TRUTH IN STRANGE PLACES–LAMAR ALEXANDER

11 07 2010

This month’s “Truth in Strange Places” award goes to Tennessee’s  own Lamar Alexander, for saying, in a speech on the Senate floor:

“We use 25 percent of all the energy in the world to produce about 25 percent of all the money in the world—five percent of the people in the world. In order to keep our high standard of living we need to remember we’re not a desert island. Solar, wind and biomass are an important supplement, but America’s 21st Century reliable, low-cost energy needs are not going to be met by electricity produced by a windmill, a controlled bonfire and a few solar panels.”

What makes the placement of this truth strange is the overall context, and the presumptions that surround it.  Senator Alexander apparently thinks that America can keep relying on petroleum and coal, build more nuclear power plants, and thus maintain our current lifestyle.

Senator Alexander’s remarks contain numerous fallacies about our energy supply and its future.

First, he assumes we can keep on relying on petroleum, when the truth is that we on the brink of seeing our petroleum supply diminish rapidly.  One of the rarely mentioned significances of deep water oil drilling is that we are only doing it because all the easy oil is gone.  We are at the point of peak oil.  Demand, especially from India and China, is increasing, while the rate of new oil discoveries has fallen dramatically and the amount of oil produced annually has plateaued.  .  Senator Alexander refuses to face the fact that we are running out of oil.

Second, he assumes that we can go on mining coal indefinitely.  This is not the case; carbon issues aside, some students of our energy future think we may hit “peak coal” in just another fifteen years or so. Let’s face it: mountaintop removal is to coal what deep water drilling is to oil–scraping the bottom of the jar for the last scraps of its contents.  Large-scale coal mining is also heavily dependent on petroleum for lubricants and transportation, and will become more expensive as the price of oil continues to increase.  Sen. Alexander further assumes that the sacrifice of much of West Virginia and Kentucky, and parts of Tennessee, is an acceptable price to pay for that coal.  Many of the area’s residents would disagree with him.  The fact that coal companies do not have to pay out of pocket for the destruction of the Appalachian ecosystem does not make it any less expensive.  It just means that somebody besides the coal companies is having to pay the cost.

Senator Alexander ignores the climate change aspect of coal and oil extraction, as well, and falsely claims that nuclear power is a low-carbon option.  The increasing carbonation of our atmosphere and oceans has spun the planet’s climate out of equilibrium and in a much, much warmer direction.  By cutting back our carbon emissions, we can at least soften the blow that is falling on us, but Senator Alexander recklessly disregards these realities in his demand for comfort now.  Where is his respect for the rights of the unborn on this issue?

“The rights of the unborn”—yes, I find it extremely ironic that many of those who campaign against abortion on this slogan seem to have no compunction about living a high-consumption lifestyle that will leave little in the way of natural resources for those who are not yet born….but I digress…

Nuclear power, too, faces looming limits on the availability of its primary fuel, uranium, and has the further disadvantage of creating radioactive wastes that remain lethal for a quarter of a million years, at least.  Not surprisingly, we have yet to come up with a technology or even a location for safe containment and storage of these poisons.  A quarter of a million years ago, our ancestors were not yet homo sapiens.   That’s how long we’re talking about here.  And, while Senator Alexander rails against subsidies for wind power, he conveniently ignores the massive subsidies that have made nuclear power appear to be a viable option for producing electricity.When the subsidies are factored in, nuclear energy is one of the most expensive ways to produce electricity.  A program that improved the efficiency of insulation, lighting, heating and cooling, and other common uses of electricity could eliminate the need for nearly 400 power plants in this country  We don’t need more, thank you.  The Europeans are doing quite nicely on about half of US per capita energy consumption.

And then there’s the question of how we are supposed to pay for more energy production, or even continue to pay for what we are currently using.  Sure, we have been “five percent of the people with twenty-five percent of the money,” but those days are just about over.  The American middle class is tapped out–in addition to everybody’s personal debts, we middle-class taxpayers are footing the bills for the bank bailout and our country’s military adventures in the Middle East, and just printing up more dollar bills will only go so far.

Can you say bankruptcy, boys and girls?

