Tag Archive | "European Union"

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Our Future is Blowing in the Wind

Posted on 19 November 2014 by Jerry

Governments of the world recognize that coal, dams and nuclear power plants are not our only future.  Those that are appropriately situated are moving on their wind opportunities.  While all of us in the large land mass nations have seen the familiar land based wind farms, real action is taking place over the oceans.  Smaller countries with access to ocean wind are developing it as a power source.

The power of wind is as a renewable asset.  Ocean wind farms have many positive attributes.  Since these arrays are out to sea, they are less visible to residents.  Energy producers can better match the height of a turbine to the constancy of the wind.  Governments, often partially or wholly, fund these wind power arrays.  The European Union countries led by the United Kingdom (UK) have one of the largest efforts underway.

The UK has eleven of the largest twenty-five offshore wind farms in existence.  In addition, it has two big farms under construction with another eight in the proposal stage.  A distant second is Denmark with five sites where three of them are the three biggest in existence.  Germany is racing to catch up with two in existence and some eight under construction.  Both China and Belgium each have three of the top 25 operating farms.

While the U.S has installed many wind arrays on land, it has been slow to exploit its offshore opportunities.  A Nature magazine article published on September 25, 2014 has an article that addresses the opportunity.  It states, “Including harder-to-reach deep-water sites, the offshore territory of the United States has the capacity to generate an estimated 4,200 gigawatts of electricity, enough to supply four times the nation’s current needs.”

In June of 2013 the first U.S. test turbine was put into operation off the coast of Castine, Maine.  At just one-eighth the scale of future turbines, it can only provide power to six or so homes.   The turbine that sits upon a 20-meter-tall tower is named the Volturn US.  The primary reasons that offshore wind farms are not farther along are politics and environmental opposition.

Use of renewable energy is growing in the United States.   At this writing, the US electrical energy generation is divided in the following way; coal represents 39.1%, natural gas 27.4%, nuclear 19.4%, renewables (including wind) 12.9% and other miscellaneous at 1.2% in 2013.

There is little that is not known about how land based turbines work; for example, how they use aerodynamics, the relatively simple components that make up a modern power turbine, and the ratios of rotor diameter to power output.  Please see this multipage web site for a thorough explanation, http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/wind-power.htm .

Almost no one believes that wind power is enough.  Rather most governments believe it is an important asset to be used in conjunction with other renewable sources of energy.  Nordic nations of Denmark, Finland and Sweden are prime examples of this strategy.

While Denmark and Finland used their hydropower production as their main source of electricity, they used fossil (gas and coal) power plants as swing- producers to help meet demand when hydropower is negatively affected by droughts and water shortages.  Now wind power is becoming a key economic factor.

Quoting a recent Reuters article, “Wind power is blowing gas and coal fired plants out of business in the Nordic countries….The arrival of wind power on a large scale has made this role (as swing-producers) less relevant and has pushed electricity prices down, eroding the profitability of fossil power stations.”

Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway are looking to mothball or retire large fossil fuel plants as the economics of power changes.  These are countries that are using government policies and tax structures as the tools to force change in their regions.

These reports raise the question of why the U.S. has been so slow to change the nature of its electricity generation.  The answer is protection of the present suppliers of electricity.  The power of the energy, coal and gas industries, their money and lobbying ability have led to politicians blocking forward movement.

While other parts of the world are taking climate change very seriously, the world’s worst offender continues to drag its feet.  Citizens and voters in the U.S. need to obtain new, progressive leadership that will face the challenges of climate change squarely and act in our best interest.

Use the following web sites to gain more information or view the source documents for this article:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_offshore_wind_farms

http://www.nature.com/news/renewable-energy-wind-power-tests-the-waters-1.15992

http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/wind-power.htm

http://www.awea.org/issues/content.aspx?itemnumber=822

See Reuter’s article entitled “Wind blows away fossil power in the Nordics, the Baltics next”

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Limiting Iran’s Nuclear Program

Posted on 15 December 2013 by admin

There is much controversy about the very limited deal that was struck between Iran the U.S. and other member states of the Security Council of the U.N. plus Germany.  The significance is this marks the first discussion between leaders of the U.S. and Iran since 1979.

