Tag Archives: independence

Republican Response

My own party sickens me with their response to the President’s State of the Union Address.  It appears that the Republicans continue their decade-long trend of a lack of vision and foresight and maintain the quasi-religious belief that all government action is bad.  While there are many failed policies, there is a time for rationality.

  • It does not make sense that healthcare is linked to your place of employment.
  • It does not make sense that we can fund foreign wars with over a trillion dollars while we let our own infrastructure decay and our schools turn to rot with a lack of funding.  Afghanistan was a just war, but Iraq was not.  However now future generations are stuck footing the multi-trillion dollar bill.
  • It does not make sense for the rich (defined here as $250k a year or more in annual income) to pay less money to support the very system that allowed them to become rich.
  • It is the Republican party that is dividing this country by engaging in class warfare – supporting the rich while the middle class and poor fail.  Otherwise why would they have blocked a tax cut extension (until the last minute) for millions of Americans while marching like lemmings to continue cutting taxes for the wealthy.
  • It is the Republican party that continues towards a self-fulling prophecy of cutting government services so that government fails.
  • It is not the wealthy who are job creators.  It is the middle class and the poor. This is simple math.  A human only needs to eat so much food, own so many cars, own so many houses.  With a fraction of the wealth distributed more evenly (so the US doesn’t have wealth disparity along the lines of most south American dictatorships), job creation would boom.  Go ask any millionare how much they spend on groceries a week against someone in the middle class.  It’d probably be about the same.  Guess how many middle class families you  could have for ~$1 million a year?  Let’s be generous and say 4.  That’s FOUR TIMES as much consumption.
  • It is the Republicans who advocate for more foreign energy imports (Hello Keystone XL, ITS IN CANADA) through their continued denial of climate change science and continue to promote monarchies and strong-men across the globe rather than fostering policies that encourage democracy.
  • It was the deregulation in California that caused the energy crisis, and it was deregulation of banks that caused the housing bubble.
  • It is the Republicans who claim to be for small government while advocating for invasive policies into individual liberties.  Heaven forbid someone should have the inherent right to control their own body (birth control, abortion, ability to end your life when it is the correct time), or marry whom they please.  They push their conservative religious agenda on everyone while complaining about how there isn’t enough protection for religious freedom.

My party needs to get off of it’s high horse and come to terms with the world we live in.  Not some fantasy dream land.  Bring me a candidate who applies reason and logic to policies, with a true view of small government and I will consider them.  The Enlightenment was one of the greatest occurrences in the West, but the Republicans turn their backs to reason.  Until they come to see reason again, I will continue to vote for the Democrats, who at least seem to get one thing right: basic human rights and the ability to pursue happiness without religious persecution.

Nuclear revival in the US?

Yesterday, the NY Times had an article about US funding for 2 new nuclear plants in Georgia (the state, not the country).  I am cautiously optimistic about this project, while at the same time dreading it.  I have long been a supporter of nuclear energy, since the science behind radiation is much more well understood than the interactions related to climate change.  However, I believe that supporters need to be clear in what nuclear energy is, and is not.

In so much as it is used to replace or prevent construction of coal burning (or probably natural gas as well) power plants, this is a good idea.  However, nuclear energy is not emissions free.  Concrete is associated with large quantities of CO2 emissions, and uranium mining has its own environmental drawbacks based on how it is performed.  More importantly, there is no federal repository for nuclear waste.  Instead it is collecting at the individual nuclear power plant sites across the US.

Regarding overall CO2 emissions, I am a fan of nuclear because it can provide low emissions baseload power.  That is, they can run essentially 24/7.  They are highly reliable as well, and are not intermittent (nor do they have the associated problems with intermittent).  Perhaps one day, in a few decades, other alternatives might be cost effective and reliable, such as storage, but until then, we need something that can reduce baseload emissions in a (fairly) clean manner.  And, I believe, that nuclear power is the best way forward…. for now.

Bin Laden, Climate Change, and Extremism

A new Bin Laden tape strikes out against the US… on its environmental platform?

He comes out against industrialized countries for not halting climate change, and then goes into the usual blame game.  This time however, his intent was “to inflict harm on the US economy” by encouraging nations to switch away from the greenback to other currencies.

While undoubtedly true, it is also hard to deny that those “other currencies” also come from the largest polluter (China), and one of the top exporters of GHG emitting fuels in the world (Russia), so it’s not really an accurate portrayal of the world.  Not to mention the hypocrisy of Bin Laden (with the size of the Bin Laden family construction business) coming out against climate change, when I am fairly certain most of the ardent followers of Bin Laden probably don’t believe in climate change (not that I know this for certain, religious-types tend towards lack of trust in science).

However, the more important part of the announcement is the shift towards environmental topics.  I believe it indicates that Bin Laden’s core ideology is losing strength, support, and relevance due to his isolation in Afghanistan/Pakistan.  This is an attempt to expand his reach and scope, despite the fact that a great deal of existing environmental damage is due to overpopulation and poor management of existing resources.

