Rachel's News #990

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Rachel's Democracy & Health News #990

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

Thursday, December 18, 2008.............Printer-friendly version

Featured stories in this issue...

How To Fix Global Warming and Gain Energy Security
  A detailed new study from the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford
  University examines 10 electric power sources and two liquid fuel
  options, comparing them by 11 different criteria. The study concludes
  that ethanol, nuclear, and coal-with-carbon-storage (CCS) are dirty,
  inefficient, and wasteful compared to wind, direct sunlight,
  geothermal and ocean energy. These cleaner, inexhaustible sources
  could eliminate global warming gases, give us energy security and
  meet the nation's (and the world's) energy needs forever, the study
Berry and McKibben Call for Civil Disobedience To Stop Coal: Mar. 2
  "There are moments in a nation's -- and a planet's -- history when
  it may be necessary for some to break the law in order to bear witness
  to an evil, bring it to wider attention, and push for its correction."
  -- Wendell Berry and Bill McKibben
When Will the Oil Run Out?
  In an interview, Fatih Birol, the chief economist of the
  International Energy Agency (IEA), says he expects world oil supply to
  peak in 2020, which would give the world just 11 years to prepare for
  steadily-rising oil prices.
The Failure of Carbon Cap-and-Trade in European
  The European Union started with a high-minded ecological goal:
  encouraging companies to cut their greenhouse gases by making them pay
  for each ton of carbon dioxide they emitted into the atmosphere.....
  Four years later, it is becoming clear that system has so far produced
  little noticeable benefit to the climate -- but generated a
  multibillion-dollar windfall for some of the Continent's biggest
New Cases of Cancer Decline in the U.S.
  On the other hand, "Some types of cancer are being found more
  often, the report said. Among men, incidence rates increased for
  cancers of the liver, kidney and esophagus, and for melanoma and
  myeloma. Among women, incidence rates increased for cancers of the
  lung, thyroid, pancreas, brain and nervous system, bladder and kidney,
  and for melanoma. Rates of leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
  increased in both sexes."
Child Leukemia Death Rates Rising Near U.S. Nuclear Plants
  A new study finds that the death rate from leukemia has risen
  during the past 2 decades among children living near nuclear power
  plants in the U.S. Similar findings have been reported previously
  from Europe.
Diabetes Epidemic Signals An Increase in Blindness, Too
  A new report projects that the number of adults 40 and older with
  diabetic retinopathy -- the leading cause of blindness among working-
  age adults -- will reach 16 million in 2050, up from 5.5 million in


From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #990, Dec. 18, 2008
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By Peter Montague

A detailed new report from Stanford University reviews and ranks
major energy-related solutions to global warming, air pollution
deaths, and energy security. The report is available now online with
extensive supplementary materials, and will soon appear in the
journal Energy & Environmental Solutions. The author is Mark Z.
Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford in
Palo Alto, Calif.

[Read Stanford's press release announcing the study or this news
story from R&D Magazine, or watch a video of Mark Jacobson
discussing his new study.]

The report assumes that all U.S. gasoline-powered vehicles will shift
entirely to electric power or ethanol fuel, and it then compares 10
ways of generating the necessary electricity and two ways of making
ethanol fuel (basically, from corn or cellulose). Each of these 12
options is then evaluated against 11 different criteria and a final
ranking is calculated.

The power-source technologies considered are:

(1) Solar photovoltaics -- the dark blue glassy panels that convert
sunlight directly into electricity;

(2) Concentrated solar power -- arrays of mirrors (or lenses) that
focus sunlight to heat a fluid to high temperature in a collector
(such as a pipe), generating steam to turn a turbine to make

(3) Wind turbines, each up to 5 megawatts in size, with blades 160
meters (525 feet) long, which turn a turbine to make electricity.
storing the electricity in batteries;

(4) Wind turbines making electricity (see paragraph above) but storing
the energy as hydrogen;

(5) Geothermal -- extracting some of the heat that lies deep below the
surface everywhere on earth;

(6) Hydro dams -- like Hoover dam -- a well-known technology that
currently provides 17.5% of the world's electricity, more than any
other single technology;

(7) Ocean wave energy -- machines that move with the waves (for
example, a bobbing buoy) to generate electricity;

(8) Tidal energy -- machines that extract energy from flowing tidal
waters and convert it to electricity;

(9) Nuclear power plants that split (fission) atoms of enriched
uranium, or plutonium, to generate heat to boil water to turn a
turbine to make electricity;

(10) Coal-fired power plants that burn pulverized coal, which could be
fitted with end-of-pipe filters to capture carbon dioxide gas,
compress it into a liquid, pipe it to a "suitable location" and bury
it a mile or so underground, hoping it will stay there forever.

(11) Ethanol (alcohol) made from corn (or from sugarcane, wheat, sugar
beets or molasses);

(12) Ethanol made from cellulose (switch grass; wood waste; wheat or
corn stalks; other stalks; or miscanthus grasses).

The report evaluates each of these 12 sources of energy by 11
different criteria, as follows:

(1) Abundance of the resource; each of these resources is available in
vast quantities but some are far more abundant than others. Solar
photovoltaics lead the pack by far -- converting just 1% of available
sunlight to electricity could supply more than the world's total power
needs (not just the world's electricity needs). Wind power is
abundant, too: available wind power is five time as large as the
world's total energy needs and 20 times as large as the world's
electricity needs.

(2) Climate-relevant emissions (carbon dioxide, plus other greenhouse
gases, such as methane, converted to their carbon-dioxide equivalent
based on their global-warming potential). This is expressed as grams
of CO2-equivalent emitted per kiloWatt-hour of electricity (or
electricity equivalent, in the case of ethanol) for each of the 12
technologies. This calculation takes into consideration direct and
indirect emissions throughout the life cycle of a machine (whether a
wind turbine or a nuclear power plant).

