Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Nuclear Standoff: Human Conscience Dismissed on a Technicality

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on October 16, 2016 at 3:25 am

by Robert Koehler, AntiWar.Com, October 15, 2016

Values the size of Planet Earth are at stake, as the American presidential election grows ever smaller, ever pettier, ever more certain that rancor triumphs over relevance.

Can you imagine, let us say, an issue the size of global nuclear disarmament emerging in this race, somewhere between the groper tapes and the hacked DNC emails? What if – my God – we lived in a country in which such a matter were seriously and publicly discussed, not shunted off to the margins with a grimace and a smirk? The only thing that has mainstream credibility in this country is business as usual, which comes to us wrapped in platitudes about strength and greatness but in reality is mostly about war and profit and the destruction of the planet.

Meanwhile it’s three minutes to midnight.

And the Republic of the Marshall Islands has lost its case in the International Court of Justice. On a technicality, no less! Phon van den Biesen, lead attorney for the tiny island nation, which had sued the world’s nine nuclear powers – the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain, France, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea – to begin real nuclear disarmament negotiations, said the case was dismissed earlier this month on a “microformality,” which in my layman’s grasp of the matter might be called, instead, a desperate legal copout.

The case, which, technically, was brought against only three of the nine nuclear powers, Great Britain, India and Pakistan (because those are the only three nations that acknowledge the binding authority of the ICJ), was dismissed – in a split decision that could be called the First World against the rest of humanity – on the grounds that there wasn’t sufficient evidence of a dispute between the parties, so the court had no jurisdiction to hear the case on its merits.


The ICJ’s dissenting judges (in the case against Great Britain, the verdict to dismiss was 9-7, against India and Pakistan it was 8-8), expressed as much incredulity as I did on hearing the news.

The Marshall Islands lawsuits (a second suit was also filed, specifically against the United States, in U.S. federal court, and is still pending) demanded compliance with Article VI of the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, signed by the US in 1970, which reads: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

“General and complete disarmament – do these words actually have meaning?” I asked last January. “Right now the Marshall Islands stand alone among the nations of Planet Earth in believing that they do.”

This tiny nation of islands and atolls – this former US territory – with a population of about 70,000, was the scene of 67 nuclear test blasts in the 1950s, back when bigger was better. Some people’s homes were destroyed for eternity. The islanders suffered ghastly and often lethal levels of radiation and were essentially regarded, by their US overlords, as human guinea pigs – a fantastic opportunity to study the effects of nuclear fallout. Eventually the US atoned for its destruction by paying the Republic of the Marshall Islands a pathetic $150 million “for all claims, past, present and future.”

Now this nation is trying to save the rest of the planet by insisting that nuclear disarmament negotiations must get underway.

In a dissenting opinion, ICJ Judge Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade of Brazil lamented that the world needed to recognize the “prevalence of human conscience” over national interests.

“A world with arsenals of nuclear weapons, like ours, is bound to destroy its past, dangerously threatens the present, and has no future at all,” he wrote. “Nuclear weapons pave the way into nothingness. In my understanding, the International Court of Justice, as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, should, in the present Judgment, have shown sensitivity in this respect, and should have given its contribution to a matter which is a major concern of the vulnerable international community, and indeed of humankind as a whole.”

As Rick Wayman of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation pointed out, of the ICJ justices who voted not to hear the case on its merits, six were from nuclear-armed nations (the US, Russia, China, France, Great Britain and India) and the other two from nations (Japan, Italy) “deeply invested in the US‘nuclear umbrella.’”

The nations of the dissenting judges included Brazil, Somalia, Jamaica, Australia and Morocco.

This week, as if in sync with the Marshall Islanders, a group called the Native Community Action Council convened the Native American Forum on Nuclear Issues, addressing half a century of lingering horror at another nuclear testing site, in Nevada. The forum addressed such issues as abandoned uranium mines and the proposed high-level nuclear waste disposal site under Yucca Mountain, “in the heart of the Western Shoshone Nation (and) a sacred site for Shoshone and Pauite peoples,” according to the organization’s press release.

“Because of US nuclear testing in Nevada, the Western Shoshone Nation is already the most bombed nation on earth’” the release continues. “They suffer from widespread cancer, leukemia and other diseases as a result of fallout from more than 1,000 atomic explosions on their territory.”

This is the reality we ignore. We’ve been ignoring it for the last seventy years and, indeed, much longer. We’ve reached the end of our ability to treat the planet, and much of its people, as disposable. Much of humanity knows this, but its leaders are refusing to listen. The human conscience is dismissed on a technicality.


Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is now available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com. Reprinted with permission from PeaceVoice.

Climate Change Linked to Giant Spike in Forest Fires

In Environment, Human rights, Public Health on October 13, 2016 at 9:57 am

Takepart, October 12, 2016

By David Kirby

Researchers find that the number of acres burned has doubled as temperatures have risen, destroying wildlife habitat and harming human health.
It’s not your imagination: Wildfires are spreading, and climate change is to blame.

A new study has found that climate change from human activity nearly doubled the area burned by forest fires over the past three decades in the Western United States.

“We estimate that human-caused climate change contributed to an additional 4.2 million hectares of forest fire area during 1984–2015,” the authors wrote in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That’s 16,200 square miles, roughly the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined.

Increased forest fires have ripple effects that include destruction of wildlife habitat, respiratory illnesses in humans from smoke, rising carbon dioxide emissions, soil erosion, and more public spending on firefighting.