It is interesting to see Al Qaeda/Bin Laden adopt an environmental plank to their platform, however, ultimately the logic fails.  Shifting from the greenback to another currency will do little to nothing to affect or impact climate change.  Instead it merely promotes the misunderstanding and self-gratification, based on a slender kernel of truth, that extremists so largely operate under.

Google, China, and a stand on human rights

Quietly in the background of other news this morning (1/13/2010), there has been a statement from Google: that they will end the censoring of searches in China (it has been pointed out to me that there was a segment on 1/13 on Newshour.  At the time of my publishing this, it had yet to hit the front page of mainstream news, such as the NYT, local newspapers, or other such media.  I am also unable to find at what time Newshour released its article, but believe it was in the evening).  According to Google, this could end with Google.cn closing for business.  Why would Google pull out of China?  Because they used Google to launch attacks against human rights workers in China and across the globe.

I am glad that Google is taking a strong stand against cyberattacks, and hope that they follow through with their threat.  China has long been suspected of being a haven for cybercriminals, and for government sponsorship of cybercrime.  However, businesses, seeing lucrative profits in the rapidly growing economy, have been willing to pander to Chinese interests so they could gain access.  Supporting economic growth is one thing; standing aside while human rights watchers’ accounts are violated, while the government cracks down on free speech, and essentially just turning your head is another.

Why is Google’s involvement and taking a stance so critical?  Because Google is the 1,000 lb gorilla in the room.  Yes, some search engines will fill in the void if google closes down google.cn, but google.com still operates (for those who can use english), and other companies might also finally find the leadership and courage that it takes to stand against oppression.  It has always seemed odd to me, that the same media that always cries for freedom in the US, is so willing to bow to demands for censorship in other countries.  After all, there is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Q&A on the Declaration), which was broadly adopted (although without any binding legal force), by the United Nations.  China has also ratified other humans rights documents.

As with most cases of international law, it is hard to enforce.  China may say that it will protect human rights, but until the consumers and corporations which provide the lifeblood to the economy demand that those rights be enforced, it will do as it wills.  Hopefully Google will be a step in the right direction.

Copenhagen: trials and delays

The climate talks in Copenhagen have ground to a halt, for the usual litany of reasons that have derailed any real action since the Rio Conference (Earth Summit) in 1992. 

  • It’s too expensive.
  • It’s not our fault – it’s yours.
  • We don’t want to delay economic development.
  • It’s not really happening / God makes it happen / Denial

Those are four of what I consider to be the top reasons that states choose not to act in the face of overwhelming evidence for climate change.  As I have said before, I do not care the causes for climate change.  They are real and they are happening.  At the best case, the chemicals societies spew into the air, water, and land are causing health impacts.  At the worst, they are causing climate change that will devastate millions, if not billions of people. 

However, the skeptics in the US are joining skeptics across the globe in an interesting Christian-Muslim alliance (sorry, couldn’t resist throwing that out there) — Senator Inhofe (whose Senate homepage, as of 12/15 had a nice pictorial icon for a link to a Senate Minority report) and Mohammad Al-Sabban (Saudi Arabia’s lead climate negotiator) are on the same page.  Now, what has inspired this close alliance between these two parties?  A love of black gold – OIL.  Saudi Arabia, as many of you know, is the top exporter of oil.  According to Sourcewatch.com Senator Inhofe received a meager $662,506 from oil companies between 2000 – 2008.  Or, to put it in perspective, Senator Inhofe receives nearly twice as much per year on average from oil companies than the per capita GDP of the US (The CIA’s World Factbook puts US GDP/capita at $46,000).

Does the US, Europe, and other advanced economies bear the lion’s share for polluting the air with greenhouse gasses?  Yes.  Do we have a collective responsibility to help others deal with the impacts / help reduce the impacts of climate change? Yes.  Does the developing world need to sit by and do nothing? No.

Developing countries need to do as much to reduce their contributions of greenhouse gasses as possible.  This does include the need for clean technologies such as solar PV, and small wind and hydro to create clean electricity.  But the developing countries need to realize that a political solution will never be possible unless they too are willing to abide by some metric for containing their emissions and environmental damage.

To think that others will do what you will not is the height of folly.  It is why I believe the GOP arguments about climate change policy in the US being against national security is the height of stupidity.  Most measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the US revolve around moving away from fossil fuels and on to renewables.  A situation which will only reduce dependence on foreign oil, not increase it.  Additionally, it is possible to imagine a situation where the US would become a net exporter of renewable energy sources — making foreign countries dependent on us, not the other way around.  Why?  Because last time I checked, the Arabian Peninsula was a pretty sunny place.

Afghanistan, 18 months, or bust

In his speech on Tuesday, President Obama outlined the new strategy for Afghanistan.  He outlines the efforts undertaken against al Qaeda, the responsibility for the attacks, the shielding of terrorists by the Taliban, the new surge of 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan, and how to deal with the insurgency in Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan.

