Monday, April 25, 2011

One Year After BP, One Month After Fukushima --

Why The Arts and Humanities Matter Now more than ever --

This is a great discussion below about the power of the humanities and liberal arts from a biochemist, Gregory Petsko, who says the most important class he took in college was not physics or chemistry -- it was an art history course, undergraduate to boot.

I interviewed Gregory a few weeks ago, for an hour on my radio show, Tipping Points: Voices from the Edge -- We talked about the struggle of science to gain a frame, the need for critical thinking skills courses in colleges, the inevitable failure of colleges when put in the hands of business-school graduates and institutional leadership folk and this country's current attack on K12 education, public colleges and especially teachers and their ability to collectively come together to hold the line on education, and on their measely .

We talked about Math Professor Chandler Davis, blacklisted and jailed in the 1950s and who has since lived and worked and written in Toronto after working as a mathemetician at University of Michigan. Chris Hedges has some great pieces on education and one on Chanlder Davis at One or two of those will be posted here soon.

This letter to SUNY-Albany's president is more than a plea or a diatribe -- Gregory Petsko hits the nail on the head when it comes to how the sciences rely on the arts and critical thinking and creativity derived from them to actually develop the integrity of the sciences. Science without ethics or a sense of history is not science at all.

Paul Haeder


An open letter to George M Philip, President of the State University of New York At Albany

Dear President Philip,

Probably the last thing you need at this moment is someone else from outside your university complaining about your decision. If you want to argue that I can't really understand all aspects of the situation, never having been associated with SUNY Albany, I wouldn't disagree. But I cannot let something like this go by without weighing in. I hope, when I'm through, you will at least understand why.

Just 30 days ago, on October 1st, you announced that the departments of French, Italian, Classics, Russian and Theater Arts were being eliminated. You gave several reasons for your decision, including that 'there are comparatively fewer students enrolled in these degree programs.' Of course, your decision was also, perhaps chiefly, a cost-cutting measure - in fact, you stated that this decision might not have been necessary had the state legislature passed a bill that would have allowed your university to set its own tuition rates. Finally, you asserted that the humanities were a drain on the institution financially, as opposed to the sciences, which bring in money in the form of grants and contracts.

Let's examine these and your other reasons in detail, because I think if one does, it becomes clear that the facts on which they are based have some important aspects that are not covered in your statement. First, the matter of enrollment. I'm sure that relatively few students take classes in these subjects nowadays, just as you say. There wouldn't have been many in my day, either, if universities hadn't required students to take a distribution of courses in many different parts of the academy: humanities, social sciences, the fine arts, the physical and natural sciences, and to attain minimal proficiency in at least one foreign language. You see, the reason that humanities classes have low enrollment is not because students these days are clamoring for more relevant courses; it's because administrators like you, and spineless faculty, have stopped setting distribution requirements and started allowing students to choose their own academic programs - something I feel is a complete abrogation of the duty of university faculty as teachers and mentors. You could fix the enrollment problem tomorrow by instituting a mandatory core curriculum that included a wide range of courses.

Young people haven't, for the most part, yet attained the wisdom to have that kind of freedom without making poor decisions. In fact, without wisdom, it's hard for most people. That idea is thrashed out better than anywhere else, I think, in Dostoyevsky's parable of the Grand Inquisitor, which is told in Chapter Five of his great novel, The Brothers Karamazov. In the parable, Christ comes back to earth in Seville at the time of the Spanish Inquisition. He performs several miracles but is arrested by Inquisition leaders and sentenced to be burned at the stake. The Grand Inquisitor visits Him in his cell to tell Him that the Church no longer needs Him. The main portion of the text is the Inquisitor explaining why. The Inquisitor says that Jesus rejected the three temptations of Satan in the desert in favor of freedom, but he believes that Jesus has misjudged human nature. The Inquisitor says that the vast majority of humanity cannot handle freedom. In giving humans the freedom to choose, Christ has doomed humanity to a life of suffering.

That single chapter in a much longer book is one of the great works of modern literature. You would find a lot in it to think about. I'm sure your Russian faculty would love to talk with you about it - if only you had a Russian department, which now, of course, you don't.

Then there's the question of whether the state legislature's inaction gave you no other choice. I'm sure the budgetary problems you have to deal with are serious. They certainly are at Brandeis University, where I work. And we, too, faced critical strategic decisions because our income was no longer enough to meet our expenses. But we eschewed your draconian - and authoritarian - solution, and a team of faculty, with input from all parts of the university, came up with a plan to do more with fewer resources. I'm not saying that all the specifics of our solution would fit your institution, but the process sure would have. You did call a town meeting, but it was to discuss your plan, not let the university craft its own. And you called that meeting for Friday afternoon on October 1st, when few of your students or faculty would be around to attend. In your defense, you called the timing 'unfortunate', but pleaded that there was a 'limited availability of appropriate large venue options.' I find that rather surprising. If the President of Brandeis needed a lecture hall on short notice, he would get one. I guess you don't have much clout at your university.

