Archive for April, 2012

94 Organizations Urge Senate to Reject Possible Renomination of Kristine Svinicki to NRC

April 30, 2012

April 30, 2012
4:10 PM

CONTACT: Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS)

Michael Mariotte 301-270-6477

Groups Cite Consistent Pattern of Supporting Nuclear Industry Interests at the Expense of Public Health and Safety

WASHINGTON – April 30 – Ninety-four national, regional and local organizations and small businesses today urged the Senate Environment Committee to reject the possible re-nomination of Kristine Svinicki to a second term at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

In a letter sent to Senate Environment Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the groups said that “…during her first term as an NRC Commissioner, Ms. Svinicki uniformly voted for nuclear industry interests at the expense of public health and safety.”

For example, the letter noted that Ms. Svinicki was the only member of the Commission who voted against implementation of critical post-Fukushima safety reforms under a framework that would ensure they be considered necessary for “adequate protection” of nuclear reactors—a standard that would enhance NRC enforcement of the rules.

While many of Ms. Svinicki’s other pro-industry votes were unfortunately supported by a majority of the Commissioners, often against the stance of NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko, the letter stated that “Ms. Svinicki’s positions have been the most egregious and extreme of all.”

Most of the groups signing the letter rarely take a public position on NRC nominees. But, as the letter states, “The March 2011 nuclear disaster at the U.S.-designed reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi site has brought a new level of public attention and scrutiny to the manifest dangers of nuclear power. The ability of U.S. nuclear reactors—23 of which are virtually identical to those at Fukushima Daiichi with a dozen more using the same design concept—to withstand earthquakes, loss-of-power situations and other challenges both natural and man-made is of critical importance.”

“Fukushima is a clear warning that the regulatory standards of the past are not adequate,” said Michael Mariotte, executive director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service, which coordinated the letter. “The NRC’s mission is to protect the public health and safety, and Fukushima shows the need for higher safety standards. But Ms. Svinicki’s record over the past five years indicates she will neither challenge the nuclear power industry nor support reforms that might improve nuclear safety.”

“Nuclear power is an inherently dangerous technology. We need NRC Commissioners who understand that basic fact and will act accordingly. Ms. Svinicki has proven herself to not be that kind of Commissioner, and therefore she has not earned a second term. The American people deserve better,” added Mariotte.

President Obama has indicated he intends to re-nominate Ms. Svinicki for a second term at the NRC, over the opposition of some lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. However, this re-nomination has not yet taken place, thus the letter to the Senate was copied to President Obama as well. The groups signing the letter encouraged the White House to rethink its position and not move forward with the nomination.

Separately, more than 9,000 e-mails to the Senate have been sent in the past week by individuals opposed to a second term for Ms. Sviniciki.

The letter with signers is available here:

This press release is available here:

NIRS/WISE is the information and networking center for people and organizations concerned about nuclear power, radioactive waste, radiation, and sustainable energy issues.
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‘Warming Hole’ Delayed Climate Change Over Eastern United States

April 30, 2012

Observed change in surface air temperature between 1930 and 1990. Observations are from the NASA GISS Surface Temperature Analysis. (Credit: Image courtesy of Eric Leibensperger)

ScienceDaily (Apr. 26, 2012) — Climate scientists at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have discovered that particulate pollution in the late 20th century created a “warming hole” over the eastern United States — that is, a cold patch where the effects of global warming were temporarily obscured.

While greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane warm Earth’s surface, tiny particles in the air can have the reverse effect on regional scales.

“What we’ve shown is that particulate pollution over the eastern United States has delayed the warming that we would expect to see from increasing greenhouse gases,” says lead author Eric Leibensperger (Ph.D. ’11), who completed the work as a graduate student in applied physics at SEAS.

“For the sake of protecting human health and reducing acid rain, we’ve now cut the emissions that lead to particulate pollution,” he adds, “but these cuts have caused the greenhouse warming in this region to ramp up to match the global trend.”

At this point, most of the “catch-up” warming has already occurred.

The findings, published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, present a more complete picture of the processes that affect regional climate change. The work also carries significant implications for the future climate of industrial nations, like China, that have not yet implemented air quality regulations to the same extent as the United States.

Until the United States passed the Clean Air Act in 1970 and strengthened it in 1990, particulate pollution hung thick over the central and eastern states. Most of these particles in the atmosphere were made of sulfate, originating as sulfur emissions from coal-fired power plants. Compared to greenhouse gases, particulate pollution has a very short lifetime (about 1 week), so its distribution over Earth is uneven.

“The primary driver of the warming hole is the aerosol pollution — these small particles,” says Leibensperger. “What they do is reflect incoming sunlight, so we see a cooling effect at the surface.”

This effect has been known for some time, but the new analysis demonstrates the strong impact that decreases in particulate pollution can have on regional climate.

