Categories
Environment

Replacing Coal with Biomass

Oat Hulls. Photo Credit: Iowa City Press Citizen.

In 2014 and 2015 I worked as a freelance reporter for three area newspapers. I refer to this article published on Oct. 7, 2015 in the Iowa City Press Citizen frequently in my work on the climate crisis and post it here for easy reference.

UI study finds benefits in burning oat hulls for thermal energy

Biofuel use is a well-known contributor to meeting sustainability goals at the University of Iowa. Since 2003, UI has used oat hulls sourced from Quaker Oats in Cedar Rapids to generate electricity, heating and cooling on campus.

Several chemistry department faculty and students recently completed a study of gas and particle emissions from co-firing coal and two types of biomass versus straight coal at UI’s main power plant.

Researchers also found that using oat hulls with coal reduced carbon-dioxide emissions by 40 percent and significantly reduced the release of particulate matter, hazardous substances and heavy metals.

“The UI is working toward meeting a goal of using 40 percent renewable energy by 2020,” said Betsy Stone, an assistant professor in UI’s chemistry department. “Part of their plan to achieving that goal is the use of biofuel, which is a renewable source of energy, instead of fossil fuel, in this case coal.”

The group was interested in understanding how using biomass instead of coal changed emissions released into the atmosphere, Stone said.

“When burning 50 percent oat hulls and 50 percent coal, we saw a big reduction in criteria pollutants compared to burning 100 percent coal,” she said. “When I say ‘criteria pollutants,’ I’m talking about things like fossil carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter.”

Use of the 50/50 mixture reduced the mass of particulate matter by 90 percent, Stone said.

While overall CO2 emissions were constant among the three fuels used in the study — straight coal, 50/50 oat hulls/coal, and 3.8 percent wood chips/96.2 percent coal — the use of plant material makes the process more sustainable, Stone said. Biomass takes CO2 out of the atmosphere and incorporates it into the plant. When it’s burned, CO2 is released.

“It’s considered to be a renewable fuel because we have that carbon cycle going on,” Stone said. “With fossil fuels, we’re releasing fossilized carbon. It goes into the atmosphere and takes millions of years to get back to fossilized form again.”

The major take-home message is there is a significant reduction in fossilized CO2, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter, which is beneficial to people living near the power plant, Stone said.

“I thought the study was definitely encouraging and in line with our thoughts that biomass is good for the environment,” said Ben Anderson, UI power plant manager. “Overall, the results are encouraging and provided assurance we are going the right way with the biomass project.”

The biomass project brings the renewable component to the plant, but is also a component of fuel diversity, he said.

“That’s really important for reliable operations,” Anderson said. “Natural gas markets have been known to spike from a cost perspective. If there is a problem with pipeline transport, we can use the biomass and still keep this plant online.”

Maureen McCue, coordinator for Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility, noted important considerations of this study, including locally sourced fuel options and the avoided cost of buying and shipping coal. McCue called UI’s biofuel efforts “a good use of a resource that might otherwise go to waste.”

“The mixture avoids some of the known adverse health effects associated with burning more coal,” McCue said in an email. “There is no health benefit to anyone unless you assume burning coal is obligatory/unavoidable and thus count as benefited the person(s) who would have been impacted by more coal.

“It’s like saying not hitting your head with a hammer is a health benefit,” she added. “No one wants to risk their health breathing coal emissions or headaches by hammer if there are alternatives.”

Categories
Living in Society

Is Jessica Reznicek a Terrorist?

Jessica Reznicek Photo Credit: Twitter @FreeJessRez

Jessica Reznicek, a 39-year-old environmental activist and Catholic Worker from Des Moines, Iowa, was sentenced in federal court June 30 to eight years in prison for her efforts to sabotage construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.

In November 2016, Reznicek and Ruby Montoya, a former preschool teacher, set fire to heavy construction equipment at a pipeline worksite in Buena Vista County, Iowa.

