30 November 2011


29 November 2011

No Comment Necessary

28 November 2011

No Comment Necessary

27 November 2011

A Coal Region's Quest to Switch to Renewables

By Frank Dohmen and Barbara Schmid

Germany's bituminous coal mines are soon to lose their subsidies. But one Ruhr Valley company is looking to transform its mines into sources of renewable energy. Along the way, they could solve one of Germany's largest challenges as it attempts to switch over to green energy.

Shortly before 2 p.m., tiny, twinkling lights become visible at the end of the long, dark tunnel on the seventh level of the Prosper-Haniel mine in Bottrop, a city in west-central Germany. The lights slowly begin to take shape, as miners with mine lamps on their white helmets make their way back to the surface. It has been a difficult shift, and the men have covered several kilometers through an intricate labyrinth of tunnels and shafts.

In just a few years' time, an entirely different scenario could be unfolding in the mine, one that has little to do with Ruhrkohle AG's classic coal-mining business. But it is one which could very well have a promising future.

The German government and the European Commission passed a resolution in 2010 that by 2018, the billions in subsidies which have kept the coal mining industry in Germany's Saarland and Ruhr regions afloat over the past few decades will expire. When that happens, the last mines belonging to Ruhrkohle AG (RAG) will be closed for good. "Every day takes us a little closer to saying goodbye," a miner says bitterly.

But on level seven in Bottrop, a small revolution is underway, one that remains largely invisible to the miners. There, at exactly 1,159 meters (3,802 feet) beneath the surface of the earth, in giant transfer halls directly in front of the mine's steep shaft, RAG plans to generate large amounts of environmentally friendly power in the future.

It may sound utopian, but the plan is not all that far-fetched. The underground chambers are large enough to easily accommodate one or two large, hydroelectric turbines. Through giant pipes placed in the mineshaft, water is to plunge up to 1,000 meters from the surface into the mine, where it would then power the turbine rotors.

A Serious Challenge

The machines could eventually generate about 600 megawatts of electricity, which -- in theory -- is enough to supply a medium-sized city with clean energy. More importantly, the turbines fit perfectly into Germany's new energy strategy. They would be an elementary building block of the country's planned clean-energy -- and nuclear-free -- future.

In the wake of the disastrous accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan in March of this year, the German government decided to shut down eight of the country's 17 nuclear reactors immediately, and to massively expand renewable sources of energy, like wind and solar.

Germany now plans to derive 35 percent of its power supply from renewable energy sources by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050. But this also presents a serious challenge: The wind and the sun are extremely unreliable as sources of energy in Germany. Under certain conditions -- a cloudy day with no wind -- the production of green energy could sink to almost zero. On days that are sunny and windy, on the other hand, the facilities already installed today are sometimes capable of covering Germany's entire electricity needs.

Sometimes -- for hours or even days at a time -- there is even a surplus. With a lack of sufficient storage capacity, however, some of the expensive green energy is simply given away to neighboring European countries.

This will change in the future, once energy storage systems have been built throughout Germany. Many different technologies, such as storing energy with the help of compressed air, gas or hydrogen, are being tested. Pumped-storage hydroelectricity plants, like the ones RAG plans to build in its Ruhr region coalmines, would seem to be the most promising for storing large amounts of energy.

Significant Intervention

The principle is simple. When a large amount of wind and solar energy is available, it is used to pump water out of the mine tunnels into an artificial lake on the former mine grounds. When there is an electricity shortfall or if the energy supply begins to fluctuate, the floodgates are opened and the water drops through the giant pipes to drive the turbines 1,000 meters below the surface. The entire output becomes available to the grid within a very short amount of time.

These types of systems have long required significant intervention in nature. In facilities like the Schluchsee plant in the Black Forest, operated by utilities EnBW and RWE, pumped-storage systems normally take advantage of differences in altitude in mountainous regions. Installing power lines and turbines often requires expensive blasting, while new reservoirs need to be created at high altitudes.

At RAG, the engineers say enthusiastically, none of this will be necessary. Large amounts of groundwater are already pumped out of the deep shafts today to keep the tunnels dry. The infrastructure -- kilometers of shafts to hold the pipes, large halls for the turbines and the power supply -- already exists. And even the creation of man-made lakes on the decommissioned mine sites will improve the landscape -- and won't likely trigger protests.

It would be possible to build pumped-storage hydroelectricity plants in three locations in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia and two in the southwestern state of Saarland in the next few years, says RAG Director Peter Fischer. They could produce about as much power as two medium-sized nuclear power plants.

The plans, which are being developed in collaboration with the University of Duisburg-Essen, are not entirely new, having sat idle in the drawers of RAG executives for the last few years. But they were long overshadowed by the hope that the German bituminous coal industry, and with it RAG, could be on the verge of a comeback. They hoped that the political decision to phase out coal might be reversed.

Vision of the Future

Now, though, RAG executives have come to see such a change in fortunes as unrealistic. In addition to winding down operations, closing mines and selling parts of the company, they are trying to develop new prospects for RAG and the 24,000 employees it still has today.

The pumped-storage hydroelectricity plants are only part of the company's vision of the future. Powerful wind turbines will be erected on top of the tall waste heaps, known as spoil tips, on the mine grounds. Engineers also plan to install solar panels on the southern slopes of the spoil tips.