The researchers found that interactions between clouds and particles amplified the cooling. Particles of pollution can act as nucleation sites for cloud droplets, which can in turn reflect even more sunlight than the particles would individually, leading to greater cooling at the surface.

The researchers’ analysis is based on a combination of two complex models of Earth systems. The pollution data comes from the GEOS-Chem model, which was first developed at Harvard and, through a series of many updates, has since become an international standard for modeling pollution over time. The climate data comes from the general circulation model developed by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Both models are rooted in decades’ worth of observational data.

Since the early 20th century, global mean temperatures have risen by approximately 0.8 degrees Celsius from 1906 to 2005, but in the U.S. “warming hole,” temperatures decreased by as much as 1 degree Celsius during the period 1930-1990. U.S. particulate pollution peaked in 1980 and has since been reduced by about half. By 2010 the average cooling effect over the East had fallen to just 0.3 degrees Celsius.

“Such a large fraction of the sulfate has already been removed that we don’t have much more warming coming along due to further controls on sulfur emissions in the future,” says principal investigator Daniel Jacob, the Vasco McCoy Family Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Environmental Engineering at SEAS.

Jacob is also a Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard and a faculty associate of the Harvard University Center for the Environment.

Besides confirming that particulate pollution plays a large role in affecting U.S. regional climate, the research emphasizes the importance of accounting for the climate impacts of particulates in future air quality policies.

“Something similar could happen in China, which is just beginning to tighten up its pollution standards,” says co-author Loretta J. Mickley, a Senior Research Fellow in atmospheric chemistry at SEAS. “China could see significant climate change due to declining levels of particulate pollutants.”

Sulfates are harmful to human health and can also cause acid rain, which damages ecosystems and erodes buildings.

“No one is suggesting that we should stop improving air quality, but it’s important to understand the consequences. Clearing the air could lead to regional warming,” Mickley says.

Leibensperger, Jacob, and Mickley were joined by co-authors Wei-Ting Chen and John H. Seinfeld (California Institute of Technology); Athanasios Nenes (Georgia Institute of Technology); Peter J. Adams (Carnegie Mellon University); David G. Streets (Argonne National Laboratory); Naresh Kumar (Electric Power Research Institute); and David Rind (NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies).

The research was supported by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); neither EPRI nor the EPA has officially endorsed the results. The work also benefited from resources provided by Academic Computing Services at SEAS.

Five Tax Fallacies Invented by the 1%

April 30, 2012
Paul Buchheit
Published: Monday 30 April 2012
“We hear these claims often, even though they’re entirely false. An analysis of the facts should make that clear.”

We hear these claims often, even though they’re entirely false. An analysis of the facts should make that clear.

(1) The Rich Pay Almost All the Taxes

That’s simply not true. The percentage of total taxes paid by the very rich (the top 1%) is approximately the same as the percentage paid by middle class Americans (the 4th quintile, average income $68,700). Here are the details:

Internal Revenue Service figures show that the very rich paid 23% of their incomes in federal income taxes in 2006. The middle class paid about 8% of their incomes in federal income taxes. Based on U.S. Congressional Budget Office figures, the very rich pay just under 2% of their incomes toward social security, while the middle class pays just under 10%. According to a study by The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the very rich pay about 7% of their incomes in state and sales and property and excise taxes, while the middle class pays approximately 10%. Another year of Bush tax cuts will reduce the taxes of the very rich by at least 3% more than the middle class.

So total taxes for the very rich are 29% of their incomes (23% + 2% + 7% – 3%). Total taxes for the middle class are 28% of their incomes (8% + 10% + 10%). These figures agree with CTJ’s 2011 estimate of total taxes paid.

(2) Tax Rates Are Too High

In 2009, the United States ranked 26th out of 28 OECD countries in total federal, state, and local taxes as a percent of GDP. Only Chile and Mexico had lower tax rates.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “federal taxes on middle-income Americans are near historic lows.” For taxpayers in the top 1%, the tax burden has fallen dramatically in recent years.

At very high income levels, beginning at about the million dollar range, federal income tax actually becomes regressive. Effective tax rates level off at about 25%, and then go down from there. This is because all incomes over $388,000 are subject to the same 35% maximum. The $4 billion hedge fund manager pays no more, percentagewise, than the $400,000 doctor. In fact, even less. At the highest levels most of the income comes from capital gains, which are taxed at 15%.

How about corporations? Even worse. They paid only 12.1% in 2011, dramatically lower than the 25% average since 1987. According to U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) figures, they’re paying about a THIRD of the inflation-adjusted share of GDP paid by corporations in the 1960s.


Compared to foreign countries, U.S. corporations paid a smaller rate of income taxes than 24 of 25 OECD countries analyzed by the Office of Management and Budget and the Census Bureau. 

