North Korea gets China's waste

SUBHEAD: North Korea is importing and burying electronic industrial waste from China. Image above: Workers unload Chinese electronic toxic waste in North Korea. From article.
By ebalkan on 14 December 2009 in The - ( China has taken considerable steps in recent years to address electronic waste management practices unsafe for the individuals involved and harmful to local land and water supplies, as NEEDigest has previously reported.

However, China’s limited electronic waste recycling facilities and swelling consumption patterns has rendered domestic containment of toxic trash a serious problem.

Like China, the US and Europe face this predicament, and for years have exported trash to developing countries in Asia and Africa at a lower cost and with fewer environmental safeguards. It is therefore somewhat unsurprising, but no less disheartening, to find out that China, too, is joining the ranks of countries opting to manage waste by having less developed countries manage it for them – often at considerable health and environmental risks.

The newest recipient country is not in Africa or Southeast Asia, as one might expect.

Rather, it appears that waste is being diverted to North Korea, China’s northeastern neighbor, whose western coast lies directly across from China’s prosperous coastal areas and many port towns. This revelation contradicts certain assumptions that North Korea, its economic development stunted due to a centrally planned economy and isolation from the outside world, was comparatively free from the industrial pollution that beleaguers many of its East and South Asian counterparts.

According to South Korean newspaper Dong-a Ilbo, North Korean entities responsible for generating foreign currency are importing and burying industrial waste from China. The trade is being conducted secretly, according to reports, and critics of the trade from North Korea’s scientific community have been silenced.

As per the Dong-a Ilbo:

"Daily NK, a media outlet on North Korean affairs, quoted a source in the North’s South Hamkyong Province as saying, “The soil survey research center at Hamhung Institute of Technology released a research paper on its study of land pollution resulting from burial of industrial waste from China and a letter urging countermeasures to the Central Committee of the (North Korean) Workers’ Party. The institute was dismantled and senior officials and researchers were all purged.”

This is not the first instance where North Korea has been reported as soliciting other countries’ toxic waste. In the mid-1990s, North Korea offered to dispose of the North Sea Brent Spar oil storage platform for Royal Dutch Shell, which the company had planned to dump in the deep Atlantic in 1995. The deal did not go through.

In 1997, Taiwan officials negotiated a cash-for-nuclear waste deal with the North Korean government. South Korea mounted pressure to cancel the deal, and in the end, Taiwan did not send the 60,000 barrels of toxic waste to North Korea.

Since then, North Korea has become more aggressive in its offerings.

Solicitations from the hermit country have been found on a Chinese-language website called “I DPRK” that promotes investment in North Korea. In the words of one of these ads North Korea seeks plastic and electronic waste that “can be processed in the port but which other countries and territories are restricted from dealing in.”

The website further stated “there are no limits, any business taking advantage of [North] Korea’s low labour costs for intensive processing is welcome.”

Just how much e-waste has been sent from China to North Korea is not known. The photo above shows North Korean workers unloading e-waste on the docks of Sinuiju, which lies across from the Chinese border town Dandong. Apart from the trade of waste, China is North Korea’s largest trading partner.

In 2008, bilateral trade reached $2.79 billion, though a big imbalance favoring North Korea exists. North Korea’s pronounced dependence on China is illustrated by data revealing much of the country’s food and nearly 90 percent of its energy supplies come from China. This imbalance is seen by some to be giving China added economic leverage with North Korea.

As China’s economy and personal wealth continue to grow, while North Korea remains economically stagnant, it is not difficult to imagine the streams of electronic waste coming from China widening further and wreaking more havoc on the land and people, ill-equipped to properly handle toxic substances, that come into contact with it.

See also:

Ea O Ka Aina: Chinese Solar PV Wasteland 2/28/10


Chinese Solar PV wasteland

SUBHEAD: China is making environmental trade-offs as it races ahead of dwindling supply of fossil fuels. In China, polysilicon plants are the new dot-coms.
"It's poison air. Sometimes it gets so bad you can't sit outside" says Qiao Shi Peng, 28, shown in front of a dumping site in his village.Photo By Zhang Quanfeng.
By Ariana Eunjung Cha on 9 March 2008 The Washington Post - (

The first time Li Gengxuan saw the dump trucks from the nearby factory pull into his village, Gaolong, China, he couldn't believe what happened. Stopping between the cornfields and the primary school playground, the workers dumped buckets of bubbling white liquid onto the ground. Then they turned around and drove right back through the gates of their compound without a word.

This ritual has been going on almost every day for nine months, Li and other villagers said.

In China, a country buckling with the breakneck pace of its industrial growth, such stories of environmental pollution are not uncommon. But the Luoyang Zhonggui High-Technology Co., here in the central plains of Henan Province near the Yellow River, stands out for one reason: It's a green energy company, producing polysilicon destined for solar energy panels sold around the world. But the byproduct of polysilicon production -- silicon tetrachloride -- is a highly toxic substance that poses environmental hazards.

