Friday, April 23, 2010

Cap and Refund

Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wa) and Susan Collins (R-Me) have a brilliant way to capture imaginations and reclaim the public debate about cap-and-trade. Their bill on the floor of the House is called the CLEAR Act — Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal — just the kind of moniker to lift the fog of climate change deniers like Marsha Blackburn and James Inhofe. The bill makes an end-run around the pitfalls of cap-and-trade, summarized so well by Annie Leonard (Story of Stuff)’s short animation by the same name.

Cap and refund stands on the shoulders of deep thinking by David Fleming, Richard Douthwaite and the rest of the skunk works at FEASTA, the (Irish) Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability. Fleming correctly foresaw the boondoggle Ponzi scheme that cap-and-trade, the darling of the Kerry/Graham/Lieberman approach, would prove to be when it was actually implemented in Europe. His alternative was cap-and-share (called cap-and-dividend in the US), the idea that every citizen would go to the bank or post office and collect a monthly check from the international trading exchange in carbon credits. While gradually reducing atmospheric CO2 (the cap), the refund would ensure that the poorest people in the world are not priced out of the market for energy and everything made with energy as its price rises due to the tightening cap. Leiberman’s bill, and the dismal experiment with the European carbon market, would, if enacted, enrich the oil companies and big energy consumers, and mint a new generation of Wall Street billionaires while starving and freezing the poor.

We need a carbon credit exchange, despite rallying cries to the contrary coming from the climate summit in Cochibamba, because without it, there is no way to put a price on carbon. Without a price on carbon, big polluters like the US, Canada and China can keep building more coal plants and ignoring alternatives like wind, solar and biochar. Leiberman’s bill would give fat subsidies to nuclear reactor builders by ignoring uranium’s huge carbon footprint, in the same stroke starving wind energy (with a fraction of the carbon footprint) of needed investment.

As Elizabeth Kolbert reports in the April 21 issue of  Yale 360
“Under the [CLEAR] bill, the president would, beginning in 2012, set an overall cap on fossil-fuel emissions. That cap would remain in place until 2015, after which it would start declining by a quarter of a percent a year. So-called “upstream” emitters — mainly sellers or importers of coal, oil, and natural gas — would then have to buy permits from the federal government at a monthly auction. Three-quarters of the proceeds would be returned to U.S. citizens in the form of a monthly check. (Cantwell’s office has estimated that, for a family of four, the “refund” would be about $1,000 a year.) The other quarter would go into a Clean Energy Reinvestment Trust Fund to research and develop renewable sources of energy.”
Admittedly, reducing carbon emissions by half a percent per year will not pull the world’s fat out of the fire. At that rate, it would take until 2115 to bring US emissions down by half, which is not nearly quick enough. If the rate were raised to 1 percent, the US could bring emissions to half by mid-century, which is more in line with what is needed (although 80% reductions would be better, and some nations have pledged to be carbon neutral much sooner than that). By Cantwell’s calculus, raising the annual cap increase to 1% would line $2,000 in every USAnian’s pocket. Raising it to 2% would mean $4,000, and so forth. What is not to like about that? It is Lafferesque in its voodoo economics.

What are the chances that CLEAR will supplant the Leiberman porkmonster? In the latest issue of The New Republic, Bill McKibben asks, 
“why is Bill One, the porky kludge, viewed as ‘serious’ and ‘realistic’ and the center of the action, while Bill Two barely gets a mention? One answer I heard from half a dozen people on both sides of the issue was surprising: ‘They’re women.’ One would hope, in Nancy Pelosi’s Washington, that this isn’t actually the cause. But what do I know? The even scarier, and probably even truer, answer is that Bill One, Kerry-Graham-Lieberman, is seen as serious precisely because it’s weighed down with a thousand compromises.”
Another question is, which bill will the White House support? From what we have seen of Obama on this and other issues in recent months, the answer seems apparent: Leiberman. But c’mon Barry, surprise us. 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Nukes on the Loose

USAnians have always been fond of cloaking genocidal mass-murderers and war-criminals in garlands of laurel and erecting equestrian statues, or etching their faces on Federal Reserve Notes (Jackson, Grant), and putting their names on airports (Reagan), cities (Jackson, Columbus) and automobiles (DeSoto, Cadillac). The cult of Obama is no different, just a bit farther flung.

