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Easter Island as a metaphor: resource depletion, climate change and the word of God

Easter Island

Sunday’s Zaman, Sunday, 12 December 2010.

On the other side of the world lies Easter Island, located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at a distance of 3,747 kilometers west of Concepción, Chile. Its original inhabitants, the Rapa Nui, are now Chilean citizens (officially since 1966), and number about 3,000, confined to the island’s sheltered west coast, while some have migrated to mainland Chile over time.

In the past few months the island has been in the news occasionally. Since last summer, Rapa Nui activists have been occupying more than two dozen buildings in a “land dispute that dates back to 1888.” The Chilean Santiago Times reported in early August 2010 that “Rapa Nui clans have occupied close to 30 properties on the island, including museums, government-owned buildings, municipal buildings, the local tourism office and a hotel. The Rapa Nui Parliament is also working to increase the importance of Rapa Nui representatives in the Chilean government. Two weeks after Rapa Nui demonstrators began occupying properties on Easter Island, Chile’s government has sent more police [45 officers] to ‘monitor’ the situation.”

But rather than talk about indigenous rights, the vicissitudes of colonization and human rights’ abuses, I would now like to turn to the island’s pre-colonial history as a means to shed some light on our current global predicament. Giant monolithic statues called mo‘ai that can weigh up to 90 tons are Easter Island’s most striking feature (a total of 887 have been inventoried). They were made relatively recently, in the period between 1250 and 1500 CE.

When Europeans arrived on the island it was utterly treeless. Pollen analysis has revealed however that the island was “almost totally” forested until about the year 1200. But now the island is barren. A volcanic crater on the island’s eastern plain, Rano Raraku, provided the source of the sideromelane (basaltic) tuff from which 95% of the statues were carved. Some 250 mo‘ai are found in an almost unbroken line around the perimeter of the island, while 600 others in various stages of completion are scattered around the island. It is hard to imagine that this now barren island was once covered with trees and forests, but as wood and other tree materials were needed to transport the mo‘ai, trees had to be cut down and forests subsequently disappeared. In view of this rapacious resource depletion executed in the space of two and a half centuries, the locals devised narratives that managed to minimize the role of humans destroying the island’s abundant forests.

The environmentally concerned physicist Adam Frank, on the other hand, relates in a matter-of-fact voice that the “need for trees, rope, and food to maintain a population of laborers eventually led to the destruction of the very forests the islanders depended on. After the forests were gone erosion took the soil too. What followed was Easter Island collapsing into starvation, warfare and cannibalism. The chance of escape disappeared too as seafaring canoes require large trees for their hulls.”

A metaphor for the state of planet earth

The Easter Island story is truly a metaphor for the state of planet earth in the 21st century. It presents a bleak picture of the future awaiting our planet as a result of climate change: Resource depletion, soil erosion, desertification, ocean acidification, sea-level rise, habitat destruction, species’ extinction, in addition to overpopulation are some of the most salient problems humanity has ever faced. The Director of Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Germany’s Chief Government Advisor on Climate and Related Issues Hans Joachim Schellnhuber declared publicly that “We are on our way to a destabilization of the world climate that has advanced much further than most people or their governments realize . . . In nearly all areas, the developments are occurring more quickly than it has been assumed up until now.” Action is urgently needed, and currently the Mexican city of Cancún is hosting the latest round of UN climate talks and negotiations (Nov. 29 – Dec. 10). But the event has so far not produced any positive results. Far from ushering in change we can believe in, President Obama is simply continuing his predecessor’s stance on the Kyoto Protocol and allowing the US Congress not to ratify this internationally binding treaty committing most of the world’s richest countries to making emission cuts. And now Japan has categorically stated its opposition to extending the Protocol.

Christiana Figueres, secretary-general of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, announced that “It is very clear that given the diversity of positions on the Kyoto Protocol it is not going to be possible for Cancun to take a radical decision one way or the other on the Kyoto Protocol.” In a surprising turn of events, Huang Huikang, a special representative for climate change negotiations at China’s Foreign Ministry, said that some nations “want to kill the Kyoto Protocol, to end the Kyoto Protocol . . . This is a very worrying movement.” Worldwide, the three largest emitters of greenhouse gases are China (17 percent), the US (16 percent) and the EU (12 percent). China is trying very hard to convince the world that it is going green, but its power plants remain largely if not primarily coal-powered. Surprisingly, the US also uses coal for about 50% of its energy. After all, the US has the largest coal reserves in the world, which makes for a cheap, though dirty, resource.