The study factors in "opportunity cost emissions" -- emissions that
will occur from existing dirty sources of power during the delay
period while new machines are being brought online. For example, a
wind farm can be brought online in 2-5 years but a nuclear power plant
requires 10 to 19 years and a coal-with-CCS plant requires 6 to 11
years. Thus a wind farm can displace existing CO2 and air pollution
emissions much faster than either nuclear or coal-with-CCS, raising
the "opportunity costs" of nuclear and coal plants because of inherent
delays in construction.

The results in this section are startling. For example, coal-with-
carbon-capture emits 60 times as much CO2 as wind energy for each
kiloWatt-hour of electricity generated,

(3) Human deaths from air pollution are calculated for each of the 12
technologies; here corn and cellulosic ethanol fare worst, with coal-
with-CCS and nuclear second-worst. Wind-power is best by far. This
report breaks new ground, tackling some of the difficult questions
surrounding proliferation of nuclear power plants, which unavoidably
increase the odds that some time in the next 30 years a rogue nuclear
weapon will be detonated with great loss of life.

(4) The "footprint" of each technology -- the area of land and/or
ocean required. Here the ethanols fare far worse than all the others.

(5) Spacing -- This is the area required by the "footprint" (see
preceding paragraph) plus the spacing needed between
installations of wind, tidal, wave and nuclear plants (which require
security buffers).

(6) Water use; again the ethanols are far worse than any of the

(7) Effects on wildlife and the natural environment are considered
separately for each of the 12 technologies. Here we can only hit the
highlights of this long section of the report. For example, this
section explicitly addresses the concern that wind turbines kill large
numbers of bats and birds each year. The report concludes that, in the
worst case, if 1.4 to 2.3 million 5-megawatt wind turbines were
installed worldwide to eliminate all human-created CO2
emissions, total global bird kill would be 1.4 to 14 million birds per
year. This large number represents less than 1% of birds killed each
year by humans including by communication towers and their guy wires
(which birds smash into at night, attracted by lights), window panes,
and pet cats or former-pet feral cats. Although killing 1.4 to 14
million birds per year is not trivial, it can be weighed against
eliminating enough air pollution to save an estimated 2.4 million
human lives each year and a large (though not well-quantified)
reduction in harm to wildlife by eliminating toxic air and water
pollution. Wild animals, including birds, are harmed by pollution just
as humans are.

(8) Thermal pollution -- heat released from machines locally --
particularly nuclear and coal plants -- often as hot water from
cooling towers;

(9) Releases of toxic chemicals and radioactive materials; again,
wildlife and humans would both benefit very substantially if we
replaced existing fossil-fueled technologies and nuclear technologies
with cleaner alternatives.

(10) Energy supply disruption. It is important to evaluate the
potential of each technology to be disrupted by terrorism, war, or
natural disaster. Here the dispersed technologies (wind, solar
photovoltaics, wave and tidal) fare best and the most centralized
(nuclear, coal-with-CCS, and concentrated solar) fare worst.

(11) Intermittency. This is an important consideration because we need
power 24/7 but the sun does not shine at night and the wind sometimes
dies down at any given locale.

The issue of intermittency is crucial to the success of power systems
dependent on wind and sun, and the report treats it as an engineering
problem that can be solved. The report says, "Whether or not
intermittency affects the power supply depends on whether effort[s] to
reduce intermittency are made." The report then describes 5 ways to
reduce intermittency:

(a) Interconnecting geographically-dispersed naturally-intermittent
energy sources (e.g., wind, solar, wave, tidal). The author of this
report, Mark Z. Jacobson, published an earlier detailed study of the
reliability benefits that could be gained by modernizing the
transmission grid to interconnect dispersed energy sources;

(b) Use a reliable energy source, such as hydro dams, or geothermal
power plants, to smooth out supply or to match demand;

(c) Use smart meters to provide maximum electric power to charging
vehicle batteries when power generation is high, reducing the power to
charging vehicle batteries at other times, thus smoothing out demand
to match supply;

(d) Store electric power for later use; electricity can be stored as
hydrogen, or in the batteries of all the electric vehicles plugged
into the grid at any moment; or as pumped hydroelectric storage (water
pumped uphill at night runs back down during the day, generating
power); or as compressed air in underground vaults or turbine
nacelles; or in flywheels; or in molten salts (as is being done with
some concentrated solar plants today). The disadvantage of stored
power is conversion losses in both directions rather than just one.

(e) Forecast short-term weather to plan better for energy needs; in
many locales, with a good database of measurements, weather can be
forecast one to four days in advance with good accuracy, helping grid
managers anticipate both demand and supply.

The 12 energy sources are rated on the 11 criteria and then a
weighting factor is applied. The weighting factor indicates the
importance of the criterion -- global warming and air pollution deaths
are given a weight of 22, while thermal pollution has a weight of 1.
The weighting factors themselves sum to 100. Then a total rank is
calculated (1 is best, 12 is worst) assuming that all vehicles in the
U.S. are converted to electricity and powered by the particular
technology being ranked.