The most important step in the agreement is for Iran to freeze its nuclear development program in place except for its nuclear material enrichment activities that it will roll back from a level of 20% enrichment to a level of 5%.  While this may not be seen as significant, the 5% level is the international norm for enriched uranium for power generation while anything over that serves efforts to develop a bomb.

While this agreement is only valid for a six month time period, it is meant to give the two sides enough time to reach a more definitive agreement that will bind both for many years.  In exchange for this short-term agreement, the U.N. will loosen a minor amount of the economic sanctions on Iran.  This will give Iran access to about $7 billion of its assets while retaining sanctions on the rest of the total of about $100 billion that is presently blocked.

Countries such as the U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China and Germany support the treaty.  Regional parties who still do not trust Iran are vehement in their rejection of the deal.  Most particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia oppose any agreement.

It is said that the sanctions imposed on Iran over the years have taken quite a toll on the Iranian economy.  Stretching from sanctions on anything related to nuclear materials, oil, arm sales, certain financial institutions, including the country’s central bank, these steps have made Iran an international pariah.  They have created plummeting oil revenues, the local currency has lost 80% of its value and there is spiraling inflation and layoffs.

Considering the severe impact of the sanctions on Iran, the minor concessions granted during the agreement appear to be well worth the risk. Any agreement would also call for the unlimited access of U.N. inspectors at any interval considered necessary, including daily.  This is a hard learned lesson from previous agreements.

Use the following links to obtain more information about the agreement or to access source documents:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/28/world/obama-says-he-spoke-to-irans-president-by-phone.html

http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/24/world/meast/iran-deal-text/index.html

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/24/iran-nuclear-agreement-q-and-a/

http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/24/world/meast/iran-nuclear-deal-qa/index.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/24/netanyahu-iran-deal-israel-nuclear_n_4332906.html/

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We Miss the Forest for the Trees on Nuclear Weapons

Posted on 21 May 2013 by Jerry

It is confusing for those of us who want to rid the world of nuclear weapons.  Where does each nation really stand on the issue?  They are not consistent and often do things that don’t match their rhetoric.  We are awash in detail listening to a cacophony of voices telling us all of the different things we should do.

Just think for a moment about how many people around the world derive livelihood and importance from the nuclear armaments; the diplomatic analysts, all branches of the military, strategists, manufacturers, professors, writers, politicians, etc., etc.  With all these different points of view and each special interest jockeying to be heard or get a piece of the action, it is any wonder it is confusing.  So hold this thought for we will come back to it.

Consider that the United States has consistently said it seeks to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons.  While other countries have, the U.S. has never said it will not be first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict.  While they continue to negotiate reductions with Russia and are said to be in hard financial times, the U.S. government is seeking to increase its spending on its nuclear weapons development program to $7.9 billion.  This represents about 30% more than when President Obama first took office.

An article in the May 9, 2013 issue of Nature magazine observes that U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein in a budget meeting pointed out the 2014 funding request for $7.9 billion was in real terms the same as the U.S. was spending at the height of the cold war in 1985 when it had 25,000 nuclear weapons, was designing new families of weapons and was conducting underground tests.  One of the major recipients of these funds is the National Nuclear Security Administration (a semi-autonomous part of the Energy Department).  Their stated position is it would not necessarily be cheaper just to maintain existing weapons.  This is their justification for their development of new warheads and weapons systems.

So which is it?  Will the U.S. be first to use nuclear weapons or not?  Does it want to lessen the threat of nuclear weapons by reducing and eliminating them or does it want to modernize and replace them?  Maybe this new funding is a ploy to encourage others to keep negotiating the weapons away and the money will not be spent to develop new weapons systems.  Maybe the U.S. will wind up with new secret weapons.  Maybe the strategy is all of the above.

Also perplexing is China.  China largely sidestepped the arms build-up of the cold war instead letting the USSR and U.S. face off alone.  Estimates by the Arms Control Association place the size of China’s nuclear arsenal at about 240 warheads compared to the estimated size of the U.S. arsenal of 5,113 nuclear warheads including tactical, strategic and non-deployed warheads.

In 1964, immediately after the Chinese test of their first nuclear weapon, China declared they would never be the first to use nuclear weapons.  This explicit “no-first-use pledge” has been repeated in six successive government statements or white papers released over the last 50 or so years.