Debates deemed ‘unnecessary’

Last week the US House of Representatives’ Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, created by Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2007, held its final meeting. Pelosi set up the Committee to debate the latest developments on climate change issues and research, but following the recent success of Republicans during the mid-term elections, House Republicans deemed such debate “unnecessary.” Next there is the House Energy and Commerce Committee, headed since November 2008 by veteran Democrat Harry Waxman who is to be replaced shortly. One of the contenders to take over is Illinois Republican John Shimkus, a Lutheran by religion practicing climate change denial by vocation. Shimkus will now likely take over the US Energy Commission and has produced such memorable quotes as: “As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease”, adding, “‘I believe that is the infallible word of God, and that’s the way it is going to be for his creation. The earth will end only when God declares its time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood. Today we have about 388 [carbon doixide] parts per million in the atmosphere. I think in the age of dinosaurs, when we had the most flora and fauna, we were probably at 4,000 parts per million.

There is a theological debate that this is a carbon-starved planet — not too much carbon. And the cost of a cap-and-trade on the poor is now being discovered”. This so-called ‘cap-and-trade’ bill refers to President Obama’s American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 that attempts to limit carbon emissions, and which Shimkus opposes vehemently. In view of such developments, what hope can there be for smaller countries to influence climate negotiations or to promulgate policies that could effect any influence upon the ever-accelerating pace of climate change?

Turkey’s Environment and Forestry Minister Veysel Eroğlu is also in Cancún, but in spite of Turkey’s recent pseudo-Ottoman stance in the world, its record on action regarding climate change is not very impressive. Still, last March, the country’s business leaders held a meeting to “brainstorm about how Turkey’s transition to a low-carbon economy” could be achieved. Emel Türker, spokesperson for Greenpeace Mediterranean, declared recently that the “meetings are continuing in Cancún. The Turkish government is taking part in the meetings without promising to reduce emissions. While climate change knocks at our door with all its disasters, the decision-makers continue to sleep. Taking 19th place in the world in greenhouse gas emissions, Turkey continues its long sleep, claiming that it is a developing country and has contributed little to climate change” — a rather bleak statement with a message that seems to be in line with developments worldwide. The failure of the Cancún talks does not bode well for planet earth’s chances of avoiding a fate similar to, or rather worse than, Easter Island’s and its vanity statues.

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Fukushima Today: Scorpion Robot Mission Aborted

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The Associated Press reports that “[r]obot probes sent to one of Japan’s wrecked Fukushima nuclear reactors have suggested worse-than-anticipated challenges for the plant’s ongoing cleanup. The plant’s operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said the remote-controlled ‘scorpion’ robot was sent into the Unit 2 reactor’s containment vessel Thursday [, 16 February 2017] to investigate the area around the core that had melted six years ago, but it failed while climbing over highly radioactive debris. The robot, carrying a dosimeter and two small cameras, transmitted some data and visuals but could not locate melted fuel — key information to determine how to remove debris out of the reactor. The robot was abandoned inside the vessel at a location where it won’t block a future robot. Preliminary examinations over the past few weeks have detected structural damage to planned robot routes and higher-than-expected radiation, suggesting the need to revise robot designs and probes. TEPCO is struggling with the plant’s decommissioning, which is expected to last decades, following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that led to the meltdown. Tens of thousands of residents had evacuated their homes, many of them still unable to return due to high radiation”.i

