Rachel's #938: The Economy of Catastrophe

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Rachel's Democracy & Health News #938

*"Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?"*

*Thursday, December 20, 2007*.............Printer-friendly
version <http://www.precaution.org/lib/07/prn_dhn071220.htm>

www.rachel.org <http://rachel.org> --


*Featured stories in this issue...*

The New Economy of Catastrophe <#The_New_Economy_of_Catastrophe>
After each new disaster, it's tempting to imagine that the loss of
life and productivity will finally serve as a wake-up call, provoking
the political class to launch some kind of "new New Deal." In fact,
the opposite is taking place: disasters have become the preferred
moments for advancing a vision of a ruthlessly divided world, one in
which the very idea of a public sphere has no place at all. Call it
disaster capitalism.
Transit's Last Stand? <#Transits_Last_Stand>
Public transit is a vital service for livable cities. Transit
reduces air pollution, improves public health, reduces traffic, and
keeps communities efficiently connected. Chicago is facing draconian
cuts to its ailing transit system because local, state and federal
government can't make it a priority. Transit cuts will have severe
consequences for the entire region but especially on the quality of
life for low-income people.
Business Group Says 40% Cut in Greenhouse Gases Is Affordable <#Business_Group_Says_40_Cut_in_Greenhouse_Gases_Is_Affordable>
From one-third to one-half of projected U.S. greenhouse gas
emissions could be eliminated with relatively small cost to the
economy through prompt national action and heavy reliance on
A Solar Grand Plan <#A_Solar_Grand_Plan>
"The greatest obstacle to implementing a renewable U.S. energy
system is not technology or money. It is the lack of public awareness
that solar power is a practical alternative -- and one that can fuel
transportation as well."
The New Dawn of Solar <#The_New_Dawn_of_Solar>
A California firm says it is producing solar panels for 30 cents
per watt. If true, then a power plant made from these solar panels
should produce electricity cheaper than a coal plant.


From: Harper's Magazine, Oct. 1, 2007
[Printer-friendly version] <http://www.precaution.org/lib/07/prn_disaster_capitalism.071001.htm>


By Naomi Klein <http://www.thenation.com/directory/bios/naomi_klein>

[An excerpt from Naomi Klein's new book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise
of Disaster Capitalism <http://www.powells.com/biblio/18-9780805079838-0> (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007).]

Only a crisis -- actual or perceived -- produces real change. When
that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas
that are lying around. -- Milton Friedman

Three years ago, when I was in Baghdad on assignment for this
magazine, I paid an early-morning visit to Khadamiya, a mostly Shiite
area. An Iraqi colleague had heard that part of the neighborhood had
flooded the night before, as it did regularly. When we arrived, the
streets were drenched in slick green-blue liquid that was bubbling up
from sewage pipes beneath exhausted asphalt. A family invited us to
see what the frequent floods had done to their once lovely home. The
walls were moldy and cracked, and every item -- books, photos, sofas
-- was caked in the algae-like scum. Out back, a walled garden was a
fetid swamp, with a child's swing dangling forlornly from a dead palm
tree. "It was a beautiful garden," Durdham Yassin, the owner, told us.
"I grew tomatoes."

For the frequent flooding, Yassin spread the blame around. There was
Saddam, who spent oil money on weapons instead of infrastructure
during the Iran-Iraq War. There was the first Gulf War, when U.S.
missiles struck a nearby electricity plant, knocking out power to the
sewage-treatment facility. Next came the years of U.N. sanctions, when
city workers could not replace crucial parts of the sewage system.
Then there was the 2003 invasion, which further fried the power grid.
And, more recently, there were companies like Bechtel and General
Electric, which were hired to fix this mess, and which failed.

Around the corner, a truck was idling with a large hose down a
manhole. "The most powerful vacuum loader in the world," it
advertised, in English, on its side. Yassin explained that the
neighbors had pooled their money to pay the company to suck away the
latest batch of sludge, a costly and temporary solution. The mosque
had helped, too. As we drove away, I noticed that there were similar
private vacuum trucks on every other block.

Later that day I stopped by Baghdad's world-famous Green Zone. There,
the challenges of living without functioning public infrastructure are
also addressed by private actors. The difference is that in the Green
Zone, the solutions actually work. The enclave has its own electrical
grid, its own phone and sanitation systems, its own oil supply, its
own state-of-the-art hospital with pristine operating theaters -- all
protected by walls five meters thick. It felt, oddly, like a giant
fortified Carnival Cruise ship parked in the middle of a sea of
violence and despair, the boiling Red Zone that is Iraq. If you could
get on board there were poolside drinks, bad Hollywood movies, and
Nautilus machines. If you were not among the chosen, you could get
shot just for standing too close to the wall.

Everywhere in Iraq, the wildly divergent values assigned to different
categories of people are on crude display. Westerners and their Iraqi
colleagues have checkpoints at the entrances to their streets, blast
walls in front of their houses, body armor, and private security
guards on call at all hours. They travel the country in menacing
armored convoys, with mercenaries pointing guns out the windows as
they follow their prime directive to "protect the principal." With
every move they broadcast the same unapologetic message: We are the
chosen, our lives are infinitely more precious than yours. Middle-
class Iraqis, meanwhile, cling to the next rung down the ladder: they
can afford to buy protection from local militias, they are able to
ransom a family member held by kidnappers, they may ultimately escape
to a life of poverty in Jordan. But the vast majority of Iraqis have
no protection at all. They walk the streets exposed to any possible
ravaging, with nothing between them and the next car bomb but a thin
layer of fabric. In Iraq, the lucky get Kevlar; the rest get prayer

Like most people, I saw the divide between Baghdad's Green and Red
zones as a simple by-product of the war: This is what happens when the
richest country in the world sets up camp in one of the poorest. But
now, after years spent visiting other disaster zones, from post-
tsunami Sri Lanka to post-Katrina New Orleans, I've come to think of
these Green Zone/Red Zone worlds as something else: fast-forward
versions of what "free market" forces are doing to our societies even
in the absence of war. In Iraq the phones, pipes, and roads had been
destroyed by weapons and trade embargoes. In many other parts of the
world, including the United Stares, they have been demolished by
ideology, the war on "big government," the religion of tax cuts, the
fetish for privatization. When that crumbling infrastructure is
blasted with increasingly intense weather, the effects can be as
devastating as war.

Last February, for instance, Jakarta suffered one of these predictable
disasters. The rains had come, as they always do, but this time the
water didn't drain our of Jakarta's famously putrid sewers, and half
the city filled up like a swimming pool. There were mass evacuations,
and at least fifty-seven people were killed. No bombs or trade
sanctions were needed for Jakarta's infrastructure to fail in fact,
the steady erosion of the country's public sphere had taken place
under the banner of "free trade." For decades, Washington-backed
structural-adjustment programs had pampered investors and starved
public services, leading to such cliches of lopsided development as
glittering shopping malls with indoor skating rinks surrounded by
moats of open sewers. Now those sewers had failed completely.

In wealthier countries, where public infrastructure was far more
robust before the decline began, it has been possible to delay this
kind of reckoning. Politicians have been free to cut taxes and rail
against big government even as their constituents drove on, studied
in, and drank from the huge public-works projects of the 1930s and
1940s. But after a few decades, that trick stops working. The American
Society of Civil Engineers has warned that the United States has
fallen so far behind in maintaining its public infrastructure --
roads, bridges, schools, dams -- that it would take more than a
trillion and a half dollars over five years to bring it back up to
standard. This past summer those statistics came to life: collapsing
bridges, flooding subways, exploding steam pipes, and the still-
unfolding tragedy that began when New Orleans's levees broke.

After each new disaster, it's tempting to imagine that the loss of
life and productivity will finally serve as a wake-up call, provoking
the political class to launch some kind of "new New Deal." In fact,
the opposite is taking place: disasters have become the preferred
moments for advancing a vision of a ruthlessly divided world, one in
which the very idea of a public sphere has no place at all. Call it
disaster capitalism. Every time a new crisis hits -- even when the
crisis itself is the direct by-product of free-market ideology -- the
fear and disorientation that follow are harnessed for radical social
and economic re-engineering. Each new shock is midwife to a new course
of economic shock therapy. The end result is the same kind of
unapologetic partition between the included and the excluded, the
protected and the damned, that is on display in Baghdad.

Consider the instant reactions to last summer's various infrastructure
disasters. Four days after the Minneapolis bridge collapsed, a Wall
Street Journal editorial had the solution: "tapping private investors
to build and operate public roads and bridges," with the cost made up
from ever-escalating tolls. After heavy rain caused the shutdown of
New York City's subway lines, the New York Sun ran an editorial under
the headline "Sell the Subways." It called for individual train lines
to compete against one another, luring customers with the safest,
driest service and "charging higher fares when the competing lines,
stingier on their investments, were shut down with tracks under
water."' It's not hard to imagine what this free market in subways
would look like: high-speed lines ferrying commuters from the Upper
West Side to Wall Street, while the trains serving the South Bronx
wouldn't just continue their long decay, they would simply drown.

