Sunday, January 26, 2020

Blizzards of the Deep — Part 1

"Which would we rather — more electric cars or more octopuses? What do we do when reversing climate change conflicts with preserving biodiversity?"

Blizzards of the Deep — Part 1

Ever since 1932, when biologist William Beebe and engineer Otis Barton squeezed through the 14-inch (36-cm) opening in their hollow metal ball they called a bathysphere, humans have been exploring the depths of the ocean. Beebe and Barton reached 2,200 feet on that first descent and would take the ball to 3,000 feet two years later. They saw flashlight fish, with bean-shaped pouches below their eyes filled with bioluminescent bacteria that blinked on and off as the fish winked. They saw sea jellies that made light by reacting a chemical called luciferin with oxygen. Other fish had eyes shaped like tubes to allow them to take in more light, or, like the giant squid, eyes the size of soccer balls. In 1960, Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh, in their research vessel Trieste, set a record that can never be broken by touching down on the lowest point on the surface of the Earth, 35,814 feet (10,916 meters) below sea level, in the Mariana Trench. 

 While the early explorers could take photographs through a porthole or describe what they saw, today’s research vessels have robot arms, sensors, and video cameras to gather samples and show what they’ve seen to the world. We have discovered countless organisms — like vampire squid, named for the webbing between tentacles that resemble a red bat wing, and a female octopus that sits on its nest of eggs for four and a half years, as its babies get large enough to enter their dark world.

Sunlight filters through the uppermost layers of water, but from 650 to 3280 feet (1000 meters), depending on where you are, it dims into what oceanographers call the Twilight Zone. Below that is the Midnight Zone, with no sunlight, temperature close to freezing, and enough pressure to crush a golf ball. For every 33 feet (10 meters) you descend, the pressure increases by 14.7 pounds per square inch. Animals like sperm whales and sea lions have flexible skeletons that collapse to accommodate these pressures when they dive.

With bodies or shells that maintain the same pressure inside as out, shellfish have their own bathyspheres. Invertebrates — animals that have no skeletons — reign on the ocean’s floor. There are deep sea versions of starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, sea anemones, and even corals that do not require warmth or sunlight. Mud-dwelling ratfish have skeletons made of cartilage and can find worms and clams by sensing electrical fields. This might explain why sharks and rays were able to survive so many extinction events, because their special abilities — to contract, sense electrical fields, and smell at great distance — allow them to dive deep and find food when all of the usual sources have disappeared. Another strategy is that of the giant isopods that can slow their heart rate and go for years without eating.

Aliens of the Ocean

The octopus is a most unusual deep dweller. Its large brain and sophisticated nervous system, camera-like eyes, flexible body that can squeeze through very small openings, and ability to instantaneously switch color and shape are just a few of the striking features that appeared suddenly on the evolutionary scene and are not found together in any other creature. We know that octopusses (not octupi) come from the same biological line as nautilus, cuttlefish and squid, but they are so genetically different that it has opened some interesting questions about their origins. In June 2016, a number of web sites reported that researchers had examined octopus DNA and discovered it was either “alien” or “from space.” This was a bit overstated. The source, an article in the journal Nature, actually said that octopuses have a genome that yields an unprecedented level of complexity, composed of 33,000 protein-coding genes. This number is well beyond the number that can be found in a human being, so one scientist humorously compared it to an alien, which started the rumor.

Other scientists didn’t think it it is a joke. The March 2018 issue of the journal Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology (“Cause of Cambrian Explosion — Terrestrial or Cosmic?”) examined whether some of our evolutionary ancestors could have been extraterrestrial. The paper said that since the genes of the octopus “are not easily to be found in any pre-existing life form — it is plausible then to suggest they seem to be borrowed from a far distant ‘future’ in terms of terrestrial evolution, or more realistically, from the cosmos at large.” The paper proposed that we not so quickly discount the notion that octopus genes might have been extraterrestrial. The scientists concluded:
Thus the possibility that cryopreserved squid and/or octopus eggs, arrived in icy bolides several hundred million years ago should not be discounted, as that would be a parsimonious cosmic explanation for the octopus’ sudden emergence on Earth ca. 270 million years ago. 


What we have come to call marine snow is actually tiny bits of dead plants and animals, feces and plastic that fall like snowflakes from the surface and upper layers of the ocean. Some animals, like jellyfish, vampire squid, and sea urchins rely on this snow for food. Others rely on whalefalls, which is literally what it sounds like. When a whale or other large fish or mammal dies near the surface, its carcass drifts to the bottom where it becomes food for thousands of bottom dwellers, sometimes for many years. If there are more deaths of marine animals now from climate change, poisons, oil spills, radioactivity and other human-caused disasters, it stands to reason these are banquet years at the bottom of the sea. But then what?

Barring massive geoengineering interventions like OMTEC farms (Ocean Mechanical Thermal Energy Conversion), heat from the surface will not reach the depths of the deeper ocean during my lifetime, or for many lifetimes afterwards. You can think of the temperatures there as a kind of planetary memory because the average heat at different strata reflects previous ice ages going back hundreds of thousands of years. What changes, however, is the snow.