Before receiving the Nobel Prize, Obama spoke in these inspiring tones of how he wanted to eliminate nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.
“One nuclear weapon exploded in one city -– be it New York or Moscow, Islamabad or Mumbai, Tokyo or Tel Aviv, Paris or Prague –- could kill hundreds of thousands of people. And no matter where it happens, there is no end to what the consequences might be -– for our global safety, our security, our society, our economy, to our ultimate survival.”
It is curious that we have to be reminded of precisely what an atomic weapon is capable of. For many years, that was a closely guarded state secret. Film of the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was seized by the Defense Department and embargoed for half a century. Estimates of transgenerational casualties, like those of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, were vastly understated.

Mr. Obama continued in Prague:
“Just as we stood for freedom in the 20th century, we must stand together for the right of people everywhere to live free from fear in the 21st century. (Applause.) And as nuclear power –- as a nuclear power, as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act.


To reduce our warheads and stockpiles, we will negotiate a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Russians this year. (Applause.) President Medvedev and I began this process in London, and will seek a new agreement by the end of this year that is legally binding and sufficiently bold. And this will set the stage for further cuts, and we will seek to include all nuclear weapons states in this endeavor.

To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing, my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. (Applause.) After more than five decades of talks, it is time for the testing of nuclear weapons to finally be banned.”
After the Prague speech, many observers expected the White House to propose CTBT ratification to the Senate. It was clear then that if the US ratified the treaty, China and Pakistan would do the same, and would line up with the US to oppose North Korea and Iran. India is a horse of a different color and offered no hints that it would follow peace overtures. For India, and for China and others, US ratification of the CTBT is a step to a higher goal – the goal of a nuclear free world. If the Senate ratification were premised on this higher goal, then India and the remaining Annex-2 states would likely join. However, since November, Obama has been backing away from the higher goal and CTBT will not be put to the Senate, if it ever is, as a step towards a global zero. Given that stance, it is very hard to envisage widespread adoption.

Obama continued:
“And to cut off the building blocks needed for a bomb, the United States will seek a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials intended for use in state nuclear weapons. If we are serious about stopping the spread of these weapons, then we should put an end to the dedicated production of weapons-grade materials that create them. That's the first step.

Second, together we will strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a basis for cooperation.

The basic bargain is sound: Countries with nuclear weapons will move towards disarmament, countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them, and all countries can access peaceful nuclear energy. To strengthen the treaty, we should embrace several principles. We need more resources and authority to strengthen international inspections. We need real and immediate consequences for countries caught breaking the rules or trying to leave the treaty without cause.


Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something. The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons. Now is the time for a strong international response.”
While the horrors he touched on — underscored by the announcement this week from the Department of Homeland Security that any city experiencing a nuclear attack can expect no immediate outside aid other than being cordoned off and left to die — are no longer unimagined, the hypocrisy of the Prague address was nearly eclipsed by the President’s speech this week:
“At the dawn of the nuclear age that he helped to unleash, Albert Einstein said:  ‘Now everything has changed…’  And he warned: ‘we are drifting towards a catastrophe beyond comparison.  We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.’

That truth endures today.  For the sake of our common security, for the sake of our survival, we cannot drift.  We need a new manner of thinking -- and action.  That is the challenge before us.”
Decrypting POTUS’s malaBushism, Einstein’s actual May 24, 1946 statement was: “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”

Reality check: mere hours earlier, Obama had refused to give in to Russian demands for limits on missile defense, Reagan’s “Star Wars.” Stephen G. Rademaker, a former official in the George W. Bush administration, is reported by The New York Times to have said: “For a president coming out of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, it’s remarkable how much he has pursued a great power strategy. It’s almost Kissingerian. It’s not very sentimental. Issues of human rights do not loom large in his foreign policy, and issues of democracy promotion, he’s been almost dismissive of.”

