Categories
Sustainability

Time to Take a Step Back from the Brink

Actor Slim Pickens as Major T.J. “King” Kong in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Photo Credit – Getty Images

Iowans are legitimately worried about the risk of detonation of nuclear armaments as a result of increased tensions in the world. The war in Ukraine is perceived by some as a proxy war between the United States and Russia. While it’s true our two countries have the majority of nuclear weapons that exist in the world, both Putin and Biden have said they seek to avoid a nuclear exchange. The assertions about a proxy war do not seem accurate.

Dr. Robert Dodge, posted the following article at Common Dreams on Friday. It explains how I feel: We need to take a step back from the brink.

Ukraine, Existential Threats, and Moving Back From the Brink
We can no longer continue to wage war over finite resources and survive in a nuclear-armed world.

First published on Common Dreams by Dr. Robert Dodge.

This spring, as those before, beckons a season of renewal and opportunity for the future. We have just witnessed the major religions of the world celebrate Easter, Passover, and Ramadan and in the words of Ambassador El Yazidi of the Coordinating Council of Muslims in Germany, “We are all siblings in humanity and must work together for good.”

This is also a time when the world celebrates Earth Day with a heightened awareness of the fragility of our world and the intersectionality of mankind’s actions on the survival of our planet. Yet our world is in peril with many intersecting crises from the continued global pandemic, now in its third year, to climate crises that continue to inflict progressive epic storms and devastation. Add to that the two-month-old Russian war on Ukraine with threats and nuclear posturing by the superpowers bringing us closer to nuclear war by intent, miscalculation or cyber-attack portending the greatest threat of a global near-death event since the end of the last Cold War.

Against this backdrop, it is also tax season in the United States when the nation funds its priorities as we look to the future. In the words of Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners magazine, “Budgets are moral documents.” And so what are those priorities and how do nuclear weapons factor in?

The 2022 fiscal year budget, the first by President Joe Biden, will see the U.S. rob our communities of precious resources spending nearly $77 billion on all nuclear weapons programs, exceeding the expenditures of the last budget from the Trump administration. In total, the U.S. will have spent approximately $219 billion on all nuclear weapons programs in the last 3 fiscal years while fighting a global pandemic. To see the costs to your community, see the annual Nuclear Weapons Community Costs Project just released by Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles.

Current global nuclear arsenals contain about 12,700 nuclear warheads, with the United States and Russia having near 90% of those. The use of even a tiny fraction of these weapons threatens life as we know it. A regional nuclear war using 100 Hiroshima size weapons (less than half of one percent of the global nuclear arsenals) over cities in India and Pakistan—South Asia’s nuclear powers who have had a tumultuous relationship for decades—could cause a global famine threatening 2 billion people due to the devastating nuclear winter and climate change that would follow. A larger nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia targeting the major cities in each nation could possibly lead to the extinction of the human race.

This is not a situation that has to be. The existence of nuclear weapons and the continued dependence on fossil fuels with the destruction of our environment result from our way of thinking and behavior. We cannot continue to wage war over finite resources and survive in a nuclear-armed world. We must end our dependence on fossil fuels that threaten destruction of our life sustaining ecosystems. Instead, we must recognize our interdependence as one human family. Nuclear weapons have been made by man and can only be eliminated by man. Ending the subsidy and our dependence on fossil fuels while transitioning to sustainable renewable resources is also in reach given the political will.

The United States can and must lead on these issues. There is a rapidly growing national intersectional movement in the U.S. called Back from the Brink. It is a coalition of individuals, organizations, and elected officials working together toward a world free of nuclear weapons and advocating for common sense nuclear weapons policies to secure a safer, more just future. Endorsed by over 400 organizations, 326 U.S. elected officials, 58 municipalities and 6 state legislative bodies, it calls on the United States to lead a global effort to prevent nuclear war by:

  • Actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear-armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.
  • Renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first.
  • Ending the sole, unchecked authority of any U.S. President to launch a nuclear attack.
  • Taking U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert.
  • Cancelling the plan to replace the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal with enhanced weapons.

All are invited to endorse and join this movement. We have a way out. There is hope for the future and that of our children’s children. At this moment in history we must understand the threat and opportunity before us. Let this be a time when we choose hope for all of humanity.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Robert Dodge

Robert Dodge, a frequent Common Dreams contributor, writes as a family physician practicing in Ventura, California. He is the Co-Chair of the Security Committee of National Physicians for Social Responsibility and also serves as the President of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles.

Categories
Environment

Earth Day Has Been a Bust

Earthrise by Bill Anders, Dec. 24, 1968

In retrospect, Earth Day has been a bust. It turned into an annual reminder among privileged Americans to do something about environmental degradation. It became a do-nothing tradition that had little material impact on the environment.

It would have been better to pursue social justice, elimination of poverty, or equal protection under the law, right from the beginning. All paths would lead to improving the environment regardless of the starting point.