This year the Chinese white paper on defense, released in mid April, completely omits any reference to “no-first-use”.  The new Chinese president, Xi Jinping, elected this year, in his first speech to the Second Artillery Force, responsible for the China’s nuclear arsenal, again made no reference to the no-first-use policy.  Governments around the world assume this is not just a casual omission but signals a new aggressiveness from China.

Many would argue this is but another way for China to signal its significant concerns about the Obama 2011 decision to “pivot” and “rebalance” naval and marine resources towards the Pacific and Asia areas.  The stated U.S. objective is to change the 50:50 deployment of its resources between the Asian and European areas to a 60:40 split.  Or China’s reaction may represent an attempt to get more leverage in ongoing territorial disputes with Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines.  Or it has decided to just mimic the U.S. position.

There are many reasons the U.S. can give for its redeployment of resources.  Many would cite China’s annual 10% increase in its military spending (which includes new aircraft carriers), the existing U.S. relationships with South Korea and Japan, and threats emanating from North Korea as major factors.

The U.S. government would point out that two of its strongest allies in the Pacific region, Japan and South Korea, are both technologically advanced and could develop nuclear weapons of their own in very short order if the U.S. did not restrain them.  It is incumbent on the U.S. to reassure these two allies that it will protect them from attacks by their bellicose neighbor, North Korea.

In the meantime, the bellicose neighbor has conducted their third confirmed nuclear test.  Their first test in 2006 had a yield of about 1 kiloton.  In 2009, their second test was in the six kiloton range.  This most recent test was thought to be as large as 10 kilotons and of much smaller design.  This miniaturization signals an objective to carry their weapons on long-range missiles.

Repeated threats from North Korea followed this test, asserting they were close to a nuclear war with the U.S. or South Korea or other unspecified countries in the South China Sea.  While it is clear North Korea is now a nuclear power, the world discounts its ability to send a missile with a nuclear warhead very far or with any accuracy.  The world also believes that North Korea really does not want a nuclear showdown and that its statements are just more belligerent puffery similar to what it has said numerous times since the Korean War.  The West generally believes that North Korea is trying to blackmail them into giving it various concessions and forms of aid.

The U.S. has responded to North Korean threats by redeploying a warship and a sea-based radar platform closer to the Korean coast.  In addition, it beefed up the anti-ballistic missile defenses deployed in Japan.  These steps were meant to reassure South Korea and Japan that the U.S. remained their strategic partner.

In this post, we have only looked superficially at five countries; the U.S., China, North Korea, South Korea and Japan.  We have also examined only a small sampling of their many actions or interests.  Imagine how convoluted everything gets when everyone with any interest is included, when all of the nuclear powers are considered and when all the nuclear ‘wannabes’ are added.

The lesson to be drawn by people who want to eliminate nuclear weapons is that we cannot afford to be drawn into thinking about the issues by thrashing around in the detail and minutiae.  Without the minutiae how will everyone directly involved convince us they are necessary and productive?  It is they who create the minutiae. Without it they largely lose their importance and reason for being.

The lesson to be re-learned is an old one; we can’t afford to miss the forest by looking at the trees.  Those of us who want to eliminate nuclear weapons must keep our eye on the forest continuing to demand our politicians and governments redefine their role and value by finding a way to eliminate these weapons.  When enough of our voices are raised in this demand, simple as it is, they will pay attention and find a way.

Use the following links to obtain more information:

http://www.nature.com/news/us-warheads-to-get-a-facelift-1.12948

http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/nuclearweaponswhohaswhat

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/19/opinion/is-china-changing-its-position-on-nuclear-weapons.html

http://iissvoicesblog.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/us-pivot-to-asia-must-come-with-reassurances/

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1119363/chinas-navy-grows-end-dengs-dictum-keeping-low-profile

http://thediplomat.com/the-naval-diplomat/2013/03/07/what-to-make-of-chinas-defense-spending-increase/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/littoral_combat_ship

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/339/6122/893.full?sid=3c1338ee-12f4-466e-9df476e981b17cc8

http://blogs.nature.com/news/2013/02/north-korea-tests-smaller-and-lighter-bomb.html

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That’s How Monsanto Makes Money

Posted on 08 April 2013 by Jerry

It takes teams of people to craft a viable strategy that gives a business success while no one is looking.  These include the best legal and legislative minds money can buy to make progress a word or a bill at a time.  Case in point is Monsanto.  The last couple of months show how Monsanto operates legislatively, corporately with other agricultural biotechnology behemoths, and globally to insure greater sales of genetically modified crops and herbicides.

