Archive for March, 2012

Climate change is already harshing the weather

March 30, 2012

By David Roberts

Things are getting weird around here. (Photo by Zach Frailey.)

In a sane world, a 2011 filled withspectacularly bizarre weather followed by a winter and spring that are record-shatteringly hot – out of control hotBiblical hot – would have everyone in the U.S. freaking the f*ck out about climate change.

We never quite get there, though. We don’t seem to be grappling with the fact that this kind of volatility is rapidly becoming the new normal — or that we are totally unprepared.

If the public does tune in to what little media coverage there is of the climate-weather connection, they end up wading through technical discussions about attribution. Take this piece from Andrew Freedman at Climate Central. It is an excellent piece of reporting, thorough and judicious, but it is occupied almost exclusively with pinning down exactly what portion of this particular heat wave can be attributed to climate change. Some scientists say only a small portion. Some say it wouldn’t have happened without climate. Freedman’s lede says the heat wave “bears some of the hallmarks of global warming.” It’s not exactly galvanizing stuff.

Brad Plumer follows up with a similar piece. At the end, he asks:

So why does any of this matter? Isn’t it enough to know that the planet is warming and that unseasonably sweaty conditions are the sort of thing we’re likely to see more and more frequently if we continue belching greenhouse gases into the air?

Um … yes! It is enough! As Brad notes, there may be some legal issues down the road that hinge on precise attribution for individual events, but it’s hard to see how it has much bearing on policy or public sentiment.

The recently released IPCC report on extreme weather isn’t much better at clearly conveying the big picture. As Joe Romm notes, it’s a bland, least-common-denominator document:

Unfortunately, the IPCC continues to conflate uncertainty in future emissions of greenhouse gases with uncertainty in the climate’s sensitivity to those emissions.  This means they present a very large range of possible overall impacts — and that allows the deniers to trumpet the low range with their powerful fossil-fuel-funded megaphone and induces the media to provide “balance” in their stories between the mid-range and the low range.

The net effect is that an accurate picture of the current range of scientific opinion does not reach readers. Michael Tobis sketched out this graph to try to represent the skewed nature of public discussion:

Anyway, getting back to weather: What the public needs to know is that volatility like we’ve seen recently is on the rise because of climate change. Even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases tomorrow, global average temperature would continue rising for a good half-century just in response to past GHG emissions. Rising temperature will drive more and more extreme weather. This will create all sorts of health, agricultural, energy, and economic issues for which we are grossly unprepared.

That’s it. Why can’t that simple message seem to capture the popular imagination? How much freaky weather does it take?

Beekeepers to EPA: We’re running out of time

March 30, 2012

By Claire Thompson

Beekeepers have seen average population losses of around 30 percent every year since 2006. (Photo by Enrique Lara.)

Beekeepers have been concerned that pesticides are to blame for the bee die-offs devastating their industry for a while now. As we reported recently, their losses have spiraled out of control, putting not just the beekeepers but our entire agricultural system in peril.

The concern centers around a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowed to be marketed and sold even after the agency’s own scientists’ put up red flags. And now some in the industry have decided it’s time to formally challenge EPA’s negligence. On March 21, 27 beekeepers and four environmental groups filed a petition [PDF] with the agency asking it to take clothianidin — the neonicotinoid causing the most trouble — off the market until a long-overdue, scientifically sound review is completed.

The EPA asked Bayer — the manufacturer of clothianidin — to conduct a study looking at its effects on bees and other pollinators back in 2003, but allowed Bayer to sell the pesticide under “conditional registration” in the meantime. Bayer didn’t produce a field study until 2007, and in spring 2010, clothianidin was quietly granted full registration. But later that year a leaked document revealed that EPA scientists had found Bayer’s study inadequate. “By that time, the pesticide was all over the country,” said Peter Jenkins, an attorney with the Center for Food Safety, the lead legal group on the petition. “We felt that what EPA did was illegal.”

The beekeepers’ petition claims EPA violated the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act by not enforcing its requirement for a field study proving clothianidin’s safety, and that this failure creates an imminent hazard to the environment. The petition also holds EPA in violation of the Endangered Species Act for not properly assessing clothianidin’s effects on threatened species.

EPA said it would work with Bayer to design a better study, Jenkins said. But beekeepers don’t have time to wait; they’ve seen average population losses of around 30 percent every year since 2006. “At the rate this agency goes, we know it would be years and years before they actually completed [a new study],” Jenkins said. “So we’re saying, fine, just suspend use of the pesticide until the study’s done.”