Charles C. Mann wrote about the elitist nature of Earth Day in his book The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World:

So ineradicable was the elitist mark on conservation that for decades afterward many on the left scoffed at ecological issues as right-wing distractions. As late as 1970, the radical Students for a Democratic Society protested the first Earth Day as Wall Street flimflam meant to divert public attention from class warfare and the Vietnam War; the left-wing journalist I.F. Stone called the nationwide marches a “snow job.”

The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World by Charles C. Mann, page 81.

As data from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii indicates, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere continue to increase. The latest reading was yesterday at 420.25 ppm. We may not have understood the significance of such a small part of Earth’s atmosphere on the first Earth Day, but we do now and the numbers continue to roll upward at what can be described as a steady pace. It is as if the environmental movement accomplished nothing.

Screen capture from The Keeling Curve website.

A climate crisis is happening in plain view. The folks at The Dark Mountain Project described it like this in their April newsletter:

The climate disaster unfolding around us is itself a convergence between the breakdown of ancient organic matter and modern industrial ambition, technology, greed and carelessness, a calamitous meeting of worlds. 

Email from The Dark Mountain Project, April 15, 2022.

However one describes the climate crisis, part of our problem in taking action to remediate it is we don’t have the intellectual skills to understand environmental degradation or what actions would be effective in reversing it. Likewise, current society has limited functioning methods to take action without a calamitous incident precipitating a need big enough to gain political consensus.

When in 1985 the scientific journal Nature revealed that over Antarctica, a hole in the ozone layer had formed, exposing humans to the sun’s cancer-causing ultraviolet rays, reactions were mixed.

At the time, President Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Environmental policy hadn’t been a priority for him and his advisers, who were more focused on fighting the creep of Cold War communism or federal involvement in issues they believed the states should handle. Even the revelation of the ozone hole didn’t change things–or at least not right away. In fact… Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior Donald Hodel was ridiculed in the press for reportedly saying in a meeting that an international treaty wasn’t necessary to address the damage and that Americans should just put on sunscreen and wear hats.

Reagan Administration Officials at First Dismissed the Ozone Hole. Here’s What Changed by Olivia B. Waxman. Time Magazine, April 10, 2019.

As we know now, the Montreal Protocol, the first-ever global treaty to reduce pollution and phase out chlorofluorocarbons, gained Reagan’s support and was agreed in 1987. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty unanimously the following year. Our current political environment has degraded to a point where such common-sense action is no longer possible.

Bill Anders’ Earthrise photograph reminds us of Earth’s suspension in the vast darkness of the universe. We are unique, and dependent on each other on this our only home. For complex reasons, we understand the risks of further environmental degradation and the warming of the atmosphere. We have been unwilling to take adequate action and Earth Day isn’t helping.

Categories
Environment

Winter Snowfall/Heat Wave

Geese walking on the lake, yet not for long.

Today’s high is forecast to be 78 degrees. Now Mother Nature is just messing with us. On the plus side, maybe the warmth will melt the 3-4 inches of snow that fell overnight. Iowa weather always has something a little different. What I found to be different is I used a different weather app to check the forecast and it was set to Washington, D.C. We don’t need a weather app to know there will be a lot of hot air over there.

Seven trays of vegetables rest on the germination table and the landing near the front door. Everything looks reasonably good. I added the task “assemble greenhouse” to my list and am ready to move onions and cruciferous vegetables outdoors. After the snow melts, I will.

There was an F3 tornado on Saturday that killed six people in central Iowa. Today, the Iowa legislature takes up House File 2299 which would make it harder for Iowa homeowners to prove damage from disasters like a derecho or tornado. There is a GoFundMe for one of the families affected by the tornado, and that appears to be the way society is going these days. We are on our own.

I like it when I can turn off the fan on the ceramic heater in front of my desk. It looks to be one of those days, that is, after I bundle up to take care of snow removal on the driveway. Soon the space heater will be moved to the greenhouse. I can’t wait.

Categories
Sustainability

Nuclear Risks in Russian Invasion of Ukraine

The crisis in Eastern Europe could become a regional and global humanitarian catastrophe if war involving nuclear-armed nations erupts in Ukraine. IPPNW hosted an emergency briefing on 19 February with a distinguished panel of experts to examine the terrible human cost if diplomacy fails. The experts’ remarks are outlined below, topics include:

  • Conventional war – Possible direct and indirect impacts of a conventional war in Ukraine on health, human rights, and the environment. Presented by Barry Levy, M.D., M.P.H.
  • Damage to nuclear power reactors – The risk of large radioactive releases from one or more of the 15 nuclear power stations in Ukraine that are vulnerable to deliberate or accidental destruction or meltdowns due to loss of power through cyber attacks. Presented by Linda Pentz Gunter
  • Escalation to nuclear weapons – The catastrophic regional and global consequences if nuclear weapons are launched intentionally or by accident or miscalculation. Presented by Ira Helfand, M.D.

