Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Climate Crisis is Getting Ugly Early, Not Just in Africa, But in the US Heartland; Some of the Choices Made, & to be Made, are Even Uglier

Image: Earth at Night, NASA

The Climate Crisis is Getting Ugly Early, Not Just in Africa, But in the US Heartland; Some of the Choices Made, & to be Made, are Even Uglier

By Richard Power

Fire in the West, drought across much of the country, tornadoes across much of the country, devastating floods in the heartland; it has begun, not just in Africa, or in Asia, or in Latin America, but here, where the few people who were talking about the climate crisis spent much of the time saying "Africa would be hit early, Africa would be hit first, Africa would be hit hardest." Well, all of that was true, but if you blinked then you missed it -- "early" is over, "first" is over, we are into it now. The US populace and the US economy is being hit hard and will continue to be hit hard deep into this century.

Yes, we have always had fires in the West, tornadoes across the plains, and flooding along the Mississippi, yes, we have had droughts before; but there will be more of it all, with greater frequency, greater intensity and greater range. (No, I am not a scientist, and I would be delighted to be proved wrong by events, but I wouldn't bet on it, if I were you.)

In recent days, four hundred city blocks in Cedar Rapids, Iowa were inundated with flood waters. 24,000 citizens were evacuated. It was the culmination of several weeks of extreme weather. (Hurricane Katrina was not an anomaly.)

"At least four people were killed and about 40 injured when a tornado tore through a Boy Scout camp in western Iowa on Wednesday night"; "two people are dead in northern Kansas after tornadoes cut a diagonal path across the state"; "[t]wo Maryland men with heart conditions died this week" from the East Coast heat wave. These eight deaths come on top of reports earlier this week that the heat wave "claimed the lives of 17 people" and the wave of deadly storms killed 11 more: "six in Michigan, two in Indiana and one each in Iowa and Connecticut," as well as one man in New York. Tornadoes this year are being reported at record levels. States of emergency have been declared in Minnesota, California, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Michigan because of floods and wildfires. Counties in Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, South Dakota, and Wisconsin have been declared disaster areas due to the historic flooding that has breached dams, inundated towns, and caused major crop damage, sending commodity futures to new records. ...
This tragic, deadly, and destructive weather -- not to mention the droughts in Georgia, California, Kansas, North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, North Dakota, and elsewhere across the country -- are consistent with the changes scientists predicted would come with global warming.
American Progress, 6/12/08

The total cost of it all? Certainly, many hundred of millions of dollars, perhaps billions of dollars. And we are only half way through this year. We have not even hit the hurricane season yet.

Against this backdrop of misery, I want you to consider two very ugly choices associated with the climate crisis. One is being forced upon us by the inaction of government and business, the other has its source in something very sick in the psyches of some among us.

The one being forced upon us concerns nuclear energy.

The world needs to invest $45 trillion in energy in coming decades, build some 1,400 nuclear power plants and vastly expand wind power in order to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, according to an energy study released Friday.
The report by the Paris-based International Energy Agency envisions a "energy revolution" that would greatly reduce the world's dependence on fossil fuels while maintaining steady economic growth.
"Meeting this target of 50 percent cut in emissions represents a formidable challenge, and we would require immediate policy action and technological transition on an unprecedented scale," IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka said.
Associated Press, 6/6/08

If government and business had seized the time way back when, even as recently as eight years ago, or better yet, had heeded Jimmy Carter's warnings about energy security in the late 1970s, we could reject nuclear energy without too much thought.

But because government and business failed to act responsibly either on energy security over the last few decades or on climate change over the last few years, we must have another debate about nuclear energy.

Is it true, as James Lovelock postulates, that there is no choice at all, and that if civilization is to survive this growing crisis, we must unequivocally embrace nuclear power? Or is true, as Helen Caldicott postulates, that embracing nuclear energy is further madness, and it will actually only contribute to our woes? (See Hard Rain Journal 9-26-06: Climate Crisis Update -- Global Warming & The Nuclear Option, A Convergence of National Security Issues.)

This choice requires a risk analysis exercise of the most profound nature.

On one hand, both the scientist and the shaman know that there is no turning back on the Climate Crisis, either we do something NOW, or our way of life as a species goes away, and instead of working to bring one billion people out of poverty, we will be preoccupied with keeping eight billion people at a basic survival level; the most important and urgent challenge is to stop burning coal, and the facile response to that important and urgent need is to replace coal-burning plants with nuclear power plants.

On the other hand, no matter what any industry champion tells you, no one has yet solved the greatest concern regarding nuclear energy, i.e., what to do with the waste. Furthermore, in an increasingly unstable world, both economically and geopolitically, the security issues raised by bringing 1,400 new nuclear power plants into operation most be of serious concern: every one of them will be susceptible to catastrophic events whether caused by accident, insider sabotage or terrorist attack. That is just a fact. Has anything like Chernobyl or Three Mile Island happened again? Not yet. But only a fool would think that odds would remain the same if the number of nuclear power plants were significantly increased.

So there is the choice, the certainty of global catastrophe if we do not do something radical about the Climate Crisis vs. increased likelihood of multiple regional catastrophes if the proliferation of nuclear power plants is factored in as a significant element of the plan to mitigate the Climate Crisis.

I do not know what the answer is, but I do know that anyone who does not see this as an ugly choice -- or has no hesitation in making it one way or the other -- is in denial either about the Climate Crisis or the dangers of nuclear energy.

Indeed, it is an ugly choice, but is it a false choice?