In the second part of this two-part series, we will look at those changes to the snow being caused by red tides, bottom trawls, seabed mining, carbon capture and storage, and microplastics. Readers willing to spend a dollar for a good cause can donate to my page on Patreon and get the second part now, but otherwise the second installment will be out with my free blog that comes out every Sunday.

You encourage me to do more and then tell you about it. Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. Those are how we make this happen. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. Please help if you can.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Thugs and Circuses: President Cobblepot's Season Finale

"As the world watches, our circus moves to the floor of the Senate next week, pitting a real-estate-grifter-turned-reality-TV-host against the US Constitution."

Regular followers of this blog may know that our POTUS, Donald J. Cobblepot, has been formally impeached and at this writing is scheduled to stand trial. There is little concern within the gilded lair of the White House because a majority of jurors are party minions whose votes have been procured, by hook or crook, well in advance. 

There are some “smoking gun” witnesses being proposed that one faction or another feels may sway the verdict in the impressionable mind of the public, but those guns are pointed back at their advocates for reasons I will elucidate.

The John Bolton gun is assumed by Democrats to point at Cobblepot on the thin justification that the former National Security Advisor assignated former Mayor Rudy “The Joker” Giuliani’s forays in Ukraine “a drug deal.” As I pointed out in social media earlier this month, Bolton’s testimony may have also been purchased and is now pre-packaged awaiting release. The sequence of events that leads me to that conclusion:
  1. On January 5th, Iraq voted to seek immediate US disengagement rather than the lesser option of seeking a timetable for withdrawal.
  2. On January 6th, US command sent a memo agreeing to the pullout outlining the immediate withdrawal logistics. One may surmise POTUS was on board with this approach in keeping with his general wish to pull back from the theater. Congress voted to withdraw troops from Iraq in 2007.
  3. Later in the day on January 6th, John Bolton, an oil hawk and no fan of US disengagement, announced he is willing to testify in the impeachment trial and will comply with any lawful subpoena.
  4. Meanwhile, Iraq asked for clarification on some parts of the memo. US Command made revisions and sent a revised version in two languages.
  5. (January 7th, surmised) POTUS likely conferred with Bolton, they reach an accord on the substance of his testimony, and the Pentagon is informed that the withdrawal is off. Quid pro quo.
  6. US command in the theater walks back the memo and official state outlets like the New York Times call it a simple mistake, like hitting a SEND key on an internal draft. This official explanation is at odds with the timeline.
  7. US forces start pouring into Iraq to reinforce bases there. Attention is withdrawn from Iran for the moment and focused instead on defending the US positions in Iraq. The outcome is just as Bolton would have wanted as a quid and POTUS would not have initially wanted, but a quo is a quo.
The second smoking gun is Joe Biden’s son Hunter, who agreed to sit on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma Holdings Ltd, for an obscene amount of money. Republicans are less concerned about the sleaze factor, which rightly concerns Democrats (but apparently not the former Vice President), but more than convinced that Biden Jr had a role in corrupt practices that POTUS, in a now-infamous phone call with the the President of Ukraine, had wanted investigated, i.e.: the bribery and extortion scandal at the center of impeachment.

Unfortunately for its advocates, this second gun is also firing blanks. Hunter Biden provided advice on legal issues, corporate finance and strategy during a five-year term on the Burisma board, from May 2014 to April 2019. His tenure didn’t protect the company from the series of criminal investigations launched by Ukrainian authorities against its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, a multimillionaire former minister of ecology and natural resources. The allegations concern tax violations, money-laundering and licenses given to Burisma during the period when Zlochevsky was a government minister. 

The judicial process corruption angle involved chief prosecutor Viktor Shokin who was allegedly bribed to look away, but the Obama Administration, vocally led by Biden Sr., along with the European Union, pressured Ukraine to fire Shokin and root out the corruption, which is what happened in 2015-2016, resulting in Burisma’s being more thoroughly investigated. 

The Joker’s narrative, without any supporting evidence, is that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, through Joe Biden, pushed for the firing of Ukraine’s top prosecutor to end the investigation into Burisma and Zlochevsky in order to, among other goals, protect Hunter Biden. That narrative is full of more holes than The Joker’s head, as will be discovered if Biden is subpoena’d to testify in the Senate trial. Yuriy Lutsenko, who succeeded Shokin as Ukraine’s prosecutor general in 2016, took over a tax investigation into Burisma before closing the case ten months later with a settlement over old bills. Lutsenko said that any legal issues with Burisma were not related to Biden.

In addition to the closed tax investigation, Ukraine authorities launched an investigation into licenses awarded to Burisma and a separate money-laundering probe into founder Zlochevsky. Both of these have been re-opened in recent months, but neither relate to the period after Biden joined the board. 
Curiously, it was revealed on January 13, 2020 that “Russian hackers” (of which there are various and sundry, rarely affiliated with the Russian state) had been surveilling Burisma’s internal communications since November, 2019. The New York Times reported that:
“…experts say the timing and scale of the attacks suggest that the Russians could be searching for potentially embarrassing material on the Bidens — the same kind of information that Mr. Trump wanted from Ukraine when he pressed for an investigation of the Bidens and Burisma, setting off a chain of events that led to his impeachment.”
Since the source of all this information was Oren Falkowitz, who previously served at the National Security Agency and now works for “a network of sensors and servers” known as Area 1, you have to check your wallet before accepting these “experts” at face value.

