Time to Transition Away From Ginna to Renewables

By no means is the debate over the Ginna Nuclear Power Plant a black and white issue. If the plant closes it will initially lead to hundreds of lost jobs and millions of dollars in lost tax revenue for Wayne County. Everyone knows this. It doesn’t seem to matter if the rising cost of running a nuclear power plant makes keeping Ginna open an economic and environmental liability. Not only are the proponents of salvaging Ginna concerned about the lights going out, they are also worried about putting bread on the table.

Yet our nation’s second smallest reactor is also the seventh oldest in the world. For decades it has been on the verge of closing. In 2012-2013 the plant was scheduled to lose $43 million before it was gobbled up by Exelon. It has been a long time since nuclear power has been competitive without “must-run” contracts and “clean energy” subsidies. In fact, if not for subsidies from energy consumers like you and me, the plant would not survive. Sadly, 300,000 utility users are preparing to fork over $132 million annually to keep a plant alive that is underperforming, producing excessive radioactive waste and delaying the transition to an infrastructure for renewables such as solar and wind.  According to the Rochester Area Reliability Project, unsafe levels of radiation at Ginna have been a longstanding problem whereas fears about the lights going out are unsubstantiated. If a comparison with a nation that is many years ahead of us in terms of energy, on one day last year the Germans supplied over 70 percent of their energy from renewables. With further investment from their government and continued buy-in from their citizenry, this could reach 100 percent on every single day of the year in the next 5 years!

Regarding the important issue of jobs, The Alliance for a Green Economy has demonstrated that for every 1.7 jobs created by Ginna, there are 5.4 jobs that could be created by solar and nearly 7.2 jobs that could be created in the energy efficiency sector. Moreover, the dismantling of the nuclear reactor requires extensive skilled labor, as does the removal and storage of hazardous materials. Rather than think about losing jobs in Wayne County, we should be thinking about creating hundreds of new jobs that will last longer, pay better and be far more safe to humans, animals, and the air. Now is the time for the transition. If we wait, the opportunity might not come again.

At one time, Ginna was the future. But  it was a future made in the image of a country less familiar with the dangers of global warming, radioactive waste and nuclear proliferation. Back then (44 years ago) the world was a lot more predictable and controllable, and the oldest reactor of its type was cutting edge. Today it just cuts. Regarding climate change in particular, renewables are the only option that make any sense whatsoever. Major studies by MIT, the Commission on Energy Policy and the International Atomic Energy Agency, agree that about 1,500 to 2,000 large new atomic reactors would have to be built worldwide for nuclear power to make any meaningful dent in greenhouse emissions. (Less than 400 reactors now operate globally.) Furthermore, construction of 1,500 new reactors would cost trillions of dollars, take six to 10 years a piece to build and produce an astonishing amount of dangerous waste and plutonium. Meanwhile a new solar rooftop system is installed in the U.S. every four minutes, a number the Nuclear Information and Resource Service predicts will reach 90-seconds by 2016.

The option is ours. We can try to create a path forward that leads to a 100 percent reduction in carbon emissions and the establishment of a robust green economy (in a region that has an abundance of natural resources) or we can side with a dying reactor that will either fizzle out or be catastrophically destroyed by an unforeseen natural event. The Fukushima accident was caused primarily by loss of power, not damage from the earthquake/tsunami. Even without mega-storms reactors like Ginna are vulnerable to more frequent tornados, ice storms and power outages. Who can honestly say that Ginna is not more vulnerable today than it has ever been in its history of operation? That being the case, the question should no longer be: Who is financially responsible for Ginna? The real question should be: Who does our future belong to and how can we make sure that they have one?



Climate Change and the Age of Miracles

The Age of Miracles is author Karen Thompson Walker’s debut novel written in 2012.  Already a fan of the dystopian master Jose Saramago, Walker was inspired to write this book after the 2004 earthquake/tsunami in Indonesia. This event was so powerful that it reduced the length of our 24-hour day by a few fractions of a second than it was before.

