8 03 2008

A lot of very cold people are wondering what happened to global warming this winter. There has been record-breaking winter weather and snowpack in many parts of the world. It even snowed in Saudi Arabia. Does that mean that Hell has frozen over? If you were one of the hundreds of thousands of Chinese who were evacuated or stuck in a railway station because of the weather, it must have seemed that way.

The culprit most commonly blamed for this anomaly is La Nina, a periodic cooling of the Pacific ocean. I think that another contributing factor has been the low level of ice cover in the Arctic Ocean, which would allow more evaporation–and, consequently, more precipitation.

There may be something else afoot, though, something much bigger and more unpredictable and totally out of our control. That something is the sunspot cycle.

Lots of sunspot activity is characteristic of a hot sun. The sun goes through eleven year cycles of spotting, but examination of the historic record reveals that there are times when the sunspot cycle stalls out, and that these stalls corellate with colder weather here on Earth. We are in just such a stall now. The sunspot cycle bottomed out in 2006, and two years later it has not kicked in again.

That didn’t stop 2006 and 2007 from being two of the hottest years on record, so it’s hard to say how much of a braking effect this solar cooling will have on our planetary warming. One thing it will not stop is the poisoning of our oceans with excess carbon dioxide, which wreaks havoc with phytoplankton and corals, both of which are basic to the ecology of the planet as we know it. If the solar minimum does succeed in noticeably cooling the planet, it will heat up the claims of climate change deniers, who will call for an end to this carbon curbing nonsense and try to convince us to dump more carbon in the atmosphere to help heat the planet. They are still wrong. Even if we slip temporarily into a new “little ice age,” we will still need to move beyond dependence on fossil fuels.

And cold weather does increase peoples’ demand for energy. It’s much harder to stay warm in a blizzard than it is to stay cool in a heat wave. If there is a global cold snap, it may also increase the pressure to create more nuclear power plants, but we need to resist that tempation, too. Uranium is as non-renewable as oil. It’s price has soared from $10/pound in 2004 to $73 today, and has been as high as $140. It will be at least that expensive again, because, even without new nuclear plants being built, there is only about a forty-year supply of uranium left in the ground. In Virginia, there is a political struggle over whether to mine a vein containing an estimated 110 million pounds of Uranium, the largest known untapped stash on the planet. Meanwhile, the US uses about 1730 million pounds of Uranium a year. I am aghast that people are willing to risk contaminating central Virginia forever just so they can run their hair dryers on nuclear power for a couple of months. Nuclear power creates massive, long-lasting contamination, and all the advances in PR and plant safety since Chernobyl and Three Mile Island haven’t done anything to change that.

Sunspots or no sunspots, nuclear power or no nuclear power, we are at a point in history when we cannot go on as we always have. All we can choose is whether we will change graciously or be dragged into the future kicking and screaming.

music: Indigo Girls, “Wood Song”


3 02 2008

On the campaign trail, Barak Obama likes to talk about how he’s “taken on” the nuclear power industry, but the New York Times takes a look at his record and finds that a) he’s caved in to. and in the pay of, the uranium crowd, and b) he’s lying about it to the public.

While he initially fought to advance his bill, even holding up a presidential nomination to try to force a hearing on it, Mr. Obama eventually rewrote it to reflect changes sought by Senate Republicans, Exelon and nuclear regulators. The new bill removed language mandating prompt reporting and simply offered guidance to regulators, whom it charged with addressing the issue of unreported leaks.

Those revisions propelled the bill through a crucial committee. But, contrary to Mr. Obama’s comments in Iowa, it ultimately died amid parliamentary wrangling in the full Senate.


Since 2003, executives and employees of Exelon, which is based in Illinois, have contributed at least $227,000 to Mr. Obama’s campaigns for the United States Senate and for president. Two top Exelon officials, Frank M. Clark, executive vice president, and John W. Rogers Jr., a director, are among his largest fund-raisers.

Another Obama donor, John W. Rowe, chairman of Exelon, is also chairman of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear power industry’s lobbying group, based in Washington. Exelon’s support for Mr. Obama far exceeds its support for any other presidential candidate.

