Kauai Hindu Sustainability

SOURCE: Linda Harmon (lindaharmon@hawaiiantel.net) SUBHEAD: Kauai’s Hindu Temple - Our Sustainable Neighbors at Wailua-Kapaa Neighborhood Association Meeting. By Rayne Regush on 25 March 2011 for Wailua-Kapaa Neighborhood Association - Image above: Meditation pavilion overlooking the Wailua River at Kauai Hindu Monastery. Photo by Juan Wilson. WHAT: Presentation on sustainability of Kauai Hindu Monastery WHEN: Saturday, March 26, 2011 - 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. WHERE: Kapa‘a Library Meeting Room Guest speakers Paramacharya Palaniswami and Sannyasin Yoginathaswami of Saiva Siddhanta Church, also known as Kauai’s Hindu Monastery, will discuss the important role of self-sufficiency within the monastery’s lifestyle of religious practice. The 353-acre spiritual sanctuary established in 1970 along the north fork of Wailua River, is an outstanding example of a community living sustainably. The monks grow about 80% of their food and tend a small herd of cows for milk. Organic gardens, herbs, healing plants and hundreds of tropical fruit trees and hardwood trees are cultivated. They mill their own lumber as well. Much can be learned from their sustainable practices -- their exceptional green waste system and approach to soil building, construction techniques, and renewable energy solutions which provide electricity for two of their buildings so far. The monastery’s initiatives set a compelling example for Kaua‘i in fostering food security and self-reliance, and managing natural resources. Meetings are free and open to the public. A portion will include updates on local issues. For information about W-KNA, to renew your membership or become a new member, please visit www.wkna.org or contact Sid Jackson at 821-2837. .

Radioactivity in Seawater Soars

SUBHEAD: Radioactivity levels in ocean water soars near Fukushima Dai Ichi as U.S. rushes fresh water to nuclear site. By Staff on 25 March 2011 on MSNBC - (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42280076/ns/world_news-asiapacific) Image above: Wrecked reactor buildings #3 and #4 at Fukushima Dai Ichi. From (http://liberalironist.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/meltdown-at-fukushima-i-nuclear-power-plant). Japan's government revealed a series of missteps by the operator of a radiation-leaking nuclear plant on Saturday, including sending workers in without protective footwear in its faltering efforts to control a monumental crisis. The U.S. Navy, meanwhile, rushed to deliver fresh water to replace corrosive saltwater now being used in a desperate bid to cool the plant's overheated reactors.

Government spokesman Yukio Edano urged Tokyo Electric Power Co. to be more transparent, two days after two workers at the tsunami-damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi plant suffered skin burns when they stepped in water that was 10,000 times more radioactive than levels normally found near the reactors.

"We strongly urge TEPCO to provide information to the government more promptly," Edano said.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, or NISA, said TEPCO was aware there was high radiation in the air at one of the plant's six units several days before the accident. And the two workers injured were wearing boots that only came up to their ankles — hardly high enough to protect their legs, agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said.

"Regardless of whether there was an awareness of high radioactivity in the stagnant water, there were problems in the way work was conducted," Nishiyama said.

NISA warned TEPCO to improve and ensure workers' safety, and TEPCO has taken measures to that effect, Nishiyama said, without elaborating.

TEPCO spokesman Hajime Motojuku declined to comment.

The government's admonishments came as workers at the plant struggled to stop a troubling rise in radioactivity and remove dangerously contaminated water from the facility, which has been leaking radiation since a massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11 knocked out the plant's key cooling systems. Officials have been using seawater to try to cool the plant, but fears are growing that the corrosive salt in the water could further damage the machinery inside the reactor units.

TEPCO is now rushing to inject the reactors with fresh water instead, and to begin extracting the radioactive water, Nishiyama said.

Defense Minister Yoshimi Kitazawa said late Friday that the U.S. government had made "an extremely urgent" request to switch to fresh water. He said the U.S. military was sending water to nearby Onahama Bay and that water injections could begin in the next few days.

The U.S. 7th Fleet confirmed that barges loaded with 500,000 gallons of fresh water supplies were on their way.

The situation at the crippled complex remains unpredictable, Edano said Saturday, adding that it would be "a long time" until the crisis ends.

"We seem to be keeping the situation from turning worse," he said. "But we still cannot be optimistic."

Suspected breach in plant Efforts to get the nuclear plant under control took on fresh urgency this week when nuclear safety officials said they suspected a breach in one or more of the plant's units — possibly a crack or hole in the stainless steel chamber around a reactor core containing fuel rods or the concrete wall surrounding a pool where spent fuel rods are stored.

Such a breach could mean a much larger release of radioactive contaminants.

Radioactivity was on the rise in some units, Nishiyama said Saturday.

"It is crucial to figure out how to remove contaminated water while allowing work to continue," he said, acknowledging that the discovery would set back delicate efforts to get the plant's cooling system operating again.

Workers have begun pumping radioactive water from one of the units, Masateru Araki, a TEPCO spokesman, said Saturday.

Plant officials and government regulators say they don't know the source of the radioactive water. It could have come from a leaking reactor core, connecting pipes, or a spent fuel pool. Or it may be the result of overfilling the pools with emergency cooling water.

But a breach in the chamber surrounding the reactor core seemed "more likely," Nishiyama said.

TEPCO said late Saturday that a trace of radioactive water had leaked from the Unit 2 reactor building into a sewage line. It was not clear if the source of the water was the same as the other leakage. TEPCO said officials were investigating.

Radiation has been seeping from the plant since the magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami struck more than two weeks ago. Since then, it has made its way into milk, seawater and 11 kinds of vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower and turnips.

Tap water in several areas of Japan, including Tokyo, has shown higher-than-normal levels of radiation. In the capital, readings were at one point two times higher than the government safety limit for infants, who are particularly vulnerable to radioactive iodine.

But levels have fallen steadily since peaking Wednesday, and Tokyo metropolitan officials said Saturday that tap water was safe for babies to drink.

Just outside a reactor at the coastal nuclear plant, radioactivity in seawater tested about 1,250 times higher than normal, Nishiyama said. He said the area is not a source of seafood and the contamination posed no immediate threat to human health.

However, tests conducted 18 miles (28 kilometers) offshore found radioactive iodine-131 at levels nearing the regulatory limit set by the Japanese government, the International Atomic Energy Agency said. The tests also detected another radioactive substance, cesium-137, at lower levels.

IAEA experts said the ocean will quickly dilute the worst contamination. Radioactive iodine breaks down within weeks but cesium could foul the marine environment for decades.

The nuclear crisis has added to the misery and uncertainty facing Japan in the wake of the disastrous earthquake and tsunami.

Japanese soldiers and U.S. Marines were clearing away debris so they could keep searching for bodies and bury the dead. The official death toll was 10,418 Saturday, with more than 17,000 listed as missing, police said. Those lists may overlap, but the final death toll was expected to surpass 18,000.

'Life is very difficult here' Overwhelmed by bodies along the coast, government officials conducted more mass burials Saturday. In Yamamoto, relatives wailed and yelled their farewells as the first 11 caskets were buried in one end of a long mass grave in a vegetable patch, with at least 400 more burials planned in the coming days.

In Higashimatsushima, soldiers lowered plywood coffins into a ditch dug at a recycling plant as freezing rain fell on mourners weeping quietly under umbrellas. Funerals in Japan are a highly formalized Buddhist ceremony, and the mass burials are yet another tragedy for the hard-hit coastal towns.

The misery has extended to the hundreds of thousands whose homes were destroyed, many of whom now sleep on crowded school gymnasium floors with few comforts. Those living within a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius of the plant have been evacuated.

Life was also tough in the ghost towns inside a larger voluntary evacuation zone, with most residents choosing to flee and wary truckers refusing to deliver goods.

In Minamisoma, a city of 71,000 about 20 miles (30 kilometers) north of the plant, all but one or two shops shut their doors because of a lack of goods and customers, city official Sadayasu Abe said.

"Commercial trucks are simply not coming to the city at all due to radiation fears," he said.

Military troops and some private companies took up the task of delivering rice, instant noodles, bottled water and canned foods to eight central spots in the city, Abe said.

He said the city was urging the 10,000 or so still remaining to leave since the situation at the plant remains precarious.

"Life is very difficult here," he told The Associated Press by telephone. "We have electricity, gas and running water, but no food."

Muneyuki Munakata, a 58-year-old firefighter who was evacuated from his home near the plant, has been living in a shelter about 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of the nuclear complex for 15 days. Evacuees have plenty of instant noodles, but not enough rice or fuel for the stove, he said.

"People here are all exhausted," he said. "We all talk about when we can go home, but I don't know when because of uncertainty over the nuclear disaster."