It seems to me that the way you went about it couldn't have been more likely to alienate just about everybody on campus. In your position, I would have done everything possible to avoid that. I wouldn't want to end up in the 9th Bolgia (ditch of stone) of the 8th Circle of the Inferno, where the great 14th century Italian poet Dante Alighieri put the sowers of discord. There, as they struggle in that pit for all eternity, a demon continually hacks their limbs apart, just as in life they divided others.

The Inferno is the first book of Dante's Divine Comedy, one of the great works of the human imagination. There's so much to learn from it about human weakness and folly. The faculty in your Italian department would be delighted to introduce you to its many wonders - if only you had an Italian department, which now, of course, you don't.

And do you really think even those faculty and administrators who may applaud your tough-minded stance (partly, I'm sure, in relief that they didn't get the axe themselves) are still going to be on your side in the future? I'm reminded of the fable by Aesop of the Travelers and the Bear: two men were walking together through the woods, when a bear rushed out at them. One of the travelers happened to be in front, and he grabbed the branch of a tree, climbed up, and hid himself in the leaves. The other, being too far behind, threw himself flat down on the ground, with his face in the dust. The bear came up to him, put his muzzle close to the man's ear, and sniffed and sniffed. But at last with a growl the bear slouched off, for bears will not touch dead meat. Then the fellow in the tree came down to his companion, and, laughing, said 'What was it that the bear whispered to you?' 'He told me,' said the other man, 'Never to trust a friend who deserts you in a pinch.'

I first learned that fable, and its valuable lesson for life, in a freshman classics course. Aesop is credited with literally hundreds of fables, most of which are equally enjoyable - and enlightening. Your classics faculty would gladly tell you about them, if only you had a Classics department, which now, of course, you don't.

As for the argument that the humanities don't pay their own way, well, I guess that's true, but it seems to me that there's a fallacy in assuming that a university should be run like a business. I'm not saying it shouldn't be managed prudently, but the notion that every part of it needs to be self-supporting is simply at variance with what a university is all about. You seem to value entrepreneurial programs and practical subjects that might generate intellectual property more than you do 'old-fashioned' courses of study. But universities aren't just about discovering and capitalizing on new knowledge; they are also about preserving knowledge from being lost over time, and that requires a financial investment. There is good reason for it: what seems to be archaic today can become vital in the future. I'll give you two examples of that. The first is the science of virology, which in the 1970s was dying out because people felt that infectious diseases were no longer a serious health problem in the developed world and other subjects, such as molecular biology, were much sexier. Then, in the early 1990s, a little problem called AIDS became the world's number 1 health concern. The virus that causes AIDS was first isolated and characterized at the National Institutes of Health in the USA and the Institute Pasteur in France, because these were among the few institutions that still had thriving virology programs. My second example you will probably be more familiar with. Middle Eastern Studies, including the study of foreign languages such as Arabic and Persian, was hardly a hot subject on most campuses in the 1990s. Then came September 11, 2001. Suddenly we realized that we needed a lot more people who understood something about that part of the world, especially its Muslim culture. Those universities that had preserved their Middle Eastern Studies departments, even in the face of declining enrollment, suddenly became very important places. Those that hadn't - well, I'm sure you get the picture.

I know one of your arguments is that not every place should try to do everything. Let other institutions have great programs in classics or theater arts, you say; we will focus on preparing students for jobs in the real world. Well, I hope I've just shown you that the real world is pretty fickle about what it wants. The best way for people to be prepared for the inevitable shock of change is to be as broadly educated as possible, because today's backwater is often tomorrow's hot field. And interdisciplinary research, which is all the rage these days, is only possible if people aren't too narrowly trained. If none of that convinces you, then I'm willing to let you turn your institution into a place that focuses on the practical, but only if you stop calling it a university and yourself the President of one. You see, the word 'university' derives from the Latin 'universitas', meaning 'the whole'. You can't be a university without having a thriving humanities program. You will need to call SUNY Albany a trade school, or perhaps a vocational college, but not a university. Not anymore.

I utterly refuse to believe that you had no alternative. It's your job as President to find ways of solving problems that do not require the amputation of healthy limbs. Voltaire said that no problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking. Voltaire, whose real name was François-Marie Arouet, had a lot of pithy, witty and brilliant things to say (my favorite is 'God is a comedian playing to an audience that is afraid to laugh'). Much of what he wrote would be very useful to you. I'm sure the faculty in your French department would be happy to introduce you to his writings, if only you had a French department, which now, of course, you don't.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you have trouble understanding the importance of maintaining programs in unglamorous or even seemingly 'dead' subjects. From your biography, you don't actually have a PhD or other high degree, and have never really taught or done research at a university. Perhaps my own background will interest you. I started out as a classics major. I'm now Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry. Of all the courses I took in college and graduate school, the ones that have benefited me the most in my career as a scientist are the courses in classics, art history, sociology, and English literature. These courses didn't just give me a much better appreciation for my own culture; they taught me how to think, to analyze, and to write clearly. None of my sciences courses did any of that.