There is, however, a third gun that has been produced and has real smoke. On Tuesday night, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released a long-awaited tranche of documents coming from from a data dump by lawyers for one of Joker Giuliani’s indicted Ukrainian henchmen, recruited by Cobblepot himself, Lev Parnas

As is often the case, the stereo sides of mainstream media trailed far behind this story, portraying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s delay in delivering the articles of impeachment to some misbegotten attempt to negotiate with entrenched Senate Majority Leader Mitch “Muggs” McConnell, when in fact, the delay was occasioned by Attorney General William “Glimpy” Barr attempting to keep the Parnas file (which named him as an accessory) beyond the reach of a House subpoena. After a month of delays, Barr’s efforts failed in court, the file went to Pelosi, and was stapled to the back of the indictment of Cobblepot delivered to McConnell the following day.

Parnas’ cellphone data, seized by the FBI when he was arrested and transmitted by the court to the House Intelligence Committee this week under the successful subpoena, shows that a Trump donor named Robert F. Hyde gave Parnas updates on the location and cellphone use of US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch to allow The Joker’s thugs to stalk her and compile a dossier for Cobblepot. Hyde is now running for a U.S. House seat in Connecticut. POTUS used the dossier to fire Yovanovitch and then smear her in a series of tweets. Parnas was interviewed by MSNBC— available from Wednesday and Thursday as a free podcast.

As an aside to the Hunter Biden sleaze story, Parnas told MSNBC, “They [The Joker’s Ukrainian gang]were getting a million dollars plus $100,000 a month expenses and mine was $200,000.”
Parnas’ data dump also implicates Cobblepot insiders Mike “the Knife” Pence and Glimpy Barr, first and seventh, respectively, in the constitutional line of succession should Cobblepot be removed from office by the Senate, along with Rick “Tex” Perry (formerly 14th in succession).

Parnas and his business partner, Igor Fruman, are U.S. citizens born in the former Soviet Union. They were indicted last year on charges of conspiracy, making false statements and falsification of records after making millions of dollars in campaign donations to Cobblepot’s gang from bank accounts in Russia.

Joker and Parnas
Additionally, the messages between Parnas and Giuliani suggest that Giuliani believed he had Cobblepot’s support in reversing a decision to deny a U.S. visa for Viktor Shokin, the former top Ukrainian prosecutor whom then-vice president Biden and others had demanded be removed from office. I can revive it,” Giuliani purportedly said. “It’s going to work — I have no. 1 in it,” an apparent reference to Cobblepot. 

The most serious revelation concerns Cobblepot’s vendetta against US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. As the Associated Press reported
After texting about the ambassador, Hyde gave Parnas detailed updates that suggested he was watching her. In one text, Hyde wrote: “She’s talked to three people. Her phone is off. Her computer is off.” He said she was under heavy security and “we have a person inside.”
Hyde at one point texted Parnas that ‘’they are willing to help if we/you would like a price,” and “guess you can do anything in Ukraine with money … is what I was told.”

Parnas texted back: “lol.”

Reached for comment on the text messages by The Daily Beast on Tuesday night, Hyde texted, “Bull Schiff is a giant b*tch.”

Stalking a US Ambassador is a federal crime even if it occurs on foreign soil, which probably only matters if you don’t already have the Attorney General in your pocket.

Readers who have been with this blog for some years may recall my posts about the stages of empire collapse. One early stage common to both the Roman and the Mayan Empires has been termed the “Theater State.” In this phase immediately preceding contraction and disintegration, the ruling classes are bored and jaded with their wealth, so much so that they engage in brutal spectacles like throwing Christians to lions, pitting top-ranked gladiators against one another, disemboweling slaves on top of pyramids, or having sporting Super Bowls requiring the losing team be sacrificed. As the world watches, our circus moves to the floor of the Senate next week, pitting a real-estate-grifter-turned-reality-TV-host against the US Constitution.

Best of all, even if Cobblepot is removed in this season’s finale, viewers can vote to renew the show for another four years, come November.


You encourage me to do more and then tell you about it. Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. Those are how we make this happen. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. Please help if you can.


Sunday, January 12, 2020

John Wayne squares off against Jim Hansen

"Being a good climate scientist doesn’t automatically give you a doctorate in health physics."

After leaving a press conference in the COP-25 climate meeting with my ears burning, it has taken me more than a month to sit down and write this essay. I greatly admire James Hansen and have since the day I sat in the Senate gallery for his testimony to Al Gore and Tim Wirth’s hearings on climate change in 1988. Hansen was a pioneer climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who had been muzzled by President George H.W. Bush and was supposed to submit all his testimony for White House review before speaking. He ignored the instruction and that eventually cost him his grants and compelled him to resign his position.

What annoys me, however, about Hansen, then and now, is his insistence, in utter disregard of best science, that nuclear energy can somehow save humanity from climate change because it is clean, safe, too cheap to meter and besides all that, is carbon-free. I watched with pity more than scorn when he took his time to repeat this nonsense at the recent UN climate conference in Madrid. He mounted fallacy upon fallacy in a pyramid of lies that had been heard since the 1940s coming from the Atomic Energy Commission, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, International Atomic Energy Agency and others in thrall to the atomic devil.

