Of spying and genocide

A couple of days ago, WIRED ran a story: Lawmakers Who Upheld NSA Phone Spying Received Double the Defense Industry Cash. After reading the WIRED post I posted this on the Occupy Providence Facebook page:

A case in point: Jim Langevin supports spying. Bribed to the tune of $119,750, he is near the top of the list of those supported by the defense and intelligence industry.

Of the top 10 defense payola recipients only one House member — Rep. Jim Moran (D-Virginia) — voted to end the NSA spy-on-the-People program.

Of the top 10 defense payola recipients only one House member — Rep. Jim Moran (D-Virginia) — voted to end the NSA spying program.

Most of us have been so indoctrinated that we barely notice that our corrupt electoral system and pervasive scare-mongering are the vehicles that bring us Orwell’s 1984 with its Perpetual War and its Big-Brother-Is-Watching-You.  However that may be, I am not the only one with Orwell on my mind. Almost at the same time, I had an email exchange with a friend in a thread — re: Obama and Orwell — that he started with:

The White House then condemned Amash/Conyers this way: “This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process.” What a multi-level masterpiece of Orwellian political deceit that sentence is. The highly surgical Amash/Conyers amendment – which would eliminate a single, specific NSA program of indiscriminate domestic spying – is a “blunt approach,” but the Obama NSA’s bulk, indiscriminate collection of all Americans’ telephone records is not a “blunt approach.” Even worse: Amash/Conyers – a House bill debated in public and then voted on in public – is not an “open or deliberative process,” as opposed to the Obama administration’s secret spying activities and the secret court that blesses its secret interpretations of law, which is “open and deliberative.”

It’s impressive that anyone can write a statement like the one that came from the Obama White House without dying of shame or giggles.

My reply:

I agree. In fact, my impression of Obama’s Climate Action Plan is the same. Here are a couple of red flags.

I came across this in the plan:

In 2012 the President set a goal to issue permits for 10 gigawatts of renewables on public lands by the end of the year. The Department of the Interior achieved this goal ahead of schedule and the President has directed it to permit an additional 10 gigawatts by 2020.

It turns out that this represents less than 0.05% of total US power consumption, way smaller than the accuracy with which this total is known.

Then there was this in the plan:

Natural Gas. Burning natural gas is about one-half as carbon-intensive as coal, which can make it a critical bridge fuel for many countries as the world transitions to even cleaner sources of energy. Toward that end, the Obama Administration is partnering with states and private companies to exchange lessons learned with our international partners on responsible development of natural gas resources.

This is highly misleading. “Burning” ignores extraction. It’s not known how much methane escapes in the process, but it may be a couple of percent. Methane is two orders more effective as a greenhouse gas, although it decays with a decay time on the order of a decade.

If I were a reviewer of a scientific paper with these characteristics, and had little time, I’d tell the editor: “Hey, bro/sis, don’t publish this crap until you get a full report and these and similar issues have been addressed.”

Should a plan upon which the survival of a large fraction of the biosphere depends be judged by anything less than scientific standards?

Where in the plan are we being told that, if we continue along the current trajectory, humanity will within 20 years have put the amount of CO2 it can “safely” put into the atmosphere by 2050?

Where does this plan mention that the US per capita produces five times the global average of CO2 and that we have to cut our fossil fuel habit by roughly 90%, unless we claim US exceptionalism?

I ran some of these comments by the local (New England) head of the EPA. The discussion was interesting. First, this federal cheerleader tried to convince me that I was focussing on only a tiny detail of the plan. I admitted that that was indeed the case, and replied: “Suppose I have a grad student who wrote a paper that I presented at a conference about the solution of a problem. I ‘d be less than amused to find out that I used precious time talking about 0.05% details.”

He changed course, and said that the alternative, namely scaring the population, was a bad idea. If the situations were less serious, it would have been fun to see him squirm.

Conclusion, as Orwell said: “Political language […] is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

The email exchange ended with this comment of my friend:

I am getting more and more convinced that humans really are no different from any animal whose predators disappear for some reason so that their population runs wild and they destroy their ecosystem. In fact, we are far worse in that we are destroying the entire planet.

Your EPA guy is afraid of scaring people? Ask him to watch this Duck and Cover movie made to warn children about how to protect themselves from atomic bombs! If we can show this to kids, surely we can talk about global warming…

My closing sigh:

This particular EPA guy undoubtedly is one of the enlightened souls. How do you fight these clowns?

Maybe this exchange between physicists is a little too condensed for a general audience;  let me provide some further explanation. In Sustainable Energy — without the hot air David McKay presents a graph showing that globally we produce five tons COequivalent per person year. (“Equivalent” means that other green house gasses, such as methane, have been replaced by the amount of CO2 that has the same warming effect.) In the US per capita we produce five times the global average.

According to Bill McKibben’s Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math, we can put no more than 600 giga tons of CO2 into the atmosphere by mid-century if we want to keep global warming under 2°C.  McKay writes that we were dumping 34 giga tons into the atmosphere in 2000. At that long-surpassed rate mankind will have exhausted its total allotment in 20 years. In other words, mankind today has to cut its rate in half globally to get to 2050 within the maybe-safe limit.

Is it a surprise that the US has been sabotaging Kyoto Protocol, the Durban Platform, the Copenhagen Accord on so on, if our rate of energy usage is about five times the global average? Clearly, if we have to cut our consumption by close to 90% today, tomorrow we’ll need an even bigger cut.  It sounds as if climate plan is to suspend the laws of physics given that “the American way of life is not negotiable.”

The war criminal of the previous administration whom I just quoted also advanced a One-Percent Doctrine: “If there’s a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It’s not about our analysis … It’s about our response.”

Let’s apply this “wisdom” to the issue of methane escaping during natural gas extraction. This might be a controversial topic, but should we not deal with the future of the globe according to a One-Percent Doctrine and pay attention to statements like the following?

Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years.

Maybe some like to believe the America’s Natural Gas Alliance in its critique of the Cornell paper, Methane and Greenhouse-Gas Footprint of Natural Gas from Shale Formations, the origin of the quote above.

Obviously, the One-Percent Doctrine is just that: yet another perpetual-war ploy to further the interests of the 1%. That may have been the previous administration, but I remain to be convinced that the current White House  with its All of the Above approach is not just more of the same presented with better PR. “Fool me once, shame on you; fool, … uh,  …, uh, …”

Why should we trust a White House climate plan that sweeps problems under the rug when recognizing them would not go over well with its fossil fuel paymasters?  Why should we rely on a plan, brainlessly echoed in the national media, that presents less-than-0.05% effects as part of the action? Is the White House treading carefully so as not to scare the kids or is it ignoring reality in its attempt to perpetuate US Dreams of Empire?

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Peter Nightingale is a theoretical physicist and teaches at the University of Rhode Island. He strives to leave behind a more just and peaceful, sustainable post-capitalist world for future generations, and his children and grandchildren in particular.

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