote statements. Richard Wolff, who chairs the Council of Economic Advisers, calls for tax fairness with progressive taxation, more higher income tax brackets and increased corporate taxes consistent with the successful policies used when the United States built a powerful post-World War II-economy. Labor economist Jack Rasmus points to the failure of fiscal policy and will be urging a makeover of the Federal Reserve into a transparent and democratic agency that responds to the needs of the economy, not to the banks.
  • Leah Bolger, defense secretary, urges a truly defensive military and calls for an end to the Afghanistan War, a 50 percent cut in Pentagon spending, cessation of the drone program and operating within the rule of law. David Swanson, secretary of peace, highlights the militarization of US foreign policy, which sells record numbers of weapons and spends nearly as much as the whole world combined on war. Noting he has no counterpart in the current government, he urges the United States to work for peace every day and asserts that investing war dollars in job creation at home will do more for the economy than spending $1 trillion on war and war preparation.
  • David Cobb, chair of the commission on corporations and democracy, begins by acknowledging that corporations have become the most dominant institution in America who rule over us “as masters once ruled slaves and as Kings ruled their subjects.” The solution to corporate power? “We must educate, agitate and organize. In other words, we must change the culture of this country.”
  • Roshan Bliss, the assistant secretary for higher education, says “Education is a human right, a public good, and a critical infrastructure without which no society can prosper.” As a student, he sees how outdated, underfunded and increasingly controlled by unaccountable private interest groups higher education has become. His top two priorities: empower students to be all they can become and equip schools to uplift society and be integrated in their communities.
  • Steve Chrismer, secretary of transportation, notes that when he went to Texas to join the Tar Sands Blockade, he thought about how few jobs were created by the pipeline compared to how many jobs would be created by a new mass transit and rail system. He believes we need to recreate the transportation system and build infrastructure that will serve the nation for generations, rather than pipelines that hasten our destruction.
  • Mark Dunlea, secretary of agriculture, calls for a new food system that is sustainable, affordable and not based on pesticides or other chemicals, but produces healthy foods and fair profits for farmers. The current food czar is a former Monsanto executive whose policies favor corporatization of farming, subsidies that result in overuse of water, widespread use of chemicals and allowing genetically modified foods. Dunlea’s views are echoed by Maureen Cruise, assistant secretary of health for community wellbeing, who promotes urban farming to bring food to the people who live in food deserts.

We published statements, too. Margaret coordinates the health council and advocates for Medicare-for-all as part of the solution to the health crisis in the United States. Kris Alman and Patch Adams join her in calling for breaking free of corporate medicine, and Adams urges communities to act now to build community-based health centers, calling for “revolutionizing health care delivery by replacing greed and competition with generosity, compassion and interdependence.”

Kevin, who coordinates the justice council, emphasizes the need for rule of law, which includes holding corporations accountable for both environmental damage and for collapsing the economy; rule of law also means ending the torture of confinement without charges at Guantanamo. Cliff Thornton, administrator of drug policy, calls for the end of the war on drugs and highlights the problems of mass incarceration, crime, violence and urban neglect, all made worse by the drug war. Their immediate task is putting forward policies to respect the will of voters in Colorado and Washington who voted to legalize marijuana, as well as of those in the 16 states and Washington, DC that allow medical use of marijuana.

In addition to publishing statements, Cabinet members are involved in advocacy and activism. Last weekend, six members participated in the anti-drone protest at the Hancock Air Force base, and a few days earlier, three participated in the protests at the Bush Library. Cheri Honkala is preparing for the May 18-24 Operation Green Jobs March on Washington. And the cabinet includes activists like climate justice’s Tim DeChrisotpher, labor leader Richard Monje, economic democracy advocate Gar Alperovitz and others. Many Cabinet members are working to build the nonviolent, transformative mass movement that is needed to bring real change to the United States.

While the cabinet evolved out of the Stein-Honkala campaign, it is not a project of the Green Party and is not limited to the Green Party. It is open to anyone who is independent of the duopoly and supportive of the Stein-Honkala Green New Deal platform.