Watch the event recording and learn more about the panelists at www.ippnw.org/no-war.

Conventional War – Barry Levy, M.D., M.P.H.

During war, civilians are often injured or killed directly — sometimes accidentally — by the indiscriminate use of weapons. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But increasingly, civilians are targeted — attacked on purpose, as part of a strategy of war. Men are taken from their homes in the middle of the night, never to return. Women are raped and often killed. Even children are sometimes targeted and killed as a strategy of war.

However, most deaths during war are not caused by direct attacks, but indirectly. Many of these indirect deaths result from damage to infrastructure. After farms and the food supply system are damaged, people become malnourished and more susceptible to respiratory infections, like COVID-19. Water treatment plants are bombed, and people develop cholera, dysentery, or other diarrheal diseases. Hospitals and healthcare workers are attacked, public health agencies are not able to function, and people are unable to receive clinical care or public health services. And  power plants, communication networks, and transportation systems are damaged, leading to disease and death.

Population displacement is another major cause of indirect deaths during war. People can be displaced within their own country or as refugees to other countries. Internally displaced persons are generally worse off because they have inadequate food, water, health care, and security — and therefore are at increased risk of disease and death. And if war continues, people may be displaced for long periods of time.

Indirect deaths far outnumber direct deaths during war. Since 1990, the Uppsala Conflict Data Program in Sweden has recorded an average of about 50,000 direct deaths per year in state-based armed conflicts. In a separate analysis for the same period of time, Mohammad Jawad and colleagues estimated about one million indirect deaths occurred per year, on average – 20 times more indirect deaths than direct deaths. Even if the estimate of indirect deaths is too high or the number of direct deaths recorded too low, indirect deaths far outnumber direct deaths during war.

Noncombatant civilians most frequently suffer from the following diseases during war:

  • Malnutrition — with young children and pregnant women at greatest risk
  • Communicable diseases, including diarrheal diseases such as cholera, acute respiratory infections such as COVID-19, and other diseases such as measles and tuberculosis
  • Mental disorders, such as posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and suicide
  • Adverse effects on reproductive health, including higher rates of maternal mortality, infants born with low birthweight, and infant mortality.
  • Noncommunicable diseases, with greater occurrence and exacerbations of heart disease and stroke, chronic lung disease, and cancer — and less available treatment for these diseases.

While everyone is at risk, some populations are especially vulnerable: women, children, displaced people, older people, people with chronic diseases and disabilities, and ethnic and religious minorities.

How many people will suffer from the health impacts of a war in Ukraine?  No one knows.

But there could be large numbers of civilian deaths, widespread damage to health-supporting infrastructure, millions of people displaced, many people with post traumatic stress disorder and depression, widespread violations of human rights, and substantial damage to the environment — all of which occurred after the U.S. invasion of Iraq 20 years ago.

Ukraine today is similar in some ways to Iraq in 2003 and different in others. Ukraine has 42 million people, Iraq then had 26 million, but was more densely populated. Life expectancy in Ukraine today (72 years) is about the same as it was in Iraq in 2003 (69 years). But the population of Ukraine today is much older than the population of Iraq in 2003; 17% of Ukrainians are 65 years of age or older, compared to about 3% in Iraq — the percentage of older people is five times higher in Ukraine than in Iraq. Therefore, they have higher rates of chronic disease and disability, more dependency on ongoing medical care, less mobility, and increased vulnerability to COVID-19. Therefore, the death rate in a protracted war in Ukraine could be even higher than in the Iraq War.

War and its health impacts can be prevented. There are four levels of prevention that can be applied:

  • Primordial prevention addresses the root causes of war.
  • Primary prevention addresses the precipitating causes of war and aims to resolve disputes nonviolently.
  • Secondary prevention attempts to end war and reduce its impacts
  • Tertiary prevention rehabilitates and restores the health of individuals and communities after war has ended.

But soon, it was be too late for primordial or primary prevention, and efforts may need to focus on protecting civilians and civilian infrastructure, providing humanitarian assistance, and working to end the violence as soon as possible.

Damage to Nuclear Power Reactors – Linda Pentz Gunter

The 15 nuclear power reactors at four sites in Ukraine both face and create a series of risks should a war or escalated conflict break out there. Even if the reactors sites —which deliver 50% of Ukraine’s electricity needs — are not embroiled in the conflict zone, they are still vulnerable to catastrophic outcomes.

The Chernobyl nuclear site and the Exclusion Zone are also potentially at risk.

The presence of 15 reactors in Ukraine, or any nuclear reactors anywhere, automatically adds to the medical risks for the surrounding populations should something else major happen.  And that something else need not be a war.

We are already seeing the ravages of the climate crisis and how this can knock out

essential power supplies. Nuclear power plants are already vulnerable. They are more so if caught up in a war that could cause the grid to go down.

There are 15 reactors in Ukraine grouped at 4 sites and providing 50% of the country’s electricity needs. They are Russian VVER reactors of 1,000 megawatts each, similar in design to our traditional light water reactors.