Even the mine water -- which has to be pumped out for decades after mine closures to prevent landslides -- will be used to generate energy in the future. At a depth of 1,000 meters, the water is up to 40 degree Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), explains Professor Ulrich Schreiber of the University of Duisburg. That means it is warm enough to heat buildings, residential areas and industrial plants. Initial pilot projects in the Ruhr region cities of Essen, Bottrop and Bochum, where RAG has already connected a few apartment buildings, schools and an outdoor swimming pool to hot water pipes, have apparently been successful.

Using the simplest of methods, says RAG executive Fischer, the company could generate another 600 to 700 megawatts of renewable electricity at its former mine sites. This corresponds to the output of a medium-sized coal power plant, and it doesn't even include the output that would come from the pumped-storage plants.

The company officially unveiled its green vision to the broader public on Monday in Essen, to coincide with the traditional local holiday of Coal Day. RAG has also hired an outside firm to prepare a funding application for a pilot power plant designed to demonstrate that the technology in the depths of coal mines actually works. "It's an ambitious project," says geologist Schreiber. "But the problems are solvable."

The only thing that would still be needed before the project can move ahead on a large scale is the approval of RAG's shareholders, particularly the federal government and the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Saarland.

But in contrast to the difficult negotiations over new coal subsidies in the past, RAG management isn't in the least bit concerned about securing the necessary approval. Even the Greens, the company's biggest critics in the past, have had nothing but praise for the company's new direction.

26 November 2011

No Comment Necessary

Walking on the beach, a mother and daughter observed thousands of starfish, stranded on the beach after a storm that had just ended. They felt bad for all the starfish, doomed to suffocate on dry land. Finally the daughter picked up one of the starfish, walked up to the water, and threw the starfish as deeply into the ocean as she could.

Her mother thought for a few moments, and then asked her daughter, "Dear, what difference does that make? Look how many starfish there are still stuck on the beach!". Her daughter replied, "It made a difference for that starfish!"

25 November 2011

Learning From China: Why The Existing Economic Model Will Fail By Lester Brown

For almost as long as I can remember we have been saying that the United States, with 5 percent of the world's people, consumes a third or more of the earth's resources. That was true. It is no longer true. Today China consumes more basic resources than the United States does.

Among the key commodities such as grain, meat, oil, coal, and steel, China consumes more of each than the United States except for oil, where the United States still has a wide (though narrowing) lead. China uses a quarter more grain than the United States. Its meat consumption is double that of the United States. It uses three times as much coal and four times as much steel.

These numbers reflect national consumption, but what would happen if consumption per person in China were to catch up to that of the United States? If we assume conservatively that China's economy slows from the 11 percent annual growth of recent years to 8 percent, then in 2035 income per person in China will reach the current U.S. level.

If we also assume that the Chinese will spend their income more or less as Americans do today, then we can translate their income into consumption. If, for example, each person in China consumes paper at the current American rate, then in 2035 China's 1.38 billion people will use four fifths as much paper as is produced worldwide today. There go the world's forests.

If Chinese grain consumption per person in 2035 were to equal the current U.S. level, China would need 1.5 billion tons of grain, nearly 70 percent of the 2.2 billion tons the world's farmers now harvest each year.

If we assume that in 2035 there are three cars for every four people in China, as there now are in the United States, China will have 1.1 billion cars. The entire world currently has just over one billion. To provide the needed roads, highways, and parking lots, China would have to pave an area equivalent to more than two thirds the land it currently has in rice.

By 2035 China would need 85 million barrels of oil a day. The world is currently producing 86 million barrels a day and may never produce much more than that. There go the world's oil reserves.

What China is teaching us is that the western economic model—the fossil-fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy—will not work for the world. If it does not work for China, it will not work for India, which by 2035 is projected to have an even larger population than China. Nor will it work for the other 3 billion people in developing countries who are also dreaming the "American dream." And in an increasingly integrated global economy, where we all depend on the same grain, oil, and steel, the western economic model will no longer work for the industrial countries either.

The overriding challenge for our generation is to build a new economy—one that is powered largely by renewable sources of energy, that has a much more diversified transport system, and that reuses and recycles everything. We have the technology to build this new economy, an economy that will allow us to sustain economic progress. But can we muster the political will to translate this potential into reality?

24 November 2011

Can We Stop The Next Fukushima Times 10,000?

The horrible news from Japan continues to be ignored by the western corporate media.

Fukushima's radioactive fallout continues to spread throughout the archipelago, deep into the ocean and around the globe---including the US. It will ultimately impact millions, including many here in North America.

The potentially thankful news is that Fukushima's three melting cores may have not have melted deep into the earth, thus barely avoiding an unimaginably worse apocalyptic reality.

But it's a horror that humankind has yet to fully comprehend.

As Fukushima's owners now claim its three melted reactors approach cold shutdown, think of this:

At numerous sites worldwide---including several in the US---three or more reactors could simultaneously melt, side-by-side. At two sites in California---Diablo Canyon and San Onofre---two reactors each sit very close to major earthquake faults, in coastal tsunami zones.
Should one or more such cores melt through their reactor pressure vessels (as happened at Fukushima) and then through the bottoms of the containments (which, thankfully, may not have happened at Fukushima), thousands of tons of molten radioactive lava would burn into the Earth.
The molten mass(es) would be further fed by thousands of tons of intensely radioactive spent fuel rods stored on site that could melt into the molten masses or be otherwise compromised.
All that lava would soon hit groundwater, causing steam and hydrogen explosions of enormous power.
Those explosions would blow untold quantities of radioactive particles into the global environment, causing apocalyptic damage to all living beings and life support systems on this planet. The unmeasurable clouds would do unimaginable, inescapable injury to all human life.
Fukushima is far from over. There is much at the site still fraught with peril, far from the public eye. Among other things, Unit Four's compromised spent fuel pool is perched high in the air. The building is sinking and tilting. Seismic aftershocks could send that whole complex---and much more---tumbling down, with apocalyptic consequences.