Walker’s book is about what happens to ordinary people when a natural catastrophe alters everything about their world. The main protagonist is named Julia and, though she’s now in her 20s, most of her narration is retrospective, taking us back to her 11-year-old self — the year everyday life fell apart. The following is an early passage in The Age of Miracles that sets the tone for the rest of the novel.

We didn’t notice right away. We couldn’t feel it.

We did not sense, at first, the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath skin.

We were distracted, back then, by weather and war. We had no interest in the turning of the earth. Bombs continued to explode on the streets of distant countries. Hurricanes came and went. Summer ended. A new school year began. The clocks ticked as usual. Seconds beaded into minutes. Minutes grew into hours. And there was nothing to suggest that those hours too weren’t still pooling into days, each the same, fixed length known to every human being.

But there were those who would later claim to have recognized the disaster before the rest of us did. These were the night workers, the graveyard shifters, the stockers of shelves, and the loaders of ships, the drivers of big-rig trucks, or else they were the bearers of different burdens: the sleepless and the troubled and the sick. These people were accustomed to waiting out the night. Through bloodshot eyes, a few did detect a certain persistence of darkness on the mornings leading up to the news, but each mistook it for the private misperception of a lonely, rattled mind.

On the sixth of October, the experts went public. This, of course, is the day we all remember. There’d been a change, they said, a slowing, and that’s what we called it from then on: the slowing.

“We have no way of knowing if this trend will continue,” said a shy bearded scientist at a hastily arranged press conference, now infamous. He cleared his throat and swallowed. Cameras flashed in his eyes. Then came the moment, replayed so often afterward that the particular cadences of that scientist’s speech — the dips and the pauses and that slight Midwestern slant — would be forever married to the news itself. He went on: “But we suspect that it will continue.”

Our days had grown by fifty-six minutes in the night.

At the beginning, people stood on street corners and shouted about the end of the world. Counselors came to talk to us at school. I remember watching Mr. Valencia next door fill up his garage with stacks of canned food and bottled water, as if preparing, it now seems to me, for a disaster much more minor.

The grocery stores were soon empty, the shelves sucked clean like chicken bones.

The freeways clogged immediately. People heard the news and they wanted to move. Families piled into minivans and crossed state lines. They scurried in every direction like small animals caught suddenly under a light.

But, of course, there was nowhere on earth to go.

The news broke on a Saturday.

In our house, at least, the change had gone unnoticed. We were still asleep when the sun came up that morning, and so we sensed nothing unusual in the timing of its rise. Those last few hours before we learned of the slowing remain preserved in my memory — even all these years later — as if trapped behind glass.

My friend Hanna had slept over the night before, and we’d camped out in sleeping bags on the living room floor, where we’d slept side by side on a hundred other nights. We woke to the purring of lawn mower motors and the barking of dogs, to the soft squeak of a trampoline as the twins jumped next door. In an hour we’d both be dressed in blue soccer uniforms — hair pulled back, sunscreen applied, cleats clicking on tile.

The consequences of this phenomenon are at first subtle but become increasingly more dramatic as the story progresses: longer days and longer nights, alterations in gravity leading to pandemic sickness, the earth’s changing magnetic field, mutations to the tides, and more-all of which affect plants, animals, and humans.

In spite of these obstacles, Walker’s characters strive to carry on as normally as possible. In my estimation, here lies the novel’s greatest strength. Rather than resort to platitudes about the moral state of humanity, Walker strives to tell a particular story that is meant to focus on the ordinary moments in people’s lives, and all the ways that this extraordinary event would (and would not) change them.  The particular type of disaster does not interest her as much as the way humans respond to chaos in general. Walker reminds us that it is in times of crisis when we learn what it truly means to be human. She writes: “The only way that I could imagine telling the story of this global catastrophe was through the memories of a woman looking back on her childhood. It was a way of making this unlikely story feel personal, and, I hope, realistic. Similarly, I’m not sure  I could have written the coming of age story without the slowing. For me, the looming catastrophe helped call my attention to everything that’s precious and meaningful about an ordinary suburban childhood.”