In some ways, the cabinet is structured similarly to the current system, with a president, vice president, secretary of state, and heads of various government agencies. This was felt to be important at this stage so that media and the public would recognize that whomever was speaking on a given issue was acting as an alternative to those who currently hold these positions. When someone in power makes a statement or puts forth a policy, the corresponding cabinet member will respond with an alternative view.

However, the cabinet is structured differently from the current system in that it is composed of six branches: Democracy, Ecology, Economy, Foreign Affairs, General Welfare and Justice. Within these branches, in addition to traditional positions, are councils and new positions, so it is larger and less hierarchical than a traditional cabinet. Over time, we anticipate that more new positions will be added, the councils will grow and the structure will evolve.

If the people of the United States put another government in place, the mistakes of the past should not be repeated. It is time to truly create a participatory democratic structure where people have greater control over and benefit from the policies that affect them. An alternative system must be protected from becoming another top-down structure that ignores the voices and desires of the people.

The United States: A Managed Democracy That Protects Plutocrats

It was necessary to create the cabinet to break out of the mirage democracy of managed elections. Although citizens have the right to vote, the choice is restricted to candidates who are selected by large corporations and the wealthy elite. They represent political parties that are dominated by Wall Street, the military-industrial complex and other big business interests. Third-party candidates are at an extreme disadvantage, and our most vulnerable populations are losing the right to vote.

Efforts to build parties and run independent candidates outside of the duopoly encounter major obstacles, especially at the national level. Ballot access laws vary from state to state, and it is not unusual for third parties who have done the work of collecting signatures and registering voters to see the legitimacy of their work challenged by boards of elections, state legislatures and judges from the duopoly. Third-party candidates find themselves spending so much time and energy to gain ballot access that there is little left for campaigning.

Since the United States does not have public funding of public elections, another obstacle is finances. The cost of running a campaign in the United States, especially at the federal level, is prohibitive. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that in 2012, the corporate duopoly presidential candidates spent $2 billion. And that doesn’t count the money spent on their behalf by super PACs, nonprofit political organizations, issue advocacy organizations and “shadow money.” Incumbent senators raised $11 million, nearly ten times what their challengers raised. And in the House, incumbents raised $1.5 million, more than six times what their challengers raised.

A third major obstacle is media and debate access. Media access depends on how much a candidate can spend or whether the media chooses to provide coverage. In general, there is a media blackout of third-party candidates, including in media polls on presidential preference

Third-party candidates are largely excluded from public debates and entirely excluded from the presidential debates. The League of Women Voters officially withdrew from the debates in 1988 because of excessive control of the debate format and lack of transparency by the corporate duopoly. In a strong statement, the LWV president said, “The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”

In 1987, the corporate duopoly and their big business funders created a private corporation to sponsor the debates. They gave this debate an official sounding name, the Commission on Presidential Debates, so most people think it is a government commission. Each election, the duopoly negotiates a contract that determines who can participate, who will moderate, who can attend and what questions will be asked. The rules are set up to keep non-duopoly candidates out. And the corporate debate commission ensures that discussion remains within a narrow confine of what corporate interests allow.

In 2012, the Occupy movement and others exposed and protested the sham presidential debates. The Naked Emperor created this animated video to illustrate the political charade that is the presidential debates. People held rallies at each of the debate sites and Green candidates Stein and Honkala were arrested for trying to attend the debate in New York. As a result of these actions, three corporations withdrew from sponsoring the CPD, and independent media outlets and organizations held debates for third-party candidates.

While these were positive steps, the reality is that current restrictions to third party candidates completely prevent the election of a candidate that represents the will of people rather than large corporations. The ability of people to express their will through elections is further impeded by barriers to voting.

In many countries, registration to vote is universal. When citizens reach the legal age, they are automatically registered. In the United States, there are barriers to registration resulting in 70 million eligible voters who are not registered to vote. It is also becoming more common for voters to be erased from registration lists. And voter suppression through disenfranchisement and Election Day shenanigans is common.

The Sentencing Project estimates that 5.85 million Americans have lost the right to vote because of felony convictions. An astonishing number of African-Americans, 1 out of 13, no longer has the right to vote. As we wrote in” A Forest of Poisonous Trees: The US Criminal Injustice System,” the current economic and criminal justice systems result in the incarceration of massive numbers of people, which creates a vicious cycle such that those who are oppressed lose their ability to affect the system.

