Thursday, June 27, 2013

Two Major Problems With President Obama's Climate Plan

I submitted a short political commentary to Yahoo! voices that was published yesterday AT THIS LINK RIGHT HERE. Since you know how much I love to hear myself talk, or take a page to write something I could have said in a few sentences, you can imagine how difficult it was for me to summarize my concerns with President Barack Obama's entire climate speech in 250 words. IT WAS TORTURE. But I did it, and there it is.

I will now expand on this in my own blog, because that's what this blog is for - long winded pontificating about my opinions sprinkled with peer reviewed citations and some non-profit organizations for good measure. 

My first bone to pick is this statement early on in the speech:

"We're building the first nuclear power plants in more than three decades -- in Georgia and South Carolina."

The generation of nuclear power requires a radioactive metal called uranium. Uranium is not renewable. Like coal and oil, we're going to eventually run out of it. Also like coal and oil, we have to get it out of the earth in order to use it. This generally leaves and environmental mess behind that interferes wit some major things, like drinking water.

"In terms of both short and long term environmental impact, uranium mining is by far the most environmentally problematic of any mining activity because radioactivity of the ore presents an intangible that cannot be chemically mitigated. Even after the mining activities ceased on the Navajo Nation, the legacy of environmental harm continued from events such as what happened in 1979 at Church Rock. The Church Rock disaster is the largest accidental release of radioactive material in U.S. history. A tailing dam burst, sending eleven hundred tons of radioactive mill wastes and ninety million gallons of contaminated liquid pouring toward Arizona into the Rio Puerco River. The Navajo still cannot use this water."  (Source Link)

"There are some 4,000 abandoned uranium mines scattered across the landscape of the West. Decades after the closure of operations, a significant number remain to be cleaned up. 

A full accounting of the costs has only just started after decades of neglect. The costs of what cleanup has been done—a price-tag that is certainly in the hundreds of millions of dollars—has been borne in large part by taxpayers rather than the mining companies and downstream customers.
Looking forward – and, fundamentally, a key reason we brought this case – if we don’t reform the regulatory system we risk creating a whole new set of expensive, damaging problems." (Source Link)
"The Interior Department has highlighted risks to the canyon and area water supplies from uranium mining. The BLM draft environmental impact statement found that “springs could dry up” near the Grand Canyon as a result of uranium mining and that pollution in groundwater could be “major.” It urged “a more thorough investigation of water chemistry in the Grand Canyon region … to better understand groundwater flow paths, travel times, and contributions from mining activities, particularly on the north side of the Colorado River” where most uranium mining would occur." (Source Link, bottom of Pg 11)
Furthermore, everything else that is wrong with investing in nuclear power.
Vegetable mutation, Saitama (2012-01-04 14.05.46)
Mutated tomato from Fukushima, Japan

And my second, more immediate concern with President Obama's climate speech:

"[W]e'll need farmers to grow new fuels."

Using food for fuel has already been hugely devastating on both food prices and food availability, and it isn't necessarily a greener fuel. Food crops require processing to become fuel for vehicles, and that process in itself uses up resources. The more crops such as corn are dedicated for fuel, the less is available for direct consumption and as feed for animals, which means that not only is the price of soy or corn increased, but so are the costs of meat and dairy products. 

"In 2008 food prices soared, pushing a further 100 million people below the poverty line and driving 30 million more into hunger. There is wide agreement that diverting food into fuel use was responsible for at least 30% of the price rises...

...In fact, many types of biofuels actually cause more greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels. Heavy use of fertilizers on the crops releases huge amounts of nitrous oxide, a gas 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, the demand for new land for biofuels is causing thousands of hectares of forests to be torn down, causing a huge release of carbon into the atmosphere – not to mention the ethical implications of the continued destruction of the world’s forests." (Source Link)

"When corn prices rise, so do the prices of products that rely on corn. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicts increases in domestic prices of beef, dairy products and eggs ranging from 3 to 5 percent through 2013. Globally, the U.S. is the largest exporter of corn. Rising food prices will hit people in developing countries that rely on imports of our grains most severely. Higher grain prices in the U.S. are already triggering global food price spikes that parallel those seen in the 2008 global food crisis.
By shrinking the supply of corn for our food system, the Renewable Fuel Standard will continue to push corn prices higher. After the global food crisis of 2008, the World Bank pinned expanded biofuels production as one of the single biggest factors in pushing up food prices. Institutions from the World Trade Organization to the National Academy of Sciences have similarly criticized ethanol expansion for contributing to food price volatility." (Source Link)

I did laugh - like a LOT - when President Obama referred to climate change deniers as the flat earth society. He's right, we don't have time for that.
Unfortunately, on a global scale, I am skeptical that there's much we can do to reverse the damage that our denial and negligence have done over the last century. 
I am most concerned with the basics - air we breathe, water we drink, food we eat. My husband and I have asthma, so air quality is a huge concern, and of course we all like need water and stuff in order to do things like live, guys. So I am glad that as an influential leader of one of the most important and stubborn nations on earth, Barack Obama has admitted that putting jobs and profits before actual health and life is really dumb. It is dumb. 
So, I'm bothered that some parts of his plan put jobs and profits before air, water, and food. Having electricity is nice, but so is affording to eat a nutritionally sound diet, and not drinking water that might be contaminated with radioactive substances. Harvesting sunlight for power is still expensive compared to the alternatives, but when your solar panel breaks down, children don't get cancer. I would like to see a plan that first promises to do no harm.

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