Most stunning is the shift in taxpaying responsibility from corporations to workers over the years. For every dollar of workers’ payroll tax paid in the 1950s, corporations paid three dollars. Now it’s 22 cents.

(3) Tax Cuts Boost the Economy

In the 1970s, University of Chicago economist Arthur Laffer convinced Dick Cheney and other Republican officials that lowering taxes on the rich would generate more revenue. The delusion has persisted to this day.


Article image

Soon after the Reagan tax cuts, in 1984, the U.S. Treasury Department came to the logical conclusion that tax cuts cause a loss of revenue. A 2006 Treasury Department study found that extending the Bush tax cuts would have no beneficial effect on the U.S. economy. 

Other sources confirm that economic growth was fastest in years with relatively high top marginal tax rates.

The reality is that supply-side, trickle-down economics simply hasn’t worked. Various economic studies have concluded that the revenue-maximizing top income tax rate is anywhere from 50% to 75%.

(4) Eliminating Tax Breaks for the Rich Wouldn’t Significantly Reduce the Deficit

First of all, just eliminating the Bush tax cuts on the highest-earning 5% of Americans could knock $150 billion off the deficit. Congressional Budget Office data shows that the tax cuts have been the single largest contributor to the return of substantial budget deficits in recent years.

But there’s so much more. The IRS estimates that 17 percent of taxes owed were not paid, leaving an underpayment of $450 billion.

Most of the annual $1.3 trillion in “tax expenditures” (tax subsidies from special deductions, exemptions, exclusions, credits, and loopholes) goes to the top quintile of taxpayers. One estimate is $250 billion a year just to the richest 1%.

Another $100 billion could be retrieved by collecting taxes from Fortune 500 companies at the 26% rate paid from 1987 to 2008. CTJ puts the figure at over $200 billion.

Worse yet is the loss from tax havens, which the Tax Justice Network estimates as $337 billion.

Despite some overlap in these figures, it all adds up to a pretty good chunk of the deficit.

(5) A Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) Would Hurt the Economy

This fallacy would have us believe that a tiny tax on financial transactions is going to hurt the economy, even though the underlying reason for our economic collapse was the excessive, reckless, unrestrained, free-for-all trading of trillions of dollars of speculative derivatives.

The inventiveness of this fallacy is impressive, with claims of lost jobs, harm to ordinary investors, and the threat of exchanges moving overseas. The Wall Street Journal calls the FTT a “sin tax.”

An FTT isn’t likely to interrupt the global trading frenzy or cause any sudden defections from financial mega centers. The United Kingdom has had a tax on stock trades for decades, and the London Stock Exchange is humming along as the third largest exchange in the world. The CME Group, made up of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade, had a profit margin higher than any of the top 100 companies in the nation from 2008 to 2010.

On the contrary, the FTT has extraordinary revenue-generating potential, on a global scale. The Bank for International Settlements reported in 2008 that annual trading in derivatives had surpassed $1.14 quadrillion (a thousand trillion dollars!). For the U.S. alone, revenue estimates by the Center for Economic and Policy Research and the Chicago Political Economy Group approach a half-trillion dollars annually.

And at the more basic level of simple fairness, it should be noted that while an American mother pays nearly a 10% sales tax on shoes for her kids, millionaire investors pay .002 percent (2-thousandths of a percent) for a financial instrument. That kind of tax disparity is what really hurts.

Top Ten Toxic Chemicals Suspected to Cause Autism and Learning Disabilities

April 30, 2012

ScienceDaily (Apr. 25, 2012) — An editorial published April 25 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives calls for increased research to identify possible environmental causes of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders in America’s children and presents a list of ten target chemicals including which are considered highly likely to contribute to these conditions.

Philip Landrigan, MD, MSc, a leader in children’s environmental health and Director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center (CEHC) at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, co-authored the editorial, entitled “A Research Strategy to Discover the Environmental Causes of Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities,” along with Luca Lambertini, PhD, MPH, MSc, Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai and Linda Birnbaum, Director of the National Institute OF Environmental Health Sciences.

The editorial was published alongside four other papers — each suggesting a link between toxic chemicals and autism. Both the editorial and the papers originated at a conference hosted by CEHC in December 2010.

The National Academy of Sciences reports that 3 percent of all neurobehavioral disorders in children, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), are caused by toxic exposures in the environment and that another 25 percent are caused by interactions between environmental factors and genetics. But the precise environmental causes are not yet known. While genetic research has demonstrated that ASD and certain other neurodevelopmental disorders have a strong hereditary component, many believe that environmental causes may also play a role — and Mount Sinai is leading an effort to understand the role of these toxins in a condition that now affects between 400,000 and 600,000 of the 4 million children born in the United States each year.

“A large number of the chemicals in widest use have not undergone even minimal assessment of potential toxicity and this is of great concern,” says Dr. Landrigan. “Knowledge of environmental causes of neurodevelopmental disorders is critically important because they are potentially preventable.”

