Archive for December, 2012

Nuclear Roulette: The Truth About the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth

December 31, 2012

Saturday, 29 December 2012 00:00By Mark Karlin, Truthout | Interview

Nuclear Roulette.According to Chelsea Green, the publisher of the new book Nuclear Roulette:

Each new disaster demonstrates that the nuclear industry and governments lie to “avoid panic,” to preserve the myth of “safe, clean” nuclear power, and to sustain government subsidies. Tokyo and Washington both covered up Fukushima’s radiation risks and – when confronted with damning evidence – simply raised the levels of “acceptable” risk to match the greater levels of exposure.

Nuclear Roulette dismantles the core arguments behind the nuclear-industrial complex’s “Nuclear Renaissance.” While some critiques are familiar – nuclear power is too costly, too dangerous, and too unstable – others are surprising: Nuclear Roulette exposes historic links to nuclear weapons, impacts on Indigenous lands and lives, and the ways in which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission too often takes its lead from industry, rewriting rules to keep failing plants in compliance. Nuclear Roulette cites NRC records showing how corporations routinely defer maintenance and lists resulting “near-misses” in the US, which average more than one per month.


Truthout interviewed the book’s author, Gar Smith:

Mark Karlin: The first part of your book covers 14 arguments against nuclear power. Let’s talk about a couple, starting with one that is a bit inclusive of most of the others. What are the catastrophic dangers of nuke plants that you detail in Chapter 4?

Gar Smith: Atomic energy is impractical on many levels. Nuclear power has proven too costly to survive without massive government support and taxpayer bailouts. Nuclear power is inherently unreliable because reactors must be regularly shut down to replace used fuel assemblies. Reactors also experience “unplanned shutdowns,” which means they can be offline more than 10 percent of the time. In 2011, the NRC’s own records revealed at least 75 percent of US reactors were routinely leaking radioactive tritium.

Nuclear reactors are not energy efficient. They produce far more heat than they can possibly use. It takes as much as 500,000 gallons of water per minute to keep these plants cool. Even then, around two-thirds of the heat is wasted and needs to be spilled into nearby waterways or into the atmosphere. A reactor is like a sports car built to travel 600 miles per hour in a world where the speed limit is 60 mph. To operate it safely, you need to have your foot on the brakes – at all times. And good luck if the brakes fail.

The world now has experienced three catastrophic events in three decades – with explosions, fires and meltdowns at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. Add to that the increasing number of accidents as aging reactors in the US and around the world continue to crack, leak and fail. Whether the industry likes it or not, it is inevitable that nuclear accidents are going to increasingly make the evening news.

Mark Karlin: We hear so much nuclear industry talk of new and improved reactors. What is the reality behind that claim?

Gar Smith: While there are new designs, as yet, none of them have been built or fully tested. Most of the so-called Generation IV reactors will probably never be built. The new AP1000 reactors under construction in Georgia and South Carolina have fundamental design flaws that prompted the former chair of the NRC to vote against granting them a license. Construction of Georgia’s two AP1000 Vogtle reactors (supported with billions in taxpayer-backed loan guarantees) has been plagued by shoddy construction and second-rate building materials.

In addition to the proposed new reactors (which would operate at temperatures two to three times greater than existing plants), the Department of Energy is providing funds to kick-start something called a small modular reactor. These “mini-nukes” could be housed inside a two-car garage but would probably be placed underground. Dispersing these small reactors across the landscape would increase security risks, magnify supply-and-transportation hazards, and do nothing to reduce the danger of reactor accidents and routine releases of radioactivity.

Let’s be clear: nuclear plants don’t generate electricity. They produce only three things: vast amounts of heat (which is used to spin the turbines that generate electricity), radioactive fallout (in the form of “permissible” leaks that have been linked to thyroid tumors and childhood leukemia) and tons of radioactive garbage.

Recently, nuclear power has been promoted as a clean alternative to fossil fuels, but even if atomic power were carbon-free (which it is not), relying on nuclear to eliminate even half of the world’s climate-warming CO2 emissions would require building 32 new reactors a year. That’s not gonna happen.

Mark Karlin: In the 50s and 60s, there was a large European and United States anti-nuclear movement that included massive protests against nuke bombs and plants. What happened? Nuclear power hardly is in the news anymore except when there is a meltdown such as at Fukushima.

Gar Smith: Well, many of those protests were staged to halt construction of new reactors. Once the reactors were up and running, the protests lost their purpose. As to the general lack of critical news, that could have something to do with the fact that the major networks are corporate and have consolidated to just a few over the years. Their interests are corporate.

When the fallout from Fukushima reached the West Coast, the public was assured that the iodine-131 in the rainwater had a radioactive half-life of “only” six days. But if you really want to know how long an isotope remains hazardous, multiply the half-life by ten.

Mark Karlin: Truthout recently ran an excerpt from Nuclear Roulette about industry-government public relations to promote nuclear power. How does this manifest itself?

Gar Smith: A nuclear engineer once observed: “Nuclear power can be safe and nuclear power can be cheap. Just not at the same time.” The nuclear disasters in Pennsylvania, Ukraine and Japan all demonstrated a common response from industry and government – a pattern of hubris, denial and deception. The basic premise is that the technology will never fail. When it does fail, you deny a problem exists. Finally, when the problem spins out of control, you resort to deception to avoid accountability.

Following the Fukushima meltdowns, the White House falsely assured the public the fallout would not reach the US. The Environmental Protection Agency then failed to release evidence that its RadNet monitors detected radioactive iodine and cesium in West Coast rainwater. In Japan, when radiation levels rose above “safe” levels, Tokyo responded by raising the “allowable” exposure to radiation. The US did the same. The US has cut back its monitoring of fallout from daily detection to quarterly tests. With the Fukushima meltdowns still not contained, this is indefensible.

You can learn more about the most dangerous energy source on earth by reading Nuclear Roulette. Receive a copy from Truthout with a minimum contribution.

Mark Karlin: What is President Obama’s current position on nuclear energy development?

Gar Smith: It was George W. Bush who tried to create a so-called “nuclear renaissance” by expediting the reactor licensing and promising the industry billions of dollars in government handouts. President Obama initially outdid Bush, offering to double the amount of the government’s nuclear bailout. While Obama has made important commitments to funding renewable energy programs, he still remains wedded to the nuclear lobby. Fukushima provides the most egregious example.

Following the triple meltdown, Tokyo closed all of its reactors. (Two were subsequently restarted, but their days are numbered since it’s been discovered they are sitting atop an active earthquake fault.) Japan publicly announced plans to permanently close all its reactors by 2030, but suddenly had an abrupt change of mind. What happened? According to reports in the Nikkei News Service, Secretary of State Clinton informed then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda that Japan’s anti-nuclear plan posed a problem for America’s “energy strategy.” He was advised not to abandon the nuclear path.

Mark Karlin: In Nuclear Roulette, you address the perils of aging reactors. What is the magnitude of this danger in the United States?

Gar Smith: In 2008, a government study found “degraded conditions” in aging US reactors were responsible for 70 percent of the industry’s “potentially serious safety problems.” Despite these warnings, the nuclear industry successfully pressured the NRC to begin extending the 40-year operating life of 52 aging US reactors to 60 years. In June 2012, the NRC met to consider extending some operating permits for up to 80 years – twice the reactors’ intended operating life.

Mark Karlin: How cozy is the NRC with the industry it regulates?

Gar Smith: As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama called the NRC “a moribund agency … captive of the industry that it regulates.” There are good people in the NRC but, too often, the NRC (like other government agencies) acts less like a watchdog and more like an enabler. Thanks to this regulatory-industrial complex, the NRC has repeatedly rewritten the rulebook to allow failing plants to receive passing grades.

A 2011 investigation by the Associated Press revealed how the NRC had been “working closely with the nuclear power industry to keep the nation’s aging reactors operating within safety standards by repeatedly weakening those standards, or simply failing to enforce them.”

Mark Karlin: You have a chapter on near misses and unbelievable mishaps. What are some of them?

Gar Smith: There have been more than 50 major nuclear disasters around the world over the last 60 years – including fires, explosions and meltdowns that resulted in deaths, mass evacuations and permanent contamination of downwind lands. At least 11 workers have been killed in US reactor accidents. Three Army technicians were killed in an explosion at a government reactor in Idaho in 1961 (their bodies had to be buried in lead-lined coffins). Another eight workers were killed in a series of three explosions over a 14-year span at the Surry reactor in Virginia.