Although Walker may not have intended her fictional story to be a simple metaphor for global warming, the comparison is worth exploring in greater depth. When there is no reversal to “the slowing” the government decides to enforce the 24-hour clock regardless. This results in “white nights” and “dark days,” and robust sales of sunlamps and blackout blinds.  A passive rebellion begins. “Real-timers” throw out their clocks and return to their circadian rhythms, forming communes in the desert. But “the real-timers made us uncomfortable,” Julia says. “They were a threat to the social order.” 

The changes occurring to our planet are no less revolutionary in some parts of the world than the changes Julia and her family experience as a result of the “slowing” in Southern California. From Kyoto to Katmandu, the lives of people are being turned upside down by the slightest increases in planetary temperatures. low-income countries will remain on the frontline of human-induced climate change over the next century, experiencing gradual sea-level rises, stronger cyclones, warmer days and nights, more unpredictable rains, and larger and longer heatwaves. In fact, one of the last major UN assessments in 2007 predicted runaway temperature rises of 6C or more by the end of the century, which is sizable enough to devastate crops and make life in many cities unbearably hot. East Africa, for example, can expect to experience increased short rains, while west Africa should expect heavier monsoons. Burma, Bangladesh and India can expect stronger cyclones; elsewhere in southern Asia, heavier summer rains are anticipated. Indonesia may receive less rainfall between July and October, but the coastal regions around the south China Sea and Gulf of Thailand can expect increased rainfall extremes when cyclones hit land.  Life in many developing country cities could become practically impossible, given that urban temperatures are already well above those in the surrounding countryside. Much higher temperatures could reduce the length of the growing period in some parts of Africa by up to 20%. In fact, Oxfam predicted that world hunger would worsen as climate change inevitably hurt crop production and disrupted incomes. The number of people at risk of hunger might climb by 10% to 20% by 2050, with daily per-capita calorie availability falling across the world. The report stated that “A hot world is a hungry world. If the remainder of the 21st century unfolds like its first decade, we will soon experience climate extremes well outside the boundaries of human experience.” (http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/sep/27/climate-change-poor-countries-ipcc)

Affluent nations will also continue to be impacted by these changes. Wide-ranging impacts of climate change have already been documented in Europe, including retreating glaciers, longer growing seasons, species range shifts, and heat wave-related health impacts. Many economic sectors, such as agriculture and energy, could face severe challenges. In southern Europe, higher temperatures and drought may reduce water availability, hydropower potential, summer tourism, and crop productivity. In central and eastern Europe, summer precipitation is projected to decrease, causing higher water stress. Across Europe forest productivity is projected to decline. The frequency of peatland fires is projected to increase. The Environmental Protection Agency has reported that the impacts on North America are also dire. Warming in western mountains is projected to decrease snowpack, increase winter flooding, and reduce summer flows, exacerbating competition for over-allocated water resources. Disturbances from pests, diseases, and fire are projected to increasingly affect forests, with extended periods of high fire risk and large increases in area burned.

 Moderate climate change in the early decades of the century is projected to increase aggregate yields of rain-fed agriculture by 5-20%. Crops that are near the warm end of their suitable range or that depend on highly utilized water resources will likely face major challenges. Increases in the number, intensity, and duration of heat waves during the course of the century are projected to further challenge cities that currently experience heat waves, with potential for adverse health impacts. Climate change will likely increasingly stress coastal communities and habitats, worsening the existing stresses of development and pollution. (http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/impacts-adaptation/international.html)

Just as Walker’s characters are unwilling to accept the new temporal paradigm and stick to the government’s “clock time” solution,  there are climate change deniers today who are calling global warming a conspiratorial hoax. Senator Marco Rubio, for instance, is on record saying, “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.” Rubio, a Republican from Florida, has received $295,138 from the oil and gas industry in his career.  Former Governor Rick Perry has said, “Calling CO2 a pollutant is doing a disservice to the country, and I believe a disservice to the world.” Perry (R-TX) received $977,624 from oil and gas for his 2012 Presidential Campaign. And Lisa Murkowski, Chairwoman of the Energy & Natural Resources Committee has stated, “The emissions that are being put in the air by that volcano are a thousand years’ worth of emissions that would come from all of the vehicles, all of the manufacturing in Europe.” Senator Lisa Murkowski, (R-AK) – has received $733,144 from oil and gas industry in her career. (http://www.commondreams.org/views/2014/12/31/top-10-misguided-climate-deniers-quotes-2014)