The same week as the bridge collapse, hysteria erupted over canceled
flights and delays at London's Heathrow airport, prompting The
Economist to demand "radical reform" of the "grubby, cramped"
facility. London's airports are already privatized, but now, according
to the magazine, they should be deregulated, allowing terminals to
compete against one another: "different firms could provide different
forms of security checks, some faster and dearer than others."
Meanwhile, in New Orleans, schools were getting ready to reopen for
fall. More than half the city's students would be attending newly
minted charter schools, where they would enjoy small classes, well-
trained teachers, and refurbished libraries, thanks to special state
and foundation funding pouring into what the New York Times has
described as "the nation's pre-eminent laboratory for the widespread
use of charter schools." But charters are only for the students who
are admitted to the system -- an educational Green Zone. The rest of
New Orleans's public-school students -- many of them with special
emotional and physical needs, almost all of them African American --
are dumped into the pre-Katrina system: no extra money, overcrowded
classrooms, more guards than teachers. An educational Red Zone.

Other institutions that had attempted to bridge the gap between New
Orleans's super-rich and ultra-poor were also under attack: thousands
of units of subsidized housing were slotted for demolition, and
Charity Hospital, the city's largest public-health facility, remained
shuttered. The original disaster was created and deepened by public
infrastructure that was on its last legs; in the years since, the
disaster itself has been used as an excuse to finish the job.

There will be more Katrinas. The bones of our states -- so frail and
aging -- will keep getting buffeted by storms both climatic and
political. And as key pieces of the infrastructure are knocked out,
there is no guarantee that they will be repaired or rebuilt, at least
not as they were before. More likely, they will be left to rot, with
the well-off withdrawing into gated communities, their needs met by
private suppliers.

Not so long ago, disasters were periods of social leveling, rare
moments when atomized communities put divisions aside and pulled
together. Today they are moments when we are hurled further apart,
when we lurch into a radically segregated future where some of us will
fall off the map and others ascend to a parallel privatized state, one
equipped with well-paved highways and skyways, safe bridges, boutique
charter schools, fast-lane airport terminals, and deluxe subways.

As Iraq and New Orleans both reveal, the markets opened up by crises
aren't only the roads, schools, and oil wells; the disasters
themselves are major new markets. The military-industrial complex that
Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against in 1961 has expanded and morphed
into what is best understood as a disaster-capitalism complex, in
which all conflict- and disaster-related functions (waging war,
securing borders, spying on citizens, re-building cities, treating
traumatized soldiers) can be performed by corporations at a profit.
And this complex is not satisfied merely to feed off the state, the
way traditional military contractors do; it aims, ultimately, to
replace core functions of government with its own profitable
enterprises, as it did in Baghdad's Green Zone.

It happened in New Orleans. Within weeks of Hurricane Katrina, the
Gulf Coast became a domestic laboratory for the same kind of
government run by contractors that was pioneered in Iraq. The
companies that snatched up the biggest contracts were the familiar
Baghdad gang: Halliburton's KBR unit received a $60 million contract
to reconstruct military bases along the coast. Blackwater was hired to
protect FEMA operations, with the company billing an average of $950 a
day per guard. Parsons, infamous for its sloppy work in Iraq, was
brought in for a major bridge-construction project in Mississippi.
Fluor, Shaw, Bechtel, CH2M Hill -- all top contractors in Iraq -- were
handed contracts on the Gulf Coast to provide mobile homes to evacuees
just ten days after the levees broke. Their contracts ended up
totaling $3.4 billion, no open bidding required. To spearhead its
Katrina operation, Shaw hired the former head of the U.S. Army's Iraq
reconstruction office. Fluor sent its senior project manager from Iraq
to the flood zone. "Our rebuilding work in Iraq is slowing down, and
this has made some people available to respond to our work in
Louisiana," a company representative explained. Joe Allbaugh, whose
company, New Bridge Strategies, had promised to bring Wal-Mart and 7-
Eleven to Iraq, was the lobbyist in the middle of many of the deals.
The feeling that the Iraq war had somehow just been franchised was so
striking that some of the mercenary soldiers, fresh from Baghdad, were
having trouble adjusting. When David Enders, a reporter, asked an
armed guard outside a New Orleans hotel if there had been much action,
he replied, "Nope. It's pretty Green Zone here."

Since then, privatized disaster response has become one of the hottest
industries in the South. Just one year after Hurricane Katrina, a slew
of new corporations had entered the market, promising safety and
security should the next Big One hit. One of the more ambitious
ventures was launched by a charter air service in West Palm Beach,
Florida. Help Jet bills itself as "the world's first hurricane escape
plan that turns a hurricane evacuation into a jet-setter vacation."
When a storm is coming, the charter company books holidays for its
members at five-star golf resorts, spas, or Disneyland. With the
reservations made, the evacuees are then whisked out of the hurricane
zone on a luxury jet. "No standing in lines, no hassle with crowds,
just a first class experience that turns a problem into a vacation....
Enjoy the feeling of avoiding the usual hurricane evacuation
nightmare." For the people left behind, there is a different kind of
privatized solution. In 2006, the Red Cross signed a new disaster-
response partnership with Wal-Mart. "It's all going to be private
enterprise before it's over," said Billy Wagner, chief of emergency
management for the Florida Keys. "They've got the expertise. They've
got the resources." He was speaking at the National Hurricane
Conference in Orlando, Florida, a fast-growing annual trade show for
the companies selling everything that might come in handy during the
next disaster. Dave Blandford, an exhibitor showing off his "self-
heating meals" at the conference, observed: "Some folks here said,
'Man, this is huge business this is my new business. I'm not in the
landscaping business anymore; I'm going to be a hurricane-debris

Much of the parallel disaster economy has been built with taxpayers'
money, thanks to the boom in privatized war-zone reconstruction. The
giant contractors that have served as "the primes" in Iraq and
Afghanistan have spent large portions of their income from government
contracts on their own corporate overhead -- between 20 and 55
percent, according to a 2006 audit of Iraq contractors. Much of those
funds has, quite legally, gone into huge investments in corporate
equipment, such as Bechtel's battalions of earth movers, Halliburton's
fleets of planes and trucks, and the surveillance architecture built
by L-3, CACI, and Booz Allen. Most dramatic has been Blackwater's
investment in its paramilitary infrastructure. Founded in 1996, the
company has used its steady stream of contracts to build up a private
army of 20,000 on-call mercenary soldiers and a military base in North
Carolina worth between $40 million and $50 million. It reportedly has
the ability to field massive humanitarian operations faster than the
Red Cross, and boasts a fleet of aircraft ranging from helicopter
gunships to a Boeing 767.[2] Blackwater has been called "al Qaeda for
the good guys" by its right-wing admirers. It's a striking analogy.
Wherever the disaster-capitalism complex has landed, it has produced a
proliferation of armed groups that operate outside the state. That is
hardly a surprise: when countries are rebuilt by people who don't
believe in governments, the states they build are invariably weak,
creating a market for alternative security forces, whether Hezbollah,
Blackwater, the Mahdi Army, or the gang down the street in New

The reach of the disaster industry extends far beyond policing. When
the contractor infrastructure built up during the Bush years is looked
at as a whole, what we see is a fully articulated state-within-a-state
that is as muscular and capable as the actual state is frail and
feeble. This corporate shadow-state has been built almost exclusively
with public resources, including the training of its staff: 90 percent
of Blackwater's revenues come from state contracts, and the majority
of its employees are former politicians, soldiers, and civil servants.
Yet the vast infrastructure is all privately owned and controlled. The
citizens who funded it have absolutely no claim to this parallel
economy or its resources.

The actual state, meanwhile, has lost the ability to perform its core
functions without the help of contractors. Its own equipment is out of
date, and the best experts have fled to the private sector. When
Katrina hit, FEMA had to hire a contractor to award contracts to
contractors. Similarly, when it came time to update the Army manual on
the rules for dealing with contractors, the Army outsourced the job to
one of its major contractors, MPRI, because it no longer had the in-
house expertise. The CIA has lost so many staffers to the privatized
spy sector that it has had to bar contractors from recruiting in the
agency dining room. "One recently retired case officer said he had
been approached twice while in line for coffee," reported the Los
Angeles Times. And when the Department of Homeland Security decided it
needed to build "virtual fences" on the U.S. borders with Mexico and
Canada, Michael P. Jackson, deputy secretary of the department, told
contractors, "This is an unusual invitation.... We're asking you to
come back and tell us how to do our business." The department's
inspector general explained that Homeland Security "does not have the
capacity needed to effectively plan, oversee, and execute the [Secure
Border Initiative] program."

