Thursday, July 30, 2009

Social stigmata

"Not every windfarm should be licensed, but the great bulk of them will need to be. In a country that is serious about tackling climate change, raising objections might need to become something that carries a certain social stigma, as the climate secretary, Ed Miliband, has suggested." --The Guardian, Editorial, July 30

Anything other than entertain the possibility for a moment that for tackling climate change windfarms are useless ...

This is the same paper that consistently defends horrible and useless animal experimentation against stigmatization by those who are serious about tackling unnecessary cruelty. For a supposedly "liberal" paper, it might be upsetting to note that the common thread is a defense of corporate violence, whether against animals or against the landscape and rural residents -- both activities pointless except as demonstrations of power.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, anarchism, ecoanarchism, anarchosyndicalism

Friday, July 24, 2009

Unselling single-payer

Helen Redmond writes at Counterpunch:

... There’s been virtually no stories about labor’s support for HR 676 [Representative John Conyers' single-payer legislation], despite the fact it’s been endorsed by 554 union organizations in 49 states and by 130 Central Labor Councils. But we heard plenty when Andy Stern, the president of the SEIU sat down with Lee Scott, the CEO of Wal-mart to discuss solutions to the nation’s health care crisis. Those two are experts on providing health care to workers? What about the nurses and doctors who support single-payer and got dragged out of, and arrested in Max Baucus’s senate hearings in Washington, DC? If doctors and nurses had been arrested for any other political issue it would have been the lead story in every newspaper and online edition. Doctors and nurses never deliberately get arrested -- that’s news!

The sea change in the public’s attitude toward government financed health care, however, has gotten press. A New York Times poll in June found that 72 percent supported a government-administered insurance plan – like Medicare for everyone under the age of 65. That poll also reported 64 percent believed the federal government should guarantee coverage to the entire population, i.e. health care should be a human right. Another interesting number: 85 percent of respondents said the health care system needed to be fundamentally changed or completely rebuilt. This is in stark contrast to President Obama’s position of tepid, incremental reform. Obama asserts if he was starting from scratch he might favor SP, but we aren’t so he can’t. He wants to build on the existing system and not “disrupt” the employment-based provision of health care. As if employment-based health coverage isn’t being massively “disrupted” by the economic depression that has laid off millions of workers and forced them down into the ranks of the 50 million uninsured.

But what is truly disgusting is how the “progressive” left has caved so quickly and cravenly, given up the fight for single-payer and support for HR 676. They have become the indignant foot soldiers, apologists and spinmeisters for Obama’s piece of shit legislation. They are betraying what they absolutely know to be true: the private insurance industry must be evicted in order to provide health care to everyone and end the fiscal crisis the multiple-payer system creates.

Even the insurance companies know that, according to revelations by Cigna whistleblower Wendell Potter. He reports the implementation of a single-payer health care system is what keeps the billionaire CEO’s of insurance companies and Karen Ignagni, the high priestess of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), awake at night cowering in fear and forced to spend 1.4 million dollars a day to make sure it doesn’t happen. They don’t fear a public option despite their protestations; they accept that due to the depth of the crisis, a few token compromises are in order to stay in business. It’s chump change and in exchange for perhaps losing a little market share, they’re going to get a mandate that legally obligates every person to buy their priced-to-make-profits “insurance products” or be financially penalized. If the Obama bill subsidizes the uninsured going into private plans, that’s millions of new customers to extract profits from and a transfer of taxpayer dollars into insurance industry coffers. The Massachusetts mandate madness gone nationwide. ...

human rights, anarchosyndicalism

Thoughts on Acceptable Wind Turbine Placement

Daniel Imhoff, Food Fight: The Citizen's Guide to a Food and Farm Bill, Watershed Media, 2007, p. 113 [paragraph breaks added]:

The scientific consensus on global climate change predicts inevitable disruptions and potentially dire consequences. The prescriptions are equally clear: significant reductions in fossil fuel emissions are being called for across the board. Agriculture is no exception. Tough choices will be made in the decades ahead. Regional production of diverse renewable energy sources should be aggressively scaled up.

At the same time, energy is not renewable if essential resources such as soil and water are despoiled in the process. Simply increasing the supply of renewable energy without a national strategy to make the United States "carbon neutral" may only succeed in providing more power to consumer.

Across the world, and prominently in agricultural areas, large wind farms are gaining traction as alternative electricity producers. The latest generation of turbines have been criticized as noisy, aesthetically polluting, and being "Cuisinarts for birds," particularly raptors.

Within an overall context of a more positive energy future, however, it should be possible to identify appropriate areas to locate utility-scale wind farms withexceptions such as these proposed by John Davis of the Adirondack Council:
  • No energy production in roadless areas.
  • No windmills or energy production in wildlife migration corridors.
  • No windmills in parks or protected areas.
  • Keep windmills away from water bodies.
  • Complement renewable energy funding with a national energy conservation platform.
wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, animal rights, human rights

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Missing the point about wind energy development

Bradford Plumer writes in The New Republic's environment and energy blog about the action in North Carolina to ban structures taller than 100 feet from the state's mountaintops, which would effectively ban industrial wind energy turbines. His analysis consists only of showing a picture of mountaintop-removal coal mining and asking whether in comparison wind turbines can still be called "unsightly".

If mountaintop-removal is the issue, then the blog should ask why it is allowed.

If coal in general is the issue, then the blog should ask just how much coal would be saved by adding wind turbines to the grid. (The answer is: none.)

Having learned that wind energy does not reduce coal use, then the blog should ask if industrial wind's own adverse environmental impacts, including not just aesthetic but also on birds, bats, hydrology, and wildlife habitat, can be justified by other benefits. (The answer is: hardly. Wind is a highly variable, intermittent, and diffuse resource that only adds to the grid's burden of supplying steady energy in response to demand.)

Instead, the false and unexamined premise that wind turbines on the grid provide substantial useful energy, leading to the next false and unexamined premise that nondispatchable, unpredictable, and variable wind energy displaces coal -- generally a baseload supplier (wind preferentially displaces first hydro, second open-cycle natural gas [at a loss of efficiency]), leads to Plumer simply ignoring the actual debate about industrial wind energy development on the wild mountains of North Carolina.

What is gained and what is lost? Very little, if anything, is gained, and very much is lost. That is not to deny the horrors of mountaintop-removal mining or the pollution from coal burning. Those are irrelevant to the debate about wind. Adding industrial wind development will not reduce them in the least. Wind only adds a new insult to the environment.

So to Plumer's challenge, "There's nothing wrong with finding wind turbines unsightly, but the relevant question here is: Compared to what?"

Compared to a wild mountaintop teeming with flora and fauna -- without heavy-duty cut-and-filled roads, blasted-in turbine platforms, 400-ft-high machines grinding around day or night, flashing lights, acres of tree clearance, miles of new transmission lines, substations, etc. Duh.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, animal rights, human rights

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The doctor is out to lunch

So Dr. Howard Dean tells us that we can't have the efficient and fair system of health care Europeans enjoy because the European system was "essentially destroyed during World War II" ("Doctor's Note," New York Times Magazine, July 9).