Over the next several months, the women used oxyacetylene torches, tires and gasoline-soaked rags to burn equipment and damage pipeline valves along the line from Iowa to South Dakota. Their actions reportedly caused several million dollars’ worth of damage and delayed construction for weeks.

Catholic activist sentenced for Dakota Access Pipeline vandalism by Claire Schaeffer-Duffy at NCROnline.com. To read the rest of the article, click here.

Reznicek’s criminal penalties were substantial. In addition to jail time, U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger included $3,198,512.70 in restitution and three years’ post-prison supervised release after she plead guilty to a single count of damaging an energy facility, according to Common Dreams. It’s hard to argue her protest was intended to be non-violent. She used an oxyacetylene torch to damage the pipeline without knowing if fuel was in transit.

Reznicek is being prosecuted as a terrorist. Is that what she is? It seems unlikely the board of directors or billionaire Kelcey Warren of Energy Transfer Partners felt terrorized. They had reason to know there would be protests during construction, and likely built defense from them into their operating, overhead, and risk management budgets. For ETP, pipeline protests represented business as usual. In 2018 there was a “protect the protests” direct action in Dallas, Texas where demonstrators accused ETP at its corporate headquarters of attempting to silence them with lawsuits.

Like many in the Des Moines Catholic Worker community Reznicek has been willing to break the law in peaceful protest and has been arrested. In 2014, she was detained for nearly 48 hours and then deported after flying into Israel to support Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, according to the Des Moines Register. It seems obvious the Iowa Legislature had people like Reznicek in mind when they recently increased penalties for protesters.

I received the first of a series of emails from Reznicek during the Occupy Movement in 2011. She was an organizer for Occupy Iowa, Occupy Des Moines, Occupy the Caucus, Occupy Monsanto, Occupy the World Food Prize, and other direct action protests. She was arrested at some of these protests. It seemed like boilerplate organizing. Whatever cache the Occupy movement may have had, the work she did was straight forward with transparency. It was not a terrorist plot the way in 1995 Timothy McVeigh plotted to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It would be better for the peace and justice movement if Reznicek did not have to spend her time serving time and defending herself in this prominent case. It goes with the territory, though.

The answer is no. Jessica Reznicek is not a terrorist. Society needs more people like her to call attention to injustice. If there is a cost to her protests, she has been willing to accept responsibility. If asked, my neighbors would say justice was served with Reznicek’s prosecution and sentencing. As it plays out in the judicial system, some of us wonder who will step in to fill her shoes in the peace and justice movement. It may be someone, but it won’t be her for a while.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Categories
Kitchen Garden

With a Bitten Tongue

Cherry tomatoes from the garden.

Like most everyone I’ve bitten my tongue. I also scalded it with hot food and beverages. It healed, at least I think it has. As I prepare food from our kitchen garden, some days I don’t notice the taste, partly due to damaged taste buds.

The first cherry tomatoes are such a burst of flavor one must notice. Some days I swoon with how good a dish prepared in our kitchen tastes, even one I make often. Days when taste is dormant are sad ones–distracted with life, eating becomes a simple necessity, a chore.

“Today, food has taken on value, which goes beyond the simple act of eating,” Massimo Bottura, who operates a three-Michelin-star restaurant in Modena, Italy said on a BBC program called The Future of Food. “I was born with the will to be contemporary. When you are truly contemporary, your mind is constantly projected toward the future. There is always more future in my future.”

What does that mean in an Iowa kitchen garden?

I mastered enough techniques to convert raw food into meals. Few ingredients have me consulting with cook books about how to prepare or serve them. For example, a few days ago I harvested a dozen bell peppers and knew to parboil them to make stuffed peppers. I knew how to prepare the dish with rice, onion, celery, tomato, garlic and other ingredients on hand. Hard to say where I learned the technique yet it is part of culinary me. There are many techniques resting behind the door of consciousness. It gives me confidence in the kitchen, enough confidence to put meals on the table each day without consulting recipes. Does it go beyond a single meal into the future? That is more tricky.

