Tag Archives: Security

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.

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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.

Too silly to believe… or is it?

I about couldn’t believe my own eyes when I read this article: Predator drone uses less encryption than your TV, DVD’s.  More importantly, the US has been aware of the issue since Bosnia, and removed the encryption, according to a CNN article, because “encryption was found to slow the real-time link”.

What will happen if it is discovered that US troops were placed at risk by the unencrypted video feed?  What if insurgents are able to jam the signal or take over the Predator and employ it against our own troops?  In this case, the military has placed operational convenience over the security, lives, and publicity of American citizens.

Why do I bring in publicity?  Imagine the outcry if/when these live-feeds are sent back out by insurgents in near real-time?  It is already well documented that Predator (and other UAV) attacks have killed civilians.  (NY Times link for more info on UAVs).  Furthermore, it also raises the question of how secure even the secured drones are.  If even standard satellite dish software can pick up the communications, what would a more advanced counter-project such as the North Koreans, Iranians, Chinese, or Russians be able to do?

US Hope for Copenhagen

As I have written in several previous articles (key one here), US leadership is key in the ongoing climate talks in Copenhagen.  Today, to my great surprise and astonishment, I was flipping through the headlines and noticed this on the NY Times: “U.S. Offer of Long-Term Aid Pushes Climate Talks Forward“.  At long, long, last, the US is starting to move back to the heady days of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and action on reducing CFCs released into the atmosphere (or more formally, the Montreal Protocol).

Yes, the funding is tied to countries such as China improving their emissions reporting.  Yes, the US is not raising the $100 billion / year by itself. 

However, if done right, this flow of aid could drastically reduce the impacts of increasing emissions from countries as their economies develop.  Emissions that will impact American citizens.  To even go out on a broad limb, it could help reduce potential terrorist attacks by decreasing motivation for people to become radicalized.

More importantly, it moves to counter the increasing influence of China across the G-77 (Group of 77), where Chinese wealth and influence has been spreading, often counter to the desires of the US and Europe in countries such as Sudan.

If this will be enough to break the deadlock, or more importantly have any long-term consequences for reducing the impacts of climate change, will be seen.  However, it is 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.