The Loose Nuke summit’s purported Great Accomplishment is a nonbinding communiqué that largely restates current policy, makes no meaningful progress in dealing with nuclear terrorism threats, and leaves the status quo of US saber-rattling towards Iran intact. The president’s policy towards nuclear non-proliferation is thus revealed to be as empty as his policy towards climate change. The summit was merely a reprise of the Obama performance in Copenhagen; same song, different lyrics. What matters inside the West Wing is not what actually happened, but what people think happened.

In 1969, Richard Nixon and Golda Meir made a not-so-secret backroom deal that as long as Israel would not announce it has (now 200+) nuclear weapons — don’t ask, don’t tell — the US would not trouble Israel about proliferation, and in fact, would finance advanced delivery systems in the form of submarines, missiles and bombers (although not iPads). Mordechai Vanunu is still imprisoned in Jerusalem and regularly tormented by Israeli police goons for having broken the code. In 1986 he was illegally rendered from Rome in a Reagan-era trial debut of the US frequent flyer program.

After a meeting with Vanunu in 2004, Issam Makhoul, a Member of Israel’s Knesset, told a press conference:
"Only those who struggle for total disarmament of the Middle East, including Israel, of all weapons of mass destruction — nuclear, biological and chemical — has the moral right to condemn Iran for its nuclear project. The countries that equip Israel with the means to launch nuclear warheads, that supply it with submarines and enable it to develop its missiles, do not have the moral right to condemn the Iranian nuclear project. Anyone who opposes the Iranian project must also oppose the Israeli nuclear arsenal.”
Or for that matter, oppose the United States policy of making hydrogen bombs from its commercial nuclear plants, such as tritium taken from the Sequoyah reactors in Tennessee, now up for re-licensing. Obama’s Snake Oil Doctor-in-Chief and Keeper of the WMDs is Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, who touts MOX (Mixed-OXide) nuclear fuel, reprocessed from civilian reactors, as a “solution” to nuclear proliferation. “Solution” is notably being used here in precisely the same context as Hitler’s inner circle used it. NRC’s study of the MOX fuel cycle, NUREG-0002, estimated it would cause 1.7 million deaths from cancers and birth defects, just from the US reactors operating in 1977. Chu would throw children into furnaces to generate electricity. That will be the "solution" to proliferation, we are told.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has reported 18 separate incidents of missing or stolen quantities of plutonium or highly enriched uranium. Stephen Chu wants us to build more of these facilities, and to export the technology all over the world.

These inconsistencies came up outside the Loose Nuke summit when former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans and former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large Robert Gallucci called for an end to the fuel-recycling practice. They were across town at conference of experts being held in parallel with the White House kabuki. Evans and Galluchi opined that (a) having more nukes and (b) recycling their wastes into MOX actually makes the problem worse because it makes plutonium and other bomb components more readily available. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission raised the same point in their 1977 study.

That drew a retort from the French utility Areva’s former Director of Non-Proliferation and International Institutions, who dutifully advanced the US Secretary’s stance that power and weapons are two separate issues. Translation: give us noisy hypocrisy instead of real change. Hans Kristensen, a nuclear arms expert observing the Australian-French exchange commented, “Given the renewed interest in nuclear power generation as a ‘clean’ energy source, does the prospect of scores of new reactors and perhaps many being built in countries with no previous nuclear experience create new proliferation problems?”

Wait for it. He'll answer his own question. “Yes, nuclear power industries create the materials, technologies, and expertise needed to make nuclear bombs. … Safeguards are often insufficient and no foolproof guarantee against proliferation. More nuclear power plants in more countries means more fissile material that could be lost, sold or stolen. Some countries with nuclear power or nuclear power aspirations are unstable or dictatorships where today's safeguards may be abandoned tomorrow leaving dangerous materials in the hands of dangerous people.”

Kristensen, the soul of common sense, accurately described what is happening today in Pakistan, with technology supplied by NATO, and in Iran, with bomb-making capability transferred by Nixon and his successors (Rumsfeld, Cheney) to the Shah. In spytalk this is called blowback. In this case, it is radioactively hot blowback. Obama, the terrorist President, is kneeling at the edge of the fire, fanning the flames, his backside protected by press releases portraying him in statesmanlike terms.




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