4 12 2012

There’s a story making the rounds of the mainstream media these days, frequently trumpeted as “International Energy Agency says U.S. to overtake Saudis as  top oil producer.”  This may, technically, turn out to be true. But, as they say, “The devil is in the details,” and in this case, there’s definitely a Hell’s worth of details behind that headline that are all too frequently overlooked in this, our oil-based culture’s cargo cult moment.

“Cargo  cults,” to refresh your memory, were a religious movement that flourished briefly in the South Pacific after World War II.  The natives, who had been living a largely neolithic existence, saw that our troops came in, built an airstrip, and then airplanes landed, bringing all kinds of wondrous things, never before imagined, to the island, and the islanders.  Then,when the war was over, the mysterious strangers packed up and left, the airplanes no longer arrived bearing their magical cargoes,and the airstrips grew up in brush.  Some of the natives thought that, if they just rebuilt the airstrips, the planes would come again.  So they tried it, but it didn’t work, at least not directly, although the brief peak of our now-declining civilization has, in fact, brought the airplanes–bearing tourists, not soldiers, this time–back to many of those once-isolated tropical isles.

But no such temporary relief awaits us.  In fact, the granting of our wish for the oil age to continue bears such a horrific price tag that it’s a sad wonder that most people seem all too willing to buy it.  I’m going to examine the thorns of this “petroleum rose,” and, I hope, push the chorus of voices crying “DON’T TAKE THAT DEAL!!” to a volume level that just might save us from the fraudulent, Faustian  fracking bargain. Read the rest of this entry »


9 09 2012

As I reported last month, the 6th Circuit Appeals Court heard the state of Tennessee’s appeal of our case at the end of July, and apparently largely agreed with us, telling the state to go ahead and put our candidates on the ballot while they wrote their final decision.  They didn’t order the state to conduct a lottery to determine ballot placement, but shortly after the court hearing, the state primary gave, uh, “primary facie” evidence of why that might be a good idea, when the first candidate listed  (alphabetically) on the Democrat primary ballot beat out the DP’s anointed candidate by a 2-1 margin and became their official candidate for U.S. Senate, in spite of being a gun-toting racist tea partier who thinks corporate Republican Bob Corker is way too tame.

Well, at least he’s got it right about Corker being a corporate whore–although, as a multi-millionaire, maybe Corker is more of a corporate whore-monger than an actual whore. Read the rest of this entry »


4 08 2012

In closing, a bit of local news:  the frackers are coming!  The frackers are coming!

Apparently, about two-thirds of Tennessee is frackable, and the energy vampires want their gas fix now.  Get ready to kiss peace, quiet, and clean air and water in the countryside around Nashville good-bye.

Most of the state’s “conservation” groups–the Harpeth River Watershed Association, the Tennessee Clean Water Network, Tennessee Conservation Voters, and the Sierra Club–are attempting to strike a deal with the devil by merely pushing for tighter regulation of fracking by the so-called “Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation.”

That’s a worthy goal, in its way.  TDEC’s proposed fracking regulations are remarkably lax, and would undoubtedly result in irreparable damage to Tennessee’s abundance of groundwater, as well as the delightful, healing rural ambiance still to be found in much of this beautiful state.  But I have a problem with all these groups’ stance on fracking.  I don’t think it should be allowed at all.  Science has made it quite clear that we need to reduce, not increase, our use of CO2-emitting fossil fuels, such as natural gas, for the simple reason that continuing our extreme dependence on these substances is destroying the planet’s ability to support us, as well as most of the other life forms with which we are currently sharing the planet.  (And sure, burning natural gas creates less CO2 than burning coal, but, in this case, “less” is still “too much.”)

Let me state that another way:  those who extract fossil fuels–the management and labor forces of the coal and oil industries–are mass murderers, and their target is all of us.  Really, it’s a Jonestown situation, because they will kill themselves by their actions, as well, but there isn’t much difference between being murdered by a merely homicidal maniac and being murdered by a maniac who is also suicidal. Read the rest of this entry »


11 03 2012

I had intended to spend some time this month talking about the unreliability of touch-screen voting machines and other perils of the voting process, which seems like an especially relevant topic now that the Green Party has a ballot line in Tennessee, but the herb issue just would not shut up, and I don’t have time left in the radio show to give elections their proper due.  Anyway, I had finished reading a report on the poor dependability of the computerized, touch-screen voting machines our state depends on, when my friend Bernie Ellis sent me a link to his Martin Luther King Day speech on that subject, which he expanded  into the many nefarious methods that Republicans are using to cut down on the ability of people who are likely to vote for Democrats to register and vote at all.  Bernie lead me to a report from the NAACP on that subject which is pretty hot, but I haven’t finished reading it yet.  So next month, the plan is to integrate those, plus explain why the Greens should be concerned about the Repubs ripping off the Dems, if it really is just two competing crime families, as we so often say.  (Short answer:  an injury to one is an injury to all, and we’re all in this together.  If the Dems were siphoning off Republican votes, we’d raise hell, too, but given the abuser-enabler nature of the relationship between Repubs and Dems, that’s unlikely to happen outside of, maybe, Chicago.)  Anyway, that’s for next month–unless, of course, something more exciting and currently unexpected bumps it.  The future is wide open.  You just never know what will happen next.