The Results: Hand Me the Envelope, Please

Wind-powered battery-electric vehicles are ranked #1, best by far with
a weighted average of only 2.09. Second is wind-powered hydrogen-
storage vehicles (weighted average, 3.22); third is concentrated
solar-powered battery-electric vehicles (weighted average, 4.28);
fourth place goes to geothermal-powered battery-electric vehicles
(weighted average, 4.60); fifth is tidal-powered battery-electric
vehicles (weighted average, 4.97); sixth is photo-voltaic-powered
battery-electric vehicles (weighted average, 5.26); seventh is wave-
powered battery- electric vehicles (weighted average, 6.11); eighth
place goes to hydro- dam-powered battery-electric vehicles (weighted
average, 8.40); ninth place goes to two technologies that are tied
with equal scores -- nuclear powered battery-electric vehicles
(weighted average, 8.50) and coal-with-CCS-powered battery-electric
vehicles (weighted average, 8.47); 11th place goes to vehicles powered
by corn-based E-85 fuels (weighted average, 10.6) and 12th place
goes to vehicles burning cellulose-derived E85 fuel (weighted average,

According to the report, both methods of producing ethanol make the
global warming problem worse, not better. Given that the U.S. Congress
has bet the farm on ethanol (so to speak), this finding does not
inspire confidence that Congress will make rational choices based on
the kind of data found in this report. Where is the Congressional
Office of Technology Assessment when you need it? (Gone the way of the
Dodo bird in 1995, during the reign of Newt Gingrich.)

To get all this into perspective, the report points out that we could
power all our light-duty and heavy-duty gasoline-powered vehicles with
wind -- by converting them to electricity and supplying their power by
deploying 73,000 to 144,000 5-megawatt wind turbines. Is this doable?
Of course it is. During the four years of World War II, the U.S. built
more than 300,000 airplanes. Deploying half that number of wind
turbines is definitely doable. Is it affordable? The Stanford report
does not address questions of dollar cost. But we can do a crude
calculation: given that the U.S. economy generates roughly $14
trillion each year, even if we were to spend $2 trillion on renewable
energy during the next 15 years, it would represent less that 1% of
gross domestic product (GDP) during the period.

Deploying 144,000 wind turbines would reduce our global warming
emissions by 33% and would eliminate about 15,000 deaths from air
pollution each year in the U.S.

Carrying the argument further, the report points out that the U.S.
could eliminate 100% of its global-warming emissions by powering the
economy with 389,000 to 645,000 5-megawatt wind turbines. Going even
further, the report points out that worldwide emissions of fossil-
fuel carbon could be eliminated entirely by powering the world
economy with 2.2 to 3.6 million 5-megawatt wind turbines. No one
expects the world to rely exclusively on wind-power, but the
calculation reveals just how large and clean the wind resource really

Some limitations of the study

By design, this study does not take into account energy savings that
are readily available through improved efficiencies -- it only
discusses efficiencies inherent in shifting from gasoline-powered
internal combustion vehicles (with a tank to wheel efficiency of 17%)
to battery-electric vehicles with a plug-to-wheels efficiency of 86%).
It omits discussion of the many efficiencies that are readily
available at reasonable cost in the built environment, including
better insulation, less energy-intensive materials, combined heat-and-
power installations, and so on.

The study will be criticized (unfairly, it seems to me) for assuming
that we will meet the ever-expanding power demands of ever-growing
economies, rather than looking for ways to shrink demand. The purpose
of the study was to evaluate energy-supply alternatives, which it has
done remarkably well.

The study does not take into account the large number of human deaths
caused each year by burning coal and oil -- including not only fine
and ultrafine particles released from smoke stacks, exhaust pipes, and
chimneys (from coal plants, diesel vehicles and oil-fired home
furnaces) but also the 120 million tons of coal combustion waste
produced each year in the U.S., most of which gets buried in the
ground somewhere, often contaminating ground water with various toxic
metals and organic compounds (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons,
dioxins, furans, and so on).

Despite these limitations, this is an exceedingly important study that
breaks new analytic ground and provides clear guidance for policy
makers. Unlike some previous energy studies from Stanford and
Princeton, which promoted coal-with-carbon storage and were funded by
the oil, coal and automobile industries, the present study was not
supported by any interest group, company, or government agency.

We can only hope that members of Congress -- and Mr. Obama's choice
for Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu -- are sufficiently on the ball to
read this new report carefully, consider the options it evaluates, and
then act upon it in time to avert catastrophe.

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From: Email from Wendell Berry and Bill McKibben, Dec. 15, 2008
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By Wendell Berry and Bill McKibben

Dear Friends,

There are moments in a nation's -- and a planet's -- history when it
may be necessary for some to break the law in order to bear witness to
an evil, bring it to wider attention, and push for its correction.

We think such a time has arrived, and we are writing to say that we
hope some of you will join us in Washington D.C. on Monday March 2 in
order to take part in a civil act of civil disobedience outside a
coal-fired power plant near Capitol Hill.

We will be there to make several points:

** Coal-fired power is driving climate change. Our foremost
climatologist, NASA's James Hansen, has demonstrated that our only
hope of getting our atmosphere back to a safe level -- below 350 parts
per million CO2 -- lies in stopping the use of coal to generate

** Even if climate change were not the urgent crisis that it is, we
would still be burning our fossil fuels too fast, wasting too much
energy and releasing too much poison into the air and water. We would
still need to slow down, and to restore thrift to its old place as an
economic virtue.

** Coal is filthy at its source. Much of the coal used in this country
comes from West Virginia and Kentucky, where companies engage in
"mountaintop removal" to get at the stuff; they leave behind a leveled
wasteland, and impoverished human communities. No technology better
exemplifies the out-of-control relationship between humans and the
rest of creation.

** Coal smoke makes children sick. Asthma rates in urban areas near
coal-fired power plants are high. Air pollution from burning coal is
harmful to the health of grown-ups too, and to the health of
everything that breathes, including forests.

The industry claim that there is something called "clean coal" is, put
simply, a lie. But it's a lie told with tens of millions of dollars,
which we do not have. We have our bodies, and we are willing to use
them to make our point.