Of course all of those assertions by Hansen are utter nonsense. It just goes to show that being a good climate scientist doesn’t automatically give you a doctorate in health physics. I was blessed to have met many of the world’s preeminent health physicists in the 1970s and 1980s while representing atomic victims in battles for fair compensation and writing my fifth book, Climate in Crisis: The Greenhouse Effect and What We Can Do. These luminaries included the father of health physics, Karl Z. Morgan, and the man who wrote the still-definitive textbook in the field, Radiation and Human Health, John W. Gofman, former director of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and discoverer of U-233, someone with whom I became quite close. Judge E. Cooper Brown and I also interviewed and got to know Alice Stewart, George Kneale, Thomas Mancuso, Rosalie Bertell, Irwin Bross, Edward Martell, and many other world-ranked scientists at that time. Most of them, along with my esteemed friend Cooper Brown, have now passed away.

So, when James Hansen ignorantly opines that there were no radiation fatalities from Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, or Fukushima and that the new generation of thorium metal reactors is inherently safe, I try to not gag.

Hansen: The waste from nuclear power is contained in containers and is killing no-one. The waste from fossil fuels is killing 10,000 people per day.
Here Hansen is comparing post-production wastes to production effluent. The better comparison would be coal ash piles or scrubber sludge to nuclear wastes. Comparing effluent to effluent, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has reported that emissions from presently licensed facilities produced under normal operating conditions will cause 1.7 million cancers and birth defects in the world population, barring accidents. That several-hundred page report was summarized in the Federal Register in 1979 (46 Fed. Reg. 39580). However, it excluded consideration of health effects from tritium, Tc-99, C-13 and 14 and other radionuclide emissions that were too inaccurate to estimate, they said. By too inaccurate they meant that tritium is easily incorporated into water, and so passes through living cells very easily, and carbon is the building block of organic chemistry, inseparable from life, so if one were to try to measure their impact inside the human body, the mortality and morbidity rates would need to be raised orders of magnitude higher than 1.7 million. This could make nuclear power unacceptable so, for reasons having to do with their institutional DNA, the NRC was not going to do that.

Hansen: [Rickover design was chosen by military and…] we turned down [alternatives] and we just didn’t do the alternative R&D on things like thorium-fueled molten salt reactors.

It is not difficult to debunk Thorium-141’s popular mythology using simple physics, as Drs. Arjun Makhijani and Helen Caldicott have, because thorium is not a naturally fissionable element and so must first be mixed with enriched Uranium-235 or Plutonium-239 before it can be fissioned under controlled conditions to make steam for a power plant. To do that mixing, never mind the reacting, is a dangerous, deadly, polluting and extremely expensive process generating loads of long-lasting and unrecoverable poisons. After reaction, the thorium blend leaves dangerous wastes like U-232, a potent high-energy gamma emitter that can penetrate one meter of concrete and will have to be kept safely out of our air, food, and water forever. Anyone who was nodding in agreement as Hansen was spouting his rubbish should try eating some of that and see how they feel. Stewart Brand? James Lovelock? Bill Gates? Andrew Yang?

Slide used by James Hansen at COP-25 Press Conference
Hansen: “Three Mile Island did not kill anyone.”

Officially, TMI caused no immediate deaths. But unofficial investigations and lawsuits claimed there were above-average rates of cancer and birth defects in the surrounding area. Anecdotal evidence among the local human population has been devastating. Hansen would say that anecdotal evidence is not science, but when public health agencies are prohibited from doing the scientific studies that does not equate with no effects. We know from anecdotal evidence that large numbers of Pennsylvanians suffered skin sores and lesions that erupted while they were out of doors as the fallout rained down on them. Many quickly developed large, visible tumors, breathing problems, and a metallic taste in their mouths that matched that experienced by victims of Hiroshima, or who were exposed to nuclear tests in the South Pacific, Ukraine, Kazakstan, and Nevada.

Approximately 2 million people in the immediate area were exposed to doses that were sub-lethal for early exposure, but the latent genetic effects have been calculated, by Gofman among others, to cause life-shortening in the global population for perhaps one million people. Moreover, there is reason to suspect the doses those estimates are based upon were much lower than what may have actually occurred and gone unreported. Entire bee hives expired immediately after the accident, along with a disappearance of birds, many of whom were found scattered dead on the ground. A rash of malformed pets were born and stillborn, including kittens that could not walk and a dog with no eyes. Reproductive rates among the region’s cows and horses plummeted. The state and federal governments did nothing to track the health histories of the region’s residents. Instead, they significantly understated the scale of the release and the magnitude of the exposures, as later peer reviewed studies showed.

A National Institute of Health study in 1998 found “Results support the hypothesis that radiation doses are related to increased cancer incidence around TMI.”

Harvey Wasserman, writing for Common Dreams, said: “Meanwhile, the death toll from America’s worst industrial catastrophe continues to rise. More than ever, it is shrouded in official lies and desecrated by a reactor-pushing “renaissance” hell-bent on repeating the nightmare on an even larger scale.”