Speaking of wide open, a big patch of the Arctic Ocean that usually freezes during the winter, and which, a decade or so ago, just stayed frozen–didn’t freeze this winter.  Evaporation from this patch of open water created never-before-seen weather patterns that pushed Siberian air masses, far more loaded with moisture than usual, down over Europe, resulting in one of the coldest, snowiest winters recorded there since the “Little Ice Age” that resulted when large parts of North and South America reforested themselves after the humans who had cleared them died from diseases transmitted by the earliest Europeans to make contact with the native people of this hemisphere.  That was then, but this is now.  In a wintertime echo of the torrential rains that have scoured Pakistan, Columbia, Thailand, parts of the U.S.,  and other locations too numerous to mention, a single storm in central Europe dumped six feet of snow on the ground in just four days.  One begins to get an understanding of what happens when the Earth enters a glacial age, even as the planet inexorably grows warmer.

Meanwhile, even though 2011-12 has been one of the mildest winters in U.S. history, climate denialism by those who are making money from the causes of climate change continues unabated. For just one example, Senator Jim Inhofe, who has long denounced global warming as a hoax, has received someplace between eight hundred thousand and 1.35 million dollars from oil, gas, and other energy industry companies.   Somehow, people continue to take him seriously, and the phrase “political prostitute” is not commonly associated with his name.

Numerous other “big lies” are being forced down the throat of the American public, which is more or less bound and gagged by the corporatocracy, but, due to the effect of the Stockholm Syndrome, enough people still love the rough treatment we are receiving to keep it coming.

There’s the big lie that the Keystone XL pipeline will provide lots of jobs and keep America afloat in gasoline, when the real reason Canada’s oil diggers/carbon releasers/environmental destroyers want to pipe their poison to Houston is so they can put in tankers and send it to the Chinese, who are rapidly approaching the point at which they will be able to outbid the U.S. for petroleum products–but hey, Bill McKibben is not lying when he says that Keystone XL would be “game over” for preventing catastrophic climate change.

There’s the big lie that fracking for natural gas is going to provide us with at least a century of low-carbon fuel.  Fracking for natural gas is looking more and more like a bubble that’s going to pop any year now.  There’s not nearly as much recoverable natural gas as initially promised, it does result in major carbon emissions, it permanently pollutes the water table often enough that it should be called into question, it turns the countryside into an industrial zone,  proven reserves are more like eleven years worth than a hundred, and, hey–what are we going to do when the gas runs out? President Obama proudly proclaiming that natural gas will provide “600,000 jobs” is a campaign lie, er, promise, and his support of fracking is as much a crime against humanity as his sabotage of the Copenhagen climate talks or targeted assassinations.  The truth is, fracking for natural gas is not a solution to our energy overdraw. Reducing our usage is the only possible path forward.

The truth is that reviving the U.S. auto industry was the moral equivalent of giving a junkie another fix.  The private automobile is, like everything else Obama has lent his charisma to, part of the problem and not part of the solution.  Detroit’s underused industrial capacity could have ben retooled to create mass transit and intercity rail service–but then again, automobile culture has decentralized America to the point where few people are actually in a position to make use of mass transit even if it existed, and the continuing economic collapse of our country means that fewer and fewer of us will have a reason, or the financial means, to travel across town, let alone across the country.

I don’t want to close this show on quite that sour note–so let me conclude with this:  we still have the option to get with our friends and neighbors and start building relationships that will enable us to share skills and resources as things spiral down into post-empire America.  It’s never too late for that.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “The Great Correction

down on the corner of ruin and grace
I’m growin weary of the human race
hold my lamp up in everyone’s face
lookin for an honest man
everyone tied to the turnin wheel
everyone hidin from the things they feel
well the truth’s so hard it just don’t seem real
the shadow across this land
people round here don’t know what it means
to suffer at the hands of our american dreams
they turn their backs on the grisly scenes
traced to the privileged sons
they got their god they got their guns
got their armies and the chosen ones
but we’ll all be burnin in the same big sun
when the great correction comes
down through the ages lovers of the mystery
been sayin people let your love light shine
poets and sages all throughout history
say the light burns brightest in the darkest times
it’s the bitter end we’ve come down to
the eye of the needle that we gotta get through
but the end could be the start of something new
when the great correction comes
down through the ages….
down to the wire runnin out of time
still got hope in this heart of mine
but the future waits on the horizon line
for our daughters and our sons
I don’t know where this train’s bound
whole lotta people tryin to turn it around
gonna shout til the walls come tumblin down
and the great correction comes
don’t let me down
when the great correction comes