One of the things I do now is write a monthly column on science and society. I've done it for over 10 years, and I'm pleased to say some people seem to like it. If I've been fortunate enough to come up with a few insightful observations, I can assure you they are entirely due to my background in the humanities and my love of the arts.

One of the things I've written about is the way genomics is changing the world we live in. Our ability to manipulate the human genome is going to pose some very difficult questions for humanity in the next few decades, including the question of just what it means to be human. That isn't a question for science alone; it's a question that must be answered with input from every sphere of human thought, including - especially including - the humanities and arts. Science unleavened by the human heart and the human spirit is sterile, cold, and self-absorbed. It's also unimaginative: some of my best ideas as a scientist have come from thinking and reading about things that have, superficially, nothing to do with science. If I'm right that what it means to be human is going to be one of the central issues of our time, then universities that are best equipped to deal with it, in all its many facets, will be the most important institutions of higher learning in the future. You've just ensured that yours won't be one of them.

Some of your defenders have asserted that this is all a brilliant ploy on your part - a master political move designed to shock the legislature and force them to give SUNY Albany enough resources to keep these departments open. That would be Machiavellian (another notable Italian writer, but then, you don't have any Italian faculty to tell you about him), certainly, but I doubt that you're that clever. If you were, you would have held that town meeting when the whole university could have been present, at a place where the press would be all over it. That's how you force the hand of a bunch of politicians. You proclaim your action on the steps of the state capitol. You don't try to sneak it through in the dead of night, when your institution has its back turned.

No, I think you were simply trying to balance your budget at the expense of what you believe to be weak, outdated and powerless departments. I think you will find, in time, that you made a Faustian bargain. Faust is the title character in a play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It was written around 1800 but still attracts the largest audiences of any play in Germany whenever it's performed. Faust is the story of a scholar who makes a deal with the devil. The devil promises him anything he wants as long as he lives. In return, the devil will get - well, I'm sure you can guess how these sorts of deals usually go. If only you had a Theater department, which now, of course, you don't, you could ask them to perform the play so you could see what happens. It's awfully relevant to your situation. You see, Goethe believed that it profits a man nothing to give up his soul for the whole world. That's the whole world, President Philip, not just a balanced budget. Although, I guess, to be fair, you haven't given up your soul. Just the soul of your institution.

Disrespectfully yours,

Gregory A Petsko

Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center
Brandeis University, Waltham, MA 02454-9110

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

British Petroleum Stocks Rise As Sickness of the Gulf Exponentially Rises

One Big Lesson from the Macando Well Bleed – We Are in a Culture of Systematic Lying
By Paul K. Haeder

“There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings,’’ so begins the 1962 book, Silent Spring, written by marine biologist Rachel Carson (May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964). We could have called it a fable for tomorrow. “Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change. Some evil spell had settled on the community . . . No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in the stricken world. The people had done it to themselves.’’

Could be about Japan’s current nuclear nightmare. Could be about the potentially life-killing hydrologic fracturing over water sources for tens of millions of Americans. Could be about Mountaintop Removal and a billion gallons of coal sludge spewing into the Emory River. Could be about concentrated animal feeding operations where a 100,000 cows or millions of chickens in one lot result in dead rivers and spoiled air.

We know where Rachel Carson would be if she was around this Earth Day – in the Gulf of Mexico with other women, like Diane Wilson, Terry Tempest Williams and Riki Ott.
What sort of headline shall we write today to mark this blight on our addiction to oil:

Eleven people dead, 26,000 marine mammals, 6,000 turtles, 85,000 sea birds killed

The Bioaccumulation Future of the Gulf -40 million people exposed to a neurological-killing toxic brew

It Will Happen Again Blues as the methane bleeds into sea and air, oil burns, crude oozes

This Earth Day, this one-year anniversary of the British Petroleum-Transocean-Halliburton-EPA-Obama lie, is a microcosm of how all systems failed. The drilling and oil companies cut corners and facilitated the crime of the century. The US government under Obama facilitated British Petroleum’s incompetence and continuous harm to the environment and communities in the Gulf. The major media dropped the ball and failed to grow a backbone in order to flail at the illegal and unethical no-fly zones and beach closed clamp down.

Of course, the real headline comes from people living there, on the frontlines of the battle against BP, Big Oil, Big Incompetent Government:

“This is the biggest cover-up in the history of America,” Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser has repeatedly told reporters. Nungesser has been working throughout the Gulf to bring mitigation, compensation and publicity to a complete systems failure in our country’s collusion with oil, in this case, extremely deep ocean drilling.

“It’s like you’re in bed with BP,” Nungesser tells the Coast Guard and committees supposedly investigating the disaster. “Don’t tell me I got a voice in the way you put together that crappy document,” Nungesser said in reference to the clean-up plan that surfaced in June 2010. “It ain’t worth the paper it’s printed on. That is bullshit.”

Nungesser then told one federal official, “You cover up for BP.”
BP’s stock rose a half a percent on the one-year mark of this 420-million gallon (or it might be more) disaster.