Ahem. World War II is long over, as is the post-war American boom when employers provided expanding benefits to their employees. After decades of seeing those benefits taken away and the cost of private health care skyrocket, it is not "crazy," as Dean asserts, to change to a public plan.

Canada's system was not destroyed during World War II, and they implemented a totally public plan. And in the U.S., private health care and insurance are not our only experience. Medicare is a successful single-payer insurance system, and the Veterans Administration is a successful government-run (socialized) health care system. Furthermore, the SCHIP program is a successful example of state-federal partnership -- much like what Canada's current system developed from -- to provide single-payer care to the children of working families.

It is crazy to pretend that these public plans don't already exist and to ignore not only the inefficiencies but also the horrors, even crimes, as many people experience it, of our private for-profit employment-based system. It is crazier still to dismiss out of hand the solution that every other civilized country in the world has established: a public health system by which we fairly share the costs of what we are all subject to.

Are American health needs somehow exceptional? Have we not "hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means ...? if you prick us, do we not bleed? ... if you poison us, do we not die?"

Monday, July 20, 2009

Freedom for tyranny, socialism for big business

The U.S.A., spreading freedom and democracy ...

Also see:  "A Few Facts About the Honduran Military Coup" by Ken Silverstein, Harper's, July 6; and "Honduras and the Big Stick" by Nikolas Kozloff, Counterpunch, July 20.

Hugh O'Shaughnessy, Independent, July 19, writes about the coup in Honduras:

... For some of the plotters it is their second attempt to overthrow an elected reformist government in Latin America: the group includes prominent figures involved in the 2002 ousting of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who was kidnapped for 48 hours and sent to a Caribbean island before being restored to office after widespread popular protest.

The temporary toppling of Mr Chavez was welcomed by the Bush administration, the Blair government and the International Monetary Fund [Ed:  and the New York Times]. This weekend, the US seems destined for a replay of 2002's Operation Chaotic Coup. Amid a stream of contradictory messages it is clear that last month's putsch against Mr Zelaya was brewed up in Washington by a group of extreme conservatives from Venezuela, Honduras and the US. They appear to have hidden their plans from the White House, but hoped eventually to bounce President Obama into backing them and supporting the "interim president" [Roberto Micheletti]. They are making much of Mr Zelaya's alliance with Mr Chavez, whose sense of nationalism challenges US hegemony.

Financial backing for the coup is identified by some as coming from the pharmaceutical industry, which fears Mr Zelaya's plans to produce generic drugs and distribute them cheaply to the impoverished majority in Honduras, who lack all but the most primitive health facilities. Others point to big companies in the telecommunications industry opposed to Hondutel, Honduras's state-owned provider. Parallels are being made with ITT, the US telecommunications company that offered the Nixon government funds for the successful overthrow of President Salvador Allende of Chile in 1973.

A key figure is Robert Carmona-Borjas, a Venezuelan active against Mr Chavez in 2002, who later fled to the US. He runs the Washington-based Arcadia, which calls itself "an innovative 'next generation' anti-corruption organisation". Its website carries three video clips alleging, without evidence, that Mr Zelaya, his associates and Hondutel are deeply corrupt. Behind Arcadia are the US-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the International Republican Institute (IRI), the well-funded overseas arm of the Republican Party. Currently active among the Uighurs of western China, the NED has this year funnelled $1.2m (£740,000) for "political activity" in Honduras.

The focus of attention in the campaign against Mr Zelaya is now on the office of Senator John McCain, the defeated US presidential candidate, who is chairman of the IRI, takes an interest in telecoms affairs in the US Congress and has benefited handsomely from campaign contributions from US telecoms companies - which are said to have funded the abortive 2002 coup against Mr Chavez.

Mr McCain's former legislative counsel, John Timmons, arranged the visit of Micheletti supporters to Washington on 7 July where they met journalists at the National Press Club "to clarify any misunderstandings about Honduras's constitutional process and ... the preservation of the country's democratic institutions".

Meanwhile, within the US administration, difficulties in co-ordination have emerged between the State Department and the White House, with the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, issuing a low-key condemnation of the coup which was quickly superseded by stronger words from Mr Obama. The President called for Mr Zelaya's reinstatement, which Mrs Clinton had failed to demand.

The conservative-minded Mrs Clinton retains John Negroponte, an ambassador to Honduras under Ronald Reagan, as an adviser. He also represented George W Bush at the UN and in Baghdad. Democratic Senator Chris Dodd attacked Mr Negroponte in 2001 for drawing a veil over atrocities committed in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, by military forces trained by the US. Mr Dodd claimed that the forces had been "linked to death squad activities such as killings, disappearances and other human rights abuses".

During his time in Tegucigalpa, Mr Negroponte directed funds to the US-supported Contra terrorists seeking to overthrow the government of Nicaragua. He assured them of arms and supplies from the Palmerola airstrip, the main US base in Central America. As President Rafael Correa of Ecuador is in the final stages of closing the US base in his country, Mr Negroponte is conscious of what the US could lose if a Zelaya government banned its presence at Palmerola. For their part, Hondurans have noted that when Mr Zelaya tried to return on 6 July, and his plane was refused permission to land at Tegucigalpa airport, no room was found at Palmerola.

Since last July, the US ambassador in Tegucigalpa has been the Cuban-born Hugo Llorens. He was the principal National Security adviser to Mr Bush on Venezuela at the time of the failed 2002 coup, when he was working with two other well-known State Department hardliners, Otto Reich and Elliot Abrams.

Mr Reich, a former US ambassador to Venezuela, advised Mr McCain in his presidential bid and previously worked for AT&T, the US telecoms giant. As he goes into battle against Mr Zelaya, the website of his business consultancy, Otto Reich Associates, quotes Mr Reagan: "You understand the importance of fostering democracy and economic development among our closest neighbours."

Mr Abrams was also deep in the business of supplying the Contra terrorists. He tried to sabotage the Central American peace plans proposed by Oscar Arias, then the Costa Rican President, who later received a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. In 1991 Mr Abrams, a neoconservative passionately supportive of Ehud Olmert and other leading Israeli hawks, was convicted of hiding information from the US Congress investigation of the Iran-Contra affair. The New York Times reported in 2006 that he had strong ties to then vice-president Dick Cheney. ...

And Alexander Cockburn comments on, among other things, Obama's international lecturing:

“Africa’s future is up to Africans,” he said in Accra. No it’s not. Africa’s future is to a pervasive extent up to the World Bank, the IMF, international mining and oil companies, the US Congress (which for example votes cotton subsidies to domestic corporate farmers, thus undercutting and laying waste the cotton economies of Burkina Faso, Benin, Mali and Chad).

human rights

Goldman Sachs and the coming carbon credit bubble

Matt Taibbi, "The Great American Bubble Machine", Rolling Stone, July 13, 2009:

From tech stocks to high gas prices, Goldman Sachs has engineered every major market manipulation since the Great Depression — and they're about to do it again.

... If America is circling the drain, Goldman Sachs has found a way to be that drain — an extremely unfortunate loophole in the system of Western democratic capitalism, which never foresaw that in a society governed passively by free markets and free elections, organized greed always defeats disorganized democracy. ...