I make soup often and attribute it to my Polish heritage. I can consistently produce a certain flavor profile. In the past I made big batches of soup and water-bath canned the extra. No more. I focus on flavor in smaller amounts done over and over through the gardening season. My typical soup starts with mirepoix: celery, onion and carrot. From there, I add what is available, including pearled barley, lentils, turnips and potatoes if I have them. Yesterday I added radicchio leaves, cabbage, kale, grated zucchini, and part of a jar of canned whole tomatoes. Salt and bay leaves seasoned the soup. Because the crop is coming in, I added diced broccoli stems. It simmered all day and by supper time was a meal. While this is not specifically a Polish soup, my heritage influenced the preparation. It suited my palate.

It is a struggle to get beyond the meal currently being prepared. After a trip to the garden, and a tour of the refrigerator and pantry, I get ideas about what to prepare each day. As the gardening season proceeds there are more choices. I’ve found the more our cuisine is driven by ingredient availability and freshness, the better the meal. That’s not surprising, although not particularly noteworthy. I enjoy cooking, and eating home-prepared meals more than restaurant fare. I’m nowhere near the level of Bottura. We get by in our kitchen.

I don’t know if my palate is truly damaged, and live with what I have. When a dish comes out really well I enjoy eating it. Much of the time I’m distracted from living and eating by outside concerns. My best plan for the future of food is to grow great ingredients and pay attention to the preparation. With practice I’ll get better and occasionally I will touch the sublime. That’s what a home cook can hope.

Categories
Environment

Earthrise Studio is Here

I met Finn Harries at the May 2015 Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He and his identical twin brother Jack had turned their attention, and that of their large YouTube following, to work on the climate crisis.

In July 2020, a group including Finn, Jack and Alice Aedy formed Earthrise Studio to produce work related to mitigating the effects of the climate crisis. It is “a way of combining their shared interests in film making, photography and design,” according to the website. It operates as a full service creative studio with a dedicated team of designers, filmmakers, and writers addressing the climate crisis in their work.

To learn more about Earthrise Studio, Follow them on Instagram or check out their website and its content about addressing the climate crisis at https://www.earthrise.studio.

Categories
Environment

Iowa Senators and Climate Change

2012 Drought Conference

In March I wrote my U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst about the climate crisis as follows:

I hope you will support the efforts of the Biden administration to act to mitigate the effects of our changing climate. Naturally I’m curious about your views on how you might address the effects of climate change while in the U.S. Senate. The approach of the Biden administration regarding mitigation of climate change is such there should be many areas in which to work with them without supporting an overarching environmental bill. I look forward to hearing your policy stances and how you can help address climate change while you are in the Congress. Thank you for your public service.

During a recent conference call with Ernst and a group of environmental activists, she touted her support for the then upcoming vote on the Growing Climate Solutions Act, the first bill to specifically address climate change since Biden was sworn in. Grassley and Ernst joined the 92-8 Senate majority to pass the bill on June 24. (Booker, Hawley, Inhofe, Lee, Markey, Merkley, Sanders and Warren were nays). Storm Lake journalist Art Cullen opined in the Washington Post, “Ignore the chatter. Stuff is getting done. And both parties are helping.

After familiarizing myself with the bill, I can only ask of the legislators, “What else you got?”

Below are the Iowa senators’ unedited responses to my query. Grassley’s is first because he is our senior senator. Ernst replied first. I’m glad to hear from our elected representatives.

April 14, 2021
Dear Mr. Deaton:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me with your concerns about the environment. As your senator, it is important to me that I hear from you.

I appreciate hearing your concerns about climate change. In contacting me, you shared your support for climate-related legislation. While I believe a changing climate is a historical and scientific fact, I also recognize that most scientists say man-made emissions contribute to these changes. With that being said, it is just common sense to promote the development of clean forms of energy. Throughout my tenure in the Senate, I have been a leader in promoting alternative and renewable energy sources as a way of protecting the environment and increasing our energy independence. I’ve been an advocate of various forms, including wind, biomass, agriculture wastes, ethanol and biodiesel.

I’m proud to let you know that Iowa has had much success in renewable fuels and wind energy production. As the number one producer of corn, ethanol, biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol, Iowa has the opportunity to lead our nation’s renewable fuels industry. This cleaner-burning, homegrown energy supports the economy by generating 47,000 jobs and nearly $5 billion of Iowa’s GDP. In 2018, Iowa produced 4.5 billion gallons of ethanol. In regards to environmental benefits, ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 46 percent compared to conventional gasoline.

Iowa’s wind industry ranks second in the nation behind Texas. Wind energy supports over 9,000 jobs in Iowa alone and provides 40 percent of the state’s electricity. As the “father” of the Wind Energy Incentives Act of 1993, I sought to give this alternative energy source the ability to compete against traditional, finite energy sources. Like ethanol and other advanced biofuels, wind energy is renewable and does not obligate the United States to rely on unstable foreign states.

The most effective action Congress can take to address this issue is to advance policies that increase the availability and affordability of alternative and renewable energy sources. If alternative energy sources can become more competitive, market forces will drive a natural, low-cost transition in our energy mix that will be a win-win for American families. I will keep your thoughts in mind as the Senate considers related legislation in the future.

Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me. I appreciate hearing your concerns and encourage you to keep in touch.
Sincerely,

Chuck Grassley
United States Senate

March 25, 2021
Dear Mr. Deaton,

Thank you for taking the time to contact me about the issue of climate change. It is important for me to hear from folks in Iowa on policy matters such as this.

As you may know, on January 21, 2015, during the Keystone XL Pipeline debate, I voted in support of S.A. 29, an amendment offered by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) that acknowledged the existence of climate change. I do believe that the climate is changing, however, the science surrounding climate change continues to develop, and additional, objective research needs to be done to conclusively identify the root causes. Our climate is experiencing a period of changing temperatures, but it is important to note that not all scientists agree on the cause.

I believe that government can take reasonable and concrete steps to protect and improve the environment. This includes encouraging the utilization of a diverse mix of energy resources and improving energy efficiency. We can also make personal choices that have a positive impact on the environment—I am a committed recycler.

I support an all of the above energy approach that increases America’s energy independence and domestic production. Iowa is a national leader in alternative energy sources. As a result, nearly 40% of electricity generated in our state is by wind. I believe America can responsibly take advantage of our nation’s abundant resources while also emphasizing conservation and efficiency.

We all care about clean water and clean air, but any efforts to reduce pollution must be done in a thoughtful manner that involves the communities, businesses, and families that will be most affected by changes to rules and regulations. Climate change is an international issue, not one limited to the United States. Any policies designed to mitigate the effects of climate change should take into consideration the impact they will have on American consumers and also on our businesses and their ability to compete globally and create jobs.

Please know that I will continue to keep your views in mind as the Senate works on this issue. Feel free to contact my office with any further information, as I always enjoy hearing from Iowans.
Sincerely,

Joni K. Ernst
United States Senator

~ Written for Blog for Iowa.

Categories
Living in Society

Iowa Redistricting is Coming

Prairie Restoration Area at Lake Macbride State Park

Like most Iowa political activists, I’ve been looking forward to new political districts to be created during the decennial, non-partisan redistricting process. Republican legislators repeatedly asserted they wouldn’t change the law and didn’t.

While door-knocking in Wilton during the first election in our current districts, a voter asked where I was from. When I answered, they said, “that’s too far away. I don’t want to be part of that district.” I suspect there was a lot of that going around.

Because the Trump administration botched the U.S. Census (intentionally, most agree), we’ve been waiting for final numbers so a special session of the Iowa legislature can be called and the matter put to rest before the September deadline. On Wednesday, Katie Akin with Iowa Capital Dispatch reported the new census numbers should be released Aug. 16. She laid out the redistricting process in her article, which can be read here.

Most voters don’t care as much as I do about new districts, and the shortage of congressional and state house candidate activity this summer is evidence careers are on hold until redistricting is finished by Sept. 15 when the governor is required to sign the law.

One assumes Iowa Republicans are no different from in other states and want to redistrict in a way that increases their hold on government, or at least solidifies present advantages. How far will they go?

The measure of monkey-business is whether the map prepared by the Legislative Services Agency will be accepted by Republicans on the first or second vote. If it isn’t, that’s a sign trouble is afoot. Laura Belin at Bleeding Heartland has been following and writing about the process and I defer to her granular detail, which can be read here.

In 2011, only two legislators voted against the first map and it was adopted without fanfare. The best Democrats could hope for in 2021 is something similar.

Politico makes the case Republicans are weighing “cracking ” cities to maximize the number of members of congress in each state. As Mount Vernon attorney Nate Willems posted on Twitter, “Fortunately it would be unconstitutional to try to divide Polk County into two congressional districts.” If Polk County could be divided, that would put current congresswoman Cindy Axne at a disadvantage during her re-election campaign. While Iowa Republicans have previously violated the constitution in passing laws, to do so by dividing Des Moines into two separate congressional districts seems unlikely.

“It’s been my experience in studying history that when you get real cute (with redistricting), you end up in a lawsuit — and you lose it. And then the courts redraw the lines,” said Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.). “So my advice would be to keep Louisville blue.”

So it is for the Democratic island of Johnson County, Iowa, which is expected to gain one more state house district completely within its borders. The key element of gerrymandering is to concentrate the opposition party in fewer districts. If there is a way to do that, trust that Iowa Republicans will. I expect they will leave Johnson County alone.

For their part, Iowa Republicans have been tight-lipped about redistricting. As the last legislative session demonstrated, they can keep a secret and surprise us with things normal people wouldn’t expect. Let’s do our part to make sure the redistricting process is truly non-partisan by staying in touch with our legislators and holding them to account. I know I will.

Categories
Living in Society

Needed Rain Fell

Fresh from the garden cauliflower.

A gentle rain fell through the night and continues this morning. We need rain to assuage the drought. When it rains, garden-watering is more thorough and much appreciated. A benefit was not having to water the garden by hand last night.

In unexpected ways my trip to Florida was life changing. The driving was uneventful and easy. It was easier for me because our daughter led our convoy and all I had to concern myself about was fuel and keeping the rental truck between the highway lines. We spaced overnight breaks so we weren’t exhausted when we arrived each night. We splurged on food, using delivery services like Door Dash, Grub Hub and Uber Eats. We took care of ourselves. Like a vacation, the time was golden even though we didn’t do anything special besides be together.

I hadn’t visited her in Florida since 2013. I missed visiting at a place she lived for five years, the only residence of hers I hadn’t seen. The seven day trip was the most time we spent together in a long time. What’s changed is now that she’s closer–a mere day trip away–we can make plans that the 1,290-mile distance between us made impossible.

Something else changed.

There is a renewed urgency to get things done, to focus on what’s most important. I want to cross things off my to-do list. During the first part of the coronavirus pandemic I seldom looked at or maintained a to-do list. The trip changed all that.

I don’t know how this will turn out yet I’m hopeful. Hopeful we can spend more time together. Hopeful to find more meaning in quotidian affairs. Hopeful to get things done that are worth doing. I didn’t expect that, but it’s welcome.

It was drizzling rain when I went to the garden. I picked three head of broccoli, a head of cauliflower, four bell peppers, a cucumber, a zucchini and a handful of cherry tomatoes. Every day is like that. Rain is important to a healthy, abundant garden. The future is a slate wiped clean by the trip from Florida. For now, we have enough rain.