Research has linked climate change to the jump forest fires, but the new study is the first to quantify that relation, said coauthor Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Average temperatures in Western U.S. forests have risen by about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970 and are expected to keep climbing. Rising temperatures increase the dryness of brush, according to the study, which in turn increases the risk of forest fires. Other factors include natural fire suppression measures that allow for excess fuel growth, human settlement, and natural climate variability.

The researchers found that between 2000 and 2015, climate change caused 75 percent more forested area to experience high fire-season fuel aridity and an average of nine additional days per year of high fire potential.

“We were surprised by what a strong relationship there was between the dryness of the climate, which is affected by temperatures, and the area of Western forest that was burned,” Williams said.

“Even though there are a lot of things that affect fire, this one variable, the dryness of the environment, accounts for almost all of the changes in forest fire area over the last 32 years,” he added.

Tinderbox conditions are not the only climate change factor affecting forest fires. Reduced snowpack, for example, could be affecting soil moisture, and rising temperatures might increase lightning strikes, igniting more fires.

Other factors not included in the study were vegetation growth possibly caused by rising carbon dioxide levels, vegetation killed by drought, and millions of dead trees as a result of infestation by beetles that flourish in warmer weather.

As temperatures rise, the situation will grow more dire.

“The growing influence [of human-caused climate change] on fuel aridity is projected to increasingly promote wildfire potential across Western U.S. forests in the coming decades and pose threats to ecosystems, the carbon budget, human health, and fire suppression budgets,” the study said.

How bad will things get? Forest fires will burn hotter and longer—until there are no more large swaths of forest to burn, Williams said. Until then, “it seems like as long as the Earth keeps warming, at least for the next couple of decades, we’re going to continue to see big increases in fire.”

There is some cause for hope.

“Warming is going to continue happening no matter what, and that means that increased forest fire areas in the Western U.S. are going to continue happening no matter what,” Williams said. “But if we do manage to adhere to the Paris agreement [on greenhouse gas emissions] and the globe does start emitting less CO2 into the atmosphere, then the relative effects will be reduced.”

End the Nuclear Insanity

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on October 13, 2016 at 12:07 am

World Post, October 11, 2016


This month the United Nations has the opportunity to take a major step toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. It is an opportunity that must not be lost.

More than four decades ago, the nations with nuclear arsenals and the world’s non-nuclear states entered into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT); the nuclear states — the US, Russia, UK, France and China — pledged that if the states that did not have nuclear weapons agreed not to develop them, they would enter into good-faith negotiations toward the elimination of their nuclear arsenals. During the ensuing years, the three nations that did not sign the NPT — namely India, Pakistan, and Israel — developed nuclear weapons. All of the non-nuclear weapons states that signed the treaty except North Korea have kept their pledge.

Unfortunately, the nuclear powers have not kept their part of the bargain. While the US and Russia have dismantled many of their nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War, they retain thousands of them, enough to destroy the world many times over.

More importantly, they have made clear that, in defiance of their treaty obligations, they do not intend to eliminate their arsenals. Instead, all of the states that possess nuclear weapons today are engaged in massive upgrades of their nuclear arsenals. The US alone expects to spend $1 trillion on this modernization program over the next three decades.

While the nuclear powers claim that their arsenals only exist to deter the threat of attack from other nuclear states, their actual military doctrines tell a different story. The US refuses to rule out the first use of nuclear weapons, even against states that don’t possess them. Russia plans to use nuclear weapons early on in conventional conflict with NATO. Pakistan similarly threatens to use tactical nuclear weapons against Indian conventional forces. India threatens to retaliate with strategic nuclear forces.

In the face of this intransigence, most of the states that do not possess nuclear weapons have decided that they must act. They are not planning to build nuclear weapons of their own, but are demanding that the nuclear powers honor their obligations.

In 2013 and 2014, more than 150 countries came together — in Oslo, Vienna and Nayarit, Mexico — in a series of historic conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, to focus attention on the actual consequences of nuclear war. These conferences examined the latest scientific findings, that show that even a limited nuclear war, involving less than 0.05% of the world’s nuclear arsenals, would cause catastrophic climate disruption across the planet and lead to a global famine that could put up to 2 billion people at risk of starvation. Other data shows that a large scale war between the US and Russia would cause even more profound climate disruption, producing a nuclear winter that would kill the vast majority of the human race and could cause our extinction as a species.

In response to these warnings from the scientific and medical community, more than 100 nations have met in Geneva over the last five months at an Open Ended Working Group, convened by the UN General Assembly, to consider how to pressure the nuclear powers to disarm.

The recommendation of this OEWG will be presented to the General Assembly this month. A resolution sponsored by Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa calls for the UN to convene a formal negotiating conference in 2017 to conclude a new treaty that prohibits the possession of nuclear weapons.

This “Ban Treaty” will not take the place of an actual nuclear weapons convention negotiated by the nuclear powers, which would have to establish a firm timetable for dismantling nuclear weapons, with detailed mechanisms to verify and enforce compliance. But it will create a powerful new norm about nuclear weapons, defining them not as the status symbols of great nations, but as the badges of shame of rogue nations.

Much work will need to be done to use this new treaty to actually get the nuclear powers to disarm, but their fierce opposition to the treaty makes it clear that they are feeling the pressure already even before negotiations have begun.

