OccupytheDebates.org - where people are holding community discussions about issues that are important to them and the solutions they would like to create. OccupytheCPD.org - where people are pressuring the Commission on Presidential Debates to include all qualified candidates. ShelbyLovesAmerica.org - where people are holding discussions about electoral politics. WeThePeople2012.org - where people are organizing protest votes to write in "We the People" on ballots.
Watch the first debate with us and join the conversation through chat. Moderated by Lisa Simeone with commentators Glen Flord, Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, Sergio Espana, Jill P. Carter, Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers.
1. The foundation for a new economy is a carbon-free/nuclear-free energy economy; that distributes energy production down to individual homes and businesses and uses energy efficiently. The U.S. needs to build a new economic engine: the clean energy economy and the “green” economy that goes with it. The federal government should set clear goals to create a carbon-free/nuclear free energy economy by 2030. The collective resources of the U.S. and world community should be used to achieve this goal, e.g. provide tax credits and other support for “green” projects that can be done quickly, such as retrofitting homes and businesses for increased energy efficiency. People who produce more energy than they use in their homes and businesses should be paid the market price for the energy they produce and return to the grid. One successful approach has been the feed-in tariff of Germany, where long-term contracts are offered to renewable energy producers, typically based on the cost of generating energy for each different technology. Communities that adopt wind farms should receive a financial benefit from the energy the community produces, this will provide resources for struggling rural communities. Utilities should be public so the people have a say in how they are run and the profits benefit everyone, not just a few owners. Taxpayer investments in creating sustainable energy sources should result in taxpayers being treated as owners and sharing in the profit of these enterprises (see discussion in point 11 below). These investments will create millions of green jobs and businesses especially in long-neglected urban areas. The United States needs to stop corporate welfare to fossil fuel (oil, coal and gas), corn-based fuel, and nuclear energy as these are counterproductive to transforming the nation to a sustainable, clean energy economy. These tens of billions in revenue should be redirected to spurring the clean energy economy and at the same time leveling the playing field between old energy sources and new. The U.S. should put forward long-term plans to invest in the creation of the new energy economy. This will add momentum to the already rapidly expanding investment in new energy products.
2. The U.S. automobile industry, recovering from near collapse, is caught in the web of long-term costs for its retired and current employees, especially the uncontrollable cost of health care (discussed in point 10 below) and rapidly changing transit needs. Further, the auto industry has to move toward the new green economy, instead continuing to build SUV’s rather than hybrids and electric cars. The industry needs to commit to a rapid transition to electric cars that can make use of cleanly generated and solar energy sources and end the production of gas-based automobiles within the next decade. This transition will spur auto industry production and sales and create an economic engine in the industrial Midwest. Further, a review of transit needs should be conducted and part of the auto industry may need to transition to mass transit, i.e. subways, maglev trains, bullet trains, trolleys and light rail. The production of vehicles for mass transit needs to be rebuilt in the United States. This is a tremendous opportunity for creation of jobs and further re-invigoration the industrial Midwest. The government needs to commit to mass transit and transition to electric vehicles, build the infrastructure necessary and thereby spur a revolution in transit.
3. Infrastructure in the United States is literally falling apart and not keeping up with the needs for a sustainable carbon-free/nuclear-free energy economy. Long term investment is needed for new infrastructure. For two decades U.S. infrastructure has been neglected and the American Society of Civil Engineers reports that the failure to invest in infrastructure will undermine and cripple the U.S. economy. Beyond the existing projects rebuilding infrastructure should be consistent with the new energy economy, i.e. building infrastructure to efficiently move renewable energy across the country, building mass transit so Americans can break their dependency on cars and airlines, putting in place a network of battery exchange stations for electric cars. Infrastructure also needs to keep up with the needs of the post-industrial, information-based economy so that Americans, wherever they are located and whatever their income, have access to the Worldwide Web.
4. The U.S. and world need to dramatically reduce carbon emissions. A critical step is to tax carbon emissions at the source as they enter the economy, i.e. tax coal, oil and gas for their emissions. A carbon tax would be the least expensive to administer and more effective than cap and trade, such a program will control carbon emissions and spur research and investment to reduce the release of carbon. The funds from these taxes, which will be trillions of dollars annually, should be shared among the American people in a monthly dividend check. This will help consumers pay for increased cost of fuel and will reward Americans who reduce their carbon footprint by reducing their use of oil and gas.