It’s unlikely that such a study, if carried out properly, would produce results different from what a wealth of peer-reviewed research has already shown: Clothianidin and other neonicotinoids (or neonics) harm pollinators. A new report from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation handily summarizes the science so far: Plants grown from seeds treated with nenonics absorb the chemical through their vascular systems, and the residue in their pollen or nectar can be lethal to insects that come to forage. Even exposure to sublethal levels of neonics can affect bees’ immune systems and their ability to fly, navigate, communicate, and learn new tasks –- all crucial to keeping a hive functioning. And pollinators face multiple exposure routes to neonics besides direct contact with treated plants: They can be poisoned by the exhaust spewing from machines used to plant treated seeds, either by flying through it or by foraging in nearby fields where the dust has drifted. Once neonics are present in soil, they can stay there for up to six years, meaning untreated plants sown in subsequent years may still absorb chemical residues.

It’s no wonder, then, that beekeepers in both the U.S. and Europe can trace their problems more or less back to when commercial farmers began transitioning away from integrated pest management — a system in which insecticides are sprayed once a pest problem arises — and toward neonicotinoids, which, as Jenkins explained, “are too good, too efficient; they turn a simple corn plant into a killing machine.”

If EPA doesn’t respond to the petition, Jenkins said the Center for Food Safety and other petitioners could sue the agency. But he’s “reasonably optimistic” that EPA will wise up. “We made a really good case, and it’s helped by this new report [from the Xerces Society],” he said. “It’s not unheard of — EPA has responded in the past when it’s clear that a pesticide is killing something in ways that the agency hadn’t analyzed.”

Last summer, EPA ordered a recall of DuPont’s herbicide Imprelis, which had been linked to tree deaths across the U.S. Imprelis, like clothianidin, had been on the market under conditional registration, though it debuted only a year before its recall. Also like clothianidin, Imprelis’ labeling did not warn about its potential danger to another species — even though, it turns out, DuPont knew before its release that Imprelis could harm trees. The beekeepers’ petition to the EPA calls the labeling of clothianidin “defective.”

Since EPA scientists themselves have acknowledged clothianidin’s harmful effects on bees and proclaimed the Bayer study to be inconclusive, getting the chemical off the market comes down to yet another uphill battle against a government agency in thrall to corporations — in this case, the chemical industry. Maybe this petition — backed by over a million citizen petitions — will give EPA the push it needs to listen to its own experts.

UPDATE: The New York Times reports on two new studies published Thursday in the journal Science that give further evidence for neonicotinoids’ role in bees’ decline.

Claire Thompson is an editorial assistant at Grist.

‘Lucy’ Lived Among Close Cousins: Discovery of Foot Fossil Confirms Two Human Ancestor Species Co-Existed

March 30, 2012

The Burtele partial foot (BRT-VP-2/73). A laboratory photo after cleaning and preparation. It is shown here in its anatomically articulated form. (Credit: © The Cleveland Museum of Natural History Photo courtesy: Yohannes Haile-Selassie)

ScienceDaily (Mar. 28, 2012) — A team of scientists has announced the discovery of a 3.4 million-year-old partial foot from the Woranso-Mille area of the Afar region of Ethiopia. The fossil foot did not belong to a member of “Lucy’s” species,Australopithecus afarensis, the famous early human ancestor. Research on this new specimen indicates that more than one species of early human ancestor existed between 3 and 4 million years ago with different methods of locomotion.

The analysis will be published in the March 29, 2012 issue of the journalNature.

The partial foot was found in February 2009 in an area locally known as Burtele.

“The Burtele partial foot clearly shows that at 3.4 million years ago, Lucy’s species, which walked upright on two legs, was not the only hominin species living in this region of Ethiopia,” said lead author and project leader Dr. Yohannes Haile-Selassie, curator of physical anthropology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History. “Her species co-existed with close relatives who were more adept at climbing trees, like ‘Ardi’s’ species,Ardipithecus ramidus, which lived 4.4 million years ago.”

The partial foot is the first evidence for the presence of at least two pre-human species with different modes of locomotion contemporaneously living in eastern Africa around 3.4 million years ago. While the big toe of the foot in Lucy’s species was aligned with the other four toes for human-like bipedal walking, the Burtele foot has an opposable big toe like the earlier Ardi.

“This discovery was quite shocking,” said co-author and project co-leader Dr. Bruce Latimer of Case Western Reserve University. “These fossil elements represent bones we’ve never seen before. While the grasping big toe could move from side to side, there was no expansion on top of the joint that would allow for expanded range of movement required for pushing off the ground for upright walking. This individual would have likely had a somewhat awkward gait when on the ground.”

The new partial foot specimen has not yet been assigned to a species due to the lack of associated skull or dental elements.

The fossils were found below a sandstone layer. Using the argon-argon radioactive dating method, their age was determined to be younger than 3.46 million years, said co-author Dr. Beverly Saylor of Case Western Reserve University. “Nearby fossils of fish, crocodiles and turtles, and physical and chemical characteristics of sediments show the environment was a mosaic of river and delta channels adjacent to an open woodland of trees and bushes,” said Saylor. “This fits with the fossil, which strongly indicates a hominin adapted to living in trees, at the same time ‘Lucy’ was living on land.”

