EPA, Coal, Clean Energy, Sustainable Energy

Just a few days ago, the EPA announced new rules on the emission of carbon (and specifically carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere. This was specifically aimed at coal fired electric generating plants, being seen as one of the largest contributors to non-organic carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere, especially here in the USA, although also with a nudge to the People’s Republic of China who are opening a new coal fired electric generating plant every week for the last couple of years.

 

I just read an article from Sheeraz Haji, CEO, Cleantech Group, which took a very optimistic view of how this would be a positive step for utility companies, and pointed to some of the more forward looking of those, especially those who had made investments in Cleantech like the purchase of cleantech companies and technologies.  Those were encouraging signs, but there are also warning posts on every fence post along this superhighway to the future, and I thought it was necessary to comment on at least a couple of them. I’ll try to limit myself to just a couple, because I am sorry to report that despite my usual optimism about getting some of the really “green” and sustainable alternative to overwhelm the practices of today, I tend to have a lump of pessimism in my throat every time I try to imagine that there are not a whole cavalry of well paid lawyers and engineers out there working to preserve the status quo and protect the capital value of their assets in the ground (coal, oil and natural gas, for a start) rather than thinking of new ways to make them worth even more by switching to alternative energy sources and turning their assets into source material for more highly manufactured goods with higher profit margins than $10/ton coal.

Sad to say, there IS NOT SUCH THING AS GREEN COAL. Obviously I don’t mean green colored coal (there probably is some of that somewhere), I mean that no matter how clean burning it, you would have to invent a machine that defied the laws of physics to be able to “burn” coal, extract a net amount of energy from it, and then put the carbon back into the rock and make it part of the geology again, rather than part of the atmosphere. That is the essence of the coal/oil problem, we are essentially taking what geology has turned into “fossil carbon” (by storing that old carbon in rock formations, whether in solid forms like coal, or fluid forms like oil and natural gas) millions of years ago. Now we are taking that fossil carbon, which the earth has, but very slow and natural geological processes, turned into a “stored” form of carbon, and putting it back into circulation in what I call the “living carbon cycle” or “live carbon cycle” in which plants “breath in” the carbon dioxide, and convert it to stored energy either as sugars and starches for short term use, or as long chain carbons like lignin, or cellulose that build the structure of the plants themselves. (Algae, especially microalgae, shortcut this process a bit by only building the shorter end of those, mainly sugars, starches, and a little bit to form cell membranes (but relatively rarely into conventional plant structures like stems and roots and leaves, etc.although California Giant Kelp is also a form of algae and they have PLENTY of stems and leaves, hundreds of feet long).  But in terms of total biomass, microalgae are almost half the known “plant” life on the planet, and are rivaled only by (their former cousins, now recognized as bacteria, not algae at all) cyanobacteria  (although plain old bacteria probably outweigh even those two combined, and who knows how much “biomass” all the active and dormant viruses [virii] there may be) (but I digress, as usual).  Anyway, microalgae start the whole animal food chain, in both oceans and fresh water, and pretty close to every other living thing in the ocean (water) depend on that progression of consumption starting with micro algae being “eaten” by something larger, and so on up to whales. Meanwhile, back on land, the terrestrial plants do much the same thing (except the skipping roots and leaves thing), absorbing and temporarily storing the carbon dioxide, and only releasing it as a result of their own respiration, or as they rot after they die (or are eaten)(which generally speaking, means they are, or at least become dead, too).

So, it stands to reason, that even though all that biomass of microalgae, not-so-micro algae, all the things that eat it, or that eat the things that eat it, the land based plants, including everything from mushrooms and lichen to giant redwood and sequoia trees, ants, grasshoppers, cattle, elephants, gorillas and humans (these last three resembling each other more and more, lately, it seems to me) have a limit on how much carbon dioxide they can effectively process.  Beyond that quantity (and remember that all of these things have cell walls, or at least cell membranes, in addition to the parts for respiration and the creation and storage of energy), carbon dioxide in the atmosphere become “excess”, and adds to the mix of gases in the atmosphere. Now we have to look at the proven effect of more carbon dioxide in a given space of “atmosphere.”

It is well know, especially by people who actually grow things in greenhouses, that if you trap the carbon dioxide that the plants growing under the closed space contained by a “house of glass” (aka a “greenhouse”) absorb and hold more heat that the ordinary atmosphere outside. One of the effect of which allows them to expend less energy heating the glass houses in winter than they otherwise might, considering the rather poor insulating effect of plain old glass. But the really noticeable occurrence of this “capturing more heat because there is more carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air” is on a warm day when it is, say perhaps, 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade outdoors, if you can find a shady spot inside the greenhouse where the plants are enjoying the sunshine, doing their photosynthesis thing that stores the sunlight’s energy in sugars, starches and oils, but outputs large amounts of carbon dioxide, you will find that the temperature inside is at least a couple of degrees warmer, and if you are a person with a scientific bent (and most scientists are at least a little bit “bent”) you put up another greenhouse next door and compare the temperatures on the same day with no plants growing in the same size and type of greenhouse, and you find that it is a little warmer, because the glass prevents the air from escaping upwards (hot air rises, and mixes with other cooler air up there in the clouds), but not as “extra warm” as it is in the greenhouse full of photosynthesising plants putting extra CO2 into the air inside the greenhouse.  Now this easily observed “scientific” fact is what is called the “greenhouse effect”, and it blamed for mankind adding fossil carbon to the atmosphere as triggering a general warming of the air around the planet, which is causing climate changes.

Those changes in climate are blamed for extra hurricanes, and extra violent storms, more tornados, droughts in some areas, and floods in others, hotter summers and colder winters (or in some cases even warmer winters). We have certainly seen all of those things happen. Yet some people argue that the larger, overall trend is toward a colder future because we are sliding right past the peak of the turn and are headed back into another mini-glacier period.  That interpretation is becoming harder to accept because we have seen, recently, that a very large chunk of Antarctica has broken off, and seems to be feeding a current of colder water into the overall pattern of ocean currents that circulate across the entire world. I was going to set aside the whole issue from psychology that people generally have a tendency to see patterns where there is none.  This is especially true of trying to organize “face” patterns from random sets of lines. The addition of extra quantities of cold water from Antarctic ice could result in higher water levels, and a smaller cooling region effect from Antarctica itself, or it could be the turning point of more and more cold water cooling the planet that compensates for the increase in carbon dioxide, the slight rise in temperature and ocean levels so far.

A similar warming trend at the opposite “end” of the earth, the Arctic, has shrunken the polar ice cap there, to the point that the legendary “NorthWest Passage” that took many men’s lives in the 18th and 19th centuries searching for this shortcut across the frozen oceans North of the Western continent of North America (that is to say, the continent to the West of Europe where commerce was centered as far as the Western world was concerned during those centuries). Now the passage across the North of Canada is usually open for the passage of ships during almost the entire year. No sea ice or polar ice cap prevents modern cargo ships from getting through. Indeed Canadian’s ice breaking ships, while now build larger and stronger, are less in demand, at least along this Northern corridor. Larger chunks, too, are breaking off the icecaps of Eastern Greenland. The cumulative effect of cooling the larger flows of global ocean currents at both ends is still fairly unpredictable, although that hasn’t prevented both sides of the “climate change” arguments from trying to latch onto this as a support for their side.

The Northern warming trend has another huge factor, too, which is that so much of the frozen “tundra” of Northern Canada and Russia.  Much of this area is covered by only partially decayed “muskeg”, swampy bogs of partially decayed plants and roots in thick bogs that, although they remain frozen much of the year, come summer, they now get warm enough to melt and the rot progresses. That rotting releases more methane (also known as “swamp gas”) and carbon dioxide. Methane is considered to be some 32 times more harmful to the atmosphere than is carbon dioxide. The total area involved in this melting and rotting muskeg is about equal in size to the Amazon river’s wide tropical rainforest basin. If this is a phenomenon that has not come to your attention, or at least has not been explained to you this way before, please be aware that most (if not all) of the budget to repair leaks in the great Trans-Alaska pipeline is due to the fact that many of the supports that hold the level above the ground to where it is supposed to avoid melting the muskeg from the heated pipes carrying the oil, have been supported on muskeg that was never expect to soften.  The idea was that they would be dug down so deep that these supports would be sitting on “solid” ground. This “solid” ground that was supposed to be solid because it was expected to be permanently frozen because it was so deep. It got warmer up there than they ever expected. It did not, however, get warm enough to promote significant growth, the way that “normal” forest leaves rot on the floor of the area, while the trees above produce oxygen and consume carbon dioxide in photosynthesis. Natural processes are assumed (overall) to roughly balance CO2 production and consumption     

 Now, they say, and by “they,” I mean the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency of the USA (NOAA) that estimates are from about 1750 from which we have little if any real data, CO2 estimates were about 300 parts per million (so that’s about 0.03% of the atmosphere) which rose to about 320 parts per million in about 1901.  And finally it is now around 380 parts per million (which is roughly 0.038%, or to be generous, about 0.04% or 4 one hundreds of one percent, any and all of which is/are the same as 4 parts in 10,000). It is not easy to draw a picture of that, but imagine your bathroom floor (a moderately large bathroom, 6 feet wide, and 9 feet long, filled with 10,000 marbles (each marble is about 1/2 inch across [diameter] which would roughly fill that bathroom floor.  9,996 of those marbles are medium blue, 4 marbles are light blue. Now the next room is exactly the same size, and it has 9,997 blue marbles and 3 light blue marbles in it. That’s how much change there was in the last 250 years, 3 marbles versus 4 marbles in 10,000 marbles.

Okay, now let’s look at the last, say, 100 years, and frankly I don’t think there was a big change in the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from 1900 to 1920 despite the best efforts of Henry Ford and his competitors trying to sell automobiles (which ran on methanol in those early days). So let’s say 1920 had 320 parts per million, while today we have (pessimistically) 400 parts per million. Now, conveniently, 400 and 320 are both evenly divisible by 80, which gives us 5 and 4 respectively, so that’s our ratio.  We have gone from 4 to 5 parts in 100 years (including those “worst” years recently since 1980). But if we look at the precentage change, we went from 3 parts to 4 parts over 250 years, and now we’ve gone from 4 parts to 5 parts.  Restated those changes are 4 thirds (i.e. 4/3 or 133% in 250 years) and more recently, 5 quarters (i.e. 5/4 or 125% for 100 years). Obviously that’s a vast degree of acceleration. Translated to “real world” terms, that 6% change over the first 150 years but 20% change in just the last 100 years.

It seems like the biggest change over the last 100 years is the addition of fossil carbon burning by humans.  Anthropogenic CO2 is what they call it. And it seems like a logical explanation. Much of the world, and most of the world’s “scientific community” (especially according to the IPCC report) agree that the “crisis” is man-made. But when people start to call this “settled science” it is more of an indication that they don’t understand science than that the “facts” are proven.  Science is always subject to questioning, and always a matter of the “best available solution” (that can be replicated by others under similar conditions).  Unfortunately, when the whole world is affected, we don’t have the chance to go back and do it again to test if the theory is correct.  But we do have an obligation to continue to look at ALL the possible explanations and to see if some other explanation is equally valid in terms of the facts as best we understand them.

One of the other untested postulates is that the temperature changes we are seeing are due to changes at the earth’s liquid core.  Not something that is easy to test.

Another explanation is that “sun spot” activity are affecting the protective “bow wave” that protects the earth from much of the solar radiation that might otherwise come slamming into our planet.  Perhaps it is, but at such a small level that it only warms the planet by 2 degrees per century.

Another important one to consider is that it has been reported (and fairly well verified) that the total number of phytoplankton in the oceans has declined by as much as 40% since 1950.  Phytoplankton is another name for microalgae. Microalgae “eat” CO2.  They also “breath” (i.e. respire, the process that uses stored energy and oxygen to carry out the process of living, which gives off CO2,) but a lot less than they store. Indeed some kinds of phytoplankton sink to the bottom of the ocean and in a few million years turn into limestone.  Others sink to the bottom of the ocean and a few million years of heat and pressure turn them into … are you ready for this?  Petroleum.  But meanwhile they are taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and turning it into rock or “rock oil” (that’s what “petr-oleum” means) taking it out of circulation in the “active” carbon cycle, and keeping a balance in the atmospheric carbon dioxide content that promotes a stable growing environment. Now some scientists have begun to think that global warming (and specifically warming of sea temperatures) have been killing off the phytoplankton.  They may be right.  But I am inclined to think that it is the dying off of the phytoplankton and their tremendously valuable work as CO2 absorbers that has allowed extra CO2 to accumulate in the atmosphere.

I am less certain, but I am hopeful that a gentleman who died in 1993 according to the biographical information I read about him in a discussion of his theory, may have a solution for much of the decline in phytoplankton in vast, vast amounts of the world’s oceans.  He discovered that by adding a little bit of chelated iron to the water made water that was already rich in the other nutrient needed by phytoplankton (i.e. algae) caused them to flourish there again. He specifically claimed that 1 kilogram of iron would result in something like 3000 to 20,000 kilograms of phytoplankton. It has been 20 years since John Martin (inventor of the theory of iron fertilizer to stimulate plankton growth) but the research has been investigated by 13 subsequent teams who confirm his results. “Mesoscale Iron Enrichment Experiments 1993-2005: Synthesis and Future Directions”Science 315 (5812): 612–7.

Although “sequestration” of CO2 is assumed by some people to mean immediate and permanent removal, there really is no such thing. Trees and bushes are considered by the IPCC as “sequestration” even though they only last a few decades. And even the carbon that become sequestered in sedimentary layers at the bottom of the oceans eventually gets swallowed by the drift of the continental plates, pushed down into the melted core of the earth and comes out again in the form of exploding volcanic eruptions. Which brings me to my final point for the day. If one was to total up all of the volcanic eruptions for the last 50 years, and calculate all the carbon dioxide they put into the atmosphere, I would wager a dollar that you would find the result was more than all the anthropogenic carbon in the entire history of mankind, including cavemen’s cave fires. It’s just a guess, but mankind it rather puny in the face of the vast power of nature, as we have seen recently with the tsunamis, hurricanes, tornados, typhoons, and earthquakes that have killed so many thousands of people in just the last couple of decades.  I am inclined to think it is excessively ego centric to think that “man” has had such a huge effect on the temperature of the earth, but like most things on earth, earth will find a way to be “self-correcting” even if it means making living conditions unsuitable for the offending species.

Sincerely,

Stafford “Doc” Williamson

 

 

Rape, Carbon, Ukraine, Guantanamo, It is an Interdisciplinary World

A great deal has happened recently and some of it, it appeared to me in the last couple of days was worth a comment here. Foremost in my mind among international events is the rape and subsequent murder to two girls in India (more on that in a minute). Russia rescinding its “gift” of the Crimea to the Ukrainian People’s Republic (formerly the Ukrainian People’s Socialist Republic, at the time of the gift, one should remember), and the subsequent ambitions to re-absorb other certain other parts of the Ukraine where the population is predominantly Russian in heritage (more on that in a minute, too). And, certainly neither last nor least is the Obama administration’s backing of the Environmental Protection Agency’s weak-kneed, (or horrendous, depending on your side of the coal issue, I suppose) regulations on the emissions of carbon dioxide as a result of human activity. Lastly, and probably leastly with respect to this set of world events enumerated here is the prisoner exchange of the five Afghan religious fanatics (and violently insurgent) former prisoners of the illegal prison in the US military base in Cuba. (Yup, you can expect an expansion on those items too, shortly.)

But, meanwhile I wanted to add a couple of comments that American media might call, burying the lead. (That’s lead as in led, as opposed to leading as in stained glass.)  Frankly, I am, possibly too much influenced by local news policy which is so widespread in North American media whether or not it has infected all media across the globe (and with some relatively rare exceptions, like dictatorships or other closely controlled media).  That policy is, roughly stated, as, “If it bleeds, it leads.” And roughly translated that means if it involves violence, bloodshed, and especially death from the expanded borders of the metropolitan area locally, it should be used to grab the attention of the audience as the opening story in any media coverage.  Occasionally, as happened nationally in the USA, in June of 2014, there is a sufficiently violent (and relatively rare) instance of foreign violence (in this case, a young man shooting and killing three members of the Canadian national police force known as the RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police]) that it takes the leading position in most news coverage. However I note also with some substantial cynicism, that it was mere hours before the fatal shooting of one person with two additional wounded on the campus of a relatively obscure college in Seattle, Washington that took precedence over the Canadian triple homicide in most venues and media.Americans have such a localized opinion of what constitutes news that airliner crashes in foreign territories, especially of foreign based airlines, such events barely get a mention unless American citizens were aboard. (This is what used to be called “provincial” in France, when people in the provinces considered local issues important, which was the French way of sneering at things of lesser importance, because they happened in “the provinces”, those dirty, grubby farming places outside of Paris, which was [pardonez moi, SVP, naturally I meant to say, “is”] the only important place in the world. So the American perspective is not entirely “new” or confined entirely to American, either.) (In fact it was also called “Chauvinistic”, after the famous Frenchman who publicly declared such an attitude, a term still used today, although not much in most of American popular media, the American educational system being so poor that the majority of Americans would not be familiar with the term “chauvinistic” [notice how it has joined the language enough that it has lost the capital letter from the gentleman’s name].) But as is so often my case, I have wandered rather far from my original point which is that a good number of people “tune in” for the local news, which in my case  is that I have recently graduated from Arizona State University with a Master of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. Interdisciplinary pursuits are all the rage now in institutions of hire learning, (and higher learning too) and virtually every discipline has adopted an interdisciplinary or cross-disciplinary program of some sort or another. Not only did I “rocket” through that degree in under 12 months total, from start to finish (a program designed to take 4 semesters and be spread over 2 years at least), but by the time I got around to realizing that I might want to continue my education at the PhD level, I discovered that virtually every doctoral program across the country had a deadline for application for entry to the Fall 2014 semester back in December of 2013.  I had no idea that it was such a long process, nor, apparently fairly competitive.  I am hoping my 12 month version of an MA may impress a little, and that my recent overall (for the whole degree) GPA of 3.87 is high enough to put me ahead of most applicants.  (My wife just notice that this would be a “summa cum laud” for an undergraduate degree.) Nor are these the only those factors that are now in my favor. I am not eligible to be considered under  “diversity” criteria. It is now a little bit on my side, since diversity generally extends to all protected “classes”, thus I am now a “minority” because of my age. By next fall, I will be one year short of eligibility for medicare, and still two and half  years (I think) from full retirement age as far as social security is concerned.

Attending ASU has had a couple of other side benefits, I (and a team I gathered around me) were selected as “finalists” in a business incubator competition held by the intellectual property commercialization group of ASU (with backing from several corporations, including the Mayo Clinic, and Dignity Health, as well as from the ACA, the Arizona Commerce Agency).  We did not get the grant, but we did learn about some interesting intellectual property that I am still pursuing and actually seeking financial backing for a privatization via sponsoring further developmental research at the University.  Another competition held by a “change oriented” (self-evidently) ASU organization called “Changemakers” at ASU also select me (without a team to back me) for another project to create a biomass power station in Kenya. Again, a finalist, although no award, but it was a chance to publicize my G.E.M.P.A.L.A. plan (Green Energy Marshall Plan for Africa and Latin America), which is a much broader and most ambitious plan for food and fuel self sufficiency for every town in both of those continents. So that’s the local news, other than I have applied for another MA program (being ineligible to start a PhD in the fall) with the hope of taking some of those “cross-disciplinary” courses that will be credited toward future PhD degree criteria.

Now, back to the real topics of some import.  The two girls raped and killed in India we also hung up in public to display their bodies for all to see. Reportedly they were not just raped but “gang raped” by several men, before being killed, and hung up on display because these men had no fear of reprisals or even consequences of their actions because these girls were from the lowest “caste” of the ancient Indian caste system, the caste formerly known as “the untouchables”. According to the online version of Encyclopedia Britannica http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/618508/untouchable the whole classification of “untouchable” was made illegal in India in 1949 (and in Pakistan in 1953), although several classes of the caste system are still officially designated as “Scheduled Classes”. But that ancient tradition still holds strong among much of India. Although the Britannica notes that in Southern India “untouchables” were, at one time, forced into living entirely after dark because even the sight of them was consider a form of pollution supposedly such is no longer the case today. But this instance of blatant rape and murder took place in the North of India, in India’s most populous province, and yet police initially refused to take any action, considering the girls to be of absolutely no consequence, and therefore it was not even possible to commit a crime against them. The “Dalit” a broad group that encompasses several of the former low classes including the former “untouchables” (ibid.) rose up in protest, not so much against the crime of rape but against the affront to their illegal treatment as untouchables under Indian law.

It now seems that this class (caste) system is a major contributor to the rash of gang rapes in particular, and to the overall crisis of rape of women in India. Unlike the problem in America of “date rape” (and “fraternity” rape) on college campuses, which is certainly something that is a major miscarriage of justice when sports team members are harder to convict than members of America’s “lower classes”, it seems like a major first step in quelling the rising tide of (publicity if not instances of) rapes in India is to force police  to enforce the existing laws.  America has been through this process, and remnants remain in the Southern states where a white man is highly privileged over black or brown skinned individuals with respect to many crimes, and especially rape, although non-white women being raped is also a lower priority for prosecution (and more readily a plea bargain) than for anyone to rape a white woman. But those deep roots and modern deep seated belief in the caste system in India, has got to be a priority or the rape problem will continue to be an insurmountable violation of basic human rights for a very, very long time. When one group of society does not even consider the other group to BE human, it is essentially impossible to convince them that they owe them respect, or that they have any more right to exist than cockroaches. This example is going to shock and dismay most readers, but I don’t want you to skip it because it conveys some of the horror that I feel in this situation.  You see, to the men involved in these cases, it is like comparing a case of gang raping a Dalit girl, or gang raping a sheep, the main difference being that you don’t have to kill the sheep.

Depending upon your point of view, the bloodless coup of Russia taking Crimea “back” may not be such a big deal. Strictly speaking it was the “Soviet Union of Socialist Republics” and specifically the hand of Premier Khrushchev that gave away the Crimean territory to the Ukraine as a sort of bribe or a dowry for continued friendly relations, much in the medieval tradition of marrying off a daughter to seal an alliance between countries. It was a dumb move, because it meant that that Russia’s only port on the Black Sea was now in a Ukrainian province. Theoretically during recent events it would have been more politically correct and polite to hold the referendum of the people to re-join Russia before strong-arm tactics of special forces of the Russian military effectively stage managed an “un-uniformed” commando coup, but it made very little difference in the world overall.

On the other hand, it was a little uncomfortably like Saddam Hussein annexing the oil-rich Kingdom of Kuwait. In general, however, seizing all that oil wealth was one thing, seizing a sleepy port province on the Black Sea (where the Russians already controlled the port anyway) was far less disturbing to the world at large and to the financial interests of any major multi-national corporations in particular. Bacj ub 1855 and 1856, both sides, or rather, all sides, including France, England, Russia, Austria and the Ottoman Turks, had learned that conducting a war in the Crimea was at best difficult, and ultimately futile anyway. Again, citing the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Crimean War was largely yet another religious war fought over “protecting” Eastern Orthodox Christians in the Muslim Ottoman Turkish empire which also included a dispute over the rights of Orthodox versus Catholic Christians in the Palestinian region. [ http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/143040/Crimean-War ] Lord, Allah, Buddha and the rest, please spare us from any more wars over religion (a hopeless “prayer” if ever their was one, I fear). Meanwhile it is unlikely that Ukrainians will be treated any less fairly than Russians were prior to the change in administrations in Crimea. The sad part is the “separatism” in Eastern Ukraine.

It appears that Russian agitators (quite possibly Russian special operations troops, at least according to one set of photos that show what appears to be the same man appearing in pictures from Chechen uprisings and in Eastern Ukraine, and the Crimea) are bolstering fears of the new government in Kiev treating ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine as second class citizen (despite the economic value of both the manufacturing sector there, as well as oil wealth and other strengths of the country derived from the region).  At the same time the are promoting “separatist” feelings (and even declarations) for some regions in the area while also supplying weapons (clearly of Russian manufacture) (remember, I am commenting, not reporting based on any personal first hand knowledge, although even I can recognize the similarities to weapons carried by regular Russian soldiers). Russia’s position tends to be conciliatory outside of Russia, but internally, Putin is beating the drums against European interference in the Ukraine, as well as promoting an anti-gay campaign at home.

President Obama is getting nominal support from European allies and NATO members, but the practical matter is that much of Europe is dependent on Russia for supplies of natural gas to keep from freezing in the winter and has considerably more at stake with respect to spoiling trade established with Russia that is not insignificant to many European country’s economic well being, too. However, in theory, even the Crimean interference was a violation of treaties the US held/holds with the Ukraine to protect its sovereignty, which is what makes the special forces without uniforms such a clever strategy on the part of the Russians in their campaign to take control of the whole of Crimea.  The problem, however is that although they now have control of the province containing their military port on the Black Sea, they have no all-land route to get to it without passing through the Ukraine. It would, therefore be highly convenient for Russia to provoke separatists in Eastern Ukraine to break aways, and due to the ethnic background of those people (including speaking Russian on a day-to-day basis) to merge with their Russian neighbors.  Again this rings an historical bell repeating a particularly unsavory example from the past.

The “ethnic” origins and protecting their interests was Germany’s excuse for seizing the “Sudetenland” during the early part of the Second World War.  Frankly, the Germans gained less from that annexation than would the Russians if they were to create a land bridge to their currently remote and isolated Black Sea military base. (I may be wrong about that. I don’t know the geography well enough to know if Sudetenland controlled significant terrain of value to the Germans, like well established major river crossing points, or mountain passes, the value of which I am under qualified to evaluate in the first place.) My point, however is not just that there are ethnic excuses for Russia to want to “protect” those (Orthodox??) Russians in the Ukraine, but that like the seizing of Kuwait, or the seizing of Sudetenland, these are examples of what are now considered fairly “heinous” crimes as those sort of things go in the history of the world, at least from the Western Civilization’s point of view generally.

With respect (and I do mean some respect) to the EPA regulations on carbon dioxide emissions, like most regulations from a government elected according to billionaire’s best interests and corporate donations (by any means whatsoever since the “Citizens’ United” SCOTUS decision) these regulations are too little and too late, and too typically of the Obama administration, heavily watered down to the point where if there ever was any “vision” behind it all, it has long since disappeared in the mists of political compromise. As it happens a very pleasant and cordial member of the staff at Waste Management mentioned these regulations to me as “what Obama said yesterday,” to which my stunned reply was, “Oh, I must have missed that.”  Carbon dioxide emissions are, of course, of some direct concern to Waste Management, since much of its elimination of waste is by way of plain old incinerations, with minimal pollution abatement other than to satisfy the long standing EPA regulations with regard to SOx and NOx as well as heavy metal pollutant reaching the atmosphere. Regulation of carbon dioxide emissions will get to them eventually, but they are working on a number of strategies, everything from gasification to landfill “mining” operations.  In fact as my conversation(s) with these couple of gentlemen from local operations of Waste Management wore on, off and on, during a couple of hours the other evening, hardly anything I mentioned was not something they were already doing somewhere, either as a normal course of business in some locale or at least in experimental stages.  I did mention, however that it was a little over 40 years ago that I was telling my undergraduate classmates I was amazed that we (as a society) were not already mining the riches of landfill sites.  “After all, we know where all this stuff is, we’ve been putting it there for a hundred years.”  “We’re doing that,” was their reply, although from the description it was more like the “recovery” operations in India where the poorest Dalits are allowed to pick over the garbage dumps for salvageable, or recyclable goods from which they make their living, the same as happens throughout most of the world, rather  than the modern recycling equipment used in the Western countries that sort recyclables fresh off the collection trucks that arrive daily using automated equipment, conveyors, electromagnets, graduated sifting barrels, and ultimately product balers (which recycled commodities, by the way, the Waste Management guys bemoaned as being priced so cheaply on most goods that they couldn’t make a profit doing this kind of work).

Honestly it shocked me that these fellows who agreed that we were fully 40 years behind-the-times in getting these kinds of programs started were also seeing incineration as a key element in their ongoing corporate strategy (not that these particular people are involved in strategic planning, but you might hope that they had had a more visionary future conveyed to them by upper management). It might not be cheap to switch from incineration to gasification/pyrolysis everywhere immediately, but it virtually eliminates all atmospheric pollutants,and the residual can be either “glass” (slag) or “ash” which can be made into concrete blocks or depending on the content used as fertilizer.  What we all did agree upon because the examples were walking right by us as we chatted was that the failure of recycling programs is not the people who implement them, just the plain apathy of the public to think about recycling.  We watched as half a dozen people in a row tossed recyclable plastic cups and hors d’oeuvres plates into the “garbage” can which stood so close as to be touching the blue recycling bin with the recycle symbol plainly displayed for all to see. Worse yet, this was an event for alumni and recent graduated of the university. Everyone in the room had a least one university degree, and they still gave no thought to the recycling bin.  But I have carried on longer than I meant to, so let me move to my last subject for today.

I don’t understand all the religious “feudin’ and fightin'” of Muslim factions any more than I understand the silliness between protestants and Catholics in Ireland, the whole idea of “my religion is better than your religion” is patent nonsense as far as I am concerned, because, essentially, people are saying to one another, a broken mirror is far worse than walking under a ladder, while a third is shouting, “Watch out! Don’t let that black cat cross your path.” For that matter, none of those holds any more sway with me than those disputing whether it is “dark matter” that holds the universe together, or black holes that recycle matter from one segment of the universe to the other that maintains the balance against gravity that appears to be driving the universe further and further apart all the time.

But setting the religion itself aside for the moment, I don’t mind that some people want to live simpler lives that don’t involve modern mechanical and electrical or gas powered equipment, the Amish people being probably the best known example in North America. And I don’t think them being Christians makes them any better than Muslim, or Buddhists who feel a similar need to live life on simpler terms. But I will state here, without equivocation, that I object to anyone trying to impose such beliefs on me or anyone else. Even though they reportedly place quite strong social pressure on their young people to conform to the life in which they have been raised, they do give them the opportunity to opt out during their teen years.  Not so for the Taliban and some of the other more fanatical Islamist sects, they will cheerfully force their beliefs on others with the sword or the Kalishnikov.  The most prominently known example being the bullet put into the head of a girl whose only offense was going to school.

Still, I think that President Obama’s administration didn’t make any “mistake” by swapping prisoners from Guantanamo for the young soldier who spent 5 years in captivity in Afghanistan.  What he did do was significantly reduce the excuses for resistance to closing the illegal existence of Guantanamo as a “holding pen” for persons the US has “captured” but have no legal status or standing, or rather the “prison” at Guantanamo has no legal standing or status. President Barack Obama’s campaign promise to close Guantanamo (the prison, not the base) remains unfulfilled due to his inability to get it through congress, or more specifically to get congress to allocate the funds to accomplish the closure. What was a major mistake was not to ram it through congress during his first two years when the Democrats held both the House and the Senate.  It was far from President Obama’s radically liberal agenda that cost them the House majority in 2010, it was a lack of leadership that contained a clear and well enunciated vision for where the country was going.  That is not to say that healthcare reform was not a much needed direction for this country, though again, the weak positions taken by the administration and the absolutely excessive concessions made early in the process essentially eliminated any hope of a genuinely strong healthcare system for the country.  Only a single payer system like medicare (which operates with far lower overhead than any private medical system in the county, including HMO type operations). The whole health care system became a corporate welfare system for private insurance companies, those same insurance companies who hold so much cash reserves against possible liabilities of possible holders that they are more significant investors on Wall Street than are most mutual funds, indeed few banks hold more stocks in their portfolios than do the largest insurance companies. But as usual I digress …

My original point about no mistake in the prisoner swap starts with, as President Obama said recently, when it comes to prisoner swaps, “you don’t exchange prisoners with your friends.” With the Qatari’s acting as intermediaries, in theory at least, we were not dealing with “terrorists” or negotiating with terrorists, we were dealing with a friendly government as an “honest broker” regarding a party with whom we refused to establish relations. Those are the facts. Telling any other story is making up fabrications to fit your political agenda. This was not significantly different than dealing with a country like Libya when it was a dictatorship with whom we had no reason to want to have diplomatic relations. The Bush administration, in effect, labelled the Taliban as a terrorist organization because when they were the legitimate government of Afghanistan they allowed the al Qaeda organization to train and maintain camps in their country, and as a “state supporter of terrorists” the Bush administration blurred the lines and claimed that they too were terrorists, even though they were a legitimate government of an actual country.  Then we sent in a couple hundred special forces from the US army (Navy seals or others may have been involved, but of course, that’s “classified” information so we may never know) and rapidly deposed the entire government in a matter of a few weeks.  Chasing down Osama bin Laden took months more in Afghanistan, or rather years more, but essentially the “war” with Afghanistan had been won in the first few weeks.

Now the war is with the corruption in the government(s) in Afghanistan, and the fact that such a huge portion of the national budget is actually the Americans stationed there requiring supplies, so that the GDP of the country last year (I believe I remember the figure) it was about 40% American Aid and military spending. Negotiating a substantial “residual force” of Americans is about the only hope of the country not going into a severe economic depression when the last 10,000 soldier leave at the end of 2015. But meanwhile we have lost some 2000 lives in this longest American war of all time, almost half as many as in the whole of the Iraqi war. But the war is winding down, and as such there is no longer an excuse to hold “enemy combatants” for any reason, much less in an illegal situation where they have no rights, and on what is technically “American soil” since we have leased the land from Cuba. In my opinion, moving closer to closing Guantanamo is the more important of the two halves of the prisoner exchange, and in that respect, President Obama’s administration is the big winner.

My apologies for making this such a long entry. I had a pent up need to vent, it appears. I don’t expect everyone, or even anyone to completely agree with me, but I do hope I have prompted you to think, and perhaps even to discuss some of these aspect of the events that have been unfolding recently.

Thanks for visiting.

 

Sincerely,

Stafford “Doc” Williamson

 

 

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