5. Develop local economies to reduce use of fossil fuel in transport and allow local businesses and communities to flourish. The concept of developing a local economy is simply to buy food (or any good or service) produced, grown, or raised as close to your home as possible. With industrialization, food is now grown and processed in fewer and fewer locations, meaning it has to travel further to reach the average consumer’s refrigerator, e.g., a typical carrot has to travel 1,838 miles to reach your dinner table using fossil fuels and packaging to get there. A locally owned business re-circulates money in the community by hiring local graphic artists, accountants, lawyers and others. Similarly, local farms re-circulate money by purchasing feed, seed and other materials from local businesses. Indeed, local businesses create three to four times the positive economic impact on a community than a national chain. A recent study from Michigan, reveals that a modest change in consumer behavior — a 10% shift in market share to independent businesses from chain stores — would result in 1,600 new jobs, $53 million in wages, and a $137 million economic impact to Grand Rapids, MI.
A three-fold global energy crisis has emerged since the 1970s; it is now acute on all three fronts:
1. Climate disruption: Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions due to fossil fuel combustion are the main anthropogenic cause of severe climate disruption, whose continuation portends grievous, irreparable harm to the global economy, society, and current ecosystems.
2. Insecurity of oil supply: Rapid increases in global oil consumption and conflict in and about oil exporting regions make prices volatile and supplies insecure.
3. Nuclear proliferation: Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons is being undermined in part by the spread of commercial nuclear power technology, which is being put forth as a major solution for reducing CO2 emissions.
Our report, of which this is a summary, examines the technical and economic feasibility of achieving a U.S. economy with zero-CO2 emissions without nuclear power. This is interpreted as an elimination of all but a few percent of CO2 emissions or complete elimination with the possibility of removing from the atmosphere some CO2 that has already been emitted. We set out to answer three questions:
• Is it possible to physically eliminate CO2 emissions from the U.S. energy sector without resort to nuclear power, which has serious security and other vulnerabilities?
• Is a zero-CO2 economy possible without purchasing offsets from other countries – that is, without purchasing from other countries the right to continue emitting CO2 in the United States?
• Is it possible to accomplish the above at reasonable cost?
"The overarching finding of this study is that a zero-CO2 U.S. economy can be achieved within the next thirty to fifty years without the use of nuclear power and without acquiring carbon credits from other countries. In other words, actual physical emissions of CO2 from the energy sector can be eliminated with technologies that are now available or foreseeable. This can be done at reasonable cost while creating a much more secure energy supply than at present. Net U.S. oil imports can be eliminated in about 25 years. All three insecurities – severe climate disruption, oil supply and price insecurity, and nuclear proliferation via commercial nuclear energy – will thereby be addressed. In addition, there will be large ancillary health benefits from the elimination of most regional and local air pollution, such as high ozone and particulate levels in cities, which is due to fossil fuel combustion."
The achievement of a zero-CO2 economy without nuclear power will require unprecedented foresight and coordination in policies from the local to the national, across all sectors of the energy system. Much of the ferment at the state and local level, as well as some of the proposals in Congress, are already pointed in the right direction. But a clear long-term goal is necessary to provide overall policy coherence and establish a yardstick against which progress can be measured.
A zero-CO2 U.S. economy without nuclear power is not only achievable – it is necessary for environmental protection and security. Even the process of the United States setting a goal of a zero-CO2, nuclear-free economy and taking initial firm steps towards it will transform global energy politics in the immediate future and establish the United States as a country that leads by example rather than one that preaches temperance from a barstool.
Recommendations: The Clean Dozen
The 12 most critical policies that need to be enacted as urgently as possible for achieving a zero-CO2 economy without nuclear power are as follows.
1) Enact a physical limit of CO2 emissions for all large users of fossil fuels (a “hard cap”) that steadily declines to zero prior to 2060, with the time schedule being assessed periodically for tightening according to climate, technological, and economic developments. The cap should be set at the level of some year prior to 2007, so that early implementers of CO2 reductions benefit from the setting of the cap. Emission allowances would be sold by the U.S. government for use in the United States only. There would be no free allowances, no offsets and no international sale or purchase of CO2 allowances. The estimated revenues – approximately $30 to $50 billion per year – would be used for demonstration plants, research and development, and worker and community transition.
2) Eliminate all subsidies and tax breaks for fossil fuels and nuclear power (including guarantees for nuclear waste disposal from new power plants, loan guarantees, and subsidized insurance).
3) Eliminate subsidies for biofuels from food crops.
4) Build demonstration plants for key supply technologies, including central station solar thermal with heat storage, large- and intermediate-scale solar photovoltaics, and CO2 capture in microalgae for liquid fuel production.
5) Leverage federal, state and local purchasing power to create markets for critical advanced technologies, including plug-in hybrids.
6) Ban new coal-fired power plants that do not have carbon storage.
7) Enact at the federal level high efficiency standards for appliances.
8) Enact stringent building efficiency standards at the state and local levels, with federal incentives to adopt them.
9) Enact stringent efficiency standards for vehicles and make plug-in hybrids the standard U.S. government vehicle by 2015.
10) Put in place federal contracting procedures to reward early adopters of CO2 reductions.
11) Adopt vigorous research, development, and pilot plant construction programs for technologies that could accelerate the elimination of CO2, such as direct solar hydrogen production (photosynthetic, photoelectrochemical, and other approaches), hot rock geothermal power, and integrated gasification combined cycle plants using biomass with a capacity to sequester the CO2.
12) Establish a standing committee on Energy and Climate under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board.
Now there’s a big difference between what’s technically possible and what’s technically, politically, and financially practical, but a new study of the solar power potential of the US should give great pause.
PV Magazine reports that NREL’s new analysis of the technical potential of solar photovoltaics and concentrating solar power in the US places the total amount that can be installed just under 200,000 GW, capable of generating just under 400,000 Terawatt-hours annually—hugely exceeding the electricity generating capacity of the US for 2010 of 4,125 TWh.
Breaking that down along different methods of generating solar power, the report found that rooftop PV alone could generate 818 TWh of electricity each year, roughly 20% of current demand; utility-scale PV in urban areas could generate 2,232 TWh, or 56% of demand; concentrating solar power has a potential of just over 116,000 TWh. But utility-scale solar PV in rural areas is really where the actions at, with 280,613 TWh of electricity technical capable of being generated each year.
The full report also goes into the potential of other renewable energy sources, but these far trail the technical potential of solar power.
Onshore wind power was found to have the technical potential of generating 32,700 TWh annually; offshore wind power, 17,500 TWh. Enhanced geothermal power could generate 31,300 TWh. Biomass power, not taking into account anything diverted for liquid fuel production, could generate 500 TWh. Exploiting hydropower to the greatest extent technically possible would generate 300 TWh each year
All of which is to say, from a technical perspective, for electricity generation renewable energy sources (totally excluding nuclear power) could produce several, several times the amount of electricity currently generated in the United States.
Again, technologically possible is different that politically or financially possible—and doesn’t really take into account distribution issues (not every place is as ideally suited for solar power as California and Texas, both singled out in the report)—but even a small percentage of reaching this technologically potential would allow the US to have carbon-free power at current consumption levels, even allowing a generous expansion of electricity usage.
Global Warming's Terrifying New Math
Three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe - and that make clear who the real enemy is
July 19, 2012 9:35 AM ET
If the pictures of those towering wildfires in Colorado haven't convinced you, or the size of your AC bill this summer, here are some hard numbers about climate change: June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe.
Meteorologists reported that this spring was the warmest ever recorded for our nation – in fact, it crushed the old record by so much that it represented the "largest temperature departure from average of any season on record." The same week, Saudi authorities reported that it had rained in Mecca despite a temperature of 109 degrees, the hottest downpour in the planet's history.
Not that our leaders seemed to notice. Last month the world's nations, meeting in Rio for the 20th-anniversary reprise of a massive 1992 environmental summit, accomplished nothing. Unlike George H.W. Bush, who flew in for the first conclave, Barack Obama didn't even attend. It was "a ghost of the glad, confident meeting 20 years ago," the British journalist George Monbiot wrote; no one paid it much attention, footsteps echoing through the halls "once thronged by multitudes." Since I wrote one of the first books for a general audience about global warming way back in 1989, and since I've spent the intervening decades working ineffectively to slow that warming, I can say with some confidence that we're losing the fight, badly and quickly – losing it because, most of all, we remain in denial about the peril that human civilization is in.
When we think about global warming at all, the arguments tend to be ideological, theological and economic. But to grasp the seriousness of our predicament, you just need to do a little math. For the past year, an easy and powerful bit of arithmetical analysis first published by financial analysts in the U.K. has been making the rounds of environmental conferences and journals, but it hasn't yet broken through to the larger public. This analysis upends most of the conventional political thinking about climate change. And it allows us to understand our precarious – our almost-but-not-quite-finally hopeless – position with three simple numbers.
The First Number: 2° Celsius
If the movie had ended in Hollywood fashion, the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 would have marked the culmination of the global fight to slow a changing climate. The world's nations had gathered in the December gloom of the Danish capital for what a leading climate economist, Sir Nicholas Stern of Britain, called the "most important gathering since the Second World War, given what is at stake." As Danish energy minister Connie Hedegaard, who presided over the conference, declared at the time: "This is our chance. If we miss it, it could take years before we get a new and better one. If ever."
In the event, of course, we missed it. Copenhagen failed spectacularly. Neither China nor the United States, which between them are responsible for 40 percent of global carbon emissions, was prepared to offer dramatic concessions, and so the conference drifted aimlessly for two weeks until world leaders jetted in for the final day. Amid considerable chaos, President Obama took the lead in drafting a face-saving "Copenhagen Accord" that fooled very few. Its purely voluntary agreements committed no one to anything, and even if countries signaled their intentions to cut carbon emissions, there was no enforcement mechanism. "Copenhagen is a crime scene tonight," an angry Greenpeace official declared, "with the guilty men and women fleeing to the airport." Headline writers were equally brutal: COPENHAGEN: THE MUNICH OF OUR TIMES? asked one.
The accord did contain one important number, however. In Paragraph 1, it formally recognized "the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below two degrees Celsius." And in the very next paragraph, it declared that "we agree that deep cuts in global emissions are required... so as to hold the increase in global temperature below two degrees Celsius." By insisting on two degrees – about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit – the accord ratified positions taken earlier in 2009 by the G8, and the so-called Major Economies Forum. It was as conventional as conventional wisdom gets. The number first gained prominence, in fact, at a 1995 climate conference chaired by Angela Merkel, then the German minister of the environment and now the center-right chancellor of the nation.
Some context: So far, we've raised the average temperature of the planet just under 0.8 degrees Celsius, and that has caused far more damage than most scientists expected. (A third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the atmosphere over the oceans is a shocking five percent wetter, loading the dice for devastating floods.) Given those impacts, in fact, many scientists have come to think that two degrees is far too lenient a target. "Any number much above one degree involves a gamble," writes Kerry Emanuel of MIT, a leading authority on hurricanes, "and the odds become less and less favorable as the temperature goes up." Thomas Lovejoy, once the World Bank's chief biodiversity adviser, puts it like this: "If we're seeing what we're seeing today at 0.8 degrees Celsius, two degrees is simply too much." NASA scientist James Hansen, the planet's most prominent climatologist, is even blunter: "The target that has been talked about in international negotiations for two degrees of warming is actually a prescription for long-term disaster." At the Copenhagen summit, a spokesman for small island nations warned that many would not survive a two-degree rise: "Some countries will flat-out disappear." When delegates from developing nations were warned that two degrees would represent a "suicide pact" for drought-stricken Africa, many of them started chanting, "One degree, one Africa."
Despite such well-founded misgivings, political realism bested scientific data, and the world settled on the two-degree target – indeed, it's fair to say that it's the only thing about climate change the world has settled on. All told, 167 countries responsible for more than 87 percent of the world's carbon emissions have signed on to the Copenhagen Accord, endorsing the two-degree target. Only a few dozen countries have rejected it, including Kuwait, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Even the United Arab Emirates, which makes most of its money exporting oil and gas, signed on. The official position of planet Earth at the moment is that we can't raise the temperature more than two degrees Celsius – it's become the bottomest of bottom lines. Two degrees.
