Thoughts in the atmosphere

Things of the world, and out of it.

Archive for the ‘Public affairs’ Category

Nuclear dilemma 3

Posted by desicontrarian on June 6, 2009

My pen-friend didn’t like it! He wrote again.

” Earth is better off without us” – That’s being extremely fatalistic. What do we care for an earth without us? 

So I wrote back.

Before I was born, I had a family. My family tree comes before me, and will live on long after I’m gone. I am going to die one day. I am not fatalistic about it. Its a fact. But my family tree will go on. Its life span is far greater than me, an individual leaf. My family tree is part of a bigger community. This community was there before my family tree, and may live on long after my family tree comes to an end. Continue this line of thought.

My nation is bigger than my community, and will outlast the community. My species is bigger than my nation. Life is bigger than my species. And the place where Life started, The Earth, is bigger than Life itself. So the Earth is needed, even if my species is not there! This is not fatalism, just a way of looking which is not Anthropocentric. Its called a Bio-centric view.

This is just like saying that the body of a living being is bigger than its cells, tissues, organs, and systems functioning within – like the skeletal system, muscular system, circulatory system, glandular system & nervous system. True, some organs are all-important, like the heart, the lungs & the brain. But the body can exist even without some of these. In the same way, I consider that each human being as a leaf of the branch called Humanity, and each species, as a branch in the tree called Life. And this tree in turn is a part of The Earth, which also contains Non-life.

So, when visionaries like Lovelock talk of Gaia, this is what I think they mean. The Earth is a Living, Breathing Entity. In the film “An Inconvenient Truth”, Al Gore clearly shows how this breathing cycle works. Seasons occur because of it. The absorption of carbon dioxide by the planet’s plants and its photosynthesis into oxygen forms part of the cycle of breathing. Even the layers of the Earth’s atmosphere are akin to the three breathing lobes of our chest. A NASA satellite has observed a “breathing,” an expansion and contraction, of the Earth’s upper atmosphere in response to periodic, high-speed solar winds. The northern hemisphere contains most of the vegetation on the Earth’s land mass. When this hemisphere is tilted to The Sun in the spring & summer, the leaves come out and breathe in the CO2. The amount of the CO2 in the atmosphere goes down, because of photosynthesis. But when the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, in the autumn and winter, the leaves fall out, exhale the CO2, and is amount in the atmosphere goes up. The Earth thus inhales & exhales once a year!

Suns’s radiation comes to the Earth in the form of light waves. This radiation heats up the earth. Some of this is absorbed and the rest is reflected back into space in the form of infra-red rays. Some of this outgoing radiation is trapped by the earth’s atmosphere and warms it. This keeps the temperatures on earth within livable boundaries.

What has now happened is the thickening of the outer layer of the atmosphere due to industrial and other forms of pollution. The greenhouse gases. A constriction in the outer circle of the Earth’s atmosphere which traps carbon-di-oxide and the radiation inside and does not allow it to escape into space. The result is Global warming.

Its as though The Earth has a fever. It has had such fevers before, in cycles of 100,000 years. I believe that The Ice Age followed the last fever. The Earth will outlive the fever, come out better and start the next attempt at incubating new forms of Life.

Thats not a fatalistic view at all! Its just that this view is grander than our small lives, and understandably lead us into “What do we care for an earth without us? “.

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Nuclear dilemma 2

Posted by desicontrarian on June 6, 2009

My pen friend, who resembles me (ideologically) at a younger age, wrote.

You have quoted from authentic texts about the environmental hazards of nuclear plants.

Then you concluded that ” I was against nuclear energy earlier but now I am not sure now”

Why this this uncertainty?  There is a world wide publicity bombardment putting forth the thesis that nuclear energy is solution to world’s energy crisis. This propaganda through politicians,  academics,  scientists,  media & what have you – is mainly sponsored by nuclear plant/technology manufacturers’ lobby,  who invested huge money in nuclear research & out creating market for their letahl ware.

India bought that propaganda hook, line & stinker recently. They must have done lot of ‘educating’ the wogs a la Enron.

My answer:

There are always at least 2 sides to any question. I always try not to see only one side. Even in this kind if “Qayamat”, there are no easy answers.

Please read what an Earth-lover and leading climate scientist has to say on the current energy crisis – here and here.

Bottom line. Too many people, too much greed, too much consumption, too little energy. The Earth is better off without us. Irresistible force meets immovable object.

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Nuclear energy – do we need it?