And there is the closed Chernobyl nuclear plant in the north, which were RMBK graphite moderated reactors.

If a war takes out the electric grid, whether by accident or deliberate sabotage—including even through a cyber attack, the nuclear plant operators will try to shut the reactors down. But if they lose onsite power as well, should that backup power fail, as it did at Fukushima, things can get  far more dire with similar outcomes to an actual attack.

Are any of Ukraine’s reactors likely to be within the battle zone? Rivne and Khmelnitsky in the far west, are probably out of harm’s way. South Ukraine is also less likely to come under direct attack. Of most concern, given its size and location is Zaporizhzhia. It’s the largest nuclear power station in Europe, with a net capacity of 5700 MW. The Zaporizhzhia reactors were already vulnerable during the Crimea invasion in 2014 when a far-right Ukrainian group tried to gain entry. They are about 200 kilometers from the Donbas conflict zone.

If any of these reactors are embroiled in the war zone but not attacked or hit, the nuclear plant workers, may fear for their lives and the lives of their families. They would want to — and should — evacuate with their loved ones.

But what happens if they do? The answer is they can’t. Or not all of them. Nuclear power plants, even under normal circumstances are never walkaway safe. Some workers would have to stay behind.  If the nuclear workforce evacuates, you set in motion a cascade of meltdowns at that site, whether or not it is directly attacked.

If one or more of these reactors takes an accidental hit from a bomb or missile or even just artillery fire, we could be talking about another Chernobyl or, actually, multiple Chernobyls.

The worst of all possible outcomes is that a direct hit destroys the reactor immediately. But even if the reactor is severely damaged or disabled, then you start to lose coolant and the reactor heats up, the fuel rods are exposed, and explosive gases are created. One spark and you could see an explosion as we did at three of the Fukushima reactors.

Some of the workforce may be injured or killed, or struggling to shut down the remaining reactors. Added to that, if the spent fuel pools boil and evaporate, exposing the rods, these could catch fire. A fuel pool fire is even worse than the reactor exploding because spent fuel pools contain a far hotter radioactive inventory than the reactor itself.

Those radioactive releases would be dispersed across thousands of miles. We have already had a glimpse of what that would look like for human health after Chernobyl. The plume pathway for just radioactive cesium-137 resulting from the 1986 Chernobyl explosion hit Belarus, Russia and Ukraine the worst. But it went all across Europe. Not all the hot spots were concentrated closest to Chernobyl.

If any of Ukraine’s 15 reactors were hit, it would be much worse than Chernobyl. All of them are older than Chernobyl Unit 4 was in 1986. They have bigger radioactive inventories. And they are all multiple reactor sites. People all across Europe would be affected.

But what if there was a deliberate attack on the reactors, an act of sabotage to disable them, or even a cyber attack? We know nuclear sites are vulnerable to cyber attack. We’ve seen it before with the 2010 Stuxnet cyber attack on 15 of Iran’s nuclear facilities including the Natanz uranium enrichment plant.

Would Russia — or any country or even rogue group —really use reactors as weapons of war, allowing them to deliberately melt down and potentially contaminate wide portions of Europe?

This would seem like a scaled down exercise in mutually assured destruction, given prevailing winds would likely blow much of the radiation across Russia and Belarus. A deliberate attack  on a nuclear plant would have much the same outcome as an accidental one. It would release a massive plume of radioactivity and would be a medical and humanitarian disaster of monumental and likely completely unmanageable proportions.

What would that mean for human health?

We should have a guide from the example of Chernobyl. But there was a scandalous and even heartless international effort, by agencies like the IAEA, with vested interests in minimizing the disaster, to do just that. We must look to independent sources to get a truer sense of the numbers. And here we must remind ourselves that, with Chernobyl, we are talking about just one, relatively new reactor not the multiple ones now in Ukraine containing far more radioactivity.

Three of the best sources on the real health impacts are IPPNW Germany’s 20-years after Chernobyl report;  Ian Fairlie’s TORCH Report; and Kate Brown’s book — Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future. And then you just take their numbers and imagine an orders of magnitude worse situation  if, let’s say, one or more of the Zaporizhzhia reactors are hit, whether accidentally or deliberately, and melt down. 

And that’s not where it ends.

Looking at a specific sample of Chernobyl victims, Dr. Wladimir Wertelecki, a physician and geneticist, who conducted post-Chernobyl research in Polissia, Ukraine, found birth defects and other health disturbances among not only those who were adults at the time of the Chernobyl disaster, but their children who were in utero at the time and, most disturbingly, their later offspring.

So if reactors are breached during a war in Ukraine, that war, in a medical sense, will never be over.

But what about the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone? Could it, and the nuclear site itself, get caught up in a war?


Russian troops could choose to cross into Ukraine from Belarus, the shortest route to Kyiv, taking them through the Chernobyl Zone. But it is marshy and difficult terrain, in addition to being radioactive, so certainly not the ideal entry point.