Nuclear Power s Not the Answer: Time to Quit Nuclear Power Altogether
Experience in northern Japan illustrates that even incremental investment in nuclear power threatens human civilization. The Fukushima disaster should once and for all drive global society away from nuclear power, and toward renewable energy.
In August, just months following the tsunami-induced crisis at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, the 2011 World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs gathered in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two Japanese cities destroyed in 1945 by atom bombs, becoming forever linked to the birth of nuclear weapons and the nuclear age. The world conference was formed in 1995 to work toward a nuclear-weapon ban and foster solidarity and support for A-bomb survivors and victims of nuclear disasters.
A few of the 70,000 victims of the Fukushima disaster joined us at the August meeting, riveting the attendees with first-hand accounts of the devastating effects of radioactive contamination. According to the reports delivered by these eyewitnesses, nearly 300,000 Fukushima children continue to live in wretched conditions, continuously exposed to the dangers of radioactivity. The health hazards of radioactivity are far deadlier to children than the effects of radiation on adults. Annual blood tests are now a life-preserving necessity to track the potential onset of disease.
Because of soil contamination, one-eighth of Fukushima’s soil can never be plowed again, and the consumption of crops grown on such plots is strictly forbidden. Many local companies have gone bankrupt, while 20,000 individual proprietors are on the brink of insolvency. The Tokyo Electric Power Company recently laid off 7,400 employees due to the cash settlements it will pay to the victims of the nuclear accident. Though the company is still afloat, it’s expected to soon go under due to its enormous capital investment in nuclear power, which now faces an uncertain fate in Japan and elsewhere.
At the risk of being melodramatic, the ripple effects of Fukushima go well beyond northern Japan. Clearly, nuclear accidents have become global events. Though fully 25 years have passed since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine during the former Soviet Union, residents still cannot pick the mushrooms growing in certain parts of southern Germany due to radiation damage carried by the wind. Radiation knows no geographic borders. If a nuclear accident occurs on China’s shores, the citizens of Korea and Japan are inevitably vulnerable to radioactivity.
Even ignoring the numerous environmental risks, nuclear power doesn’t make sense on a pure dollars-and-cents analysis. Nuclear power simply isn’t economical when you factor the impact of indirect expenses and fees, and thus can’t compete in an open, unsubsidized market for electricity. More often than not, in fact, taxpayers are forced to foot the bill for radioactive waste disposal and storage. Costs for insurance coverage of nuclear energy facilities have become astronomical. And the costs to shutter a nuclear plant after it has passed its life expectancy nearly equal the construction costs of building the plant in the first place.
Like many, we believe the only rational alternative to fill the void likely to be left by waning interest in nuclear power is greater investment in and accelerated production of natural, renewable energy, such as solar and wind, to augment what’s produced globally by fossil fuels. The amount of wind power alone generated worldwide could expand by roughly 30 percent annually, based on most conservative estimates. Denmark already generates one-fourth of its power from wind, while three German states meet nearly 60 percent of their needs from this ever-pervasive source. In Iowa, which is the US benchmark for wind-power investment, wind is generating about one-fifth of the state’s energy needs.
A report in Science magazine contends that the Chinese could increase the country’s current output by a factor of 16 from wind-generated electricity. A single wind-generating complex in Gansu Province in northwestern China will, when completed, have 38,000 megawatts of generating capacity, enough to supply the total electricity needs of entire countries like Poland and Egypt.
Such clean, renewable energy sources should continue to get the bulk of our new capital investments in power production. From the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania to Chernobyl to Fukushima, nuclear power has proven to be unpredictable and risky at best. Physical structures built by man are inherently vulnerable to the forces of mother nature, particularly amid more extreme storms and weather patterns globally and instability caused by the earth’s ever-shifting tectonic plates.
We fully realize this is a radical thought for many, but our experience in northern Japan illustrates that even incremental investment in nuclear power threatens the very existence of human civilization as we know it. The Fukushima disaster – which now stands, at least in Japan, as a new generation’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki – should once and for all drive global society firmly down a nuclear-free energy path.
Lester R. Brown is a US environmental analyst, founder of the Worldwatch Institute, and president of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. Yul Choi is founder and president of the Korea Green Foundation. He was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1995 for the movement against toxic and nuclear contamination.