Amazing Mechanical Seagull

SUBHEAD: By taking such a clear cue from nature's design, the SmartBird could help in the development more sustainable flight. By Stephen Messenger on 25 March 2011 for Tree Hugger - (http://www.treehugger.com/files/2011/03/amazing-mechanical-seagull-rivals-the-real-thing.php) Image above: Still from video below of mechanical seagull. It's a bird... It's a plane... Wait, it's both Mankind has long been fascinated with the idea of soaring through the sky like a bird, though oddly enough, many of the early flying contraptions were so bizarre as to seem plucked from thin air -- even though nature had conquered that realm eons earlier. Eventually, of course, we figured out how to achieve sustained flight, though achieving sustainable flight has been an entirely new challenge. One engineering firm, however, seems to have made a real breakthrough in efficient aviation -- by mimicking a design that had been over our noses the whole time. Video above: Mechanical seagull in flight. From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnR8fDW3Ilo).

If Mother Nature held patents on her designs, the engineers at the Festo Corporation would probably have a lawsuit on their hands. The group recently unveiled one of the most lifelike and natural-seeming flying machines that I have ever seen -- called the SmartBird, inspired by the flight dynamics of a common seagull.

mechanical-seagull2.jpg

The corporation's web site describes the inspiration behind the clever mechanical-gull:

This bionic technology-bearer, which is inspired by the herring gull, can start, fly and land autonomously - with no additional drive mechanism. Its wings not only beat up and down, but also twist at specific angles. This is made possible by an active articulated torsional drive unit, which in combination with a complex control system attains an unprecedented level of efficiency in flight operation. Festo has thus succeeded for the first time in creating an energy-efficient technical adaptation of this model from nature.

By taking such a clear cue from nature's design, Festo says that the SmartBird could help in the development more sustainable flight. "The minimal use of materials and the extremely lightweight construction pave the way for efficiency in resource and energy consumption," says Festo.

There's no telling quite yet if the nature-inspired technological advancement could be used towards improving designs on a larger scale -- but it's nice to know they're looking in the right place for ideas.

The Local Food Revolution

SUBHEAD: A revolution aimed at rebuilding food security and food sovereignty for all. By Michael Brownlee on 24 March 2011 in Boulder Weekly - (http://www.boulderweekly.com/article-4806-id-like-to-see-a-study-on-the-relative-cost-for-t.html) Image above: Boulder Belt Farm share. From (http://www.localharvest.org/blog/330/entry/boulder_belt_farm_share_inititiative16). Boulder, Colorado - Anyone living in the area could scarcely have escaped noticing some of the obvious first signs of this revolution: Farmers’ markets are popping up around the county, along with roadside farmstands. More restaurants are sourcing their ingredients from local farmers and ranchers. Municipalities have been compelled to change laws to accommodate the rapidly rising citizen demand to raise chickens, goats and bees in residential backyards. Backyard and frontyard gardens seem to be proliferating everywhere, and local fresh produce is now even being offered in many Boulder County school lunchrooms. Dozens of family farms are now offering CSAs (community supported agriculture), essentially prepaid subscriptions to a share in a season’s bounty. And plastic-covered “hoop houses” are springing up on farms and in yards as gardeners struggle to meet the challenge of extending the Front Range’s famously short growing season. But some of the signs of this revolution are far less visible. For instance, hundreds of people have been signing up for “reskilling” classes on forest gardening, food canning and preservation, composting, vermiculture (worm ranching), seed-saving, food fermentation, greenhouse construction, aquaponics (combining aquaculture with hydroponic plant production), along with rainwater harvesting. Even more have been taking instruction in seasonal eating and cooking, as well as basic nutrition. In addition, over the past four years more than 300 people in the area have graduated from an intense 72-hour permaculture design certification course, and about 50 have gone on to become certified permaculture instructors. Nonprofit organizations — including Everybody Eats!, Growing Gardens, Cultiva!, and Transition Louisville — have been working to stimulate demand for local food, as well as increasing local food production capacity. In 2007, Transition Colorado launched an ongoing countywide EAT LOCAL! Campaign, which now includes a 10 percent Local Food Shift Challenge and Pledge. The organization also publishes Boulder County’s EAT LOCAL! Resource Guide & Directory, and has hosted numerous films and high-profile speakers, conferences and an EAT LOCAL! Week. County government is also involved. In 2008, the Boulder County Commissioners formed a Food & Agriculture Policy Council, with a mandate to convert 10 percent of the 17,000 acres of county-owned open space agricultural land to food production for local consumption by 2012. Why local food? Why the growing interest in local food? The answers lie in understanding our “food predicament,” particularly our dependence on a fragile and increasingly unwieldy global food system. For perspective, it’s useful to know that the latest USDA data shows that Boulder County residents spent $947 million on food in 2010 (up from $662 million in 2007). But how much of this goes to Boulder County producers? Not much. While definitive numbers are still unavailable, it’s safe to say that no more than 1 to 2 percent of the food we consume in Boulder County is produced within the county. For an agricultural county with more than 137,000 acres of productive ag land, that’s surprising. This situation is roughly in line with the state as a whole — Colorado residents spend $12 billion annually on food, 97 percent of which is imported from outside the state. As in most places, since World War II agriculture has become primarily focused on producing exports. Conventional farmers have been told that their mission is “to feed the world.” Thus, 95 percent of all agricultural production in the county is exported. At the heart of the local food revolution is the realization that our ability to meet our basic food needs locally has been thoroughly undermined by big agribusiness, including the “value-added” food processors whose products have added considerable heft to our waistlines and contributed directly to a national health crisis of obesity, Type II diabetes and a host of food-related diseases. The real cost of this arrangement has been very high. Local food advocates are also acutely aware that the globalized food system is highly dependent on fossil fuels for inputs (synthetic fertilizers and pesticides), processing, storage, cooling and transportation. They see increasing signs that dependence on foreign oil — inevitably increasing in price as global oil production peaks — puts big agribusiness and “conventional” agriculture in a no-win situation, and that the misnamed “Green Revolution” (it was a coup!) is exhibiting signs of failure in the face of already devastating impacts of climate change. They also claim that widespread application of synthetic chemicals is jeopardizing long-term soil fertility. “The soil is a living thing, and we are murdering it,” says Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food movement. “Industrial agriculture has embraced the idea of farming without farmers, but at this rate one day we’ll be forced to farm without land.” To complicate matters, as author Anna Lappé concludes in Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It, the way we currently grow, process, ship, market and cook our food may be contributing more than 30 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. All these factors have combined to make food one of the most unsustainable spheres of human activity. Feed the world, or feed our own? Meanwhile, the world population is apparently on the way to 9 billion people by mid-century, necessitating at least a doubling of current food production — at a time when a global food crisis looms on the horizon. While big agribusiness insists that the only way to continue to feed the world is to greatly increase the efficiency of industrialized agriculture (and towards that end to genetically engineer virtually all crops), a growing number of people are seeing this technological approach as not only unsustainable but a clear threat to human freedom and sovereignty. With the likely total deregulation of genetically modified organisms and the absence of appropriate food labeling, consumers and growers alike feel that their ability to exercise choice has been taken away. Meanwhile, even “natural” grocers like Vitamin Cottage admit that the majority of the products on their shelves probably contain GMOs. While GMO labeling is mandated in most EU nations, industry has mobilized to successfully prevent such practices in the United States. A U.N. report released in early March claims that support of small-scale farming using “agro-ecological” methods — i.e., mostly local and organic — could easily double food production in 10 years in critical regions. This study confirms what local food advocates have known for years, that we must begin making the shift to growing most of our own food locally, with bio-intensive methods that restore soil, rekindle connection with the land and rebuild community. Recent studies indicate that the benefits of food localization can be far-reaching. Returning to a fresh, seasonal, mostly organic local diet will significantly improve the health of our communities, especially our children, and dramatically reduce health care costs. Shrinking our foodshed will not only reduce food-miles, but bio-intensive cultivation methods will also sequester carbon in the soil, making food localization one of the most effective approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Surprisingly, rebuilding our local food system might also be the most important thing we can do to strengthen our local economies — to create new jobs and stem the leakage of dollars. Economist and food system researcher Michael Shuman recently completed a study for the greater Cleveland area that shows that moving to 25 percent food localization in that area by 2020 could produce 27,000 new jobs, generate $4.2 billion of economic activity each year, and produce $126 million in new local and state tax revenues. Shuman, who is director of research and economic development for BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies), is now conducting a similar study to quantify the potential economic upside for food localization in the Boulder County area. Commissioned by Transition Colorado, the study will identify gaps, challenges and opportunities, and will map the business initiatives, public policy shifts, and nonprofit programs to make 25 percent food localization achievable by 2020. Financing the revolution One of the impacts of the globalization of food has been the gradual erosion of the network of enterprises that once supported a robust local food and farming economy. According to retired Boulder attorney and former Food & Agriculture Policy Council member-at-large Jim England, at the turn of the 20th century Boulder County had six flour mills (three of them in or near the Boulder city limits), canning factories and other processing plants, commercially successful berry and small fruit operations, and thousands of fruit trees (Boulder’s Grove Street is named after the commercial apple and other fruit groves that grew there). There were butchers on Pearl Street, malt houses, a cheese factory in Hygiene and a number of working dairies. “A hundred years ago this was something of a locavore’s paradise,” says England. “And if it once was thus, my hope is it can again be that.” But crucial to achieving any significant level of food localization will be the rebuilding of Boulder County’s local food infrastructure — production, processing, distribution and storage — which will require an infusion of financial investments to underwrite the entrepreneurs and farmers who wish to be part of the local food revolution. In an era of shrinking budgets, where will that money come from? Woody Tasch, a frequent visitor to Boulder County, has an answer: “Slow Money,” which Entrepreneur Magazine dubbed “one of the top five trends in finance for 2011.” Weaving economic savvy with a poet’s penchant for language, Tasch explains that Slow Money represents “the creation of new forms of intermediation that catalyze the transition from a commerce of extraction and consumption to a commerce of preservation and restoration.” It’s a reversal of dependence on Wall Street markets and traditional investment vehicles, which parallels the shift from big agribusiness to local food economies. Tasch says that the recent economic crisis is exactly what one can expect when the relationships between money, community and the land are broken. The most appropriate way to begin building a restorative economy, he says, is to invest locally in sustainable, small-scale food enterprises. The Slow Money approach (www.SlowMoney.org) aims to bring together key stakeholders, investors and entrepreneurs, along with leaders in local food and progressive finance. Slow Money is just now beginning to take hold in Boulder County, with an commitment of $1.5 million from an anonymous donor to seed what promises to become a critical source of capital for local food and farming enterprises. That fund is currently under the stewardship of Transition Colorado, but will soon be established as an independent Slow Money entity. Catalyzing a local network Rebuilding production capacity and increasing consumer demand simultaneously is something of a chicken-and-egg challenge. Some farmers remain skeptical that the demand for locally produced food will continue to follow a supposed hockey-stick trajectory. They wonder: “If we are able to dramatically ramp up production, where will the infrastructure come from that can get our products processed and onto the tables of consumers?” One bright spot may be the recent emergence of a “foodshed alliance” known as the Boulder County Local Food Network, conceived as a cooperative membership organization joining farmers, food and agricultural leaders, local businesses, local governments and community residents in a united effort to stimulate and support the local food economy and to foster increasing localization of the regional food system. The group’s informal motto is “thinking like a foodshed.” Organized as a member of the national Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, the Local Food Network was first announced on Feb. 27 at the “Our Local Economy in Transition” conference, and the group is now recruiting charter members. Founding members include Everybody Eats!, Ollin Farms, Center for ReSource Conservation and Transition Colorado. The group hopes to grow to 200 members over the next two years, including farmers, ranchers, restaurants, retailers, food processors, distributors, food-related businesses, nonprofit and community organizations, county and municipal governments, as well as other local businesses that support the goals and values of the network. Making the transition to local food and farming In 2006, a food working group calculated that the then-current state of agriculture in Boulder County could only feed about 20,000 — less than 7 percent of the total population of 300,000. They then looked at the upside, estimating that with greatly expanded individual and community garden plots, greatly increased farming for food using bio-intensive methods, with reduced calorie intake and a simplified diet, this maybe could be increased to about 185,000 people — a daunting realization, but a useful benchmark of our vulnerability here. The group also learned that there were already about 34,000 food-insecure people — those without secure, reliable access to food — in Boulder County, and those numbers have been increasing dramatically with the recent economic turmoil. Boulder County is proud of its farmers’ markets, and more of them are coming up every year. Boulder’s own market is widely regarded as one of the top 10 in the country, and an estimated 14,000 people show up at the Boulder market on a Saturday. Yet, an entire season’s sales at the Boulder County Farmers’ Markets — Boulder and Longmont together — would meet Boulder County’s food needs for less than a day and a half. Given all this, it’s clear that one of the most important things we can all do together is to completely rebuild our local foodshed — from multiplying backyard and frontyard gardens, to raising chickens and keeping bees, to committing to only buying food that is local and organic, to converting our local agricultural lands to growing food for local consumption, to rebuilding local food storage and distribution systems, to demanding that our supermarkets stop importing food we could produce here ourselves, to training young people to learn farming as a wise and essential — and even sustainable — career choice. Of course, the transition to a re-localized, non-fossil-fuel food and farming system will take some time — because nearly every aspect of the process by which we feed ourselves must be redesigned and rebuilt. But if we do this right, we have an opportunity to build a localized food and farming system that is economically robust, environmentally sustainable, resilient and self-reliant, one that ensures food security and sovereignty for all, one that contributes to the health and happiness of our citizens, and that revitalizes our communities. If we do this right, not only can we reverse the destruction that industrial agriculture causes, but we can replace it with something far better, a way of growing and preparing food that heals our connection with the land and with each other. In the process, we may also find that we’re restoring the kind of democracy envisioned by Thomas Jefferson for his fledgling nation. .