Billionaires scoff at the Southeast Asian-American fishers in Alabama who are collectively 75 percent unemployed. Laugh at the people of color throughout the Gulf Coast who are coughing up blood and watching loved ones shake and groan from the toxic brew British Petroleum unleashed for months.

Thank ProPublica (they just won some Pulitzer Prizes for their work on BP) and other non-co-opted journalists for their coverage of the BP crime of the century. Carpet bombing the Gulf with highly toxic and banned substances and drenching the gash where the Macando well spewed up to 800 million gallons of oil have created a giant biological warfare lab, and an unfolding massive chemistry experiment.

Rodney Soto, a Florida neurologist who draws blood from sick people exposed to the spill and the cancer-causing Corexit (a banned dispersant), analyzes humans for volatile compounds.

"We're not only talking about hundreds of thousands of people that are already having symptoms, but we could potentially be seeing the tip of the iceberg here and we're talking about entire population in the Gulf Coast states and maybe spreading further into the United States."

Not the sort of quotes and attributions one will see on CNN, NPR or CBS, to be sure.
There is a term called agnotology, which is something I have been studying and writing about tied to climate change and environmental justice. It applies to our world now, to this BP double think and psychological warfare:

Agnotology -- Culturally constructed ignorance, purposefully created by special interest groups working hard to create confusion and suppress the truth.

The news media (and repeated here at DTE) and BP have said that it used 1.8 million gallons of dispersant before the well was capped on July 15. But Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass), with documents from BP in hand, said, "The validity of those numbers are now in question."

These documents suggest that British Petroleum, with the rubber-stamped approval of the US Coast Guard, continued regular use of Corexit on the surface of the Gulf despite a May 25, 2010 directive by the Environmental Protection Agency that BP scale back these activities to “rare cases.”

Various formulas of Corexit used in the Gulf were banned in England, BP’s birthplace. Dispersants themselves are toxic, and while some scientists at first thought using them was better than doing nothing, Congressman Markey – along with more elegant thinking researchers – reiterated these pesticides had never been used on such a scale before.

Markey wasn’t the only one last year looking at the discrepancies between how much dispersant BP reported it was using and how much it actually applied to the Gulf’s surface and the actual gaping hole 5,000 feet down.

Here is one clue to the lie: BP told the Coast Guard on June 16. 2010 that its use of Corexit had never exceeded 3,365 gallons in any recent day. E-mails to Congress told a much different story. In fighting the Gulf oil spill on June 12 and 13, BP’s e-mails confirm it used 14,305 gallons and 36,000 gallons respectively. That’s two days’ worth of Corexit at 50,305 gallons.

The carpet bombing of the Gulf and the unending injection at the broken well head of this junk, more toxic and less effective than 12 other industry products on the market, belie the absolute misinformation campaign of the Oil Industry, media and government, as well as the disconnection the American people have when it comes to understanding the enormity of the spill – 240 to 880 million gallons – and the volume of dispersants used.

Christopher Reddy, an associate scientist of marine chemistry and geochemistry at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, stated last year that one million barrels (42 million gallons) of dispersants had been applied to the Gulf of Mexico. The Times Picayune newspaper admitted there had been an error – one million barrels of Corexit 9527-A and Corexit 9500 – had been turned into “gallons.”

Accident? Wishful thinking? Agnotologic strategy?

The mixture has resulted in Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) compounds and petroleum/dispersant remnants, as well as degraded bi-products of the mixture. The EPA considers Corexit 9527 to be “an acute health hazard.” The substance, which is a brew of chemicals kept secret by Nalco, harms red blood cells, kidneys, and the liver. The 2-butoxyethanol in Corexit 9527 causes lasting health problems in workers who were involved in cleaning up the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

While we in the enviro community grapple with renewable energy issues, Obama’s call for more nuclear power plants and more deepwater drilling, and a gutted EPA and delisting of the wolf form the endangered species list, the facts remain clear:

The legacy of the Gulf is happening now. People’s health are now degraded. The economic impact of the Gulf Oil Spill is a drop in the proverbial bucket compared to the long-lasting and unseen and unreported health affects on the people and the wildlife and fisheries.

Many of the chemicals present in oil and dispersants cause headaches; nausea; vomiting; kidney damage; altered renal functions; irritation of the digestive tract; lung damage; burning pain in the nose and throat; coughing; pulmonary edema; cancer; lack of muscle coordination; dizziness; confusion; irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat; difficulty breathing; delayed reaction time; memory difficulties; stomach discomfort; liver and kidney damage; unconsciousness; tiredness/lethargy; irritation of the upper respiratory tract; and hematological disorders.

That’s the real story one year later – communities of poverty, underrepresented, under-educated, and neighborhoods of color are facing “the biggest cover-up of the century.” The oil hasn’t disappeared. The problems with the oil drilling and refining industries have not gone away.

Hell, people far from the Macando oil well burst and bleed-out are seeing the results of a sort of “unimpeded industry chemical terrorism”:

A family from Homosassa, on the east coast of Florida, 60 miles north of Tampa, took a water sample from their pool's filter on Aug. 17, 2010, almost three months after BP stopped spraying Corexit 9527-A and one month after it stopped spraying Corexit 9500.