And the sad thing about all Senator Alexander’s errors of fact and perception is that they are not just one man’s opinion.  They are presumably shared by the million and a half Tennesseans who elected him, as well as millions of Americans around the country, many of whom are not even Republicans.  After all, Obama’s energy guy, Steven Chu, is calling for an expanded nuclear program in this country.  “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” eh?

The one thing that Senator Alexander did get right is that renewable energy sources cannot maintain the energy supply to which we have become accustomed.  The American lifestyle–indeed, the lifestyle of any even moderately wealthy person anywhere on the planet–is possible only because we have burned the greater part of the planet’s accessible supplies of coal and oil in the last two hundred years, leaving only scraps for our descendants.  There is no way we can keep living as we have been.  We are going to need to orchestrate a sensible and orderly return to a simpler lifestyle, or face the chaotic consequences of ignoring that reality.  It’s not what most people in America want to hear, but that’s the way it is.  The party’s over, Lamar.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “The Party’s Over


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A KICK IN THE BALLS

13 09 2008

On June 16, 2001, in the palmy days before 9/11, George Bush famously said of Vladimir Putin,

“I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialog. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.”

On August 8, 2008, the man George Bush said he trusted gave George Bush, and the entire US government, a straightforward and much-deserved kick in the balls, as he sent his army rolling into Georgia, on the pretext of “protecting the rights” of the inhabitants of the tiny country of South Ossetia, most of whom would rather be Russian than Georgian.  Oh, and this move also placed Russian troops close to two of the three pipelines that cross Georgia.  That’s what the kick in the balls was about.

Well, Bush got it right about Putin’s commitment to the best interests of Russia, anyway.  Russia under Putin has repeatedly flexed its muscles and moved to return to a place on the world stage similar to the role played by the Soviet Union–a counterbalance to US hegemony.  One of the techniques they have used has been to manipulate other countries with Russian oil and gas, which largely supply Western Europe.  To work around this, the US and a number of other countries and oil companies (some oil companies are about the size of a country, y’know?) have built three oil pipelines across Azerbaijan and Georgia, to move fuel from central Asia to the west without passing through Russian territory.  Putin, by his moves into Georgia, gave notice that they were not far enough from Russia to make any difference.

In discussions prior to the conflict, Putin told Georgian prime minister Saakashvili that he could take NATO’s promises of support and stick them up his ass.  His assessment was correct; when push came to shove, the US and the EU were impotent to stop the Russians. Georgia’s entrance into NATO, which the US has been urging on the reluctant Europeans, is on hold for now, because NATO is a mutual defense pact, among other things, and NATO members were treated to the sobering realization that bringing Georgia into the fold could result in going to war with Russia, something nobody except maybe Dick Cheney is willing to countenance.

Now, obviously, I don’t think the Russians are the good guys in this high-stakes poker game.  There are no good guys in this game.  Based on the kind of saber-rattling he’s been doing, and the fact that Zbigniew Brezinski is one of  his chief foreign policy advisers, Obama’s election will not introduce a good guy into the game, nor will John McCain.  Both are pandering to the worst instincts of the US public by trying to out tough-guy each other.

Obama is being just as disingenuous as Bush and McCain, talking about the need to support the Georgians without mentioning supporting the people of South Ossetia or Abkazia, without mentioning that the Georgians were the aggressors–and certainly not mentioning oil pipelines or Kazakhstan, the source of the oil and gas that the west wants to siphon out without involving Russia.  Kazakhstan is a brutal one-party state.  The last opposition candidate for prime minister was murdered, and nobody has gone to trial for it.  But, because of the country’s vast petroleum and uranium reserves, and because of our societal addiction to these substances, western leaders from Bill Clinton to Angela Merkel to both Bushes have gritted their teeth and praised Kazakhstan’s “democracy,” honoring its president with awards and audiences, when in fact he is every bit as brutal a tyrant as Saddam Hussein. If Saddam deserved the treatment he got, then Nursultan Nazarbayev should have been hanging right beside him…but Nazarbyev, unlike Saddam and small-time players like Panama’s Noriega, has not yet committed the capital sin of opposing US hegemony.  (Just in case you forgot, Saddam was about to start asking for Euros instead of dollars when he sold oil, and Noriega was hooking up with Fidel.)  Nazarbayev is, however,  playing up the possibility of deals with his neighbor Russia in order to gain bargaining leverage with western governments and oil companies–but, again, nobody in their right mind wants to go to war with Russia over Kazakhstan–or anything else, for that matter. We can threaten smaller countries like Iran and Libya and North Korea, but we gonna be very diplomatic with the Russians, yes, sir.