Legislatively, Monsanto brought together its inside Congress man (Roy Blunt – U.S. Senator (R) from Missouri), its attorneys and strategists to craft a rider to benefit Monsanto that could be snuck into a bigger piece of legislation that would certainly pass.  It needed to be crafted in such a way as to not offend and yet compel the U.S. government to overrule the federal courts and act in accordance with Monsanto’s wishes.  It was written a word at a time to set precedents that would serve as the basis of future lobbying and political end-runs.

Such was what has been dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act” that Barack Obama signed into law with his signature on House Resolution 933, which was a continuing resolution spending bill that Congress passed to give the government ongoing funding for its day-to-day operations.  The full text of the “Monsanto Protection Act” appears in article cited from The Guardian, below.  Of significance is selection of the phrase, “the secretary of agriculture shall”.  Shall is such a more pleasant word than Must even though its meaning is the same.

At the same time, it was announced that Monsanto and DuPont reached an agreement where they would stop their reciprocal lawsuits and DuPont would pay Monsanto royalties amounting to $1.75 billion over several years for access to Monsanto’s technology for genetically modified seeds.  After having lost one big case against Monsanto, DuPont saw great promise for its own seeds and herbicides using Monsanto’s technology to produce the next wave of herbicide resistant crops that will face a new wave of herbicide resistant weeds invading U. S. farms.

DuPont’s Pioneer brand agricultural seeds generated some $7.3 billion in sales in 2012.  Monsanto had total revenues of about $13.5 billion last year.  This is a sweet deal for these two leaders in the agricultural biotechnology space.

Separately, Monsanto reported its second quarter earnings for the beginning of 2013.  A Forbes article reporting Monsanto’s results cited net income for the quarter ending with February 2013 as $1.48 billion.  The article further cites Michael E. Cox of Piper Jaffrey as observing that higher sales of Roundup (Monsanto’s herbicide) and a lower-than-expected tax rate were responsible for the performance.  Oh look, herbicide sales are booming.  What a surprise!  Many have argued that Monsanto genetically modified seeds, which make plants impervious to Roundup, are really a way of allowing farmers to use Roundup indiscriminately to kill weeds since it will not hurt their GM crops.

Monsanto continues its full court press to spread use of its seeds around the world.  Even in its own sanitized press releases, Monsanto’s ambition is obvious.  This press release gives only hints of the complexity of its strategy, pervasiveness and costs it is incurring in just this one continent.  This is big international business at its most powerful and yet devious.  Its concentration on South American markets and Africa are where it expects it future profits to come from.  Blocked from many European Union countries and other developed nations in the world, developing nations are a key focus.  So far only the U.S. and Canada have completely embraced Monsanto and DuPont’s genetically modified crops.

The Guardian article cited below states that Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds make up 93% of U.S. soybeans, 88% of cotton and 86% of corn crops last year.  We do not have comparable data for Canada but are sure they closely follow the U.S. in GM crop percentages.

Chapter 13 of Beyond Animal, Ego and Time is completely focused on genetic engineering and synthetic biology and the inherent dangers they represent.

Use the following links to obtain more information:

http://www.salon.com/2013/04/05/who_snuck_in_the_monsanto_protection_act/

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/03/26/statement-press-secretary-hr-933/

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2013/apr/04/monsanto-protection-act-gm/

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/print/2013-04-03/monsanto-raises-forecast-as-profit-tops-estimates-on-corn-seed.html

http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/pages/intacta-rr2-pro-benefits-for-south-american-countries.aspx

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To Know Nano is to Say Whoa to Nano

Posted on 12 February 2013 by Jerry

If you haven’t learned about Nanotechnology, its time you did.  Chemical, food and packaging companies are once again adding risky, untested, and unlabeled ingredients or coverings to the products we consume in the U.S. and most of the world.  Now, in addition to genetic modifications to over 80% of what we buy in supermarkets, we must also worry about nanoparticles.