Just as mayhem breaks out in the streets of Walker’s fictional California, there are groups of people in our world who are literally fleeing for the hills to establish isolated survivalist camps. And then there are the religious leaders who are actually proclaiming that climate change is a harbinger of God’s immeasurable wrath on humankind.  Quoting directly from the pages of the Hebrew Bible, these prophets of Armageddon profess that when God saw the violence and wickedness of man He was grieved in His heart and vowed to destroy all but Noah and his family through a flood: “I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights” (Gen 6.4) God also causes drought. As the Israelites wandered in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, God gave them the Ten Commandments, together with many sundry laws. He warned Israel to obey them and if they did not then one of the consequences would be drought; ‘The heaven which is over your head shall be bronze, and the earth which is under you iron. And the Lord will make the rain of your land powder and dust …’ (Deut 28.23,24) But if they sought God and turned away from their rebellious ways, then God promised to ‘heal their land’ (2 Chron 7.14). And when some Israelites returned from exile in Babylon, they were more interested in making nice houses than in the restoration of God’s house. As a result, God caused drought, resulting in a lack of produce (Hag 1.11).

Fortunately we also have the scientists. The great biologist Edward O. Wilson has written, “The race is now on between the technoscientific and scientific forces that are destroying the living environment and those that can be harnessed to save it. . . . If the race is won, humanity can emerge in a far better condition than when it entered, and with most of the diversity of life still intact.”

Lierre Keith has written: “Our best hope will never lie in individual survivalism. Nor does it lie in small groups doing their best to prepare for the worst. Our best and only hope is a resistance movement that is willing to face the scale of the horrors, gather our forces, and fight like hell for all we hold dear.”

 As with Walker’s characters, life must go on. Julia is more concerned about her parents unraveling marriage, preparing for the 6th grade dance party, and navigating the treacherous world of teenage friendships than she is the irreversible consequences of the earth’s slowing rotation, 50 hour days, and the mass extinction of biodiversity. Yet for those who happen to live in a gradually sinking city such as Tokyo, Venice or Miami, the stark reality of climate change is undeniable. Soon enough the whole world will be forced to change. From eating to sleeping our routines will be altered by a new climate.

So,  given where we are today, Walker’s novel is a superbly timed book that offers a much needed glimpse into what this shift in global consciousness will look and feel like. There is, however, one crucial difference between the world of Walker’s fiction and the reality of our heating planet. We do have the ability to stop our catastrophe from reaching its most violent zenith.  Unlike “the slowing,”  we can work to stop global warming because we know what and who is causing it.         Age of Miracles

Not in King’s Name: A Rodeo is No Tribute to King’s Legacy by Joel Helfrich

Can you imagine Martin Luther King Jr.’s wife and one of his sons, both of whom adopted vegan diets years ago, supporting a rodeo? The fact that a portion of the Stock Show held each year in Denver, Colorado, is called The Martin Luther King Jr. African-American Heritage Rodeo is insulting to King’s legacy. We can imagine that King would not only find such an event offensive but would have boycotted the rodeo. He most likely would have staged an alternative march to the parade.

King’s legacy, nearly 45 years after his death, is about tolerance, understanding, nonviolence, and believe-it-or-not, animal rights activism, certainly through the example of his son, Dexter Scott King, but also through personal choices that his wife, Coretta Scott King, made during the last ten years of her life. It is conceivable that King would have adopted a vegan diet if he had lived beyond age 39.

King’s influences and the people that he influenced are many. Most people do not realize that Rosa Parks, the woman at the center of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, was a vegetarian for over 40 years who credited her diet with helping her to maintain her health and stamina. Comedian and social activist Dick Gregory is a vegan; so is Cornel West. Cory Booker, the celebrity Mayor of Newark, New Jersey (now U.S. Senator) is now a vegan. King’s good friend, César Chávez, President of United Farm Workers of America, was a vegetarian. In 1990, he wrote, “Racism, economic deprival, dog fighting and cock fighting, bullfighting and rodeos are all cut from the same fabric: violence.” King’s son, who made the shift to a vegan diet because of animal welfare and rights, has stated that vegetarianism is the logical extension of his father’s philosophy and teachings regarding non-violence.