On a recent Rsdio Nation broadcast, Laura Flanders interviewed Mark Hertsgaard, the Nation's environmental correspondent:

Flanders: They have always been people who supported nuclear power, but what is startling now is how many environmentalists, and it is still not an enormous number, but there are some key members of the environmental community, who faced with the kind of urgency that [James] Hansen has laid out in terms of global warming, are beginning to argue that maybe we need to review our attitude toward nuclear power. Lay out the arguments for us ...
Hertsgaard: I think I did the first book on the nuclear power industry back in 1983, even back then the executives of the nuclear industry were -- this was right after Three Mile Island, when many activists thought that the industry was dead -- and the executives were telling me, "No, we're going to come back around the turn of the century, and one of the reasons we are going to come back is because people are going to be worried about climate change. They saw this coming 25+ years ago. ... The argument against [nuclear energy as way to replace coal and drasticaly reduce greenhouse gas emissions] is that -- separate from any safety or nuclear proliferation concerns, which are substantial -- the main point at this juncture is that nuclear is just wildly expensive and not going to be supported in the marketplace. In fact, economically speaking, if you go nuclear, you make climat change worse, because you can get seven times greater reduction if instead you invest in energy efficiency above all. That is the quickest, cheapest and above all the fastest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And per dollar of investment, you get seven times more reduction in greenhouse gas emission with energy efficiency. So really you if you go nuclear you are making the problem worse because in the real world there is a scarcity of capital, there is only so much to go around, and if you invest it in nuclear, that means you are not going to be investing it in things that are going to be delivering a bigger bang for the buck.
Radio Nation, 6/7/08

Of course, there is another open question -- who will make these choices? In a democratic republic, the electorate chooses those who will choose, i.e., its national legislature and its national executive.

Recent history has revealed that if those in power are sick-minded, they are capable of using the Climate Crisis as a sort of pogrom by proxy.

Consider Christopher Brauchli's brilliant comparative analysis of Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina and the Burmese Thugocracy's response to Typhoon Nargis:

... both Mr. Bush and Mr. Than knew in advance of the approaching disasters. On May 6, 2008, a spokesman for the Indian Meteorological Department said Burmese agencies had been given 48 hours’ notice of the cyclone’s advent, including its point of crossing, its severity and all related issues. ... Mr. Bush was told the Sunday before the Monday Katrina struck that the city’s flood defenses could fail in such a storm. The National Weather Service issued a special hurricane warning saying most of New Orleans would be uninhabitable for weeks and “water shortages will make human suffering incredible by modern standards.” Unlike Mr. Than, Mr. Bush acknowledged these warnings. He said the government was fully prepared to help. He was wrong, of course, but not on purpose.
Monday morning Mr. Bush was again warned about the potential devastation of Katrina and was told the government might lack the capacity to deal with it. He did not let that interfere with the day’s planned activities. Mr. Bush talked about immigration issues with the head of the Department of Homeland Security. He then shared a birthday cake photo-op with his old friend, Senator John McCain, and, after learning that the 17th Canal levee in New Orleans had breached, went off to Arizona to promote Medicare Drug benefits. By late afternoon he was at a California senior center where he discussed the Medicare drug benefit. At 8 that night the governor of Louisiana told the president she needed everything Mr. Bush could provide to deal with the emergency. Mr. Bush said nothing. He went to bed.
Tuesday afternoon Mr. Bush joined country singer, Mark Willis, for a photo op, Mr. Bush holding a guitar and the singer smiling at the playful president. Mr. Bush then returned to Texas to finish up his vacation. He let it be known that he would begin work the following day with a task force to coordinate relief efforts.
It took Mr. Than two weeks to meet victims and see the destruction for himself. As soon as Mr. Bush finished his vacation Wednesday, he flew back to Washington, making a detour, however, to fly over New Orleans so he could see for himself how bad things were. A picture was taken of him looking out the airplane window at the devastation below, the sort of picture that could not be published of Mr. Than since he never did that.
Christopher Brauchli, Common Dreams, 6-7-08

Richard Power's Left-Handed Security: Overcoming Fear, Greed & Ignorance in This Era of Global Crisis is available now! Click here for more information.

For the Words of Power Climate Crisis Updates Archive, click here.

Click here for access to great promotional tools available on The Eleventh Hour action page.

To sign the Live Earth Pledge, click here.

For analysis of the US mainstream news media's failure to treat global warming and climate change with accuracy or appropriae urgency, click here for Media Matters' compilation of "Myths and Falsehoods about Global Warming".

Want to participate in the effort to mitigate the impact of global warming? Download "Ten Things You Can Do"

Want to join over one people on the Stop Global Warming Virtual March, and become part of the movement to demand our leaders freeze and reduce carbon dioxide emissions now? Click here.

Center for American Progress Action Fund's Mic Check Radio has released a witty and compelling compilation on the Top 100 Effects of Global Warming, organized into sections like "Global Warming Wrecks All the Fun" (e.g., "Goodbye to Pinot Noir," "Goodbye to Baseball," "Goodbye to Salmon Dinners," "Goodbye to Ski Vacations," etc.), "Global Warming Kills the Animals" (e.g., "Death March of the Penguins," "Dying Grey Whales," "Farewell to Frogs," etc.) and yes, "Global Warming Threatens Our National Security" (e.g., "Famine," "Drought," "Large-Scale Migrations," "The World's Checkbook," etc.) I urge you to utilize Top 100 Effects of Global Warming in your dialogues with friends, family and colleagues.

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