How many crises will it take? The recent destruction wrought by Big Finance and Big Oil will pale in comparison to the destruction wrought by Big Nuclear if we do not use the Gulf disaster as a transformational moment to end our dangerous addiction to dirty fuels and to reject the illusion that industry will “regulate” itself.
We face a nuclear peril unlike anything we have ever known. We are approaching a tipping point in the global spread of nuclear technology because of a largely out-of-sight worldwide free-for-all among nuclear power companies and their allied national governments to expand their share of the fast-growing nuclear energy international market. Beyond that tipping point, we have little chance of keeping nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists.
The outcry about China’s upcoming sale of two more civilian nuclear reactors to Pakistan ironically is diverting attention from the true scope and magnitude of the danger from many similar but less high-profile deals.
The BP oil crisis: an opportunity for transformation
The BP crisis exposes the delusions of the anti-government crusaders on the far right who in the name of populism would turn corporations loose to set their own rules of the game.
The number of accounts of BP’s reckless disregard of risk before the Deepwater Horizon disaster are exploding as fast as oil from the blown well, but BP is not the corporate outlier that Exxon and other Big Oil CEOs paint it to be in their efforts to stave off a backlash against the oil industry in general offshore oil drilling in particular. The problem is far more fundamental and goes to the heart of American democracy, to our broken culture and our broken political system.
The BP crisis has created an opportunity for transformation that we cannot afford to waste. As Frank Rich recently wrote, “Let Deepwater Horizon be ground zero for a 9/11 showdown over the role of government.”
In a democracy, the failure of government lays squarely at the feet of the governed. Average citizens’ personal choices, whether political or apolitical, create the reality in which we live—and that reality, shaped also by powerful technological and industrial forces, increasingly knows no boundaries. The air and the oceans no longer insulate us from far away misjudgments and derelictions of duty.
As Americans’ fears in the face of the financial crisis and BP disaster grow, their vision is alarmingly shrinking. Most Americans rail against corporate culprits but don’t bestir themselves to fight corporate power even by changing their purchasing or investment patterns. We rationalize our learned helplessness.
As easy as it would be to learn how to conserve energy, switch to a less petroleum-dependent way of life, become the world leader in the new energy technologies, and revitalize our economy, Americans remain subjugated to the special interests known as “Big Oil” and “Big Coal.” We are fossil fuel junkies.
It is easier to ascribe our failures as a society to the shortcomings of that charismatic man in the White House with whom we imbued all our vague hopes and longings for a better world in which someone—if only we chose the right person—could lead us out of our self-created wilderness, slaying the corporate dragons and forces of evil we have fed with our daily deeds and passivity. Alas, we are the problem.
Nothing shows the poverty of our perspective more than the astonishing and ongoing media feeding frenzy criticizing President Obama’s Oval Office speech the day before he obtained BP’s extraordinary concession to create a $20 billion escrow fund for the victims of the Gulf disaster—to be independently administered by Kenneth Feinberg of the 9/11 victims’ fund fame—even as Congress proved incapable of raising the $75 million cap on BP’s liability.
It’s time to turn the page on the incessant conversation about the imperfections of the President, and focus instead on the lessons we must learn from our present predicament.
The hardest lessons, and the most urgent, are about ourselves, our learned passivity. The truth is that the Gulf disaster is part and parcel of the global environmental devastation that Big Oil has been causing for decades. In Nigeria, the United States’ fifth leading oil supplier, the amount of oil spilled in the ravaged Niger Delta over the last 50 years is equivalent to an Exxon Valdez disaster every 12 months. Regardless of how responsibility for individual oil leaks in the impoverished Delta is apportioned between the oil companies and the armed rebels fighting them, we surely fan the devastation with every drop of oil we consume.
The nuclear predicament in coming of age
Nothing is more dangerous than our passivity in the face of Big Nuclear. Nuclear technology is surging throughout our terrorist-infected world through a series of commercial deals between countries and multinational corporations. Today, 30 countries operate commercial nuclear reactors. Some 50 more countries have expressed an interest in doing so.
Even more than an oil disaster, a nuclear disaster anywhere is a disaster everywhere. Governments all around the world are ignoring the dangers of nuclear power in a headlong scramble to promote their own domestic nuclear power industries. China, France, Russia, the United States, Korea, and Japan are all racing to become the leading global exporter of nuclear technology. To help their domestic corporations make a buck and to boost their own national economies, they are deliberately spreading nuclear technology in reckless disregard of known risks.
Once a country has mastered civilian nuclear power technology, it has mastered the technology to make nuclear weapons. By definition, any nuclear power state is a de facto nuclear weapons state. It is only a small step to go from producing low-grade reactor fuel to producing highly enriched bomb-grade uranium. The global spread of nuclear technology is bringing the world to a tipping point at which the current global nuclear nonproliferation regime will become useless.
Countries in the Mideast and North Africa that aim to become nuclear power states include Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Yemen, the UAE, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, and Algeria. Other nuclear aspirants in Africa include Nigeria, Ghana, and Namibia.
Nuclear aspirants infamous for corruption include Kazakhstan and Georgia in Central Asia, and Bulgaria and Albania in Europe.
Countries chronically plagued by terrorism and civil strife that want to become civilian nuclear powers include Pakistan and India—which already have nuclear weapons—as well as Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the Philippines.
Venezuela, Ecuador, and Chile are trying to become nuclear powers. Even the King of near-bankrupt Tonga has declared that nuclear power is the answer to his country’s energy needs.
Many of these countries suffer from endemic pervasive corruption and incompetence and cannot deliver such basic services as food, water, electricity, and education. The idea that with a little technical training, they can develop government institutions capable of managing a nuclear power industry is ludicrous. The idea that the world can create a global nuclear nonproliferation regime capable of eliminating bribery and keeping nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists is madness.
Old-time nuclear strategists and cold warriors are recanting their argument that nuclear technology can bring national security. This group includes Bernard Brodie, one of the fathers of U.S. nuclear strategy in the 1940s who, towards the end of his life, faced up to the fact that the uncontrollable nature of nuclear technology made the term “nuclear strategy” an oxymoron. This group also includes former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, former Defense Secretary William Perry, and former Senator Sam Nunn, who joined together for a nuclear-power-about-face in a 2007 Wall Street Journal editorial, and now are trying to prod the world into protecting itself from nuclear terrorism through their DVD, “The Nuclear Tipping Point,” moderated by Michael Douglas.
President Obama has vowed to make it a priority to strengthen the global nuclear nonproliferation regime. Earlier this year, he signed the new U.S.-Russia nuclear weapons treaty (START) and convened a summit of 47 world leaders in Washington to discuss how to keep nuclear weapons out of terrorists’ hands. It was the largest meeting of world leaders called by a U.S. President since the 1945 meeting that FDR organized to create the UN. As important as Obama’s steps were, they are pointless unless his Administration drops the dream that a “nuclear renaissance” is the ticket to a clean energy economy.
In truth, nuclear energy is the dirtiest energy there is. Every nuclear plant emits a dangerous form of radiation (strontium-90) during its normal operations. These releases increase cancer rates—especially for childhood and breast cancer—among those who live nearby, as proven by a host of scientific studies over the years, and confirmed by recent German studies. Joseph Mangano, an epidemiologist and the Director of the Radiation and Public health Project in New York, describes on-air the Baby Teeth Study that did so much to expose these cancers.
The pro-industry Nuclear Regulatory Commission has granted 20-year license extensions to almost half of the aging U.S. fleet of nuclear power plants, in a move that will extend their 40-year design lives by another 20 years even as most people remain utterly unaware of the higher cancer rates this will cause. European nuclear regulators are also granting nuclear plants permission to operate decades beyond their design lives. These aging nuclear reactors need a vast amount of river or ocean water for cooling, which makes them particularly ill-suited to the climate change era, with the droughts and rising sea levels that climate change brings.
U.S. Department of Energy: another flawed agency with a conflict of interest
Like the financial crisis, the BP Gulf crisis highlights the regulatory capture that turns federal agencies into industry handmaidens. The sex and drug scandal at the Interior Department’s Minerals and Management Service (MMS) was exposed in 2007 but the agency was left to operate under the conflict of interest inherent in its tri-partite mission to regulate the oil and gas industry while promoting it and maximizing royalty collections from oil and gas leases. MMS’ legendary failures on all three counts are well known. Americans again looked the other way, just as they looked away from the SEC’s failures that led to the financial system crash and scandal after scandal.
The U.S. Department of Energy is aggressively pushing nuclear power, operating under a fatally flawed and conflicted mission like the MMS mission that enabled the reckless corporate conduct that led to the BP Gulf disaster. The DOE’s statutory duty to protect national security, to protect the security of U.S. nuclear facilities, and to stop nuclear nonproliferation simply cannot be reconciled with its statutory duty to promote nuclear power.
The DOE is charging ahead with its mission to promote nuclear power, the rest of its mission and its inherent conflict of interest be damned. At home, it is setting U.S. taxpayers up for another industry bailout, pushing Congress to grant the nuclear industry $54.5 billion in new taxpayer loans to construct new plants, even though government watchdogs say there is a 50% chance of default on such loans. Nuclear industry executives candidly admit they want taxpayers to bear the risk of such defaults, and say that the industry won’t build new plants without taxpayer-guaranteed loans.
Even risk-loving Wall Street won’t finance new nuclear power plants. A February 11, 1985 Forbes cover story, “Nuclear Follies,” called the United States’ experience with nuclear power “the largest managerial disaster in business history,” and described how guys in pinstripe suits, not protestors in beards, shut down the planned “nuclear renaissance.” Now after 30 years in which no new nuclear power plants have completed construction anywhere in the world, the U.S. nuclear industry looks forward to a rebirth, but only if taxpayers will foot the bill.
Subsidizing an industry whose liability for accidents is capped
It is shameful that even with the ongoing Gulf catastrophe, Congress lacks the votes to raise the $75 million cap on the oil industry’s liability for accidents.
It is shameful that Congress lacks the will to even discuss raising the decades-long cap on the nuclear industry’s liability for accidents (let alone the will to discuss eliminating it). This issue is not even on the table even as Congress proposes to increase taxpayer loans to the industry from $18.5 billion to $54.5 billion.
Those caps are warning: why would we want to subsidize and cap the liability of an industry that is afraid it may cause us so much harm it cannot afford to pay for it?
Time is running out for citizens to organize themselves to counter the power of the U.S. nuclear lobby in Congress.
U.S. nuclear policy fuels proliferation and shields industry
Who should a government protect—the corporation that wreaks harm or its victims? Except for the 100- plus members of the Republican Study Committee and a list of other Republican stalwarts and tea partiers, Americans had an easy time answering that question after Congressman Joe Barton (R-Texas) demanded President Obama apologize for his $20 billion “shakedown” of BP. But the U.S. government has a different answer when the potential corporate victims are citizens of India and the potential wrongdoer is a U.S. nuclear company. It chooses to favor corporations over their victims, to become a corporate apologist like Barton.
Just this month, India finally gave in to U.S. pressure to protect U.S. nuclear companies from liability for accidents at Indian nuclear power plants caused by the companies’ willful or negligent conduct—protection that the U.S. made a precondition for any nuclear sales to India. The Indian Parliament’s concession ended a long battle fed by memories of Union Carbide’s Bhopal gas disaster 25 years ago that killed and injured thousands and left victims uncompensated during decades of legal battles.
That was just the latest U.S. government maneuver to boost U.S. nuclear corporate interests in India. Only after India agreed to give the U.S. nuclear industry a specified megawatt share of India’s new nuclear power market did the U.S. finalize its 2005 agreement with India that ushered it into the stream of global civilian nuclear commerce despite its long-standing refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In 2008, the U.S. convinced the Nuclear Suppliers Group, made up of the 46 countries that control the world’s nuclear trade, to formally agree to allow the U.S. to sell nuclear material to India.
The full ramifications of the U.S. push to sell nuclear technology to India won’t be clear for years but they are momentous, and not just because much of the developing world sees India as a blossoming economic powerhouse to emulate. Seeing the U.S. blow off the international nuclear nonproliferation regime, some NPT signatories, including Brazil, have refused to agree to a proposed protocol to further tighten safeguards.
The competition for a piece of India’s nascent nuclear market, where Russian and French companies will also build new plants, is just part of the worldwide free-for-all to gain nuclear market share.
Pakistan wants nuclear parity with India, and not just in nuclear weapons
Pakistan’s and India’s military stand-offs and competition over their nuclear weapons arsenals has long kept the world on edge. Now civilian nuclear technology is about to spread through both countries, and both are wracked by terrorism, ethnic and religious strife, and an extreme distrust of each other. Pakistani scientists, including A.Q. Kahn, considered the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, have leaked stolen nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea, and Libya.
China’s unsurprising announcement that it would go ahead with its plans to build two nuclear reactors in Pakistan is part of a long line of similar cooperation between the two. Pakistan has also asked the U.S. for help in developing its civilian nuclear power industry, and the U.S. has agreed to consider the request even though it already fears that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal and its loose nuclear material will fall into terrorists’ hands whether or not the government itself falls.
China to spend $146 billion on nuclear energy in next decade
China has announced plans to create its own nuclear technology for export and to spend $146 billion on nuclear energy over the next decade. It already has the world’s biggest domestic nuclear construction program underway and plans to expand it with the help of the French EDF group, through which France operates more nuclear power plants than any other country in the world. China’s new deals with the EDF Group have been touted as a major opportunity for the entire French nuclear industry.
The global nuclear nonproliferation movement is woefully unprepared to counter the pairing of Chinese and French nuclear ambitions, powered by their unique brands of state-directed capitalism and China’s deep pockets.
China is exploring cooperation with France and Russia to build fourth-generation nuclear reactors, and is considering Japan as a joint venture partner responsible for safety technology. China itself is certainly a poor model for teaching the world about industrial safety or principled international trade practices. Time and again, the Chinese government has showed that it lacks the institutional capacity to regulate industry, as evidenced by the scope of its pollution and environmental degradation, its death toll from unsafe construction practices, its unsafe mining practices, and scandals over dangerous ingredients in food, toys, and other consumer products.
China is already constructing Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactors, a design particularly susceptible to through-wall corrosion, and has more such reactors in the pipeline. India also plans to build such reactors. Even the chronically conflicted, pro-industry U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruled the AP1000 had dangerous design flaws despite the fact that the Obama Administration had already awarded $8.3 billion in controversial taxpayer-funded loans for a new AP1000 at the Vogtle plant in Georgia, and that the design had been proposed for 14 new U.S. reactors.
Through its pattern of international trade, China has demonstrated a supreme willingness to do business with international pariahs like Iran, Sudan, Myanmar, and North Korea, despite their human rights abuses. Now China has vague plans to export second-generation reactors to notoriously corrupt Belarus, until recently a country in which most European leaders refused to set foot. Belarus has implemented reforms and lowered the murder-rate of journalists but it is hardly a good candidate for keeping nuclear technology out of the hands of terrorists and organized crime. China also is exploring shipping second-generation nuclear reactors to Africa.
Japan, with nuclear plants on earthquake fault lines: the safety leader?
If China brings Japan into its ventures as its point partner for nuclear safety, Japan’s accident-prone, freewheeling nuclear industry will guide the developing world in setting safety standards. Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission maintains that Japan’s nuclear power plants can withstand all but a “once in 10,000 years” earthquake, but since the country’s first reactors started up in the 1960s, three earthquakes have produced vibrations that exceeded design assumptions.
Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has demonstrated a cavalier attitude about nuclear power companies that overlook fault lines in siting their plants. In 2007, a 6.8 earthquake damaged Japan’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, which had been built on an undiscovered active fault line. The quake caused widespread damage at the plant and it was shut down indefinitely. After the quake, the deputy director for nuclear safety at the Ministry said that the nuclear company had done the best it could when it constructed the plant, adding, “If you insisted on being 100 percent sure about finding all active fault lines, you’d never get anything built.”
Local residents are suing to shut the Shimane nuclear plant due to an earthquake fault line 2.5 km (1.5 miles) from the plant that the plant’s utility operator, Chugoku Electric Power Co., disclosed in 1998, long after the plant began operations. The utility first reported that the fault line was 8 km long, but gradually upped it to 22 km while still asserting the plant can withstand any quake and pursuing its plans to build a new reactor at the site. In early June, the utility announced that it had discovered it had failed to perform required inspections or component replacements at 511 locations at the plant, up from the 120 such failures it had reported in March. Last week, the utility said it would keep the Shimane plant shut indefinitely due to its inadequate safety measures.
Japan’s casual attitude toward nuclear power plants perched atop fault lines may have already spread to the neighbors. Earthquake-prone countries are demonstrating a supreme indifference to the risks of mixing earthquakes and nuclear power plants, ignoring the fact that even earthquakes that do not lead to radiation leaks present a danger because the chaos that so often accompanies them creates a window of opportunity for diversions of nuclear materials and technology.
Indonesia plans to build a new nuclear reactor on Java by 2015 despite its extra-ordinary history of powerful earthquakes, including the 6.2 quake in 2006 that triggered a tsunami, killed thousands, and left 1.5 million homeless. That quake was followed by a 7.0-magnitude quake in 2009 that killed hundreds and a 6.0 quake last month.
Taiwan has a 6.0 quake about every 100 days and nuclear plants in low-lying areas that are vulnerable to rising sea levels, but its new government plans to extend operating licenses at three plants for another 20 years, add reactors to existing plants, and construct a long-delayed fourth nuclear plant.
Taiwan’s strong anti-nuclear movement may get a boost from a report last week that called the Kuosheng nuclear plant “a disaster.” A U.S. company hired to perform maintenance at the plant’s suppression pool, which serves a critical function in case of emergency, said the plant used the pool as a “garbage dump” that contained “everything short of a bicycle” and suffered from massive corrosion and sediment. It also said that plant management was aware of the situation and had told the company “not to say anything to anybody.”
Japan is negotiating for business with Vietnam and other Southeast Asia countries like Malaysia that are trying to develop their nuclear power industries. Vietnam plans to build eight new nuclear plants over the next 20 years and has chosen Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy giant, Rosatom, to help construct the first one. Vietnam also has a nuclear power agreement with the U.S.
Japan is competing with Korea and others to develop Jordan’s nuclear power industry. Japan and Jordan recently agreed to sign a treaty allowing France’s Areva and Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to sell reactors in Jordan as part of the two companies’ new nuclear joint venture there.
Russia, with “endemic corruption,” steering the world into a nuclear future?
Russia’s new deals to build nuclear power plants in India, Venezuela, Bangladesh, Turkey, and Vietnam, and its push for nuclear deals with Syria and Ukraine are only part of its drive to expand markets for Russian nuclear engineers. Its role in spreading nuclear technology is particularly worrisome in light of its enduring culture of corruption and its history of nuclear scientists’ illicit sales of nuclear materials.
In recent Op-Ed pieces in the UK and The New York Times, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev highlighted President Dmitri Medvedev’s frank words last September, “Should a primitive economy based on raw materials and endemic corruption accompany us into the future?” The world must ask: “Should an economy based on endemic corruption steer the world into a nuclear future?”
Russia’s ambitions in the civilian nuclear power market include a public-private joint venture that is marketing smaller nuclear reactors based on the technology used in Russian nuclear subs that have a history of accidents. The reactors are cooled with lead rather than water. The nuclear waste disposal problem is “solved” by freezing the reactors and the waste and storing them away. The Arctic is littered with hardened liquid-metal reactor cores.
Frances warns about nuclear competition based on cost and corner-cutting
French nuclear giant Areva recently lost a $20 billion contract with the United Arab Emirates to build a plane-crash-proof reactor there. The UAE chose a less advanced South Korean reactor for half the price. Areva said that the contract award highlighted the danger of developing “a two-track nuclear industry… with a low-cost one for some and high standards for others.”
Areva’s loss of the UAE contract sent shock waves around France and led President Sarkozy to seek ways to strengthen the French nuclear industry. He has ordered EDF, France’s state-owned utility, to take the lead in finding new overseas business for the French nuclear industry. EDF has risen to the challenge and is aggressively courting new business in addition to its joint ventures with China and its new nuclear deals with Kuwait and Russia. It recently convened a 60-nation nuclear power conference in Paris to tout the expertise it could offer other countries interested in developing nuclear technology.
Sarkozy is urging international bodies to fund a new era of global nuclear power. Nothing short of worldwide vigilance will keep the nuclear industry out of taxpayers’ pockets.
South Korea has announced that it intends to become one of world’s top three exporters of nuclear reactors by 2030. A consortium led by a state-owed electric power company is leading a drive to develop small and medium-sized reactors based on its own technology, known as System-integrated Modular Advanced Reactors (SMARTs). Korea is pursuing contracts with Jordan, Turkey, and India, and says that Malaysia, the Philippines, and Finland also have expressed an interest in acquiring its nuclear plants.
If Korea’s bid for the UAE contract is any indication, the nuclear industry is likely to see the same kind of cost-cutting competition that swept through the global solar industry during the last year and propelled China past Germany to become the world’s leading PV manufacturer and supplier. China also used industry subsidies and full-bored price competition to become the leading global wind power manufacturer. German solar and wind products lost market share even though many industry insiders thought they were superior in quality.
A similar cost and corner-cutting mindset is likely to take over the nuclear power industry. The repercussions could be deadly.
Smaller, safer nuclear plants?
The nuclear industry is pushing the myth that newer, smaller nuclear power plants will make nuclear power safe for the world. One type of small new nuclear power plant that is close to winning a license for commercial operation appears to be on the verge of triggering a global rush into a technology that will greatly escalate the risk of nuclear proliferation and terrorism.
Nuclear energy behemoths General Electric and Hitachi have formed a joint venture that uses laser technology to enrich uranium through a process known as “Separation of Isotopes by Laser Excitation (SILEX).” Several countries have spent years trying to develop SILEX and still want the technology. Most of the technological details are classified, but the world has had a hard time keeping civilian nuclear technology secret.
Two dozen scientists and nuclear experts have sent a letter to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee warning of the proliferation risks posed by SILEX because the small size and power consumption of laser isotope enrichment facilities make them difficult to detect.
“’New’ Nuclear Reactors, Same Old Story,” by Amory Lovins, rebuts the false hype about “new” (“Generation 4”) reactors that some people claim will solve current reactors’ economic, proliferation, and waste problems. Proponents of new reactors, including the traveling wave reactor, overlook the fact that even if such technology could be developed and commercialized, it will come far too late to appreciably cut carbon emissions before we begin to experience the worse ravages of climate change because the planet has already passed the tipping point. More fundamentally, proponents overlook the critical fact that the last thing our unsafe world needs is more commercial nuclear power technology.
As the deepwater drilling disaster in the Gulf shows once again, human institutions cannot keep up with technological innovations. The problem with foolproof technology is that “there’s no system foolproof enough to defeat a sufficiently great fool,” as Edward Teller, the Hungarian-born nuclear physicist known as the father of the nuclear bomb, said.
Unknown: how to store nuclear waste for a millennium
No country in the world has solved the problem of how to safely store radioactive waste for millennium. Countries are using a variety of short-term storage methods, many unsafe. Reprocessing the waste somewhat reduces its volume but creates more bomb-grade nuclear fuel, another fine legacy for the next generation. Nuclear advocates get away with touting nuclear power as cheap partly because they completely ignore the unknowable cost of long-term nuclear waste storage.
Powering transformational change
All around the world, national governments are letting corporations headquartered on their soil set energy policy based on the false assumption these corporations are some sort of “national champions” that operate in the interests of the people who happen to live in their place of incorporation. Nothing could be further from the truth. BP is not in business to be our friend, or even to spend what it takes to operate safely. Areva of France and all the other nationally-driven and state-owned nuclear companies, as well as the privately-owned nuclear companies, are even worse—they bear the worst hallmarks of statecraft welded to commerce without any attempt to consider safety as a legitimate part of the cost of nuclear technology.
Any illusion that nuclear technology can be limited to a privileged few is as dead as all those thousands of brown pelicans and turtles in the Gulf. The only way to stop the global nuclear surge is for every country to face the fact that nuclear power is dirty and expensive and cannot cut carbon emissions fast enough to prevent catastrophic climate change.
Citizens around the world must demand an end to taxpayer subsidies and liability caps for the dirty fossil fuel and nuclear industries. We must demand legal reforms that create incentives for clean power like solar, wind, and geothermal.
The best energy and climate change approach is a “cap and rebate” system (sometimes called a “cap and dividend” system) to sell big industrial sources permits to emit carbon as a way to raise the price of dirty fossil fuels like coal a nd oil and to stimulate investments in clean renewable energy. The proceeds from selling the permits would be rebated to consumers on a pro rata basis. A “cap and trade” system is much more complex and subject to manipulation by Wall Street than a “cap and rebate” system.
AARP has endorsed the bill for a “cap and dividend” system introduced by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash) and Susan Collins (R-Maine). Both The Economist and the Washington Post have praised the bill (known as the CLEAR bill) as being pro-consumer. The Economist said: “Of all the bills that would put a price on carbon, cap-and-dividend seems the most promising…. The most attractive thing about the bill is that it is honest. To discourage the use of dirty energy, it says, it has to be more expensive. To make up for that, here’s a thousand bucks.”
More and more people are recognizing that a cap and rebate system may be the only climate change strategy that is politically viable.
Far more than the 1969 oil spill off Santa Barbara that led to the founding of Earth Day, the BP Gulf crisis must become an impetus for change. Citizens around the world must seize the moment to restore democratic institutions, curb unbridled corporate power, and build a clean energy economy that can support a vibrant middle class.
We must face the fact that we are all connected, that distance can no longer ward off danger. The air and the oceans carry the injuries we do the planet to all the Earth’s creatures in all the corners of the world.
We have the power to make change. To create a safe and sane future for ourselves and future generations, we must act, and act now.