Can’t vote for Hillary, can’t vote for Obama…how ’bout that Green Party?

And, from Britain, here’s a story that gives the lie to all that “clean nuclear energy” talk:

Britain’s most notorious nuclear installation was plunged into crisis last week, when vital equipment broke down just as it was recovering from an accident that shut it for two years. Sellafield’s Thorp reprocessing plant has been closed again, while starting only its second job since the shutdown.

And the Cumbrian complex’s crisis is compounded by an excoriating report which shows that its facilities for handling nuclear waste are a shambles and that its safety procedures for preventing accidents – which could kill hundreds of thousands of Britons – are “not fully adequate”.

And, while governments fall all over themselves to give money to dangerous white elephants like nuclear power and biofuels, private industry is about to introduce a new generation of solar cells:

TAIPEI, TAIWAN — High energy prices are fueling a sleek new kind of solar technology that could someday set skyscrapers and high-rise apartment windows quietly buzzing with renewable power.

The emerging technology uses so-called thin films mounted on glass windows and other surfaces to harness the sun’s rays.

The big problem here is that if everybody’s generating their own electricity, there’s much less need for a grid, centralized power generating stations, and all that capital-intensive stuff that utility companies make good money billing consumers for….can’t cut the power pigs off from the trough, now, can we?


1 02 2008

I TOLD YOU SO! From the Wall Street Journal:

The Bush administration, in a major policy reversal, canceled its support for a planned $1.8 billion coal-gasification plant that was supposed to herald a new era of emissions-free power but instead has been plagued by huge cost overruns.

“Clean coal” as if destroying West Virginia and Kentucky is clean. “Clean nuclear” as if the massive pollution from mining and processing uranium doesn’t count, as if the fact that waste from the used fuel will be lethal for longer than we have been human beings doesn’t count. Hey, if it’s good enough for Obama….


10 11 2007

The Democrats gave the Bush administration another pass on war crimes this week, as Senate Judiciary committee members Diane Feinstein and Chuck Schumer, plus 5 other fascist sympathizers, broke with the rest of the Democrats to approve Michael “Waterboard” Mukasey as our country’s new attorney general, in spite of Mukasey’s equivocal stance on whether waterboarding, which was prosecuted as a crime by this country when the Japanese did it to us, is a crime when Americans do it to Muslims. Mukasey generously allowed that if Congress passed a new law specifically outlawing waterboarding, he would enforce that law. This was an easy offer to make, considering that Mr. Cheney, excuse me, I mean Mr. Bush, would certainly veto such a bill if Congress could pass it, and that there is enough Congressional complicity in war crimes that a veto almost certainly wouldn’t be overridden. They can’t stop a war criminal from becoming attorney general. They can’t stop funding the war. They can’t impeach Dick Cheney. They can’t even pass childrens’ health insurance, but they can by God slap down Moveon and Dennis Kucinich!

Meanwhile, a well-known terrorist sympathizer organization—ABC news—revealed that, in 2004, in an effort to determine whether it was illegal torture or not, then-Assistant Attorney General Daniel Levin had himself waterboarded, and reported that, to quote Keith Olberman,

”even though he knew those doing it meant him no harm, and he knew they would rescue him at the instant of the slightest distress, and he knew he would not die – still, with all that reassurance, he could not stop the terror screaming from inside of him, could not quell the horror, could not convince that which is at the core of each of us, the entity who exists behind all the embellishments we strap to ourselves, like purpose and name and family and love, he could not convince his being that he wasn’t drowning.

”Waterboarding, he said, is torture. Legally, it is torture! Practically, it is torture! Ethically, it is torture! And he wrote it down.’

And here’s a couple more Kafkaesque turns of the screw: Levin didn’t even say the US shouldn’t do it. He just said it should be timed very carefully and done under a physician’s supervision. That was too soft for the Bush junta; he was fired when Alberto Gonzalez took control of the DOJ, but not before Gonzalez appended a note to Levin’s report, saying ”Just because we embraced illegal techniques before doesn’t mean we were wrong.” War is peace, freedom is slavery, you get it….