Under George W. Bush, the state still has all the trappings of a
government -- the impressive buildings, presidential press briefings,
policy battles -- but it no more does the actual work of governing
than the employees at Nike's Beaverton, Oregon, campus stitch running

The implications of the decision by the current crop of politicians to
systematically outsource their elected responsibilities will reach far
beyond a single administration. Once a market has been created, it
needs to be protected. The companies at the heart of the disaster-
capitalism complex increasingly regard both the state and nonprofits
as competitors; from the corporate perspective, whenever governments
or charities fulfill their traditional roles, they are denying
contractors work that could be performed at a profit.

"Neglected Defense: Mobilizing the Private Sector to Support Home-land
Security," a 2006 report whose advisory committee included some of the
largest corporations in the sector, warned that "the compassionate
federal impulse to provide emergency assistance to the victims of
disasters affects the market's approach to managing its exposure to
risk." Published by the Council on Foreign Relations, the report
argued that if people know the government will come to the rescue,
they have no incentive to pay for protection. In a similar vein, a
year after Katrina, CEOs from thirty of the largest corporations in
the United States joined together under the umbrella of the Business
Roundtable, which includes in its membership Fluor, Bechtel, and
Chevron. The group, calling itself Partnership for Disaster Response,
complained of "mission creep" by the nonprofit sector in the aftermath
of disasters. The mercenary firms, meanwhile, have been loudly
claiming that they are better equipped than the U.N. to engage in
peacekeeping in Darfur.

Much of this new aggressiveness flows from suspicion that the golden
era of bottomless federal contracts might not last much longer. The
U.S. government is barreling toward an economic crisis, thanks in no
small part to the deficit spending that has bankrolled the privatized
disaster economy. Sooner rather than later, the contracts are likely
to dip significantly. In late 2006 defense analysts began predicting
that the Pentagon's acquisitions budget could shrink by as much as 25
percent in the coming decade.

When the disaster bubble bursts, firms such as Bechtel, Fluor, and
Blackwater will lose much of their primary revenue streams. They will
still have all the high-tech equipment bought at taxpayer expense, but
they will need to find a new business model, a new way to cover their
high costs. The next phase of the disaster-capitalism complex is all
too clear: with emergencies on the rise, government no longer able to
foot the bill, and citizens stranded by their hollow state, the
parallel corporate state will rent back its disaster infrastructure to
whoever can afford it, at whatever price the market will bear. For
sale will be everything from helicopter rides off rooftops to drinking
water to beds in shelters.

Wealth already provides an escape hatch from most disasters -- it buys
early-warning systems for tsunami-prone regions and stockpiles of
Tamiflu for the next outbreak. It buys bottled water, generators,
satellite phones, and renta-cops. During the Israeli attack on Lebanon
in 2006, the U.S. government initially tried to charge American
citizens for the cost of their own evacuation, though it was
eventually forced to back down. If we continue in this direction, the
images of people stranded on New Orleans rooftops will not only have
been a glimpse of America's unresolved past of racial inequality but
will also have foreshadowed a collective future of disaster apartheid,
in which survival is determined primarily by one's ability to pay.

Perhaps part of the reason so many of our elites, both political and
corporate, are so sanguine about climate change is that they are
confident they will be able to buy their way out of the worst of it.
This may also partially explain why so many Bush supporters are
Christian end-timers. It's not just that they need to believe there is
an escape hatch from the world they are creating. It's that the
Rapture is a parable for what they are building down here on Earth --
a system that invites destruction and disaster, then swoops in with
private helicopters and airlifts them and their friends to divine

As contractors rush to develop alternative stable sources of revenue,
one avenue of business is in disaster-proofing other corporations.
This was Paul Bremer's line of work before he became Bush's proconsul
in Iraq: turning multinationals into security bubbles able to function
smoothly even if the states in which they are doing business crumble
around them. The early results can be seen in the lobbies of many
office buildings in New York or London -- airport-style check-ins
complete with photo-ID requirements and X-ray machines -- but the
industry' has far greater ambitions, including privatized global
communications networks, emergency health and electricity services,
and the ability to locate and provide transportation for a global
workforce in the midst of a major disaster. Another potential growth
area identified by the disaster-capitalism complex is municipal
government: the contracting out of police and fire departments to
private security companies. "What they do for the military in downtown
Fallujah, they can do for the police in downtown Reno," a spokesperson
for Lockheed Martin said in November 2004.

The contracting industry predicts that these new markets will expand
dramatically over the next decade. A frank vision of where these
trends are leading is provided by John Robb, a former covert-action
mission commander with Delta Force turned management consultant. In a
widely circulated manifesto for Fast Company magazine, he describes
the "end result" of the war on terror as "a new, more resilient
approach to national security, one built not around the state but
around private citizens and companies.... Security will become a
function of where you live and whom you work for, much as health care
is allocated already."

Robb writes, "Wealthy individuals and multinational corporations will
be the first to bail out of our collective system, opting instead to
hire private military companies, such as Blackwater and Triple Canopy,
to protect their homes and facilities and establish a protective
perimeter around daily life. Parallel transportation networks --
evolving out of the time-share aircraft companies such as Warren
Buffett's NetJets -- will cater to this group, leapfrogging its
members from one secure, well-appointed lily pad to the next." That
elite world is already largely in place, but Robb predicts that the
middle class will soon follow suit, "forming suburban collectives to
share the costs of security." These "'armored suburbs' will deploy and
maintain backup generators and communications links" and be patrolled
by private militias "that have received corporate training and boast
their own state-of-the-art emergency response systems."

In other words, a world of suburban Green Zones. As for those outside
the secured perimeter, "they will have to make do with the remains of
the national system. They will gravitate to America's cities, where
they will be subject to ubiquitous surveillance and marginal or
nonexistent services. For the poor, there will be no other refuge."
The future Robb describes sounds very much like the present in New
Orleans, where two very different kinds of gated communities emerged
from the rubble. On the one hand were the so-called FEMA-villes:
desolate, out-of-the-way trailer camps for low-income evacuees, built
by Bechtel or Fluor subcontractors and administered by private
security companies that patrolled the gravel lots, restricted
visitors, kept journalists out, and treated survivors like criminals.
On the other hand were the gated communities built in the wealthy
areas of the city like Audubon and the Garden District, bubbles of
functionality that seemed to have seceded from the state altogether.
Within weeks of the storm, residents there had water and powerful
emergency generators. Their sick were treated in private hospitals,
and their children went to private or charter schools. And they had no
need for public transit. In St. Bernard Parish, a New Orleans suburb,
DynCorp had taken over much of the policing; other neighborhoods hired
security companies directly. Between the two kinds of privatized city-
states was the New Orleans version of the Red Zone, where the murder
rate soared and neighborhoods like the storied Lower Ninth Ward
descended into a postapocalyptic no-man's-land.

Another glimpse of a disaster-apartheid future can be found in a
wealthy Republican suburb outside Atlanta. Its residents decided that
they were tired of watching their property taxes subsidize schools and
police in the county's low-income African-American neighborhoods. They
voted to incorporate as their own city, Sandy Springs, which could
spend most of its taxes on services for its 100,000 citizens and
minimize the revenue that would be redistributed throughout Fulton
County. The only difficulty was that Sandy Springs had no government
structures and needed to build them from scratch -- everything from
tax collection to zoning to parks and recreation. In September 2005,
the same month that New Orleans flooded, the residents of Sandy
Springs were approached by the construction and consulting giant CH2M
Hill with a unique pitch: Let us do it for you. For the starting price
of $27 million a year, the contractor pledged to build a complete city
from the ground up.

A few months later, Sandy Springs became the first "contract city."
Only four people worked directly for the new municipality -- everyone
else was a contractor. Rick Hirsekorn, heading up the project for CH2M
Hill, described Sandy Springs as "a clean sheet of paper with no
governmental processes in place." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
reported that "when Sandy Springs hired corporate workers to run the
new city, it was considered a bold experiment." Within a year,
however, contract-city mania was tearing through Atlanta's wealthy
suburbs, and it had become "standard procedure in north Fulton
[County]." Neighboring communities took their cue from Sandy Springs
and also voted to become stand-alone cities and contract out their
government. One new city, Milton, immediately hired CH2M Hill for the
job -- after all, it had the experience. Soon, a campaign began for
the new corporate cities to join together to form their own county.
The plan has encountered fierce opposition outside the proposed
enclave, where politicians say that without those tax dollars, they
will no longer be able to afford their large public hospital and
public transit system; that partitioning the county would create a
failed state on the one hand and a hyperserviced one on the other.
What they were describing sounded a lot like New Orleans and a little
like Baghdad.