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Already in 2015, AP’s Mari Yamaguchi reported that a “new robot that raises its tail like a scorpion is scheduled to survey melted nuclear fuel inside one of the three wrecked reactors at Tepco’s Fukushima No. 1 plant. Toshiba Corp., co[-]developer of the device, which was demonstrated on Tuesday [, 30 June 2015], said the robot will venture into reactor 2’s primary containment vessel in August after its operators undergo a month of training”.ii And after long delays, ‘scorpion’ robots have finally started to penetrate the site in the early months of 2017, leading “TEPCO officials [to say] that despite the dangerously high figures, radiation is not leaking outside of the reactor”.iii In a more straightforward manner, though, Japan Today reports that the ‘scorpion’ “robot [finally] sent into a Japanese nuclear reactor to learn about the damage suffered in a tsunami-induced meltdown had its mission aborted after the probe ran into trouble, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said Thursday [, 16 February 2017]”.iv A Japan Today reader employing the pseudonym since1981 penned this telling and insightful comment, even managing to include a swipe at the Drumpf: “6 years on and still investigating damage. But they want the world to believe all is safe and people can return to their homes. Even CNN has a nice ad explaining that all is well. Sad, so sad”.

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i“Robot probes show Japan reactor cleanup worse than expected” Associated Press on Yahoo (17 Feb 2017). http://associatedpress-yahoopartner.tumblr.com/post/157343800402/robot-probes-show-japan-reactor-cleanup-worse-than.

ii Mari Yamaguchi r, “Toshiba rolls out ‘scorpion’ robot to look inside crippled reactor at Fukushima No. 1” AP (01 July 2015). http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/07/01/business/tech/toshiba-rolls-scorpion-robot-look-inside-stricken-fukushima-reactor-2/#.WKbXPPnhDIU.

iii “Robot probes show Japan reactor cleanup worse than expected”.

iv“’Scorpion’ robot mission inside Fukushima reactor aborted” Japan Today (17 Feb 2017). https://www.japantoday.com/category/national/view/scorpion-robot-mission-inside-fukushima-reactor-aborted.

John Pilger on the Threat of World War Three

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‘Afshin Rattansi goes underground on the outcome of whoever wins the White House in November. Multi-award winning author and filmmaker John Pilger gives his take on the threat of World War Three as Britain’s defence secretary Michael Fallon jets off to Singapore for the Asian Security Conference where the keynote address will be given by US Defence Secretary Ash Carter. Published on Jun 4, 2016’.

Hills

Chernobyl and Nuclear Power: 30 Years of Fallout

FRANCE_24_logo_svg’30 years ago today, a botched safety test led to the world’s worst nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in eastern Ukraine. France, with its 58 nuclear reactors, is particularly sensitive to this story. François Hollande reiterated a promise to close the oldest one at Fessenheim but no firm date is set. What future for atomic energy? And could the next Chernobyl be on purpose? It’s a serious question since Belgian authorities revealed that the Brussels attackers had considered targeting nuclear plants. (26 April 2016)’.

 