If you want to understand how we got into this financial crisis, you have to first understand where all the money went — and in order to understand that, you need to understand what Goldman has already gotten away with. It is a history exactly five bubbles long — including last year's strange and seemingly inexplicable spike in the price of oil. There were a lot of losers in each of those bubbles, and in the bailout that followed. But Goldman wasn't one of them.

BUBBLE #1 — The Great Depression ...

BUBBLE #2 — Tech Stocks ...

BUBBLE #3 — The Housing Craze ...

BUBBLE #4 — $4 a Gallon ...

BUBBLE #5 — Rigging the Bailout ...

BUBBLE #6 — Global Warming

Fast-forward to today. It's early June in Washington, D.C. Barack Obama, a popular young politician whose leading private campaign donor was an investment bank called Goldman Sachs — its employees paid some $981,000 to his campaign — sits in the White House. Having seamlessly navigated the political minefield of the bailout era, Goldman is once again back to its old business, scouting out loopholes in a new government-created market with the aid of a new set of alumni occupying key government jobs.

Gone are Hank Paulson and Neel Kashkari; in their place are Treasury chief of staff Mark Patterson and CFTC chief Gary Gensler, both former Goldmanites. (Gensler was the firm's cohead of finance.) And instead of credit derivatives or oil futures or mortgage-backed CDOs, the new game in town, the next bubble, is in carbon credits — a booming trillion dollar market that barely even exists yet, but will if the Democratic Party that it gave $4,452,585 to in the last election manages to push into existence a groundbreaking new commodities bubble, disguised as an "environmental plan," called cap-and-trade.

The new carbon credit market is a virtual repeat of the commodities-market casino that's been kind to Goldman, except it has one delicious new wrinkle: If the plan goes forward as expected, the rise in prices will be government-mandated. Goldman won't even have to rig the game. It will be rigged in advance.

Here's how it works: If the bill passes, there will be limits for coal plants, utilities, natural-gas distributors and numerous other industries on the amount of carbon emissions (a.k.a. greenhouse gases) they can produce per year. If the companies go over their allotment, they will be able to buy "allocations" or credits from other companies that have managed to produce fewer emissions. President Obama conservatively estimates that about $646 billion worth of carbon credits will be auctioned in the first seven years; one of his top economic aides speculates that the real number might be twice or even three times that amount.

The feature of this plan that has special appeal to speculators is that the "cap" on carbon will be continually lowered by the government, which means that carbon credits will become more and more scarce with each passing year. Which means that this is a brand new commodities market where the main commodity to be traded is guaranteed to rise in price over time. The volume of this new market will be upwards of a trillion dollars annually; for comparison's sake, the annual combined revenues of all electricity suppliers in the U.S. total $320 billion.

Goldman wants this bill. The plan is (1) to get in on the ground floor of paradigmshifting legislation, (2) make sure that they're the profitmaking slice of that paradigm and (3) make sure the slice is a big slice. Goldman started pushing hard for capandtrade long ago, but things really ramped up last year when the firm spent $3.5 million to lobby climate issues. (One of their lobbyists at the time was none other than Patterson, now Treasury chief of staff.) Back in 2005, when Hank Paulson was chief of Goldman, he personally helped author the bank's environmental policy, a document that contains some surprising elements for a firm that in all other areas has been consistently opposed to any sort of government regulation. Paulson's report argued that "voluntary action alone cannot solve the climatechange problem." A few years later, the bank's carbon chief, Ken Newcombe, insisted that capandtrade alone won't be enough to fix the climate problem and called for further public investments in research and development. Which is convenient, considering that Goldman made early investments in wind power (it bought a subsidiary called Horizon Wind Energy [Ed: formerly Zilkha Renewable Energy, bought in 2005 for less than $1 billion and sold to Energias de Portugal in March 2007 for $2.15 billion]), renewable diesel (it is an investor in a firm called Changing World Technologies) and solar power (it partnered with BP Solar), exactly the kind of deals that will prosper if the government forces energy producers to use cleaner energy. As Paulson said at the time, "We're not making those investments to lose money." [Ed.: Similarly, Enron lobbied hard in the late 1990s for the U.S. to sign the Kyoto Accord.]

The bank owns a 10 percent stake in the Chicago Climate Exchange, where the carbon credits will be traded. Moreover, Goldman owns a minority stake in Blue Source LLC, a Utahbased firm that sells carbon credits of the type that will be in great demand if the bill passes. Nobel Prize winner Al Gore, who is intimately involved with the planning of cap-and-trade, started up a company called Generation Investment Management with three former bigwigs from Goldman Sachs Asset Management, David Blood, Mark Ferguson and Peter Harris. Their business? Investing in carbon offsets. There's also a $500 million Green Growth Fund set up by a Goldmanite to invest in greentech … the list goes on and on. Goldman is ahead of the headlines again, just waiting for someone to make it rain in the right spot. Will this market be bigger than the energyfutures market?

"Oh, it'll dwarf it," says a former staffer on the House energy committee.

Well, you might say, who cares? If cap-and-trade succeeds, won't we all be saved from the catastrophe of global warming? Maybe — but capandtrade, as envisioned by Goldman, is really just a carbon tax structured so that private interests collect the revenues. Instead of simply imposing a fixed government levy on carbon pollution and forcing unclean energy producers to pay for the mess they make, cap-and-trade will allow a small tribe of greedy-as-hell Wall Street swine to turn yet another commodities market into a private taxcollection scheme. This is worse than the bailout: It allows the bank to seize taxpayer money before it's even collected.

"If it's going to be a tax, I would prefer that Washington set the tax and collect it," says Michael Masters, the hedgefund director who spoke out against oilfutures speculation. "But we're saying that Wall Street can set the tax, and Wall Street can collect the tax. That's the last thing in the world I want. It's just asinine."

Cap-and-trade is going to happen. Or, if it doesn't, something like it will. The moral is the same as for all the other bubbles that Goldman helped create, from 1929 to 2009. In almost every case, the very same bank that behaved recklessly for years, weighing down the system with toxic loans and predatory debt, and accomplishing nothing but massive bonuses for a few bosses, has been rewarded with mountains of virtually free money and government guarantees — while the actual victims in this mess, ordinary taxpayers, are the ones paying for it. ...

environment, environmentalism, animal rights, human rights, anarchism, ecoanarchism, anarchosyndicalism

Saturday, July 18, 2009

America's White Underclass

Joe Bageant ends this article at Counterpunch (click the title of this post):

We’re finally starting to hear a little discussion about the white underclass in this country. Mainly because so many middle class folks are terrified of falling into it. Frankly, I hope they do. We’ve got room for them. All the lousy, humiliating jobs have not yet been outsourced. The Devil still has plenty for them to do down here.