The Third Industrial Revolution

March 30, 2012

The internet, green electricity, and 3-D printing are ushering in a sustainable era of distributed capitalism. (photo: Third Industrial Revolution book cover)
The internet, green electricity, and 3-D printing are ushering in a sustainable era of distributed capitalism. (photo: Third Industrial Revolution book cover)

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The internet, green electricity, and 3-D printing are ushering in a sustainable era of distributed capitalism. (photo: Third Industrial Revolution book cover)

By Jeremy Rifkin, Reader Supported News

30 March 12

he great economic revolutions in history occur when new communication technologies converge with new energy systems. New energy revolutions make possible more expansive and integrated trade. Accompanying communication revolutions manage the new complex commercial activities made possible by the new energy flows.

Today, Internet technology and renewable energies are beginning to merge to create a new infrastructure for a Third Industrial Revolution (TIR) that will change the way power is distributed in the 21st century. In the coming era, hundreds of millions of people will produce their own renewable energy in their homes, offices, and factories and share green electricity with each other in an “Energy Internet” just like we now generate and share information online. The creation of a renewable energy regime, loaded by buildings, partially stored in the form of hydrogen, distributed via a green electricity Internet, and connected to plug-in, zero-emission transport, opens the door to a Third Industrial Revolution.

While the TIR economy allows millions of people to produce their own virtual information and energy, a new digital manufacturing revolution now opens up the possibility of following suit in the production of durable goods. In the new era, everyone can potentially be their own manufacturer as well as their own internet site and power company. The process is called 3-D printing; and although it sounds like science fiction, it is already coming online, and promises to change the entire way we think of industrial production.

Think about pushing the print button on your computer and sending a digital file to an inkjet printer, except, with 3-D printing, the machine runs off a three-dimensional product. Using computer aided design, software directs the 3-D printer to build successive layers of the product using powder, molten plastic, or metals to create the material scaffolding. The 3-D printer can produce multiple copies just like a photocopy machine. All sorts of goods, from jewelry to mobile phones, auto and aircraft parts, medical implants, and batteries are being “printed out” in what is being termed “additive manufacturing,” distinguishing it from the “subtractive manufacturing,” which involves cutting down and pairing off materials and then attaching them together.

3-D entrepreneurs are particularly bullish about additive manufacturing, because the process requires as little as 10 percent of the raw material expended in traditional manufacturing and uses less energy than conventional factory production, thus greatly reducing the cost.

In the same way that the Internet radically reduced entry costs in generating and disseminating information, giving rise to new businesses like Google and Facebook, additive manufacturing has the potential to greatly reduce the cost of producing hard goods, making entry costs sufficiently lower to encourage hundreds of thousands of mini manufacturers – small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) – to challenge and potentially outcompete the giant manufacturing companies that were at the center of the First and Second Industrial Revolution economies.

Already, a spate of new start-up companies are entering the 3-D printing market with names like Within Technologies, Digital Forming, Shape Ways, Rapid Quality Manufacturing, Stratasys, Bespoke Innovations, 3D Systems, MakerBot Industries, Freedom of Creation, LGM, and Contour Crafting and are determined to reinvent the very idea of manufacturing in the Third Industrial era.

The energy saved at every step of the digital manufacturing process, from reduction in materials used, to less energy expended in making the product, if applied across the global economy, adds up to a qualitative increase in energy efficiency beyond anything imaginable in the First and Second Industrial Revolutions. When the energy used to power the production process is renewable and also generated on site, the full impact of a lateral Third Industrial Revolution becomes strikingly apparent. Since approximately 84 percent of the productivity gains in the manufacturing and service industries are attributable to increases in thermodynamic efficiencies – only 14 percent of productivity gains are the result of capital invested per worker – we begin to grasp the significance of the enormous surge in productivity that will accompany the Third Industrial Revolution and what it will mean for society.

The democratization of manufacturing is being accompanied by the tumbling costs of marketing. The internet has transformed marketing from a significant expense to a negligible cost, allowing startups and small and medium size enterprises to market their goods and services on internet sites, like Etsy, that stretch over virtual space, enabling them to compete and even out compete many of the giant business enterprises of the 21st Century.

As the new 3-D technology becomes more widespread, on site, just in time customized manufacturing of products will also reduce logistics costs with the possibility of huge energy savings. The cost of transporting products will plummet in the coming decades because an increasing array of goods will be produced locally in thousands of micro-manufacturing plants and transported regionally by trucks powered by green electricity and hydrogen generated on site.

The lateral scaling of the Third Industrial Revolution allows small and medium size enterprises to flourish. Still, global companies will not disappear. Rather, they will increasingly metamorphose from primary producers and distributers to aggregators. In the new economic era, their role will be to coordinate and manage the multiple networks that move commerce and trade across the value chain.