On a dedicated website, the IAEA presents this potted history of the impact of the Chernobyl disaster: “On 26 April 1986, the most serious accident in the history of the nuclear industry occurred at Unit 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the former Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Since that time there has been much confusion about the real consequences of the accident, including implications for health, the environment, nuclear safety, society and the economies of countries affected by the accident. In 1996 at the time of the tenth anniversary there were major reviews of the information available in an attempt to clarify and synthesise a consensus on the actual consequences of the accident. In 2000-2001, by the fifteenth anniversary, several articles books, and important publications on the topic were issued, and international reviews were prepared on lessons learned. The most comprehensive analysis on human exposures and health consequences of the Chernobyl accident, both for workers of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, rescue and clean-up workers and for the population of Belarusian, Ukrainian and Russian areas contaminated with radionuclides, was provided by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), in its 2 000 Report to the General Assembly . . . In 2001, on the occasion of the fifteenth anniversary of the Chernobyl accident, two international scientific conferences were held in Kiev, Ukraine. The first of them, called ‘Fifteen Years after the Chernobyl Accident. Lessons Learned’ held April 18-20, 2001, discussed lessons learned from the accident in areas of nuclear and radiation safety, emergency preparedness and response, status and future of the Shelter and the exclusion zone, radiation health and environmental effects. The second conference entitled ‘Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident: Results of the 15-year follow-up Studies’, was held 4-8 June 2001, only considered the health effects of the accident, presented medical lessons learnt and developed recommendations for public health services and for future research. conclusions. During 2001-2002, the UN family organizations UNDP, WHO, OCHA, and UNICEF prepared and published, with the IAEA’s support, the UN report on The Human Consequences of the Chernobyl Accident – a Strategy of Recovery. After a proposal made by Belarus, the IAEA initiated a project in 1995 to convene an international group of high level experts who would review the information drawn from the long term environmental and social studies of the Chernobyl accident and its consequences. The study had been monitored by an International Advisory Committee under the project management of the Institut de protection et de sûreté nucléaire (IPSN), France. The project report, based mainly on the studies carried out by experts from Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine during the period 1986-1995, was published as an IAEA TECDOC, Present and future environmental impact of the Chernobyl accident – IAEA-TECDOC-1240 (3MB). Two further projects were initiated by the IAEA in its follow-up actions designed to mitigate the impact of the accident’s consequences. The first of these was to establish the Chernobyl Forum, through which the relevant organizations within the UN system the governments of the primarily affected countries (Belarus, Russia and Ukraine) and other relevant international organisations could discuss their views on the consequences of the accident and implement, jointly or individually. The Forum was launched in February 2003, and the first Organizational Meeting was convened at the Agency headquarters in Vienna on 3-5 February 2003. The second project is the new series of Chernobyl-related technical co-operation (TC) projects with the affected countries. Through the TC Programme over US $10 million have already been disbursed since 1990 within the frame of 31 completed and ongoing projects aiming to reduce the impact of the Chernobyl accident. During 2003 the IAEA launched its new topical regional TC project (RER/9/074) on the long-term rehabilitation strategies and monitoring of human exposure in the rural areas affected by the Chernobyl accident. The IAEA will continue to support activities aiming to overcome the adverse radiological effects of the largest nuclear accident in human history as long as they are internationally recognized to be justified”.[1]

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The above-quoted verbiage appears to consist of a lot of words that indicate that the ultimate impact of Chernobyl is still hard to determine and that the process is still ongoing . . . or a project in progress, if you will.

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[1] “Consequences of the Chernobyl Accident” IAEA. http://www-ns.iaea.org/appraisals/chernobyl.asp.

Missile Defence Waste: Accountability Office Report

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‘The US is incapable of protecting itself from ballistic missile strikes launched by North Korea and Iran, despite spending billions to develop a defense system which remains unfinished, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office. Published on Feb 18, 2016’.

The DOD has a dedicated website for its missile daydreams, proclaiming that the “Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA) mission is to develop, test, and field an integrated, layered, ballistic missile defense system (BMDS) to defend the United States, its deployed forces, allies, and friends against all ranges of enemy ballistic missiles in all phases of flight”. [1] And continuing as follows: “As we develop, test, and field an integrated Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS), the MDA works closely with the combatant commands (e.g. Pacific Command, Northern Command, etc.) who will rely on the system to protect the United States, our forward deployed forces, and our friends and allies from hostile ballistic missile attack. We work with the combatant commanders to ensure that we develop a robust BMDS technology and development program to address the challenges of an evolving threat. We are also steadily increasing our international cooperation by supporting mutual security interests in missile defense. The MDA is committed to maximizing the mission assurance and cost effectiveness of our management and operations through continuous process improvement”.[2] In spite of these assurances though, the U.S. Government Accountability Office has now issued a damning report: “Missile Defense: Assessment of DOD’s Reports on Status of Efforts and Options for Improving Homeland Missile Defense”, published on 17 February 2016.[3]