I tend to agree. I do not support the rodeo, torturing animals, the use of animals as entertainment (another word for exploitation), or hollow claims about culture as a main reason that rodeo activity persists, and would love to see the abolition of barbaric rodeo events. People should start to see animals as living creatures who have pain and fear and anxiety, just like anyone else. But I do not need to know King to understand that what humans are doing to other sentient beings on the planet is wrong, nor do I need a rodeo to teach me about his life. What is also shortsighted is the belief that you need a rodeo to teach people about black cowboys or honor King’s legacy. According to the creator of this specific event, Lu Vason, a goal of his is to “teach the public that there were plenty of African-American cowboys in the Old West.” He continued, “The history itself was basically eliminated from movies and history books. Our charge is to bring about more awareness.”

Longtime rodeo “performer” Maurice Wade agreed, according to columnist Joe Vaccarelli, and “said he would like to encourage all who believe in what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for to support this in his honor. ‘It’s because of that movement that we are able to compete.’” These comments led me to wonder: couldn’t the organizers find a more suitable example for this rodeo from the hundreds of known historic black cowboys throughout the Old West to represent their plans? The Black American West Museum and Heritage Center alone should have told the organizers a great amount about black cowboys and offered more names than just Bill Pickett.

As the famous influence on King’s life work, vegetarian Mahatma Gandhi, reminded us in 1925, one of the seven deadly sins or blunders, which applies directly to this situation, is “pleasure without conscience.” Hopefully the good citizens of Denver are aware enough to realize that rodeos are violent displays of abuse toward animals, that we do not need such events to teach African American history to school children or the general public, and that this event in no way honors Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy.

Joel Helfrich teaches history at Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York, and environmental studies at Hobart & William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York.

Radical Compassion is the Solution

The biggest problem in our world today is not global warming, hunger, racism, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, or even nuclear proliferation. The biggest problem in our world is lack of compassion. If we cultivate compassion towards ourselves, each other and all other animals, these other problems will be solvable.

Viewing ALL life as valuable challenges each of us in upsetting and unpredictable ways. To realize that black lives matter because white lives matter (and vice versa) is only the beginning. Police officers matter because the lives of people who commit crimes matter. Politicians matter because the constituents they serve matter. American soldiers matter because the lives of ISIS matter. If any human being is viewed as disposable, it means that all lives are disposable. This is the great indigestible truth of our species.

As a proponent of Martin Luther King’s philosophy of deep abiding love through active nonviolence, I am perplexed and saddened by how some of his contemporary followers have been quick to employ King’s famous line “a riot is the language of the unheard” in order to make it appear as if he would “understand” the use of violent tactics in situations where systemic oppression is so entrenched that it can not be uprooted in any other way. But “understanding” can become a euphemism for sanctioning or justifying violence. Nowhere was racism and oppression more entrenched than it was in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 or Birmingham in 1963. However, King never embraced violence as a relevant strategy. Until the end of his life he was an uncompromising apostle of nonviolence trained in the holy disciplines of Christian sacrifice, Jewish determination and Gandhian disobedience. The fact that he was able to express sympathy towards rioters, militant rebels and even white police officers in cities like Rochester, Detroit, Newark, and Watts was just another example of his remarkable capacity for historical insight and spiritual compassion. In is important that we do not confuse this compassion for acceptance. In King’s wise estimation violence always signified a major failure of religious and political creativity rather than an inevitable and sometimes therapeutic eruption of psychological duress.

The moral question that King posed to American society is as urgent today as it was during the heyday of the civil rights movement. Are we willing to despise violence more than we love our causes and duties? And if we are ready to relinquish violence as a viable option in the theater of conflict, how are we developing the tools and skills of radical compassion that we will need to transform hatred into love? This message speaks to the hearts of police and protestors alike. In one of his most powerful sermons entitled “Beyond Vietnam,” MLK proclaimed:

“This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I’m not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another (Yes), for love is God. (Yes) And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love. . . . If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us.” Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day.”untitled