Fukushima's three meltowns and at least four explosions have thus far yielded general radioactive fallout at least 25 times greater than what was released at Hiroshima, involving more than 160 times the cesium, an extremely deadly isotope.

Reuters reports that fallout into the oceans is at least triple what Tokyo Electric has claimed. Airborne cesium and other deadly isotopes have been pouring over the United States since a few scant days after the disaster.

Overall the fallout is far in excess of Chernobyl, which has killed more than a million people since its 1986 explosion.

Within Japan, radioactive hotspots and unexpectedly high levels of falloutcontinue to surface throughout the archipelago. The toll there and worldwide through the coming centuries will certainly be in the millions.

And yet....it could have been far worse.

In the US, in the past few months, an earthquake has shaken two Virginia reactors beyond their design specifications. Two reactors in Nebraska have been seriously threatened by flooding. Now a lethal explosion has struck a radioactive waste site in France.

We have also just commemorated a 9/11/2001 terror attack that could easily have caused full melt-downs to reactors in areas so heavily populated that millions could have been killed and trillions of dollars in damage could have permanently destroyed the American economy.

The only thing we now know for certain is that there will be more earthquakes, more tsunamis, more floods, hurricanes and tornadoes....and more terror attacks.

Horrifying as Fukushima may be, we also know for certain that the next reactor catastrophe could make even this one pale by comparison.

Japan will never fully recover from Fukushima. Millions of people will be impacted worldwide from its lethal fallout.

But the next time could be worse---MUCH worse.

The only good news is that Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Sweden and others are dumping atomic power. They are committing to Solartopian technologies---solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, ocean thermal, sustainable bio-fuels, increased efficiency and conservation---that will put their energy supplies in harmony with Mother Earth rather than at war with her.

The rest of humankind must do the same---and fast. Our species can't survive on this planet---ecologically, economically or in terms of our biological realities---without winning this transtion.

The only question is whether we do it before the next Fukushima times ten thousand makes the whole issue moot.

23 November 2011


"They Call it the "American Dream" because you have to be asleep to believe it."

-George Carlin

The Jungle
by Upton Sinclair

The problem with the American people is the fact that there is no one left alive who remembers what life for ordinary working people was like in this country when this book was published in 1905, in the days before unions and workplace regulations. When Upton Sinclair died on November 25 1968, both he and his most famous book were pretty much forgotten. Recent years have seen a resurrection. Do you want to understand where the right wing wants to bring us back to? Read "The Jungle".

22 November 2011

Bob McDonnell's Transportation Plans Serve Developers, Not Commuters

Reposted from The Green Miles

The Coalition for Smarter Growth warns Gov. Bob McDonnell's transportation plans will only add more cars from sprawling new developments to Virginia's existing traffic problems:
The state is borrowing $3 billion in state and federal funds on top of their normal annual spending for transportation, and we'll be paying this back for years. We should be setting smart priorities, but instead, VDOT is:
Reviving the controversial Outer Beltway through historic landscapes at Manassas Battlefield -- the first ten miles of which could cost $250 million to $475 million -- instead of focusing on fixing existing commuter routes in Northern Virginia.
Shifting $200 million in statewide money to a bypass in Charlottesville that won't fix major local traffic problems.
Giving $750 million of our tax dollars to subsidize a private toll road (Route 460) through empty farmland southeast of Richmond.
Meanwhile, when asked to help fund critical Tysons Corner transportation needs, the Examiner reports that "Virginia's Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton warned Fairfax to look elsewhere for cash."
It's not surprising Bob McDonnell's pandering to developers - he's gotten more than $5 million in campaign cash from developers, real estate & construction, by a wide margin his biggest source of private sector contributions. The Coalition for Smarter Growth has a 10-step transportation agenda for Northern Virginia - really radical stuff, like "Bring our local elected officials back to the table in transportation decision making."

21 November 2011


20 November 2011

No Comment Necessary

19 November 2011

World headed for irreversible climate change in five years, IEA warns

The world is likely to build so many fossil-fuelled power stations, energy-guzzling factories and inefficient buildings in the next five years that it will become impossible to hold global warming to safe levels, and the last chance of combating dangerous climate change will be "lost for ever", according to the most thorough analysis yet of world energy infrastructure.

Anything built from now on that produces carbon will do so for decades, and this "lock-in" effect will be the single factor most likely to produce irreversible climate change, the world's foremost authority on energy economics has found. If this is not rapidly changed within the next five years, the results are likely to be disastrous.

"The door is closing," Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, said. "I am very worried – if we don't change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever."

for the rest of the article click here

18 November 2011

How Wall Street Occupied America

by Bill Moyers
The Nation, November 4, 2011

During the prairie revolt that swept the Great Plains in 1890, populist orator Mary Elizabeth Lease exclaimed, “Wall Street owns the country…. Money rules…. Our laws are the output of a system which clothes rascals in robes and honesty in rags. The [political] parties lie to us and the political speakers mislead us."