This is what Rachel Carson warned about 50 years ago – that pool sample, analyzed by Alabama chemist Bob Naman, contained 50.3 ppm of the Corexit 9527A ingredient and 2-butoxyethanol.

Prevailing winds are easterly, probably pushing the airborne dispersant over the Schebler family’s house and into their swimming pool. Mrs. Schebler told news reporters that her husband” twice swam in the pool after mowing the lawn and both times, he experienced severe diarrhea and very dark urine. This lasted about two days."

"2-butoxyethanol shouldn't be anywhere," Naman, the Alabama chemist and owner of ACT Laboratory, told the Tri-Parish Times. "It's a toxic substance that should not be in water, it shouldn't be in soil and it shouldn't be in people's pools. That particular person (Mr. Schebler), that guy was terribly, terribly ill - bleeding from everywhere, peeing brown, he's got kidney trouble and liver trouble. I don't know if he's going to stay alive much longer, but he did find out what the problem was and it was because he was swimming in his pool."

Diane Wilson, in an interview, said it best about how to tackle this era of misinformation and corporate agnotology:

“People have a shield that protects them from bad news. It just kind of slides off, so you have to be very creative to break through. So one of our actions was inspired by women in Nigeria, who protested pollution from oil companies by taking off their clothes. I was amazed how much they accomplished nonviolently by pushing the comfort zone. So we went to BP’s control center in Houston, nude, and demanded “the naked truth” about oil. A lot of people said, ‘Oh no, you can't do something like that in Houston. It’s the Bible Belt; the media will not come.’ But they did, and the protest got a lot of press. We also had people come dressed as fishermen, as mermaids, as BP workers. A fisherman in Sargent, Texas brought probably 100 pounds of dead fish and a pile of shrimp nets. We poured fake oil over everybody.”

For decades, Diane Wilson—a fourth-generation shrimper from Seadrift, Texas, a town roughly in the center of Texas’ Gulf coast—has been fighting to clean up the messes of the oil and petrochemical industries.

Terry Tempest Williams is a writer, environmentalist. Her books include Finding Beauty in a Broken World and The Open Space of Democracy. Her latest piece in Orion magazine, an extended reflection on the BP oil spill, called “The Gulf Between Us.”

The EXXON Valdez oil spill was the "environmental 9/11," according to marine biologist and toxicologist, Riki Ott. EXXON has effectively owned the story since then and says it's over, says Ott. But she has evidence to the contrary that indicates everyone's public health is being adversely affected by very low levels of chemicals in our environment, levels well below what is currently thought to be safe. And a major culprit, she says, is oil. She is the author of several books, including, Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Story of a Quake, A Tsunami and Nuclear Nightmare –

When Will We Stop this Energy Addiction and False Adverstising

By Paul K. Haeder

How can the green blog not jump into the fray now precipitated by the disasters in Japan. Not so much motivated by the tsunami and earthquake ravaged Japan and their nuclear reactors heaving smoke and shuttering under hydrogen explosions. I’m steeled to respond to the storm surge of utter stupidity coming from such shining examples of industry shilling as the Paper of record New York Times and that toad of a man, Mitch McConnell.

Listen to this blowhard republican leader McConnell:

"I don't believe that making US energy policy based on something happening in another country is how we should make policy. I don't think right after a major environmental catastrophe is a very good time to be making American domestic policy."
Sure, the nuclear plant in Vermont , built by the same American company as the one now exploding in Japan – “we bring good things to life” General Electric -- has nothing to do with what’s happening in Japan.

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant is 38 years old, one year younger than the Fukushima Daiichi plant. State legislators had voted to close the facility, an almost identical twin to the Japanese plant. Constant tritium leaks, plus as state citizenry who wants the Yankee plant done for, isn’t even in the Republican leader’s mindset.

Here’s a contrast in character: Different politician, different party, different state.

“My heart obviously goes out to the people of Japan. Extraordinary crisis and everyone’s worst nightmare, when they have aging nuclear power plants in their country or in their state. Vermont is no different. We have an aging nuclear power plant here. It’s owned by Entergy Louisiana, a company that we found we can’t trust. And obviously, it asks all of us to reexamine our policy of irrational exuberance when it comes to extending the lives of aging nuclear power plants.” That’s Vermont governor Peter Shumlin.

Then, give a guy a multi-million dollar talking head job at CNBC, and you get this sort of reaction to the human death toll in Japan from the quake and tsunami:

“The human toll here looks to be much worse than the economic toll, and we can be grateful for that,” said Larry Kudlow on national TV.

The problem is the nuclear industry, like the tobacco pimps, have put scientists and politicians (and the media-slash-press) in its back pocket. The total payout for a nuclear disaster caused by, say, one of the dozens of GE-designed plants in the US, with the same redundancy safety systems as the Japanese plant, is $12 billion. That’s all those nuke plants are insured for. Guess who pays the rest of the price for death, pollution, loss of livelihoods and long-term devastation?

The US taxpayer.