In these wealthy Atlanta suburbs, the long crusade to strip-mine the
state is nearing completion, and it is particularly fitting that the
new ground was broken by CH2M Hill. The corporation was a
multimillion-dollar contractor in Iraq, paid to perform the core
government function of overseeing other contractors. In Sri Lanka
after the tsunami, it not only had built ports and bridges but was,
according to the U.S. State Department, "responsible for the overall
management of the infrastructure program." In post-Katrina New
Orleans, CH2M Hill was awarded $500 million to build FEMA-villes and
was put on standby for the next disaster. A master of privatizing the
core functions of the state during extraordinary circumstances, the
company was now doing the same under ordinary ones.

If disasters had served as laboratories of extreme privatization, the
testing phase was clearly over.

For decades, the conventional wisdom was that generalized mayhem was a
drain on the global economy. Individual shocks and crises could be
harnessed as leverage to force open new markets, of course, but after
the initial shock had done its work, relative peace and stability were
required for sustained economic growth. That was the accepted
explanation for why the Nineties had been such prosperous years: with
the Cold War over, economies were liberated to concentrate on trade
and investment, and as countries became more enmeshed and
interdependent, they were far less likely to bomb one another.

At the 2007 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, however,
political and corporate leaders were scratching their heads over a
state of affairs that seemed to flout this conventional wisdom. It was
being called the "Davos Dilemma," which Financial Times columnist
Martin Wolf described as "the contrast between the world's favourable
economics and troublesome politics." As Wolf put it, the economy had
faced "a series of shocks: the stock market crash after 2000; the
terrorist outrages of September 11, 2001; wars in Afghanistan and
Iraq; friction over US policies; a jump in real oil prices to levels
not seen since the 1970s; the cessation of negotiations in the Doha
round [of WTO talks]; and the confrontation over Iran's nuclear
ambitions" -- and yet it found itself in "a golden period of broadly
shared growth." Put bluntly, the world was going to hell, there was no
stability in sight, and the global economy was roaring its approval.

This puzzling trend has also been observed through an economic
indicator called "the guns-to-caviar index." The index tracks the
sales of fighter jets (guns) and executive jets (caviar). For
seventeen years, it generally found that when fighter jets were
selling briskly, sales of luxury executive jets went down, and vice
versa: when executive-jet sales were on the rise, fighter-jet sales
dipped. Of course, a handful of war profiteers always managed to get
rich from selling guns, but they were economically insignificant. It
was a truism of the contemporary market that you couldn't have booming
economic growth in the midst of violence and instability.

Except that the truism is no longer true. Since 2003, the year of the
Iraq invasion, the index has found that spending has been going up on
both fighter jets and executive jets rapidly and simultaneously, which
means that the world is becoming less peaceful while accumulating
significantly more profit. The galloping economic growth in China and
India has played a part in the increased demand for luxury items, but
so has the expansion of the narrow military-industrial complex into
the sprawling disaster-capitalism complex. Today, global instability
does not just benefit a small group of arms dealers; it generates huge
profits for the high-tech-homeland-security sector, for heavy
construction, for private health-care companies, for the oil and gas
sectors -- and, of course, for defense contractors.

The scale of the revenues at stake is certainly enough to fuel an
economic boom. Lockheed Martin, whose former vice president chaired
the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which loudly agitated for
the invasion, received $25 billion in U.S. government contracts in
2005 alone. Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman noted that the sum
"exceeded the gross domestic product of 103 countries, including
Iceland, Jordan, and Costa Rica... [and] was also larger than the
combined budgets of the Department of Commerce, the Department of the
Interior, the Small Business Administration, and the entire
legislative branch of government." Lockheed itself deserved to be
characterized as an emerging market. Companies like Lockheed (whose
stock price tripled between 2000 and 2005) are a large part of the
reason why the U.S. stock market was saved from a prolonged crash
following September 11. While conventional stocks have underperformed,
the Spade Defense Index, "a benchmark for defense, homeland security
and aerospace stocks," went up 76 percent between 2001 and 2006 --
while Standard & Poor's 500 average dropped 5 percent in that same

The Davos Dilemma is being fueled further by the intensely profitable
model of privatized reconstruction that was forged in Iraq. Share
prices of heavy-construction companies, which include the big
engineering firms that land juicy no-bid contracts after wars and
natural disasters, went up 300 percent between 2001 and July 2007.
Reconstruction is now such big business that investors greet each new
disaster with the excitement of hot initial public stock offerings:
$30 billion for Iraq reconstruction, $13 billion for tsunami
reconstruction, $110 billion for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, $7.6
billion for Lebanon.

Terrorist attacks, which used to send the stock market spiraling
downward, now receive a similarly upbeat market reception. After
September 11, 2001, the Dow Jones plummeted 685 points as soon as
markets reopened. In sharp contrast, on July 7, 2005, the day four
bombs ripped through London's public transportation system, killing
dozens and injuring hundreds, the U.S. stock market closed higher than
it had the day before, with the Nasdaq up 7 points. A year later, on
the day British law-enforcement agencies arrested twenty-four suspects
who had allegedly planned to blow up jetliners headed to the United
States, the Nasdaq closed 11.5 points higher, largely thanks to
soaring homeland-security stocks.

Then there are the outrageous fortunes of the oil sector -- a $40
billion profit in 2006 for ExxonMobil alone, the largest profit ever
recorded, and its colleagues at rival companies like Chevron were not
far behind. Like the fortunes of corporations linked to defense, heavy
construction, and homeland security, those of the oil sector improve
with every war, terrorist attack, and Category 5 hurricane. In
addition to reaping the short-term benefits of high prices linked to
uncertainty in key oil-producing regions, the oil industry has
consistently managed to turn disasters to its long-term advantage,
whether by ensuring that a large portion of the reconstruction funds
in Afghanistan went into the expensive road infrastructure for a new
pipeline (while most other major reconstruction projects stalled), or
by pushing for a new investor-friendly oil law in Iraq while the
country burned, or by piggybacking on Hurricane Katrina to plan the
first new refineries in the United States since the Seventies. The oil
and gas industry is so intimately entwined with the economy of
disaster -- both as a root cause behind many disasters and as a
beneficiary from them -- that it deserves to be treated as an honorary
adjunct of the disaster-capitalism complex.

The recent spate of disasters has translated into such spectacular
profits that many people around the world have come to the same
conclusion: the rich and powerful must be deliberately causing the
catastrophes so that they can exploit them. In July 2006 a national
poll of U.S. residents found that more than a third of respondents
believed that the government had a hand in 9/11 attacks or took no
action to stop them "because they wanted the United States to go to
war in the Middle East." Similar suspicions dog most the catastrophes
of recent years. In Louisiana in the aftermath of Katrina, the
shelters were alive with rumors that the levees hadn't broken but had
been covertly blown up in order to keep the rich areas dry while
cleansing the city of poor people. In Sri Lanka, I often heard that
the tsunami had been caused by underwater explosions detonated by the
United States so that it could send troops into Southeast Asia and
take full control over the region's economies.

The truth is at once less sinister and more dangerous. An economic
system that requires constant growth while bucking almost all serious
attempts at environmental regulation generates a steady stream of
disasters all on its own, whether military, ecological, or financial.
The appetite for easy, short-term profits offered by purely
speculative investment has turned the stock, currency, and real estate
markets into crisis-creation machines, as the Asian financial crisis,
the Mexican peso crisis, the dot-com collapse, and the subprime-
mortgage crisis demonstrate. Our common addiction to dirty, non-
renewable energy sources keeps other kinds of emergencies coming:
natural disasters (up 560 percent since 1975) and wars waged for
control over scarce resources (not just Iraq and Afghanistan but
lower-intensity conflicts such as those in Colombia, Nigeria, and
Sudan), which in turn spawn terrorist blow-back (a 2007 study
calculated that the number of terrorist attacks has increased
sevenfold since the start of the Iraq war).

Given the boiling temperatures, both climatic and political, future
disasters need not be cooked up in dark conspiracies. All indications
are that if we simply stay the current course, they will keep coming
with ever more ferocious intensity. Disaster generation can therefore
be left to the market's invisible hand. This is one area in which it
actually delivers.

The disaster-capitalism complex does not deliberately scheme to create
the cataclysms on which it feeds (though Iraq may be a notable
exception), but there is plenty of evidence that its component
industries work very hard indeed to make sure that current disastrous
trends continue unchallenged. Large oil companies have bankrolled the
climate-change-denial movement for years; ExxonMobil alone has spent
an estimated $19 million on the crusade over the past decade. Although
the phenomenon is well known, the interplay between disaster
contractors and elite opinion makers is far less understood. Several
influential Washington think tanks -- including the National Institute
for Public Policy and the Center for Security Policy -- are heavily
funded by weapons and homeland-security contractors, which profit
directly from these institutes' ceaseless portrayal of the world as a
dark and menacing place, its troubles responsive only to force. The
homeland-security sector is also becoming increasingly integrated with
media corporations, a development that has Orwellian implications. In
2004 the digital-communications giant LexisNexis paid $775 million for
Seisint, a data-mining company that works closely on surveillance with
federal and state agencies. That same year, General Electric, which
owns NBC, purchased InVision, the major producer of controversial
high-tech bomb-detection devices used in airports and other public
spaces. InVision received a staggering $15 billion in homeland-
security contracts between 2001 and 2006, more of such contracts than
any other company.

The creeping expansion of the disaster-capitalism complex into the
media may prove to be a new kind of corporate synergy, one building on
the vertical integration that became so popular in the Nineties. It
certainly makes sound business sense. The more panicked our societies
become, convinced that there are terrorists lurking in every mosque,
the higher the news ratings soar, the more biometric IDs and liquid-
explosive-detection devices the complex sells, and the more high-tech
fences it builds. If the dream of the open, borderless "small planet"
was the ticket to profits during the Clinton years, the nightmare of
the menacing, fortressed Western continents, under siege from
jihadists and illegal immigrants, plays the same role in the new

There is only one cloud that looms over the thriving disaster economy-
from weapons to oil to engineering to surveillance to patented drugs.
It is the threatening if unlikely scenario that this latest boom could
somehow be interrupted by an outbreak of climatic stability and
geopolitical peace.


Naomi Klein's most recent article for Harper's Magazine, "Baghdad Year
Zero," appeared in the September 2004 issue. Her new book, The Shock
Doctrine, from which this essay was adapted, was just published by
Metropolitan Books.

[1] If these solutions seemed to present themselves with uncanny
speed, it is largely because Washington's think tanks have been on
such an aggressive campaign to privatize the essential functions of
the state. As a May 2007 cover story in Business Week explained, "In
the past year, banks and private investment firms have fallen in love
with public infrastructure. They're smitten by the rich cash flows
that roads, bridges, airports, parking garages and shipping ports
generate and the monopolistic advantages that keep those cash flows as
steady as a beating heart.... Investors can't get in fast enough."

[2] One of the most alarming aspects of this industry is how
unabashedly partisan it is. Blackwater, for instance, is closely
aligned with the anti-abortion movement and other right-wing causes.
It donates almost exclusively to the Republican Party, rather than
hedging its bets like most big corporations. Halliburton sends 93
percent of its campaign contributions to Republicans; Fluor, 78
percent. Is it far-fetched to imagine a day when political parties
will hire these companies to spy on their rivals during an election
campaign -- or to engage in covert operations too shady even for the

Return to Table of Contents <#Table_of_Contents>


From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News, Dec. 20, 2007
[Printer-friendly version] <http://www.precaution.org/lib/07/prn_chicago_transit_woes.071220.htm>


*Chicago is in the race to host the 2016 Olympic Games. But air
pollution, congestion and transit woes might just seal Chicago's fate
if government lets public transit slide further into disrepair and

By Vera Leopold

For Chicagoans, the word "doomsday" has taken on new meaning. The city
has the nation's second largest public transportation system but as
any resident will tell you, the system is broken. For years the system
has been falling into disrepair and now it's limping along on
temporary cash infusions to keep the trains and buses running past so-
called transit 'doomsdays.' But time is running out. If a full funding
solution isn't found soon, the New Year will not be so happy when area
residents, especially those from low-income communities, will face
severe service cuts.

Despite the roughly two million rides taken each weekday on Chicago's
trains and buses, revenue from fares isn't nearly enough to meet the
costs of providing service. The Chicago Transportation Authority
(CTA), which runs bus and "El" train routes downtown and to
surrounding suburbs, is projected to have a $158 million shortfall in

As state legislators' deliberations continue, the CTA has named a
third deadline of January 20 to receive more funds or be forced to
institute fare hikes of up to $1.25 (a 60% increase), lay off 2,400
employees, and eliminate more than half its bus routes. The suburb-to-
city Metra trains and the suburban Pace bus system are in similar
situations and also have cuts and fare hikes scheduled for the new
year. The threat of these deadlines has become something of a last
stand for the transit agencies, which have been underfunded for years.

Cuts in mass transit service would have a disproportionate impact on
Chicago's low-income families, who often don't own a car and would be
cut off from their way to work. Many Chicago Public Schools children
also depend on public transportation to reach their schools. And
residents struggling to make ends meet will have to spend more of
their budget on transit fares.

"Without a transit solution, real harm will come to individual
residents," Randy Blankenhorn, executive director of the Chicago
Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), said in a late-November
statement. "These are people whose livelihoods depend on affordable
public transit and who already spend a high percentage of their income
getting to work."

Many Chicagoans would have to turn to other options, like biking and
walking to work. The Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, a bicycling and
pedestrian advocacy group, has developed a "Doomsday Survival Guide <http://www.biketraffic.org/content.php?id=1368_0_6_0>"
to help stranded people find an alternate biking or bike-plus-rail
route to their jobs.

According to Margo O'Hara, CBF director of communications, the current
failure to find transit funding is problematic for people who use
other non-car transportation as well.

"It does send a message that mass transit and alternative forms of
transportation may not be a high priority," says O'Hara. "If mass
transit's not being funded, it's not a good sign for bicyclists and
the facilities that we need to get around."

Also, seniors and people with disabilities would be especially hard
hit by service cuts; they often don't have the money or the physical
capacity to use other modes of transportation, leaving them without
mobility. Groups like Metro Seniors in Action and IMPRUVE (Independent
Movement of Paratransit Riders for Unity, Vehicles, Equality) have
been joining in broader coalitions, such as the newly-formed Rider-
Driver Alliance, to fight for solutions.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is required that
paratransit services run complementary to all fixed CTA and Pace
routes. People eligible for paratransit rides can be picked up and
dropped off by van anywhere within three-fourths' mile of a regular
route. If half of CTA bus routes are cut, this would also mean
elimination of the paratransit services that operated alongside them.

For people with disabilities, that can literally be a matter of life
or death, says Dr. Ayo Maat, the founder and coordinator of IMPRUVE.

If the CTA service cuts went through, "that would leave people who are
dependent on paratransit, not only without service, but in life-
threatening situations because they use paratransit to go to the
doctor," she says. "This would really affect us socially and
economically, because those who have jobs couldn't get to work; those
who are looking for jobs can't look; those who are looking for housing
can't. To be isolated again would be devastating."

Rider advocates don't think political leaders are doing enough to
solve the problem. On October 29, the Rider-Driver Alliance joined
with local advocacy groups like the Little Village Environmental
Justice Organization (LVEJO) for a rally downtown at Federal Plaza to
protest what they saw as local officials' lack of priorities on

"We need to focus on the problem now, and we need to focus on how it
affects people who are the most transit-dependent," says Michael
Pitula, a LVEJO community organizer for transportation issues. "We
don't need to be talking about luxury rail projects for the Olympics,
for tourism, for downtown business interests."

While transit workers have a lot in common with transit riders, the
political appointees in charge of the CTA do not, Pitula says.
"There's this divide between the people who make the decisions about
transit and the people who ride it, and it falls very closely along
race and class lines. There's a disconnect in [their] experiences, and
it shows in the policies they enact."

A spokesperson with CTA, Sheila Gregory, says the decisions on which
routes to cut were made based on three principles: "maintain as much
availability as possible for transit-dependent customers; maintain
regional connections where possible; and spread the burden of cost
reductions in an equitable manner." Gregory also says the CTA cuts are
consistent with federal guidelines regarding impacts to minorities and
people below the poverty level.

But, any cuts still leave people without a ride they had depended on.

The proposed service cuts would also impact Chicagoans across the
board for two interconnected reasons: traffic and air pollution. If
more people were forced to turn to their cars, Chicago's already
congested highways would become even worse, significantly increasing
the region's air quality problems, says Brian Urbaszewski, director of
environmental health at the Respiratory Health Association of
Metropolitan Chicago.

"Public transit takes a lot of people off the roadways and it promotes
free flow of traffic," he says. "There just is no physical way to get
all the people who work downtown to drive downtown without chaos
ensuing -- total gridlock. That's going to create a huge amount of
wasted fuel and a huge amount of air pollution, because people's
commute times are going to skyrocket."

A nationwide study found that Chicago-area drivers already waste over
200 million hours and 140 million gallons of fuel per year sitting in
traffic. More people in cars instead of on buses or trains would mean
even more traffic jams, more stop and go driving, and much more time
running the engine while commuting, all of which produces more air
pollution, not to mention stress and expense.

"It's bad for the whole region, and not just for people who take
transit," says Tom Garritano, spokesperson for CMAP. "I think that's a
real fallacy. Some people out there who take a car to work think that
this doesn't affect them, and they couldn't be more wrong."

Car engines give off two major types of pollution-volatile organic
compounds, or VOCs, and nitrogen oxides. Both of these chemical
compounds produce ozone, the main component of smog. High ozone levels
can cause coughing, difficulty breathing, and serious complications
for people who already have respiratory illnesses.

Releases of VOCs and nitrogen oxides, as well as greenhouse gases,
from CTA's diesel buses are much less than cars. However, Chicago mass
transit has its own pollution problems and public health impacts. CTA
diesel buses and non-electric Metra trains give off particulate
matter-commonly known as soot-from their tailpipes. More soot in the
air contributes to more strokes, asthma attacks and heart attacks.

The majority of the city's aging buses do not have particulate filters
installed that would make them 90 percent cleaner, a problem that
Urbaszewski's group has been lobbying to fix. Urbaszewski says
requirements to install those pollution filters should be incorporated
into any new state legislation on transportation.

"Not only do we want transit that runs, we want it to run cleanly like
other big cities around the country that have cleaned up their acts,"
says Urbaszewski. "This is the prime opportunity to solve the problem
once and for all."

Other organizations are thinking big picture about transit, too. This
fall the CBF released their 20-year vision for Chicago
transportation <http://www.biketraffic.org/content.php?id=1253_0_11_0>.
The group aims to reduce bicycle and pedestrian street accidents by 50
percent and to have half of the Chicago population using walking,
bicycling and mass transit as their mode of transportation instead of
personal vehicles by 2027.

"So much of funding for mass transit helps alleviate the problems that
we're trying to work on, like preventing crashes, congestion, the
environment, public health," says O'Hara. "If you have more people
using more active forms of transportation that include CTA trains and
buses, it'll have those same kind of benefits [as walking and

Many grass-roots organizations in Chicago have found transit to be an
issue they can rally around. The Rider-Driver Alliance <http://www.lvejo.org/pdfs/RiderDriverAlliance070908%201.4.doc> is a prime
example. The group seeks not only to prevent service cuts and fare
increases, but also to end worker layoffs, ensure better CTA
accountability, and advocate for equitable funding sources for
transit. More broadly, Pitula says they aim to win a voice in Chicago
transit decisions.

"We really have a huge task in front of us," he says. "But we know
from [other] examples... that it is possible for low-income people and
traditionally underrepresented groups to effect change, and to get the
services that their communities need."

As the final days before the deadline approach, pressure on state
legislators could be enough to finally bring an agreement. Many
Chicago organizations, like CMAP and CBF, are pushing for Springfield
lawmakers to approve SB 572. The bill, sponsored and championed over
months by State Representative Julie Hamos, is comprehensive transit
legislation that would provide stable funding for mass transportation
by raising the regional sales tax between one-fourth and one-half of a

Some advocate groups take issue with the sales tax, calling it a
regressive funding source. However, the bill also includes provisions
to improve the services' accountability and to ensure more citizen
participation in decisions, elements that have been applauded by rider
advocates. While there's no guarantee the legislation will pass, there
is still a chance Chicago's beleaguered mass transit will finally have
more than a temporary fix to work with.

For information on how to contact IL state legislators <http://www.elections.il.gov/DistrictLocator/>:

Learn more about the IL Transit Bill <http://www.juliehamos.org/transit/> (SB 572) and get updates on its
progress: http://www.juliehamos.org/transit/.

To view the Doomsday Survival Guide <http://www.biketraffic.org/content.php?id=1368_0_6_0> by the Chicagoland Bicycle
Federation: http://www.biketraffic.org/content.php?id=1368_0_6_0.

Learn more about the Rider-Driver Alliance <http://www.lvejo.org/restoringCTA.htm> and Little Village
Environmental Justice Organization's transportation initiatives:

Return to Table of Contents <#Table_of_Contents>


From: Chemical & Engineering News, Dec. 6, 2007
[Printer-friendly version] <http://www.precaution.org/lib/07/prn_large_co2_cuts_manageable.071206.htm>


*Business groups say large CO2 cuts are manageable*

By Jeff Johnson

>From one-third to one-half of projected U.S. greenhouse gas emissions
could be eliminated with relatively small cost to the economy through
prompt national action and heavy reliance on efficiency, says a report
(4 Mbyte <http://www.mckinsey.com/clientservice/ccsi/pdf/US_ghg_final_report.pdf>) by two business research and consulting organizations.

The Conference Board <http://www.conference-board.org/> and McKinsey & Co. <http://www.mckinsey.com/> estimate that 40% of
carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions of 9.7 billion tons -- the
projected U.S. emissions level for 2030 -- could be eliminated through
new industrial, building, and appliance efficiencies. The cost of
these reductions, the groups say, would pay for themselves during the
lifetime of use.

To move beyond a 40% reduction would call for better vehicle and
transportation efficiencies, enhanced carbon sinks, and reduced carbon
emissions from electric power generation.

Considering all costs, the report says, overall capital expenditures
would exceed $1.1 trillion, but the report says this amount is roughly
only 1.5% of the $77 trillion in real investments the U.S. economy is
expected to make over this period. The report notes, however, that
opportunities to cut greenhouse gases are widely spread throughout the
economy and are highly fragmented.

Copyright 2007 American Chemical Society

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From: Scientific American Magazine, Dec. 16, 2007
[Printer-friendly version] <http://www.precaution.org/lib/07/prn_solar_grand_plan.071217.htm>


*By 2050 solar power could end U.S. dependence on foreign oil and slash
greenhouse gas emissions*

By Ken Zweibel, James Mason and Vasilis Fthenakis

High prices for gasoline and home heating oil are here to stay. The
U.S. is at war in the Middle East at least in part to protect its
foreign oil interests. And as China, India and other nations rapidly
increase their demand for fossil fuels, future fighting over energy
looms large. In the meantime, power plants that burn coal, oil and
natural gas, as well as vehicles everywhere, continue to pour millions
of tons of pollutants and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere
annually, threatening the planet.

Well-meaning scientists, engineers, economists and politicians have
proposed various steps that could slightly reduce fossil-fuel use and
emissions. These steps are not enough. The U.S. needs a bold plan to
free itself from fossil fuels. Our analysis convinces us that a
massive switch to solar power is the logical answer.

Solar energy's potential is off the chart. The energy in sunlight
striking the earth for 40 minutes is equivalent to global energy
consumption for a year. The U.S. is lucky to be endowed with a vast
resource; at least 250,000 square miles of land in the Southwest alone
are suitable for constructing solar power plants, and that land
receives more than 4,500 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of
solar radiation a year. Converting only 2.5 percent of that radiation
into electricity would match the nation's total energy consumption in

To convert the country to solar power, huge tracts of land would have
to be covered with photovoltaic panels and solar heating troughs. A
direct-current (DC) transmission backbone would also have to be
erected to send that energy efficiently across the nation.

The technology is ready. On the following pages we present a grand
plan that could provide 69 percent of the U.S.'s electricity and 35
percent of its total energy (which includes transportation) with solar
power by 2050. We project that this energy could be sold to consumers
at rates equivalent to today's rates for conventional power sources,
about five cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). If wind, biomass and
geothermal sources were also developed, renewable energy could provide
100 percent of the nation's electricity and 90 percent of its energy
by 2100.

The federal government would have to invest more than $400 billion
over the next 40 years to complete the 2050 plan. That investment is
substantial, but the payoff is greater. Solar plants consume little or
no fuel, saving billions of dollars year after year. The
infrastructure would displace 300 large coal-fired power plants and
300 more large natural gas plants and all the fuels they consume. The
plan would effectively eliminate all imported oil, fundamentally
cutting U.S. trade deficits and easing political tension in the Middle
East and elsewhere. Because solar technologies are almost pollution-
free, the plan would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power
plants by 1.7 billion tons a year, and another 1.9 billion tons from
gasoline vehicles would be displaced by plug-in hybrids refueled by
the solar power grid. In 2050 U.S. carbon dioxide emissions would be
62 percent below 2005 levels, putting a major brake on global warming.

Photovoltaic Farms

In the past few years the cost to produce photovoltaic cells and
modules has dropped significantly, opening the way for large-scale
deployment. Various cell types exist, but the least expen--sive
modules today are thin films made of cadmium telluride. To provide
electricity at six cents per kWh by 2020, cadmium telluride modules
would have to convert electricity with 14 percent efficiency, and
systems would have to be installed at $1.20 per watt of capacity.
Current modules have 10 percent efficiency and an installed system
cost of about $4 per watt. Progress is clearly needed, but the
technology is advancing quickly; commercial efficiencies have risen
from 9 to 10 percent in the past 12 months. It is worth noting, too,
that as modules improve, rooftop photovoltaics will become more cost-
competitive for homeowners, reducing daytime electricity demand.

In our plan, by 2050 photovoltaic technology would provide almost
3,000 gigawatts (GW), or billions of watts, of power. Some 30,000
square miles of photovoltaic arrays would have to be erected. Although
this area may sound enormous, installations already in place indicate
that the land required for each gigawatt-hour of solar energy produced
in the Southwest is less than that needed for a coal-powered plant
when factoring in land for coal mining. Studies by the National
Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., show that more than
enough land in the Southwest is available without requiring use of
environmentally sensitive areas, population centers or difficult
terrain. Jack Lavelle, a spokesperson for Arizona's Department of
Water Conservation, has noted that more than 80 percent of his state's
land is not privately owned and that Arizona is very interested in
developing its solar potential. The benign nature of photovoltaic
plants (including no water consumption) should keep environmental
concerns to a minimum.

The main progress required, then, is to raise module efficiency to 14
percent. Although the efficiencies of commercial modules will never
reach those of solar cells in the laboratory, cadmium telluride cells
at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory are now up to 16.5 percent
and rising. At least one manufacturer, First Solar in Perrysburg,
Ohio, increased module efficiency from 6 to 10 percent from 2005 to
2007 and is reaching for 11.5 percent by 2010.

Pressurized Caverns

The great limiting factor of solar power, of course, is that it
generates little electricity when skies are cloudy and none at night.
Excess power must therefore be produced during sunny hours and stored
for use during dark hours. Most energy storage systems such as
batteries are expensive or inefficient.

Compressed-air energy storage has emerged as a successful alternative.
Electricity from photovoltaic plants compresses air and pumps it into
vacant underground caverns, abandoned mines, aquifers and depleted
natural gas wells. The pressurized air is released on demand to turn a
turbine that generates electricity, aided by burning small amounts of
natural gas. Compressed-air energy storage plants have been operating
reliably in Huntorf, Germany, since 1978 and in McIntosh, Ala., since
1991. The turbines burn only 40 percent of the natural gas they would
if they were fueled by natural gas alone, and better heat recovery
technology would lower that figure to 30 percent.

Studies by the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, Calif.,
indicate that the cost of compressed-air energy storage today is about
half that of lead-acid batteries. The research indicates that these
facilities would add three or four cents per kWh to photovoltaic
generation, bringing the total 2020 cost to eight or nine cents per

Electricity from photovoltaic farms in the Southwest would be sent
over high-voltage DC transmission lines to compressed-air storage
facilities throughout the country, where turbines would generate
electricity year-round. The key is to find adequate sites. Mapping by
the natural gas industry and the Electric Power Research Institute
shows that suitable geologic formations exist in 75 percent of the
country, often close to metropolitan areas. Indeed, a compressed-air
energy storage system would look similar to the U.S. natural gas
storage system. The industry stores eight trillion cubic feet of gas
in 400 underground reservoirs. By 2050 our plan would require 535
billion cubic feet of storage, with air pressurized at 1,100 pounds
per square inch. Although development will be a challenge, plenty of
reservoirs are available, and it would be reasonable for the natural
gas industry to invest in such a network.

Hot Salt

Another technology that would supply perhaps one fifth of the solar
energy in our vision is known as concentrated solar power. In this
design, long, metallic mirrors focus sunlight onto a pipe filled with
fluid, heating the fluid like a huge magnifying glass might. The hot
fluid runs through a heat exchanger, producing steam that turns a

For energy storage, the pipes run into a large, insulated tank filled
with molten salt, which retains heat efficiently. Heat is extracted at
night, creating steam. The molten salt does slowly cool, however, so
the energy stored must be tapped within a day.

Nine concentrated solar power plants with a total capacity of 354
megawatts (MW) have been generating electricity reliably for years in
the U.S. A new 64-MW plant in Nevada came online in March 2007. These
plants, however, do not have heat storage. The first commercial
installation to incorporate it -- a 50-MW plant with seven hours of
molten salt storage -- is being constructed in Spain, and others are
being designed around the world. For our plan, 16 hours of storage
would be needed so that electricity could be generated 24 hours a day.

Existing plants prove that concentrated solar power is practical, but
costs must decrease. Economies of scale and continued research would
help. In 2006 a report by the Solar Task Force of the Western
Governors' Association concluded that concentrated solar power could
provide electricity at 10 cents per kWh or less by 2015 if 4 GW of
plants were constructed. Finding ways to boost the temperature of heat
exchanger fluids would raise operating efficiency, too. Engineers are
also investigating how to use molten salt itself as the heat-transfer
fluid, reducing heat losses as well as capital costs. Salt is
corrosive, however, so more resilient piping systems are needed.

Concentrated solar power and photovoltaics represent two different
technology paths. Neither is fully developed, so our plan brings them
both to large-scale deployment by 2020, giving them time to mature.
Various combinations of solar technologies might also evolve to meet
demand economically. As installations expand, engineers and
accountants can evaluate the pros and cons, and investors may decide
to support one technology more than another.

Direct Current, Too

The geography of solar power is obviously different from the nation's
current supply scheme. Today coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power
plants dot the landscape, built relatively close to where power is
needed. Most of the country's solar generation would stand in the
Southwest. The existing system of alternating-current (AC) power lines
is not robust enough to carry power from these centers to consumers
everywhere and would lose too much energy over long hauls. A new high-
voltage, direct-current (HVDC) power transmission backbone would have
to be built.

Studies by Oak Ridge National Laboratory indicate that long-distance
HVDC lines lose far less energy than AC lines do over equivalent
spans. The backbone would radiate from the Southwest toward the
nation's borders. The lines would terminate at converter stations
where the power would be switched to AC and sent along existing
regional transmission lines that supply customers.

The AC system is also simply out of capacity, leading to noted
shortages in California and other regions; DC lines are cheaper to
build and require less land area than equivalent AC lines. About 500
miles of HVDC lines operate in the U.S. today and have proved reliable
and efficient. No major technical advances seem to be needed, but more
experience would help refine operations. The Southwest Power Pool of
Texas is designing an integrated system of DC and AC transmission to
enable development of 10 GW of wind power in western Texas. And
TransCanada, Inc., is proposing 2,200 miles of HVDC lines to carry
wind energy from Montana and Wyoming south to Las Vegas and beyond.

Stage One: Present to 2020

We have given considerable thought to how the solar grand plan can be
deployed. We foresee two distinct stages. The first, from now until
2020, must make solar competitive at the mass-production level. This
stage will require the government to guarantee 30-year loans, agree to
purchase power and provide price-support subsidies. The annual aid
package would rise steadily from 2011 to 2020. At that time, the solar
technologies would compete on their own merits. The cumulative subsidy
would total $420 billion (we will explain later how to pay this bill).

About 84 GW of photovoltaics and concentrated solar power plants would
be built by 2020. In parallel, the DC transmission system would be
laid. It would expand via existing rights-of-way along interstate
highway corridors, minimizing land-acquisition and regulatory hurdles.
This backbone would reach major markets in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los
Angeles and San Diego to the west and San Antonio, Dallas, Houston,
New Orleans, Birmingham, Ala., Tampa, Fla., and Atlanta to the east.

Building 1.5 GW of photovoltaics and 1.5 GW of concentrated solar
power annually in the first five years would stimulate many
manufacturers to scale up. In the next five years, annual construction
would rise to 5 GW apiece, helping firms optimize production lines. As
a result, solar electricity would fall toward six cents per kWh. This
implementation schedule is realistic; more than 5 GW of nuclear power
plants were built in the U.S. each year from 1972 to 1987. What is
more, solar systems can be manufactured and installed at much faster
rates than conventional power plants because of their straightforward
design and relative lack of environmental and safety complications.

Stage Two: 2020 to 2050

It is paramount that major market incentives remain in effect through
2020, to set the stage for self-sustained growth thereafter. In
extending our model to 2050, we have been conservative. We do not
include any technological or cost improvements beyond 2020. We also
assume that energy demand will grow nationally by 1 percent a year. In
this scenario, by 2050 solar power plants will supply 69 percent of
U.S. electricity and 35 percent of total U.S. energy. This quantity
includes enough to supply all the electricity consumed by 344 million
plug-in hybrid vehicles, which would displace their gasoline
counterparts, key to reducing dependence on foreign oil and to
mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Some three million new domestic
jobs -- notably in manufacturing solar components -- would be created,
which is several times the number of U.S. jobs that would be lost in
the then dwindling fossil-fuel industries.

The huge reduction in imported oil would lower trade balance payments
by $300 billion a year, assuming a crude oil price of $60 a barrel
(average prices were higher in 2007). Once solar power plants are
installed, they must be maintained and repaired, but the price of
sunlight is forever free, duplicating those fuel savings year after
year. Moreover, the solar investment would enhance national energy
security, reduce financial burdens on the military, and greatly
decrease the societal costs of pollution and global warming, from
human health problems to the ruining of coastlines and farmlands.

Ironically, the solar grand plan would lower energy consumption. Even
with 1 percent annual growth in demand, the 100 quadrillion Btu
consumed in 2006 would fall to 93 quadrillion Btu by 2050. This
unusual offset arises because a good deal of energy is consumed to
extract and process fossil fuels, and more is wasted in burning them
and controlling their emissions.

To meet the 2050 projection, 46,000 square miles of land would be
needed for photovoltaic and concentrated solar power installations.
That area is large, and yet it covers just 19 percent of the suitable
Southwest land. Most of that land is barren; there is no competing use
value. And the land will not be polluted. We have assumed that only 10
percent of the solar capacity in 2050 will come from distributed
photovoltaic installations -- those on rooftops or commercial lots
throughout the country. But as prices drop, these applications could
play a bigger role.

2050 and Beyond

Although it is not possible to project with any exactitude 50 or more
years into the future, as an exercise to demonstrate the full
potential of solar energy we constructed a scenario for 2100. By that
time, based on our plan, total energy demand (including
transportation) is projected to be 140 quadrillion Btu, with seven
times today's electric generating capacity.

To be conservative, again, we estimated how much solar plant capacity
would be needed under the historical worst-case solar radiation
conditions for the Southwest, which occurred during the winter of
1982-1983 and in 1992 and 1993 following the Mount Pinatubo eruption,
according to National Solar Radiation Data Base records from 1961 to
2005. And again, we did not assume any further technological and cost
improvements beyond 2020, even though it is nearly certain that in 80
years ongoing research would improve solar efficiency, cost and

Under these assumptions, U.S. energy demand could be fulfilled with
the following capacities: 2.9 terawatts (TW) of photovoltaic power
going directly to the grid and another 7.5 TW dedicated to compressed-
air storage; 2.3 TW of concentrated solar power plants; and 1.3 TW of
distributed photovoltaic installations. Supply would be rounded out
with 1 TW of wind farms, 0.2 TW of geothermal power plants and 0.25 TW
of biomass-based production for fuels. The model includes 0.5 TW of
geothermal heat pumps for direct building heating and cooling. The
solar systems would require 165,000 square miles of land, still less
than the suitable available area in the Southwest.

In 2100 this renewable portfolio could generate 100 percent of all
U.S. electricity and more than 90 percent of total U.S. energy. In the
spring and summer, the solar infrastructure would produce enough
hydrogen to meet more than 90 percent of all transportation fuel
demand and would replace the small natural gas supply used to aid
compressed-air turbines. Adding 48 billion gallons of biofuel would
cover the rest of transportation energy. Energy-related carbon dioxide
emissions would be reduced 92 percent below 2005 levels.

Who Pays?

Our model is not an austerity plan, because it includes a 1 percent
annual increase in demand, which would sustain lifestyles similar to
those today with expected efficiency improvements in energy generation
and use. Perhaps the biggest question is how to pay for a $420-billion
overhaul of the nation's energy infrastructure. One of the most common
ideas is a carbon tax. The International Energy Agency suggests that a
carbon tax of $40 to $90 per ton of coal will be required to induce
electricity generators to adopt carbon capture and storage systems to
reduce carbon dioxide emissions. This tax is equivalent to raising the
price of electricity by one to two cents per kWh. But our plan is less
expensive. The $420 billion could be generated with a carbon tax of
0.5 cent per kWh. Given that electricity today generally sells for six
to 10 cents per kWh, adding 0.5 cent per kWh seems reasonable.

Congress could establish the financial incentives by adopting a
national renewable energy plan. Consider the U.S. Farm Price Support
program, which has been justified in terms of national security. A
solar price support program would secure the nation's energy future,
vital to the country's long-term health. Subsidies would be gradually
deployed from 2011 to 2020. With a standard 30-year payoff interval,
the subsidies would end from 2041 to 2050. The HVDC transmission
companies would not have to be subsidized, because they would finance
construction of lines and converter stations just as they now finance
AC lines, earning revenues by delivering electricity.

Although $420 billion is substantial, the annual expense would be less
than the current U.S. Farm Price Support program. It is also less than
the tax subsidies that have been levied to build the country's high-
speed telecommunications infrastructure over the past 35 years. And it
frees the U.S. from policy and budget issues driven by international
energy conflicts.

Without subsidies, the solar grand plan is impossible. Other countries
have reached similar conclusions: Japan is already building a large,
subsidized solar infrastructure, and Germany has embarked on a
nationwide program. Although the investment is high, it is important
to remember that the energy source, sunlight, is free. There are no
annual fuel or pollution-control costs like those for coal, oil or
nuclear power, and only a slight cost for natural gas in compressed-
air systems, although hydrogen or biofuels could displace that, too.
When fuel savings are factored in, the cost of solar would be a
bargain in coming decades. But we cannot wait until then to begin
scaling up.

Critics have raised other concerns, such as whether material
constraints could stifle large-scale installation. With rapid
deployment, temporary shortages are possible. But several types of
cells exist that use different material combinations. Better
processing and recycling are also reducing the amount of materials
that cells require. And in the long term, old solar cells can largely
be recycled into new solar cells, changing our energy supply picture
from depletable fuels to recyclable materials.

The greatest obstacle to implementing a renewable U.S. energy system
is not technology or money, however. It is the lack of public
awareness that solar power is a practical alternative -- and one that
can fuel transportation as well. Forward-looking thinkers should try
to inspire U.S. citizens, and their political and scientific leaders,
about solar power's incredible potential. Once Americans realize that
potential, we believe the desire for energy self-sufficiency and the
need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will prompt them to adopt a
national solar plan.

Return to Table of Contents <#Table_of_Contents>


From: Popular Science Magazine <http://www.popsci.com/popsci/flat/bown/2007/green/item_59.html>, Nov. 1, 2007
[Printer-friendly version] <http://www.precaution.org/lib/07/prn_nanosolar.071115.htm>


By Michael Moyer

Imagine a solar panel without the panel. Just a coating, thin as a
layer of paint, that takes light and converts it to electricity. From
there, you can picture roof shingles with solar cells built inside and
window coatings that seem to suck power from the air. Consider solar-
powered buildings stretching not just across sunny Southern
California, but through China and India and Kenya as well, because
even in those countries, going solar will be cheaper than burning
coal. That's the promise of thin-film solar cells: solar power that's
ubiquitous because it's cheap. The basic technology has been around
for decades, but this year, Silicon Valley-based Nanosolar <http://www.nanosolar.com/> created
the manufacturing technology that could make that promise a reality.

The company produces its PowerSheet solar cells with printing-press-
style machines that set down a layer of solar-absorbing nano-ink onto
metal sheets as thin as aluminum foil, so the panels can be made for
about a tenth of what current panels cost and at a rate of several
hundred feet per minute. With backing from Google's founders and $20
million from the U.S. Department of Energy, Nanosolar's first
commercial cells rolled off the presses this year.

Cost has always been one of solar's biggest problems. Traditional
solar cells require silicon, and silicon is an expensive commodity
(exacerbated currently by a global silicon shortage). What's more,
says Peter Harrop, chairman of electronics consulting firm IDTechEx,
"it has to be put on glass, so it's heavy, dangerous, expensive to
ship and expensive to install because it has to be mounted." And up to
70 percent of the silicon gets wasted in the manufacturing process.
That means even the cheapest solar panels cost about $3 per watt of
energy they go on to produce. To compete with coal, that figure has to
shrink to just $1 per watt.

Nanosolar's cells use no silicon, and the company's manufacturing
process allows it to create cells that are as efficient as most
commercial cells for as little as 30 cents a watt. "You're talking
about printing rolls of the stuff -- printing it on the roofs of 18-
wheeler trailers, printing it on garages, printing it wherever you
want it," says Dan Kammen, founding director of the Renewable and
Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California at
Berkeley. "It really is quite a big deal in terms of altering the way
we think about solar and in inherently altering the economics of

In San Jose, Nanosolar has built what will soon be the world's largest
solar-panel manufacturing facility. CEO Martin Roscheisen claims that
once full production starts early next year, it will create 430
megawatts' worth of solar cells a year -- more than the combined total
of every other solar plant in the U.S. The first 100,000 cells will be
shipped to Europe, where a consortium will be building a 1.4-megawatt
power plant next year.

Right now, the biggest question for Nanosolar is not if its products
can work, but rather if it can make enough of them. California, for
instance, recently launched the Million Solar Roofs initiative, which
will provide tax breaks and rebates to encourage the installation of
100,000 solar roofs per year, every year, for 10 consecutive years
(the state currently has 30,000 solar roofs). The company is ready for
the solar boom. "Most important," Harrop says, "Nanosolar is putting
down factories instead of blathering to the press and doing endless
experiments. These guys are getting on with it, and that is

Copyright 2007 Popular Science

Return to Table of Contents <#Table_of_Contents>


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