We don't come to such a step lightly. We have written and testified
and organized politically to make this point for many years, and while
in recent months there has been real progress against new coal-fired
power plants, the daily business of providing half our electricity
from coal continues unabated. It's time to make clear that we can't
safely run this planet on coal at all. So we feel the time has come to
do more -- we hear President Barack Obama's call for a movement for
change that continues past election day, and we hear Nobel Laureate Al
Gore's call for creative non-violence outside coal plants. As part of
the international negotiations now underway on global warming, our
nation will be asking China, India, and others to limit their use of
coal in the future to help save the planet's atmosphere. This is a
hard thing to ask, because it's their cheapest fuel. Part of our
witness in March will be to say that we're willing to make some
sacrifices ourselves, even if it's only a trip to the jail.

With any luck, this will be the largest such protest yet, large enough
that it may provide a real spark. If you want to participate with us,
you need to go through a short course of non- violence training. This
will be, to the extent it depends on us, an entirely peaceful
demonstration, carried out in a spirit of hope and not rancor. We will
be there in our dress clothes, and ask the same of you. There will be
young people, people from faith communities, people from the coal
fields of Appalachia, and from the neighborhoods in Washington that
get to breathe the smoke from the plant.

We will cross the legal boundary of the power plant, and we expect to
be arrested. After that we have no certainty what will happen, but
lawyers and such will be on hand. Our goal is not to shut the plant
down for the day -- it is but one of many, and anyway its operation
for a day is not the point. The worldwide daily reliance on coal is
the danger; this is one small step to raise awareness of that ruinous
habit and hence help to break it.

Needless to say, we're not handling the logistics of this day. All the
credit goes to a variety of groups, especially the Energy Action
Coalition (which is bringing thousands of young people to Washington
that weekend), Greenpeace, the Ruckus Society, and the Rainforest
Action Network. A website at that latter organization is serving as
a temporary organizing hub.

If you go there, you will find a place to leave your name so that
we'll know you want to join us.

Thank you,

Wendell Berry, Bill McKibben

P.S. This is important: Please forward this letter to anyone and
everyone you think might be interested.

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From: Guardian (Manchester, U.K.), Dec. 15, 2008
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George Monbiot puts the question to Fatih Birol, chief economist of
the International Energy Agency -- and is both astonished and alarmed
by the answer

By George Monbiot

[In this video, George Monbiot meets Fatih Birol, chief economist of
the International Energy Agency.]

Can you think of a major threat for which the British government does
not prepare? It employs an army of civil servants, spooks and
consultants to assess the chances of terrorist attacks, financial
collapse, floods, epidemics, even asteroid strikes, and to work out
what it should do if they happen. But there is one hazard about which
it appears intensely relaxed: it has never conducted its own
assessment of the state of global oil supplies and the possibility
that one day they might peak and then go into decline.

If you ask, the government always produces the same response: "Global
oil resources are adequate for the foreseeable future." It knows this,
it says, because of the assessments made by the International Energy
Agency (IEA) in its World Energy Outlook reports. In the 2007 report,
the IEA does appear to support the government's view. "World oil
resources," it states, "are judged to be sufficient to meet the
projected growth in demand to 2030," though it says nothing about what
happens at that point, or whether they will continue to be sufficient
after 2030. But this, as far as Whitehall is concerned, is the end of
the matter. Like most of the rich world's governments, the UK treats
the IEA's projections as gospel. Earlier this year, I submitted a
freedom of information request to the UK's department for business,
asking what contingency plans the government has made for global
supplies of oil peaking by 2020. The answer was as follows: "The
government does not feel the need to hold contingency plans
specifically for the eventuality of crude-oil supplies peaking between
now and 2020."

So the IEA had better be right. In the report on peak oil commissioned
by the US department of energy, the oil analyst Robert L Hirsch
concluded that "without timely mitigation, the economic, social and
political costs" of world oil supplies peaking "will be
unprecedented". He went on to explain what "timely mitigation" meant.
Even a worldwide emergency response "10 years before world oil
peaking", he wrote, would leave "a liquid-fuels shortfall roughly a
decade after the time that oil would have peaked". To avoid global
economic collapse, we need to begin "a mitigation crash programme 20
years before peaking". If Hirsch is right, and if oil supplies peak
before 2028, we're in deep doodah.

So burn this into your mind: between 2007 and 2008 the IEA radically
changed its assessment. Until this year's report, the agency mocked
people who said that oil supplies might peak. In the foreword to a
book it published in 2005, its executive director, Claude Mandil,
dismissed those who warned of this event as "doomsayers". "The IEA has
long maintained that none of this is a cause for concern," he wrote.
"Hydrocarbon resources around the world are abundant and will easily
fuel the world through its transition to a sustainable energy future."
In its 2007 World Energy Outlook, the IEA predicted a rate of decline
in output from the world's existing oilfields of 3.7% a year. This, it
said, presented a short-term challenge, with the possibility of a
temporary supply crunch in 2015, but with sufficient investment any
shortfall could be covered. But the new report, published last month,
carried a very different message: a projected rate of decline of 6.7%,
which means a much greater gap to fill.

More importantly, in the 2008 report the IEA suggests for the first
time that world petroleum supplies might hit the buffers. "Although
global oil production in total is not expected to peak before 2030,
production of conventional oil... is projected to level off towards
the end of the projection period." These bland words reveal a major
shift. Never before has one of the IEA's energy outlooks forecast the
peaking or plateauing of the world's conventional oil production
(which is what we mean when we talk about peak oil).