The rapid decline in transaction costs brought on by The Third Industrial Revolution are leading to the democratization of information, energy, manufacturing, marketing, and logistics, and the ushering in of a new era of distributed capitalism that is likely to change the very way we think of commercial life in the 21st Century.

For a more detailed look at how 3D printing in the Third Industrial Revolution era is going to transform the global economy you can link to my cover story in the current issue of The World Financial Review here.

Jeremy Rifkin is the author of The New York Times best selling book, The Third Industrial Revolution, How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World. Mr. Rifkin is an adviser to the European Union and to heads of state around the world. He is a senior lecturer at the Wharton School’s Executive Education Program at the University of Pennsylvania and the president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, D.C.

Chomsky, Journalists Challenge US Terrorism Law

March 30, 2012

Noam Chomsky refers to the United States as a leading terrorist state. (photo: Christopher Guilfoil)
Noam Chomsky refers to the United States as a leading terrorist state. (photo: Christopher Guilfoil)

 
Noam Chomsky refers to the United States as a leading terrorist state. (photo: Christopher Guilfoil)

By Paul Harris, Guardian UK

30 March 12

 

 group political activists and journalists has launched a legal challenge to stop an American law they say allows the US military to arrest civilians anywhere in the world and detain them without trial as accused supporters of terrorism.

The seven figures, who include ex-New York Times reporter Chris Hedges, professor Noam Chomsky and Icelandic politician and WikiLeaks campaigner Birgitta Jonsdottir, testified to a Manhattan judge that the law – dubbed the NDAA or Homeland Battlefield Bill – would cripple free speech around the world.

They said that various provisions written into the National Defense Authorization Bill, which was signed by President Barack Obama at the end of 2011, effectively broadened the definition of “supporter of terrorism” to include peaceful activists, authors, academics and even journalists interviewing members of radical groups.

Controversy centres on the loose definition of key words in the bill, in particular who might be “associated forces” of the law’s named terrorist groups al-Qaida and the Taliban and what “substantial support” to those groups might get defined as. Whereas White House officials have denied the wording extends any sort of blanket coverage to civilians, rather than active enemy combatants, or actions involved in free speech, some civil rights experts have said the lack of precise definition leaves it open to massive potential abuse.

Hedges, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winner and longtime writer on the Middle East, told New York judge Katherine Forrest on Thursday that he feared he might be subject to arrest under the terms of NDAA if interviewing or meeting Islamic radicals could constitute giving them “substantial support” under the terms of the law.

“I could be detained by the US military, held in a military facility – including offshore – denied due process and incarcerated until ‘the end of hostilities’ whenever that is,” Hedges said. He added that the law was already impacting his ability to work as he feared speaking to or meeting with sources who the US government could see as terrorists or advocates of violence.

“Any kind of language in my presence that countenances violence against the US … given the passage of the NDAA, really terrifies me,” he said.

Testifying alongside Hedges was Kai Wargalla, a German organiser behind Occupy London, and a supporter of WikiLeaks, which has extensively published secret US government documents.

Wargalla said that since British police had included Occupy London alongside al-Qaida on a terrorism warning notice, she was afraid of the implications of NDAA. She said that after NDAA was signed she was no longer willing to invite an Islamic group like Hamas to speak on discussion panels for fear of being implicated a supporter of terrorism. “We are on a terrorism list just under al-Qaida and this is what the section of the NDAA is talking about under ‘associated forces’,” she said.

Author and campaigner Naomi Wolf read testimony in court from Jonsdottir, who has been a prominent supporter of WikiLeaks and a proponent of free speech laws. Jonsdottir’s testimony said she was now afraid of arrest and detention because so many US political figures had labelled WikiLeaks as a terrorist group.

Despite receiving verbal assurance from US officials that she was not under threat, Jonsdottir testified she would not travel to the US despite being invited to give lectures in the country. “[The NDAA] provisions create a greater sense of fear since now the federal government will have a tool with which to incarcerate me outside of the normal requirements of the criminal law. Because of this change in the legal situation, I am now no longer able to travel to the US for fear of being taken into custody as as having ‘substantially supported’ groups that are considered as either terrorist groups or their associates,” said Jonsdottir in the statement read by Wolf, who is also a Guardian commentator.

In an opening argument, lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that they would try to show the definitions used in the NDAA provisions were so unclear that it would have a “chilling” effect on the work of journalists, activists and academics even if no one was actually detained.

Lawyers for Obama, and other named defendants in the case like the defence secretary, Leon Panetta, offered no opening statement nor did they currently plan to call any witnesses. However, in cross-examination of Hedges, Wargalla and another witness they repeatedly pointed out that at no stage had the US government ever been shown to have threatened any of them with detention under the terms of the new law.