The destroyed Chernobyl Unit 4, along with 200 metric tonnes of uranium, plutonium, liquid fuel and irradiated dust, are encased in a sarcophagus completed in 2019. But that sarcophagus, which is only supposed to last 100 years, could collapse under the vibrations of explosions in a war zone. That would loft radioactive dust into the atmosphere causing yet another major health crisis.

And there is one more huge threat to this area, as well as to any war zone involving nuclear plants, and that is fire. We’ve already seen literally hundreds of fires in the Chernobyl Zone, sadly many started deliberately. Under ever more extreme climate conditions, wildfires will get larger and more frequent. In 2020, a forest fire that broke out within the Chernobyl Zone threatened to reach the plant site.

Forest fires reloft and redistribute radiation trapped in the soil. The 2020 fire increased radiation levels to 16 times higher than they had been previously. War clearly raises the risk of fires. And the Chernobyl Zone is a tinder box.

Dr. Tim Mousseau and his team discovered that dead wood and leaf litter on the forest floors is not decaying properly, likely because the microbes and other organisms that drive the process

of decay are reduced or gone due to their own prolonged exposure to radiation.

Equally, wildfires triggered by war close to any of Ukraine’s operating reactors could have dire consequences. Even under just normal reactor operating circumstances, fire is considered the bulk of the risk for a core melt.

Wars in regions where there are nuclear reactors raise the dangers to almost unimaginable heights.  All of this, in my view, strengthens the argument to permanently close and dismantle the world’s nuclear power plants as soon as possible.

Escalation to Nuclear Weapons – Ira Helfand, M.D.

A large scale conventional conflict in Ukraine will create a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.  But the parties to this dispute, NATO and Russia, are armed with enormous nuclear arsenals, and so it is important to consider also the consequences if the conflict escalates to the use of nuclear weapons since both NATO and Russian military doctrines allow for the use of tactical nuclear weapons to fend off defeat in a major conventional war.

Despite reductions in nuclear forces over the last several decades, Russia still has 1900 tactical nuclear weapons and 1600 deployed strategic nuclear weapons.  On the NATO side, France has 280 deployed nuclear weapons and the UK, 120.  In addition the United States has 100 B 61 tactical bombs deployed at NATO bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey and an additional 1650 deployed strategic warheads. (Ref)

If even a single 100 Kt (kiloton) nuclear weapon exploded over the Kremlin, it could kill a quarter of a million people and injure a million more, completely overwhelming the disaster response capability of the Russian capital. A single 100 kiloton bomb detonated over the US Capital would kill over 170.000 people and injure nearly 400,000. (Ref)

But it is unlikely that an escalating nuclear conflict between the US and Russia would involve single warheads over their respective capitals.  Rather it is more likely that there would be many weapons directed against many cities and many of these weapons would be substantially larger than 100 Kt.  For example, Russia’s 460 SS-18 M6 Satan warheads have a yield of 500 to 800 Kt.  The W88 warhead deployed on US Trident submarines has a yield of 455 Kt. 

Major cities like New York or Moscow are probably targeted with at least 10 to 20 nuclear weapons each 30 to 50 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. To describe the destruction they would cause we can use the model of a single 20 MT (megaton) bomb. The total megatonage in an actual attack would be less, but, because the explosive force would be spread out more efficiently across the metropolitan area, the actual destruction would be even greater.

Within 1/1000th of a second, a fireball would form reaching out for two miles in every direction, four miles across.  Temperatures would rise to 20 million degrees Fahrenheit, and everything–buildings, trees, cars, and people–would be vaporized.

To a distance of 4 miles in every direction, the blast would produce pressures of 25 pounds per square inch and winds in excess of 650 miles per hour. Forces of this magnitude can destroy essentially anything that we build including reinforced concrete and steel structures. Even deep underground bomb shelters would be crushed.

To a distance of six miles in every direction, the heat would still be intense enough to melt sheet metal.  And to a distance of 10 miles in every direction,  the blast wave would create pressures of 7 to 10 pounds per square inch and winds of 200 miles per hour.

To a distance of at least 16 miles in every direction, the heat would ignite all easily flammable materials–paper, cloth, wood, leaves, gasoline, heating oil–starting hundreds of thousands of fires. Fanned by blast winds still in excess of 100 miles per hour, these fires would merge into a giant firestorm 32 miles across and covering 800 square miles. Everything within this entire area would be consumed by flames. Temperatures would rise to 1400 degrees Fahrenheit. And everyone would die.

If just 300 warheads in the Russian arsenal got through to urban targets in the US, 75 to 100 million  people would die in the first half hour and tens of millions would be fatally injured.  Huge swaths of the country would be blanketed by radioactive fallout and the industrial, transportation and communication infrastructure which we all depend on would be destroyed.  The internet, the electric grid, the food distribution system, the public health and banking systems would all be gone.  In the following months the vast majority of those who survived the initial attack would also die, from radiation sickness, epidemic disease, exposure and starvation. A US attack on Russia would cause similar devastation.