–copyright eliza gilksyon


16 04 2011

More from our social calendar–recently Transition Nashville screened the movie, Blue Gold.  No, we’re not Notre Dame fans–football, as far as I’m concerned, is part of the Empire’s bread and circuses program–this “Blue Gold” is subtitled, “World Water Wars,” and it portrays with sometimes beautiful and sometimes horrifying vividness how peak water, perhaps more than peak oil, may be the choke collar that ultimately constrains our culture’s cancerous rate of expansion.

At the chemical level, there are, of course, radical differences between water and oil.  Just for openers, oil was created here on Earth,  but, as far as we can tell, all the water on the planet was created elsewhere in the cosmos and became part of our planet in its earliest eons as water-rich comets and meteors collided with the young, hot, dry planet.  We use oil up–we burn it, turn it into plastic, degrade it to the point of uselessness, but water–water we constantly recycle.  The water that falls from the sky, quenches our thirst, and flows in our rivers and toilet bowls is the same water that the dinosaurs swam in, drank, and…pissed out, yes.  Think of it–every drop of water we have was probably, at one time, dinosaur piss. Thanks to our planet’s appropriate range of temperatures, however, pure H2O evaporates into the atmosphere, leaving behind whatever pollutants we, or the dinosaurs, add to it–not that that’s an excuse to allow pollution.  Natural cleansing can take a very long time.

For instance, there is a lot of what is called “fracking” going on in parts of the US and elsewhere.  Fracking involves injecting a cocktail of solvents and water into rock formations in order to release the natural gas that is held in these formations, so that it can be captured and used.  To this end, 32,000,000 gallons of diesel fuel, among other yummy substances, were injected into rock formations in the US between 2005 and 2009 alone–and this was done in spite of the fact that injectng diesel fuel is illegal.  Natural gas wells have a productive life of a few decades, but the groundwater pollution they create will last far longer than that.

Gas companies are, at least in theory, required to properly store and dispose of  their used fracking fluids, which are saltier than sea water, contain radium leached from underground rock formations, and bromides–not trite sayings, but chemicals that interact with chlorinated water to produce carcinogenic trihalomethanes.  However, neither sewage treatment nor water system intake plants are designed to deal with the massive chemical load of thousands of gallons of fracking fluid.  Oh,yeah, fracking-polluted water also tastes nasty, if you hadn’t guessed.

State and corporate officials promise that they have the situation under control and will carefully monitor for the possibility of contamination, but by the time the water is contaminated, it will be too late.  An ounce of prevention versus a pound of cure.  A decade or two of fuel now in exchange for hundreds, if not thousands, of years of poisoned water seems like a Faustian bargain to me.  I assume you recall  who offered Faust that famous bargain.  And who, then, is offering to trade us gas for water? Wouldn’t it be just like a demon to mix diesel fuel into the drinking water?  I mean, that sounds like Hell to me!

But pollution concerns aren’t the half of “Blue Gold.”  The movie’s main point is the many ways in which transnational corporations are working to corner the market for this increasingly scarce resource, which no human can live without, and this is where the movie gives us some encouragement, by reporting on successful resistance to privatization and monopoly such as the famous Cochabamba “water war,” when the people of Cochabamba, Bolivia, threw out the Bechtel Corporation, which had bought the city’s water system and raised rates so high that most people could not afford water.

What the movie neglects to mention is that the public agency that now runs the system is, unfortunately, doing a very poor job of providing water to people. But maybe that’s not so important, in the end, as the fact that the people succeeded in throwing out a transnational corporation and relocalizing control of their water supply. Maybe what happens after that is their business, even if it’s their problem, as well.

There was some group discussion after the movie, and several small, informal conversations sparked up after that.  I got into a spirited exchange with one attendee about whether “fourth generation” nuke plants will be the answer to peak oil and the dangers of coal. “Fourth generation” nuclear power plants, for those of you who, like me, hadn’t heard of them before, are supposed to be much safer–easier to keep cool, harder to screw up,  cheaper to build, more efficient in their use of nuclear fuel. They’re still on the drawing boards, mostly.  The Chinese have started to build one,but it won’t be finished for another ten years or so.  The general consensus is that it will be at least twenty years before “fourth generation” nukes could become a widespread reality.