Forrest will now seek to rule on whether any of the plaintiffs have shown enough convincing evidence that they have “standing” to move the case forwards. If that happens she will also then have to rule on a possible temporary injunction against the NDAA, which would undoubtedly trigger a high profile legal battle.

Current Methods Exist to Prevent More than Half of All Cancers

March 30, 2012
From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published March 29, 2012 09:19 AM

A new study released yesterday from public health researchers at the Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis demonstrates that over half of all cancer is preventable. According to the American Cancer Society, over 1,638,000 new cancer cases will be diagnosed in the United States and over 577,000 Americans are expected to die of cancer this year. Cancer can be an enormous burden for individuals, families, and the health care system. The researchers argue that the greatest emphasis should be put into preventative measures. Unfortunately, there are many factors that stand in the way of making a significant dent in the number of cancer cases.

“We actually have an enormous amount of data about the causes and preventability of cancer,” says epidemiologist Graham A. Colditz, MD, DrPH, associate director of prevention and control at the Siteman Cancer Center. “It’s time we made an investment in implementing what we know.”

The most obvious way to cut down on cancer cases in this country is for a major correction in lifestyle choices. This, of course, includes tobacco use, exercise activity, and the food people consume. The study shows that smoking alone is responsible for a third of all cancer cases, and an additional 20 percent is caused by excess body weight and obesity. Correcting these two lifestyle choices would drop the cancer rate by over 50 percent.

However, to do so, certain obstacles must be overcome. These obstacles include the following:

Skepticism that cancer can be prevented. Individuals must believe that it is possible in order to make difficult lifestyle adjustments.

The short-term focus of cancer research. Studies that focus on cancer prevention are rare because they take decades to produce results. Modern research funding spans only five years at most.

Intervening too late in life. Strategies to prevent cancer should ideally begin before adulthood.

Government policies. Even though extra taxes are put on tobacco, many people still smoke and consume unhealthy foods. The researchers believe that stricter policies should be implemented to discourage unhealthy behavior.

The complexity of implementing broad changes. A change in cancer preventative care involves a lot of people: government, doctors, health insurance, and individuals. It is truly a society-wide effort, and therefore, difficult to make sweeping changes.

The study has been published in the journal, Science Translational Medicine.

For more information: http://www.siteman.wustl.edu/

Cancer cell image via Shutterstock

US Acted to Conceal Evidence of Intelligence Failure Before 9/11

March 30, 2012

The US shut down a series of court cases in order to conceal evidence of intelligence failure shortly before the 9/11 attacks. (photo: Hubert Boesl/Corbis)
The US shut down a series of court cases in order to conceal evidence of intelligence failure shortly before the 9/11 attacks. (photo: Hubert Boesl/Corbis)

 

By Ian Cobain, Guardian UK

28 March 12

 

he US government shut down a series of court cases arising from a multimillion pound business dispute in order to conceal evidence of a damning intelligence failure shortly before the 9/11 attacks, MPs were told.

Moreover, the UK government is now seeking similar powers that could be used to prevent evidence of illegal acts and embarrassing failures from emerging in court, David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, told the Commons.

The Justice and Security green paper being put forward by Ken Clarke’s justice ministry has already faced widespread criticism from civil rights groups, media representatives and lawyers working within the secret tribunal system that hears terrorism-related immigration cases.

Davis demanded to know how its proposals could be prevented from being used to cover up crimes and errors. “In light of previous revelations about the UK government’s complicity in torture and rendition of detainees to locations like of Libya, Afghanistan, or illegally into American hands … how will the Government prevent the Justice and Security green paper proposals being misused in a similar way to cover up illegal acts and embarrassments rather than protect national security?”

Davis said that in 1998 the FBI seized upon an opportunity to eavesdrop on every landline and telephone call into and out of Afghanistan in a bid to build intelligence on the Taliban. The Bureau discovered that the Taliban regime had awarded a major telephone network contract to a joint US-UK venture, run by an American entrepreneur, Ehsanollah Bayat and two British businessmen, Stuart Bentham and Lord Michael Cecil.

“The plan was simple” Davis said. “Because the Taliban wanted American equipment for their new phone network, this would allow the FBI and NSA, the National Security Agency, to build extra circuits into all the equipment before it was flown out to Afghanistan for use. Once installed, these extra circuits would allow the FBI and NSA to record or listen live to every single landline and mobile phone call in Afghanistan. The FBI would know the time the call was made and its duration. They would know the caller’s name, the number dialled, and even the caller’s PIN.”

But the plan, Operation Foxden, was delayed by a turf war, during which “the FBI and the CIAspent more than a year fighting over who should be in charge”, he said.

The operation was eventually given the green light on 8 September 2001 – three days before the al-Qaida attacks. “A huge opportunity was missed,” Davis said.