She should see us now. John Boehner calls on the bankers, holds out his cup and offers them total obeisance from the House majority if only they fill it. Barack Obama criticizes bankers as “fat cats,” then invites them to dine at a pricey New York restaurant where the tasting menu runs to $195 a person.

That’s now the norm, and they get away with it. The president has raised more money from employees of banks, hedge funds and private equity managers than any Republican candidate, including Mitt Romney. Inch by inch he has conceded ground to them while espousing populist rhetoric that his very actions betray.

Let’s name this for what it is: hypocrisy made worse, the further perversion of democracy. Our politicians are little more than money launderers in the trafficking of power and policy—fewer than six degrees of separation from the spirit and tactics of Tony Soprano.

Why New York’s Zuccotti Park is filled with people is no mystery. Reporters keep scratching their heads and asking, “Why are you here?” But it’s clear they are occupying Wall Street because Wall Street has occupied the country. And that’s why in public places across the nation workaday Americans are standing up in solidarity. Did you see the sign a woman was carrying at a fraternal march in Iowa the other day? It read, I Can’t Afford to Buy a Politician So I Bought This Sign. Americans have learned the hard way that when rich organizations and wealthy individuals shower Washington with millions in campaign contributions, they get what they want.

In his Pulitzer Prize–winning book The Radicalism of the American Revolution, historian Gordon Wood says that our nation discovered its greatness “by creating a prosperous free society belonging to obscure people with their workaday concerns and pecuniary pursuits of happiness.” This democracy, he said, changed the lives of “hitherto neglected and despised masses of common laboring people.”

Those words moved me when I read them. They moved me because Henry and Ruby Moyers were “common laboring people.” My father dropped out of the fourth grade and never returned to school because his family needed him to pick cotton to help make ends meet. Mother managed to finish the eighth grade before she followed him into the fields. They were tenant farmers when the Great Depression knocked them down and almost out. The year I was born my father was making $2 a day working on the highway to Oklahoma City. He never took home more than $100 a week in his working life, and he made that only when he joined the union in the last job he held. I was one of the poorest white kids in town, but in many respects I was the equal of my friend who was the daughter of the richest man in town. I went to good public schools, had the use of a good public library, played sandlot baseball in a good public park and traveled far on good public roads with good public facilities to a good public university. Because these public goods were there for us, I never thought of myself as poor. When I began to piece the story together years later, I came to realize that people like the Moyerses had been included in the American deal. “We, the People” included us.

* * *

It’s heartbreaking to see what has become of that bargain. Nowadays it’s every man for himself. How did this happen? The rise of the money power in our time goes back forty years. We can pinpoint the date. On August 23, 1971, a corporate lawyer named Lewis Powell—a board member of the death-dealing tobacco giant Philip Morris and a future justice of the Supreme Court—released a confidential memorandum for his friends at the US Chamber of Commerce. We look back on it now as a call to arms for class war waged from the top down.

Recall the context of Powell’s memo. Big business was being forced to clean up its act. Even Republicans had signed on. In 1970 President Nixon put his signature on the National Environmental Policy Act and named a White House Council to promote environmental quality. A few months later millions of Americans turned out for Earth Day. Nixon then agreed to create the Environmental Protection Agency. Congress acted swiftly to pass tough amendments to the Clean Air Act, and the EPA announced the first air pollution standards. There were new regulations directed at lead paint and pesticides. Corporations were no longer getting away with murder.

Powell was shocked by what he called an “attack on the American free enterprise system.” Not just from a few “extremists of the left” but also from “perfectly respectable elements of society,” including the media, politicians and leading intellectuals. Fight back and fight back hard, he urged his compatriots. Build a movement. Set speakers loose across the country. Take on prominent institutions of public opinion—especially the universities, the media and the courts. Keep television programs “monitored the same way textbooks should be kept under constant surveillance.” And above all, recognize that political power must be “assiduously [sic] cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination” and “without embarrassment.”

Powell imagined the Chamber of Commerce as a council of war. Since business executives had “little stomach for hard-nosed contest with their critics” and “little skill in effective intellectual and philosophical debate,” they should create think tanks, legal foundations and front groups of every stripe. These groups could, he said, be aligned into a united front through “careful long-range planning and implementation…consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and united organizations.”

The public wouldn’t learn of the memo until after Nixon appointed Powell to the Supreme Court that same year, 1971. By then his document had circulated widely in corporate suites. Within two years the board of the Chamber of Commerce had formed a task force of forty business executives—from US Steel, GE, GM, Phillips Petroleum, 3M, Amway, and ABC and CBS (two media companies, we should note). Their assignment was to coordinate the crusade, put Powell’s recommendations into effect and push the corporate agenda. Powell had set in motion a revolt of the rich. As historian Kim Phillips-Fein subsequently wrote, “Many who read the memo cited it afterward as inspiration for their political choices.”

They chose swiftly. The National Association of Manufacturers announced that it was moving its main offices to Washington. In 1971 only 175 firms had registered lobbyists in the capital; by 1982 nearly 2,500 did. Corporate PACs increased from fewer than 300 in 1976 to more than 1,200 by the mid-’80s. From Powell’s impetus came the Business Roundtable, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Manhattan Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy (precursor to what we now know as Americans for Prosperity) and other organizations united in pushing back against political equality and shared prosperity. They triggered an economic transformation that would in time touch every aspect of our lives.