Call all of this anecdotal evidence. You won’t be the first. I was on a National Public Radio show last year with a couple of political consultants, demographers as I remember. One, a lady, was obviously part of the Democratic political syndicate, the other was part of the Republican political mob. The Democratic expert said dismissively of my remarks, “Well! Some people here seem to believe anecdotal evidence is relevant.” Meaning me. I held my tongue. But what I wanted to say was this:

Sister, most of us live anecdotal lives in an anecdotal world. We survive by our wits and observations, some casual, others vital to our sustenance. That plus daily experience, be it good bad or ugly as the ass end of a razorback hog. And what we see happening to us and others around us is what we know as life, the on-the-ground stuff we must deal with or be dealt out of the game. There’s no time for rigorous scientific analysis. Nor need. We can see the guy next door who’s drinking himself to death because, “I never did have a good job, just heavy labor, but now I’m all busted up, got no insurance and no job and it looks like I’ll never have another one and I’ve got four more years to go before Social Security.” He doesn’t need scientific proof. He doesn’t need another job either. He needs a cold beer, a soft armchair, some Tylenol PM and a modest guarantee of security for the rest of his life. Freedom from fear and toil and illness.

And furthermore, Sister, we cannot see much evidence that other, more elite people’s scientific analysis of our lives has ever benefited us much. When you’re fucked, you know it. You don’t need scientific verification.

I wanted to say that on the radio. But I didn’t. The little white guy mojo voice in my head told me not to. So I just laughed good naturedly. Like any other good American.

May God forgive me.

human rights, anarchosyndicalism

Friday, July 17, 2009

Why cap-and-trade won't work for CO2

Two graphics by courtesy of Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus's Breakthrough Institute and the World Resources Institute show the absurdity of applying the successful acid-rain cap-and-trade model to climate change:




Clearly, a cap-and-trade bill concerned only with CO2 from electricity generation is an exercise in futility.

Note that the second graphic represents the gases in terms of their "CO2 equivalence". For example, the greenhouse effects of methane and nitrous oxide are, respectively, 25 and 298 times the same weight of CO2. Their effects are much more immediate and shorter lasting than CO2.

environment, environmentalism

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Only nonrestrictive restrictions OK in Wisconsin?

Note (July 22):  After a read of the ruling itself (available here), it is clear that the AP report was taken from an industry spin release. The ruling, it is a relief to learn, preserves the local right to preserve or protect the public health or safety. It is only in restricting wind energy systems for other reasons that it can't decrease the system's efficiency:
We also read the statutes to disfavor wholesale local control which circumvents this policy. Instead, localities may restrict a wind energy system only where necessary to preserve or protect the public health or safety, or where the restriction does not significantly increase the cost of the system or significantly decrease its efficiency, or where the locality allows for an alternative system of comparable cost and efficiency.

As reported by the AP, July 16:
Local governments [in Wisconsin] cannot pass broad rules dictating how far wind turbines must be from other buildings, how tall they can be or how much noise they can produce, the Waukesha-based District 2 Court of Appeals ruled.

Instead, municipalities must consider each project on a case-by-case basis and only restrict them to protect public health or in a way that does not affect a system’s cost or efficiency, the court said.

The decision struck down a Calumet County ordinance that set height, noise and setback requirements for turbines, but lawyers said its impact would be felt statewide.
What are rules about height, setbacks, and noise, if not to protect public health?!

And what is the restriction to limit rules to those that do not affect a system's cost or efficiency, but a bald-faced mockery of government and the rights of citizens?

This court is saying that state law allowing local goverments to make rules to protect public health and safety does not allow them to actually make such rules, that local governments must restrict any project separately, but not at all if it actually restricts the project.

Words fail in expressing one's outraged reaction to such craven venality.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, animal rights, human rights

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Nonviolent farming in India

Thanks to NGO Post in India for information about "do-nothing farming" following the experience of Masanobu Fukuoka (The One-Straw Revolution). Their post is in the form of FAQ (such as the following) and includes several good links.
Q: What are the bad sides of natural farming?

A: Well, it is alarmingly bad for the chemical and pesticide industry.
One of the links is to this letter from a natural/organic farmer to the father of chemical-intensive farming in India:

From: Bhaskar Save, 'Kalpavruksha' Farm, Village Dehri, via Umergam, Dist. Valsad, Gujarat 396 170 (Phone: 0260 2562126 & 2563866)

To: Shri M.S. Swaminathan, The Chairperson, National Commission on Farmers, Ministry of Agriculture, Govt. of India

July 29, 2006

Subject: Mounting Suicides and National Policy for Farmers

Dear Shri Swaminathan,

I am an 84-year old natural/organic farmer with more than six decades of personal experience in growing a wide range of food crops. I have, over the years, practised several systems of farming, including the chemical method in the fifties until I soon saw its pitfalls.

I say with conviction that it is only by organic farming in harmony with Nature, that India can sustainably provide her people abundant, wholesome food. And meet every basic need of all to live in health, dignity and peace.

[Annexed hereto [were]: (1) a concise comparison of chemical farming and organic farming; (2) an introduction to my farm, Kalpavruksha; (3) some recorded opinions of visitors; (4) a short biographical note on myself; (5) note on a traditional six-crop, integral system in a low rainfall zone, providing diverse yield round the year without any irrigation or external input; and (6) content overview and more excerpts from 'The Vision of Natural Farming'.]

You, M.S. Swaminathan, are considered the 'father' of India's so-called 'Green Revolution' that flung open the floodgates of toxic 'agro' chemicals ravaging the lands and lives of many millions of Indian farmers over the past 50 years. More than any other individual in our long history, it is you I hold responsible for the tragic condition of our soils and our debt-burdened farmers, driven to suicide in increasing numbers every year.

As destiny would have it, you are presently the chairperson of the 'National Commission on Farmers', mandated to draft a new agricultural policy. I urge you to take this opportunity to make amends for the sake of the children, and those yet to come.

I understand your Commission is inviting the views of farmers for drafting the new policy. As this is an open consultation, I am marking a copy of my letter to: the Prime Minister, the Union Minister for Agriculture, the Chairperson of the National Advisory Council, and to the media - for wider communication. I hope this provokes some soul-searching and open debate at all levels on the extremely vital issues involved. So that we do not repeat the same kind of blunders that led us to our present, deep festering mess.

The great poet, Rabindranath Tagore, referred not so long ago to our "sujhalam, sufalam" land. Ours indeed was a remarkably fertile and prosperous country with rich soils, abundant water and sunshine, thick forests, a wealth of bio-diversity, And cultured, peace-loving people with a vast store of farming knowledge and wisdom.

Farming runs in our blood. But I am sad that our (now greyed) generation of Indian farmers, allowed itself to be duped into adopting the short-sighted and ecologically devastating way of farming, imported into this country. By those like you, with virtually zero farming experience!

For generations beyond count, this land sustained one of the highest densities of population on earth. Without any chemical 'fertilizers', pesticides, exotic dwarf strains of grain, or the new, fancy 'bio-tech' inputs that you now seem to champion. The many waves of invaders into this country, over the centuries, took away much. But the fertility of our land remained unaffected.

The Upanishads say:
Om Purnamadaha
Purnamidam Purnat Purnamudachyate
Purnasya Purnamadaya Purnamewa Vashishyate


"This creation is whole and complete.
From the whole emerge creations, each whole and complete.
Take the whole from the whole, but the whole yet remains,
Undiminished, complete!"
In our forests, the trees like ber (jujube), jambul (jambolan), mango, umbar (wild fig), mahua (Madhuca indica), imli (tamarind), yield so abundantly in their season that the branches sag under the weight of the fruit. The annual yield per tree is commonly over a tonne year after year. But the earth around remains whole and undiminished. There is no gaping hole in the ground!