I last shared a podium with Wasserman at a Conference on Michigan’s Future: Energy, Economy and Environment about ten years ago. He detailed a long list of nuclear power’s woes — its high cost (then about $10 billion or more per plant and rising), the potentially catastrophic health and safety effects from everyday radiation emissions and possible meltdowns and other accidents, the inability of the industry to get private funding or insurance (relying entirely on government subsidy and accident immunity), and the unsolvable issue of the disposal of radioactive waste. But, one thing for certain that can never be said of nuclear energy is that it is carbon neutral. Once you take into account the entire nuclear fuel cycle from exploration and mining, shipment of ores from Africa and China, milling, enrichment to fuel grade (enough gas and coal energy goes into that to power Australia), power generation, fuel removal and waste disposal, the fossil fuel footprint is so enormous as to be well beyond any suggestion of carbon neutrality.

The Health Issue

At the start of the 20th century, scientists started experimenting with elements that had unstable energies. Typically these elements had various versions of themselves, known as isotopes or nuclides, that possessed the same number of protons, and so the same atomic number, but had a variable number of neutrons.

In 1896, Henri Becquerel discovered that uranium emitted rays that resembled X-rays. Marie Curie suspected that the radiation was not the outcome of some interaction but came from the atom itself. Her work with uranium disproved the conventional wisdom going back to ancient Greece that atoms were indivisible and set up the later discovery of subatomic particles. Curie discovered that thorium, radium, polonium and radioactive bismuth occurred naturally with uranium. Radium was known to glow in the dark, which made it useful for painting the hour and minute hands on watches and clocks. It was later discovered that radium “radiated” more than just neutrons, but also protons and electrons, becoming another unstable element, radon, and that element radiated its subatomic particles to become others, polonium and bismuth, until those eventually became a stable element, lead. Indeed, the radium Curie discovered was the progeny of another unstable element, thorium, which was the progeny of yet another unstable element, uranium.

Madame Curie was a physicist, not a medical doctor, so she did not recognize the health effects of handling uranium, thorium, radium and the other radionuclides. Indeed, she suspected the effects would be beneficial. One of the papers she and her husband published in the late 19th century announced that, when exposed to radium, diseased, tumor-forming cells were destroyed faster than healthy cells (the basis for today’s radio-chemotherapy). She carried test tubes containing radioactive isotopes in her pockets and stored them in her desk drawer. Although her many decades of exposure to radiation caused chronic illnesses (including near-blindness due to cataracts) and ultimately her death, she never acknowledged the inherent health risks. She likely did not recognize the symptoms when she began to feel weak and lose her hair. She died in 1934 from aplastic anemia without ever knowing that she fought the same mortal enemy as those who had painted the hands on watches and clocks, or those who had mined and processed the uranium on which she worked. After her death, and to this day, her papers and effects are too radioactive to be handled and her laboratory is unsafe to enter.

The famous cowboy actor John Wayne may have been felled by the same foe. From 1951 to 1962 the US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) detonated more than 100 bombs in the southwestern US desert, sending huge pinkish plumes of radioactive dust across the stony valleys and canyons of southern Utah and northern Arizona. It gave each “shot” names like Annie, Eddie, Humboldt and Badger. Eleven of those tests were part of a series called Upshot-Knothole in Utah in 1953. In 1954, the Upshot-Knothole site was chosen as the location for a John Wayne film called The Conqueror.

The AEC sent a scientist with a Geiger counter to show Wayne that the location was safe enough for him to bring his wife and children to visit the set. The Geiger counter is said to have crackled so loudly Wayne thought it was broken. Waving it over clumps of cactus, rock and sand produced the same loud result. The Duke, by all accounts, shrugged it off. By 1980, 91 out of 220 cast and crew on The Conquerer had contracted cancer and 46 of them, including Wayne and co-stars Dick Powell, Pedro Armendáriz, Agnes Moorehead, and Susan Hayward had died. Those numbers did not include the families of the cast and crew. John Wayne’s wife and two sons all got cancer. While the two sons survived, the daughter of one of Wayne sons also died of cancer. Hayward’s son Tim Barker had a benign tumor removed from his mouth. Many of the Native American Paiute extras went on to die of cancer also.

When those subatomic particles fly out from a radioactive atom, they are like tiny bullets or missiles — they break genetic codes in cells. Sometimes that simply kills the cell, as it will most often with higher doses, but at low doses, slight genetic displacements can reform into mutations such as cells that are cancerous, or birth deformities. Sometimes the reformed codes are passed along to future generations and can produce hundreds of new and different deformities and diseases. In the 1930s, scientists learned that only about one percent of the total effects are experienced in each separate generation. The other 99 percent echo in the genes of our newborn descendants for thousands of years. In St. George Utah today, public health clinics get about 140 new patients per year from the genetic legacy of the desert blasts of the 1950s.