US-GovernmentAccountabilityOffice-Logo_svg_The report does not mince its words: “Although DOD’s reports described the benefits of MDA’s ongoing efforts to improve homeland missile defense, we found that MDA faces risks and challenges pursuing these efforts. For example, DOD’s reports stated that the U.S. homeland is currently protected from a limited ballistic missile attack from North Korea and Iran. MDA has demonstrated some of this capability but several other key aspects necessary to prove it can defend the U.S. homeland against the current ballistic missile threat have not been demonstrated. DOD’s reports also described ongoing efforts to meet a directive from the Secretary of Defense to field 44 GMD interceptors by the end of 2017. However, we found that, although MDA has made progress towards achieving the fielding goal, MDA is relying on a highly optimistic, aggressive schedule that overlaps development and testing with production activities, compromises reliability, extends risk to the warfighter, and risks the efficacy of flight testing. In addition, DOD’s report described the potential benefits of MDA’s approach for acquiring the Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV), including aligning production decisions with flight testing and including margin in its development schedule. However, MDA may encounter challenges with the RKV’s contract strategy, industry collaboration efforts, and schedule because MDA has not yet negotiated the terms of the RKV modification with the prime contractor, is relying on potential industry competitors to collaborate on developing the RKV, and may need additional time to develop some components for their use in the RKV”.[4] In the following pages of the report, the following sub-heading leaves no doubt about the verdict: “DOD’s Reports Described Progress but MDA Has Not Proven GMD [or Ground-based Midcourse Defense] Can Defend the Homeland and May Experience Challenges Improving the System”.[5] All in all, it seems that the Missile Defense Agency is yet another U.S. government agency mired in corruption and inefficiency.

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[1] “MDA MISSION” MDA. http://www.mda.mil/.

[2] “Agency in Brief” MDA. http://www.mda.mil/about/about.html.

[3] “Missile Defense: Assessment of DOD’s Reports on Status of Efforts and Options for Improving Homeland Missile Defense” GAO (16 Feb 2016). http://www.gao.gov/assets/680/675263.pdf.

[4] “Missile Defense: Assessment of DOD’s Reports on Status of Efforts and Options for Improving Homeland Missile Defense”, pp. 2-3.

[5] “Missile Defense: Assessment of DOD’s Reports on Status of Efforts and Options for Improving Homeland Missile Defense”, p. 6.

Indian Point – We Are Flirting With Catastrophe

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‘For years people have been claiming that nuclear power is a safe and clean alternative to fossil fuels. But that doesn’t explain why New York governor Andrew Cuomo wants to shut down a nuclear plant less than 100 miles from New York City. The latest leak is just one incident in a long list of problems – problems that show just closely we are flirting with catastrophe. Published on Feb 16, 2016’.

 Staff writer at Natural News David Gutierrez elaborates that “Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that a nuclear power plant about 40 miles from Manhattan had leaked one of the most potent radioactive carcinogens into the groundwater. The groundwater in that area flows to the Hudson River just 25 miles north of New York City . . . Alarmingly, the leak is not the first for this plant in recent years. In fact, such leaks are relatively common among U.S. nuclear power plants . . . The [current] leak took place at the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which supplies about 30 percent of New York City’s electricity. Jerry Nappi, spokesperson for plant operator Entergy, said the leak probably came from a “spillage of water as a result of a mechanical issue during pumping of water” during January [2016]. Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), said that an out-of-service sump pump caused water to build up and overflow from a containment drain. This then produced a leak from the building, and eventually the radioactive water made its way into the ground. There was no word on why the leak went undetected for so long. Samples taken at the testing wells around the plant showed the highest radioactivity levels ever detected at Indian Point, in some cases exceeded 8 million picocuries per liter. The radioactive component that escaped appears to be tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. Alarmingly, tritium is most carcinogenic when it contaminates drinking water. It can also cause birth defects”.[1]

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[1] David Gutierrez, “Massive leak at nuclear facility in New York causes 65,000% increase in radioactivity of ground water” Natural News(14 Jan 2016). http://www.naturalnews.com/052964_Indian_Point_Energy_Center_nuclear_power_plant_radioactive_groundwater.html#ixzz40Q3YJHIc.

Noam Chomsky on Trump

‘Noam Chomsky weighed in on U.S. presidential politics in a speech Saturday at The New School in New York. In addressing a question about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Chomsky assessed the political landscape: “Today’s Democrats are what used to be called moderate Republicans. The Republicans have just drifted off the spectrum. They’re so committed to extreme wealth and power that they cannot get votes … So what has happened is that they’ve mobilized sectors of the population that have been around for a long time. … Trump may be comic relief, but it’s not that different from the mainstream, which I think is more important.” Published on Sep 22, 2015’.