The Chamber of Commerce, in response to the memo, doubled its membership, tripled its budget and stepped up its lobbying efforts. It’s going stronger than ever. Most recently, it called in its agents in Congress to kill a bill to provide healthcare to 9/11 first responders for illnesses linked to their duty on that day. The bill would have paid for their medical care by ending a special tax loophole exploited by foreign corporations with business interests in America. The Chamber, along with nearly 1,300 business and trade groups, urged Congress to pass the new tax bill, signed into law just before this past Christmas and filled with all kinds of stocking stuffers, including about fifty tax breaks for businesses. The bill gave some of our biggest banks, financial companies and insurance firms another year’s exemption to shield their foreign profits from being taxed here in the United States; among the beneficiaries were giants Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, all of which survived the financial debacle of their own making because taxpayers bailed them out in 2008.

The coalition got another powerful jolt of adrenaline in the late ’70s from the wealthy right-winger who had served as Nixon’s treasury secretary, William Simon. His book A Time for Truth argued that “funds generated by business” must “rush by multimillions” into conservative causes to uproot the institutions and the “heretical strategy” of the New Deal. He called on “men of action in the capitalist world” to mount “a veritable crusade” against progressive America. BusinessWeek (October 12, 1974) somberly explained that “it will be a bitter pill for many Americans to swallow the idea of doing with less so that big business can have more.”

Those “men of action in the capitalist world” were not content with their wealth just to buy more homes, more cars, more planes, more vacations and more gizmos than anyone else. They were determined to buy more democracy than anyone else. And they succeeded beyond their expectations. After their forty-year “veritable crusade” against our institutions, laws and regulations—against the ideas, norms and beliefs that helped to create America’s iconic middle class—the Gilded Age is back with a vengeance.

If you want to see the story pulled together in one compelling narrative, read Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, by political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson. They wanted to know how America had turned into a society starkly divided into winners and losers. They found the culprit: the revolt triggered by Lewis Powell, fired up by William Simon and fueled by rich corporations and wealthy individuals. “Step by step,” they write, “and debate by debate America’s public officials have rewritten the rules of American politics and the American economy in ways that have benefited the few at the expense of the many."

There you have it. They bought off the gatekeeper, got inside and gamed the system. As the rich and powerful got richer and more powerful, they owned and operated the government, “saddling Americans with greater debt, tearing new holes in the safety net, and imposing broad financial risks on Americans as workers, investors, and taxpayers.” Now, write Hacker and Pierson, the United States is looking more and more like “the capitalist oligarchies, like Brazil, Mexico, and Russia,” where most of the wealth is concentrated at the top while the bottom grows larger and larger with everyone in between just barely getting by.

The revolt of the plutocrats was ratified by the Supreme Court in its notorious Citizens United decision last year. Rarely have so few imposed such damage on so many. When five pro-corporate conservative justices gave “artificial legal entities” the same rights of “free speech” as humans, they told our corporate sovereigns that the sky’s the limit when it comes to their pouring money into political campaigns.

The ink was hardly dry on the Citizens United decision when the Chamber of Commerce organized a covertly funded front and rained cash into the 2010 campaigns. According to the Sunlight Foundation, corporate front groups spent
$126 million in the fall of 2010 while hiding the identities of the donors. Another corporate cover group—the American Action Network—spent more than $26 million of undisclosed corporate money in just six Senate races and twenty-six House elections. And Karl Rove’s groups, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, seized on Citizens United to raise and spend at least $38 million, which NBC News said came from “a small circle of extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls”—all determined to water down financial reforms that might prevent another collapse of the financial system. Jim Hightower has said it well: today’s proponents of corporate plutocracy “have simply elevated money itself above votes, establishing cold, hard cash as the real coin of political power.”

No wonder so many Americans have felt that sense of political impotence that historian Lawrence Goodwyn described as “the mass resignation” of people who believe in the “dogma of democracy” on a superficial public level but whose hearts no longer burn with the conviction that they are part of the deal. Against such odds, discouragement comes easily. But if the generations before us had given up, slaves would still be waiting on their masters, women would still be turned away from the voting booths on election day and workers would still be committing a crime if they organized.

* * *

So take heart from the past, and don’t ever count the people out. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution created extraordinary wealth at the top and excruciating misery at the bottom. Embattled citizens rose up. Into their hearts, wrote the progressive Kansas journalist William Allen White, “had come a sense that their civilization needed recasting, that their government had fallen into the hands of self-seekers, that a new relation should be established between the haves and have-nots.” Not content to wring their hands and cry “Woe is us,” everyday citizens researched the issues, organized to educate their neighbors, held rallies, made speeches, petitioned and canvassed, marched and marched again. They plowed the fields and planted the seeds—sometimes on bloody ground—that twentieth-century leaders used to restore “the general welfare” as a pillar of American democracy. They laid down the now-endangered markers of a civilized society: legally ordained minimum wages, child labor laws, workers’ safety and compensation laws, pure foods and safe drugs, Social Security, Medicare and rules that promote competitive markets over monopolies and cartels.

The lesson is clear: Democracy doesn’t begin at the top; it begins at the bottom, when flesh-and-blood human beings fight to rekindle what Arlo Guthrie calls “The Patriot’s Dream.”

17 November 2011

No Comment Necessary

16 November 2011


15 November 2011

Actr now, or React later

The global output of heat-trapping carbon dioxide has jumped by a record amount, according to the US department of energy, a sign of how feeble the world's efforts are at slowing man-made global warming.

The figures for 2010 mean that levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst case scenario outlined by climate experts just four years ago.