The non-nuclear weapons states must resist that pressure, and continue their historic efforts to protect humanity from the grave threat posed by nuclear weapons. And the citizens of nuclear weapons states must hold their governments accountable for their unconscionable refusal to meet their treaty obligations and negotiate the elimination of these weapons, which are the greatest threat to the security of all peoples throughout the world.

* Jose Ramos-Horta, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1996)

* Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (2006)

* Kaylash Satyarthi, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (2014)

* Sir Richard J. Roberts Ph.D. F.R.S., Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine (1993)

* Prof. Brian Schmidt, Nobel Laureate in Physics (2011)

* Ira Helfand, co-President International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1985)

This letter is cross-posted on TheCommunity.com.

Follow José Ramos-Horta on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JoseRamosHorta
Follow Muhammad Yunus on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Yunus_Centre
Follow Kailash Satyarthi on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/k_satyarthi

Marshall Islands Can’t Sue the World’s Nuclear Powers, U.N. Court Rules

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy on October 6, 2016 at 11:18 pm

By MARLISE SIMONS, New York Times, October 5, 2016
PARIS — The United Nations’ highest court on Wednesday rejected a bid by the Marshall Islands to sue the world’s nuclear powers, saying the court did not have jurisdiction because there was no evidence of a legal dispute that it could adjudicate.

The Marshall Islands, a nation of islands and atolls in the Pacific Ocean that has endured 67 nuclear tests by the United States and still suffers the consequences, had filed a suit saying the nuclear powers were violating international law by failing to respect their disarmament obligations under the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and customary international law.

The case raised eyebrows in legal circles when it was filed in 2014. The Marshall Islands said it was seeking to revive the fading debate about nuclear disarmament and warn about the dangers of a new arms race.

The case was filed at the International Court of Justice, a civil court in The Hague that addresses disputes between nations. Lawyers said the goal was to persuade the court to order serious disarmament talks that were “long overdue.” They also said that many countries favored drafting a convention to ban nuclear arsenals, much like the treaties that prohibit chemical, biological and other weapons of mass destruction.

On Wednesday, Ronny Abraham, the court’s president, acknowledged that the Marshall Islands was motivated to promote nuclear disarmament because of “the suffering of its people” caused by the series of weapons tests on its territory.
Many of the nation’s residents suffered illnesses attributed to radiation, and some islands were obliterated by explosions many times more powerful than the one caused by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

But Judge Abraham said the country had not proved that an actual dispute existed between itself and nuclear-armed states when it filed its case.

By a vote of 9 to 7, the judges ruled that the court had no jurisdiction.

“We are extremely disappointed,” said Phon van den Biesen, the Dutch lawyer who led the Marshall Islands team. “The court is very divided and turned down the case on a microformality.”

“It’s difficult to understand that it finds no jurisdiction even when the parties have ‘opposite views,’ ” he said, citing a definition that the court uses for cases it hears.

“The opposing views on nuclear weapons are obvious to anyone,” Mr. van den Biesen said by telephone from The Hague.

More than a dozen international law experts donated their time to assist the Marshall Islands, which has a population of 70,000. Rick Weyman, the director of programs at the California-based Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, said a coalition of 55 international peace and activist groups had backed the initiative.

The Marshall Islands initially filed cases against all nine nations that say they have nuclear arms or are believed to possess them: Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States. Three countries — Britain, India and Pakistan — responded to the legal challenge and were part of Wednesday’s decision. Only those three have recognized the court’s jurisdiction as compulsory; the other six choose whether to opt in on a case-by-case basis and ignored this complaint.

The hearings in the case focused only on the matter of jurisdiction. With its decision on Wednesday, the court will not consider the merits of the case presented by the Marshall Islands, and there can be no appeal.

Asking Hillary about nuclear weapons

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on October 6, 2016 at 9:56 pm

This series of exchanges begin with Judy Elliott of AFSC talking with Hillary Clinton on September 18, 2015.


Hillary Clinton responded – briefly – to questions about nuclear weapons modernization and the military industrial complex. She agreed we have to find a way to rid the world of nuclear weapons and said she would start a high-level commission to study how to make weapons procurement decisions more resistant to the political influence of weapons makers.
New Hampshire

Finally! I’ve spent a couple of months trying to ask Hillary Clinton about nuclear weapons. At a September 17 town hall event in Concord, New Hampshire, I finally got to do it. Here’s how it went:

Judy: There has been a lot of talk about Iran but I am so worried about U.S. nuclear weapons also. We have almost 5,000 nuclear weapons, many on hair-trigger alert. Now there’s a plan to build … [spend] a trillion more dollars for new warheads, new planes, a whole new fleet of submarines. It’s going to make the weapons makers a whole lot of money, but I am personally terrified of nuclear annihilation. Do you support this renewed spending?

Clinton: One of the highest goals of the Obama Administration was to try to reduce the number of nuclear weapons. And we did get a treaty with Russia that was limited but at least it continued the process. Trying to rid the world of nuclear weapons – we have a long way to go, and we’re just going to have to figure out how to manage it. One of the reasons why I supported the Iran deal [was] because it put a lid on one more country with nuclear weapons at least for a number of years.

In the crowd afterwards, Arnie Alpert spoke to Clinton and pointed out that the nuclear weapons modernization plan contradicts nonproliferation goals. She replied that a trillion dollars was ridiculous and the money could be used for other needs.

I wasn’t the only voter last night to ask Clinton about military policy. Dwight Haynes, a retired Methodist minister, started off the evening’s questions.