Declassified health physics reports from the Manhattan Project indicate that the senior scientists believed at least as early as 1945 that:
“. . . the genetic effect has no threshold and exposure is not only cumulative in the individual, but in succeeding generations. On this basis, there would be no tolerance dose, but rather an acceptable injury-limit.”[Parker, H.M., Instrument ation and Radiation Protection (March, 1947), Health Physics, 38:957,970, June 1980]
“Even sub-tolerance radiations produce certain biological changes (cosmic rays are supposed to have some biological effects), so tolerance radiation is not what one strives to get but the maximum permissible dose.”[Morgan, K.Z., The Responsibilities of Health Physics, The Scientific Monthly, 93 (August 1946); reprinted in Health Physics 38:949–952, June 1980.]
The question of what percentage of the population can be acceptably damaged came first to the attention of the AEC at a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Biology and Medicine on January 16–19,1957. At this meeting the AEC advisors determined that a 20 percent increase in the rate of bone cancers and birth defects nationwide would be an “acceptable” effect of U.S. nuclear weapons testing activities. These scientists also acknowledged at this time that the long-term genetic effects were totally unknown.

The historical record indicates that prominent radiologists, health physicists, and geneticists of the time recognized even at the outset of America’s atomic power program that any large population exposure to even very minute amounts of ionizing radiation could create lingering public health problems and genetic damage, and these scientists went to some lengths, including sacrificing their own illustrious careers, to express their views publicly. See, e.g.: Wasserman, H., and N. Solomon, et al., Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America’s Experience with Atomic Radiation (Dell Publishing; New York, 1982); Rosenburg, H.L., Atomic Soldiers, American Victims of Nuclear Experiments, (Beacon Press; Boston, 1980), Ch.71- pp. 135–154; Shutdown: Nuclear Power on Trial, Bates, A., ed. (Book Publishing Co.; Summertown, 1979), pp. 160–168; Nader, R., and J. Abbotts, The Menace of Atomic Energy (W.W.Norton; New York, 1977); Grossman, K., Cover- Up: What You Are Not Supposed To Know About Nuclear Power (Permanent Press: New York, 1980), Ch.4, pp.73–112; House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment of the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, Hearings on the Effect of Radiation on Human Health, Ser. №95–179, 95th Cong. 2d Sess. (1978), Vol. 1, pp. 672–677; and House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, The Forgotten Guinea Pigs, A Report on the Health Effects of Low-Level Radiation Sustained as a Direct Result of the Nuclear Weapons Testing Program Conducted by the United States Government, Comm.Pr. 96-IFC53, 96th Cong., 2d Sess. (1980).

Now consider what happened on March 11, 2011. An earthquake in the ocean near Northern Japan generated a 14-meter-high tsunami that swept over the seawall at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant and flooded four operating reactor buildings with seawater, knocking out the reactors and their emergency generators. The reactors shut down but without generators could not cool their radioactive fuel. Within hours, three of the reactors melted and exploded, sending parts of their radioactive fuel into the sky, land and ocean.

Hansen: “You can measure the effects of Fukushima on the coastline of the United States and it is several orders of magnitude below anything that would have any effect.”

This is why atmospheric physicists should not opine on health physics. There is no dose of radiation below which there is not a negative biological effect. Indeed, there is a “superlinear” ratio of dose to effect at low doses, because doses that do not kill a cell cause genetic damage that is a larger health threat than dead cells, so humans and animals exposed to low doses are at greater health risk than those exposed to higher doses.

While there are hundreds of different radioactive isotopes within a nuclear reactor, the isotope Cesium-137 is easily measured and has become a standard by which to calculate impacts. During the two-day accident, 18 quadrillion becquerels of cesium were released into the Pacific (18 with 15 zeros). A typical abdominal or pelvic CT scan (the most often performed) is 14–18 thousandths of a becquerel, so during the accident the cesium dose to the environment was the same as about 1 quintillion (1 with 18 zeros) CT scans (repeated every second, continuously, for the next 300 to 600 years). Depending on the type of scan and the age and sex of the patient, a single CT scan will produce 1 cancer for 150 to 3300 exposures, or a median risk of 10 cancers per becquerel (or seivert).

By that calculation, the cesium released during the Fukushima accident was capable of causing roughly 10 quadrillion cancers, but with one important difference.

When you receive radiation treatment like a CT-scan it is sudden and one-off. One second. The technician presses the button and it is on and then off. There is no danger from the machine when it is off. When radioactive elements like cesium-137 (and remember that is just one of hundreds of elements in a nuclear reactor) are released to the environment, there is no off-switch. Thus, the cesium released during the Fukushima accident is capable of roughly 10 quadrillion cancers per second. Inhaling or ingesting it can kill a person, a dolphin or a seagull, but then as the individual’s body decomposes after death — as bacteria, worms and fungi eat away the flesh and bone — the isotope goes back into the food chain to strike another individual, and another, and so on. The danger is limited only by the isotope’s half-life — the time it takes to decay to a harmless element, which for cesium-137 is 30.17 years. Scientists generally use 10 or 20 half-lives to bracket safety concerns, so for cesium 137, “safe” levels arrive in 302 to 604 years (around year 2322 to year 2624), admittedly an imperfect measurement since any residue, no matter how microscopic, may still be lethal, as we have known since before the Manhattan Project. Cesium is one of 256 radionuclides released during Fukushima, so we would need to calculate quantities, biological effectiveness, and the decay time of each of those to get the full health picture. Other isotopes in the Fukushima fuel include Uranium-235, with a half-life of 704 million years, and Uranium-238, with a half-life of 4.47 billion years, or longer than the age of the Earth.

At Fukushima, the end of the accident was not the end of the story. In 2013, 30 billion becquerels of cesium-137 were still flowing into the ocean every day from the damaged and leaking reactor cores. That is 300 billion cancer doses per second of man-made cesium added every day, or 109.5 trillion cancer doses per second added every year. To stop this assault on ocean life, and our own, over the next 5 years the owner of the plant constructed more than 1000 tanks to hold contaminated water away from the ocean. In September 2019, the Japanese government announced that more than one million tons were in storage but that space would run out by the summer of 2022 so it planned to begin releasing those billions of bequerels to the ocean again.

Swimmers and sailors who plan to compete in open water events at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics might want to think about that, as might any who fish those waters or consume the catch.

What happens to ocean creatures who ingest radionuclides from leaking nuclear power plants is not very different from what happened to John Wayne, his sons and his co-stars. As the isotopes decay within the body of a dolphin or a coral polyp they send microscopic bullets hurling through DNA chains, causing tumors, sicknesses, defective offspring and death for untold generations. The chance that a single mutation will produce a beneficial result are less than one in a million. Radioactivity is, for practical purposes, forever, as we can see just by looking up at our Sun, a benevolent nuclear reactor providing us energy from the relatively safe distance of 93 million miles.

Even that radiation will kill a number of us, but far fewer than would die if, by some devilish plan or panic response, we follow Dr. Hansen’s advice.

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Sunday, January 5, 2020

Detoxing Capitalism

"Capitalism is a system used by sunflowers and salamanders. But sunflowers and salamanders are not taking over the world and destroying it."

Over the past few months I have been trying to tap into a river that could save the planet. You can hear about that river in Bank of England CEO Mark Carney’s year-end interview for BBC Today that Greta Thunberg guest-edited. The river is money. And its owners have a problem.

It is the same problem we all have, really. Climate change is changing everything at a pace that is hard to get our heads around. The world has already left the comfortable Holocene epoch when weather was predicable enough that humans could grow multi-year surpluses of corn and grain and quadruple their offspring’s populations in a single lifetime (mine). We have entered the chaotic world of the Anthropocene, where 8 billion two-legged hominids could very soon be back to zero. We can watch, in real time, as extinction smokes its way through innumerable ranks and orders of beings, smoldering and sparking along like a long fuse that terminates at the powder-keg we perch upon. As go the phytoplankton, so too, go we.

Carney and the others in his world know this. Not dummies, these guys. They get it. At the Madrid COP-25 climate conference they held their own summit at a Marriott Hotel. I attended and heard the same message I’ve been hearing for the past decade: trillions of dollars invested into polluting industries have to be divested, rapidly, and re-tasked to save us. The hour is late but there are opportunities to still intervene if we can act with the urgency required. 

A senior figure from the European Investment Bank pledged to put one trillion into the kitty over the next 10 years; to divest the bank’s assets from all fossil (including fracked gas) by 2021; fifty percent of the Bank’s portfolio into climate mitigation (drawdown and emissions reductions) by 2025. They urged the entire financial community to pledge that henceforth their loans or private equity stakes would accord with the Paris Agreement. I later spoke with a gentleman who influenced the disposition of ten trillion in capital, more than 90 percent of it presently earning negative interest (i.e.: it is paying parking fees to governments that exceed the assets’ earnings). At least one year-end prediction pegs negative interest rates to top 25 percent in 2020. To Carney and the others, the risk of lending to climate mitigating projects is less than the cost of keeping his funds where they are. He would be willing to lend at zero interest if it were an improvement over where he stands.

Here in Central America, I am both heartened and discouraged. I am heartened because I know that it is just a matter of time before projects like the Cool Lab that Christopher Nesbitt and I are trying to build in Belize will receive the runway they need. I am discouraged because a lot of investment money is still framed badly, as, well… “investment,” and that framing risks implanting a fatal virus into the DNA sequence of good projects like ours. 

First, let me digress to outline our Cool Lab project, for those who have yet to read Burn: Using Fire to Cool the Earth, soon to be in paperback as Burn: Igniting a New Carbon Drawdown Economy to End the Climate Crisis (Chelsea Green Publishers, April 2020). The Cool Lab concept is to re-envision the economy of human communities so as to pull them back into line with local ecosystem regeneration and rejuvenation as raison d’être, rather than as the more typical: global resource exploitation and ruthless commerce to the temporary benefit of a single rogue species.

In practical terms, our prototype, proof-of-concept Cool Lab is planned for the small Maya village of San Pedro Columbia, in the Toledo District of Southern Belize, close to the borders with Guatemala and Honduras. San Pedro Columbia is within the indigenous reserve system established by Belize a century ago to allocate land for the native Maya population. The village lies nested in the foothills of the Maya Mountains on the Rio Grande river that flows from an underground source near the Maya Mountain Research Farm to the Caribbean Sea near Punta Gorda Town. That Southern Belize watershed is key to the health of the Mayan Reef and the coastal mangroves that protect the coast from hurricanes and produce the fish, corals, and kelp forests that are needed for ecosystem recovery in the region. 