But that is as specific as the report gets. Does it or doesn't it mean
that we have time to prepare? What does "towards the end of the
projection period" mean? The agency has never produced a more precise
forecast -- until now. For the first time, in the interview I
with its chief economist Fatih Birol recently, it has given us a date.
And it should scare the pants off anyone who understands the

Birol, the lead author of the new energy outlook, is a small, shrewd,
unflustered man with thick grey hair and Alistair Darling eyebrows. He
explained to me that the agency's new projections were based on a
major study it had undertaken into decline rates in the world's 800
largest oilfields. So what were its previous figures based on? "It was
mainly an assumption, a global assumption about the world's oil
fields. This year, we looked at it country by country, field by field
and we looked at it also onshore and offshore. It was very, very
detailed. Last year it was an assumption, and this year it's a finding
of our study." I told him that it seemed extraordinary to me that the
IEA hadn't done this work before, but had based its assessment on
educated guesswork. "In fact nobody had done this research," he told
me. "This is the first publicly available data."

So was it not irresponsible to publish a decline rate of 3.7% in 2007,
when there was no proper research supporting it? "No, our previous
decline assumptions have always mentioned that these are assumptions
to the best of our knowledge -- and we also said that the declines
[could be] higher than what we have assumed."

Then I asked him a question for which I didn't expect a straight
answer: could he give me a precise date by which he expects
conventional oil supplies to stop growing?

"In terms of non-Opec [countries outside the big oil producers'
cartel]," he replied, "we are expecting that in three, four years'
time the production of conventional oil will come to a plateau, and
start to decline. In terms of the global picture, assuming that Opec
will invest in a timely manner, global conventional oil can still
continue, but we still expect that it will come around 2020 to a
plateau as well, which is, of course, not good news from a global-oil-
supply point of view."

Around 2020. That casts the issue in quite a different light. Birol's
date, if correct, gives us about 11 years to prepare. If the Hirsch
report is right, we have already missed the boat. Birol says we need a
"global energy revolution" to avoid an oil crunch, including
(disastrously for the environment) a massive global drive to exploit
unconventional oils, such as the Canadian tar sands. But nothing on
this scale has yet happened, and Hirsch suggests that even if it began
today, the necessary investments and infrastructure changes could not
be made in time. Birol told me: "I think time is not on our side

When I pressed him on the shift in the agency's position, he argued
that the IEA has been saying something like this all along. "We said
in the past that one day we will run out of oil. We never said that we
will have hundreds of years of oil... but what we have said is that
this year, compared with past years, we have seen that the decline
rates are significantly higher than what we have seen before. But our
line that we are on an unsustainable energy path has not changed."

This, of course, is face-saving nonsense. There is a vast difference
between a decline rate of 3.7% and 6.7%. There is an even bigger
difference between suggesting that the world is following an
unsustainable energy path -- a statement almost everyone can subscribe
to -- and revealing that conventional oil supplies are likely to
plateau around 2020. If this is what the IEA meant in the past, it
wasn't expressing itself very clearly.

So what do we do? We could take to the hills, or we could hope and
pray that Hirsch is wrong about the 20-year lead time, and begin a
global crash programme today of fuel efficiency and electrification.
In either case, the British government had better start drawing up
some contingency plans.


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From: New York Times, Dec. 10, 2008
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By James Kanter and Jad Mouawad

Brussels -- The European Union started with a high-minded ecological
goal: encouraging companies to cut their greenhouse gases by making
them pay for each ton of carbon dioxide they emitted into the

But that plan unleashed a lobbying free-for-all that led politicians
to dole out favors to various industries, undermining the
environmental goals. Four years later, it is becoming clear that
system has so far produced little noticeable benefit to the climate --
but generated a multibillion-dollar windfall for some of the
Continent's biggest polluters.

As President-elect Barack Obama considers how to curb the gases that
contribute to global warming, Europe's struggle with the problem
illustrates the momentous task ahead for the United States.

European politicians, who acknowledge that their system got off to a
rocky start, contend that after an initial experimental phase that
lasted from 2005 to 2007, the system has improved. But some outside
analysts doubt Europe can achieve its lofty goals.

The original European plan called for issuing a restricted number of
permits to emit carbon dioxide, the main gas that contributes to
global warming, then creating a market in which they could be freely
traded. If a company produced more gas than its permits allowed, it
would be penalized by having to buy more; if it managed to reduce
emissions by switching to cleaner fuels or technologies, it would be
able to sell its permits to polluting companies. The marketplace would
set the price.

In the United States, a similar market approach is credited with
reducing acid rain, another environmental problem. The system
encourages efficiency and innovation by rewarding companies that can
cut the most pollution at the lowest cost.

But global warming is a far larger, more complicated problem than acid
rain, and setting up a workable market in Europe has proved to be
difficult and contentious. As the incoming Obama administration
contemplates creation of an American market, Washington has already
seen the beginnings of the same lobbying frenzy that bedeviled Europe.

Beseeched by giant utilities and smokestack industries that feared for
their competitiveness, the European Union scrapped the idea of forcing
industries to buy their permits, with the money going to public
coffers. Instead, governments gave out the vast majority of the
permits for nothing, in such quantity that the market nearly
collapsed. The basic question of whether to sell permits, give them
away or do some of both has yet to be resolved in the United States.

"Everybody will fight their own corner," said Nicholas Stern, a
British economist, who recommended that the United States charge for a
substantial number of permits rather than dole them all out as the
Europeans have. "That's why it's so important to have a clear
conception from the start, to start off with a clear strategy."

After the initial crash, Europe tightened its system and issued new
permits, and they have acquired substantial value. Nearly $80 billion
will change hands in 2008 on the European emissions market, making it
by far the world's largest, according to estimates by Andreas
Arvanitakis, an analyst at Point Carbon, a research firm.

Much of the cost of the European system is being paid by the public in
the price of goods and services, including higher electricity bills,
but whether the money is doing any good is an open question. The
amount of carbon dioxide emitted by plants and factories participating
in the system has not fallen. Their emissions rose 0.4 percent in 2006
and another 0.7 percent in 2007.

Meanwhile, a series of disputes has erupted about the way companies
are carrying out the system.

A German Example

The case of Germany, Europe's largest economy, illustrates the many
problems in Europe's approach. For instance, RWE, a major German power
company and Europe's largest carbon emitter, received a windfall of
about $6.4 billion in the first three years of the system, according
to analyst estimates. Regulators in that country have accused
utilities of charging customers for far more permits than was

This week, leaders of the European Union are meeting in Brussels to
shape the next phase of their system, and find ways to cut greenhouse
gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020. They also seek to close loopholes
worth billions to various industries, while confronting the same tug
of war between long-term environmental goals and short-term costs that
proved so vexing the first time around.

The European summit meeting coincides with a round of negotiations
among 190 nations to establish a new global treaty limiting greenhouse
emissions, a treaty the Obama administration might seek to join.

Pressure From Lobbyists

During long negotiations on the landmark Kyoto climate treaty more
than a decade ago, the Clinton administration pushed to include
emissions trading as a means of achieving the goals, favoring that
approach over energy taxes or traditional regulatory limits on

Even after the Americans backed out of ratifying Kyoto, Europe decided
to set up the world's first large, mandatory carbon-trading market. "I
was eager to put it in place as soon as possible," said Margot
Wallstrom, the European Union's environment commissioner then.

>From the start, Ms. Wallstrom, now a vice president of the European
Commission, said she was lobbied heavily by governments and by
companies seeking to limit the financial burden.

The initial idea of charging for many of the permits never got off the
ground. Many politicians feared that burdening European industries
with extra costs would undercut their ability to compete in a global
marketplace. In the end, the decision was made to hand out virtually
all the permits free.

With European Union oversight, individual countries were charged with
setting emissions levels and distributing the permits within their
borders, often to companies with strong political connections.

Jurgen Trittin, a former Green Party leader who was the German
minister of environment from 1998 to 2005, recalled being lobbied by
executives from power companies, and by politicians from the former
East Germany seeking special treatment for lignite, a highly polluting
soft brown coal common around central Europe.

The framework of the European system put governments in the position
of behaving like "a grandfather with a large family deciding what to
give his favorite grandchildren for Christmas," Mr. Trittin said in an

The debates on what limits to set for carbon dioxide emissions were
particularly arduous. Mr. Trittin recalled a five-hour "showdown" in
March 2004 with Wolfgang Clement, then the economy minister, in which
he lost a battle to lower the overall limit. It was eventually set at
499 million tons a year, a reduction of only 2 million tons.

In a recent e-mail message, Mr. Clement did not challenge the details
of his former colleague's account, but he characterized as "just
nonsense" Mr. Trittin's claims of undue industry influence. He said
the Greens were unrealistic about what could be achieved.

"I reproached them -- and I'm doing this still today -- that at the
end of their policy there is the de-industrialization of Germany," Mr.
Clement said. "That's our conflict."

Eberhard Meller, the president of the Federation of German Electricity
Companies, which represents companies like RWE, said, "Good sense
triumphed in the end." For his part, Mr. Clement eventually joined the
supervisory board of RWE Power, in 2006.

The benefits won by German industry were substantial. Under the plan
that the European Union originally approved for Germany, electricity
companies were supposed to receive 3 percent fewer permits than they
needed to cover their total emissions between 2005 and 2007, which
would have forced them to cut emissions.

Instead, the companies got 3 percent more than needed, according to
the German Emissions Trading Authority, the regulatory agency, a
windfall worth about $374 billion at the peak of the market. German
lawmakers also approved exemptions and bonuses that could be combined
in dozens of ways and allowed companies to gain additional permits.

"It was lobbying by industry, including the electricity companies,
that was to blame for all these exceptional rules," said Hans Jurgen
Nantke, the director of the German trading authority, part of the
Federal Environment Agency.

Higher Bills Draw Inquiry

After the system kicked off, in 2005, power consumers in Germany
started to see their electrical bills increase by 5 percent a year.
RWE, the power company, received 30 percent of all the permits given
out, more than any other company in Germany.

The company said its price increases from 2005 to 2007 predominantly
reflected higher costs of coal and natural gas. But the company
acknowledged charging its customers for the emission permits, saying
that while it may have received them free from the government, they
still had value in the marketplace.

The German antitrust authority later investigated. In a confidential
document sent to RWE lawyers in December 2006, that agency accused RWE
of "abusive pricing," piling on costs for industrial clients that were
"completely out of proportion" to the company's economic burden,
according to the document, which was obtained by The New York Times.

Without admitting wrongdoing, RWE last year agreed to a settlement
that should provide lower electricity rates to industrial customers in
Germany from 2009 through 2012.

Meanwhile emissions have risen at RWE's German operations since the
trading system began. The company emitted nearly 158 million tons of
carbon dioxide in 2007, compared with 120 million tons in 2005,
according to its annual reports.

The company said its emissions rose in part because one of its nuclear
power stations, which emit no carbon dioxide, was off line for a

Jurgen Frech, the chief spokesman for RWE, said that charging
customers for the carbon permits was "beyond reproach," and added that
the company will spend more than $1 billion this year to comply with
the emissions trading system. RWE also said it is investing $41
billion over the next five years in projects including renewable
energy and developing cleaner ways to generate electricity from coal
mined in Germany.

For all the problems with the European system, some experts say it is
simply too early to judge whether it will succeed. As the region that
went first with mandatory carbon trading, Europe was bound to make
some initial mistakes, they said.

Call It Experimental

"People who don't want to do anything about carbon emissions in the
United States are quick to say the European system was a failure,"
said Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate
Change in Washington. "But they don't understand this was an
experiment to learn how to get things right."

Supporters of carbon trading in Europe contend that significant
reductions should be achieved starting this year because limits on
emissions have been tightened. But negotiations on how to meet even
more ambitious targets after 2012 are in danger of coming undone as
the economy worsens.

Poland -- which depends on coal-fired plants for 95 percent of its
electricity -- has threatened to block the next phase of Europe's
emissions plan unless a way is found to lessen the burden on its
energy sector. Its fears echo the position of some American states
that depend on coal for their electricity; they worry about huge cost
increases should Congress pass a global warming bill.

France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, is leading the political horse-
trading on Europe's new system after 2012.

"Europe," he said on Saturday in Poland, "must be an example for

Jad Mouawad reported from New York and Paul Geitner from Paris.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times

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From: New York Times, Nov. 26, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


By Roni Caryn Rabin

The incidence of new cancer cases has been falling in recent years in
the United States, the first time such an extended decline has been
documented, researchers reported Tuesday.

Cancer diagnosis rates decreased by an average of 0.8 percent each
year from 1999 to 2005, the last year for which data are available,
according to an annual report by the National Cancer Institute, the
American Cancer Society and other scientific organizations.

Death rates from cancer continued to decline as well, a trend that
began some 15 years ago, the report also noted. It was published
online in The Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

"Each year that you see these steady declines it gives you more
confidence that we're moving in the right direction," said Dr. John E.
Niederhuber, director of the National Cancer Institute, who is not an
author of the report. "This is not just a blip on the screen."

Death rates from cancer fell an average of 1.8 percent each year from
2002 to 2005, according to the new report. Although last year's report
said death rates dropped an average of 2.1 percent each year from 2002
to 2004, a modest 1 percent decline in 2005 lowered the average
percentage for the period.

The decline is primarily due to a reduction in death rates from
certain common cancers, including prostate cancer and lung cancer in
men, breast cancer in women and colorectal cancer in both sexes.

The report attributes the reductions to adoption of healthier
lifestyles and improved screening, as well as advances in treatment.

The drop in annual incidence rates is harder to interpret. The data
may point to a real decline in the occurrence of some types of cancer,
experts said. Alternatively, the decline may reflect inconsistent
screening practices, causing some cancers that used to be detected to
now go undiagnosed.

Breast cancer incidence rates decreased by 2.2 percent annually from
1999 to 2005, for example, a drop some researchers attributed to large
numbers of women quitting hormone replacement therapy after a national
study linked it to breast cancer in 2002.

Yet mammography rates have also fluctuated in recent years, meaning
that some breast cancer cases may be going undetected, said Ahmedin
Jemal, the strategic director for cancer surveillance at the American
Cancer Society.

The incidence of prostate cancer declined by 4.4 percent a year from
2001 to 2005, after annual increases of 2.1 percent a year for several
years, Dr. Jemal said. Yet prostate screening rates, too, have leveled
off in recent years.

"This might not be good news," Dr. Jemal said. "It's always difficult
to interpret the incidence rate."

Christine Eheman, chief of the cancer surveillance branch at the
federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was more
optimistic about the decline in cancer diagnoses.

"I do think it's a good sign," Dr. Eheman said, "but I think we need
to be very careful not to think we have this problem in any way
beaten. We need to continue to do what we know works, and also find
out why some cancers are not decreasing and not decreasing in certain

Some types of cancer are being found more often, the report said.
Among men, incidence rates increased for cancers of the liver, kidney
and esophagus, and for melanoma and myeloma. Among women, incidence
rates increased for cancers of the lung, thyroid, pancreas, brain and
nervous system, bladder and kidney, and for melanoma. Rates of
leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma increased in both sexes.

The incidence of lung cancer has been declining among men for many
years but rising among women, though the increase is slowing,
according to the report.

"Women, unfortunately, got hooked on the smoking habit in the '60s and
'70s," Dr. Eheman said, "so there was a larger increase in smoking
later on in time, and the prevention of smoking has been slower. The
decrease in lung cancer that we hope will occur has not been happening

The report found sharp regional differences in lung cancer rates that
appeared to be associated with local legislation, like smoking bans,
and social attitudes toward tobacco and smoking. Lung cancer is
diagnosed least often in Utah and most often in Kentucky, the report

State tobacco control policies appear to have had an enormous impact,
the researchers said. In California, the first state to establish a
comprehensive statewide tobacco control program, lung cancer death
rates among men dropped by 2.8 percent annually on average from 1996
to 2005, twice the decline observed in many Southern and Midwestern
states. California was the only state where the incidence of lung
cancer among women had decreased.

Lung cancer death rates among women increased in 13 states: Alabama,
Arkansas, the Carolinas, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana,
Michigan, Mississippi, South Dakota and Tennessee. Tobacco taxes are
lower than average in many of these states, the report noted.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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From: Radiation and Public Health Project, Nov. 11, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


Rises Greatest Near Oldest Plants, Declines Near Closed Plants

Leukemia death rates in U.S. children near nuclear reactors rose
sharply (compared to the national trend) in the past two decades,
according to a new study.

The greatest mortality increases occurred near the oldest nuclear
plants, while declines were observed near plants that closed
permanently in the 1980s and 1990s. The study was published in the
most recent issue of the European Journal of Cancer Care.

The study updates an analysis conducted in the late 1980s by the
National Cancer Institute (NCI). That analysis, mandated by Senator
Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), is the only attempt federal officials have
made to examine cancer rates near U.S. nuclear plants.

U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), a senior member of the House Energy
and Commerce Committee, said, "Nothing is more important to American
families than the health of their children. It is critical that we
continue to improve our understanding of the causes of child leukemia
and learn how this heartbreaking disease be prevented, therefore this
study deserves critical consideration."

Actor and advocate Alec Baldwin said "exposure to ambient levels of
radiation near nuclear reactors used by public utilities has long been
suspected as a significant contributor to various cancers and other
diseases." Baldwin, who has a long-standing interest in radiation
health issues, adds "nuclear power is not the clean, efficient energy
panacea to which we are presently being reintroduced. It is dirty,
poses serious security threats to our country, and is ridiculously
expensive. Nukes are still a military technology forced on the
American public with a dressed up civilian application."

Study authors were epidemiologist Joseph Mangano MPH MBA, Director of
the Radiation and Public Health Project, and toxicologist Janette
Sherman MD of the Environmental Institute at Western Michigan
University. They analyzed leukemia deaths in children age 0-19 in the
67 counties near 51 nuclear power plants that started operations
during the period 1957-1981 (the same counties in the NCI study).
About 25 million people live in these 67 counties, and the 51 plants
represent nearly half of all U.S. nuclear reactors).

Using mortality statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, Mangano and Sherman found that in 1985-2004, the
change in local child leukemia mortality (vs. the U.S.) compared to
the earliest years of reactor operations were:

** An increase of 13.9% near nuclear plants started 1957-1970 (oldest

** An increase of 9.4% near nuclear plants started 1971-1981 (newer

** A decrease of 5.5% near nuclear plants started 1957-1981 and later
shut down

The 13.9% rise near the older plants suggests a potential effect of
greater radioactive contamination near aging reactors, while the 5.5%
decline near closed reactors suggests a link between less
contamination and lower leukemia rates. The large number of child
leukemia deaths in the study (1292) makes many of the results
statistically significant.

The Mangano/Sherman report follows a 2007 meta-analysis also
published in the European Journal of Cancer Care by researchers from
the Medical University of South Carolina. That report reviewed 17
medical journal articles on child leukemia rates near reactors, and
found that all 17 detected elevated rates. A January 2008 European
Journal of Cancer article that found high rates of child leukemia
near German reactors from 1980-2003 is believed to be the largest
study on the topic (1592 leukemia cases).

The carcinogenic effects of radiation exposure are most severe among
infants and children. Leukemia is the type of childhood cancer most
closely associated with exposures to toxic agents such as radiation,
and has been most frequently studied by scientists. In the U.S.,
during the period 1975-2005, leukemia incidence among children younger
than 15 rose 54.6% (from 3.3 per 100,000 to 5.1 per 100,000),
according to the National Cancer Institute,[1] suggesting that more
detailed studies of causes are warranted.


The Radiation and Public Health Project is a non profit group of
health professionals and scientists based in New York that studies
health risks from radioactive exposures to nuclear reactors and
weapons tests. RPHP members have published 23 medical journal articles
on the topic.

End Notes

[1] National Cancer Institute, Cancer Statistics Review 1975-2005,
Table XXVIII-2.

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From: New York Times, Dec. 10, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


By Roni Caryn Rabin

The number of Americans who could lose their vision to diabetes-
related eye diseases is going to skyrocket over the next four decades,
with elderly Hispanics and blacks hit hardest because of higher rates
of Type 2 diabetes, according to a new study from the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention.

The report projects that the number of adults 40 and older with
diabetic retinopathy -- the leading cause of blindness among working-
age adults -- will reach 16 million in 2050, up from 5.5 million in

An advanced form of the disease will affect 3.4 million people in
2050, almost triple the 1.2 million affected in 2005. The report was
published on Tuesday in The Archives of Opthalmology.

"These are alarming numbers," said Dr. Jinan B. Saaddine, an
epidemiologist at the disease centers and an author of the study.
"This calls for more awareness and more action, not just to do
something about the condition before it develops but to do more to
prevent diabetes to start with."

"All of this could be prevented by preventing diabetes in the first
place," she added. "That's the big picture."

Diabetics are more susceptible to developing cataracts and glaucoma as
well, and the study estimates that the number of diabetics with
glaucoma will quadruple to 1.4 million, while the number with
cataracts will more than triple to 10 million.

Older Hispanics and black Americans will be disproportionately
affected, according to the report. Glaucoma cases will increase almost
12-fold among Hispanic diabetics 65 and older, and the number of
cataract cases will increase more than 7-fold among black diabetics 75
and older.

People with diabetic retinopathy usually do not have symptoms until
they actually start to lose vision. As a result, many skip the
recommended annual eye exams.

And though treatments are available, they are most effective early in
the course of the illness, said Dr. Lloyd Aiello, director of the
Beetham Eye Institute at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.

Dr. Aiello said the figures were sobering but not surprising.

"We're in the middle of a worldwide diabetes epidemic that is just
taking off," he said. "The economic impact is huge, even if you just
look at the cost to the federal government of disability and reduced

"Many of these," he added, "are working people."

Copyright 2008 The New York Times

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  Rachel's Democracy & Health News (formerly Rachel's Environment &
  Health News) highlights the connections between issues that are
  often considered separately or not at all.

  The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining  
  because those who make the important decisions aren't the ones who
  bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human
  health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the
  rise of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among
  workers and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy,
  intolerance, and racial injustice that allow us to be divided and
  therefore ruled by the few.  

  In a democracy, there are no more fundamental questions than, "Who
  gets to decide?" And, "How do the few control the many, and what
  might be done about it?"

  As you come across stories that might help people connect the dots,
  please Email them to us at d...@rachel.org.
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