From where do the trees including those on rocky mountains get their water, their NPK, etc? Though stationary, Nature provides their needs right where they stand. But 'scientists' and technocrats like you with a blinkered, meddling itch seem blind to this. On what basis do you prescribe what a tree or plant requires, and how much, and when?

It is said: where there is lack of knowledge, ignorance masquerades as 'science'! Such is the 'science' you have espoused, leading our farmers astray down the pits of misery. While it is no shame to be ignorant, the awareness of such ignorance is the necessary first step to knowledge. But the refusal to see it is self-deluding arrogance.

Agricultural Mis-education

This country has more than 150 agricultural universities, many with huge land-holdings of thousands of acres. They have no dearth of infrastructure, equipment, staff, money, And yet, not one of these heavily subsidized universities makes any profit, or grows any significant amount of food, if only to feed its own staff and students. But every year, each churns out several hundred 'educated' unemployables, trained only in misguiding farmers and spreading ecological degradation.

In all the six years a student spends for an M. Sc. in agriculture, the only goal is short-term and narrowly perceived 'productivity'. For this, the farmer is urged to do and buy a hundred things. But not a thought is spared to what a farmer must never do so that the land remains unharmed for future generations and other creatures. It is time our people and government wake up to the realisation that this industry-driven way of farming promoted by our institutions is inherently criminal and suicidal!

Gandhi declared: Where there is soshan, or exploitation, there can be no poshan, or nurture! Vinoba Bhave added, "Science wedded to compassion can bring about a paradise on earth. But divorced from non-violence, it can only cause a massive conflagration that swallows us in its flames."

Trying to increase Nature's 'productivity,' is the fundamental blunder that highlights the ignorance of 'agricultural scientists' like you. Nature, unspoiled by man, is already most generous in her yield. When a grain of rice can reproduce a thousand-fold within months, where arises the need to increase its productivity?

Numerous kinds of fruit trees too yield several hundred thousand kg of nourishment each in their lifetime! That is, provided the farmer does not pour poison and mess around the tree in his greed for quick profit. A child has a right to its mother's milk. But if we draw on Mother Earth's blood and flesh as well, how can we expect her continuing sustenance!

The mindset of servitude to 'commerce and industry,' ignoring all else, is the root of the problem. But industry merely transforms 'raw materials' sourced from Nature into commodities. It cannot create anew. Only Nature is truly creative and self-regenerating through synergy with the fresh daily inflow of the sun's energy.

The Six Self-renewing Paribals of Nature

There is on earth a constant inter-play of the six paribals (key factors) of Nature, interacting with sunlight. Three are: air, water and soil. Working in tandem with these, are the three orders of life: 'vanaspati srushti' (the world of plants), 'jeev srushti' (the realm of insects and micro-organisms), and 'prani srushti' (the animal kingdom). These six paribals maintain a dynamic balance. Together, they harmonise the grand symphony of Nature, weaving the new!

Man has no right to disrupt any of the paribals of Nature. But modern technology, wedded to commerce rather than wisdom or compassion has proved disastrous at all levels... We have despoiled and polluted the soil, water and air. We have wiped out most of our forests and killed its creatures; And relentlessly, modern farmers spray deadly poisons on their fields. These massacre Nature's jeev srushti the unpretentious but tireless little workers that maintain the ventilated quality of the soil, and recycle all life-ebbed biomass into nourishment for plants. The noxious chemicals also inevitably poison the water, and Nature's prani srushti, which includes humans.

The Root of Unsustainablity

Sustainability is a modern concern, scarcely talked of at the time you championed the 'green revolution'. Can you deny that for more than forty centuries, our ancestors farmed the organic way without any marked decline in soil fertility, as in the past four or five decades? Is it not a stark fact that the chemical-intensive and irrigation-intensive way of growing monoculture cash-crops, has been primarily responsible for spreading ecological devastation far and wide in this country? Within the lifetimeof a single generation!

Engineered Erosion of Crop Diversity, Scarcity of Organic Matter, and Soil Degradation

This country boasted an immense diversity of crops, adapted over millennia to local conditions and needs. Our numerous tall, indigenous varieties of grain provided more biomass, shaded the soil from the sun, and protected against its erosion under heavy monsoon rains. But in the guise of increasing crop production, exotic dwarf varieties were introduced and promoted through your efforts. This led to more vigorous growth of weeds, which were now able to compete successfully with the new stunted crops for sunlight. The farmer had to spend more labour and money in weeding, or spraying herbicides.

The straw growth with the dwarf grain crops fell drastically to one-third of that with most native species! In Punjab and Haryana, even this was burned, as it was said to harbour 'pathogens'. (It was too toxic to feed farm cattle that were progressively displaced by tractors.) Consequently, much less organic matter was locally available to recycle the fertility of the soil, leading to an artificial need for externally procured inputs. Inevitably, the farmers resorted to use more chemicals, and relentlessly, soil degradation and erosion set in.

Engineered Pestilence

The exotic varieties, grown with chemical 'fertiliser', were more susceptible to 'pests and diseases', leading to yet more poison (insecticides, etc.) being poured. But the attacked insect species developed resistance and reproduced prolifically. Their predators spiders, frogs, etc. that fed on these insects and 'biologically controlled' their population, were exterminated. So were many beneficial species like the earthworms and bees.

Agribusiness and technocrats recommended stronger doses, and newer, more toxic (and more expensive) chemicals. But the problems of 'pests' and 'diseases' only worsened. The spiral of ecological, financial and human costs mounted!

The 'Development' of Water Scarcity and Dead, Salty Soils

With the use of synthetic fertilizer and increased cash-cropping, irrigation needs rose enormously. In 1952, the Bhakra dam was built in Punjab, a water-rich state fed by 5 Himalayan rivers. Several thousand more big and medium dams followed all over the country, culminating in the massive Sardar Sarovar. And now, our government is toying with a grandiose, Rs 560,000 crore proposal to divert and 'inter-link' the flow of our rivers. This is sheer 'Tughlaqian' megalomania, without a thought for future generations!

India, next to South America, receives the highest rainfall in the world. The annual average is almost 4 feet. Where thick vegetation covers the ground, and the soil is alive and porous, at least half of this rain is soaked and stored in the soil and sub-soil strata. A good amount then percolates deeper to recharge aquifers, or 'groundwater tables'.

The living soil and its underlying aquifers thus serve as gigantic, ready-made reservoirs gifted free by Nature. Particularly efficient in
soaking rain are the lands under forests and trees. And so, half a century ago, most parts of India had enough fresh water all round the year, long after the rains had stopped and gone. But clear the forests, and the capacity of the earth to soak the rain, drops drastically. Streams and wells run dry. It has happened in too many places already.

While the recharge of groundwater has greatly reduced, its extraction has been mounting. India is presently mining over 20 times more groundwater each day than it did in 1950. Much of this is mindless wastage by a minority. But most of India's people living on hand-drawn or hand-pumped water in villages, and practising only rain-fed farming continue to use the same amount of ground water per person, as they did generations ago.