Where I feel the strategy falls short is in its treatment of point #2 and #3 – “Second, we will work with our partners, the United Nations, and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can take advantage of improved security.”

“Third, we will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan.”

Addressing the 3rd point, I do not believe there can be a true partnership with Pakistan.  Their efforts, are too strongly linked to their national security and the perceived threat from India.  The wars and conflict in Afghanistan provide perfect training grounds to send Mujahideen against Indian soldiers in Kashmir.  They are cheap, fanatical, and willing to die.  The ISI (Pakistan’s Intelligence Service) has long had its own hands in the deck, steering American policy through actions and intelligence on Afghanistan.  Instability in Afghanistan has helped provide Pakistan with billions of dollars in US aid.  Why break the piggy bank that keeps on dropping money willy-nilly? 

The third point should be a responsible relationship with Pakistan. 

Regarding point #2, I feel that if we truly seek prosperity for Afghanistan, it will require a far greater number of soldiers than even the surge will provide.  The legitimacy of the Afghani government is questionable given the election results.  Lastly, the key, in my mind, to countering the impacts of insurgency is economic development. 

I am not talking about the piddling amounts of money being spent in Afghanistan and Iraq now.  I am talking economic development funding on the order of magnitude of the Marshall Plan.  It is important to note, that the Marshall Plan only had to rebuild European economies.  For Afghanistan we are talking about creating infrastructure wholesale.  I remember reading a number of years ago, that with the construction of the Kandahar-Kabul Highway, transit between the two major cities was reduced from days to a single long day.  Sadly, that is the first, last, and only major infrastructure project I have heard of in Afghanistan.  And it was completed (phase I), in 2003.

If there is to be effective change in Afghanistan, the government must become transparent and trusted alongside economic development, and the elimination of al Qaeda.  The Taliban is another problem, but I believe we must remember that they are separate from al Qaeda.  For their various crimes against humanity, the Taliban will be judged.  However, it was al Qaeda, terrorists from our “allies” in the Middle East, who attacked us.  The Taliban only provided them shelter.

Population Growth and Climate Change

Today I read an interesting article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, addressing a way to slow climate change – reproductive rights.  A neglected climate strategy: Empower women, slow population growth

Ms. Mazur presents an interesting case and analysis, one that I largely agree with.  However, I would like to see some more solid numbers behind this.  Even ballpark figures could give us an idea of comparative costs and benefits.  For example, earning a college degree typically results in almost double the lifetime income earned.  ($1.2 million to $2.1 million). 

If smaller families equates to greater investment in children (PDF), then having smaller families will lead to a more educated population, and a more educated population tends to lead to fewer children.  (This relationship is not necessarily causal, but countries with higher levels of education tend to have smaller families.  It could be because there is less need for extra hands “on the farm” per say, and is probably somewhat related.) 

I would also have liked to see the cost of attaining the reducing in unwanted pregnancies (lets assume it costs $5 / year, and at 200 million pregnancies, that would be $1 billion per year), then compare it to the benefits stated in the article: higher levels of education for the parent, reduced death from childbirth, lower risk of STD’s (assuming condom use or abstinence), lower levels of consumption and hence lower GHG emissions. 

Now, since the focus is on climate change, I’ll look at some numbers for carbon costs.  Today, the European Markets were trading at ~14 euros per ton (~$20/ton).  The EIA (~1/2 way down the page) has for Africa listed current emissions of 1 metric ton per capita in 2006, staying flat to 2030.  China, by comparison is at 4.6 in 2006, rising to 8.0 by 2030.   Taking this 1 metric ton, and comparing it with the carbon markets, a reduction of 200 million pregnancies would cost $4 billion, or 4 times the cost of reducing unwanted pregnancies.  This number swells if you think of future projections.  Namely, if these reductions were all assumed for China alone in 2030, it would be $32 billion assuming carbon prices remained at their current levels (not at all likely), or about 32 times the cost.

Lets put this into perspective.  A quick look at a carbon offset aggregator (Ecobusinesslinks), shows an average price of around $15.00 per ton through a variety of measures (some such as carbon offsets through reforestation may not deliver, as carbon sinks need to remain in place for ~70 years to get their claimed value).  This generates around the same value as the market-based value above (or ~4 – 32 times the cost of preventing unwanted population growth).  Similarly, a 277 kw system is projected to save 11.7 million tons of emissions over 25 years.  Taking about $1 per watt, this installation would cost $300,000.  Over the 25 years, it comes out to about $39 per ton of emissions reductions (or twice what carbon is currently trading for on the markets).

By doing this back of the envelope calculations, I believe I have made the case that Ms. Mazur’s argument does hold up when some rough numbers are thrown in.  To address climate change, we should look at all solutions.  Addressing population growth is one way to do this, that may also have a multitude of other benefits, not strictly related to climate change alone.