"The more we talk about the need to control emissions, the more they are growing," said John Reilly, the co-director of MIT's Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.

The world pumped about 564m more tons (512m metric tons) of carbon into the air in 2010 than it did in 2009, an increase of 6%. That amount of extra pollution eclipses the individual emissions of all but three countries, China, the US and India, the world's top producers of greenhouse gases.

It is a "monster" increase that is unheard of, said Gregg Marland, a professor of geology at Appalachian State University, who has helped calculate department of energy figures in the past.

Extra pollution in China and the US account for more than half the increase in emissions last year, Marland said.

"It's a big jump," said Tom Boden, the director of the energy department's Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center at Oak Ridge National Lab. "From an emissions standpoint, the global financial crisis seems to be over."

Boden said that in 2010 people were travelling, and manufacturing was back up worldwide, spurring the use of fossil fuels, the chief contributor of man-made climate change.

India and China are huge users of coal. Burning coal is the biggest carbon source worldwide and emissions from that jumped nearly 8% in 2010.

"The good news is that these economies are growing rapidly so everyone ought to be for that, right?" Reilly said. "Broader economic improvements in poor countries has been bringing living improvements to people. Doing it with increasing reliance on coal is imperiling the world."

In 2007, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its last large report on global warming, it used different scenarios for carbon dioxide pollution and said the rate of warming would be based on the rate of pollution. Boden said the latest figures put global emissions higher than the worst case projections from the climate panel. Those forecast global temperatures rising between 4 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit (2.4-6.4 Celsius) by the end of the century with the best estimate at 7.5 degrees (4 Celsius).

Even though global warming sceptics have criticised the climate change panel as being too alarmist, scientists have generally found their predictions too conservative, Reilly said. He said his university worked on emissions scenarios, their likelihood, and what would happen. The IPCC's worst case scenario was only about in the middle of what MIT calculated are likely scenarios.

Chris Field of Stanford University, head of one of the IPCC's working groups, said the panel's emissions scenarios are intended to be more accurate in the long term and are less so in earlier years. He said the question now among scientists is whether the future is the panel's worst case scenario "or something more extreme".

"Really dismaying," Granger Morgan, head of the engineering and public policy department at Carnegie Mellon University, said of the new figures. "We are building up a horrible legacy for our children and grandchildren."

But Reilly and University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver found something good in recent emissions figures. The developed countries that ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas limiting treaty have reduced their emissions overall since then and have achieved their goals of cutting emissions to about 8% below 1990 levels. The US did not ratify the agreement.

In 1990, developed countries produced about 60% of the world's greenhouse gases, now it's probably less than 50%, Reilly said.

"We really need to get the developing world because if we don't, the problem is going to be running away from us," Weaver said. "And the problem is pretty close from running away from us."

14 November 2011


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11 November 2011

10 November 2011

Beyond the Financial Crisis Germany’s Plan to Regrow the Global Economy

At the moment, Germany is embroiled in a fierce debate over how to save the Eurozone and, with it, the future of the European Union. Although stringent austerity programs will have to be enacted in the member countries to reduce government debt, and new regulatory mechanisms put in place to oversee European financial institutions and markets, there is a dawning realization that these measures alone will be insufficient to assure the future of Europe and its member states. What's required, above all else, is a new sustainable economic growth plan that can take Europe into the future. That's beginning to happen.

While the rest of the world is in a near panic over the prospect of a second collapse of the global economy, a fresh new economic wind is blowing across Germany. In discussions with German business leaders over the past several months, and in recent conversations with Chancellor Angela Merkel and key political leaders in Berlin, it has become clear that Germany is embarking on a journey into a new economic era. The German plan is based on the historical understanding that the great economic paradigm shifts in history occur when new communications revolutions converge and merge with new energy regimes. New energy revolutions make possible more expansive and integrated trade. Accompanying communication revolutions manage the speed and complexity of commercial activity made possible by the new flow of energy. Today, the distributed Internet communication revolution is converging with distributed renewable energies, giving birth to a powerful Third Industrial Revolution that is going to fundamentally change German society.

The Merkel administration has launched an ambitious effort to transition the West's leading exporting power into a Third Industrial Revolution (TIR). The federal government has teamed up with six regions across Germany to test the introduction of an "energy Internet" that will allow tens of thousands of German businesses and millions of home owners to collect renewable energies onsite, store them in the form of hydrogen, and share green electricity across Germany in a smart utility network, just like we now share information online. Entire communities are in the process of transforming their commercial and residential buildings into green micro-power plants, and companies like Siemens and Bosch are creating sophisticated new IT software, hardware, and appliances that will merge distributed Internet communications with distributed energy to create the smart buildings, infrastructure, and cities of the future.

The transition into the new Industrial Revolution is quickly picking up momentum. In May, the government announced that the country's 17 nuclear power plants would be shut down by 2022. Then, in late summer, the German Association of Energy and Water Companies reported for the first time that renewable energy sources now account for nearly 20% of the country's electricity, putting Germany ahead of schedule in its goal of producing 35% of its electricity from green energy by 2022. On September 12th, Dr. Dieter Zetsche, the Chairman of Daimler, unveiled the company's hydrogen fuel-cell car at the opening of the Frankfurt International Auto Show. The company that launched the Second Industrial Revolution 125 years ago with the invention of the gasoline-powered automobile has joined with seven industrial partners -- EnBW, Linde, OMV, Shell, Total, Vattenfall, and the National Organization of Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology -- in a partnership to establish hydrogen fueling stations across Germany in preparation for the mass production of zero-emission fuel cell vehicles in 2015, signaling the beginning of the post-carbon auto era and a Third Industrial Revolution.