Rally for Labeling GMOs

SUBHEAD: Rally on Saturday, April 26th, 12 to 2 pm at Lihue Airport Entrance.  

By Linda Pascatore on 25 March 2011 for Island Breath -
(http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2011/03/rally-for-labeling-gmos.html)

 
Image above: Right to know GMO contents. From (http://organicconsumers.org/monsanto/index.cfm).  

WHAT:
Join our rally for labeling of GMO foods  

WHEN: Saturday, April 26th, 12 to 2 pm  

WHERE:
Corner at Entrance to Lihue Airport  

WHO:
Sponsored by GMO Free Kauai, in conjunction with the Institute for Responsible Technology (http://www.responsibletechnology.org/)

 MORE:
The following is from The Institute for Responsible Technology (http://www.responsibletechnology.org/rally-for-the-right-to-know):

Rally For The Right To Know

Genetically Modified Foods need to be labeled!

The national Millions Against Monsanto campaign staff is gearing up for a nationwide day of action on World Food Day, October 16, pledging to make it the biggest action on genetic engineering in US history. To help raise awareness for the campaign, Millions Against Monsanto activist Trish Wright has sent out a call for a demonstration at the White House on Saturday, March 26th and has urged other activists around the country to "Rally for the Right to Know" locally. The response has been tremendous. Millions Against Monsanto is spreading across the country!

Japan's Electric Bottleneck

SUBHEAD: Brownouts will continue. It is unlikely TEPCO can meet the power demand for Tokyo for several years. By John Ydstie on 24 March 2011 for National Public Radio - (http://www.npr.org/2011/03/24/134828205/a-country-divided-japans-electric-bottleneck) Image above: Buildings are seen without illumination in Tokyo's Shibuya district. Rolling blackouts are crippling the town. From original article. Even on a slow day, Tsukiji market, the largest fish market in the world, is a beehive of activity. Motorized carts buzz down narrow aisles carrying tuna carcasses. They're sawed into chunks and shipped to restaurants in Tokyo and around the world. Normally, these aisles would be jammed with buyers. But on a recent day, they're nearly empty. Mr. Kaoru, a wholesaler, blames the blackouts. "I predict one-third of the wholesalers in the market will close the shop, the business," he says. "[The] main reason is the power source." Rolling blackouts continue in the Tokyo area following the loss of power generation at the damaged nuclear plants in Fukushima. Tokyo Electric Power Co., the giant utility that serves the region, has lost 20 percent of its power capacity. Blackouts are crippling businesses from auto producers to fishmongers. The rolling blackouts are also reducing train service, making commuting unpredictable. So people don't stay downtown eating and drinking after work. The result is that fish sales at Tsukiji fish market are down about 50 percent. In the morning, the blackouts mean some rail commuters can't get to work on time. That's a problem for big auto manufacturer Nissan. "Electricity going down creates its own damage," says Andrew Palmer, a senior vice president at Nissan. He's trying to get the company's auto plants up and running. But he's plagued by power outages that shut down production lines and damage equipment. "Certainly the power outages are something we have to work with," Palmer says. "Obviously, it's partially a negotiation with the local authorities." But so far TEPCO, one of the biggest privately owned power companies in the world, says it can't guarantee power to anyone. "When blackouts are required we do not discriminate among our customers, whether industrial or residential," the company says. Blackouts That Could Continue For Years The problem is these rolling blackouts could continue for many months — even years. "This is a real problem for those factories which need uninterrupted supplies," says professor Tatsuo Hatta, president of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo. He says the situation might cause some companies to move. "It's clear that from their viewpoint they'd better move their plant to the western part of Japan where electricity is plenty." It might seem much easier to send the surplus power from one side of Japan to the other to ease the blackouts. But that's harder than you might think, Hatta says. "One major problem is that the east and west of Japan have different electric cycles and the capacity of the connectors are very much limited," he says. That's partly an accident of history. Eastern Japan followed the German model and has a 50-cycle electrical power grid. The western part of Japan used the American model and has a 60-cycle grid. Transferring power from one grid to another requires a very expensive facility. And there are only three connections between eastern and western Japan. That bottleneck means the power transfer is just a trickle, even during this national emergency. Creating more capacity would take years. Fear Of A Monopoly Hatta says, up until now, Japan's big utility companies, including TEPCO, liked the arrangement, because it protected their monopoly pricing and made them very powerful politically. "The users of electricity like Japan Steel wouldn't say anything against electric utility companies — they are so afraid," he says. "And also many politicians wouldn't touch those electric utility companies." Hatta says the situation must change to reduce the stranglehold the utilities have on the country's energy users. "One possibility is that on this occasion [the] Japanese government nationalize TEPCO," he says. The government could keep TEPCO's transmission lines and sell off its power plants to smaller producers who would compete to sell power to customers. For the time being, TEPCO says it's doing everything it can to secure more power. The stakes are incredibly high. Power consumption normally doubles during the heat of the summer. Right now it seems unlikely TEPCO will be able to meet the demand, threatening more disruption for Japanese companies and workers, and greater damage to Japan's fragile economy. .

Nuclear Myth Melts Down

SUBHEAD: Replacing coal and oil with nuclear power is like trading heroin for crack. By Chip Ward on 24March 2011 in TomDispatch - (http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175371/tomgram%3A_chip_ward%2C_the_nuclear_myth_melts_down) Image above: "Buster Jangle" Atom bomb test at Nevada Proving grounds in 1951 that sought to determine effect of exposure on US fighting forces. Were these soldiers told of any potential harm to them? Did anyone have a clue or care? From (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Buster-Jangle_shot_with_personnel.jpg).

When nuclear reactors blow, the first thing that melts down is the truth. Just as in the Chernobyl catastrophe almost 25 years ago when Soviet authorities denied the extent of radiation and downplayed the dire situation that was spiraling out of control, Japanese authorities spent the first week of the Fukushima crisis issuing conflicting and confusing reports. We were told that radiation levels were up, then down, then up, but nobody aside from those Japanese bureaucrats could verify the levels and few trusted their accuracy. The situation is under control, they told us, but workers are being evacuated. There is no danger of contamination, but stay inside and seal your doors.

The First Atomic Snow Job

The bureaucratization of horror into bland and reassuring pronouncements was to be expected, especially from an industry where misinformation is the rule. Although you might suppose that the nuclear industry’s outstanding characteristic would be its expertise, since it’s loaded with junior Einsteins who grasp the math and physics required to master the most awesomely sophisticated technology humans have ever created, think again. Based on the record, it’s most outstanding characteristic is a fundamental dishonesty. I learned that the hard way as a grassroots activist organizing opposition to a scheme hatched by a consortium of nuclear utilities to park thousands of tons of highly radioactive fuel rods, like the ones now burning at Fukushima, in my Utah backyard.

Here’s what I took away from that experience: the nuclear industry is a snake-oil culture of habitual misrepresentation, pervasive wishful thinking, deep denial, and occasional outright deception. For more than 50 years, it has habitually lied about risks and costs while covering up every violation and failure it could. Whether or not its proponents and spokespeople are dishonest or merely deluded can be debated, but the outcome -- dangerous misinformation and the meltdown of honest civic discourse -- remains the same, as we once again see at Fukushima.

Established at the dawn of the nuclear age, the pattern of dissemblance had become a well-worn rut long before the Japanese reactors spun out of control. In the early 1950s, the disciples of nuclear power, or the “peaceful atom” as it was then called, insisted that nuclear power would soon become so cheap and efficient that it would be offered to consumers for free. Visionaries that they were, they suggested that cities would be constructed with building materials impregnated with uranium so that snow removal would be unnecessary. Atomic bombs, they urged, should be used to carve out new coastal harbors for ships. In low doses, they swore, radiation was actually beneficial to one’s health.

Such notions and outright fantasies, as well as propaganda for a new industry and a new way of war -- even if laughable today -- had tragic results back then. Thousands of American GIs, for instance, were marched into ground zero just after above-ground nuclear tests had been set off to observe their responses to what military planners assumed would be the atomic battlefield of the future. Ignorance, it turns out, is not bliss, and thousands of those soldiers later became ill. Many died young.

Unwary civilians who lived downwind of America’s western testing grounds were also exposed to nuclear fallout and they, too, suffered horribly from a variety of cancers and other illnesses. Uranium miners exposed to radiation in the tunnels where they wrestled from the earth the raw materials for the nuclear age also became ill and died too soon, as did workers processing that uranium into weapons and fuel. Many of those miners were poor Navajos from my backyard in Utah where a new uranium boom, part of the so-called nuclear renaissance, was -- before Fukushima -- set to take shape.

How Unlikely Risks Become Inevitable

In the future, today’s low-risk claims from industry advocates will undoubtedly seem as tragically naïve as yesterday’s false claims. Yes, the likelihood that any specific nuclear power plant reactor will melt down may be slim indeed -- which hardly means inconceivable -- but to act as though nuclear risks are limited to the operation of power plants is misleading in the extreme. “Spent fuel” from reactors (the kind burning in Japan as I write) is produced as a plant operates, and that fuel remains super hot and dangerous for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. As we are learning to our sorrow at the Fukushima complex, such used fuel is hardly “spent.” In fact, it can be even more radioactive and dangerous than reactor cores.

Spent fuel continues to pile up in a nuclear waste stream that will have to be closely managed and monitored for eons, so long that those designing nuclear-waste repositories struggle with the problem of signage that might be intelligible in a future so distant today’s languages may not be understood. You might think that a danger virulent enough to outlast human languages would be a danger to avoid, but the hubris of the nuclear establishment is equal to its willingness to deceive.

A natural disaster, accident, or terrorist attack that might be statistically unlikely in any year or decade becomes ever more likely at the half-century, century, or half-millennium mark. Given enough time, in fact, the unlikely becomes almost inevitable. Even if you and I are not the victims of some future apocalyptic disturbance of that lethal residue, to consign our children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren to such peril is plainly and profoundly immoral.

Nuclear proponents have long wanted to limit the discussion of risk to plant operation alone, not to the storage of dangerous wastes, and they remain eager to ignore altogether the risks inherent in transporting nuclear waste (often called “mobile Chernobyl” by nuclear critics). Moving those spent fuel rods to future repositories represents a rarely acknowledged category of potential catastrophe. Just imagine a trainload of hot nuclear waste derailing catastrophically along a major urban corridor with the ensuing evacuations of nearby inhabitants. It means, in essence, that one of those Fukushima “pools” of out-of-control waste could “go nuclear” anywhere in our landscape.

Risk is about more than likelihood; it’s also about impact. If I tell you that your chances of being bitten by a mosquito as you cross my yard are one in a hundred, you’ll think of that risk differently than if I give you the same odds on a deadly pit viper. As events unfold in Japan, it’s ever clearer that we’re talking pit viper, not mosquito. You wouldn’t know it though if you were to debate nuclear industry representatives, who consistently downplay both odds and impact, and dismiss those who claim otherwise as hysterical doomsayers. Fukushima will assumedly make their task somewhat more difficult.

Hidden Costs and Wasted Subsidies

The true costs of nuclear power are another subject carefully fudged and obscured by nuclear power advocates. From its inception in federally funded labs, nuclear power has been highly subsidized. A recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that “more than 30 subsidies have supported every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle from uranium mining to long-term waste storage. Added together, these subsidies have often exceeded the average market price for the power produced.” When it comes to producing electricity, these subsidies are so extensive, the report concludes, that “in some cases it would have cost taxpayers less to simply buy the kilowatts on the open market and give them away.”

If the nuclear club in Congress, led by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, gets its way, billions more in subsidies will be forthcoming, including massive federal loan guarantees to build the next generation of nuclear plants. These are particularly important to the industry, since bankers won’t otherwise touch projects that are notorious for mammoth cost overruns, lengthy delays, and abrupt cancellations.

The Obama administration has already proposed an additional $36 billion in such guarantees to underwrite new plant construction. That includes $4 billion for the construction of two new nuclear reactors on the Gulf Coast that are to be operated in partnership with Tokyo Electric Power Company -- that’s right, the very outfit that runs the Fukushima complex. Yet when I debate nuclear advocates, they always claim that, in cost terms, nuclear power outcompetes alternative sources of energy like wind and solar.

That government gravy train doesn’t just stop at new power plants either. The feds have long assumed the epic costs of waste management and storage. If another multi-billion dollar project like the now-abandoned Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada is built, it will be with dollars from taxpayers and captive ratepayers (the free market be damned). Industry spokesmen insist that subsidizing such projects will be well worth it, since they will create thousands of new jobs. Unfortunately for them, a definitive 2009 University of Massachusetts study that analyzed various infrastructure investments including wind, solar, and retrofitting buildings to conserve energy placed nuclear dead last in job creation.

Finally, the recently renewed Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act limits the liability of nuclear utilities should a catastrophe like the one in Japan happen here in the United States. The costs of recovery from the Fukushima catastrophe will be astronomical. In the U.S., nuclear utilities would be off the hook for any of those costs and you, the citizen, would foot the bill. Despite their assurances that nothing can go wrong here, nuclear industry officials have made sure that in their business risk and reward are carefully separated. It’s a scenario we should all know well: private corporations take away profits when things go well, and taxpayers assume responsibility when shit happens.

Finally, nuclear power boosters like to proclaim themselves “green” and to claim that their industry is the ideal antidote to global warming since it produces no greenhouse gas emissions. In doing so, they hide the real environmental footprint of nuclear energy.

It’s quite true that no carbon dioxide comes out of power-plant smokestacks. However, maintaining any future infrastructure to handle the industry’s toxic waste is guaranteed to produce lots of carbon dioxide. So does mining uranium and processing it into fuel rods, building massive reactors from concrete and steel, and then behemoth repositories capable of holding waste for 1,000 years. Radiation from the Fukushima meltdown is now entering the Japanese food chain. How green is that?

The Watchdogs Play Dead

Over the course of nuclear power’s history, there have been scores of mishaps, accidents, violations, and problems that, chances are, you’ve never heard about. Beyond the unavoidable bad PR over the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979, the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986, and now the Japanese catastrophe, the industry has an excellent record -- of covering up its failures.

The co-dependent relationship between the nuclear corporations and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the federal agency charged with licensing and monitoring them, resembles the cozy relationship between the Securities Exchange Commission and Wall Street before the global economic meltdown of 2008. The NRC relies heavily on the industry’s own reports since only a small fraction of its activities can be inspected yearly.

A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, “The NRC and Nuclear Power Plant Safety in 2010,” which highlights the NRC’s haphazard record of inspection and enforcement, makes clear just why the honor system that assumes utilities will honestly report problems has never worked. It describes 14 recent serious “near miss” violations that initially went unreported. At the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, only 38 miles north of the New York metropolitan area, for instance, NRC inspectors ignored a leaking water containment system for 15 years.

After a leaking roof forced the shutdown of two reactors at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear facility in Maryland, plant managers admitted that it had been leaking for eight years. When Honeywell hired temporary workers to replace striking union members at its uranium refinery in Illinois, they were slipped the correct answers to a test required for those allowed to work at nuclear plants, because otherwise they had neither the knowledge nor experience to pass.

The regulation of Japan’s nuclear industry mirrors the American model. Japan’s legacy of regulatory scandals, falsified safety records, underestimated risks, and cover-ups includes an incident in 1999 when workers mixed uranium in open buckets and exposed hundreds of coworkers to radiation. Two later died. Other scandals involved hiding cracks in steam pipes from regulators in 1989, lying about a fire and explosion at a plant near Tokyo in 1997, and covering up damage to a plant from an earthquake in 2007.

In the wake of the Fukushima catastrophe, we will no doubt discover how there, too, so-called watchdogs rolled over and played dead. In recent years, in fact, the Fukushima complex had the highest accident rate of any of the big Japanese nuclear plants. We’ve already learned that an engineer who helped design and supervise the construction of the steel pressure vessel that holds the melting fuel rods in Reactor No. 4 warned that it was damaged during production. He had himself initially orchestrated a cover-up of this fact, but revealed it a decade later -- only to be ignored. During the complex’s construction by General Electric some 35 years ago, Dale Bridenbaugh, a GE employee, resigned after becoming convinced that the reactors being built were seriously flawed. He, too, was ignored. The Vermont Yankee reactor in Vermont and 23 others around the U.S. replicate that design.

Stay tuned, since more examples of reckless management will surely come to light...

Risk Is Not a Math Problem

That culture of secrecy is a logical fit for an industry that is authoritarian by nature. Unlike solar or wind power, nuclear power requires massive investments of capital, highly specialized expertise, robust security, and centralized control. Any local citizen facing the impact of a uranium mine, a power plant, or a proposed waste depository will attest that the owners, operators, and regulators of the industry are remote, unresponsive, and inaccessible. They misinform because they have the power to get away with it. The absence of meaningful checks and balances enables them.

Risk, antinuclear advocates quickly learn, is not simply some complicated math problem to be resolved by experts. Risk is, above all, a question of who is put at risk for whose benefit, of how the rewards, costs, and liabilities of an activity are distributed and whether that distribution is fair. Those are political questions that citizens directly affected should be answering for themselves. When it comes to nuclear power, that doesn’t happen because the industry is undemocratic to its core. Corporate officers treat downwind stakeholders with the same contempt they reserve for honest accountings of the industry’s costs and dangers.

It may be difficult for the average citizen to unpack the technicalities of nuclear power, or understand the complex physics and engineering involved in splitting atoms to make steam to produce electricity. But most of us are good at detecting bullshit. We know when something like the nuclear industry doesn’t pass the smell test.

There is a growing realization that our carbon-based energy system is warming and endangering this planet, but replacing coal and oil with nuclear power is like trading heroin for crack -- different addictions, but no less unhealthy or risky. The “nuclear renaissance,” like the “peaceful atom” before it, is the energy equivalent of a three-card monte game, involving the same capitalist crooks who gave us oil spills, bank bailouts, and so many of the other rip-offs and scams that have plagued our lives in this new century.

They are serial killers. Stop them before they kill again. Credibility counts and you don’t need a PhD or a Geiger counter to detect it.

.

This is the Big One

SUBHEAD: Japan Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear crisis could dwarf the Chernobyl disaster. By Jan Lundberg on 24 March 2011 in Culture Change - (http://www.culturechange.org/cms/content/view/715/1) Image above: Chernobyl nuclear power station after explosion of reactor. From (http://www.our-energy.com/gallery/chernobyl_nuclear_reactor_after_explosion.html). Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock has just produced a definitive interview with Dr. Helen Caldicott, the world's foremost anti-nuclear activist and authority. Listen to it now at Eco shock.net (http://209.217.209.33/~esnet/downloads/ES_110325_Show_LoFi.mp3) 14mb. Here are some notes I took from the broadcast:
• Smoke has been reported rising from the Fukushima unit number 3. If it's from fuel-cooling pools that contain plutonium, that's a major (to put it mildly) disaster. • One millionth of a gram of plutonium ingested causes cancer. • Geiger counter radiation levels have been reassuring for the West Coast of North America. But the real question for public health is "internal emitters" (e.g. Strontium attached to bone) -- that cause cancer and gene mutations -- versus external radiation measurements that cannot discern isotopes. • Long lived isotopes versus quickly degrading ones: the big question for our gene pool. • Fuel-cooling pools pose a far worse threat than reactors. In the U.S. the fuel pools are not backed up with cooling systems! • A large part of Japan is damaged permanently. • Random genetic engineering is being done for the rest of humanity's future. • A peaceful Egypt-kind of revolution is needed against the nuclear psychosis. • Caldicott commissioned a "Nuclear-free, carbon-free" study. She says "Renewable energy can supply all the energy America needs by 2040."
The last point reveals a weakness in the anti-nuclear movement as well as in the climate protection movement. When today's energy appetite is justified by cleaner energy -- as in an obese person's switching the source of calories instead of cutting way back on them and getting significant exercise -- little good can come of it. The "clean energy" vision has a lot of baggage, such as a petroleum infrastructure that is giving out.

A basic lack of understanding of energy plagues many intelligent people who haven't examined petroleum's attributes and role. There is no overall substitute possible for cheap petroleum and its many uses. Even more dangerous, the Holy Grail of abundant "clean energy" someday for a huge consumer economy's "needs" causes tragic delay in slashing energy use now. We must question the need for today's energy consumption by establishing much lower energy use -- lifestyle change -- that needs to happen so that mass curtailment and restructuring can begin now.

To begin to gear up to meet the 2040 goal that Dr. Caldicott called for is folly in that it is off-target, and ignores the realities of overpopulation. But because she is so right on some vital levels, she is able to make an uninformed statement such as the last one in the above list. I have met this wonderful activist, and am in agreement with her new statement that the Japan crisis may be positive for sinking the nuclear industry and then even getting on to the task of dealing with the weapons problem.

Alex Smith produced and offered an important show on March 21 on the nuclear crisis, not released on Culture Change. To make up for this lapse, we asked him for his next report. He has responded with an excellent must-listen show, referenced above. His website is ecoshock.org. Here is the note he sent Culture Change on March 23:

Hi Jan

Here is a hot one to send out to your list: this morning I interviewed Dr. Helen Caldicott about the Japanese nuclear crisis. This may be the first long interview she's given, or at least that I've seen or heard. And she is on fire!

The second part of this week's program is Kathy McMahon, the Peak Oil shrink, on digesting really bad news, plus the nuke problems in New England. She's one smart lady.

Plus a bit of news straight from NHK World today, as four reactors burn in Japan, with all workers evacuated. Hardly any bottled water left in Tokyo, and nurseries can't find what they need to feed babies, now that the tap water is radioactive.

Radiation found in fields 40 kilometers north of Fukushima runs 5 cm. deep, and an expert expects it will last at least 30 years. A big part of Japan is lost to agriculture, if not to human habitation. Certainly the tens of thousands of nuclear refugees from Fukushima itself and neighboring villages are not going home. Not in their lifetimes.

Caldicott says this is the big one. .

The Trouble with Vaporware

SUBHEAD: We need to start talking about how we can hold onto our humanity in bitter times; about how we can find reasons for hope and joy. By John Michael Greer on 23 March 2011 in The Archdruid Report - (http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2011/03/trouble-with-vaporware.html) Image above: Promo for videogame "Duke Nukem Forever" in 2008 that never made it past vaporware... Thank god! From (http://www.pcgameshardware.com/screenshots/original/2008/08/gc08_duke_nukem_02.JPG). Of all the fallacies that surround the contemporary crisis of industrial civilization, and have done so much to bring that crisis down on us, the most seductive is the assumption that it’s a technical problem that can be solved by technical means. That’s an easy assumption to make, for a variety of reasons, but it puts us in the situation of the drunkard in the old joke who looks for his keys under the streetlight half a block from the dark sidewalk where he dropped them, since under the streetlight he can at least see what he’s doing. The technical aspects of our predicament, though challenging, are the least of our worries; it’s the other aspects that have proven intractable. Consider the project of cutting US per capita energy consumption to a third of its present level. Given that the average European uses a third as much energy each year as the average American, and in many ways gets a better standard of living out of it, this is far from impossible; a great deal of the technology is sitting on the shelf only one continent away, in effect, and simply needs to be put to work. Now of course such a project would require a great deal of investment in railways, mass transit, urban redevelopment, and the like, but what’s been spent on recent military adventures in the Middle East would cover much of it – and let’s not even talk about what could be done with the funds being wasted right now to prop up Wall Street banks looted by their own executives in the final blowoff of an epoch of corporate kleptocracy. The return on the investment needed to cut our energy use to European levels, in turn, would be immense. Since the US still produces more than a third of the oil it uses, to name only one result, we would no longer be sending billions of dollars a year to line the pockets of Middle Eastern despots; we’d be a net exporter of oil – even, quite conceivably, a member of OPEC. So why isn’t so sensible a project being debated right now in the halls of Congress? Why, more broadly, has energy conservation through lifestyle change – arguably the single easiest and most cost effective option we have on hand in dealing with the end of the age of cheap oil – been entirely off the political and cultural radar screens since the end of the 1970s, so much so that most of those who have noticed that we’re running out of cheap abundant energy have framed the issue entirely in terms of finding some technical gimmick that will let us keep on living the way we live now? This is where the technical dimension of our predicament gives way to a region where the forces that matter are not the cut-and-dried facts of physics and engineering, but murkier factors – political, cultural, psychological, and (let’s whisper the word) spiritual – and what’s theoretically possible matters a great deal less than what’s culturally and emotionally acceptable. Most writers on peak oil, though not all, have tended to shy away from this unsettled and unsettling territory. This is quite understandable; industrial culture privileges technical knowledge and rewards those who can (or say they can) make the machinery of our daily life purr more smoothly and profitably, and shuts its ears against those who ask questions about the purposes the machines serve and the emotional drives that make those purposes seem to make sense. Still, this leaves us scrabbling around with the drunkard under the streetlight, searching for keys that are lying in the dark half a block away. It’s for this reason, among others, that I was pleased to get a copy of Carolyn Baker’s new book, Sacred Demise: Walking the Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse. Those of my readers who are familiar with Baker’s blog and mine will probably be able to imagine, if they don’t happen to have followed, some of the lively disagreements we’ve had, and it will doubtless come as no surprise that some of the arguments made in Sacred Demise seem problematic to me. Still, those issues of detail are less important than what Baker has tried, with quite some success, to accomplish with this book. What Sacred Demise represents is the first really sustained effort to pull the debate over the future of industrial civilization out of the comfortable realm of technical questions, and force it to confront the deeper and fundamentally nonrational factors that have done so much to keep effective solutions out of reach. The title of the book may need some explanation, because Sacred Demise deals at least as much with psychology as with religion. Admittedly the line between these two has become blurred in recent years; as the modern West has redefined religion wholly in terms of personal relationships with the transcendent, and made its collective aspects increasingly hard to sustain, psychology has come to play the role in modern religious movements that theology still plays in their more traditional sisters. While this shift has had its share of dubious results, it has allowed some crucial religious themes – the imminence of death, the quest for meaning in human existence, and the challenge both these level at individuals and societies alike, among others – to remain live issues in a passionately secular age. These themes, in turn, frame Baker’s approach. She argues that we are long past the point at which the unraveling of the industrial age can be prevented, and our options at this point are limited to facing the difficult future ahead of us, on the one hand, or pretending it isn’t there until it overwhelms us, on the other. She dissects the logic of those who only want to hear about solutions, tracing it back into its deep roots in the fear of death and the attempt to cling to familiar patterns of meaning even when those no longer make sense of our experience, and she tackles the awkward but necessary issues all of us have to confront as decline and fall sets in: the need to mourn, to confront the reality of death, to find new narratives to make sense of a rapidly changing world. . For Baker, then, the core task of our time is not how to prevent collapse; decades of mishandled opportunities have put that hope out of reach. Nor does she embrace the futile strategy of trying to hide out in survivalist enclaves until the rubble stops bouncing. Instead, she calls us to face collapse squarely and personally, as a reality that is already shaping our lives, and will do so ever more forcefully in the years to come. Facing collapse, in turn, requires us to deal with the whole realm of personal baggage we each bring to the experience of decline and fall. That’s a crucial issue, for the unstated psychological and religious subtexts of the crisis of industrial civilization have played a huge role in confusing the already complex issues facing the world just now. Thus it’s vital to realize, when somebody insists that technological progress will inevitably lead our species to immortality among the stars, or when somebody else insists that contemporary civilization has become the ultimate incarnation of everything evil and will shortly be destroyed so that the righteous remnant can inhabit a perfect world, that what they’re saying has very little to do with the facts on the ground. Rather, these are statements of religious belief that coat mythic themes millennia old in a single coat of secular spraypaint. If, dear reader, one or the other of these is your religion, that’s fine – you have as much right to your faith as I have to mine – but please, for the love of Darwin, could you at least admit that it’s a religious belief, an act of faith in a particular constellation of numinous experience, rather than a self-evident truth that any sane and moral person must automatically accept? This last point, I have to admit, goes a little beyond what Baker has to say, and in fact my central criticism of Sacred Demise is precisely that it doesn’t quite manage to apply its sharpest insights to Baker’s own point of view. That view is perilously close to the latter of the religious viewpoints mentioned above; for Baker, the diverse and morally complex reality of the industrial world is flattened into a single vast and terrible abstraction labeled by turns Civilization and Empire, the exact equivalent of Babylon and the kingdom of Satan in her historical mythology. Psychologically, this might best be described in Jungian terms as a bad case of projecting the shadow; in religious terms, it represents a drastic confusion between the realms of being, mistakenly mapping one of the great themes of myth and religious vision onto the messy and prosaic realities of everyday existence. For all that, Sacred Demise is a crucially important book. It is not the last word on the subject, nor do I think Baker would want it to be; rather, it’s the first word in a conversation that we desperately need to start, as the high notes of economic crisis mingle with the basso-profundo of declining energy reserves, pushing us further and further away from the world of business-as-usual fantasy we have tried to inhabit for the last quarter century. We need to start talking about how we can hold onto our humanity in bitter times; about how we can find reasons for hope and sources of necessary joy as so many of our former certainties crumble to dust; about what stories we can use to bring meaning to the world when so many of our familiar meanings no longer make sense of anything. In order to face the realities of decline, in other words, we have to face ourselves, and Baker’s book is a significant contribution to that vital task. .

Momentum swings towards GMOs

SUBHEAD: Genetically modified crops get boost over organic crops with recent USDA rulings. Image above: Since 1998 Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser has fought a David-and-Goliath battle against Monsanto after the biotech giant accused him of planting its Roundup ready canola seeds without its permission. Schmeiser, seen here with files from the legal action, argued the seeds he'd saved from the previous year's crop had been contaminated with the bioengineered product. "Organic farmers can't even grow canola anymore," he said. "It's all contaminated." A judge ruled in Monsanto's favor. From (http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/enlarge/canadian-farmer.html). By Lindsay Layton on 23 march 2011 for the Washington Post - (http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/genetically-modified-crops-get-boost-over-organics-with-recent-usda-rulings/2011/03/10/ABAAWNLB_story.html) At the supermarket, most shoppers are oblivious to a battle raging within U.S. agriculture and the Obama administration’s role in it. Two thriving but opposing sectors — organics and genetically engineered crops — have been warring on the farm, in the courts and in Washington. Organic growers say that, without safeguards, their foods will be contaminated by genetically modified crops growing nearby. The genetic engineering industry argues that its way of farming is safe and should not be restricted in order to protect organic competitors. Into that conflict comes Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who for two years has been promising something revolutionary: finding a way for organic farms to coexist alongside the modified plants. But in recent weeks, the administration has announced a trio of decisions that have clouded the future of organics and boosted the position of genetically engineered (GE) crops. Vilsack approved genetically modified alfalfa and a modified corn to be made into ethanol, and he gave limited approval to GE sugar beets. The announcements were applauded by GE industry executives, who describe their genetically modified organisms as the farming of the future. But organics supporters were furious, saying their hopes that the Obama administration would protect their interests were dashed. “It was boom, boom boom,” said Walter Robb, co-chief executive of Whole Foods Markets, a major player in organics. “These were deeply disappointing. They were such one-sided decisions.” To a growing cadre of consumers who pay attention to how their food is produced, the agriculture wars are nothing short of operatic, pitting technology against tradition in a struggle underscored by politics and profits. “Each side is so passionate,” Vilsack said in a recent interview. “And each side is convinced that it’s right.” The two sides are not clashing over the ethics or safety of genetic engineering, in which plants are modified in the laboratory with genes from another organism to make them more pest-resistant or to produce other traits. Instead, the argument is over the potential for contamination: pollen and seeds from GE crops can drift across fields to nearby organic plants. That has triggered fears that organic crops could be overtaken by modified crops. Contamination can cost organic growers — some overseas markets, for example, have rejected organic products when tests showed they carried even trace amounts of GE material. Organics supporters also say that, as the number of genetically engineered crops grows, so does the risk. And some conventional farmers who don’t use GE seeds are also concerned about their crops. USDA has approved 81 GE crops — it has never denied a proposal — and 22 applications are pending. “It’s really about the right to farm and the right to choose,” Robb said. “You shouldn’t farm in a way that affects the way others farm.” But the GE industry counters that farmers should be free to grow the crops because they do not harm other plants. GE boosters say it is the best way to feed a growing global population because farmers can raise more food and use fewer pesticides and less fertilizer. “Biotechnology can help crops thrive in drought-prone areas, improve the nutrition content of foods, grow alternative energy sources and improve the lives of farmers and rural communities around the globe,” Jim Greenwood, head of Biotechnology Industry Organization, said this year. Some recent studies, however, suggest that the proliferation of GE crops and the pesticide used on them has led to the development of “super weeds” resistant to that pesticide. Since GE crops debuted in 1992, they have been embraced by many U.S. farmers. The vast majority of soy, corn, cotton and canola seed is genetically engineered. Although GE sugar beets were temporarily taken out of production by a court ruling, they had captured 95 percent of the market. Foods made from GE crops are not labeled, but the typical American consumes them regularly because most processed products contain ingredients made from modified soy, corn, canola and sugar beets. Organic agriculture, meanwhile, has also been expanding. Although organics represent just 3.7 percent of the food sold in this country, sales of food and personal care products reached $26.6 billion in 2009, according to the Organic Trade Association. To meet the legal definition of organic, crops must be raised without chemical pesticides and fertilizers, irradiation or genetic modification. Vilsack has said organics can help struggling small farms stay afloat. But he has also long supported genetic engineering — the industry named him “Governor of the Year” when he was Iowa’s chief executive. “I see both sides,” he said. Vilsack arrived at the USDA to find the regulations on genetically modified foods outdated and the issue tangled in litigation. In December, he called an unusual summit between the sides. He said the USDA had finished a court-ordered study of the environmental impact of GE alfalfa and faced a choice: granting unconditional approval to the crop, or approving it with restrictions, such as buffer zones between farms. The GE companies and farming groups argued against limitations, saying that the USDA was overstepping its authority. Vilsack’s effort was slammed by Republican lawmakers and conservative publications. On Jan. 19, congressional Republicans told Vilsack that the idea of restricting GE alfalfa was “troubling.” And on Jan. 20, Vilsack heard more of the same from the House agriculture committee. During the three weeks that followed, Vilsack announced approval of GE alfalfa, sugar beets and corn. Organics supporters were shocked. They had fully expected Vilsack to require some limitations on GE alfalfa. “Vilsack was very serious about the [coexistence] option, and people involved thought it was a done deal,” said Andrew Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety. “Then Vilsack is called to the White House for questioning.” Vilsack confirmed that he attended White House meetings. But, he said, ultimately regulations prevented him from restricting GE crops. Under the 24-year-old rules, the USDA can set limits only if the GE plant harms other plants. The agency has little authority to consider, for example, whether a GE crop poses economic harm to an organic crop. If Vilsack had been hoping to restrict GE crops, the timing could not have been worse. Republicans had just won control of the House, and several farm-state members were adamantly opposed to any restrictions on GE crops. Obama was trying to bolster his credentials as being business-friendly and promising to reduce unnecessary regulation. The administration already had been pushing trade partners for greater acceptance of GE seeds. The GE industry is declaring victory for the time being, but the wars have not dissipated. Monsanto has sued the government for not fully deregulating GE sugar beets. The Center for Food Safety is again suing the USDA to stop the planting of GE alfalfa and sugar beets. Critics of genetic engineering refer to a 2000 incident in which a GE corn meant for animal feed infiltrated tortillas, corn chips and other foods. More than 300 foods were recalled, and farmers were awarded a $110 million settlement for lost income. Syngenta, maker of the GE corn to be used for ethanol, has said it will reduce risk of contamination by requiring farmers to grow the crop near ethanol plants and sell only to those plants, among other measures. Sharon Bomer, an executive vice president at Biotechnology Industry Organization, said “there is deep appreciation” in the GE industry for the need to minimize the spread of the crops. She said organic farmers must protect their crops. “The burden is on them,” she said. But GE critics are not satisfied. “To say ‘just trust me’ is rather absurd when we’re talking about profit-related companies,” said George Siemon, chief executive of Organic Valley, a major organic farmers’ cooperative. Vilsack said “co-existence” is not dead, and he intends to push on. “I had no expectation that the dialogue was going to end in some grand understanding or a kumbaya moment,” he said. “This is going to require a lot of work by reasonable, smart people to get this done. It’s in the interest of the country for these folks to stop fighting and get together and figure out how to live in the same neighborhood.” See also: Island Breath: What makes Percy Schmeiser so persistent? 6/23/04 Island Breath: Percy Schmeiser beats Monsanto 7/3/08 Ea O Ka Aina: Supreme Court rules for Monsanto against Schmeiser 6/22/10 .

Germany Backs Out of Nukes

SUBHEAD: If we had the winds of Texas or the sun of California, the task here would be even easier. By Juergen Baetz on 23 March 2011 for MSNBC - (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42239367/ns/business-world_business/#) Image above: A German nuclear power plant. From original article. Germany is determined to show the world how abandoning nuclear energy can be done.

The world's fourth-largest economy stands alone among leading industrialized nations in its decision to stop using nuclear energy because of its inherent risks. It is betting billions on expanding the use of renewable energy to meet power demands instead.

The transition was supposed to happen slowly over the next 25 years, but is now being accelerated in the wake of Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant disaster, which Chancellor Angela Merkel has called a "catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions."

Berlin's decision to take seven of its 17 reactors offline for three months for new safety checks has provided a glimpse into how Germany might wean itself from getting nearly a quarter of its power from atomic energy to none.

And experts say Germany's phase-out provides a good map that countries such as the United States, which use a similar amount of nuclear power, could follow. The German model would not work, however, in countries like France, which relies on nuclear energy for more than 70 percent of its power and has no intention of shifting.

"If we had the winds of Texas or the sun of California, the task here would be even easier," said Felix Matthes of Germany's renowned Institute for Applied Ecology. "Given the great potential in the U.S., it would be feasible there in the long run too, even though it would necessitate huge infrastructure investments."

Nuclear power has been very unpopular in Germany ever since radioactivity from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster drifted across the country. A center-left government a decade ago penned a plan to abandon the technology for good by 2021, but Merkel's government last year amended it to extend the plants' lifetime by an average of 12 years. That plan was put on hold after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami compromised nuclear power plants in Japan, and is being re-evaluated as the safety of all of Germany's nuclear reactors is being rechecked.

Germany currently gets 23 percent of its energy from nuclear power — about as much as the U.S. Its ambitious plan to shut down its reactors will require at least €150 billion ($210 billion) investment in alternative energy sources, which experts say will likely lead to higher electricity prices.

Germany now gets 17 percent of its electricity from renewable energies, 13 percent from natural gas and more than 40 percent from coal. The Environment Ministry says in 10 years renewable energy will contribute 40 percent of the country's overall electricity production.

The government has been vague on a total price tag for the transition, but it said last year about €20 billion ($28 billion) a year will be needed, acknowledging that €75 billion ($107 billion) alone will be required through 2030 to install offshore wind farms.

The president of Germany's Renewable Energy Association, Dietmar Schuetz, said the government should create a more favorable regulatory environment to help in bringing forward some €150 billion investment in alternative energy sources this decade by businesses and homeowners.

Last year, German investment in renewable energy topped €26 billion ($37 billion) and secured 370,000 jobs, the government said.

After taking seven reactors off the grid last week, officials hinted the oldest of them may remain switched off for good, but assured consumers there are no worries about electricity shortages as the country is a net exporter.

"We can guarantee that the lights won't go off in Germany," Environment Ministry spokeswoman Christiane Schwarte said.

Most of the country's leaders now seem determined to swiftly abolish nuclear power, possibly by 2020, and several conservative politicians, including the chancellor, have made a complete U-turn on the issue.

Vice Chancellor Guido Westerwelle said Wednesday "we must learn from Japan" and check the safety of the country's reactors but also make sure viable alternatives are in place.

"It would be the wrong consequence if we turn off the safest atomic reactors in the world, and then buy electricity from less-safe reactors in foreign countries," he told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper.

But Schuetz insists that "we can replace nuclear energy even before 2020 with renewable energies, producing affordable and ecologically sound electricity."

But someone will have to foot the bill.

"Consumers must be prepared for significantly higher electricity prices in the future," said Wolfgang Franz, head of the government's independent economic advisory body. Merkel last week also warned that tougher safety rules for the remaining nuclear power plants "would certainly mean that electricity gets more expensive."

The German utilities' BDEW lobby group said long-term price effects could not be determined until the government spells out its nuclear reduction plans. Matthes' institute says phasing out nuclear power by 2020 is feasible by better capacity management and investment that would only lead to a price increase of 0.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.

In Germany, the producers of renewable energy — be it solar panels on a homeowner's rooftop or a farm of wind mills — are paid above-market prices to make sure their investment breaks even, financed by a 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour tax paid by all electricity customers.