More than 80% of India's water consumption is for irrigation, with the largest share hogged by chemically cultivated cash crops. Maharashtra, for example, has the maximum number of big and medium dams in this country. But sugarcane alone, grown on barely 3-4% of its cultivable land, guzzles about 70% of its irrigation waters!

One acre of chemically grown sugarcane requires as much water as would suffice 25 acres of jowar, bajra or maize. The sugar factories too consume huge quantities. From cultivation to processing, each kilo of refined sugar needs 2 to 3 tonnes of water. This could be used to grow, by the traditional, organic way, about 150 to 200 kg of nutritious jowar or bajra (native millets).

While rice is suitable for rain-fed farming, its extensive multiple cropping with irrigation in winter and summer as well, is similarly hogging our water resources, and depleting aquifers. As with sugarcane, it is also irreversibly ruining the land through salinisation.

Soil salinisation is the greatest scourge of irrigation-intensive agriculture, as a progressively thicker crust of salts is formed on the land. Many million hectares of cropland have been ruined by it. The most serious problems are caused where water-guzzling crops like sugarcane or basmati rice are grown round the year, abandoning the traditional mixed-cropping and rotation systems of the past, which required minimal or no watering.

Since at least 60% of the water used for irrigation nowadays in India, is excessive, indeed harmful, the first step that needs to be taken is to control this. Thus, not only will the grave damage caused by too much irrigation stop, but a good deal of the water that is saved can also become available locally for priority areas where acute scarcity is felt.

Conservative Irrigation and Groundwater Recharge at Kalpavruksha

Efficient, organic farming requires very little irrigation much less than what is commonly used in modern agriculture. The yields of the crops are best when the soil is just damp. Rice is the only exception that grows even where water accumulates, and is thus preferred as a monsoon crop in low-lying areas naturally prone to inundation. Excess irrigation in the case of all other crops expels the air contained in the soil's inter-particulate spaces vitally needed for root respiration and prolonged flooding causes root rot.

The irrigation on my farm is a small fraction of that provided in most modern farms today. Moreover, the porous soil under the thick vegetation of the orchard is like a sponge that soaks and percolates to the aquifer, or ground-water table, an enormous quantity of rain each monsoon. The amount of water thus stored in the ground at Kalpavruksha, is far more than the total amount withdrawn from the well for irrigation in the months when there is no rain.

Thus, my farm is a net supplier of water to the eco-system of the region, rather than a net consumer! Clearly, the way to ensure the water security and food security of this nation, is by organically growing mixed, locally suitable crops, plants and trees, following the laws of Nature.

Need for 30% Tree Cover

We should restore at least 30% ground cover of mixed, indigeneous trees and forests within the next decade or two. This is the core task of ecological water harvesting the key to restoring the natural abundance of groundwater. Outstanding benefits can be achieved within a decade at comparatively little cost. We sadly fail to realise that* the potential for natural water storage in the ground is many times greater than the combined capacity of all the major and medium irrigation projects in India complete, incomplete, or still on paper! Such decentralized underground storage is more efficient, as it is protected from the high evaporation of surface storage. The planting of trees will also make available a variety of useful produce to enhance the well-being of a larger number of people.

Even barren wastelands can be restored to health in less than a decade. By inter-planting short life-span, medium life-span, and long life-span crops and trees, it is possible to have planned continuity of food yield to sustain a farmer through the transition period till the long-life fruit trees mature and yield. The higher availability of biomass and complete ground cover round the year will also hasten the regeneration of soil fertility.

Production, Poverty & Population

After the British left, Indian agriculture was recovering steadily. There was no scarcity of diverse nourishment in the countryside, where 75% of India lived. The actual reason for pushing the 'Green Revolution' was the much narrower goal of increasing marketable surplus of a few relatively less perishable cereals to fuel the urban-industrial expansion favoured by the government. The new, parasitical way of farming you vigorously promoted, benefited only the industrialists, traders and the powers-that-be. The farmers' costs rose massively and margins dipped. Combined with the eroding natural fertility of their land, they were left with little in their hands, if not mounting debts and dead soils. Many gave up farming. Many more want to do so, squeezed by the ever-rising costs. This is nothing less than tragic, since Nature has generously gifted us with all that is needed for organic farming which also produces wholesome, rather than poisoned food!

Restoring the natural health of Indian agriculture is the path to solve the inter-related problems of poverty, unemployment and rising population. The maximum number of people can become self-reliant through farming only if the necessary inputs are a bare minimum. Thus, farming should require a minimum of financial capital and purchased inputs, minimum farming equipment (plough, tools, etc.), minimum necessary labour, and minimum external technology. Then, agricultural production will increase, without costs increasing. Poverty will decline, and the rise in population will be spontaneously checked.

Self-reliant farming with minimal or zero external inputs was the way we actually farmed, very successfully, in the past. Barring periods of war and excessive colonial oppression, our farmers were largely self-sufficient, and even produced surpluses, though generally smaller quantities of many more items. These, particularly perishables, were tougher to supply urban markets. And so the nation's farmers were steered to grow chemically cultivated monocultures of a few cash-crops like wheat, rice, or sugar, rather than their traditional polycultures that needed no purchased inputs.

In Conclusion:

I hope you have the integrity to support widespread change to mixed organic farming, tree-planting and forest regeneration (with local resources and rights) that India greatly needs. I would be glad to answer any query or doubt posed to me, preferably in writing. I also welcome you to visit my farm with reasonable prior notice. Since many years, I have extended an open invitation to any one interested in natural/organic farming to visit Kalpavruksha, on any Saturday afternoon between 2.00 and 4.00 pm., which continues till date.

I may finally add that this letter has been transcribed in English by Bharat Mansata, based on discussions with me in Gujarati.

Whether or not you agree with my views, I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,
Bhaskar H. Save

Copy to: (i) The Prime Minister of India, (ii) The Union Minister for Agriculture, (iii) The Chairperson, National Advisory Council, (iv) The media.

Annexure 1: Comparison of Chemical Farming & Organic Farming:
-- by Bhaskar Save, transcribed from Gujarati to English by Bharat Mansata
  1. Chemical farming fragments the web of life; organic farming nurtures its wholeness
  2. Chemical farming depends on fossil oil; organic farming on living soil.
  3. Chemical farmers see their land as a dead medium; organic farmers know theirs is teeming with life.
  4. Chemical farming pollutes the air, water and soil; organic farming purifies and renews them.
  5. Chemical farming uses large quantities of water and depletes aquifers; organic farming requires much less irrigation, and recharges groundwater.
  6. Chemical farming is mono-cultural and destroys diversity; organic farming is poly-cultural and nurtures diversity.
  7. Chemical farming produces poisoned food; organic farming yields nourishing food.
  8. Chemical farming has a short history and threatens a dim future; organic farming has a long history and promises a bright future.
  9. Chemical farming is an alien, imported technology; organic farming has evolved indigenously.
  10. Chemical farming is propagated through schooled, institutional misinformation; organic farming learns from Nature and farmers' experience.
  11. Chemical farming benefits traders and industrialists; organic farming benefits the farmer, the environment and society as a whole.
  12. Chemical farming robs the self-reliance and self-respect of farmers and villages; organic farming restores and strengthens it.
  13. Chemical farming leads to bankruptcy and misery; organic farming liberates from debt and woe.
  14. Chemical farming is violent and entropic; organic farming is non-violent and synergistic.
  15. Chemical farming is a hollow 'green revolution'; organic farming is the true green revolution.
  16. Chemical farming is crudely materialistic, with no ideological mooring; organic farming is rooted in spirituality and abiding truth.
  17. Chemical farming is suicidal, moving from life to death; organic farming is the road to regeneration.
  18. Chemical farming is the vehicle of commerce and oppression; organic farming is the path of culture and co-evolution.