Here’s my suggestion: anybody that has been willing to say in public that they think waterboarding isn’t torture, or might not be torture, or they just don’t know, should be waterboarded, and then asked their opinion…Mr. Mukasey? Mr. Bush? Mr. Cheney?

In other news of the ongoing crackdown, Code Pink activist Ann Wright, a 29-year US Army veteran, was banned from Canada for a year for her anti-war arrest record in this country. She had been turned away from Canada earlier in the month, and was trying again on Oct. 25, having been invited by 6 Canadian M.P.s (that’s Members of Parliament, not Military Police!) to appear for a panel discussion on US-Canadian border security measures. She got quite an education in those security measures—her cell phone was confiscated for four hours while she was interrogated, and at the end of the interrogation she was told she was barred from entering Canada for a year due to

”failure to provide appropriate documents that would overcome the exclusion order I had been given in early October because of conviction of misdemeanors (all payable by fines) in the United States. The officer said that to apply for a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) for entry for a specific event on a specific date, I must provide to a Canadian Embassy or consulate the arresting officer’s report, court transcripts and court documents for each of the convictions and an official document describing the termination of sentences, a police certificate issued within the last three months by the FBI, police certificates from places I have lived in the past ten years (that includes Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia), a letter acknowledging my convictions from three respected members of the community (the respected members that I will ask to write a letter all been convicted of similar ‘offenses’) and a completed 18 page “criminal rehabilitation” packet.


”Additionally, besides obtaining the Temporary Resident Permit, since I was being banned for a year from Canada, I would have to obtain a ‘Canadian Government Minister’s consent.’ The officer said that the TRP and the Minister’s consent normally took from 8-10 months to obtain. In the distant future, to be able to enter Canada without a TRP, I would have to have to be ‘criminally rehabilitated’ and be free for five years of conviction of any offense, including for peaceful protest.”

So…you were thinking that if things get too bad down here, you can just slip over the border?

OK, a little good news…I reported last summer on the election of Nicholas Sarkozy to the Presidency of France, and opined that, although he was called ”Sarko l’Americain” (Sarko the American, for you non-Francophones) and compared to George Bush, he was actually much smarter and hipper than Bush. Recent news from France confirms my assessment…sort of. Sarkozy has pulled out almost all the stops the environmentalists have been asking for. Appearing on the same stage with Al Gore at an environmental forum in Paris, Sarko said,

We need to profoundly revise all of our taxes… to tax pollution more, including fossil fuels, and to tax labour less.”

He went on to call for a freeze on the building of new highways and airports, moving freight traffic from road to rail, cutting pesticide use by half within 10 years, and the banning of GMO crops in France, which is Europe’s largest agricultural producer. He further pledged to expand local light rail and long distance high speed rail travel, and to create incentives for the purchase of more efficient automobiles and penalties for gas guzzlers. He also promised to improve the energy efficiency of all new and existing buildings, and proposed import taxes on goods from countries that have not signed on to the Kyoto protocol—like the US and China. Some conservative bloggers claim Al Gore wet his pants during Sarko’s speech.

And, while Sarkozy pledged to increase the role of renewable energy in France, the elephant in the room that he didn’t talk about was nuclear power. France generates 80% of its electricity from nuclear power, and they don’t know what to do with the waste either. It’s slowly contaiminating the whole country. They’re going to need that wonderful health care system Michael Moore says they have. It’s piling up at their nuke plants and leaking, except for the fraction they reprocess, which is leaking into the English Channel, some parts they have buried, which are polluting the groundwater, a chunk of it that they’re entombing in concrete, above ground, which will be full in sixty years…which seems like a long time, except that it will remain lethally radioactive for about another 24,000 years. Twenty-four thousand years ago, the last ice age was just beginning, and our cave-dwelling ancestors had to retreat out of most of Europe, including France. Oh, yeah, and the French send some of their nuclear waste to Russia, and it’s a Franco-Russian state secret just what they do with it there. Doesn’t that make you feel better? Have a nice holiday!

music: James McMurtry, ”Holiday” 6:30

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