Dwight: I’m Dwight Haines and in 1950, at the Boy Scout Jamboree in Valley Forge, I had the privilege to meet … Dwight Eisenhower. … And … after that event I heard him speak against the growing military- industrial complex. As I listened last night [to the Republican debate] … it seems to me the Republicans are determined to put more and more money into defense, regardless of what else happens. So I’m wondering, as president, would you be willing to set some kind of limits on how much we put into the defense piece of the pie? Also, will you make sure that corporations that sell weapons systems don’t influence our politics?

Clinton: Two good questions. I’m a great admirer of President Eisenhower… I think he was very far-sighted when he gave that speech about the necessity for us to be careful about the military-industrial complex, as he called it. I don’t think there’s any doubt that we have always had two conflicting imperatives. We need to have a strong defense, everybody agrees with that. But how we do it and how much it costs is subject to debate. And I think we are overdue for a very thorough debate in our country about what we need and how we are willing to pay for it. Because I think some of the decisions that have been made, because of the sequester, which just cut without regard for the effectiveness of the program or the impact of it being eliminated, was much too blunt an instrument. I think we should have a high-level commission of really well-respected people from different walks of life, who have not lived their life completely in the military-industrial world, really taking a hard look, the same way we have had to in the past look at closing bases. A system was put in place where there could be somewhat less influence from Congressional politics, and I’d like to see such a commission come up with recommendations. Because what I hear all the time, that I saw as a senator – I served on the Armed Services Committee – [and] what I saw as Secretary of State is that very often the leadership of the Defense Department wants to eliminate certain spending, or wants to change it, maybe put it somewhere else where they think it’ll do more good, and … they’re stopped by Congress. So what I’m looking for is a way of avoiding that.

Clinton was not the first candidate I’ve asked about nuclear weapons (see earlier posts), but she’s among those I most wanted to hear from. She’s a front-runner and she has a lot of foreign policy experience. It was great to hear her comments about nuclear abolition and restraining the arms budget. But she needs to be more specific about her intentions.

A little background. President Obama endorsed nuclear weapons abolition during his first campaign. He reaffirmed that goal in a speech in Prague in 2009. Initial progress was exciting. The President negotiated the New Start treaty in 2010, limiting deployed warheads to 1,550 each for the United States and Russia. The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review endorsed “a multilateral effort to limit, reduce, and eventually eliminate all nuclear weapons worldwide.” The NPR also said the United States would not develop any new nuclear weapons.

In a June 2013 speech in Berlin, President Obama went further, suggesting that the two powers negotiate an additional one-third reduction of deployed nuclear weapons.

Apparently even deeper reductions were discussed by American policy-makers. Journalist Marc Herman reported that computer modelling at the National Defense University showed that reductions to 500 nuclear weapons for each side would provide both countries with a “minimal deterrent” sufficient to prevent a first strike from the other.[1] While it wouldn’t be nuclear abolition, such reductions would represent genuine progress.

But recently progress has stalled and a frightening new arms race is heating up.

Part of the reason, as explained by James Carroll, is that “[in] order to get the votes of Senate Republicans to ratify the START treaty, Obama made what turned out to be a devil’s bargain. He agreed to lay the groundwork for a vast ‘modernization’ of the US nuclear arsenal, which, in the name of updating an aged system, is already morphing into a full-blown reinvention of the arms cache at an estimated future cost of more than a trillion dollars. In the process, the Navy wants … twelve new strategic submarines; the Air Force wants… a new long-range strike bomber force. Bombers and submarines would … both be outfitted with next-generation missiles.” Modernization, under the guise of “life extension” for existing weapons, also involves creation of upgraded warheads, contrary to intentions stated in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review.

This is why we need to know whether Clinton opposes nuclear weapons modernization. The problem is not just the immense expense, using money that, as she told Arnie, is needed elsewhere. (Bernie Sanders said something similar at a forum in Portsmouth last May, but like Clinton was vague about his exact stance.) Even if nuclear weapons modernization were without cost, the program represents a frightening about-face from Obama’s early progress towards nuclear abolition.

Once the Pentagon is invested in the new weapons systems, as is already happening, the new arms race will be hard to reverse. And of course, defense contractors will reap hundreds of billions of dollars building the new weapons. Their profit motives will continue to drive spending on nuclear weapons.

So here are questions we should ask Clinton and the other candidates:

· How will you put the United States into compliance with Article 6 of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which states: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control?”

· If you become president, will you stop the nuclear weapons modernization program?

· Will you commit to reduce the United States’ military stockpile to 1000 nuclear weapons in your first term, and 500 in your second term?

According James Carroll, “[If] a commander-in-chief were to order nuclear reductions into the hundreds, the result might actually be a transformation of the American political conscience. In the process, the global dream of a nuclear-free world could be resuscitated and the commitment of non-nuclear states (including Iran) to refrain from nuclear-weapons development could be rescued. Most crucially, there would no longer be any rationale for the large-scale reinvention of the American nuclear arsenal, a deadly project this nation is even now preparing to launch.“

Let’s make sure that the candidates address these issues. The more of us who get out and talk to them, the better.


[1] In 2009, a report by the Federation of American Scientists also said that reductions to “initially 1,000 warheads, and later a few hundred warheads, are more than adequate to serve as a deterrent against anyone unwise enough to attack the United States with nuclear weapons.”

The World Just Hit This Disturbing Climate Change Metric

In Climate change, Environment, Justice on October 1, 2016 at 9:26 am

By Katie Fehrenbacher, FORTUNE, September 28, 2016

It’s a quiet turning point against the backdrop of U.S. politics.
Earth has seemingly passed a worrisome threshold for the changing climate this week, according to scientists.