The Cool Lab plans to convert present sources of watershed pollution such as crop and animal waste into biofertilizer and energy, extracting as many permacultural cascades from the various feedstocks and products as are practical for particular seasons of the year. So, for instance, cacao fermentations can be produced in the traditional management style of mixed-age, mixed-species, integrated agroforestry hillside production — the prevailing pattern of human occupation in that rural area since before the Columbian encounter. Cacao powders can be further refined into cascades of creams, salves, foods, and tonics rather than sold as dried bulk beans to transnational chocolatiers. Cacao pods (the outer shells of the cacao beans) can be pyrolyzed to produce biochar, bio-oils, drying heat and electricity.
 Cacao is only one yield of a healthy Belizian agroforestry terrain. Selected intercrops can include turmeric, ginger, allspice, coconut, vanilla, breadfruit, jackfruit, breadnut, banana and plantains, chiles, coffee, noni, moringa, mango, papaya, pineapple, and rotational patches of corn and grains, to name a few. Traditional small farms have always also incorporated free range poultry, swine and other farm animals that aid nutrient cycling and complete whole systems of microbiome health. Enriched biochar amendments from the Cool Lab accelerate the recovery of damaged soils, shorten growth cycles for tree crops like cacao, provide resistance to floods and droughts, ameliorate accumulated soil toxins, boost the health of the animal and pollinator communities, and increase nutrient densities.

Because of the many products that can be gleaned from the Cool Lab — all of them contributing to reversing climate change by drawing down and sequestering greenhouse gases — the Lab itself becomes a microenterprise hub. To anyone in the village — but especially young men and women confronted with the end of their schooling and the stark choice of remaining in a place with few paying jobs, an influx of Guatemalan and Honduran refugees, poor public services, and not much hope for the future versus leaving to go to the big city up North where jobs are even fewer, violent crime and exploitation are rife, and lives are short — the Cool Lab offers creative enterprise opportunity. The Lab can become for the village of San Pedro Columbia an enterprise incubator, where original products and services are limited only by the imagination. It sits at the birth of the new carbon economy that will sweep the world. This little Mayan village is the answer to Mark Carney’s prayers.

But there’s the rub.

Big bank climate investors are trapped in more ways than they know. Sure, they are stuck with negative interest that is eating away their capital. Yes, they will face higher taxes in the future as countries confront Peak Everything climate chaos with knee-jerk reflexes rather than a long-term plan. The Global Insurrection Against Banker Occupation (GIABO) is striking fear into the billionaire boomer class of 2020. Their unpopularity is rising beyond what platoons of bodyguards and private islands can protect.

What worries me is that the bankers are trapped into a mindset that the Climate Emergency is not so serious that we have to stop stealing from the poor to give to the already fantastically wealthy. Hence, my notion of small, anti-fragile, village cooperatives is coming into conflict with megabillionaire green investors’ notions that the new wave of climate mitigation “investments” must produce ROI for the one-percent. “Show us how you will generate profit,” is the currency of their “green” giving. 

While the notion of a debt jubilee has some appeal, especially when we are speaking of student-to-government debt, I think bankers should be entitled to repayment of their loans at the rate of interest that was negotiated at the outset. The expectation of sufficient profit to endow future loans and pay overhead is the way nature works when plants and animals produce numbers of offspring beyond mere replacement.

Let me be clear. I am not against capitalism. In this I separate myself from many other activists who demand system change as a predicate to reversing climate change. As one who studies nature, I actually believe in capital formation, risk, funding loss leaders, and surpluses in return. These are strategies used by sunflowers and salamanders. But sunflowers and salamanders are not taking over the world and destroying it. 
“Green” capital is simply the fetishized, phantom-like objectivity of capital’s absolute necrosis. It is not a contradictory attempt to “sustainably” square the circle of endless accumulation, or “save capitalism from itself”; rather, it is another form of accumulation that sees the destruction capital wreaks as an opportunity for further profit. Branding itself as a solution to this destruction, it further incentivizes its continuation by existing only as another option for accumulation when other avenues are closed off. It would cease to exist without the necrotic entropy to which it owes its reason for being.
— Justin McBrien, Truthout 

Capitalism as an economic proposition makes sense in the same way the bishop’s storehouse made sense for the early Mormon pioneers in Utah — hold surpluses to endow bad years, as will inevitably come. Capitalism was the method used by one of the purest forms of communism ever to appear — the Israeli kibbutz — to finance new kibbutzim and grow a movement. Capitalism as a political proposition is another matter, and we can trace its history from an emergence in opposition to theocracy and feudalism to present day domination of corrupt political processes at home and abroad, promulgation of conflict, dismantling of the rule of law, and deregulation of the commons.

The cooperative model sits in juxtaposition to this, both economically and politically. Instead of adding to the size of billionaire yachts and mansions, our Cool Lab model would build health clinics and schools. Instead of returning outsize rewards to fat cats in London and Geneva, we would fund programs for population education, soil management, restoring corals, and recovering plastic from the ocean.

Now if I can just persuade Mark Carney that further enriching the one percent is incompatible with saving the planet….

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