[Don't] Mourn on the 4th of July [Organize]

John Pilger, New Statesman, July 9, 2009 (click title of this post for original):

... Meanwhile, the “city on the hill” remained a beacon of rapaciousness as US capital set about realising Luce’s dream and recolonising the European empires in the postwar years. This was “the march of free enterprise”. In truth, it was driven by a subsidised production boom in a country unravaged by war: a sort of socialism for the great corporations, or state capitalism, which left half the world’s wealth in American hands. The cornerstone of this new imperialism was laid in 1944 at a conference of the western allies at Bretton Woods in New Hampshire. Described as “negotiations about economic stability”, the conference marked America’s conquest of most of the world.

What the American elite demanded, wrote Frederic F Clairmont in The Rise and Fall of Economic Liberalism, “was not allies but unctuous client states. What Bretton Woods bequeathed to the world was a lethal totalitarian blueprint for the carve-up of world markets.” The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the African Development Bank were established in effect as arms of the US Treasury and would design and police the new order. The US military and its clients would guard the doors of these “international” institutions, and an “invisible government” of media would secure the myths, said Edward Bernays.

Bernays, described as the father of the media age, was the nephew of Sigmund Freud. “Propaganda,” he wrote, “got to be a bad word because of the Germans . . . so what I did was to try and find other words [such as] Public Relations.” Bernays used Freud’s theories about control of the subconscious to promote a “mass culture” designed to promote fear of official enemies and servility to consumerism. It was Bernays who, on behalf of the tobacco industry, campaigned for American women to take up smoking as an act of feminist liberation, calling cigarettes “torches of freedom”; and it was his notion of disinformation that was deployed in overthrowing governments, such as Guatemala’s democracy in 1954.

Above all, the goal was to distract and deter the social democratic impulses of working people. Big business was elevated from its public reputation as a kind of mafia to that of a patriotic force. “Free enterprise” became a divinity. “By the early 1950s,” wrote Noam Chomsky, “20 million people a week were watching business-sponsored films. The entertainment industry was enlisted to the cause, portraying unions as the enemy, the outsider disrupting the ‘harmony’ of the ‘American way of life’ . . . Every aspect of social life was targeted and permeated schools and universities, churches, even recreational programmes. By 1954, business propaganda in public schools reached half the amount spent on textbooks.”

The new “ism” was Americanism, an ideology whose distinction is its denial that it is an ideology. ...

Since 1945, by deed and by example, the US has overthrown 50 governments, including democracies, crushed some 30 liberation movements and supported tyrannies from Egypt to Guatemala (see William Blum’s histories). Bombing is apple pie. Having stacked his government with warmongers, Wall Street cronies and polluters from the Bush and Clinton eras, the 45th president is merely upholding tradition. The hearts and minds farce I witnessed in Vietnam is today repeated in villages in Afghanistan and, by proxy, Pakistan, which are Obama’s wars. ...

As Obama has sent drones to kill (since January) some 700 civilians, distinguished liberals have rejoiced that America is once again a “nation of moral ideals”, as Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times. In Britain, the elite has long seen in exceptional America an enduring place for British “influence”, albeit as servitor or puppet. The pop historian Tristram Hunt says America under Obama is a land “where miracles happen”. Justin Webb, until recently the BBC’s man in Washington, refers adoringly, rather like the colonel in Vietnam, to the “city on the hill”.

Behind this façade of “intensification of feeling and degradation of significance” (Walter Lippmann), ordinary Americans are stirring perhaps as never before, as if abandoning the deity of the “American Dream” that prosperity is a guarantee with hard work and thrift. Millions of angry emails from ordinary people have flooded Washington, expressing an outrage that the novelty of Obama has not calmed. On the contrary, those whose jobs have vanished and whose homes are repossessed see the new president rewarding crooked banks and an obese military, essentially protecting George W Bush’s turf.

My guess is that a populism will emerge in the next few years, igniting a powerful force that lies beneath America’s surface and which has a proud past. It cannot be predicted which way it will go. However, from such an authentic grass-roots Americanism came women’s suffrage, the eight-hour day, graduated income tax and public ownership. In the late 19th century, the populists were betrayed by leaders who urged them to compromise and merge with the Democratic Party. In the Obama era, the familiarity of this resonates.

What is most extraordinary about the United States today is the rejection and defiance, in so many attitudes, of the all-pervasive historical and contemporary propaganda of the “invisible government”. Credible polls have long confirmed that more than two-thirds of Americans hold progressive views. A majority want the government to care for those who cannot care for themselves. They would pay higher taxes to guarantee health care for everyone. They want complete nuclear disarmament; 72 per cent want the US to end its colonial wars; and so on. They are informed, subversive, even “anti-American”.

I once asked a friend, the great American war correspondent and humanitarian Martha Gellhorn, to explain the term to me. “I’ll tell you what ‘anti-American’ is,” she said. “It’s what governments and their vested interests call those who honour America by objecting to war and the theft of resources and believing in all of humanity.

“There are millions of these anti-Americans in the United States. They are ordinary people who belong to no elite and who judge their government in moral terms, though they would call it common decency. They are not vain. They are the people with a wakeful conscience, the best of America’s citizens. They can be counted on. They were in the South with the civil rights movement, ending slavery. They were in the streets, demanding an end to the wars in Asia. Sure, they disappear from view now and then, but they are like seeds beneath the snow. I would say they are truly exceptional.”

Monday, July 13, 2009

"The ethic of Wall Street is the ethic of celebrity"

Excellent essay by Chris Hedges (click on title of post):

The saturation coverage of Jackson’s death is an example of our collective flight into illusion. The obsession with the trivia of his life conceals the despair, meaninglessness and emptiness of our own lives. It deflects the moral questions arising from mounting social injustice, growing inequalities, costly imperial wars, economic collapse and political corruption. The wild pursuit of status, wealth and fame has destroyed our souls, as it destroyed Jackson, and it has destroyed our economy.

The fame of celebrities masks the identities of those who possess true power—corporations and the oligarchic elite. And as we sink into an economic and political morass, as we barrel toward a crisis that will create more misery than the Great Depression, we are controlled, manipulated and distracted by the celluloid shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave. The fantasy of celebrity culture is not designed simply to entertain. It is designed to drain us emotionally, confuse us about our identity, make us blame ourselves for our predicament, condition us to chase illusions of fame and happiness and keep us from fighting back. And in the end, that is all the Jackson coverage was really about, another tawdry and tasteless spectacle to divert a dying culture from the howling wolf at the gate.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The knight's dog

"At a certain Village in La Mancha, which I shall not name, there liv'd not long ago one of those old-fashion'd Gentlemen who are never without a Lance upon a Rack, an old Target, a lean Horse, and a Greyhound." --Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote


[photo by Barbara Karant]

Click here to find out about adopting greyhounds, the "40-mile-an-hour couch potatoes".