The last week in September is often the time of the year when the planet’s carbon emissions are at their lowest as summer turns to fall and plants and leaves start to decay, releasing carbon. However, this year the amount of carbon emissions in the atmosphere this week has remained above 400 parts per million, reports Climate Central.

That means that even with the fluctuating of the seasons, which pushes the levels of carbon emissions up and down, the planet is likely now officially at 400 parts per million for the foreseeable future. While that could change decades into the future—if society worked hard to reverse the carbon emissions in the atmosphere or if there was a large catastrophic climate event—but the metric for now is likely here to stay.

With four hundred parts of carbon emissions in the Earth’s atmosphere, the climate is changing including rising global temperatures, rising sea levels, ocean acidification and increased intensity of storms. Global temperatures have already risen by almost 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to about a century ago, and world leaders are trying to enact commitments and policies to keep rising temperatures under two degrees Celsius.

This disturbing data point is the backdrop to the current U.S. political environment. This week, climate change was only brought up briefly during the first Presidential debate. Republican candidate Donald Trump denied calling climate change a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese (but he actually did do that) and also bizarrely referred to solar company Solyndra, which went bankrupt five years ago and lost a loan from the U.S. government.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard oral arguments on Tuesday for President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which seeks to push power plant companies to lower greenhouse gas emissions. If the policy stands, mostly it would accelerate shutting down old coal plants and adding in new natural gas plants, as well as solar and wind farms.

But if the Clean Power Plan is shot down, the U.S. will lose its chief way to meet its commitments to lower carbon emissions and meet the pledges to the international Paris climate agreement. For the first time in history, the U.S. and China ratified the Paris agreement this weekend.

Perhaps billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has the best strategy. On Tuesday, he showed off how his space company SpaceX plans to get human beings off of Earth and onto Mars in an effort to enable humans to be an “interplanetary species.”

A Dozen Reasons Why the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge Should remain Closed to the Public

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on October 1, 2016 at 1:05 am

Prepared by LeRoy Moore, PhD, Rocky Mountain Peace & Justice Center, September 2016

After completion of the Superfund cleanup of the 6,500-acre site of the defunct Rocky Flats nuclear bomb plant, about three-fourths of the site (roughly 7 square miles) was removed from the Superfund list of most contaminated sites and transferred from the Department of Energy (DOE) to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to operate as a Wildlife Refuge. DOE retained 1,309 acres (about 2 square miles) of more contaminated land that remains on the Superfund list and is surrounded by the Refuge.