Chernobyl, if you read a recent book on the extent of human deaths, is more than just entire cities and hundreds of square miles that are uninhabitable for centuries to come.

Japan is not much bigger than the area ruined by the Chernobyl disaster. Think about my neck of the woods, Tucson, just a few hundred miles from the San Onofre nuke plant between San Diego and LA.

Think about the San Andres earthquake fault line.

The New York Times or the right-leaning NPR, or all points in between and right of them all, none of the mainstream and corporate press will report on the facts coming from a book that purports that nearly one million people around the world died from exposure to radiation released by the April 26, 1986 nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl reactor.

This is the 25th anniversary coming up in a month, and everyone now, including GE egghead engineers and pointy-headed politicians and jaded journalists, should be reading this New York Academy of Sciences published book, "Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment," compiled by authors Alexey Yablokov of the Center for Russian Environmental Policy in Moscow, and Vassily Nesterenko and Alexey Nesterenko of the Institute of Radiation Safety, in Minsk, Belarus.

Read it: more than 900,000 people dying early deaths caused by nuclear contamination. In one quarter of a century.

Look, when an energy source can produce that sort of death and long-term environmental death, and for Japan, dysfunction, when it fails, well, the price of a gallon of gas can be $6 or $100 for that matter. Life is worth more than this non-renewable, heavy energy dependent, polluting industry called the Nuclear Lobby.

One expert who’s been making the rounds on news platforms like Al Jazeera and Democracy Now is Arnold Gundersen, a 39-year veteran of the nuclear industry. He’s the main engineer at Fairwinds Associates. He also has worked as a nuclear plant operator and served as an expert witness in the Three Mile Island accident investigation.

“Within 90 days, the iodine health risks will disappear, because that will decay away. But the nasty isotopes — the cesium and strontium -- will remain for 30 years. And they’re volatile,” Gundersen said. “ fter Three Mile Island, strontium was detected 150 miles away from the reactor. That ends up in cow’s milk and doesn’t go away for 300 years. The releases from these plants will last for a year, and will contain elements that will remain in the environment for 300 years, even in the best case.”

So, yeah, it makes sense McConnell and the nuclear industry won’t see the Japan tragedy as a learning experience or teachable moment. Iodine and cesium were already detected in the environment before the first unit exploded in Japan. “When you see that, that’s clearly an indication that the containment has breached,” Gundersen added.

If a meltdown happens, and with the prevailing winds, nothing will be inhabitable for 30 or more years within a 20-mile radius, AND the nasty isotopes will head on over here to the Pacific Coast, and inland.

So Chernobyl affected the groundwater of Kiev, some 80 miles away, and there’s nothing to mitigate the toxicity, and it lasts for 300 years, the radioactive fallout that is.

The CEO of GE, the McConnell’s, the tea baggers, all the nuclear industry shills, they won’t read the books or listen to the radio interviews of someone like Nobel Peace Prize-nominated pediatrician Helen Caldicott, host of If You Love This Planet, broadcast on Spokane’s own KYRS-FM.

Dr. Caldicott has sparked deep interest in the risks of nuclear technology and global environmental collapse with her work with Physicians for Social Responsibility. That’s an organization, the Washington branch, I have worked with, and PSR has thousands of doctors teaching the public about the medical implications of nuclear war and nuclear power.

These Obamas and Limbaughs and Clintons and Bushes never have the Dr. Caldicotts of the world at their tables for polite dinner conversations.

“Unfortunately, radioactive elements are invisible to the human senses – taste, smell, and sight. Also unfortunately, the incubation time for radiation-induced cancer is five to 60 years, a long, silent latent period. No cancer ever denotes its specific cause,” the Australian Caldicott said.

“Among these biologically active elements that are routinely released from nuclear power plants are tritium which lasts for more than 100 years (there is no limit to the amount of tritium that escapes); xenon, krypton, and argon which decay to cesium and strontium; carbon 14 which remains radioactive for thousands of years; cesium 137 – radioactive for hundreds of years; and iodine 129, which has a half life of 15.7 million years.”

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report published in August 2009 tells us that the nuclear industry continues to face huge construction costs. The Olkiluoto, Finland, reactor is three years behind schedule and 55 per cent over budget ($7 billion). So, globally, the 435 commercial reactors provided 5.5 per cent of the international
commercial primary energy production in 2008.

The spent fuel rods at Fukushima are getting hot and could start burning, according to energy experts. So, if those so-deemed spent rods – these are highly radioactive and unstable -- start to burn, then massive amounts of radioactive material might be released into the atmosphere and then this would, in turn, parachute into the wind, so to speak, across the Northern Hemisphere.

So, as anyone close to Mitch McConnell with a little bit of brains could tell him, unlike nuclear reactors, spent fuel rods are put in pools that are not contained in hardened or sealed structures. Officials with Green Action Kyoto met with Fukushima plant officials and government representatives last year and these engineers and government energy wonks basically dismissed Green Action’s concerns about spent fuel pools.

One expert close to home, Akira Tokuhiro, professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Idaho, is one of a group of experts in nuclear reactor engineering, design and safety and who has been monitoring the situation in Japan.