He added that when Bentham and Cecil sued Bayat in the New York courts, and Bayat lodged a legal claim against the two Britons, the case was struck out and all records removed from the courts public database on the grounds of State Secrets Privilege, a legal doctrine that permits the US government to shut down litigation on the grounds of national security. The Britons attempted to sue in London, Davis said, but the case failed because “so long is the reach of the American State Secrets Privilege” that they were prevented from discussing key details of the US case.

“Through heavy-handed use of State Secrets Privilege, US agencies can dictate what British judges in British courts are entitled to know, and how much British citizens in British courts are entitled to say,” Davis told MPs. “What chance did Bentham and Cecil, or anyone else in a similar position, have of getting a fair hearing when American intelligence agencies can shut down cases without explanation in the US, and use State Secrets Privilege to control what evidence courts can see in the UK?”

Davis said that when he talked about this episode with “someone in the know in one of the agencies involved” he was told: “Ten years have passed, and the culpable people have retired or moved on, so it’s no longer embarrassing.”

Davis said the British green paper proposals are “more Draconian than State Secrets Privilege”, and added: “Giving a government agency an absolute right to secrecy encourages bad behaviour.

“This is the same State Secrets Privilege, and same American government, that the British green paper on Justice and Security is designed to protect,” Davis said, adding that the case demonstrates “how intelligence agencies misuse these laws, not to protect our security, but to avoid their own embarrassment and cover up criminal activity.”

Bayat has previously denied that he or any of his companies acted unlawfully and said that they have never acted as “an agent, informant or spy”. He could not immediately be contacted to comment on Davis’ speech.

The foreign officer minister Jeremy Browne told MPs: “The green paper proposals will enable better scrutiny [of government], which is a vital element in a healthy democracy.” He added that proposals are “not about covering up embarrassment, it is about enabling the work of the courts”.

Reprieve’s Executive Director, Clare Algar, director of the legal charity Reprieve, said: “This demonstrates just how ready the intelligence services are to cry national security in order to cover up their own embarrassment. It is yet another compelling example – if one were needed – of why we cannot let the UK Government’s plans for secret justice go ahead.”

For Nuclear Security Beyond Seoul, Eradicate Land-Based ‘Doomsday’ Missiles

March 30, 2012
Thousands of anti-nuclear activists descended on South Korea’s capital to protest the nuclear security summit that has attracted dozens of world leaders to discuss the challenges of safeguarding atomic power, 03/27/12. (photo: Reuters)

 

By Daniel Ellsberg and David Krieger, Common Dreams

28 March 12

 

resident Obama and other world leaders gathered at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea, this week to address threats posed by unsecured nuclear material. If Mr. Obama is truly concerned about nuclear safety, he should seriously consider doing away with the 450 inter-continental ballistic missiles deployed and ready to fire at Russia on a moment’s notice. [Protester Daniel Ellsberg, above, is led away by Air Force security forces early Saturday after being arrested inside the Vandenberg Air Force Base main gate for protesting the launch of a Minuteman 3 missile at the base. (Frank Cowan/Contributor)] Protester Daniel Ellsberg, above, is led away by Air Force security forces early Saturday after being arrested inside the Vandenberg Air Force Base main gate for protesting the launch of a Minuteman 3 missile at the base. (Frank Cowan/Contributor)

Last month we were among 15 protesters who were arrested in the middle of the night at Vandenberg Air Force Base, some 70 miles north of Santa Barbara, Calif. We were protesting the imminent test flight of a Minuteman III inter-continental ballistic missile.

The Air Force rationale for doing these tests is to ensure the reliability of the US nuclear deterrent force; but launch-ready land-based nuclear-armed ballistic missiles are the opposite of a deterrent to attack. In fact, their very deployment has the potential to launch World War III and precipitate human extinction – as a result of a false alarm.

We’re not exaggerating. Here’s why: These nuclear missiles are first-strike weapons – most of them would not survive a nuclear attack. In the event of a warning of a Russian nuclear attack, there would be an incentive to launch all 450 of these Minuteman missiles before the incoming enemy warheads could destroy them in their silos.

If the warning turned out to be false (there have been many false warnings), and the US missiles were launched before the error was detected, World War III would be underway. The Russians have the same incentive to launch their land-based missiles upon warning of a perceived attack.

Both US and Russian land-based missiles remain constantly on high-alert status, ready to be launched within minutes. Because of the 30-minute flight times of these missiles, the presidents of both the US and Russia would have only approximately 12 minutes to decide whether to launch their missiles when presented by their military leaders with information indicating an imminent attack (after lower-level threat assessment conferences).

That’s only 12 minutes or less for the president to decide whether to launch global nuclear war. While this scenario is unlikely, it is definitely possible: Presidents have repeatedly rehearsed it, and it cannot be ruled out due to the graveness of its potential consequences.

Russia came close to launching its missiles based on a warning that came Jan. 25, 1995. President Yeltsin was awakened in the middle of the night and told a US missile was headed toward Moscow. Fortunately, Yeltsin was sober and took longer than the time allocated for his decision on whether to launch Russian nuclear-armed missiles in response.

In the extended time, it became clear that the missile was a weather sounding rocket from Norway and not a US missile headed toward Moscow. Disaster was only narrowly averted.

Here is the really compelling part of the story: If all 450 US land-based Minuteman III missiles with thermonuclear warheads were ever launched at Russia – with many of the targets in or near cities, as now planned – most Americans would die as a result, along with most of humanity. Our own weapons would contribute as much or more to these deaths in America and the rest of the globe as any Russian warheads launched.

This is because smoke from the enormous nuclear firestorms created by even a “successful” US nuclear first-strike would cause catastrophic disruption of global climate and massive destruction of the Earth’s protective ozone layer, leading to global famine.

Recent peer-reviewed studies, done by atmospheric scientists Alan Robock (Rutgers), Brian Toon (University of Colorado-Boulder), Richard Turco (UCLA) and colleagues, predict that such an attack would create immense firestorms that would quickly surround the planet with a dense stratospheric smoke layer.

The black smoke would be heated by the sun, lofted like a hot air balloon, and would remain in the stratosphere for at least 10 years. There it would block and prevent a large fraction of sunlight from reaching the Earth’s surface. The sharp reduction of warming sunlight would rapidly produce global Ice Age weather conditions. This would eliminate or dramatically reduce growing seasons for a decade and would likely cause the starvation of most or all humans.

Along with other effects – including prolonged destruction of the ozone layer – most complex life on Earth could be destroyed. Scientists say the process would be similar to when an asteroid hit the Earth some 65 million years ago, raising a global dust cloud that reduced sunlight, lowering temperatures and killing vegetation. That caused the extinction of the dinosaurs and 70 percent of the Earth’s species.

The cause of extinction in our case would not be an external, celestial event, but rather the launching of thermonuclear weapons we had created by our own cleverness, supposedly for our own security.

The Minuteman III missile tests from Vandenberg Air Force Base are thus really tests of an American Nuclear Doomsday Machine.

Nuclear weapons do not make the US or the world more secure. In particular, the Minuteman III missiles – land-based, vulnerable, on high alert, and susceptible to being triggered by a false alarm – make us less secure. Anyone who cares about humankind having a future should protest these tests and call for the elimination of all nuclear-armed inter-continental ballistic missiles as an initial step toward the total abolition of nuclear weapons.

If the US did away now with its nuclear-armed land-based missile force, it would still have 288 invulnerable submarine-launched ballistic missiles (armed with approximately 1,152 warheads) to act as a retaliatory threat to nuclear attack. But it would no longer have tempting targets for the Russians to strike preemptively in a time of tension or in the event of a false warning of attack.

It would still be imperative to reduce US (and Russian) total warheads to levels that do not threaten the possibility of causing human extinction.

And even the smaller existing nuclear arsenals of India and Pakistan threaten global disaster. Professor Robock and his colleagues have estimated that in a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan in which each side used 50 Hiroshima-size bombs (each side now has more than that number), the smoke rising into the stratosphere could cause a global reduction of sunlight and destruction of ozone leading to crop failures and global famine.

By comparison, the launch-ready thermonuclear forces of the US and Russia contain roughly 500 times the explosive power of the 100 atomic bombs of India and Pakistan.

Now is the time for the people and nations of the world to stand up against the potential extinction of the human species and demand that political leaders pursue the path to zero nuclear weapons, a path mandated by the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the International Court of Justice. Until then, protest and civil resistance will be necessary.

We should seek two principal goals: first, a commitment by the existing nuclear weapon states to forego launch-on-warning and first use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances; and second, good faith negotiations for a new treaty for the phased, verifiable, irreversible, and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons.

It is our hope that by committing nonviolent civil resistance, being arrested, going to federal court, and explaining our actions to the public, we will help to awaken and engage the American people on this issue of utmost importance to our common future.

_________________

Nukes : No Nobel Peace Prize for Obama

Experts: Radiation at Fukushima Plant at Lethal Levels

March 30, 2012

Japanese medical personnel check a mother and son for radiation exposure in Kawamata village, Fukushima prefecture, Japan. (photo: Asahi Shimbun/EPA)

go to original article

By Minoru Matsutani, Japan Times

28 March 12

 

adiation inside the reactor 2 containment vessel at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant has reached a lethal 73 sieverts per hour and any attempt to send robots in will require them to have greater resistance than currently available, experts said Wednesday.

Exposure to 73 sieverts for a minute would cause nausea and seven minutes would cause death within a month , Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.

The experts said the high radiation level is due to the shallow level of coolant water – 60 cm – in the containment vessel, which Tepco said in January was believed to be 4 meters deep. Tepco has only peeked inside the reactor 2 containment vessel. It has few clues as to the status of reactors 1 and 3, which also suffered meltdowns, because there is no access to their insides.

The utility said the radiation level in the reactor 2 containment vessel is too high for robots, endoscopes and other devices to function properly.

Spokesman Junichi Matsumoto said it will be necessary to develop devices resistant to high radiation.

High radiation can damage the circuitry of computer chips and degrade camera-captured images.

For example, a series of tracked Quince robots designed to gather data inside reactors can properly function for only two or three hours during exposure to 73 sieverts, said Eiji Koyanagi, the chief developer and vice director of the Future Robotics Technology Center of Chiba Institute of Technology.

That is unlikely to be enough for them to move around and collect video data and water samples, nuclear reactor experts said.

“Two or three hours would be too short. At least five or six hours would be necessary,” said Tsuyoshi Misawa, a reactor physics and engineering professor at Kyoto University’s Research Reactor Institute.

The high radiation level can be explained by the low level of the water, which acts to block radiation.

“The shallowness of the water level is a surprise, and the radiation level is awfully high,” Misawa said.

While the water temperature is in a safe zone at about 50 degrees, it is unknown if the melted fuel is fully submerged, but Tepco said in November that computer simulations suggested the height of the melted fuel in reactor 2′s containment vessel is probably 20 to 40 cm, Tepco spokeswoman Ai Tanaka said.

Tepco has inserted an endoscope and a radiation meter, but not a robot, in the containment vessel. It is way too early to know how long Tepco will need to operate robots in the vessel because it is unknown what the devices will have to do, Tanaka said.

A Quince was exposed to radiation of 20 sieverts per hour for a total of 10 hours, and the device worked fine, Koyanagi said. If the team conducts further experiments, it may find out the robot can resist even more radiation, he added.

According to experts, even though high radiation in the containment vessel means additional trouble for Tepco, it is unlikely to affect the timing of decommissioning the three crippled reactors, which Tepco said will take 40 years.

The experts also said, however, that removing the melted nuclear fuel from the bottom of the containment vessels will be difficult.

Tepco inserted a radiation meter into the containment vessel of reactor 2 Tuesday for the first time, measuring aerial radiation levels at several points inside the vessel. The readings were for 31.1 and 72.9 sieverts per hour.

Tepco has not been able to gauge the water depths and radiation levels of the containment vessels for reactors 1 and 3.

TEPCO asks for Y1 tril in public funds in exchange for giving gov’t 51% control

March 30, 2012

NATIONAL MAR. 30, 2012 – 02:50AM JST ( 41 )

TEPCO asks for Y1 tril in public funds in exchange for giving gov't 51% control
TEPCO is facing mammoth costs for decommissioning the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plantAFP

TOKYO —

The operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant on Thursday asked the Japanese government for a capital injection of 1 trillion yen in a bid to avoid insolvency.

Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) officially requested the funds because it is in a “very serious financial condition,” President Toshio Nishizawa told a news conference.

The firm separately asked a state-backed entity for an additional 846 billion yen in financial aid to pay ballooning compensation bills to victims of the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant after last year’s earthquake-tsunami disaster.

The company needs a capital injection to shore up its finances because of the increasing costs it faces running obsolete and inefficient thermal plants amid public distrust of nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

TEPCO also faces a growing bill for the work to dismantle the crippled plant and to clean areas polluted by radiation.

Creditor banks have reportedly demanded TEPCO receive taxpayers’ money before turning to them for fresh loans.

In return for the one trillion yen capital, the government wants to take at least a 51% stake in TEPCO, with an option to take up to a two-thirds stake to essentially nationalise and reform the company, local media have said.

Under the latter scenario, the government could move to separate TEPCO’s power generation and power distribution functions to encourage new entrants in the power generation market.

Industry Minister Yukio Edano has been at the forefront of the push to reform the utility, which may not be able to continue as a going concern without public money, but is seen as slow to change.

After a general shareholders’ meeting in June, the government will acquire newly issued stock through the state-backed Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund, local media have said.

Nishizawa said he wanted to keep TEPCO as a private entity, despite repeated demands by Edano for substantial management control in exchange for the bailout.

“If we don’t do anything now, and if all sorts of management cost increases, it is possible that we fall into a state where our liabilities will exceed our assets,” he told a press conference.

“Our financial foundation is in a very severe situation. Everyday, rather than getting better, it is only getting worse. To shore up our finances, we had no choice but to take the step we took today.

“I think it is important that we express the energy of a private enterprise and nurture green shoots for future growth,” Nishizawa said, promising restructuring and cost cutting.

Nishizawa said TEPCO was drafting a new management plan to be submitted to the government soon, which will need Edano’s approval.

If the fresh cash injections are approved, the total amount of taxpayers’ money handed to TEPCO would add up to 3.5 trillion yen.

© 2012 AFP


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