Not that we won’t try and screw the Russians, in our very diplomatic way.  The big oil companies have been wary of Russia since they nationalized their oil industry, and the US government has shaped its mideast and central Asian policies to help these private corporations.   The invasion of Iraq (and consequent cancellation of Saddam’s oil contracts with Russia), our chummy relationship with the despotic governments of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, construction of the pipelines that circumvent Russia, and arming and training the Georgian military, all have been done for the benefit of big oil.

But Putin’s kick in the balls showed the world what an illusion US power really is.  Our country accounts for over half of the world’s military spending, and it gets us–zilch.  It takes us six years to begin to pin down one little country like Iraq, meanwhile chewing up a major portion of our troops and military hardware, and when Putin kicks us in the balls, we blink and sputter and do nothing, because there’s nothing we can do.  What, are we going to go to war with Russia?  Hey, if Afghanistan is the “graveyard of empires,” Russia is their black hole.  Napoleon, Hitler…you get the picture.  Only Dick Cheney–or maybe John McCain–is crazy enough to issue those kind of orders, but it was crazy to undertake a strategy based on brinksmanship in the first place.

What would a saner policy look like?

A saner policy would recognize the ultimate impotence of military power, and the ultimate futility of trying to secure oil supplies in faraway countries.  It would dismantle the US military, and redirect all that misused energy into building real global security by helping everyone get involved with their neighbors in regional mutual support networks of farms, local manufacturing, and energy production, promoting sustainability and interdependence, and recognizing the validity of small, local cultures such as Abkahzia, Ossetia, Georgia, and, yes Mr. Putin, Chechnya, too.  That’s the real route to global security.  Along with greater security, we need to spread education about birth control and population reduction, because, while it is barely possible to graciously support the number of people currently alive on the planet, it will become impossible if the number grows, and easier if the number of humans actually starts to shrink.

Meanwhile, the US has sent a naval squadron to Georgia, and the Russians have responded by conducting joint military exercises with the Venezuelan navy in the Caribbean.  Both of these moves are inexcusable wastes of fuel, material, and manpower.  We have only a limited amount of time left in which we will be able to maneuver, and every move needs to defuse tension and increase sustainability.  Neither Russian nor American policy in the Caucasus reflects this awareness, and if this ignorance continues, everybody will lose.

music:  James McMurtry, “God Bless America”





SAD BUT TRUE

19 01 2008

Coal Industry Plugs Into the Campaign

 

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 18, 2008; Page D01

A group backed by the coal industry and its utility allies is waging a $35 million campaign in primary and caucus states to rally public support for coal-fired electricity and to fuel opposition to legislation that Congress is crafting to slow climate change.

The group, called Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, has spent $1.3 million on billboard, newspaper, television and radio ads in Iowa, NevadaSouth Carolina. and

One of its television ads shows a power cord being plugged into a lump of coal, which it calls “an American resource that will help us with vital energy security” and “the fuel that powers our way of life.” The ads note that half of U.S. electricity comes from coal-fired plants.

Yes, and as Uberfuhrer Cheney has proclaimed, “the American way of life is not negotiable,” even if it means keeping our hobnailed boot on the neck of a bunch of ignorant ragheads and darkies no matter how much they bitch and moan and plot our demise…. we will live as we please until we choke on it…private cars, fast food, big-screen tv, central heat and air…build me ever more pretentious mcmansions, oh beelzebub….in the Bible that all these so-called Christians profess to elevate above all other books in wisdom, the pagan god Baal was reviled for demanding the sacrifice of small children….but what are we doing with the non-negotiable Amerikan way of life but demanding the sacrifice of small children–Bill (and Hillary’s) Iraq boycott back in the good ol’days killed thousands of Iraqi children, and the Bush-Cheney junta’s war for oil has killed thousands more…who do they worship?

music:  Leonard Cohen, “The Story of Isaac”








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