Here’s the basic reason why nuclear power is a dumb idea, second generation, fourth generation, tenth generation, no matter:  it’s an incredibly complex, expensive, and potentially very dangerous way to boil water.

Can you say, “Rube Goldberg,” boys and girls?

The real “first generation” nuclear power plant is located 93 million miles from here.  It costs us nothing to build or maintain.  It has been running safely (if you discount sunburns and skin cancers) for about four billion years, and will probably continue to function without any need for human intervention for another five billion years or so.

Using a common, well known technology, referred to scientifically as a “mirror,” we can focus the energy from this reactor, which, to throw another scientific term at you, is referred to as “sunlight.” Focusing sunlight on water will, under the right circumstances, make the water boil. The steam thus created can be used to turn a turbine and create electricity. Of course, generating electricity is only one of the many things we do with oil.  It’s not so easy to find substitutes for lubricants and plastics, to name the first two major non-fuel uses of oil that come to mind.

These “mirrors” could easily and rapidly be widely deployed all over the world.  It would not require creation of any more of the environmental disasters known as “uranium mines,”  or “uranium processing/reprocessing facilities.”   It would not amass large quantities of long-lived, or even short-lived radioactive material that might poison a neighborhood or a continent due to human error, natural disaster, terrorist attack, or the ravages of time.  Unlike a nuclear power plant, this technology would be relatively cheap to build and maintain.   It would not take a bunch of PhDs to run it.  It would be a decentralized, low-tech, relatively non-polluting source of energy.  Power plants could be equipped with “flywheels,” another fairly-low-tech, well-developed technology, so that they could keep providing power when the sun isn’t shining.

A second prong of the alternative to increased reliance on nuclear power is a combination of conservation and lowered expectations. The general consensus seems to be that money spent on energy conservation, dollar for dollar, saves five times more energy than the amount of electricity generated by a dollar invested in nuclear power plants.  And, speaking of investing in nuclear power plants, it’s worth noting that nuclear power, which, when I was a kid, promised “electricity too cheap to meter,” only maintains the appearance of a competitive pricing structure because it receives huge government subsidies, loan guarantees, and insurance backing.  Private investors won’t touch it.

Can you say, “the invisible hand of the market,” boys and girls?

Would “fourth-generation” nuke plants really be inexpensive to build and run?  We’ve heard this claim before.

Peter Bradford, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and, in his words, “not a total opponent of nuclear power,” had this to say about nuclear power as a solution to runaway climate change:

“Counting on new nuclear reactors as a climate change solution is no more sensible than counting on an un-built dam to create a lake to fight a nearby forest fire.”

It’s important to note that many of those who promote nuclear power are in the pay of multinational corporations that profit from it, while those of us who oppose its use can expect no financial gain for our stance, and in fact will find the resources of those multinationals brought to bear on us in an effort to dismiss our concerns and ridicule us for expressing them.  But I digress.

As I was saying, there’s lowering our expectations.  The last two hundred years of human history have been a radical departure from all that preceded them, as we have discovered and consumed stores of fossil fuels that took millions of years to accumulate.  All of us in the First World enjoy riches beyond the imagination of the wealthiest of our very recent ancestors, and, unless some remarkable breakthrough is made very soon, our wealth and power will be the stuff of the legends of our descendants as they, like our ancestors, gather around their communal fire pit after a long, hard day of herding, gathering wild foods, working at handicrafts, and tending their crops.  It would have been thoughtful of us to consume the planet’s resources slowly and carefully enough to leave something for future generations, but we had to get rich quick making Barbie dolls and cell phones and superhighways and cars to drive on them.   Too bad, great grandkids, we spent your inheritance.

I wish I had been this eloquent and informed when I was in conversation with nuclear dude at the “Blue Gold” movie.  That’s why I write these talks out instead of trying to do them off the top of my head!

I did give him the short version of what I’ve just told you, and I’m glad we had the conversation, because it gave me a chance to review and document my opposition to nuclear power.   You’ll notice I have done what I could to steer away from current controversies raging over the level of danger from the Fukushima plant and the toxic legacy of Chernobyl.  From my point of view, it is irrelevant whether fifty or a million people died as a result of Chernobyl, or whether northwest Japan has become a short-term or long-term evacuation area.  If neither one of these disasters had happened, nuclear power would still be a foolish idea, an incredibly inefficient amount of bureaucracy, centralization of power, and concentration of resources just to boil some water.

Monkey clever, but not very wise.  We had better do better than that.

music:  Afrikaan Dreamland, “Dance and Survive”

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