The creation of a renewable energy regime, loaded by buildings, partially stored in the form of hydrogen, distributed via an energy internet, and connected to plug-in zero-emission transport, establishes the essential 5-Pillars of a Third Industrial Revolution. The forty year build out will create thousands of businesses and millions of sustainable jobs and position Germany as the leader in the next industrial revolution.

Germany's ability to export the new model throughout the European Union and in its partnership regions in the Mediterranean, North Africa, and beyond, will set the framework for the next great stage of European integration, and ultimately determine whether the European political experiment and the European Dream succeeds or fails.

The opportunity is clear. The European Union has 500 million consumers and an additional 500 million potential consumers in its partnership regions, giving it the prospect of becoming the largest and wealthiest internal commercial market in the world. The key is creating a seamless green energy infrastructure, electricity grid, and communication and transport network that will allow one billion people to engage in "sustainable" commerce and trade across the European continent and its periphery. This represents the next stage of European integration as a political union.

In May 2007, the European Parliament issued a formal written declaration endorsing the Third Industrial Revolution (TIR) vision as the long-term economic road map for the European Union. The Third Industrial Revolution is currently being implemented by the various agencies within the European Commission as well as in the member states.

Now, Germany, the economic engine of the European Union, has set out on a course to quickly transform its economy into the new economic paradigm and serve as a lighthouse for moving the Third Industrial Revolution infrastructure across the European space. To the extent that Germany can effectively create a sustainable and prosperous post-carbon Europe and transform the continent into the largest integrated market space in the world, Germany will prosper, and the European Union will come of age. Other continental markets and continental unions in Asia, Africa, and the Americas will likely follow suit.

The world community will be watching the German experiment closely to see whether this new economic model can serve as a template for ushering in a new economic era. Germany's future, as well as Europe's and the world, depends on its success.

09 November 2011

No Comment Necessary

08 November 2011

A U.S. Government Loan To Create Foreign Jobs

There are some people who claim they don't understand why the Occupy Wall Street movement has become so popular with the public. After all they say, don't corporations have the right to make money. Perhaps the following story will give them a clue.

The car shown above is an electric car being built by a company called Fisker Automotive. A couple of years ago this company needed money to proceed with designing and building their electric car, but they couldn't find the financing. So they went to the American government. The United States government guaranteed a $529 million loan, and praised the company as being an example of a new company creating new jobs.

So what happened? Well, the company has hired 500 workers and they are currently hard at work building the new electric car. The only problem is that those 500 new jobs are in Finland. That's right, the corporation took the money and went to Finland to build their car -- which I'm sure they would be happy to sell to Americans (if any Americans could afford it since it costs about $97,000).

Now this wasn't money that the government pulled out of thin air. It was the hard-earned money of American taxpayers, and those taxpayers certainly didn't want to spend over $500 million to create new jobs in Finland. If this corporate mogul wanted to build cars in Finland, he should have asked the Finnish government to loan him the money -- except the Finnish government spends the bulk of its money on the Finnish people, not corporate giveaways.

It would be bad enough if this was a one-time deal, a rare occurrence -- but it isn't. This kind of corporate greed happens every day in this country. All kinds of corporations get tax breaks, loans, bailouts, and subsidies. Then they either put that money into executive bonuses or they create jobs in other countries (usually countries where they can underpay and abuse the workers). The one thing they don't do with that money is create jobs in America. And those corporations don't even need the giveaways, since they are already making record profits.

And to pay for those giveaways to the giant corporations, the government slashes social programs which are needed to help hurting Americans (and are even talking about abolishing or severely cutting Medicare and Social Security). The government, which is supposed to protect and defend the American people, has become little more than a conduit for funneling money to the corporations and the super-rich. And the politicians, especially the Republicans and Blue Dogs, just don't seem to care. They get too much money from the rich and the corporations for their campaign chests to bother with caring about ordinary Americans.

This has gone on for too long, and the people are angry. They want change and an economic system that is fairer to all Americans. They want the government to spend its money wisely helping people who need it -- not corporations who don't need it or appreciate it. That's why Occupy Wall Street has struck a chord with people all over this country -- and that's why it will continue to grow.

07 November 2011

No Comment Necessary

I have spent enough time in Kentucky to know firsthand that it is populated by good, decent, hard working people. So why do they keep sending a despicable, corrupt little thug like Mitch McConnell to Washington? This I'm dying to know.

In fact, the same question would apply to the people of Ohio and Virginia with respect to John Boehner and Eric Cantor. What were they thinking when they chose this axis of reaction to represent them in Washington? Before Barack Obama had a chance to find the location of the White House linen closet, McConnell was telling the world that his main objective would be to ensure that this would be a one-term administration. In fact that has been the policy of the GOP since January 20, 2009. Early this year when the numbers of unemployed people in this country began to go down, Republican governors - in Republican-controlled states - began slashing-to-ribbons public sector jobs in order to make sure that those numbers went right back up.