In addition to these fatalities, there have been scores of near misses. In 1975, a worker using a candle to check for air leaks accidentally set fire to the Browns Ferry plant in Alabama. The fire burned for more than seven hours and one of the two reactors suffered a near-meltdown.

In 1981, California’s two San Onofre reactors were closed to repair 6,000 damaged steam generator tubes. During the restart, the plant caught fire, knocking out one of the plant’s two emergency backup generators. In February 2012, a similar steam-tube problem caused a release of radioactive hydrogen gas that again shut down San Onofre’s reactors. Despite a second hydrogen leak in October, the plant’s operators have asked the NRC for permission to restart one reactor and run it for five months at 70 percent power to “see if it is safe.”

In 2002, inspectors in Ohio discovered a “hole in the head” of the reactor vessel at the Davis-Besse plant. The corrosion was so extensive it posed the imminent danger of a massive explosion and radiation release.

It’s important to note that the Fukushima reactors were designed and built by General Electric, and 23 of these “Fukushima-style” reactors are currently installed at 16 sites in 12 US states. When Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast, it knocked out five reactors in its path – including three GE Fukushima-style reactors. The Nine Mile Point reactor was shut down, the Fitzpatrick reactor caught fire, and flooding at the Oyster Creek reactor came within six inches of disabling the spent fuel pool cooling pumps. (If these had failed, the NRC’s recommended “fix” was to use a “fire hose” to cool the plant.)

Nuclear power is exponentially more dangerous than any other energy source. Reactors were designed to operate on a more benign planet – not in a world torn by record earthquakes, epic solar flares, extreme hurricanes, floods, fires and droughts.

Mark Karlin: You conclude with a section on alternatives to nuclear power. What are some of the major ones, and why aren’t we moving aggressively forward with them?

Gar Smith: I’m glad you asked that question. For all the attention on the downsides of nuclear power, it’s important to note that the last third of the book is devoted to solutions.

Wind energy is the world’s fast-growing energy sector. The potential for land-based wind power is estimated to be 20 times greater than the world’s current electric power consumption. While it took 24 years to build the last US reactor, a 1.5-megawatt wind turbine can be installed in a single day and will be producing electricity in a matter of weeks. In California, 100,000 rooftop solar panels are generating more than 1 gigawatt of clean electricity.

These technologies are being abetted by new structural approaches ranging from mixed-tech microgrids to municipal ownership and production. And there are policy options that promise to increase efficiency, reduce consumption and usher in an age of “energy democracy” where energy is produced locally by homeowners instead of commercial utilities.

Just look at Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel was a nuclear advocate until Fukushima happened. Now she has closed eight of the country’s 17 reactors and plans to complete the transition from nuclear energy by 2022. In two years, Germany has added more than ten gigawatts of solar power to the grid and has opened powerful wind farms off the coast.

What stands in the way? A powerful and entrenched elite dominates US energy policy. The growing disparity of wealth has transformed the US. Our struggling democracy has been replaced by a strangling plutocracy. Like every other corporate energy provider, the nuclear industry is deeply embedded in the economic and political life of the US. Whenever great wealth and power is allowed to accumulate, those who profit from this concentration inevitably seek to defend and extend their control – regardless of the cost to public health, democracy or even the long-term well being of the planet.

Mark Karlin: Ernest Callenbach and Jerry Mander write in the foreword toNuclear Roulette: “It will be an auspicious start to our new century if we can encourage a revitalized movement to stop all nuclear production and immediately close down every nuclear facility – military and civilian. Then we can dedicate our skills and resources to finding true solutions to the real challenges of our time: evolving a sustainable, energy-wise, and peaceful society.” What would make such a transformation in our culture and politics possible?

Gar Smith: Individuals have already begun the transition from fossil fuels to clean renewables. The dig-it-up/burn-it/dump-it approach to energy is being challenged by the new technologies that harvest the clean, free energy that pours from the sky in the form of sunbeams and breezes.

The world is not only running out of cheaply obtainable fossil fuels; we’re also running out of high-grade uranium ore. Because all these mineral resources are finite, some kind of transition is inevitable. The only question is, how much damage will we inflict on human and planetary health in the meantime?

We really need to turn our focus toward decommissioning our reactors. Sure, decommissioning is a long and costly process, but it is infinitely more affordable than cleaning up the aftermath of a single nuclear meltdown. Decommissioning one reactor can cost $10 billion over ten years, but cleaning up the mess at Fukushima is expected to take 30 years and cost $137 billion.

What might the future look like? Take a look at Saudi Arabia. Even the Saudi royal family can see the writing on the wall. The kingdom recently announced plans to install a dramatic increase in renewable power over the next 20 years.

You can learn more about the most dangerous energy source on earth by reading Nuclear Roulette. Receive a copy from Truthout with a minimum contribution.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission of the author.


Mark Karlin is the editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout.  He served as editor and publisher of BuzzFlash for ten years before joining Truthout in 2010.  BuzzFlash has won four Project Censored Awards. Karlin writes a commentary five days a week for BuzzFlash, as well as articles for Truthout. He also interviews authors and filmmakers whose works are featured in Truthout’s Progressive Picks of the Week.


The Top 12 Political Fallacies

December 31, 2012
 Richard (RJ) Eskow
Campaign for American Future/Op-ed
Published: Sunday 30 December 2012
The Occupy movement changed Democratic political rhetoric, which changed poll numbers aand arguably changed the election results.

Our nation was gripped by so many fallacies and delusions in 2012 that the whole Mayan calendar end-of-the-world thing didn’t even make the list.

Even those apocalyptic prophecies were more plausible than the idea that cutting Social Security will help the deficit, that government spending cuts will jump-start the economy, there were no crimes on Wall Street, or that we live in a “divided nation” whose “center” wants more business as usual in Washington.

Here then, without further ado, are our Top 12 Political Fallacies for 2012.

1. Austerity works.

Last year we said austerity economics was dead. It is. Unfortunately nobody told the politicians. They’re still trying to force it onto the people of Europe, even as its effects make the economies there progressively worse.

They’re trying to force more of it on us, too. The Republicans want to decimate Social Security, Medicare, roads and highways, education, programs for the poor … The Democrats offer a more modest form of austerity, but austerity’s exactly what the President last proposed to Congress.

If austerity’s so good for us, why are they trying to terrify us with the a”fiscal cliff”? T heirMonster In the Closet is austerity. Apparently they don’t see the irony in that. But there’s something else they shouldn’t overlook.

Obama will never run for office again, but most of Democrats on the Hill will. Hope they don’t forget that – because we won’t.

2. We need less government spending.

The flip side of this delusion is the notion that government spending is our problem. It’s not. In fact, right now it’s the solution.

We need more jobs to stimulate the economy. Without them, large segments of the population will continue to live in a prolonged state of deprivation unless government does something about it.

We need more better education and more advancement opportunities for our children. And our roads, bridges and schools are crumbling all around us.

Spending cuts aren’t even the solution to the Federal deficit – not in the short term. Government spending falls as a percentage of GDP when the whole economy grows – and the way to make it grow is by priming the economic pump and building for the future, not with shortsighted spending cuts.

Know who’s a real job creator? Someone with a job.

3. Social Security is in ‘crisis’ and we need to cut it.

No, and No.

Yes, Social Security has a projected long-term shortfall in its ability to pay benefits,starting in 2036 or so. But that projection’s based on a lot of different assumptions – including the assumption that we won’t fix our wage stagnation problem, that we can’t put a lot more people back to work, and that we lack the political will to lift the payroll tax cap to make up for the shortfall in revenue caused by the unexpected increased in six-, seven-, and eight-figure income as the result of growing wage inequity.

And anyone who says that retiring Baby Boomers are part of the problem is peddling snake oil. The last Boomer was born in 1964, and we fixed Social Security in 1983. At least, it was fixed until the top 1 percent – and top 0.1 percent – started hijacking our national income.

What’s changed since 1983? We didn’t produce more Boomers. In 1983 the youngest of them was already old enough to drive to the record store for the latest Huey Lewis and the News album.

What we HAVE produced is more wealth inequity.

4. Medicare benefits need to be cut, too.


Medicare has a serious long-term cost problem. But cutting benefits won’t help – whether it’s done by raising the Medicare age, by limiting what it pays for, or imposing arbitrary caps on what it will spend. 

If we do those things, overall health care costs will continue to rise. And we’ll have sicker seniors, more seniors in poverty, and seniors who don’t live as long.

Means-testing won’t cut it, either. Scratch most means-testing proposals and you’ll find they’re not targeting “millionaires and billionaires” – they’re aimed at the middle class.