But these are just the direct effects.  In addition, the large scale use of nuclear weapons would also cause catastrophic climate disruption.  When a nuclear attack causes a city to burn, enormous amounts of soot are lofted into the upper atmosphere.  If all of the deployed weapons in the US and Russian arsenals were used against urban targets some 150 Tg (terragrams or million tons) of soot would be generated, blocking out the sun and dropping temperatures across the planet an average of 100 C.  In the interior regions of North America and Eurasia temperatures would drop 25 to 300 C.  The Earth has not seen temperatures this cold since the last Ice Age.  In the temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere there would be 3 years without a day free of frost—the temperature would drop below freezing every single day.  Under those conditions the ecosystems which have evolved since the last Ice Age would collapse, food production would plummet and the vast majority of the human race would starve.  (Ref)

Even a much more limited nuclear war would cause catastrophic global climate disruption.  As few as 250 100 kiloton bombs could generate 37 Tg. of soot dropping temperatures 5.5 0 C and triggering massive crop failures and catastrophic worldwide famine that would put hundreds of millions, possibly billions of people at risk.  This would not mean the extinction of our species; if would mean the end of modern civilization.  No civilization in history has survived a shock of this magnitude and there is no reason to assume that the delicate, complex economic system on which we all depend would do any better.

Categories
Environment

Mid-winter Thaw

Deer paths in the snow.

Ambient high temperatures are forecast around 40 degrees the next couple of days. If that bears out, most of the snow should be gone. It has been a welcome time for cocooning yet this week’s weather indicates it won’t be long before working outdoors.

Onions and shallots need a trim. Broccoli seeds planted Sunday have begun to germinate. It’s good to see the older seeds are still vital. I’m thinking of setting up the greenhouse yet it’s too early.

We’ll see what Iowa’s weather does. For the moment, hope of spring is not far away. That’s enough to encourage me to get to work on everything.

Categories
Environment

Grassley on Climate Change

This response to my message to U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley has been sitting in a file folder waiting for me to write a response. Upon review, I don’t really have a response as the letter speaks for itself. Shorter Grassley: wind, ethanol and biodiesel are what I have been and am willing to work on going forward.

Dear Mr. Deaton:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me. As your senator, it is important for me to hear from you. 

I appreciate you sharing your concerns regarding climate change with me. I have long said that I acknowledge that a changing climate is a historical and scientific fact. I also recognize that most scientists say manmade emissions contribute to climate change. In addition, it is just common sense to promote the development of clean forms of energy. In fact, throughout my tenure in the Senate, I have been a leader in promoting alternative energy sources as a way of protecting our environment and increasing our energy independence. I’ve been an outspoken advocate of various forms of renewable and alternative energy, including wind, biomass, agriculture wastes, ethanol and biodiesel. As the former Chairman and Ranking member of the Finance Committee, I’ve worked for years to enact tax policies that support the growth of these alternative resources and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. We need to develop a comprehensive energy policy and review the tax incentives for all energy sources. Our goal should be that clean energy alternatives become cost-effective, viable parts of our energy mix to power our homes and businesses for the long term.

To the extent that clean, alternative forms of energy can be made more cost effective than fossil fuels, it will be a win-win situation. In the meantime, any measure that forces a shift from low-cost energy sources to higher cost alternatives will impose hardships on hard working Americans, especially those least able to afford higher prices for home heating, food, and transportation. Higher energy costs also affect jobs, particularly in the manufacturing sector.

I believe we have an obligation to future generations that our environment is both clean and safe. Additionally, I believe it makes economic sense to have a healthy environment. Throughout my tenure in the Senate, I have authored and supported legislation that promotes  renewable   energy  sources to protect the environment, support our economy, and increase our  energy  independence. I’ve been an advocate of various forms, including wind, ethanol, and biodiesel.  

As you may know, Iowa has had much success in the production of these  renewable   energy  sources. As the number one producer of corn, ethanol, and biodiesel, our state leads the nation’s  renewable  fuels industry. This cleaner-burning, homegrown  energy  supports the economy by generating 37,000 jobs and nearly $4 billion of Iowa’s GDP. In 2020, Iowa produced 3.7 billion gallons of ethanol. In regards to environmental benefits, ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent compared to conventional gasoline.

As the “father” of the Wind  Energy  Incentives Act of 1993, I sought to give this  renewable   energy  source the ability to compete with traditional, finite sources. Today, wind  energy  supports over 9,000 Iowa jobs and provides 40 percent of our state’s electricity. Like ethanol and other advanced biofuels, wind  energy  is  renewable  and does not obligate the United States to rely on unstable foreign states. Further, the U.S. Department of Energy recently released its annual wind Markets Reports. Within this report are several notable updates about Iowa. Iowa currently leads the U.S. in wind-generated electricity. At 57 percent, Iowa has become the only state where over half of our in-state generated energy comes from wind. Lastly, the wind industry supports over 116,000 U.S. jobs.  