Posted by desicontrarian on June 6, 2009

Extracts from “The Turning point” by Fritjof Capra.
Begin extract.
—————
1. Only ten to twenty pounds of plutonium are required lo make a bomb, and each nuclear reactor produces four hundred to five hundred pounds of plutonium annually, enough for twenty to fifty atomic bombs. Through plutonium, reactor technology and weapons technology have become inseparably linked.
2. Politicians in Third World countries often welcome nuclear technology, however, because it gives them a chance to use it for building nuclear weapons. By the end of the century dozens of countries will possess enough nuclear material to manufacture bombs of their own, and we can expect those countries to copy the American patterns of behavior and use their nuclear power to make aggressive threats.
3. The health hazards of nuclear power are of an ecological nature and operate on an extremely large scale, both in space and in time. Nuclear power plants, and military facilities release radioactive substances that contaminate the environment, thus affecting all living organisms, including humans. The effects are not immediate but gradual, and they are accumulating to more dangerous levels all the time. In the human organism these substances contaminate the internal environment with many medium- and long term consequences, Cancer tends to develop after ten to forty years, and genetic diseases can appear in future generations. 4. In the process of producing energy from nuclear power, both the workers in the nuclear industry and the whole natural environment are contaminated with radioactive substances at every step of the ‘fuel cycle.’ This cycle begins with the mining, milling, and enrichment of uranium, continues with the fabrication of fuel rods and the operation and maintenance of the reactor, and ends with the handling and storage or reprocessing of nuclear waste. The radioactive substances that escape into the environment at every stage of this process emit particles – alpha particles,(Alpha particles are compounds of two protons and two neutrons. ) electrons, or protons – that can be highly energetic, penetrating the skin and damaging body cells. Radioactive substances can also be ingested with contaminated food or water and will then do their damage from within.
5. Another major problem of nuclear power is the disposal of nuclear waste. Each reactor annually produces tons of radioactive waste that remains toxic for thousands of vears. Plutonium, the most dangerous of the radioactive byproducts, is also the most long-lived; it remains poisonous for at least 500,000 years. (The half-life of plutonium (Pu-239) – the time after which one-half of a given quantity has decayed – is 24,400 years. This means chat if one gram of plu ionium is released into the environment, about one-millionth of a gram will be left after 500,000 years, a quantity which is minute but still toxic.) It is difficult to grasp the enormous length of this time span, which far exceeds the length of time we are used to contemplating within our individual lifetimes, or within the lifetime of a society, nation, or civilization. Half million years is more than one hundred times longer than all of recorded history. It is a time span fifty times longer than that from the end of the Ice Age to the present day, and more than ten times longer than our entire existence as humans with our present physical characteristics.(The ancestors of the European races are usually identified with the Cro-Magnon race, which appeared about 30,000 years ago and possessed all modern skeletal characteristics, including the large brain.) This is the length of time that plutonium must be isolated from the environment. What moral right do we have to leave such a deadly legacy to thousands and thousands of generations?
————-
End of extract.
Arundhati Roy also wrote eloquently about this in “The End of Imagination”. 
I was against nuclear energy earlier, but now I am not so sure. James Lovelock, the leading scientist and father of the Gaia movement, now prefers nuclear energy to fossil fuels. The main problem seems to be the human demand for unsustainable amounts of energy.

I used to read a lot of counter-culture books as a student.  Of course,  mostly Anglo-American. A high-impact book was  “The Turning point”  by Fritjof Capra.  After that, I became an ardent anti-nuclearist! This was nearly 25 years ago. I still think it is a profound book, better than his cult best-seller “The Tao of Physics”.

Here he is on nuclear energy in chapter 8 –  “The dark side of growth” .

1. Only ten to twenty pounds of plutonium are required lo make a bomb, and each nuclear reactor produces four hundred to five hundred pounds of plutonium annually, enough for twenty to fifty atomic bombs. Through plutonium, reactor technology and weapons technology have become inseparably linked.

2. Politicians in Third World countries often welcome nuclear technology, however, because it gives them a chance to use it for building nuclear weapons. By the end of the century dozens of countries will possess enough nuclear material to manufacture bombs of their own, and we can expect those countries to copy the American patterns of behavior and use their nuclear power to make aggressive threats.

3. The health hazards of nuclear power are of an ecological nature and operate on an extremely large scale, both in space and in time. Nuclear power plants, and military facilities release radioactive substances that contaminate the environment, thus affecting all living organisms, including humans. The effects are not immediate but gradual, and they are accumulating to more dangerous levels all the time. In the human organism these substances contaminate the internal environment with many medium- and long term consequences, Cancer tends to develop after ten to forty years, and genetic diseases can appear in future generations. 4. In the process of producing energy from nuclear power, both the workers in the nuclear industry and the whole natural environment are contaminated with radioactive substances at every step of the ‘fuel cycle.’ This cycle begins with the mining, milling, and enrichment of uranium, continues with the fabrication of fuel rods and the operation and maintenance of the reactor, and ends with the handling and storage or reprocessing of nuclear waste. The radioactive substances that escape into the environment at every stage of this process emit particles – alpha particles,(Alpha particles are compounds of two protons and two neutrons. ) electrons, or protons – that can be highly energetic, penetrating the skin and damaging body cells. Radioactive substances can also be ingested with contaminated food or water and will then do their damage from within.

5. Another major problem of nuclear power is the disposal of nuclear waste. Each reactor annually produces tons of radioactive waste that remains toxic for thousands of vears. Plutonium, the most dangerous of the radioactive byproducts, is also the most long-lived; it remains poisonous for at least 500,000 years. (The half-life of plutonium (Pu-239) – the time after which one-half of a given quantity has decayed – is 24,400 years. This means chat if one gram of plutonium is released into the environment, about one-millionth of a gram will be left after 500,000 years, a quantity which is minute but still toxic.) It is difficult to grasp the enormous length of this time span, which far exceeds the length of time we are used to contemplating within our individual lifetimes, or within the lifetime of a society, nation, or civilization. Half million years is more than one hundred times longer than all of recorded history. It is a time span fifty times longer than that from the end of the Ice Age to the present day, and more than ten times longer than our entire existence as humans with our present physical characteristics.(The ancestors of the European races are usually identified with the Cro-Magnon race, which appeared about 30,000 years ago and possessed all modern skeletal characteristics, including the large brain.) This is the length of time that plutonium must be isolated from the environment. What moral right do we have to leave such a deadly legacy to thousands and thousands of generations?

Arundhati Roy also wrote eloquently about this in “The End of Imagination“.

However, I was against nuclear energy earlier, but now I am not so sure. James Lovelock, the leading scientist and father of the Gaia movement, now prefers nuclear energy to fossil fuels. The main problem seems to be the human demand for unsustainable amounts of energy.

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Industrialization and development – harmful?

Posted by desicontrarian on June 5, 2009

Justice Markandeya Katju is writing a lot these days, quite thoughtfully.

…and for that it is necessary to have a high degree of industrialization….. It can only come from a highly developed industry, and it is industrialization alone which can generate the wealth we need for the welfare of our people…. It is industrialization alone which can abolish poverty and unemployment….

A) If you look at the ecology/environmental problem:

1. Average Indian Carbon Foot Print (tonnes per year) = 1.2 Average worldwide CFP = 4 Middle-class CFP = 9.23 (6000 kwh Electricity, 200 litres LPG, 1 car with 15 km/litre, bus/rail/taxi 2000 km p.a., vegetarian, a little organic food, some shopping & movies). Average Industrial national citizen CFP = 11 (Source)

2. Global warming is real, potentially catastrophic, and human-caused.

3. The Keeling curve, measuring CO2 from the Mauna Loa Observatory, shows exponential increase in CO2 levels in the last 5 decades.

4. The retreat of numerous glaciers, prominently Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa & Gangotri in the Himalayas, are dramatic, nearly catastrophic.

5. A study by researchers at the Physics Institute at the University of Bern and the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica presenting data from Antarctic ice cores showing carbon dioxide concentrations higher than at any time during the past 650,000 years!

6. Temperature record since 1880 showing that the ten hottest years ever measured in this atmospheric record have all occurred in the last fourteen years. 7. A 2004 survey by Naomi Oreskes of 928 peer-reviewed scientific articles on global climate change published between 1993 and 2003. The survey, published as an editorial in the journal Science, found that every article either supported the human-caused global warming consensus or did not comment on it.

(Source).

B) If you look at the remove-poverty goal:

1. India’s economy must grow at 8 percent per year for the next 25 years in order to lift the bottom 40 percent of its people to a decent standard of living. India is falling behind in achieving it Millennium Development Goals of reducing poverty due to persistent energy shortages. “Energy is central for development. Our energy consumption must go up,” says a minister. Today India uses 471 million tons oil equivalent (MTOE) of energy each year of which 327 MTOE is primary commercial energy. The rest comes from burning traditional biomass. In order to achieve its poverty reduction goals, India needs to grow its energy supplies by 4.3 to 5.1 percent per year and to consume 1536 to 1887 MTOE by 2031.

2. India’s current total primary energy supply (TPES) per capita energy use with other countries. TPES per capita is calculated as the energy equivalent of the amount of oil in kilograms (kgoe) a person consumes per year. In China the amount is 1090 kgoe, Brazil 1094, Denmark 3852, UK 3906, US 7835, Japan 4052, and the world average per capita energy use is 1688. Where does India stand? The average Indian consumes the equivalent of 439 kilograms of oil. The eight percent annual economic growth that Sethi hopes India will experience over the quarter century would mean that the average Indian would be consuming between 1065 and 1279 kgoe in 2031. That’s about what the average Chinese uses now and is only 70 percent of world’s current per capita average.

3. India could cut projected CO2 emissions between 2012 and 2017 by 550 million tons at an additional cost of $25 billion for more energy efficient technologies.

4. Even after implementing the most efficient energy conservation technologies over the next 25 years, India will still be emitting 4 times more CO2 in 2031 than it does today.

(Source).

So:

“There is enough on Earth for every man’s need, but not for every man’s greed” (Mahatma Gandhi).

“…a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad it had forgotten its name, which is located beside a mournful sea full of glumfish, which were so miserable to eat that they made people belch with melancholy.  This city is thickly populated by people, of whom only Haroun and his parents are ever happy, while in the north of the city are factories wherein sadness is manufactured and exported. The factories produce air pollution that is only relieved during the monsoon,….”. (Haroun Rashid & the sea of stories).

I think Justice Katju has a rather one-sided view of the problem. The human being has become a burden to the earth. When the smaller populations of the rich North have caused this much havoc, he wants the huge populations of India & China to do order-of-magnitude more damage. I think it may be too late to stop the deluge.

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