Nanotechnology is the manipulation of atomic and molecular particles which are from 1 to 100 nanometers in size.  For perspective, the diameter of a human hair is 40,000 to 60,000 nanometers.  This is so small that normal biological barriers do not stop these particles from spreading throughout the body.  Studies show that when inhaled, ingested, or just rubbed on the skin, nanoparticles move through these normal blood barriers and use the circulatory system to accumulate in all the organs of the body, including the brain.

While most often composed of various metals such as silver, gold, titanium dioxide, and carbon, particles of this size can be created of almost anything.  One major problem is that these materials often act in surprising and distressing ways at this size.   They do not conform to the norms established at their usual scale in our environment.  They are ofter unpredictable.  As witnessed in so many other technical breakthroughs, there is a virtual land rush of companies seeking competitive advantage by including nanoparticles in almost everything they make.  Today nanoparticles are added, without our knowledge, to such products as food, clothing, medicines, shampoos, suntan lotions, cosmetics, vitamins, and toothpaste. 

Their use is not restricted to smaller companies. The American Chemical Society journal recently identified that for example, Nano-titanium dioxide (a thickener and whitener) is in 187 of the products they tested.  These include M&Ms and Mentos, Dentyn and Trident chewing gums, Nestle coffee creamers, various flavors of Pop-Tarts, Kool-Aid, Jell-O pudding, and Betty Crocker cake frostings.  As already indicated, this is a very small sample of products using nanoparticles. They will soon be used in a plethora of packaging materials.  For instance they will be used as a preservative coating on bananas.

This has prompted scientific studies highlighting the risk of repeated human exposure.  As of this writing, studies of their effects show a connection between these particles and damage to our livers, cancer in our lungs and to brain edema, or swelling of the brain, in laboratory animals.  They also cite research that indicates damage to the DNA in research animals and the premature corrosion of metals.  Scientists have found the toxicity of these particles increases as their size gets smaller.  Of concern is the even greater absorption of these particles by children. These findings prompted the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue its Current Intelligence Bulletin 63 – Occupational Exposure to Titanium Dioxide. 

It has also prompted scientists to comment.  Jürg Tschopp, the lead researcher and professor of biochemistry at Lausanne University said he was concerned nanoparticles could become the “asbestos of the future”.  In addition he is quoted as saying “With titanium dioxide you accumulate, like asbestos, particles in the lung.  You get chronic inflammation and this can last ten or 15 years and the next step is cancer.”  Richard Di Giulio, an environmental toxicologist participating in the study hosted by the Duke Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology (CIENT), stated “My suspicion, based on the limited amount of work that’s been done, is that nanoparticles are way less toxic than DDT, but what’s scary about nanoparticles is that we’re producing products with new nonmaterial far ahead of our ability to assess them.”

Once again at least the European Union is serving as a bastion of consumer protection by requiring at least the labeling of foods containing nanoparticles.  Other domestic and international efforts to force labeling disclosing nanoparticles have been vigorously opposed by the industries who think they can gain from the use of these materials.  They often will not even acknowledge their use, citing protection of their proprietary information.

Heather Millar, in her Orion Magazine article, “Pandora’s Boxes: Inside nanotechnology’s little universe of big unknowns” summed up our situation exactly.  She wrote “As a society, we’ve been here before – releasing ‘miracle technology’ before its potential health and environmental ramifications are understood, let alone investigated.  Remember how DDT was going to stamp out malaria and typhus and revolutionalize agriculture?  How asbestos was going to make buildings fireproof?  How bisphenol A (BPA) would make plastics clear and nearly shatterproof?  How methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) would make gasoline burn cleanly?  How polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were going to make electrical networks safer?  How genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were going to end hunger?”  Once again the material sciences have prompted businesses to get way ahead of our safety.

I must thank a doctor friend who insisted that Nanotechnology was something I needed to focus on.  While at this point it does not rise to the urgency of “threatening all life on this planet”, it could someday and is deserving of our attention.

Use the following links for more information:

http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=24290.php

http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/7278

http://www.iatp.org/documents/international-standards-for-trade-in-nano-coated-produce

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=government-fails-to-assess-dangers-of-nanotechnology

http://www.drugs.com/inactive/titanium-dioxide-70.html

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23111874

http://toxsci.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2012/10/19/toxsci.kfs306.abstract

http://phys.org/news/2012-11-nanoparticles-greater-danger-environment-previously.html

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19812977 

http://phys.org/news/2012-02-children-highest-exposure-titanium-dioxide.html

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