Categories
Living in Society

Masking in the United States

Baggage Handlers at Orlando International Airport, June 27, 2021.

I recently flew to Florida to help someone move to the Midwest, my first non-local trip since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. We convoyed from central Florida to Chicago, following major interstate highways all the way. Evidence that the coronavirus pandemic had resulted in the deaths of more than 600,000 people–the most of any nation on Earth–was scant.

The airline enforced a mask policy both in the terminals and on board the aircraft. Hotels where we stayed had well-publicized policy that masks were required indoors and social distancing was necessary. None of the hotels enforced the policies for guests. Compliance was infrequent among staff. All of the other workers we encountered–at truck rental facilities, convenience stores, and restaurants–wore no masks at all. The restaurant delivery drivers all donned masks as they approached us to deliver a meal. Their business is predicated on no-contact delivery during a pandemic, so that was expected. In a Walmart in Indiana about two-thirds of the employees wore masks. The business community seems more interested in avoiding liability while catching up on lost revenue than in preventing spread of the coronavirus.

As far as regular, non-working humans go, few wore masks. In Florida (outside the airport), Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky I saw zero humans with a mask. That changed when we arrived at our destination in a Chicago suburb.

After the maskless trip from the South, I was pleasantly surprised by the neighborhood where people wore masks indoors and out. I asked one person why they wore a mask outside. They said they were vaccinated and the mask was to prevent contracting variants of the coronavirus that are currently thriving. Made sense to me.

I walked across the street to a local grocery store in which most people were masked, including all the employees. Disposable masks were available for $0.99 at the checkout counter. Not required for customers, yet available.

From the beginning of the trip I asked masked people if I should don mine in their company and the answer was a unanimous no. A couple of masked workers in a local Chicago bakery explained it best. They said I didn’t need to don my mask in their store. Customers would be inside for a short duration, however, they wore a mask because they would spend all day at the counter. This, too, made sense.

While settling into the new apartment a neighbor knocked on the door to introduce themselves. They wore a mask and of course we didn’t at home. I asked them if we should put ours on and revealed we both had been vaccinated. It turned out they had as well. We all went maskless for the rest of the encounter.

If there is a mask policy in the United States, it is either unknown most places I went, or unenforced. Masking is something we Americans do only when required, and not always then.

At this point in pandemic progress, people not vaccinated continue to be at high risk of COVID-19. There is a news story circulating about a woman who avoided getting vaccinated because of side effects people mentioned. She contracted COVID-19, was on a ventilator for a month, then died. Her two children lost their mother. Vaccinated people have not been getting sick with COVID-19 very much.

During our drive I noticed the crappy condition of the interstate highways: countless potholes and not enough construction crews. Whether it is infrastructure, healthcare, or masking during a pandemic, Americans don’t do it well. My advice is get vaccinated if you haven’t been, and wear a mask when indoors in a public place. It may not be socially acceptable among your cohort, although it may save your life.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa.

Categories
Environment

The Climate Crisis is Accelerating – Now What?

Ronne Ice Shelf in Antarctica Nov. 4, 2017. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

What can we do when confronted with the climate crisis? The answer is everything. If climate change is developing faster than human solutions, what then?

During the last few months we have been assaulted with news about the climate crisis getting worse. Lake Mead is at its lowest level since the Hoover Dam was built, threatening downstream communities with loss of needed water. People are dropping dead on the street in the Pacific Northwest which is experiencing record high temperatures. President Biden called a White House meeting with Republican and Democratic Western Governors about the continued heat wave and wild fires it caused. Above the Arctic Circle in Siberia, ground temperatures approach 120 degrees, melting the permafrost. 2020 was the hottest year in recorded history for Antarctica, causing a record 1,600 square mile iceberg to calve off the Ronne ice shelf into the Weddell Sea. Drought continues in Iowa, the worst in 20 years. This is what I mean by being assaulted.