  1. Long-term danger of plutonium Plutonium 239, the contaminant of principal concern at Rocky Flats, has a half-life of 24,110 years. It remains dangerously radioactive for more than a quarter-million years. Any quantity left in the environment poses an essentially permanent danger.
  2. Plutonium’s lethal quality The alpha radiation emitted by plutonium cannot penetrate skin. But tiny particles inhaled or taken into the body through an open wound will lodge somewhere in the body. For as long as it resides in the body – typically for the rest of one’s life – it bombards surrounding cells with radiation. The result may be cancer, a compromised immune system or genetic harm passed on to future generations.
  3. Hazardous in very small amounts Plutonium particles of 10 microns or smaller can be inhaled. One micron is 1/millionth of a meter (a meter is 39.37 inches, slightly longer than a yard). For further comparison, the average diameter of a human hair is about 50 microns. Meteorologist W. Gale Biggs found that airborne particles at Rocky Flats “are probably smaller than 0.01 microns.” Researchers at Columbia University demonstrated that a single plutonium particle induces mutations in mammal cells. Cells receiving very low doses were more likely to be damaged than destroyed. Replication of these damaged cells constitutes genetic harm that can become cancer, and more such harm per unit dose occurs at very low doses than would occur with higher doses.
  4. Extent of contamination at Rocky Flats unknown Fires, accidents, routine operations, and random dumping during production years released plutonium particles to the environment. The prevailing wind heads east and southeast, but it blows in all directions some of the time. Hence, plutonium was scattered across the whole of the nearly 10 square-mile site. No one knows the full extent of the contamination because this was not determined. The methods used to locate plutonium could have missed hot spots.
  5. The difference between the cleanup the public sought and what it got In 1995 the single most widely supported cleanup recommendation from the public called for eventual cleanup to average background radiation levels from global fallout, with initial cleanup to go as far in this direction as current technology allows while the site becomes a research lab for development of technology to do better. Neither happened. Instead, the cleanup finally agreed to by DOE, EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) in 2003 allowed in the top 3 feet of soil a quantity of plutonium up to 1,250 times average background levels, with much more allowed in soil at a depth of 3 to 6 feet and no limit on the quantity of plutonium allowed in soil below 6 feet.
  6. Dollars and date, not public health, drove the cleanup DOE and its contractor, Kaiser-Hill, made a secret deal with Congress to cleanup and close Rocky Flats by a fixed date for a fixed sum. Tailoring the cleanup to fit these limits, they rejected appeals from some in the public willing to seek more funds for a more thorough cleanup. Of the $7 billion allotted to close the site by December 2006, no more than $473 million (about 7%) could be spent on actual remediation of the environment. Kaiser-Hill received $560 million for its work.
  7. Local people rejected both the cleanup and recreation at the wildlife refuge Of the individuals and organizations that commented on the final Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement adopted in June 2003, 85.6% rejected the plan as inadequate, due mainly to the plutonium being left behind. 81% of those who commented on FWS plans to open the wildlife refuge to public recreation opposed the idea. These comments are part of the public record.
  8. Plutonium not stable in the environment EPA and CDPHE claim that there is no pathway by which plutonium left in soil at Rocky Flats can reach human subjects. This is refuted by a 1996 study in which ecologist Shawn Smallwood shows that 18 species of burrowing animals present at Rocky Flats dig down to as much as 16 feet, constantly redistributing soil and its contents. In a wholly random way they bring buried plutonium to the surface where tiny particles can be transported near and far by the wind common at the site and made available to be internalized by unwitting humans. In any given year burrowing animals disturb 10 to 12% of surface soil on the site. Though this study was done in 1996, EPA and CDPHE ignored it when in 2003 they approved the final cleanup plan for Rocky Flats.
  9. The cleanup does not protect the most vulnerable, especially children The “risk-based cleanup” at Rocky Flats was calculated to protect a wildlife refuge worker, that is, a physically active adult in good health. The cleanup was not designed to protect the very young, the very old, the infirm. FWS expects children to visit the wildlife refuge. The human child, without question, is the most vulnerable to plutonium exposure of all creatures, because a child is likely to stir up dust, to eat dirt, to breathe in gasps, or to scrape a knee or elbow, all ways of taking plutonium into the body. Once internalized, the material integrates with the child’s tissue development and wreaks havoc within the child’s body for the duration of her or his life. Playing with plutonium is a dangerous proposition.
  10. EPA and CDPHE mislead the public when they say Rocky Flats is “safe” The National Academy of Sciences report on Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation (2006) affirms that exposure to any level of ionizing radiation is potentially harmful. In 2004 British researchers concluded that cancer risk from exposure to very low doses of plutonium may be ten or more times more dangerous than allowed by existing official standards for permissible exposure.
  11. EPA and CDPHE oppose informed consent for visitors to the wildlife refuge State Representative Wes McKinley was foreman of the grand jury that spent nearly 3 years reviewing evidence of alleged environmental lawbreaking at Rocky Flats collected by the FBI in its 1989 raid on the plant. 65 cartons of documents from this investigation remain sealed in the Denver federal courthouse; they were never examined by EPA and CDPHE, regulators of the Rocky Flats cleanup. McKinley is under court order not to reveal what he learned about conditions at Rocky Flats, but he objects to opening the wildlife refuge to the public. His efforts to get informed consent regarding risk at the refuge for potential refuge visitors were opposed by the very agencies that made no effort to determine whether the 65 cartons in the federal courthouse contain data pertinent to the Rocky Flats cleanup.
  12. Genetic effects of plutonium exposure are poorly understood In a 2000 study Diethard Tautz said genetic effects of radiation exposure on a given species of wildlife may not show up until generations later when harm is irreversible. Ecologist Shawn Smallwood found that no study of genetic effects on wildlife has been done at Rocky Flats or any other DOE site. Any harm to wildlife at Rocky Flats will not be confined to the bounds of the site. Deer from the site have been shown to have plutonium in their bodies. Nobel Prize winner Hermann Muller, writing about humans in 1964, reached a conclusion very similar to that of Tautz, namely, that the effect of radiation exposure may not be apparent for several generations.

For documentation and more information, see Plutonium and People Don’t Mix at http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org/leroy-moore



25 Years Ago Today a President Changed Nuclear Policy Forever. Will This One?

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on September 28, 2016 at 2:15 am

Stephen Young, Washington representative and senior analyst, Global Security Program, Union of Concerned Scientists | September 27, 2016
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the start of the most remarkable and rapid changes ever made in U.S. and Soviet/Russian nuclear posture and policy.

Susan Koch, who was director for defense policy and arms control on President George H. W. Bush’s National Security Council at the time, summed up what became known as the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs) this way:

President Bush’s first PNI announcement was unprecedented on several levels. First, in its scope and scale; it instituted deeper reductions in a wider range of nuclear weapons systems than had ever been done before. Second, the PNIs were primarily unilateral—not to be negotiated, but instead implemented immediately. While Soviet/Russian reciprocity was encouraged, it was not required for most of the U.S. measures. Third, the decisions announced on September 27, 1991, were prepared with a speed and secrecy that had never been seen before in arms reduction, and have yet to be duplicated. The PNIs were developed in just 3 weeks and involved very few people. In contrast, most arms control measures, before and after the PNIs, required months and often years of interagency and international debate and negotiation by scores of military and civilian officials.

In just four years, as a result of the PNIs and the 1991 START arms reduction agreement, the U.S. nuclear stockpile of active and inactive warheads dropped from 21,392 to 10,979, a reduction of more than 50 percent. Most of those cuts were due to the PNI-mandated elimination or sharp reductions in entire classes of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons.

Under the PNIs:

U.S. ground-launched nuclear artillery shells and short-range ballistic missiles—around 2,100 weapons in total, most deployed in Europe—were withdrawn from the field and destroyed. (Note that is more than the current total number of U.S. or Russian deployed strategic weapons.)
All tactical nuclear weapons on U.S. navy surface ships and attack submarines, and on land-based naval aircraft, were withdrawn from deployment. All of the nuclear depth bombs—approximately half of the total naval tactical nuclear stockpile—were destroyed; half of the other types were also destroyed.
U.S. strategic bombers were de-alerted, the first time since 1957 that planes were not either in the air or on the ground, engines running and fully loaded with nuclear weapons. All Minuteman II missiles that were slated for elimination under the START agreement were rapidly removed from alert posture and scheduled for quick destruction, ahead of the treaty’s deadlines.
A host of planned U.S. nuclear systems were cancelled, including a short-range air-to-surface missile, the mobile version of the 10-warhead long-range Peacekeeper missile and a small mobile long-range missile.
Just eight days after President Bush’s September 27 announcement, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev followed suit, declaring a range of similarly dramatic reductions in nuclear forces. The speed and reach of the Soviet leader’s response was far beyond what the Americans has expected. Only a few months later, after the Soviet Union collapsed, President Bush and newly elected Russian President Boris Yeltsin announced a second round of nuclear reductions. It was a cycle of reciprocal, unilateral steps to reduce the nuclear threat, unlike anything before or since.

Implications for Today

Twenty-five years later, what implications do the PNIs have for today?

Start with the most notable fact about the PNIs: they were unilateral steps taken at the president’s initiative. President Bush, joined by his national security advisor, decided to push for dramatic change and three weeks later he announced them from the White House. The president rejected negotiating an agreement with Russia or instigating a lengthy review by the Pentagon of options (although a review of nuclear war plans completed earlier in 1991 did provide useful background). Moreover, while President Bush clearly hoped for reciprocation from the Soviet Union, he decided to move forward with his plans regardless of whether Gorbachev responded or not.

Move to the current era, which began with President Obama early in his first term calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons and talking about putting an end to Cold War thinking. Yet he has not, or not yet, changed nuclear policy or posture in any deeply significant way. The successes, such as the New START arms control agreement, have been modest and in the more traditional arms control mode.

Now in the president’s final months, the White House is conducting a new review of possible nuclear policy changes. According to the press, some of the more significant changes, such as declaring that the United States would not be the first to use nuclear weapons, have already been rejected. Other options, like reducing U.S. deployed or reserve forces, may still be under consideration, but no decision has been announced.

What might hold President Obama back from following President Bush’s bold path?

One difference, opponents of nuclear reductions often point out, is the overall direction of the security landscape in 1991 versus today. Twenty-five years ago, the Soviet Union was collapsing. President Bush’s greatest worry was the possible loss of control of some of the nuclear weapons spread across four Soviet republics. That concern was perhaps the primary motivation behind the PNIs.

Today, Russia is no longer the same conventional threat to Europe that the Soviet Union was, but under Vladimir Putin’s leadership it has become an international bad actor, while maintaining a nuclear arsenal that is the only threat to the survival of the United States.

But it is that last of these factors that should provide all the motivation President Obama needs to act boldly. It is a simple truth that nuclear weapons are no longer a security asset for the United States, but a liability. The only role for U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack on the United States and its allies. And in 2013, based on the Pentagon’s analysis, President Obama concluded that the United States could safely cut its nuclear stockpile by another one-third, to roughly 1,000 deployed long-range nuclear weapons, regardless of what Russia did.

To date, the president has not acted on this conclusion, instead waiting for Russia to agree to further reductions. But, following the model of his predecessor, President Obama should act boldly and quickly, reducing U.S. strategic weapons to 1,000 deployed warheads. He should also remove land-based nuclear-armed missiles from hair-trigger alert, which would significantly reduce the likelihood that a U.S. nuclear weapon will be used by mistake.

And he should take these steps even if he does not have a willing partner in Putin. Showing leadership on the nuclear issue will further isolate Russia in the international community, while freeing up resources and energy to devote to more important security concerns. President Bush decided to make changes in U.S. nuclear forces and posture without requiring a Soviet response because they were in U.S. security interests regardless of whether Russia reciprocated. That is as true today as it was 25 years ago.

It’s Time to Ban and Eliminate Nuclear Weapons

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on September 27, 2016 at 9:56 pm

By Kazumi Matsui, September 26, 2016

The mayor of Hiroshima calls for a global security paradign based on dialogue, mutual understanding, and cooperation, instead of doomsday threats.

September 26, the United Nations International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, is a fitting time to take stock of current nuclear dangers and rededicate ourselves to the urgent task of abolishing nuclear weapons. I encourage all readers of The Nation to take this opportunity to listen to the earnest message of the atomic-bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (hibakusha) who have been telling their tragic real-life experiences, expressed in their words that “no one else should ever again suffer as we have.”

The August 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki incinerated tens of thousands of children, the elderly, women, and men in an instant, with their fierce heat rays, blast, and radiation. By the end of that year, more than 210,000 people were dead. Among them were many Koreans, as well as international students from China and Southeast Asia, and American prisoners of war. Nuclear weapons are indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction. Even today, 71 years after the atomic bombings, the hibakusha and their families continue to suffer physical, psychological, and sociological effects of the bombings.

More than 15,000 nuclear weapons, most an order of magnitude more powerful than the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, continue to pose an intolerable threat to humanity. Not only that, but all of the nuclear-armed nations are modernizing their arsenals with plans to maintain them for the foreseeable future. As global awareness of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons expands, the international community has also learned through a series of international conferences that the risks of inadvertent nuclear weapons use due to accident or miscalculation are quite high. And we cannot ignore the possibility of nuclear terrorism.