Over the past three years, more than 250 laws have been passed at the state level to suppress voting. These laws primarily target the elderly, young and minority voters, as documented in this March report by Project Vote. In addition to legal challenges to voting, tactics are used in minority communities to prevent people from voting. These include underequipped polling stations, moving polling stations without notice, and leafleting neighborhoods with misinformation about voting days and voting requirements.

This is the US managed democracy: a system that only allows the election of corporate duopoly candidates backed by great wealth. The current system is designed to exclude third-party candidates and low-income and minority voters. And the system is designed to hinder building the grassroots movement that is necessary for social transformation.

A System That Favors Corporate Profits Over People and the Planet

If there is any question about whether the current political system favors the wealthy, one need only turn to recent events. Last week, in an awesome display of bipartisanship, Congress repealed the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge, Act, known as the STOCK Act. This was a bill signed into law last year with great fanfare by President Obama. The law required that members of Congress and certain executive staffers publish their financial investments online in a searchable format. It was touted as an important step towards transparency and the rule of law. Remember that last year was an election year.

This year, it took all of ten seconds for the repeal to pass in the Senate and 14 seconds in the House. The unrecorded unanimous consent vote meant not a single member of Congress expressed dissent. The president quickly and quietly signed the repeal into law.

Now it will be more difficult for the public to know when elected officials are supporting policies that benefit them financially. For instance, when former senator John Kerry was appointed Secretary of State, it was revealed that he had investments in TransCanada, the company that is building the Keystone XL Pipeline. The State Department has authority to approve the pipeline, which is being protested by people in the United States and Canada because of its environmental impact. Indeed, Kerry had to divest nearly 100 stocks in order to avoid the conflicts of interest between his investments and his duties. Of course, the same conflicts of interest existed when he chaired the Foreign Relations Committee.

Another example is the deficit and austerity charade that was exposed last week. A doctoral student, Thomas Herndon, at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst analyzed an economic study published by Reinhart and Rogoff. The results of the Reinhart-Rogoff study were cited widely by politicians and pundits to justify cuts to social and other government programs. Herndon found significant errors in the study that make the findings inaccurate.

Reinhart and Rogoff are linked to the Peter G. Peterson Foundatio,n which has a mission to promote policies that end our legacy social insurances – Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The Peterson Foundation has been heavily involved in the federal budget process for most of Obama’s presidency. It provided staff support and funding to the deficit commission appointed by Obama in early 2010 and funded national “town halls” called “America Speaks.”

The chairs of the deficit commission, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, have also played an important role in the ongoing effort to cut social insurances, including leading the new Fix the Debt campaign composed of more than 80 tax-dodging CEOs who are starting with a budget of $60 million to lobby and build public support for their austerity proposals.

Solutions Exist; Transformation Depends on You

The Shadow Cabinet will not change the world; that task is up to all of us. Transformation requires a combination of education about solutions, resistance to stop policies or projects that are causing harm, and working together to create solutions to our urgent crises.

One of the greatest obstacles to change in the United States is the Democratic Party. While it is true that the Wall Street agenda of the Republican Party is dangerous, the Democratic Party is even more dangerous because it can act on the same agenda without much more than a whimper by many of those who would protest if the Republicans did the same thing. Fortunately, more people are opening their eyes to the duopoly.

The urgency of our current crises demands that we break from the current structure and create something new based on principles such as community, cooperation, participation and sustainability. Most people recognize what must be done, and many communities are already taking action.

The Shadow Cabinet seeks to join and amplify those efforts and encourage more people to come together in their communities to form structures that solve problems through community-led initiatives and pressure on local governments. This can happen at the level of neighborhoods or through coalitions of organizations, or some communities may choose to form local shadow governments.

The people of the United States have the wisdom to do what needs to be done. The answers are part of our DNA. It is time to recognize and manifest our power.

You can listen to our interview about the Announcement of Green Shadow Cabinet with Cheri Honkala, Christopher Cox and Sean Sweeney on Clearing the FOG.