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sham citizen wind energy activism in Washington state

"Wind Farms Trump Local Land-Use Laws, Washington Governor, Court Decide", by Penny Rodriguez, Heartland Institute, February 1, 2009:
Todd Myers, director of the Washington Policy Center, is skeptical of the promised benefits of wind power but nevertheless applauded the Washington Supreme Court’s decision.

“In many ways this decision can be seen as the opposite of the facts presented in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London,” Myers said. “Here we have state government preserving property rights when local governments are trying to restrict them.

“If farmers want to earn money by putting windmills on their property,” Myers continued, “we should honor their right to do so when reasonable. Local decisions are certainly preferable to those imposed from the state or federal level, but individual property rights should be given the highest priority.

“There are problems with our energy policy, including renewable portfolio standards and preferential renewable subsidies. But denying property rights is not the proper way to deal with those problems. I hope the supreme court will apply the same logic when it comes to other permits and not just wind farms,” Myers said.
"Launched in 2003, ["think tank"] Washington Policy Center’s Center for the Environment focuses on free-market solutions to environmental issues."

Todd Myers is also the executive director of Windworks Northwest, which has just produced a 15-minute video about how crucial it is to get more giant wind turbines into Kittitas County.

As one Fennelle Miller states in the film, wind turbines are a community good that require unfettered property rights to impose them on the community.

This cynical exploitation of climate change fears for such a blatant pro-development agenda, this twisting of environmentalism to mean the very opposite, this opportunistic milking of federal and state subsidies in the name of free enterprise ... well, there's nothing new here. It is just a tiresomely predictable part of human history that nobody should think we are ever free of. And it is not surprising, but saddening nonetheless, that so many otherwise perhaps sane and decent people still fall for it.

The Windworks Northwest film also includes "Dr." James Walker, who is described as "president, american wind energy association". Since last year, though, Walker has been the past president of the AWEA board of directors. What the film also does not note is that he is the vice chairman of the board of Enxco, the company on behalf of whose project the film was made.

And the chairman of Windworks is Robert Kahn, whose company managed the permitting process of the Stateline Wind Project for Florida Power & Light in 2000-2002.

Deceit infuses the film, which is little more than a disjointed intercutting of non sequitur sound bites.

Windworks' "Who Are We": "We believe that the number of wind power plants in the Northwest needs to expand because more wind power means less CO2 emissions and greater U.S. energy security." And anyone who questions those reasons, unless he's executive director Todd Myers himself ("skeptical of the promised benefits of wind power"), is a Nimby aesthete. And anyone who supports industrial expansion heedless of neighbors human and wild is an environmentalist voice for freedom.

If anyone doubted that almost everything about big wind is a sham, Windworks Northwest has helpfully made it extra clear.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, animal rights, human rights, anarchism, ecoanarchism, anarchosyndicalism

Study to determine health effects of wind turbines?

From the The Globe & Mail (Toronto, Ontario), July 8:
Researchers at nearby [to Wolfe Island] Queen's University have embarked on the first study to probe whether wind turbines built over communities can cause adverse health effects. The study measures residents' health and well-being before the turbines arrived on the island, again when the turbines were built but not yet operational and again after they'd been operating for a few months.

People living close to turbines in other regions have reported nausea, headaches, dizziness, anxiety, sleep deprivation and tinnitus - an incessant ringing in a person's ears.

However, there has yet to be any substantive research linking those ailments to the presence of windmills, says lead study author Neal Michelutti, a research scientist in the Queen's University biology department.
Dr. Michelutti, as he is later referred to in the article, is not a medical doctor. He is, according the university web site, a PhD specialized in paleolimnology (the study of ancient lakes) of Arctic regions.

This is a strange choice to lead an epidemiologic (the study of factors affecting the health and illness of populations) field study.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Anti-wind arguments still standing

According to Friends of the Earth UK, a new report that they commissioned from energy consultant David Milborrow "scuppers anti-wind arguments". Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Foundation, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds also helped pay for it. Click here to download the "Managing Variability" report.

They must be chagrined that the report actually underscores anti-wind arguments.

For example, the summary states, regarding the intermittency, variability, and unpredictability of wind: "This extra uncertainty means that additional short-term reserves are needed to guarantee the security of the system" (p.3). As every utility and grid manager admits, every potential new megawatt of wind requires a new megawatt of backup dispatchable power.

The heart of the report examines ways to reduce that requirement somewhat (by requiring other additions to the grid). Following are brief comments on this section.

Section 5: Mitigating the effects of variability [i.e., the many other expensive developments necessary to "integrate" wind]

5.1 Wind forecasting. At best, this improves hour-ahead forecasting of average output, but cannot predict, let alone improve, the minute-to-minute variability of wind.

5.2 Higher productivity from offshore wind. Offset by higher costs and failure rates.

5.3 Demand management. A small potential effect, particularly as wind is effectively negative demand as far as the grid is concerned.

5.4 Energy storage. As yet nonexistent on a large scale, it would likely double the cost of wind energy while adding a significant layer of inefficiency (i.e., much less energy is extracted than is put in).

5.5 Additional international connections. "effectively increasing the size of the system" (p. 20) (and increasing costs). In other words, effectively reducing the percentage of wind energy -- this is how Denmark claims 20% wind, because their wind production accounts for less than 1% of the international grids they are part of.

5.6 Electric cars. Theoretical only, and if a significant number of people are dependent on electric cars, it would actually augment, not mitigate, the problem of wind's intermittency and nonpredictability.

5.7 ‘Smart grids’ and the growth of de-centralised generation. That is, hope that whole pieces of the grid operate more on their own.

5.8 Electric space and water heating. Idiotic. Solar and geothermal power are the obvious choices for heat production (and cooling).

5.9 The hydrogen economy. Only here does the report recognize the theoretical status and uncertain costs. Hydrogen, in the present context, however, is only a storage medium, and thus would serve to substantially reduce the energy available from wind.

5.10 Overall effects. "It is quite possible ..." There is not even a pretense of method in estimating costs. Purely made-up numbers.

Section 6: Experience elsewhere

6.1 Germany. "Some problems have been reported, leading some observers to assume that difficulties there reflect universal problems, but this is not the case." Whew. Note that Germany's typical capacity factor for wind of 14% -- the basis for this report's dismissal of their experience -- is not substantially lower than Denmark's 18%.

6.2 Denmark. The report acknowledges that "Denmark has transmission links with Germany, Sweden and Norway and the power exported over these links often mirrors the wind energy production" but then ignores this by simply adding the size of those links to the capacity of domestic thermal plants to claim that Denmark still gets 13% of its electricity from wind. The fact remains that exports coincide with wind production. Denmark's efficient combined heat and power plants actually make it impossible to accommodate large amounts of wind. It is notable that Denmark has not added any new wind capacity since 2003.

In conclusion, wind is a diffuse inefficient resource whose integration requires a Rube Goldberg–like collection of measures (most of which don't even exist) which only add to its inefficiency and industrial impact -- underscoring the madness of big wind.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, animal rights, human rights