Folks, that is not a political party. That's an organized criminal enterprise. Those aren't statesmen. Those are the plutocracy's hired goons. This isn't America any longer. This is something else entirely; something dark and ominous. That's why what is happening down on Wall Street - indeed all across the land - is so important. We are now into the second month of the occupation. It won't be going away any time soon. This is only the beginning of something really, really big, baby! A hard rain's a'gonna fall. Forgive me if I seem giddy.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

06 November 2011


Protesters Against Wall Street
As the Occupy Wall Street protests spread from Lower Manhattan to Washington and other cities, the chattering classes keep complaining that the marchers lack a clear message and specific policy prescriptions.

The message — and the solutions — should be obvious to anyone who has been paying attention since the economy went into a recession that continues to sock the middle class while the rich have recovered and prospered. The problem is that no one in Washington has been listening.

The protests, though, are more than a youth uprising. The protesters’ own problems are only one illustration of the ways in which the economy is not working for most Americans. They are exactly right when they say that the financial sector, with regulators and elected officials in collusion, inflated and profited from a credit bubble that burst, costing millions of Americans their jobs, incomes, savings and home equity. As the bad times have endured, Americans have also lost their belief in redress and recovery.

The initial outrage has been compounded by bailouts and by elected officials’ hunger for campaign cash from Wall Street, a toxic combination that has reaffirmed the economic and political power of banks and bankers, while ordinary Americans suffer.

Extreme inequality is the hallmark of a dysfunctional economy, dominated by a financial sector that is driven as much by speculation, gouging and government backing as by productive investment.

05 November 2011

No Comment Necessary

04 November 2011

Which Bank Is the Worst for America? 5 Behemoths That Hold Our Political System Hostage

The economic crash led to the loss of 9 million jobs and the biggest drop in American home-ownership since the Great Depression.

Long-term unemployment, poverty and hunger have increased dramatically. People are angry. The Occupy Wall Street movement, a stand against Wall Street's greed, excess and criminality, has captured the imagination and participation of millions across the nation and the globe.

The giant mortgage bubble and the irresponsible and corrupt practices that caused the catastrophic economic crash didn't emerge out of thin air. They were a consequence of decades of pay-to-play politics rife with conflicts of interest; a political system awash in cash and legal pay-offs, designed to undermine the checks and balances that could have prevented the meltdown.

Many of these checks and balances were implemented during the Great Depression. How they were eroded and eventually abandoned is the story of a small group of banks, financial companies and elites involved in major conflicts of interest, revolving-door politics and backroom deal-making -- all to protect the interests of the global elite at the expense of the American public.

For the rest of the article Click Here

03 November 2011

10 Ways to Support the Occupy Movement

1. Show up at the occupied space near you.
2. Start your own occupation.
3. Support those who are occupying.
4. Speak out. Get into the debates and the teach-ins.
5. Share your story.
6. Be the media.
7. Name the meaning of this moment.
8. Insist that public officials treat the occupations with respect.
9. Study and teach nonviolent techniques.
10. Be resilient.

Click Here for Details

02 November 2011

No Comment Necessary

01 November 2011

Building in Harare, Zimbabwe mimics termite mounds to maintain nearly constant temperature.

Biomimicry’s Cool Alternative: Eastgate Centre in Zimbabwe The Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe, typifies the best of green architecture and ecologically sensitive adaptation. The country’s largest office and shopping complex is an architectural marvel in its use of biomimicry principles. The mid-rise building, designed by architect Mick Pearce in conjunction with engineers at Arup Associates, has no conventional air-conditioning or heating, yet stays regulated year round with dramatically less energy consumption using design methods inspired by indigenous Zimbabwean masonry and the self-cooling mounds of African termites!

Termites in Zimbabwe build gigantic mounds inside of which they farm a fungus that is their primary food source. The fungus must be kept at exactly 87 degrees F, while the temperatures outside range from 35 degrees F at night to 104 degrees F during the day. The termites achieve this remarkable feat by constantly opening and closing a series of heating and cooling vents throughout the mound over the course of the day. With a system of carefully adjusted convection currents, air is sucked in at the lower part of the mound, down into enclosures with muddy walls, and up through a channel to the peak of the termite mound. The industrious termites constantly dig new vents and plug up old ones in order to regulate the temperature.

The Eastgate Centre, largely made of concrete, has a ventilation system which operates in a similar way. Outside air that is drawn in is either warmed or cooled by the building mass depending on which is hotter, the building concrete or the air. It is then vented into the building’s floors and offices before exiting via chimneys at the top. The complex also consists of two buildings side by side that are separated by an open space that is covered by glass and open to the local breezes.

Air is continuously drawn from this open space by fans on the first floor. It is then pushed up vertical supply sections of ducts that are located in the central spine of each of the two buildings. The fresh air replaces stale air that rises and exits through exhaust ports in the ceilings of each floor. Ultimately it enters the exhaust section of the vertical ducts before it is flushed out of the building through chimneys.

The Eastgate Centre uses less than 10% of the energy of a conventional building its size. These efficiencies translate directly to the bottom line: Eastgate’s owners have saved $3.5 million alone because of an air-conditioning system that did not have to be implemented. Outside of being eco-efficient and better for the environment, these savings also trickle down to the tenants whose rents are 20 percent lower than those of occupants in the surrounding buildings.

Who would have guessed that the replication of designs created by termites would not only provide for a sound climate control solution but also be the most cost-effective way for humans to function in an otherwise challenging context?

Read more: Green Building in Zimbabwe Modeled After Termite Mounds Eastgate Center Harare Zimbabwe Africa sustainable architecture biomimicry termite mound construction natural cooling ventilation – Inhabitat - Green Design Will Save the World