We already know how to handle “millionaires and billionaires” more fairly: Raise their taxes. That’s simple, clean, efficient, and fair.

The only way to fix our Medicare cost problem is by fixing the impact of unrestrained greed on our health care system. We need to do something about that — now.

We don’t need to cover less. We need to pay less.

5. We’re “living beyond our means.

More snake oil.It’s undertaxed corporations and billionaires who are living beyond our nation’s means, by claiming an inordinate and unearned share of our nation’s wealth and not paying their fair share of taxes for it.

We have the means to be the country we’ve always been. What we’ve lacked is the political will to buck the moneyed forces who are dismantling a system that’s worked for 75 years.

Ours is a country that won two world wars. We once led the world in economic growth and blazed the way in science, technology, and the arts. We decided to send human beings to the moon and back in ten years … and did it.

Now we’re told it’s “beyond our means” to live as well as we did in 1969. There’s a word for that, but it’s not printable.


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6. Our problems aren’t anybody’s fault. 

This fallacy might be called the “Sh*t Happens” school of economic thinking. It says that the economy just crashes from time to time, recurrent and unavoidable disasters just like earthquakes.

But we avoided these crises for decades by regulating Wall Street and prosecuting crooked bankers. When we stopped doing those things we got another crisis.

Cause and effect.

7. Banks paid back what they owed us from the bailout.

Here’s why this is a fallacy: First, we don’t have a full accounting even now. Secondly, we’re still responsible for the enormous amount of toxic risk which Wall Street created and the government then assumed on its behalf.

Besides, that’s not how business works. Every major bank in this country was a failing business with intolerable risk exposure. Loans under those conditions are of enormous and inestimable value.

When you ask nothing in return – not partial ownership, not a percentage of the profits, not even an end to their criminal behavior – you’re giving away the store. And when you give those loans to serial crooks and cheaters – people who serially cheat you – people, you’ve been had.

8. Wall Street-ers didn’t commit any crimes – or they’re too hard to prosecute.

Which gets us to our next fallacy, or fallacies. There’s overwhelming evidence, and a mound of billion-dollar settlements, demonstrating that banks — and individual bank executives — broke laws over and over in the run-up to the current crisis.

These mountains of prima facie evidence were ignored, and continue to be ignored, by the Obama/Holder Justice Department.

Now we’ve learned that all the banks knowingly defrauded regulators in a LIBOR scandal. All of them!

LIBOR is like one of those Agatha Christie novels where all the suspects did it.

9. “Ideologues” are getting in the way of “bipartisan” and “technocratic” solutions to our problems.This is another fallacy – one they’ve been using to sell unwise, unpopular, and unfair policies. It’s usually attached to billionaire-funded corporate agendas like those of the “Simpson Bowles” plan, the Democratic group called Third Way, and the corporate CEOs of “Fix the Debt.”

They always say their plan’s been designed by “technocrats,” but that “ideologues” and “divisiveness” are getting in the way.

But the so-called “ideologues” fighting austerity represent Americans in all walks of life, across the political spectrum. They also represent a growing consensus among most economists who aren’t tied to right-wing institutions – including Nobel Prize winners like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, and those who work for the IMF.

There’s a word for the people who keep complaining that the “ideologues” are getting in their way: Lobbyists.

10. A “divided nation” elected a “divided government” through a democratic process.

No. Democrats won the Presidency and the Senate by decisive margins, both state-by-state and in the popular vote. They even won a handsome victory in the House, but lost it because of sleazy GOP gerrymandering.

They won because they promised to defend Social Security and Medicare, and to tax earnings over $250,000. Now the President and Nancy Pelosi are pushing a plan that cuts Social Security, even though there’s no evidence the Republicans are insisting that Social Security be part of the deal.

Think the election would have turned out this way if Obama and Pelosi had told the public what they’d be doing in December?

Republicans aren’t speaking for half of a divided nation. And Democrats who don’t live up to their campaign promises aren’t honoring the small-”d” democratic process.

11. It’s about politicians.

“Obamabots” vs. “Obama bashers”: It’s on. Again. But it’s not about Obama – or Bill and Hillary, or any other political leader. If you attach your hopes to them you’re setting yourself up for a snow job, like Bill’s huckstering of late for the Fix the Debt/Simpson/Bowles corporate austerity plan.

But the flip side – hating or resenting them – is a distraction, and it can eat away at the soul.

Politics is not a celebrity sport. Corporate interests understand that. They’ve gotten a lot of politicians to throw the game by throwing their money around, and even some of the better ones feel they’ll lose if they don’t compromise.

Sure, brave politicians can make a huge difference. (Thank you, Bernie Sanders. And Raul Grijalva. And Keith Ellison. And Jan Schakowsky. It’s a long list, and we hope to add Elizabeth Warren and a couple more names to it soon.)

We still need to “emancipate ourselves from mental slavery” — especially in the form of hero-worshipping or demonizing the human beings who hold or seek high office.

12. We’re helpless.

Yes, it’s a rigged game. Yes, our democracy’s been tainted and compromised.

But mobilized citizens prevented the President from proposing Social Security cuts in his 2010 State of the Union speech. The Occupy movement changed Democratic political rhetoric, which changed poll numbers aand arguably changed the election results.

Some people say, So what? Look at what they’re trying to do now. That’s true — about some of them. But we’ve gained leverage, and we should use it.

While we’re developing new political leaders and institutions, we must stay mobilized for the struggles already underway: To protect Social Security and Medicare. To rein in Wall Street crime. To defend ripped-off homeowners and other mistreated corporate customers. To fight spending cuts and protect the vulnerable. To create jobs — good jobs — for every American who wants to work.

Difficult? Sure. Risk of failure? Definitely. But impossible?

That’s a fallacy.

The Rebirth of Rituals in America

December 31, 2012
Celeb Jacobo
Published: Sunday 30 December 2012
We must utilize our reason, all of us from all backgrounds, and create a list of values that are core to us all.

In light of the recent tragedies in America, including the mass shooting of a movie theater and elementary school, we need to examine the kind of society we instill to our youth, because clearly something is wrong. This being an opinion piece, I posit that modern America’s lack of rituals leaves its youth misguided, left to glean their ethics from what they experience on the street; with no ritual providing instilling values to compare them to.

This is not to say we are without rituals. Marriage, for example, is a ritual act that most of us are familiar with. In some cultures weddings last for days, the couple undergoes a spiritual adventure together, and by the end of it they are partners for life. In America you can be married in Vegas for a couple of hundred bucks and an hour of your time. It is no wonder then that marriage is so precarious in America: the ritual has lost its spiritual importance and all that binds the couple is legal status.


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More directly related with the topic of violence, initiation rituals are all but absent in modern America. Certain cultures have initiation rituals like the bar mitzvah, or the quinceanera, but we lack a ritual that initiates young people into productive citizens of the modern society. And today, with technology connecting every corner of the earth, that society includes all people, across all nations. Without a new initiation ritual into our world society, young people have no investment in that society. If they have no investment in the society, they can become indifferent towards it and its people. We then have acts of violence, not only domestically, but across borders as well. 

There is an important transformation that happens to a young person when they are ritualistically initiated into a society. They experience a transformation of themselves. They are no longer functioning children of that society, free from responsibility and care for it, but are now adults, and put childish things away. In some cultures, like that in parts of Papua New Guinea, there is the performance of scarification and different body modifications in their initiation rituals so that the youth that emerges at the end of the ritual is indeed a different body, a different person. I do not suggest that a new initiation ritual include any such violence, but it illustrates the impact that needs to be matched in modern standards to create adults who can function peacefully in their new world society. 

It is imperative that Americans make the development of these new rituals priority in the coming years. The history of America as a nation is relatively new, and all our blemishes: slavery, murder, oppression, are on display for the world. We set out to create a model nation, the city on the hill, for all the world to look up to. The only way for us to reconcile these atrocities is by creating a nation that sets standards for new rituals that will unite all people with their earth and each other; instead of being discorded by our differences, we are harmonized through our similarities. And in realizing these similarities, breeding empathy for one another, and our environment.

Who can create these rituals? Any of us can.

We all have the ability for reason, and therefore we have the capacity for truth. We must utilize our reason, all of us from all backgrounds, and create a list of values that are core to us all. Things like: treat others as yourself, don’t kill each other, don’t destroy your environment. These values are relevant to today and to people from all nations. These are the kinds of values that need to be ritualized in some way to spiritually and socially ingrain these values into our youth. In this way, we can create a sustainable future, not just for America, but for the entire world.


Caleb Jacobo is an independent writer living in Southern California. He runs the New American Scholar Project, an orginization focused on making great works of literature accessible for everyone. You can find out more about Caleb at his blog at You can find out more about the New American Scholar Project here




Comment: Rebuild the Global Ethic (Declaration toward a Global Ethic, issued Parliament of World’s Religion, Chicago, 1993)

Obama Pledges to Push for Gun Control Measures “If American People Think It Important”

December 31, 2012

Igor Volsky
Think Progress/News Report
Published: Sunday 30 December 2012
Public support for gun control has increased in the wake of the shooting.
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President Obama called the Dec. 14th shooting in Newtown, Connecticut “the worst day of my presidency,” and said during a rare interview on Meet The Press, that he will propose a package of reforms that will likely include new regulations on assault-rifles and high-capacity ammunition clips, and enhanced background checks for gun purchases. A commission headed by Vice President Joe Biden is currently drafting gun safety recommendations.

But Obama stressed that reform cannot happen without broad public support, suggesting that he will rally public opinion for sensible gun safety regulations or drop the effort if Americans are not on board.

“We’re not going to get this done unless the American people decide it’s important and so this is not going to be a matter of me spending political capital. One of the things that you learn having now been in this office for four years. The old adage of Abraham Lincoln’s, ‘with public opinion there is nothing you can’t do and without public opinion there is very little you can get done in this town.’” Watch it:


Obama also rejected the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) call for more guns in schools, arguing that “the vast majority of the American people are skeptical that that somehow is going to solve our problem.” He promised to listen to all sides of the gun debate before making any legislative recommendations.

“It is not enough for us to say, ‘This is too hard so we’re not going to try,’” Obama said. “So what I intend to do is I will call all the stakeholders together. I will meet with Republicans. I will meet with Democrats. I will talk to anybody. I think there are a vast majority of responsible gun owners out there who recognize that we can’t have a situation in which somebody with severe psychological problems is able to get the kind of high capacity weapons that this individual in Newtown obtained and gun down our kids. And, yes, it’s going to be hard.”

Public support for gun control has increased in the wake of the shooting. A USA Today/Gallup poll released Thursday found that support for stricter guns laws is at its highest since 2004, with 47 percent now favor passing new gun laws rather than simply ramping up enforcement of current law. Fifty-eight percent called for stricter gun laws, a 15-point jump since October 2011.

Sanity in a Cultue of Mass Murders

December 31, 2012

Peter Rugh
WagomgNonvilence/News Report
Published: Sunday 30 December 2012
There is a tendency in this country to regard mental illness — as if in deference to the antiquated notion of “possession” — as the personal property of those who exhibit the most alarming symptoms.
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The mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 young school children and seven adults (including the shooter himself) has not only reignited the debate over gun control in the United States, but also a discussion over how communities deal with madness in their midst. Adam Lanza showed signs of mental illness before the killing spree — as have other recent perpetrators of mass shootings.

Psychiatrist Lynne Fenton of the University of Colorado says her patient, James Holmes, alerted her of his plans before strolling into a packed movie theater in Aurora, Colo., this July and spraying the crowd with bullets. Fenton informed school officials, but she says they did nothing because Holmes was in the process of dropping out. Jared Loughner killed six people and wounded 14 others with a 9mm Glock pistol in a Tuscon parking lot in January 2011; in the two years prior to the shooting, the state of Arizona had slashed mental health services from its budget, services that could have diagnosed, medicated and provided therapy for Loughner’s schizophrenia and possibly prevented the deaths. The 1999 Columbine High School massacre took place at an epicenter of high-tech weapons production, part of the military industry that consumes more than half of our yearly income taxes.

There is a tendency in this country to regard mental illness — as if in deference to the antiquated notion of “possession” — as the personal property of those who exhibit the most alarming symptoms. But the circumstances of each of these shooters indicate the social character of mental illness, and the need for a social response to it.

On a Wednesday night in October at the Brecht Forum, a Marxist community center along the Hudson River in Manhattan, the crowd of about 50 gathered to look back on the first decade of the Icarus Project. It’s a network meant to foster “radical mental health” for those and by those grappling with the “dangerous gift” of mental illness — or, as participants often say, “madness.” Many were veterans of Icarus’ early group sessions or had been nourished by this community, which uncovered a seething madness under the surface of the metropolis.

Sometime in the early 1990s, police found Sascha DuBrul, then a young punk rocker fresh out of high school, walking in New York’s subway tunnels and talking to himself. “I thought the world had ended,” DuBrul explains. “I was the only person alive and everything I did was being broadcast on prime-time television.” DuBrul later recounted the story of that and subsequent lock-ups in a 2002 article in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, “Bipolar World.” There, DuBrul laid out the conflicted feelings he had towards his illness and the medication that mitigated its effects. He mused that perhaps there is something mad about the world that induces or intensifies mental illness.

DuBrul’s article struck a nerve, and letters started pouring in from people who identified with his story, recounting their own tales of grappling with madness. Among the people to contact DuBrul was artist and writer Ashley McNamara. The two began a correspondence and eventually met in person at a San Francisco cafe. They decided to start a website on which they and other people wrestling with dangerous gifts could find and learn from one another. eventually grew into a national support network with chapters across the United States. From the beginning it was a forum for both healing and activism; the process that takes place in the rings of folding chairs at Icarus Project gatherings is a fight for a healthier world as well as a glimpse of what one might look like.


In 2011, sales of anti-psychotic drugs in the United States reached $18.2 billion, up from about $14 billion in 2008. Their closest rival in the drug market is medication used in the treatment of cancer, whose sales have risen steadily since the proliferation of petroleum-based products and agricultural pesticides began in the 1940s. Is madness, like cancer, on the rise? Are Americans getting crazier, or is big pharma taking advantage of a deep-seated illness that already existed? 

This is a society where we are seemingly convinced that happiness rests on such trivial matters as what soda we sip, where 40 percent of us walk for fewer than 10 continuous minutes at a time during the course of a week, where we labor for increasingly long hours with diminishing returns. Prospects for change, we are led to believe by the multitude of jabbering voices that flood the airwaves, boil down to paper-or-plastic political candidates. Our jails are full and our psychiatric wards are closed or closing. Arcane financial instruments can go south seemingly arbitrarily, leaving millions of people without means of subsistence. Nature is something that grows in a square carved out of the sidewalk or in a narrow strip along our superhighways. Amidst this vision of dispossession, conformity and derangement, the pharmaceutical industry offers us a compounded ball of powder that blocks the dopamine receptors in our brain’s mesolimbic pathway while feeding our prefrontal cortexes a warm dose of contentment.

“Medication is just one tool in your toolbox,” says Sasha DuBrul. “There’s a lot of different experiences people end up having with psychiatric drugs. A lot of people have negative reactions.” Icarus has published a harm reduction guide for quittingmedication but does not necessarily try to dissuade people from medicating. DuBrul says that, for him, drugs have been helpful. But while pills treat the symptoms of madness, Icarus seeks to tackle madness itself.

There are a lot of support groups out there, and what makes Icarus unique, says DuBrul, is “the combination of talking about our own personal struggles within a larger analysis about the political and economic factors that make people sick.” He explains, “Brain chemistry and neurotransmitters are semi-irrelevant. People are sick because of poverty. People are sick because we live in a traumatized environment where people are the edge because of fear. That’s social.”

Jessica Max Stein, a writer and zine artist who has been involved in Icarus for five years, describes what drew her in. “About 15 years ago I was locked up for being depressed,” she says. “I’ll tell you, it was pretty depressing. Three days without freedom, without sunshine, without exercise or vegetables is not going to get you in touch with that better force. And there are millions of stories like this; psych abuse, non-consensual treatment or treatment that just exacerbates existing mental stress.” By contrast, radical mental health, Stein says, is collaborative. “It’s not done to you, its done with you. To me that’s what radical means, whether it’s radical health care, radical teaching, economics, sex — whatever.”

It’s also about participants defining health and functionality for themselves. “Mainstream shrinks love to say, ‘Your symptoms interfere with your functionality,’” Stein says. “You wake up in the morning and can’t get out of bed. You can’t make yourself go to work. So, you take yourself to a therapist. The therapist says, ‘Well, obviously you have depression. Here, take these pills.’ But maybe you just need a job you wanna wake up for.”

Many of those who helped create the Icarus Project in the early days were baptized in the global justice movement against corporatized globalization. “I met Sascha right after I came back to New York after organizing in Montreal,” recounted Marse Mitchell-Brody, who held a homeless weiner dog in her arms while she spoke at the Brecht Forum event. “We had been deeply, deeply ‘anti’ for many years. It was right after September 11. We were dealing with the war. We were dealing with Abu Ghraib. We were dealing with what was clearly a sick world. But our response at the time, instead taking care of ourselves and each other in the face of that world, was to push back even harder.”

Mitchell-Brody, who at the time was debating whether to go on medication, attended a workshop hosted by DuBrul, and she recalls asking him what he thought. “Sasha said, ‘You do what’s right for you. If they don’t support you, they can go fuck themselves.’” For Mitchell-Brody that was a critical moment. “I found myself in a room full of people that realized we live in a sick and crazy world. But also recognized our right to self determine how we took care of ourselves in the midst of it.”

Mitchell-Brody threw herself into the Icarus Project. But after several years of involvement, she came to the conclusion that there is a dangerous side to celebrating dangerous gifts. “Over time I would look at myself and say, ‘I use this dangerous gift as an excuse to get away with a lot of bullshit, as a way to not be accountable to my community.’” Though Mitchell-Brody pulled back from it, Icarus had already shifted the trajectory of her life. She eventually received a degree in social work and continues to agitate and advocate for just mental health care in New York communities.

Activist organizing tactics have continued to be a part of the Icarus Project, alongside inspiration from the recovery movement, including Alcoholics Anonymous. The Icarus manual Friends Make the Best Medicine, which provides advice on how to establish a peer-based mental health network, draws on what Icarus Project members have gleaned from social justice movements. “There’s a lot of emphasis on meeting the ability to have efficient developing structures that allow people to have their voices heard,” DuBrul says.

Roughly 10 years have passed since the inception of the Icarus Project, and a new generation has started to express interest. Many are activists who have worked virtually full-time in the Occupy movement since the fall of 2011. They have felt the strain of perpetual activism, as well as the trauma of police repression, and the prospect of maintaining a level head while struggling for a sane world has drawn them to Icarus. At the height of the movement last fall, when tent cities were cropping up in cities across the United States, Icarus began developing a booklet for Occupiers to help them keep from burning out. These efforts have exposed the decade-old network to a new audience. The atmosphere at the Brecht Forum in October thus had a ceremonial air; wings were being passed from one generation to the next. It seemed fitting that this latest influx, again, should come from a movement for social justice.

DuBrul explained to the audience that while he often tells the story of how the response to “Bipolar World” provided the impetus for starting the Icarus Project, there’s another element of the story as well. “What I don’t often tell people is that when I got locked up, when I was 18 years old, it was because I was having these visions that my friends and I were just going to totally change the world,” DuBrul remembered. “In the depths of my psyche I was convinced that a bunch of us could get together and change things. And of course I got locked up, medicated and told I was bipolar.”

In a world where widespread poverty, exploitation and war are the norm, dreaming of peace, justice and equality might seem insane. In a country where shootings in public places are becoming an ever more common occurrence, there is ever more temptation to isolate both ourselves and the perpetrators.

“There’s something about madness that’s very lonely,” continued DuBrul. “But somehow my madness has helped birth something that has brought people together.”


Peter Rugh is a facilitator for Occupy Wall Street Environmental Solidarity and chairs the Action Committee of Shut Down Indian Point Now! He has written forThe Indypendent,, Common Dreams and Socialist Worker. Pete blogs at

How Many People Have Been Killed by Guns Since Newtown?

December 31, 2012

Access this site for day by day deaths and where they happened:

Slate partners with @GunDeaths for an interactive, crowdsourced tally of the toll firearms have taken since Dec. 14.

By  and 

Posted Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012, at 7:55 PM ET

Since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, we at Slatehave been wondering how many people are dying from guns in America every day.

That information is surprisingly hard to come by. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, for example, has a tally atop its website of “people shot in America.” That number, though, is an estimate, based on the number of gun injuries and deaths recorded by the CDC in 2008 and 2009, the most recent years for which statistics are available. It seems shocking that when guns are in the headlines every day, there’s no one attempting to create a real-time chronicle of the deaths attributable to guns in the United States.

Well, someone is. Since this summer, the anonymous creator of the Twitter feed @GunDeathshas been doing his best to compile those statistics, tweeting every reported death he can find. He was inspired, he told us in a phone interview, by the Aurora, Colo., shootings and simply wanted to call daily attention to the toll that guns take. Now Slate is partnering with @GunDeaths to create this interactive feature, “Gun Deaths in America Since Newtown.”

Deaths since Newtown: 321

Each victim under 13 years of age is designated “child”; from 13 to 17: “teen”; 18 and older: “adult.”

Of course, this data is incomplete. Not all reports get caught by @GunDeaths’ news alerts or his followers. Suicides, which are estimated to make up as much as 60 percent of gun deaths, typically go unreported. Nevertheless, we at Slate want to assemble this data as best we can.

And the more people who are paying attention, the better the data will be. You can help us draw a more complete picture of gun violence in America. If you know about a gun death in your community that isn’t represented here, please tweet @GunDeaths with a citation, and he’ll add it to his feed. (If you’re not on Twitter, you can email His data feeds our interactive feature.

And if you’d like to use this data yourself for your own projects, it’s open. You can download it here.


MySlate is a tool that lets you track your favorite parts of Slate.

Top Climate Stories of 2012

December 31, 2012

Posted by Greg Laden on December 28, 2012

A group of us, all interested in climate science, put together a list of the most notable, often, most worrying, climate-related stories of the year, along with a few links that will allow you to explore the stories in more detail. We did not try to make this a “top ten” list, because it is rather silly to fit the news, or the science, or the stuff the Earth does in a given year into an arbitrary number of events. (What if we had 12 fingers, and “10” was equal to 6+6? Then there would always be 12 things, not 10, on everyone’s list. Makes no sense.) We ended up with 18 items, but note that some of these things are related to each other in a way that would allow us to lump them or split them in different ways. See this post by Joe Romm for a more integrated approach to the year’s events. Also, see what Jeff Masters did here. We only included one non-climate (but related) item to illustrate the larger number of social, cultural, and political things that happened this year. For instance, because of some of the things on this list, Americans are more likely than they were in previous years to accept the possibility that science has something to say about the Earth’s climate and the changes we have experienced or that may be in the future; journalists are starting to take a new look at their own misplaced “objective” stance as well. Also, more politicians are starting to run for office on a pro-science pro-environment platform than has been the case for quite some time.

A failing of this list is that although non-US based people contributed, and it is somewhat global in its scope, it is a bit American based. This is partly because a few of the big stories happened here this year, but also, because the underlying theme really is the realization that climate change is not something of the future, but rather, something of the present, and key lessons learned in that important area of study happened in the American West (fires) the South and Midwest (droughts, crop failures, closing of river ways) and Northeast (Sandy). But many of the items listed here were indeed global, such as extreme heat and extreme cold caused by meteorological changes linked to warming, and of course, drought is widespread.

This list is subject to change, because you are welcome to add suggestions for other stories or for links pertaining to those already listed. Also, the year is not over yet. Anything can happen in the next few days!

The following people contributed to this effort: Angela FritzA SiegelEli Rabett, Emilee PierceGareth RenowdenGreg Laden, Joe RommJohn Abraham, Laurence LewisLeo HickmanMichael Mann,Michael Tobis,, Paul DouglasScott MandiaScott BrophyStephan Lewandowsky, and Tenney Naumer.

1 Super Storm Sandy

Super Storm Sandy, a hybrid of Hurricane Sandy (and very much a true hurricane up to and beyond its landfall in the Greater New York/New Jersey area) was an important event for several reasons. First, the size and strength of the storm bore the hallmarks of global warming enhancement. Second, its very unusual trajectory was caused by a climatic configuration that was almost certainly the result of global warming. The storm would likely not have been as big and powerful as it was, nor would it have likely struck land where it did were it not for the extra greenhouse gasses released by humans over the last century and a half or so.

A third reason Sandy was important is the high storm surge that caused unprecedented and deadly flooding in New York and New Jersey. This surge was made worse by significant global warming caused sea level rise. Sea level rise has been eating away at the coasts for years and has probably caused a lot of flooding that otherwise would not have happened, but this is the first time a major event widely noticed by the mainstream media (even FOX news) involving sea level rise killed a lot of people and did a lot of damage. Fourth, Sandy was an event, but Sandy might also be the “type specimen” for a new kind of storm. It is almost certainly true that global warming Enhanced storms like Sandy will occur more frequently in the future than in the past, but how much more often is not yet known. We will probably have to find out the hard way.

Note that the first few of the links below are to blog posts written by concerned climate scientists, whom the climate change denialists call “alarmists.” You will note that these scientists and writers were saying alarming things as the storm approached. You will also note that what actually happened when Sandy struck was much worse than any of these “alarmists” predicted in one way or another, in some cases, in several ways. This then, is the fifth reason that Sandy is important: The Earth’s weather system (quite unconsciously of course) opened a big huge can of “I told you so” on the climate science denialist world. Sandy washed away many lives, a great deal of property and quite a bit of shoreline. Sandy also washed away a huge portion of what remained of the credibility of the climate science denialist lobby.

Is Mother Nature revving up an October Surprise (w/ human thumbs on the scale)?

Grim Trajectories

Has climate change created a monster?

Ostrich Heads in the Sand(y)? Does your meteorologist break the climate silence?

Climate of Doubt As Superstorm Sandy Crosses US Coast

Are Tropical Storms Getting Larger in Area?

What you need to know about Frankenstorm Sandy

Fox: Hurricane Sandy Has “Nothing To Do With Global Warming”

2 Related to Sandy, the direct effects of sea level rise…

… were blatantly observed and widely acknowledged by the press and the public for the first time

Sea Level Rise … Extreme History, Uncertain Future

Peer Reviewed Research Predicted NYC Subway Flooding by #Sandy

How peer-reviewed material understates likely sea-level rise and examining NY Times interactive graphic relying on this optimistic material.

See WMO summary of year for info on global extremes – especially floods in Africa, India, Pakistan, China

3 The Polar Ice Caps and other ice features experienced extreme melting this year.

This year, Arctic sea ice reached a minimum in both extent (how much of the sea is covered during the Arctic summer) and more importantly, total ice volume, reaching the lowest levels in recorded history.

Arctic sea ice extent settles at record seasonal minimum

Ice Loss at Poles Is Increasing, Mainly in Greenland

TV Media Cover Paul Ryan’s Workout 3x More Than Record Sea Ice Loss

4 Sea Ice Loss Changes Weather …

We also increasingly recognized that loss of Arctic sea ice affects Northern Hemisphere weather patterns, including severe cold outbreaks and storm tracks. This sea ice loss is what set up the weather pattern mentioned above that steered Sandy into the US Northeast, as well as extreme cold last winter in other areas.

Arctic Warming is Altering Weather Patterns, Study Shows

5 and 6 Two major melting events happened in Greenland this summer.

First, the total amount of ice that has melted off this huge continental glacier reached a record high, with evidence that the rate of melting is not only high, but much higher than predicted or expected. This is especially worrying because the models climatologists use to predict ice melting are being proven too optimistic. Second, and less important but still rather spectacular, was the melting of virtually every square inch of the surface of this ice sheet over a short period of a few days during the hottest part of the summer, a phenomenon observed every few hundred years but nevertheless an ominous event considering that it happened just as the aforementioned record ice mass loss was being observed and measured.

Greenland Losing Ice Fast

Media Turn A Blind Eye To Record Greenland Ice Melt

7 Massive Ice islands…

…were formed when the Petermann Glacier of northern Greenland calved a massive piece of its floating tongue, and it is likely that the Pine Island Glacier (West Antarctica) will follow suit this Southern Hemisphere summer. Also, this information is just being reported and we await further evaluation. As summer begins to develop in the Southern Hemisphere, there may be record warmth there in Antarctica. That story will likely be part of next year’s roundup of climate-related woes.

8 More Greenhouse Gasses than Ever

Even though the rate of emissions of greenhouse gasses slowed down temporarily for some regions of the world, those gasses stay in the air after they are released, so this year greenhouse gas levels reached new record high levels

United StatesGreenhouse Gas Levels Reach New Record High

World Meteorological Organization: Greenhouse Gas Concentrations Reach New Record

9 It Got Hot

As expected, given the greenhouse gases just mentioned, Record Breaking High Temperatures Continue, 2012 is one of the warmest years since the Age of the Dinosaurs. We’ll wait until the year is totally over to give you a rank, but it is very, very high.

UK Met Office forecasts next year to set new record

Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math

10 …and that heat brought extreme, killer heat waves

Hot, Very Hot, Extremely Hot Summers

STUDY: TV Media Ignore Coverage of Climate Change In Coverage Of Record July Heat

11 For many areas, this was the year without a Spring.

The growing season in temperate zones is longer, causing the USDA in the US to change its planting recommendations.

It’s the Heat of the Night

12 There were widespread, unprecedented and deadly wildfires…

…around the world and in the American West.

STUDY: Media Avoid Climate Context In Wildfire Coverage

STUDY: Media Begin To Connect The Dots Between Climate Change And Wildfires

13 There was a major drought…

…in the US with numerous negative effects including threats to the food supply

Drought, Water & Energy

What is the link between Global Warming and Drought?

Brutal Droughts, Worsened by Global Warming, Threaten Food Production Around The World

Alarm bells on climate change as extreme weather events sweep the world: CCSOS

The Bacon Shortage

14 River Traffic Stops

A very rare event caused by drought conditions was the closing of the Mississippi River to traffic in mid-summer at two locations. This is part of a larger and growing problem involving drought, increased demands for water, and the importance of river traffic. Expect to hear more about this over the next couple of years.

Drought Closes Mississippi River Traffic in Two Locations

14 Very, very bad storms.

In June, a major and very scary derecho event – a thunderstorm and tornado complex large enough to get its own Wikipedia entry – swept across the country. This was one of several large storm systems that caused damage and death in the US this year. There were also large and unprecedented sandstorms in Asia and the US.

June 2012 North American derecho

16 Widespread Tree Mortality is underway and is expected to worsen.

Dire Drought Ahead, May Lead to Massive Tree Death

17 Biodiversity is mostly down…

We continue to experience, and this will get worse, great Losses in Biodiversity especially in Oceans, much of that due to increased acidification because of the absorption of CO2 in seawater, and overfishing.

Big loss of biodiversity with global warming

18 Unusual Jet Stream Configuration and related changes to general climate patterns…

Many of us who contributed to this list feel that this is potentially the most important of all of the stories, partly because it ties together several other events. Also, it may be that a change in the air currents caused by global warming represents a fundamental yet poorly understood shift in climate patterns. The steering of Hurricane Sandy into the New York and New Jersey metro areas, the extreme killer cold in Eastern Europe and Russia, the “year without a Spring” and the very mild winters, dome of the features of drought, and other effects may be “the new normal” owing to a basic shift in how air currents are set up in a high-CO2 world. This December, as we compile this list, this effect has caused extreme cold in Eastern Europe and Russia as well as floods in the UK and unusually warm conditions in France. As of this writing well over 200 people have died in the Ukraine, Poland and Russia from cold conditions. As an ongoing and developing story we are including it provisionally on this list. Two blog posts from midyear of 2011 and 2012 (this one and this one) cover some of this.

The following video provides an excellent overview of this problem:


19 The first climate denial “think” tank to implode as a result of global warming…

… suffered major damage this year. The Heartland Institute, which worked for many years to prove that cigarette smoking was not bad for you, got caught red handed trying to fund an effort explicitly (but secretly) designed to damage science education in public schools. Once caught, they tried to distract attention by equating people who thought the climate science on global warming is based on facts and is not a fraud with well-known serial killers, using large ugly billboards. A large number of Heartland Institute donors backed off after this fiasco and their credibility tanked in the basement. As a result, the Heartland Institute, which never was really that big, is now no longer a factor in the climate change discussion. We failed to drive the wooden stake through Heartland’s heart when it was down. While Heartland has lost much of their funding and Corporate support Hearthland’s Anti-Science Syndrome Hatred Of a Livable Economic System voices still get soapboxes in traditional media =91balance=92 articles and otherwise. Learning how to pound in the wooden stake has merit.

Top Ten U.S. Weather Events Of 2012

December 30, 2012


By Climate Guest Blogger on Dec 26, 2012 at 10:15 am

by Jeff Masters, via the Wunderblog

It was another year of incredible weather extremes unparalleled in American history during 2012. Eleven billion-dollar weather disasters hit the U.S., a figure exceeded only by the fourteen such disasters during the equally insane weather year of 2011. I present for you now the top ten weather stories of 2012, chosen for their meteorological significance and human and economic impact.

For the original or Video 1, access:

Video 1. Hour-by-hour animation of infrared satellite images for 2012. The loop goes in slow-motion to feature such events as Hurricane Sandy, the June Derecho, Summer in March, and other top weather events of 2012. The date stamp is at lower left; you will want to make the animation full screen to see the date. Special thanks to wunderground’s Deb Mitchell for putting this together!

1) Superstorm Sandy
Hurricane Sandy was truly astounding in its size and power. At its peak size, twenty hours before landfall, Sandy had tropical storm-force winds that covered an area nearly one-fifth the area of the contiguous United States. Sandy’s area of ocean with twelve-foot seas peaked at 1.4 million square miles–nearly one-half the area of the contiguous United States, or 1% of Earth’s total ocean area. Most incredibly, ten hours before landfall (9:30 am EDT October 29), the total energy of Sandy’s winds of tropical storm-force and higher peaked at 329 terajoules–the highest value for any Atlantic hurricane since at least 1969, and equivalent to five Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs.

At landfall, Sandy’s tropical storm-force winds spanned 943 miles of the the U.S. coast. No hurricane on record has been larger. Sandy’s huge size prompted high wind warnings to be posted from Chicago to Eastern Maine, and from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Florida’s Lake Okeechobee–an area home to 120 million people. Sandy’s winds simultaneously caused damage to buildings on the shores of Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes National Lake Shore, and toppled power lines in Nova Scotia, Canada–locations 1200 miles apart!

Sandy made landfall near Atlantic City, NJ on October 29, with sustained winds of 80 mph and a central minimum pressure of 946 mb–the lowest pressure on record along the Northeast coast. The Battery, in New York City Harbor, had an observed water level of 13.88 feet, besting the previous record set by Hurricane Donna in 1960 by 3 feet. Sandy also brought torrential rainfall to the Mid-Atlantic, with over 12 inches of rain observed in parts of Maryland. In addition, Sandy generated blizzard conditions for the central and southern Appalachians with more than a foot of snow falling in six states from North Carolina to Pennsylvania, shattering October snow records. Over 130 fatalities were reported and over 8.5 million customers lost power–the second largest weather-related power outage in U.S. history, behind the 10 million that lost power during the Blizzard of 1993. Damage from Sandy is estimated at $62 billion.

Figure 1. Cabs lie flooded on October 30, 2012, in Hoboken, NJ, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. AP photo: Charles Sykes.

2) Warmest Year on Record
Spring, March, July, and the annual temperature were all warmest on record in the contiguous U.S. July was the warmest month of any month in the 1,400+ months of the U.S. data record, going back to 1895. The spring temperature departure from average was the largest on record for any season, and March temperatures had the second largest warm departure from average of any month in U.S. history. All-time hottest temperature records were set over approximately 7% of the area of the contiguous U.S., according to a database of 298 major U.S. cities maintained by wunderground’s weather historian, Christopher C. Burt. Given the very warm December temperatures so far, the final 2012 annual temperature is likely to break the previous warmest year on record (1998) by at least 0.7°F–a colossal margin to break an annual record by. It is likely that 15 states will end up with their warmest year on record in 2012, and 42 states will have a top-ten warmest year.

Figure 2. One of 2012′s incredibly hot days: high temperatures on August 1 in Oklahoma from the Oklahoma Mesonet. It was the hottest day in Oklahoma since August 1936, with more than half of the state recording temperatures of 110° or higher. Oklahoma City hit 112°, tied for the city’s 3nd highest temperature since record keeping began in 1890. The only hotter days occurred two days later–on August 3, 2012–and back on August 11, 1936 (113°.)

3) The Great Drought of 2012
The Great U.S. Drought of 2012 may well turn out to be the biggest weather story of 2012, since its full impacts have not yet been realized. The area of the contiguous U.S. in moderate or greater drought peaked at 61.8% in July–the largest such area since the Dust Bowl drought of December 1939. The heat and dryness resulted in record or near-record evaporation rates, causing major impact on corn, soybean and wheat belts in addition to livestock production. Drought upstream of the Lower Mississippi River caused record and near-record low stream flows along the river in Mississippi and Louisiana, resulting in limited river transportation and commerce. Crop damages alone from the great drought are estimated at $35 billion. As the total scope of losses is realized across all lines of business in coming months, this number will climb significantly.

Figure 3. Corn in Colby, Kansas withers in the Great Drought of 2012 on May 27. Image credit: Wunderphotographer treeman.

4) Wildfire Season of 2012
The 2012 U.S. fire season was the 3rd worst in U.S. history, with 9.2 million acres burned–an area larger than the state of Maryland. Since the National Interagency Fire Center began keeping records in 1960, only two years have seen more area burned–2006, when 9.9 million acres burned, and 2007, when 9.3 million acres burned. New Mexico had its largest fire in state history, Colorado its most destructive and 2nd largest in state history, and Oregon had its largest fire since the 1860s. More than 3.6 million acres burned in the U.S. during August–the most on record for any August in recorded history.

Figure 4. Wunderphoto of Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire of 2012, the largest fire in New Mexico history. Wunderphoto submitted by AZMountaineer21.

5) March 2 – 3 Tornado Outbreak
A massive tornado outbreak of stunning violence swept through the nation’s midsectionMarch 2 – 3, spawning deadly tornadoes that killed 41 people. Hardest hit were Kentucky and Southern Indiana, which suffered 22 and 13 dead, respectively. The scale of the outbreak was exceptional, with 70 tornadoes touching down in eleven states, from southern Ohio to southern Georgia. At one point, 31 separate tornado warnings were in effect during the outbreak. An area larger than Nebraska–81,000 square miles–received tornado warnings, and tornado watches were posted for 300,000 square miles–an area larger than Texas. The outbreak spawned two EF-4 tornadoes, one which devastated Henryville, Indiana, and another that plowed through Crittenden, Kentucky. Total damage was estimated at $4 billion.

Figure 5. A school bus mangled by the EF-4 Henryville, Indiana tornado of March 2, 2012. Image credit: NWS Louisville, Kentucky.

6) June 29 Multi-State Derecho
A violent line of organized severe thunderstorms called a derecho swept across the U.S. from Illinois to Virginia on June 29, damaging houses, toppling trees, bringing down power lines. The storms killed 22 people, and left at least 3.4 million customers without power. The thunderstorms in a derecho (from the Spanish phrase for “straight ahead”) create violent winds that blow in a straight line. The derecho was unusually intense due to extreme heat that set all-time records at ten major cities on the south side of the derecho. This heat helped create an unstable atmosphere with plenty of energy to fuel severe thunderstorms. At least 38 thunderstorms in the derecho generated wind gusts in excess of hurricane force, making the derecho one of the most severe derechoes on record. Total damage was estimated at $3.75 billion.

Figure 6. Turbulent clouds gather over Mettawa, Illinois on June 29, 2012, as the historic 2012 derecho begins to organize. Image credit: Wunderphotographer LarrySmit.

7) Hurricane Isaac
Hurricane Isaac slowly lumbered ashore near the mouth of the Mississippi River on August 28 as a Category 1 Hurricane with 80 mph winds. Isaac’s large size and slow motion caused a storm surge more characteristic of a Category 2 hurricane–up to eleven feet–but New Orleans’ new $14.5 billion levee upgrade held against Isaac’s surge. The surge moved up the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish near Port Sulphur, causing overtopping of the levees and flooding of homes in the mandatory evacuation areas behind the levees. These levees were not part of the $14.5 billion levee upgrade. Isaac brought torrential rainfall, with more than twenty inches observed in some areas of New Orleans. Isaac also provided some drought relief to the Lower Mississippi and Ohio Valleys. Isaac dumped up to 18″ of rain in Florida, and disrupted the 2012 Republican Convention in Tampa. Isaac did $2 billion in damage.

Figure 7. Tropical Storm Isaac on August 28, a few hours before it intensified into a hurricane.

8) The Non-Winter of 2011-2012
“Flowers are sprouting in January in New Hampshire, the Sierra Mountains in California are nearly snow-free, and lakes in much of Michigan still have not frozen. It’s 2012, and the new year is ringing in another ridiculously wacky winter for the U.S. In Fargo, North Dakota yesterday, the mercury soared to 55°F, breaking a 1908 record for warmest January day in recorded history. More than 99% of North Dakota had no snow on the ground this morning, and over 95% of the country that normally has snow at this time of year had below-average snow cover.”

That was the opening of my January 6, 2012 blog post, called “Remarkably dry and warm winter due to record extreme jet stream configuration.” The contiguous U.S. saw its 3rd lowest snow cover on record during both winter and spring, and the winter of 2011 – 2012 was the 4th warmest and 24th driest winter in U.S. history, going back to 1895. A primary cause of this warm and snowless winter was the most extreme configuration of the jet stream ever recorded, as measured by the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). The NAO index was +2.52 in December 2011, which was the most extreme difference in pressure between Iceland and the Azores ever observed in December (records of the NAO go back to 1865.) The positive NAO conditions caused the Icelandic Low to draw a strong south-westerly flow of air over eastern North America, preventing Arctic air from plunging southward over the U.S.

Figure 8. Flowers sprouting on January 1, 2012 in Keene, New Hampshire, thanks to unusually warm December temperatures and lack of snow. Image credit:Wunderphotographer lovne32.

9) April 30 – May 1 Severe Weather Outbreak
A severe weather outbreak in the Ohio Valley April 30 – May 1 caused 38 tornadoes and $4 billion in damage.

10) Late-Spring Freeze: Northeast/Midwest
After the record-warm “Summer in March” weather in the Great Lakes and Northeast, an April freeze damaged crops across the region. New York’s fruit production was the lowest since 1948, and it was the worst fruit season for Michigan since 1945. Damage in Michigan alone was estimated at $500 million.

Honorable Mentions (text courtesy of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, with damage estimates from AON Benfield):

Severe Weather Outbreak (May):
A strong cold front moving through the country on May 25 – 30 spawned 27 tornadoes from Texas to the Northeast. Damage was estimated at $2.5 billion, much of it from hail.

Severe Weather Outbreak (April):
A tornado outbreak on April 13 – 14 in the Plains spawned 98 tornadoes and caused at least 6 fatalities. Damage was estimated at $1.75 billion.

Severe Weather Outbreak (June):
Several days of severe storms across the Southwest spawned 25 tornadoes from June 6 – 12. Significant hail damage occurred across the Rocky Mountain Front Range, with total damage estimated at $1.75 billion.

Tropical Storm Debby/Wet Florida (June):
Heavy rains from Tropical Storm Debby in early June caused damage estimated at $310 million, but Debby’s rains helped break a drought in Northern Florida. Florida had its wettest summer on record, partially due to Debby.

Duluth Flooding (June):
Training thunderstorms caused record flooding in and around Duluth Minnesota on June 20, with over 8 inches of rainfall observed in 24 hours in parts of the city. Two rivers in the Duluth area, the Nemadji and St. Louis, reported their highest flood heights on record. Damage was estimated at $175 million.

Pacific Northwest Winter Storm (January):
A massive winter storm impacted the Pacific Northwest on January 18 – 23. Huge amounts of rain and snow fell, and hurricane-force wind gusts knocked out power to 250,000 customers. Damage was estimated at $100 million.

Hawaiian Hail Storm (March):
On March 9, a cut-off low pressure system impacted the Hawaiian Islands, bringing heavy rainfall and severe thunderstorms. A rare EF-0 tornado hit the towns of Lanikai and Kailua on Oahu, causing minor damage. Another storm dropped a hailstone measuring 4.25 inches long, 2.25 inches tall, and 2 inches wide–the largest hailstone on record for Hawaii. Damage from the storms was estimated at $37 million.

Near-Record Low Great Lakes Levels (by end of 2012):
Record warm temperatures throughout 2012 combined with low precipitation and low winter ice cover created high evaporation rates across the Great Lakes. In December, Lakes Michigan and Huron had fallen to within inches of the all-time record low lake levels set back in 1964. Low lake levels have a significant impact on recreational and commercial boating as well as tourism.

Slow Tornado Year (annual):
Despite an active March, 2012 saw relatively low tornado numbers compared to recent history.

Mount Evans Tornado (July):
A high elevation tornado was observed along the slope of Mount Evans at 11,900 feet–the second highest observed tornado in the U.S.

Alaska Cold Winter/Snow Record (winter):
Several Alaskan locations had their coldest January on record. The monthly average temperature at Bettles, AK was -35.6°F. The statewide average January temperature was record cold–14°F below average. Record snow (134.5 inches) fell in Anchorage during the winter season, breaking the previous record set in 1954 – 55.

Alaskan Storms and Flooding (September):
Several large extratropical cyclones impacted Alaska during September. Significant flooding occurred along the Sustina River and along its tributaries, causing the worse flooding in 30 years. Over 800 structures and dozens of homes were damaged or destroyed. The storms also brought early snowfall to southern portions of the state.

Death Valley sets world record for highest minimum temperature
On Thursday morning, July 12, 2012 the low temperature at Death Valley, California dropped to just 107°F (41.7°C), after hitting a high of 128° (53.3°C) the previous day. Not only did the morning low temperature tie a record for the world’s warmest low temperature ever recorded, the average temperature of 117.5°F was the world’s warmest 24-hour temperature on record. According to weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera, the only other place in the world to record a 107°F low temperature was Khasab Airport in the desert nation of Oman on June 27, 2012.

NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center will release their top-ten list of U.S. weather events of 2012 on Tuesday, January 8, 2013.

Jeff Masters is the co-founder of the Weather Underground. This piece was originally published at the Wunderblog and was reprinted with permission.

New Hawaii Senator: Climate Change The ‘Most Urgent Challenge Of Our Generation’

December 30, 2012

By Travis Waldron on Dec 27, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Hawaii Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz (D), who was yesterday named to fill the Senate seat vacated by the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D), wants to tackle an issue that has largely disappeared from Washington’s political agenda in recent years: climate change.

Speaking briefly after being named to the seat by Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D), Schatz voiced his concern over the threat climate change poses to the world if nothing is done:

“For me, personally, I believe global climate change is real and it is the most urgent challenge of our generation,” Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz (D), whom Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) tapped for the seat, said in brief comments Wednesday.

While climate change poses a threat to everyone, it is particularly dangerous for the Hawaiian Islands. Sea level rises could drown its beaches and the communities around them, and two of the state’s major industries — fishing and tourism — would feel an especially large impact.

Across America, industries and the environment have been devastated by droughts and natural disasters that a changing climate has exacerbated, but little has caught the attention of policymakers. While climate change-related legislation has stalled in the U.S. in recent years, the United Nations climate summit ended earlier this month with only “modest” movement toward a deal to address the problem on a global level.

GM crops destroyed by U.S. drought- but non GM varieties flourish

December 30, 2012


Non-GM varieties are more drought resistant, yet agritech giants ensure farmers are unable to access them
Dr Eva Sirinathsinghji

A fully referenced and illustrated version of this article is posted on ISIS members website and is otherwise available for download here

The United States is suffering the worst drought in 50 years. But crop damage may well have been avoided if high quality non-GM varieties were available to farmers. Further evidence is emerging that glyphosate-tolerant crops are ill-equipped to deal with drought, while high quality non-GM varieties are flourishing. Monopoly of the seed industry has left farmers unable to get non-GM varieties, despite the drought having global repercussions including steep rises of cereal prices and reduced meat production in many countries.

In a commentary circulated by GM Watch (UK), Howard Vlieger, a co-founder and agroecological farming advisor of Verity Farms in drought-stricken South Dakota the US, provides evidence from a farmer who has grown both GM and Verity Farms’ non-GM varieties of soybean and corn side by side [1]. Non-GM soybean, grown in agroecological conditions to promote soil biodiversity and nutritional content is shown next to Monsanto’s GM triple-stack GM corn, which is glyphosate-tolerant and additionally expresses two Bt insecticidal toxins, grown using conventional chemical industrial methods that include the use of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide, Roundup (Figure 1). As captured in the photograph, non-GM varieties appear greener, fuller, and healthier. These impressions are backed up by the far superior yield reported of non-GM corn, which averaged 100-120 bushels per acre (BPA) compared to the 8-12 BPA to 30-50 BPA of GM corn.

Figure 1 Aerial photo of adjacent fields with non-GM corn (left) and triple stack roundup ready GM corn (right)

The large yield differential was confirmed in a new set of harvest data provided by Vlieger (with accompanying photographic identification) for three fields surrounding Verity Farm, all growing Smart Stack RR corn [2]. All were harvested for corn silage as the yields were too poor to harvest the grain. The federal crop insurance adjuster appraised yields were respectively 12 bushels per acre (BPA), 27 BPA, and 28 BPA. The Non-GMO corn on Verity Farm across the road yielded 108 BPA.

The findings were replicated with soybean crops (see Figure 2).


To conclude

Glyphosate-tolerant crops have been repeatedly shown to be less healthy than conventional varieties. Their increased water demands make them entirely unsuitable in times of unpredictable weather conditions and increasingly limited supply globally (see [13] World Water Supply in Jeopardy, SiS 56). Monopolisation of the seed market means conventional varieties are unavailable, therefore reducing the farmers’ ability to effectively deal with changing conditions and most worryingly, it threatens global food security and sovereignty. A global shift to non-GM agroecological farming is the real way forward.

More at the link above.