CEHC developed the list of ten chemicals found in consumer products that are suspected to contribute to autism and learning disabilities to guide a research strategy to discover potentially preventable environmental causes. The top ten chemicals are:

1. Lead

2. Methylmercury

3. PCBs

4. Organophosphate pesticides

5. Organochlorine pesticides

6. Endocrine disruptors

7. Automotive exhaust

8. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

9. Brominated flame retardants

10. Perfluorinated compounds

In addition to the editorial, the other four papers also call for increased research to identify the possible environmental causes of autism in America’s children. The first paper, written by a team at the University of Wisconsin — Milwaukee, found preliminary evidence linking smoking during pregnancy to Asperger’s disorder and other forms of high-functioning autism. Two papers, written by researchers at the University of California — Davis, show that PCBs disrupt early brain development. The final paper, also by a team at UC — Davis, suggests further exploring the link between pesticide exposure and autism.

The Folly of Nuclear “Bet-the-Farm” Loan Guarantees

April 30, 2012

Congressman Dennis Kucinich decries 'Bet the Farm' loan guarantees for nuclear reactors. (photo: Mark Wilson Getty Images)
Congressman Dennis Kucinich decries ‘Bet the Farm’ loan guarantees for nuclear reactors. (photo: Mark Wilson Getty Images)

go to original article

By Dennis Kucinich, Beyond Nuclear

30 April 12



he Department of Energy is about to guarantee $8.3 Billion of loans to the Southern Company and its partners to build two new nuclear reactors in Georgia. That is 15 times the size of the loan guarantee to Solyndra, the solar energy company that failed last year.

How bad an investment is this nuclear loan guarantee?

Nuclear reactors are so bad an investment that Wall Street won’t touch them. Moody’s has called them “bet-the-farm-investments.” Moody’s has downgraded the financial ratings of the utilities that are planning to build them. Citibank says that “Three of the risks faced by developers – Construction, Power Price, and Operational – are so large and variable that individually they could each bring even the largest utility company to its knees financially.”

Even nuclear industry executives call new reactors “a large speculation” and say that they “are not economic” because of low gas prices, excess generating capacity and low growth in demand. Two of these executives have admitted that “We can’t make the numbers work.” The Economist magazine declared in its March 10th issue that nuclear power is “the dream that failed”–the plants are too costly and uncompetitive with alternatives.

Wind, solar and energy efficiency are all better investments, and their costs have been falling for years. So, why are we wasting $8.3 billion on corporate welfare to an industry that, for five continuous decades, has not been able to operate without large government subsidies?


Comment: Bet your life, the whole life system.


We’re half-assing the clean-energy transition

April 30, 2012


By David Roberts

Photo by Hans Gerwitz.

The International Energy Agency recently issued itsannual progress report [PDF] on clean energy. Here’s the five-cent version:

The transition to a low-carbon energy sector is affordable and represents tremendous business opportunities, but investor confidence remains low due topolicy frameworks that do not provide certainty and address key barriers to technology deployment. Private sector financing will only reach the levels required if governments create and maintain supportive business environments for low-carbon energy technologies. [my emphasis]

Progress is inadequate — relative to the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees C — on virtually every low-carbon technology except onshore wind and solar (click for a larger version of this chart):

What will it cost to turn this around and hit the 2 degrees C target? A good chunk in the short term and negative dollars in the long term:

Globally, the near-term additional investment cost of achieving these objectives would amount to USD 5 trillion by 2020, but USD 4 trillion will be saved through lower fossil fuel use over this period. The net costs over the next decade are therefore estimated at over USD 1 trillion. More impressively, by 2050, energy and emissions savings increase significantly as CO2 emissions peak, and begin to decline from 2015. In this timeframe, benefits of fuel savings are also expected to surpass additional investment requirements for decarbonising the energy sector. [my emphasis]

This is key to understanding both the difficulty and the promise of the so-called Third Industrial Revolution. The up-front investments are huge. Personally, I’m an optimist — I think savings will exceed costs by 2020. Either way, though, we’re talking about enormous investments made on the basis of faith and projections. Machiavellisaid it best:

It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.

We are asking the governments of the world to spend trillions of dollars to construct a new order with which they have virtually no experience and only the barest familiarity. It’s a heavy lift.

Here are the IEA’s big recommendations:

  1. Level the playing field for clean energy technologies by pricing energy appropriately and addressing energy systems holistically (this latter is a particular challenge).
  2. Unlock the potential of energy efficiency by tightening standards and enlisting the help of energy providers (utilities).
  3. Accelerate energy innovation and public RD&D.

We know what needs doing. Let’s do it!