Professor Julia K. Steinberger offers a toolkit for would-be climate activists in info graphic format here. It is pretty cool and accessible. It offers things a person can do to address the climate crisis. It is something, not everything. It is not enough.

The next step in taking effective action to address global climate change is to understand where we are. According to Bill McKibben in the New Yorker, we’re not in a good place.

“The earth won’t simply keel over and die like a human being might, but it is now changing in substantial ways in real time,” McKibben wrote. “If you’re used to thinking that the earth changes in the course of geological epochs, and that fundamental shifts require thousands or millions of years, think again.”

“The speed with which this happens is remarkable,” he said. “And it is dramatically outpacing the speed at which humans—our governments, our economies, our habits, our mind-sets—seem able to adapt.”

In a piece in the New York Times, Farhad Manjoo opined, “Democrats have a year to save the planet.”

We’d better get going.

While we need to do everything possible to avert the worst effects of the climate crisis, the longest, most complicated journey begins with a single step. Click on the links in this post. Read the articles. Discuss them with friends. Figure out how you can contribute to solutions to the climate crisis.

“Become active as a citizen of our democracy, regardless of party,” recommended Al Gore on CNN.

This is about the future of humanity. We all have a stake.

~ First published on Blog for Iowa

Categories
Living in Society

There’s a Reason Republicans Call It ‘Communist China’

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

“The unprecedented global challenges that the United States faces today—climate change, pandemics, nuclear proliferation, massive economic inequality, terrorism, corruption, authoritarianism—are shared global challenges. They cannot be solved by any one country acting alone. They require increased international cooperation—including with China, the most populous country on earth.” ~ Sen. Bernie Sanders, June 18, 2021

Readers have likely noticed recent Republican reference to “Communist China.” They seek to create a bogeyman to scare the electorate–one more trick in their fear-mongering bag used to dominate low-knowledge voters.

In a recent article on the Portside website, Sen. Sanders laid out how relations with China have changed, why they remain important, and require further change despite challenges.

“It is distressing and dangerous, therefore, that a fast-growing consensus is emerging in Washington that views the U.S.-Chinese relationship as a zero-sum economic and military struggle,” Sanders wrote. “The prevalence of this view will create a political environment in which the cooperation that the world desperately needs will be increasingly difficult to achieve.”

As far as a military struggle goes, the claim that China challenges the U.S. militarily is exaggerated.

It’s important to begin any assessment of the challenge from China by noting that the United States currently outpaces it militarily by a large margin. The U.S. has a more modern air force, a more capable navy and a far larger nuclear arsenal than China, and it spends roughly three times as much on its military. The spending gap widens considerably when U.S. allies in NATO, Australia, Japan, and South Korea are taken into account.

The nuclear gap is especially stark – the United States’ active nuclear stockpile is 11 times the size of China’s and deployed U.S. warheads are five times what China possesses. The gap between the U.S. and Chinese militaries is documented in detail in a recent analysis by the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation.

William Hartung, Forbes Magazine, June 22, 2021

As recently as 2000, the consensus in the United States was that China should be granted “permanent normal trade relations” status or PNTR, according to Sanders. It may be familiar to hear that to compete in a global economy, U.S. companies require access to Chinese markets.

“At that time, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the corporate media, and virtually every establishment foreign policy pundit in Washington insisted that PNTR was necessary to keep U.S. companies competitive by giving them access to China’s growing market, and that the liberalization of China’s economy would be accompanied by the liberalization of China’s government with regard to democracy and human rights,” wrote Sanders.

This approach was wrong according to Sanders, as is the current approach of casting China as villainous. “For the American people to thrive,” Sanders wrote. “Others around the world need to believe that the United States is their ally and that their successes are our successes.” He supports President Biden’s approach toward relations with China.

To learn more about the change in Republican views toward China, and why it is important to coming elections, I recommend reading the two linked articles. I also recommend we don’t let Republican scare tactics divide us.

~ First Published on Blog for Iowa.