Going forward, I believe the most effective action Congress can take to address this issue is to advance policies that increase the availability and affordability of  renewable   energy  sources. If these  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.  

Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me. Please keep in touch. 

   Sincerely,

  Chuck Grassley
  United States Senator
Email from U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley dated Nov. 10, 2021.
Categories
Environment

Waiting for Scions

Shallot seeds germinated first this year.

Inconsistent winter weather disrupted fruit tree plans. On Wednesday snow melt began flowing in the gutters and downspout. It felt safe enough to make a trip through melting snow pack to the composter near the garden. A slushy mix returned to the end of the driveway. Weather has been weird.

It takes several days of subzero temperatures in a row to prune fruit trees. I prefer a week of ten or twenty below zero yet we haven’t had that. I also seek to harvest scions, (pencil shaped fruit tree cuttings) to graft on root stock. I would save the Red Delicious apple tree which was damaged in the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho. It served us well while it was whole. Trees need dormancy for scions to work and we haven’t had that either.

This week has been a fake spring. It’s still winter, for Pete’s sake! Yet the buds on trees look healthy, like they are ready to sprout. The lilac bushes were leafing just last month. I wouldn’t mind spring’s arrival yet I want a winter too.

At least the onions and shallots planted Jan. 6 are germinating.

We bunker in to avoid the coronavirus and wait for a deep freeze and dormancy it would bring. These days have been good for writing.

It is difficult waiting for winter and fruit tree work when what we really want is a normal spring. Today, I’d settle for a normal winter so I can harvest scions.

Categories
Environment

Conservatives Have a Climate Caucus

On walkabout, Dec. 18, 2021.

When I wrote my Federal Elected Officials about climate change on Oct. 18, Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks was first to respond a few days later (see below). I did not know there was a Conservative Climate Caucus. She is a member and lifted the third paragraph of her response to me from the caucus website.

As long as she supports the beliefs of the caucus, there will be trouble reconciling my views with hers. In the long run, that’s okay. It is a starting point and we need to get going. We needed to get going 50 years ago.

The Conservative Climate Caucus was founded by Republican Congressman John R. Curtis (UT-03) in June this year with the following statement of beliefs:

What We Believe

The climate is changing, and decades of a global industrial era that has brought prosperity to the world has also contributed to that change.

Private sector innovation, American resources, and R&D investment have resulted in lower emissions and affordable energy, placing the United States as the global leader in reducing emissions

Climate change is a global issue and China is the greatest immediate obstacle to reducing world emissions. Solutions should reduce global emissions and not just be “feel good” policies

Practical and exportable answers can be found in innovation embraced by the free market. Americans and the rest of the world want access to cheaper, reliable, and cleaner energy

With innovative technologies, fossil fuels can and should be a major part of the global solution

Reducing emissions is the goal, not reducing energy choices

What We Do

Educate House Republicans on climate policies and legislation consistent with conservative values

Organize co-dels and staff-dels to better understand technologies and issues related to climate

Organize Member and staff briefings on conservative climate proposals

Bring Republicans to the table to fight against radical progressive climate proposals that would hurt our economy, American workers, and national security

Introduce Republican members and staff to leaders in industry, think tanks, and more

Conservative Climate Caucus website.

When it comes to hurting our economy, American workers, and national security, engagement of the federal government to address the climate crisis is essential. As long as Iowa focuses on ethanol, industrial agriculture using manufactured fertilizers, and monoculture row crops and livestock, the environment will get worse. It is pretty bad already if one looks at water and air quality. There is not much hope for the Conservative Climate Caucus as it was introduced, yet it’s what we have. It is an open question whether Democrats are up to the challenge of retiring Miller-Meeks after her first term. She is a strong campaigner and well known in the district. We have to begin somewhere, and soon. This may be it.

Email from Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Oct. 22, 2021.
Categories
Environment

Shine More Light on CCS

Field Corn

The more sunshine that falls on Carbon Capture and Sequestration plans of Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator CO2 Ventures the better.

On Sunday, Erin Jordan of the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported something surprising: “Scientists with the Iowa Geological Survey say the state has the underground infrastructure for sequestration here, which would allow Iowa companies to keep more of the federal tax credits for CO2 storage and build fewer miles of new pipelines.”

If CO2 can be stored in Iowa, why build the contentious pipelines from Iowa to North Dakota and Illinois?

“Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, Navigator vice president of government and public affairs, said at a meeting last week Iowa isn’t suited for carbon sequestration,” Jordan wrote. Not so fast say Iowa scientists who produced a study of the matter.

My point in publicizing this article is 1). to thank Jordan for covering an important issue, and 2). what is the rush in building the Summit and Navigator CCS operations?