Global Warming Is Here

April 29, 2012

Singer songwriter Jason Mraz speaks out on global warming. (photo: GRIST)
Singer songwriter Jason Mraz speaks out on global warming. (photo: GRIST)

By Jason Mraz, Reader Supported News

28 April 12


his past February, 2012, on the day after the Superbowl, I achieved enlightenment on a flight from Ushuaia Argentina, the southernmost city in the world, headed back to The United States.

It wasn’t the first time I’d achieved such a glorious and all encompassing perspective; that moment where you think and figure less, and simply just are. a being. being; experiencing your interconnectedness to all things; realising what you are is only that you are. and in that; everything.

The first time I experienced it was in a bath tub in New York City. For no reason to my knowledge I suddenly saw how every tile surrounding the tub was made, manufactured, and grouted with love. I saw how the plumbing was only made possible by a plumber who either loved his job or his family, enabling him to do such a fine job connecting the pipes from below the city streets all the way up to the 23rd floor where I was pruning in the tub. Behind every detail I saw an act of creation by a creature who was a product of creation itself. The material world seemed less material and appeared to me as it really was; an extension of my experience, that which I sometimes call my Self. I didn’t float in the tub figuring it all out or making anything up, it was just a clear and present stream of consciousness that brought me to tears; eventually twisting its way down the drain and leaving me just as watered and weighed down by the gravity of being human trying to maintain or make sense of the memory, as I was uplifted only moments before.

The experience on the airplane, somewhere over the Amazon rainforest, was no different. I saw how every stitch of every seat was perfectly crafted. I marveled at the tight, seamless connection of the pressurised cabin and recognised it as art, inspired by engineers, brothers, husbands, sons, and all their thorough hands and genius hearts. And within that very kingdom that I am family, I could also see the very material that makes our lives sweet, might actually be killing us. I guess this is enlightenment’s dark shadow.

I was on my way home from Antarctica where I’d just spent a week with Al Gore and 148 environmentalists, scientists, researchers, and entrepreneurs to learn about the stark realities of climate change. Antarctica, Earth’s air conditioner, is the canary in the coal mine for global warming. Meaning, if the climate at the south pole is changing, so too is the rest of the planet. For instance, when land ice that is miles thick melts rapidly and falls into the ocean, sea levels rise. And when sea levels go up, the threat we face are storm surges, coastal floods, and the possibility of drinking water for billions of people becoming contaminated with salt water. Yuck.

Global warming is no longer a future problem. It’s a now event. And it’s not a planet problem either. It’s a people problem. The rate at which we consume energy through land clearing, factory farming, and the burning of fossil fuels oil and coal, is wreaking havoc on the atmosphere, contributing to the overall, exaggerated warming of the planet. Our very creation of an industrialised system to make our lives convenient and sweet succeeded in the sweetness, but sadly isn’t sustainable. The proof is all around us. A billion people live without water. More than that live in extreme poverty. War hasn’t found it’s resolve. And the season’s are only getting stranger.

I became incredibly confronted on this flight home after learning about the dangers of the climate crisis. I knew my choice to fly actually contributes to the need for oil. Fuck. Should I never fly again? If I could take an electric plane or one that used bio-renewable fuels I would, but those aren’t available. Yet.

On the plane I was served a ‘superbowl’ of fruit cocktail that made me sick to my stomach just looking at it. Where had the fruit come from? How much energy or chemicals were used to keep it fresh to satisfy my business class accommodations? Is there a system for checks and balances. I can’t even remember what airline I was on. Entertain me with more movies on the plane please. I can’t take all this helplessness.

There is currently no tax on carbon or even any pressure to live and act responsibly in the US. And unless you go digging yourself, there aren’t many options. And here I am paying some company a high price to make me feel comfortable in the sky. The flight attendant offered me a water bottle. That was something I COULD say no to and realised in that refusal that the climate crisis CAN be handled if we all do (and don’t) our own part.

If we believe in the idea that everything is disposable than we should be prepared to be disposable too. Single-use plastics, plastic bags, water bottles, sporks, paper coffee cups and their cute cardboard cozies all have alternatives. Carry your own water bottle and drink from the tap. Carry your own coffee cup and get yourself a refill. You’ll be saving energy and lots of your own money too.

If you ever travel to a developed country that’s hosted civilization for thousands of years, (think every country in Europe) you’ll notice the idea of sustainability is already engrained in everyone. They act their age I guess. Products are typically made in their own countries and food is largely grown and sold locally. In the US, just about everything is made in China, is also made to break or become obsolete, and we drive our imported cars on oil, which keeps up in debt, in cancer, and at war. Yay capitalism!

But I digress. This was meant to be 600 word essay on my trip to Antarctica. It’s a beautiful place. 40,000 people visit each year and it’s the #1 tourist destination that people go back to. Probably because of it’s natural beauty and extreme isolation. In nature we are reminded of that which we really are. Nature. A piece of the Earth itself. Which is part of the larger universe. And in that place we’re reminded that we are billions of years old, if not older. Even wiser.



Comment: We are not wiser, neither knowing nor acting!

Must See: The Legacy of Chernobyl: Crime Against Humanity

April 29, 2012

Laura Flanders on April 26, 2012 – 3:29 PM ET

Twenty-six years after the meltdown at Chernobyl, the legacy of the 1986 explosion lives on.

“It is a disaster that left a 30-kilometre uninhabitable exclusion zone, displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and still threatens the lives of tens of thousands,” writes Greenpeace today.

All these years and a triple meltdown at Fukushima later, the industry and its supporters have yet to learn.

“The nuclear industry still hasn’t realized or admitted that its reactors are unsafe. Reactors are vulnerable to any unforeseen combination of technological failures, human errors and natural disasters. That puts the tens of millions of people living near the worlds more than 400 reactors at risk.”  Write Greenpeace’s Justin McKeating.

To get a sense of just what those tens of millions live at risk of, take a look at these photographs by award winning photographer Paul Fusco. Earlier this month I had a the honor of participating in the fourth Schuneman Symposium held at the Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. Among the speakers was Fusco, an extraordinary MAGNUM photographer who traveled to the Ukraine to see the legacy of Chernobyl after twenty years. Fusco expected to stay two weeks. He stayed for two months, following parents, children, nurses and cancer patients.

“It changed my life. I couldn’t leave. It was so immense in its implications. There is so much damage to so many people in so many ways…” says Fusco.

Yet his extraordinary photographs, which you can see here in a short promotional slideshow, aren’t printed in US papers. They’re like his pictures of US military funerals, his current project, which is called Bitter Fruit. “The pictures are printed a lot in Europe. Never here,” Fusco told the Scripps students. “Why do you think that is?”

Related Topics: Radioactive Waste and Contamination | Sustainable Development | Media Coverage of the War on Terrorism

TEPCO submits restructuring plan to gov’t

April 28, 2012

NATIONAL APR. 28, 2012 – 03:15PM JST ( 24 )

TEPCO submits restructuring plan to gov't
Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) president Toshio NishizawaAFP


The operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant on Friday offered the Japanese government a controlling stake in return for a huge cash injection that would prevent it going under.

Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) submitted a 10-year restructuring plan to the government that will allow for the defacto nationalisation of the company in return for a 1 trillion yen payment, reports said.

The utility needs the money to pay the vast clean-up bills from the accident at Fukushima, when reactors were sent into meltdown after last year’s tsunami struck.

It also faces colossal compensation claims from hundreds of thousands of people affected by the worst nuclear accident in a quarter of a century.

A company spokesman confirmed a plan to turn the company around had been submitted to the government, but refused to give details of its contents.

“This is an important step as we continue to swiftly and appropriately compensate people who have been affected (by the nuclear accident),” the spokesman told AFP, adding specifics would be revealed once the plan had been approved by government.

Local media said TEPCO has asked the government to inject 1 trillion yen of capital, with the company offering a stake of up to two-thirds in return.

The firm will also seek permission from the government to raise household electricity rates by 10% from July, while vowing to make 3.3 trillion yen in cost savings over the next decade, Jiji Press said.

Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano, whose brief covers the nation’s power industry, is expected to approve the restructuring plan in early May, local media reported.

The government said last week that Kazuhiko Shimokobe, a 64-year-old lawyer, will become TEPCO’s new chairman, adding that the personnel change will be endorsed at a shareholders’ meeting scheduled for June.

The government hopes Shimokobe will take the lead in turning around the utility—one of the world’s largest—as it compensates people and companies affected by the disaster and decommissions the four crippled reactors.

Radiation was scattered over a large area and made its way into the sea, air and food chain in the weeks and months after the disaster.

Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from their homes around the plant and swathes of the area remain badly polluted. The clean-up is proceeding slowly, amid warnings that some towns could be uninhabitable for three decades.

Last month, TEPCO began the process of asking for a 1 trillion yen injection of public cash because of the company’s “very serious financial condition”, president Toshio Nishizawa told a news conference at the time.

The firm separately asked for an additional 846 billion yen in financial aid to pay ballooning compensation bills.

Nishizawa said at the time that he wanted to keep TEPCO as a private entity.

Edano, however, stood firm behind the idea that TEPCO had to come largely under government control and told the company to come up with an overhaul plan if it wanted the money.

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

Taking Action On Climate And Clean Energy In 2012: A Menu Of Effective And Feasible Solutions

April 28, 2012

By Climate Guest Blogger on Apr 26, 2012 at 2:42 pm

by Jason Walsh and Kate Gordon

Last year threw into stark relief America’s interlinked economic, energy security, and climate crises.

On the economic front Americans called out those lawmakers who work relentlessly to build an economy that works for the wealthy few rather than for all of us, but faced determined resistance from conservatives bent on preserving the status quo. At the same time our nation’s debilitating dependence on fossil fuels and the damages caused by climate disruption became ever more obvious. Yet here too conservative resistance was implacable. Backed by climate-science deniers and opponents of clean energy-generously funded by their industry backers-conservatives ramped up their campaign of disinformation about dirty energy to push their pollution-promoting policy advocacy work in Washington and around the nation.

The result: seemingly insurmountable gridlock.

And yet 2011 also was a year of historic clean energy investments. The United States passed China to become the global leader among nations in clean energy investment, and new data revealed the startling growth of several clean energy sectors in years of sluggish growth for the overall economy. These trends are further evidence of how our economic, energy, and climate crises offer enormous opportunity to build a clean energy economy that makes America more secure, competitive, and equitable. By transitioning our energy infrastructure from capital-intensive, risky, and often highly polluting energy sources to clean, labor-intensive energy sources we can create many new jobs, grow our middle class, ensure greater energy security, and protect our nation and planet from the predictable ravages of unchecked climate change.

In fact, as we argue in this paper, we can take steps today that will get us on the path toward achieving three critical goals:

  • Producing more clean energy to grow the economy
  • Reducing pollution while saving energy and dollars
  • Building more resilient and balanced economies and communities

These goals remain achievable even in today’s gridlocked political environment.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics just released data showing 3.1 million jobs in the United States associated with the production of green goods and services in 2010, accounting for 2.4 percent of total employment. Of those 3.1 million jobs, 2.3 million were found within the private sector, with 461,800 in the manufacturing sector alone. An earlier Brookings Institution report produced similar numbers and showed that the newest renewable energy industries grew at a “torrid pace” annually between 2003 and 2010: Solar thermal expanded by 18.4 percent; wind power by 14.9 percent; solar PV by 10.7 percent; and biofuels by 8.9 percent. Overall these newer “clean tech” sectors grew by 8.3 percent annually, double the growth rate for the national economy over the same period.

But we need to do much more. We must accelerate the economic transformation that has already begun and move forcefully into a completely new clean energy economic era defined by stronger industries, better infrastructure, and a steadily growing middle class.

In this paper we propose how to do just that. We identify clean energy and climate solutions that are effective, strategic, and winnable this year. We focus on public policies at the global, national, regional, state, and local levels as well as on private-sector actions that simultaneously address our three broad goals. In the pages that follow we will detail how to achieve these goals this year, but here are our proposals in brief.

Produce more clean energy and grow the economy

  • Generate a significant percentage of energy in our nation from renewable and low-carbon sources
  • Reduce the cost of clean energy deployment by attracting private investment
  • Strengthen our economy by helping our industries and workers capture the economic opportunity of clean energy

Reduce pollution by saving energy and dollars

  • Realize significant energy savings in all sectors of our economy
  • Reduce greenhouse gas pollution with carbon prices and smart clean energy standards
  • Achieve oil savings

Build more resilient and balanced economies and communities

  • Ensure climate resiliency and restoration
  • Balance energy production with other economic and conservation priorities on public lands and waters

The significance of each of these goals, and the strategies that underlie them, is explained in the main pages of this report. For a more visual representation, see a chart of our solutions menu on pages 66.

Building this clean energy economy will yield benefits far beyond the jobs and businesses it creates. We will ultimately become more secure as a nation as we depend less and less on inherently volatile commodities such as oil, whose price is set by a global market that is increasingly vulnerable to extreme weather events, political unrest, and sudden price spikes caused by shifting global demand exacerbated by speculation. And we will finally begin to chip away at the threat of climate change, with all the economic, environmental, and national security nightmares that come along with rising global temperatures.

We do not pretend that the strategies we lay out here will fully save our climate or our economy. These strategies will not get us to a 17 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020, which is what the United States agreed to in global climate negotiations in Copenhagen. They will not replace the millions of jobs lost during the Great Recession. But they will begin that process.

Some of the strategies we lay out here can be won at the federal level, but we are fortunate that Capitol Hill does not define the parameters of what is possible. Many of the most important solutions can be advanced at local, state, regional, and international levels, and in the private sector. As Environment America showed in their 2011 report, “The Way Forward on Global Warming,” an ambitious set of clean energy policies at the federal, state, and local level can actually bring U.S. carbon emissions down by as much as 20 percent by 2020.

Some of the most important policy solutions are not possible in 2012, but if we start to implement the most feasible of them this year, we can maintain the momentum needed to effectively meet our clean energy and climate protection goals in the future. And we can set the stage for 2013 and beyond to take advantage of what we hope will be a more favorable political and policymaking terrain on which more transformational victories can be won.

To be clear: The solutions we focus on in this paper are those that are effective, results-driven, and, most important, those that already have some momentum and can feasibly be won or advanced in 2012. Any victory in the current political environment is essential. After all, we won’t achieve this clean energy transformation by hiding from hard facts. Consider some of the most significant indicators that emerged in 2011:

  • The nation’s unemployment rate at the end of 2011 was 8.5 percent, with rates significantly higher for some demographic groups, among them African Americans at 15.8 percent. About 23.8 million workers were either unemployed or underemployed, with 5.6 million out of work for longer than six months. And over the course of the year there were never fewer than four workers for every job opening.
  • Reflecting levels of income and wealth inequality in the United States not seen since the Gilded Age, the richest 1 percent of Americans claimed 40.2 percent of our country’s wealth over the last quarter-century compared to a wealth loss of 1.4 percent for the middle of the middle class (the middle fifth of the population).
  • The five largest U.S. oil companies made a record-high $137 billion in profits in 2011, while raking in $2 billion in subsidies. At the same time those of us who pay the taxes that subsidize Big Oil continue paying out precious dollars at the pump and suffer from the ill-health effects of fossil-fuel pollution because we have very little choice in how we power and fuel our lives.
  • According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United States set a record with 14 separate billion-dollar weather/climate disasters in 2011, with an aggregate damage total of approximately $55 billion. This record year breaks the previous record of nine $1 billion weather/climate disasters in one year, which occurred in 2008. 2011’s disasters resulted in the tragic loss of 669 lives. Human-induced climate change will continue contributing to these devastating extreme weather events. Perhaps most consequentially, weather/climate disasters are already impacting food security around the globe, and point to a future where it becomes impossible to feed the planet’s 2050 population of 9 billion.
  • A report released by the Global Carbon Budget, an international collaboration of scientists, found that carbon dioxide pollution increased by 5.9 percent in 2010, likely the largest absolute jump in any year since the start of the industrial revolution. This level of increase is higher than the worst-case scenario projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in their 2007 report.
  • The International Energy Agency’s 2011 World Energy Outlook warned that the world is in danger of locking in to a path that leads to a temperature increase of 11°F unless dramatic changes are made to our fossil fuel infrastructure in the next few years. The report concludes, “Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.”

These are not indicators of a country or a planet heading in the right direction.

Overcoming conservative intransigence

Unfortunately, comprehensive energy reform continues to be blocked by conservatives in Congress who are far more responsive to fossil-fuel industries and status quo policies. In the face of such intransigence, and the urgency of the interrelated crises we face, it can be difficult to remain hopeful. Any realistic assessment of the current national political landscape must acknowledge that we won’t win a federal price on carbon anytime in the immediate future. A national clean energy standard seems more likely as a near-term solution, though this too is probably an unrealistic goal for 2012.

We make this judgment with the caveat that plans simultaneously released in 2011 by six of the nation’s leading think tanks, including the Center for American Progress, across the political spectrum to confront the nation’s fiscal challenges point to political possibilities on the horizon. With the exception of the conservative Heritage Foundation, all six included a price on carbon as an effective means of raising revenue. This bipartisan consensus can perhaps lay the foundation for future policy negotiations. A price on carbon would not only raise revenue to drive down our deficit, but would drive down greenhouse gas emissions by forcing fossil fuel-based energy producers to pay for the pollution that they create, which would also level the playing field for clean energy.

Regardless, political realism is no excuse for despair or inaction. The dysfunction of our national politics in the face of the urgency of the climate crisis and our mounting energy insecurity makes it all the more essential that we apply a laser-like focus to what is actually achievable in the short term. While our three achievable goals are each individually critical to the stability and security of the clean energy economy, they are also crucially interrelated. We should not think about scaling up our investments in renewable energy without also thinking about the jobs and industries that will benefit from those investments. We should not focus on reducing pollution in our current power sector without also thinking about building a smarter, and more balanced, infrastructure for the future.

One thing we’ve learned from countries such as China and Germany, both of which are taking clean energy and climate solutions seriously, is that the best policy approach to these issues is one that combines environmental strategies with those more traditionally found in economic and workforce development. It would be a huge mistake for us to take a less integrated approach and focus only on one technology, sector, or policy solution as if it alone could solve our climate, economic, or energy security challenges.

The critical question is not if we must pursue these strategies, but rather when we will achieve them. Our choice is between achieving them now-when they are eminently affordable, putting the United States in the pole position to win the most important global economic development race of the 21st century, and not incidentally save the planet-or achieving them later, when they will be expensive, possibly too late to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and leave us playing economic catch up to China and other countries as everyday Americans suffer more and more.

Given that choice, we vote for now, or at least pretty darn soon. It is not too soon to pursue strategies that will move us further down a path toward a more sustainable energy future.

To read the whole report, go to the Center for American Progress website.

Jason Walsh is an independent consultant and Kate Gordon is Vice President for Energy Policy at the Center for American Progress.