As a result, more members of the international community, especially those of non-nuclear-armed states, have started paying attention to the firsthand experiences of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki hibakusha, and have developed a keen awareness that they themselves could become victims of nuclear detonations caused by accident or miscalculation, if not by a limited or all-out nuclear war. In response to this shared awareness and these growing concerns, the United Nations earlier this year convened an Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG), open to all UN member states, to develop proposals to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons. The OEWG met three times in Geneva. As president of Mayors for Peace, an international non-governmental organization with a current membership of 7,132 cities in 161 countries representing over a billion people worldwide, I had the privilege of addressing the OEWG about the urgent need to promote nuclear disarmament.

International security still depends on the threatened use of nuclear weapons as prescribed by the doctrine of “nuclear deterrence”—a notion based on mutual distrust and the unspeakable horror the term implies. However, this theory’s power exists only in the minds of its policy-makers. Not only does nuclear deterrence offer no effective solution to the global security challenges we face, nuclear weapons are useless both in preventing and responding to terrorism—rather, their very existence brings new risks of use each day.

In order to address emerging challenges, world leaders must solidify their commitment to seek security without relying on nuclear weapons, with a sense of urgency based on a deep understanding that people at the grassroots level expect them to do so. Along the way, these leaders will also come to understand that the wider international community places great emphasis on uniting through a growing awareness that we all belong to the same human family.

It is time for the policy-makers of the world to change their perspective and exercise the decisive leadership required for the prohibition of nuclear weapons. It is only with such decisiveness that nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation initiatives can be accelerated. We believe that efforts to conclude a nuclear weapons convention will advance when government representatives who have understood the fervent desire of the hibakusha for nuclear disarmament can reach out to others to transcend their differences and overcome the obstacles to nuclear abolition.

A growing number of policymakers are visiting the A-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in response to the persistent call of Mayors for Peace and hibakusha to do so. On May 27, President Obama visited Hiroshima where he called for a “world without nuclear weapons” and declared: “[A]mong those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear, and pursue a world without them.”

Regrettably, none of the nuclear-armed states took part in the OEWG. However, in August the nearly 100 participating states adopted a final report with recommendations that will be forwarded to the UN General Assembly for action this fall. These recommendations include pursuing additional efforts to elaborate concrete effective legal measures, legal provisions and norms that will be needed to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons, and implementing various measures relating to reducing and eliminating the risks of nuclear-weapons use, enhancing transparency about nuclear weapons, and increasing awareness of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. In addition, the working group, with “widespread support,” called on the General Assembly “to convene a conference in 2017, open to all States, with the participation and contribution of international organizations and civil society, to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading to their elimination.”

Mayors for Peace welcomes the outcome of the OEWG, in particular its clear mandate for the commencement of negotiations in 2017 on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. While we understand that the nuclear-armed states and states under their “nuclear umbrellas” oppose starting these negotiations, the serious sense of crisis shared by the majority of the international community must not be neglected. When government representatives gather at the UN General Assembly’s First Committee to consider the recommendations of the OWEG, they must engage in cooperative dialogue, overcome their political and ideological differences, and bring us closer to achieving a world without nuclear weapons. We especially expect the nuclear-armed states and their allies to take innovative approaches and demonstrate decisive leadership.

Mayors for Peace, with a wide range of civil-society partners, wholeheartedly supports initiatives by world leaders to develop a new global security paradigm based on dialogue, mutual understanding, and cooperation, instead of doomsday threats. We will also intensify our efforts to promote such understanding and cooperation within international society. Now is the time for state and city governments, as well as diverse civil-society actors, to consolidate their efforts and promote the legal prohibition of nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.

International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

In Environment, Human rights, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on September 25, 2016 at 1:57 am

Monday, September 26, 2016

United Nations General Assembly
Special Plenary Session

“The consequences of any further use of nuclear weapons, whether intentional or by mistake, would be horrific. When it comes to our common objective of nuclear disarmament, we must not delay — we must act now.”
Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon

Achieving global nuclear disarmament is one of the oldest goals of the United Nations. It was the subject of the General Assembly’s first resolution in 1946. After general and complete disarmament first came onto the General Assembly’s agenda in 1959, nuclear disarmament has remained the most important and urgent objective of the United Nations in this field. Since 1975, it has been a prominent theme of the review conferences of States parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In 1978, the General Assembly’s first Special Session on disarmament reaffirmed that effective measures for nuclear disarmament have the highest priority. And it has been supported by every United Nations Secretary-General.

Yet today, some 15,000 nuclear weapons remain. Countries possessing such weapons have well-funded, long-term plans to modernize their nuclear arsenals. More than half of the world’s population still lives in countries that either have such weapons or are members of nuclear alliances. As of 2016, while there have been major reductions in deployed nuclear weapons since the height of the Cold War, not one nuclear warhead has been physically destroyed pursuant to a treaty, bilateral or multilateral, and no nuclear disarmament negotiations are underway. Meanwhile, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence persists as an element in the security policies of all possessor states and their nuclear allies. This is so—despite growing concerns worldwide over the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of even a single nuclear weapon, let alone a regional or global nuclear war.
These facts provide the foundation for the General Assembly’s designation of 26 September as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

This Day provides an occasion for the world community to reaffirm its commitment to global nuclear disarmament as a high priority. It also provides an opportunity to educate the public—and their leaders—about the real benefits of eliminating such weapons, and the social and economic costs of perpetuating them.

Commemorating this Day at the United Nations is especially important, given its universal membership and its long experience in grappling with nuclear disarmament issues. It is the right place to address one of humanity’s greatest challenges, achieving the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.