The climate crisis is an urgent matter now and will escalate in importance during coming years. Before we invest dollars in an unproven, complicated scheme to protect ethanol and fertilizer production in a decarbonized economy, perhaps government should take the lead in determining whether CCS will actually work. In other locations around the world it hasn’t, for example, in Chevron’s operation in Western Australia. Asking the current Iowa government to get involved in examining project viability is contrary to the direction legislators and the governor would take us.

While the federal government budgeted a significant amount of money for CCS, how exactly it will be used is a moving target. Reuters reported “California lawmaker Ro Khanna introduced a bill into the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday that would prevent investors from securing carbon capture and sequestration tax credits if the carbon is used to boost oil production.” Given the propensity of the Congress to support CCS, it seems unlikely Khanna’s bill will see passage. As Reuters reported, “The bill… reflects deep political divisions in Congress over whether and how carbon capture can be used as a tool in the fight against climate change.” Until the Build Back Better Act is passed CCS funding won’t be final. Even then it is subject to modification by the Congress.

As the public and members of news media engage in the Summit and Navigator proposals it should be positive for Iowans. To learn more, check out our updated resource page here. And let the sunshine fall.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Categories
Environment

Climate Change Is Missing In CCS Debate

2012 Drought Conference in Mount Pleasant, Iowa

The language used by supporters of carbon capture and sequestration in Iowa is very specific. Not only doesn’t it include the words “climate change,” it specifically avoids mentioning it. This is a long-standing practice among major agricultural groups.

As mentioned last week, Iowa is primarily a production landscape for hogs, cattle, corn and beans where our water, air and land have been and continue to be used like an open sewer. The major agricultural groups are the Iowa Pork Producers Association, the Cattlemen’s Association, the Iowa Corn Growers Association, and the Iowa Soybean Association. Agricultural Iowa is about business at a distance from the meme farmers are the original environmentalists. To them, carbon capture is about business, not reducing greenhouse gas emissions or stewardship of the environment.

Representatives of these agricultural associations showed up in Mount Pleasant, Iowa during the 2012 drought. Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds heard their report. The words “climate change” were absent from public discussion of the drought.

The eight hundred pound gorilla in the Mount Pleasant High School Gymnasium today was the subject of climate change. Governor Terry Branstad called for a public discussion on drought conditions in Iowa and all of the governmental players were there: USDA, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and the Farm Services Administration. The phrase “climate change,” or any analysis of causation for the current drought was absent from the public discussion. This was a meeting about row crop agriculture and related agricultural producers and it was intended to deal with the as-is situation. The obvious problem, as Mark Schouten of Homeland Security and Emergency Response put it, “you can’t snap your fingers and make it rain.”

Paul Deaton, Blog for Iowa July 17, 2012.

The eight hundred pound gorilla has returned to Iowa as the Iowa Utilities Board hears the case for Summit and Navigator to implement carbon capture and sequestration systems which include hundreds of miles of buried pipeline. The language is familiar in its avoidance of discussion of climate change.

On Monday, Rep. Chuck Isenhart attended a public information meeting held by the Iowa Utilities Board for the Navigator project in Manchester. He used Twitter to relay news from the meeting. If landowners were most concerned with restoration of land productivity in the event the CO2 pipeline crossed their property, following is a main point about the absence of climate change from the discussion:

While the project as proposed would offset the CO2 equivalent of 34.7 million barrels of oil annually, according to Isenhart, “No meaningful impact on PPM atmospheric CO2 anticipated from project.” What is the project about if not reducing greenhouse gases like CO2? “Economic competitiveness of ethanol and fertilizer producers.”

States like California and Oregon have already begun to move toward a low carbon economy, including debate on whether ethanol is a “low carbon fuel.” Let me settle it this way. Summit and Navigator are spending more than a billion dollars to ship condensed CO2 from ethanol and fertilizer plants and bury it deep geological formations. Seems like a lot of carbon dioxide production to me. Why are they doing that?

In a July 2021 letter to President Joe Biden, a group of 70 ethanol producers pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The main method is carbon capture and sequestration. Why send it?

  • The delay by the Biden administration in release of volume requirements in the Renewable Fuel Standard for 2021 and 2022.
  • The ethanol industry suffered major setbacks in court with the loss of year-round E15 and at the Supreme Court on a small-refinery exemptions case.
  • In response to policies like the Renewable Fuel Standard, California Low Carbon Fuel Standard, and Oregon Clean Fuels Program.
  • President Biden rejoined the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The debate among environmentalists is whether a decarbonized economy reaches net zero emissions or zero emissions. In either case, pairing ethanol and fertilizer production with CCS doesn’t meet the requirements.

The more study of the matter, the clearer it becomes that the Summit and Navigator projects are about making ethanol “competitive” should the economy decarbonize. It is a big hedge against a government directive to eliminate the financial and policy incentives to produce corn for ethanol.

Opposing production of corn ethanol is not a popular position in Iowa because more than half of corn raised is feed stock for ethanol. However, it is the right position.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa