Entries Tagged 'Climate Change' ↓
March 19th, 2012 — Canada, Climate Change
I’m on the West Coast of Canada, where temperatures have been unusually cool: 4-5 C below ‘normal’ for weeks now. I used to live in Ontario, where temperature records are currently being blown away: 8, 9, even 12 degrees Celsius higher than the previous record.
Sitting in 6 C and rain sure makes the situation in central Canada look pretty good right now. Rather than 16 C, imagine 24 C – what a great March! However, think about this:
What if records are shattered in the summer by the same amount? For example, rather than a very uncomfortable (Toronto gets very humid) 37 C, what if the temperature hits 47 C? When I grew up in Ontario, very few people had air conditioning because it just wasn’t worth it for three hot and humid weeks in the summer. But 47 C is in another realm entirely.
The extreme temperatures have other consequences, too: thunderstorms – in Spring! – move from unheard of to likely. And how about farmers? There’s a lot of great crop land in Ontario, but a heat wave of 47 C will kill almost everything currently commercially grown. One week of weather like that could cost the entire Ontario crop.
We’re in for it now; the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere mean that weather extremes are the new normal. Let’s see how we ‘adapt.’
August 1st, 2011 — Climate Change, Collapse, Economy, Peak Oil
The US ‘debt ceiling deal’ simply reinforces that, for sensible people, Obama is definitely not ‘the guy’ we hoped he would be. And never was. Way back when first elected, he appointed Steven Chu as his Energy Secretary, and one of the first things Chu said was that California was running out of water and agriculture there couldn’t last much longer – and the cities were in big trouble, too. He was muzzled after that. That was an ominous sign that Obama was not much more tolerant of truth than Bush II.
Since then, of course, Obama has greatly expanded the unconstitutional presidential powers that Bush II had no right taking in the first place, and it’s been one cave-in after another. In fact, it seems clear to me that Obama is not so much caving in to the radical right but seems…fine with much of what they propose. How else to describe all his pre-emptive capitulations?
Obama started with health care, which was a huge and, to me anyway, obvious blunder. In the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression, after the Clintons failed with their health care initiative, Obama goes with health care instead of jobs. The ultimate bill ended up being virtually identical to one proposed by Republicans some years earlier.
He should have started with jobs and cleaning up Wall Street and lobbying in general, but instead appointed half of Goldman Sachs as his financial advisors. It’s no surprise the US in in big fiscal shit now; he didn’t plunge the toilet first. He should have started with energy independence, which would have put people back to work and spent taxpayer dollars on green energy projects that reduced US dependence on foreign oil.
Definitely things are coming to a head. This latest US debt ceiling deal just punts the problem down the road a few months. I think we’re going to see a realignment of world power as companies and countries try to decouple themselves from the US, which is now more clearly than ever headed toward fiscal disaster. It probably won’t be immediate, and a lot of countries are much more heavily tied to the US than they would like to be, but you can see it coming when the ratings agencies are seriously threatening to downgrade the US credit rating. There must be enormous pressure on them NOT to do so, but they’re talking openly about it as if the US were Greece. And it has actually been happening, as companies relocate head offices and assets overseas, as are the rich.
The crises are coming so thick and fast that there is no time to deal with one before the next hits, from the Murdoch scandals to the US debt issue, from climate change to oil depletion, from middle eastern uprisings to continuing recession in the US. The problems are systemic, and I can’t see a change until people in the developed countries take serious action against the powers-that-be. The super-rich have forgotten, don’t realise, or most likely don’t care that the middle class is the foundation of a stable society. At some point, enough Americans will be reduced to poverty with no hope of returning to the middle class, and when people lose hope, leaders lose their heads.
There are two options open to clean up the ‘leader of the free world’: nonviolent protest on the scale of the Civil Rights movement, or…. The super-rich are doing everything they can to destroy any possibility of nonviolent systemic change; they have corrupted the political process through lobbying, they have corrupted the media via Fox News, they have corrupted the public discourse via libertarian/extremist right-wing ‘think tanks’ like the Heritage Foundation and and other lying trash, and they have worked very hard to ensure that alternate loci of power – like unions – are destroyed. No matter what you think of unions, point me to a country with a high standard of living that does not also have a high degree of unionisation – they are few. Especially in the absence of a strong and honest government, unions are a necessary counterbalance to global corporations.
No conspiracy theory is required, although quite obviously scum like the Koch brothers and Murdoch are doing their best to control things. All it requires is many people voting or otherwise putting their short-term self-interest before that of everyone else and you get where the US is now.
I see no possibility of change until a serious crisis comes, and unfortunately that means much worse than the current recession. And when crisis hits and the old ways of organization are questioned and assaulted, the leaders who rise up will determine whether we end up with a better democracy, a more stable society, and a sustainable way of living – or whether things get exponentially worse.
We are nearing a tipping point, I believe, but it is impossible to predict what will be the trigger. It may seem to be something minor, but that’s only because we studiously ignored all the straw previously piled on the camel’s back.
May 27th, 2011 — Canada, Climate Change, Collapse, Economy, Peak Oil, Solutions, The Way Home
The world oil supply is running down and we have no ready substitutes.
Climate change is happening now – stronger storms, more devastating wildfires, rising sea levels, diseases spreading – the list goes on, and there is every indication that it will continue to worsen.
The US economy, upon which the world economy still depends, is unstable due to corruption at the top, from most Congressmen to presidential advisors all being former bank executives.
Our leaders are not moving quickly enough to protect the economy in general, never mind your or my livelihoods in particular. Some of our leaders are actually doing things to worsen the situation, such as denying the very existence of climate change or ignoring the ever-rising price of oil.
We are facing “interesting times.” The turbulence has begun, and it’s buffeting us from all directions. Have you ever had the experience of going for a walk and, no matter which direction you were going, the wind always seemed to be in your face? That’s what the future is going to feel like for many people.
I could (and have) proposed large-scale responses to the situation, which frankly at this point need to be a WWII-scale mobilization to re-industrialize and re-do our living arrangements to drastically cut oil dependence immediately and, long-term, eliminate pollution of all kinds by moving to a ‘restorative economy.’
But we’re not going to do that in the foreseeable future, are we? Or anything even remotely close. If you take your family’s security seriously, then you will do what you can to buffer yourself against the coming storms. The best way I have seen to do that is Transition Initiative, and you should seriously consider joining (or starting) one in your area.
TI is a completely grassroots, apolitical initiative, and this is what they do:
Transition Network helps communities deal with climate change and shrinking supplies of cheap energy (peak oil). This process, which we call Transition, aims to create stronger, happier communities.
That’s how we’re going to get through this; by working together in local communities. As the Transition Network site puts it well:
What we are convinced of is this:
- if we wait for the governments, it’ll be too little, too late
- if we act as individuals, it’ll be too little
- but if we act as communities, it might just be enough, just in time.
Your level of involvement can be minimal or massive; the choice is yours. Here are some things that local TIs do:
- Teach people how to grow a garden, save seeds, preserve foods
- Educate people by showing documentaries about peak oil, climate change, solutions, and more
- Host online and IRL forums to discuss and learn
- Show people how to insulate their homes or build a solar greenhouse
Like it or not, the world is changing. You can adapt, or not.
April 15th, 2011 — Climate Change, Peak Oil, Solutions
Helen Caldicott and George Monbiot have recently attacked each other in anti and pro-nuclear articles, and honestly I now am entirely unsure of the truth. Both claim scientific backing, though Monbiot appears to shred Caldicott’s claims. I have a great deal of respect for Monbiot; back when I was doing my own research on climate change (I was a sceptic and was attempting to see if it was real, was human-caused, was dangerous, etc, and I read lots of real science in the process), I found him to be ruthlessly honest and perfectly aligned with the actual science.
That said, I think the pro-nuke crowd, now including George Monbiot, is making two grave errors. The first is claiming that low levels of radiation are safe.
As an example of this, something that really struck me as a blow to the nuke movement was a seemingly unrelated article posted on Reddit a few weeks or so ago discussing the nude-o-scanners used by the TSA. The author interviewed a scientist who flat-out said that the scanners would cause cancer in some people. The reasoning went thusly:
- The risk of a mutation caused by the scanners is very low, say 1-in-10,000,000
- However, many tens of millions of people pass through the scanners each year
- Therefore, some of those people will develop cancer caused by radiation from the scanners
In this case, “low risk” still means “will cause cancer in some people.” Not everyone wants to take that risk, and may be unhappy about others forcing that risk upon them.
This brings me to my second point; Monbiot seems just as political in supporting nuclear energy as Caldicott is in opposing it. In fact, this seems a common theme among many pro-nuclear ‘environmentalists.’ Take these paragraphs from his article, my emphasis added:
If…we make the wrong decisions, the consequences can be momentous. …that countries [will] shut down their nuclear power plants or stop the construction of new ones, and switch instead to fossil fuels. Almost all of us would prefer them to switch to renewables, but it seems that this is less likely to happen.
In response to the Fukushima disaster, for example, the German government insists that it will replace its nuclear plants with new renewable power sources – particularly large wind farms. But as most of its wind is in the north and much of its nuclear capacity is in the south, this will require a massive new construction of power lines. That gives the government just as much of a political headache as the current anti-nuclear protests. The new lines are also likely to take around 12 years to build, raising the possibility of shortages.
In other words, Monbiot (and “almost all of us”) think renewables are a better idea, but will support nuclear because it seems politically more feasible. Chalk one up for the nuclear lobby. He also states that new power lines will take about 12 years to build – which is about the amount of time required to build a nuclear plant, assuming it’s not stopped by the kinds of mass protests recently seen in Germany.
Monbiot digs himself in deeper by assuming that power lines will be opposed equally as have been nuclear plants, but this seems a stretch.
In his book Heat: How to stop the planet from burning, Monbiot thoroughly analyses nuclear energy, and some of the dangers he points out are not trivial:
- p. 90: “…every nuclear power station leaks radiation into the environment. As well as their routine emissions into the air and the sea, the nuclear generators are surrounded by dumping scandals.” He then goes on to detail numerous examples, and as we have seen with Fukushima, the same leaks and cover-ups occurred there.
- p. 92: Monbiot discusses the intractable and so-far insoluble problem of nuclear waste, and that there have also been cover-ups in this department, in which proponents of the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada “falsified the rates at which water percolates through it.”
- pp. 92-95: Monbiot discusses the financial cost of nuclear power, concluding that it only exists courtesy of large taxpayer subsidies and that the actual “price of nuclear power is a function of your political position.”
- p. 97: “…sixteen years would be needed to obtain finance and planning permission and to design a build [a new nuclear] plant.” Monbiot does agree that this timeline also rules out any large-scale energy development, and so the government would have to fast-track (i.e. ram through) projects like this.
And Monbiot’s conclusion?
Because of the industry’s record of corner-cutting, because of its association with weapons of mass destruction and because of the unresolved questions about waste disposal and energy balance, I will provisionally place nuclear power second from last in my list of preferences, just above generation using coal from open-cast mines.
So George – which of these things has changed in the last few years? The answer, of course, is none. The only thing that has changed seems to be that Monbiot has abandoned hope that we will embrace renewables or conservation – for political reasons. He has thus given up and is now shilling for his “second from last” energy choice, the one he places one short step above coal, because he thinks that’s the best we can get – even though it’s not very good at all.
George Monbiot is entitled to his change of political views. But to become a proponent of nuclear power now, not because it’s better than the alternatives or even necessary, but because that’s all the nuclear lobby will allow, is a disgrace. His words again:
This is an especially difficult time to try to make the case for keeping the dangers of nuclear power in perspective. The frightening events at Fukushima are still unfolding, the disaster has been upgraded to category 7, making it one of the two worst such events on record. But it is just when the case is hardest that it most urgently needs to be made, however much anger this generates. If we don’t stick to the facts, if we don’t subject all claims to the same degree of scepticism, we could make a bad situation worse.
Sometimes, George, the reason the case is hard to make is because it’s not a very good case. And yes, we should stick to the facts. Those facts are that conservation and renewable energy are the best, and ultimately the only, path out of our current spiralling energy addiction that is causing climate change. Nuclear power is at best a stopgap measure; it just pushes the problem down the road a ways.
Forget immediate concerns about irradiated food and water, and increased cancer risk, for the moment; let’s say they’re exaggerated or a trade-off we’re willing to make in order to phase out coal (because conservation and renewable energy are ‘politically more difficult.’) A nuclear accident like Fukushima has the potential to render large areas uninhabitable for generations. What is the cost of that?
And consider this; if we decide to forge ahead with nuclear power, we will need thousands more nuclear plants all over the world, including in many countries far less politically stable or technologically advanced as Japan. The risk of accidents will surely increase exponentially, as will the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Finally, not a damn word about conservation, which could cut our need for energy enough to make battles over nuclear versus renewable much less of a concern – and, if we don’t start conserving, will ultimately lead to massive energy generating plants and related problems all over the globe anyway.
George Monbiot, I am disappointed.
UPDATE: Guy Dauncey has written an excellent dissection of nuclear power in the wake of Fukushima: Nuclear – Hope or Hype? It is an extract from his equally good book, The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming. Dauncey takes a no-nonsense, fact-based approach to his evaluation, looking at nuclear from all angles: economic, waste storage, global warming, and more.