According to the Tokyo-borne Tokuhiro, in a UI press release, the situation in Japan is both dire and emblematic of that island’s reliance on energy. His concepts of sustainability and energy development are also telling of the dichotomy between the worlds of scientists who are proponents of nuclear energy and scientists who want research and development to go in completely different directions:

“Commercial nuclear energy is a highly-regulated global enterprise of industrialized nations. For Japan, a nation without energy resources, this is a painful decision; that is, to replace the power of some 50 nuclear plants by some other energy source. For the rest of the world and the global nuclear enterprise, this incident will delay and add cost to building new reactors. I thus see that we are inching our way toward higher energy prices and possible energy shortages as early as 2020-2030,” Tokuhiro said.

“As with fossil fuels, if we are not determined to construct new U.S. nuclear power plants in the near-term and for the foreseeable future, we will undermine our energy security and economic sustainability. Our only choice is to use much less energy and go back to the lifestyle of the '50s and '60s when life was not ‘open’ 24/7/365 days a year.”

All that potential loss of life and territory for an industry so potentially volatile and one that relies on a first-level safety net called the electrical grid is not exactly confidence inspiring. And when that electrical network went kaput, after a 9.0 quake, the second safety net kicked in -- a bank of diesel generators. But the tsunami, just fifteen minutes later, swamped the generators. The last safety net, batteries, lasted eight hours.

Now the cores are in meltdown mode.

Not a great advertisement in favor of a nuclear energy renaissance.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Beaver Gurus

The Lands Council sees larger benefits from relocation project

Restoration, as we learned in Part 1 involves a flawed change — improvement, development or rehabilitation of an imperfect natural world for human needs.

So, The Lands Council and other conservation programs have this juggling act to muscle through – saving forests for the value of free-flowing rivers (that empty into the sea – what poor design by nature is that?) in a forest area where very limited human activity is permitted or possible in order to have nature as nature intended.

The Beaver Solution is one of TLC’s restorative conservation projects, and here at DTE we have the benefit of shared journalism as Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living magazine has graciously given us the original magazine piece I wrote for them at their request: “Beaver Fever: How Spokane’s Lands Council is Deploying Nature’s Dam Builders to Help Save Water.”

You will see how the beaver’s role in making soil, packing in water, and creating meadows had been eviscerated through the almost near extirpation of the North American species through trapping. More than 90 million beavers were plying their trade before the arrival of Christianity, the resource Crusade, and Manifest Destiny.

The beaver project the Lands Council is managing is a form of environmental restoration coming from several places and motivations. There is that utilitarian necessity where the beavers are trapped in one area where they have been deemed a “nuisance” (that in itself speaks volumes to anthropomorphic and non-holistic thinking when it comes to the rights of nature) and then placed in “approved” locales where they will both supposedly thrive and then also do their magic by building dams and helping the State of Washington store water.

As Executive Director Mike Petersen states, it’s much less expensive than building these series of dams, impoundment systems and other intrusive hydrological engineering features. The underlying result might be more beavers, more habitat that they create at the edge, and a full-on systems thinking approach later in this century when things really get tough carrying capacity-wise.

Can we develop a decent framework for private companies, governmental agencies and average citizens to listen to the beaver’s voice, the voice of earth’s all other non-human inhabitants?

The problem for some deep ecologists like myself is that we as a species fail to hear the voices of non-humans and therefore fail to look at systematic elements of ecology. How can we not build into all environmental policy the first step — seeking out and listening to the earth’s voice?

Can the reader imagine having those supercilious and destructive-in-their-earth-razing bidding county commissioners even consider restorative conservation by seeking out earth’s voice rather than looking exclusively at the human profit margin (bottom line) regarding what course of action to take in restoring wetlands, forests, open plains?

The Beaver Solution is taking the restorative process beyond utilitarian and wise-use boundaries. Maybe those busy rodents speak to the very essence of human existence — defined by humanity’s ever more explicit involvement in highly complex systems of biological, geophysical and atmospheric “relational” events.

There is a certain metaphysical fluidity in the Beaver Solution if we look beyond the tokenism of helping Washington people with water. TLC is looking at the rivers, the rights of waterfowl, the rights of fish species, the rights of the entire ecosystem staying viable and vibrant using nature’s dam builders.

Beavers as Buddhist philosophers – helping us recognize their inherent worth and also helping us to break this line of thinking: human ingenuity is capable of complete technological fixes of degraded environments with no attention to all species.

Human solutions to make the natural whole again are just that — human solutions. The beaver is the bridge to understanding the entire natural web or eco-web.

The beaver as moral guide? Why not. Why and how did we get in this position of degraded wetlands and water shortages in the first place? Almost all wetlands are gone, but how and why? Species are disappearing because of meadows and ponds paved over and filled in. Why?

We have to listen to the victim, and begin this restoration with the intent of not degrading ecosystems again.

Can you imagine city council members, the board members of Avista, coal mine companies’ CEOs, or governmental fisheries experts looking at all their actions first in the light of how we must recognize our equality among the living beings? That we have a universal kinship of life with beavers. That our role is to not dominate, exploit, or destroy but to work within nature’s limits.