For a typical German family of four who pay about €1,000 ($1,420) a year to use about 4,500 kilowatt-hours, the tax amounts to €157 ($223).

The tax produced €8.2 billion ($11.7 billion) in Germany in 2010 and it is expected to top €13.5 billion ($19.2 billion) this year. The program — which has been copied by other countries and several U.S. states such as California — is the backbone of the country's transition toward renewable energies.

"Our ideas work. Exiting the nuclear age would also be possible in a country like the U.S.," Schuetz said.

Another factor likely to drive up electricity prices is that relying on renewable energies requires a huge investment in the electricity grid to cope with more decentralized and less reliable sources of power. Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle just announced legislation to speed up grid construction but gave no cost estimate.

And even if non-nuclear power is more expensive, Germans seeing images daily of Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear complex seem willing to pay the higher price.

Ralph Kampwirth, spokesman for Lichtblick AG, Germany's biggest utility offering electricity exclusively from renewable sources, said since the Fukushima disaster it has been getting nearly three times more new clients than normal, up from 300 to more than 800 per day, despite prices slightly above average.

Sticking with nuclear power would also have its costs and require public funds.

The only two new nuclear reactors currently under construction in Europe, in France and in Finland, both have been plagued by long delays and seen costs virtually doubling, to around €4 billion ($5.7 billion) and €5.3 billion ($7.5 billion) respectively.

The disposal of spent nuclear fuel is also a costly problem, but it has no set price tag in Germany because the government has failed to find a sustainable solution.

Story: U.S. storage sites overfilled with spent nuclear fuel

Many decades-old reactors are highly profitable as their initial cost has been written off, but they now face higher costs as regulators push for safety upgrades in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. One of the most pressing — and costly — requirements is likely to be a mandatory upgrade to reinforce all nuclear power plants' outer shell to withstand a crash of a commercial airliner.

Utility EnBW pulled the plug for good on one reactor temporarily shut down by the government because the new requirements made operating it "no longer economically viable."

But even if Germany abandons nuclear energy, some of Europe's 143 nuclear reactors will still sit right on its borders.

Since France and other nations are firmly committed to nuclear power, shutting down all reactors across Europe won't happen, but Merkel is now pushing for common safety standards. The topic will be discussed at the European Union summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

Merkel said the 27-nation bloc, which has standardized "the size of apples or the shape of bananas," needs joint standards for nuclear power plants.

"Everybody in Europe would be equally affected by an accident at a nuclear power plant in Europe," Merkel said.

.

China on Nukes - Build Baby Build!

SUBHEAD: Fukushima has put nuclear power on the radar for a populace that was previously focused on enjoying its benefits. By Kari Huus on 24 March 2011 for MSNBC - (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42219006/ns/world_news-asiapacific/#) Image above: Qinshan nuclear power plant starts expansion near Hangzhou Bay, Zhejiang Province in 2008. Two reactors operational by 2014. From (http://www.china.org.cn/china/national/2008-12/27/content_17017915.htm).

Watching Japan’s nuclear drama unfold across the East China Sea, China is glued to the edge of its front-row seat.

There is a good reason for the rapt attention: In addition to fears that radiation from Japan could somehow reach its shores, China has more ongoing and planned nuclear construction than any other country — about half of the world’s total.

While it has joined governments in Europe and the United States in announcing a safety review of its nuclear power sector, the pressure to complete its nuclear projects – both those under way and on the drawing board — is intense.

And its record in keeping corruption and mismanagement at bay in construction projects is checkered, to say the least.

“One wonders how long a pause Chinese officials and businesses will feel they can actually take in examining the nuclear power issue,” says Nicholas Eberstadt, Henry Wendt Scholar in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute. “China’s demand for energy — if policy planners are correct about economic projections — is like a freight train that is accelerating, and the demand is only growing.”

China’s power consumption grew 14 percent in 2010, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. At the same time, China’s leadership is aggressively trying to wean the country off coal, a huge source of air pollution and associated health issues in China.

In the last decade, Beijing has made nuclear power a central component in its energy strategy. China has 13 operating nuclear reactors producing nearly 2 percent of its total power output, but there are another 27 reactors under construction, 50 more planned and more than 100 proposed. With new reactors coming every year, China is aiming for a tenfold increase in its nuclear generating capacity by 2020, with rapid growth projected to continue until 2050.

Reason for pause As the struggle to contain radiation was beginning at damaged nuclear reactors in Fukushima, in neighboring Japan, Beijing called for a comprehensive safety check and revision of safety standards for all nuclear plants in China.

"Safety is our top priority in developing nuclear power plants," the State Council, the power core of China’s central government, announced on March 16.

Coming from the State Council the edict carries weight.

“The Fukushima tragedy really gave the Chinese a serious wake-up call on the importance of nuclear safety,” said Zhou Yun, a Chinese nuclear security expert from China doing post-doctoral research at Harvard University’s Belfer Center.

But the accident in Japan does not mean China will move away from nuclear power, analysts agree. And it seems unlikely to significantly slow nuclear plant building.

Regulatory body needs bodies, teeth Under the State Council's order, power plants and other nuclear facilities that are operational or under construction will be inspected, said Zhou. But the new standards will be imposed only on plants that have either not yet been approved or have not advanced beyond site preparation.

Significantly, the nuclear oversight body also is limited both in technical capacity and clout in the Chinese government hierarchy, she said.

The National Nuclear Safety Administration is a division of the Ministry of Environmental Protection in China, several steps removed from the State Council. On the other hand, the state-owned nuclear power companies — China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group and China National Nuclear Corp. — report directly to the council.

“In a country like China — or more generally in Asia — you have to show respect to people with higher titles,” said Zhou. “That’s why people argue that the NNSA should have a higher level, directly under the State Council, not just a group or division or subdivision under Environmental Protection.”

The elevation of the nuclear safety agency, “making it an independent regulatory body with authority,” was one of several recommendations made in a January 2011 report by the State Council Research Office to keep pace with safety issues in the nuclear industry.

The research office also warned that safety could be compromised by a growing shortage of technical expertise — particularly among regulators because their salaries are not keeping pace with those of workers in the plants.

The challenge to technical inspectors is complicated by the variety of power plant designs China has in operation—with technology imported from France, Canada and Russia and the United States, as well as a domestic nuclear reactor design based largely on the French technology.

The elevation of the nuclear safety agency, “making it an independent regulatory body with authority,” was one of several recommendations made in a January 2011 report by the State Council Research Office to keep pace with safety issues in the nuclear industry.

The research office also warned that safety could be compromised by a growing shortage of technical expertise — particularly among regulators because their salaries are not keeping pace with those of workers in the plants.

The challenge to technical inspectors is complicated by the variety of power plant designs China has in operation—with technology imported from France, Canada and Russia and the United States, as well as a domestic nuclear reactor design based largely on the French technology.

The only exception has been in Hong Kong, which operates with greater freedoms than China’s mainland, under a democratically elected local government.

When the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station was built about 30 miles from Hong Kong, and opened in 1994, it did so over vocal opposition in Hong Kong, where more than 1 million people signed a petition to halt the project.

Two minor radiation leaks in the plant within the past year — which management said were contained within the plant — have revived unease and debate among Hong Kong legislators, but there has been no such open discussion in mainland China.

“For the most part, people did not pay much attention before the Fukushima nuclear incident,” said Zhou, the Harvard researcher.

But that is rapidly changing, she said. Chinese cyberspace is filled with discussion about Japan and nuclear safety. Anxiety about a possible impact from the leaked radiation prompted many Chinese to hoard salt and wear paper masks in misguided attempts to protect themselves.

Even so, China’s citizenry is more informed than in the past — in part because of government reforms and more recently because of an explosion in access to information technology.

They are increasingly aware of corner cutting in construction that has had deadly effects — such as in Sichuan, where dozens of schools collapsed in the 2008 earthquake there due to shoddy materials and construction, killing thousands of children.

And in a major corruption crackdown in the railway ministry that is still unfolding, it emerged that one of the guilty parties had allowed use of a cheap chemical hardening agents for its high-speed rail system, calling into question their safety for trains moving up to 250 mph. The Chinese rail network has been accused of pushing the trains beyond the recommended speeds.

Corruption and greed also were cited as key reasons behind the melamine-tainted baby formula scandal that hit Chinese consumers in 2008.

The potential for catastrophic consequences offers some hope that the Chinese government will see its nuclear power industry as an area where it has too much at stake to allow scandal, said Eberstadt, of the American Enterprise Institute.

“There is huge capital investment,” in nuclear power, he said. “The central government is inescapably responsible for their performance in a way that they arguably are not for dispersed and decentralized problems with the food chain supply.”

Nonetheless, Fukushima has put nuclear power on the radar for a populace that was previously focused on enjoying its benefits.

“Internet users spent a lot of time blogging and in group forums discussing the Fukushima incident and its consequences,” said Zhou.

“People suddenly realize that China is building a lot of nuclear power plants. They check the map and find 27 or 28 under construction,” she said. “So they start questioning the government: Do we really have a nuclear safety culture?”

.