Man, then the beaver becomes the ultimate sage and spirit presence in all us all.

Until that transformation, for now, it’s one creek bed and one acre at a time.

This is the second of two parts examining a project by The Lands Council which relocates beavers and uses them to help rehabilitate wetlands.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Beaver Solution

Spokane Living Magazine, March-APril 2011 Read the story on restoration biology, beavers in action, in the Pacific Northwest.

Rendering environmental justice

Beavers' Reparation efforts good for planet, soul

Restorative justice is a serious term argued about today when dealing with criminals who are looking to pay back for their misdeeds.

We have prisons and community groups working with victims and perpetrators to heal, or, in a more holistic light — to bring spiritual wholeness back to all players involved in a criminal – violent – moment.

There are truth and reconciliation commissions, ranging from Ireland, to South Africa, or Guatemala, working to bring justice and truth to the killings in the tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands carried out by despots and military juntas in our world’s many civil wars.

This all works toward a healing process, and to stop the violence from ever occurring again. Even big movements tied to reparations for slavery have those underpinnings of healing; bringing peace to communities; and working to right wrongs, both economically and culturally.

Restorative justice shines a light on the question of how to hear the voice of those who suffer and how to foster healing of those harmed without creating a disabling and harmful situation for another.

So, with all these so-called projects to bring down carbon footprints, instituting renewable energy or energy savings designs or just one device, how do we really look seriously about long-term conservation, practices that both pay off in the near term for human communities and which also help to restore ecologies and species that are continually under threat of extinction?

The impact of natural environmental harm is not always immediately evident to the average citizen, yet for many of us in sustainability and environmentalism, it is very apparent that the earth community is in some cases at the point where humanity’s actions involving extractive and exploitative violence are collapsing our earth’s carrying capacity.

The continual growth model, as opposed to a steady state model, can mask the absolutely implosive affects of growth, development and this capitalist-driven “continual progress at all costs” paradigm.

Here comes one offshoot of deep ecology to the rescue: the Environmental Restoration Movement. This model or movement is one of the key framers of the environmental and conservation movements in the West.

While you won’t find many backward-thinking politicians and members of chambers of commerce thinking this, but for many, environmental restoration is an orchestration of ecological, ethical, and moral premises and practices. The basic question posed by leaders in this movement is foundational: How should humans live in relationship with the rest of the natural world?

For many who even do not consider themselves environmentalists, they too look with concern at natural settings that have been degraded by human interference, like a mountain razed by mining and all the rubble and toxic tailings spilling over. Do they wonder what responsibility we have as a species to restore these settings back to a state of relative naturalness?

We should be learning from our mistakes. Wiping out the buffalo destroyed entire regions of multi-state size – their micro species, flowering flora, and the vast grasslands and all the related symbiotic and cooperative species and their niches have been disturbed or wiped permanently from those areas.

Australia figured out how restoration might work – putting vast herds of beef cattle on that fragile old soil was wrong. Those kangaroos with that huge foot, and the way it moves as a species, actually is kind to the soil. So now, those meat eaters are looking to ‘roos as their new-old meat source because soil is saved.

Restoring soil so humanity can herd, slaughter and eat kangaroos, not exactly an earth justice paradigm fitting of true restorative conservation.

Of course, restoration conservation has its range of applications and mindsets – some like Thomas Berry see it this way: the way we treat the non-human world is reflected in the way we treat others in the human world. So, “this perceived reciprocal interrelationship may have something to say about how we think about recreating an ecosystem after damage has been inflicted upon it and, perhaps most importantly, how we consider our relationship with the earth community before we inflict damage upon it.”

The Environmental Restoration Movement got some heavy steam going in the early years of the 20th century. At the end of that rip-roaring time of rapid industrial development, population growth and westward expansion, 1850-1900, some of the blinders were taken off. We as a culture at the turn of the 20th Century saw natural resources were finite. President Theodore Roosevelt held the first Governors Conference on natural resources in 1907 specifically to get the best and the brightest at the time to tackle the problem of diminishing resources.

He wrote, “It is evident the abundant natural resources on which the welfare of this nation rests are becoming depleted, and in not a few cases, are already exhausted.”

This dichotomy exists in the restorative justice movement when it comes to conservation. Whether you call it restoration, conservation, wise-use or stewardship, for all practical purposes, economic development of resources as quickly and technically possible has been the underlying motivation.

Many consider this NOT true restorative justice in the name of conservation.

So, it’s an easy offshoot, even for conservations, to see these human/nature conflicts as technical abstractions of management and restoration. Anthropomorphism, or human-centered thinking, puts nature’s value into this category of “usefulness to humankind.”

This article will be continued in Part 2, which will describe “The Beaver Solution,” a restorative project organized by The Lands Council, where beavers deemed ‘nuisances’ in one area are relocated to another and used to restore waterways. You can also see “Beaver Fever,” an attached related story by Paul Haeder about this project, which recently ran in Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living. (Reprinted with permission).

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