"The land where you dump or bury it will be infertile. No grass or trees will grow in the place. . . . It is like dynamite -- it is poisonous, it is polluting. Human beings can never touch it," said Ren Bingyan, a professor at the School of Material Sciences at Hebei Industrial University.

The situation in Li's village points to the environmental trade-offs the world is making as it races to head off a dwindling supply of fossil fuels.

Forests are being cleared to grow biofuels like palm oil, but scientists argue that the disappearance of such huge swaths of forests is contributing to climate change. Hydropower dams are being constructed to replace coal-fired power plants, but they are submerging whole ecosystems under water.

Likewise in China, the push to get into the solar energy market is having unexpected consequences.

With the prices of oil and coal soaring, policymakers around the world are looking at massive solar farms to heat water and generate electricity. For the past four years, however, the world has been suffering from a shortage of polysilicon -- the key component of sunlight-capturing wafers -- driving up prices of solar energy technology and creating a barrier to its adoption.

With the price of polysilicon soaring from $20 per kilogram to $300 per kilogram in the past five years, Chinese companies are eager to fill the gap.

In China, polysilicon plants are the new dot-coms. Flush with venture capital and with generous grants and low-interest loans from a central government touting its efforts to seek clean energy alternatives, more than 20 Chinese companies are starting polysilicon manufacturing plants. The combined capacity of these new factories is estimated at 80,000 to 100,000 tons -- more than double the 40,000 tons produced in the entire world today.

But Chinese companies' methods for dealing with waste haven't been perfected.

Because of the environmental hazard, polysilicon companies in the developed world recycle the compound, putting it back into the production process. But the high investment costs and time, not to mention the enormous energy consumption required for heating the substance to more than 1800 degrees Fahrenheit for the recycling, have discouraged many factories in China from doing the same. Like Luoyang Zhonggui, other solar plants in China have not installed technology to prevent pollutants from getting into the environment or have not brought those systems fully online, industry sources say.

"The recycling technology is of course being thought about, but currently it's still not mature," said Shi Jun, a former photovoltaic technology researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Shi, chief executive of Pro-EnerTech, a start-up polysilicon research firm in Shanghai, said that there's such a severe shortage of polysilicon that the government is willing to overlook this issue for now. "If this happened in the United States, you'd probably be arrested," he said. An independent, nationally accredited laboratory analyzed a sample of dirt from the dump site near the Luoyang Zhonggui plant at the request of The Washington Post. The tests show high concentrations of chlorine and hydrochloric acid, which can result from the breakdown of silicon tetrachloride and do not exist naturally in soil. "Crops cannot grow on this, and it is not suitable for people to live nearby," said Li Xiaoping, deputy director of the Shanghai Academy of Environmental Sciences. Wang Hailong, secretary of the board of directors for Luoyang Zhonggui, said it is "impossible" to think that the company would dump large amounts of waste into a residential area. "Some of the villagers did not tell the truth," he said. However, Wang said the company does release a "minimal amount of waste" in compliance with all environmental regulations. "We release it in a certain place in a certain way. Before it is released, it has gone through strict treatment procedures." Yi Xusheng, the head of monitoring for the Henan Province Environmental Protection Agency, said the factory had passed a review before it opened, but that "it's possible that there are some pollutants in the production process" that inspectors were not aware of. Yi said the agency would investigate. In 2005, when residents of Li's village, Shiniu, heard that a new solar energy company would be building a factory nearby, they celebrated. The impoverished farming community of roughly 2,300, near the eastern end of the Silk Road, had been left behind during China's recent boom. In a country where the average wage in some areas has climbed to $200 a month, many of the village's residents make just $200 a year. They had high hopes their new neighbor would jump-start the local economy and help transform the area into an industrial hub. The Luoyang Zhonggui factory grew out of an effort by a national research institute to improve on a 50-year-old polysilicon refining technology pioneered by Germany's Siemens. Concerned about intellectual property issues, Siemens has held off on selling its technology to the Chinese. So the Chinese have tried to create their own. Last year, the Luoyang Zhonggui factory was estimated to have produced less than 300 tons of polysilicon, but it aims to increase that tenfold this year -- making it China's largest operating plant. It is a key supplier to Suntech Power Holdings, a solar panel company whose founder Shi Zhengrong recently topped the list of the richest people in China. Made from the Earth's most abundant substance -- sand -- polysilicon is tricky to manufacture. It requires huge amounts of energy, and even a small misstep in the production can introduce impurities and ruin an entire batch. The other main challenge is dealing with the waste. For each ton of polysilicon produced, the process generates at least four tons of silicon tetrachloride liquid waste. When exposed to humid air, silicon tetrachloride transforms into acids and poisonous hydrogen chloride gas, which can make people who breathe the air dizzy and can make their chests contract. While it typically takes companies two years to get a polysilicon factory up and running properly, many Chinese companies are trying to do it in half that time or less, said Richard Winegarner, president of Sage Concepts, a California-based consulting firm. As a result, Ren of Hebei Industrial University said, some Chinese plants are stockpiling the hazardous substances in the hopes that they can figure out a way to dispose of it later: "I know these factories began to store silicon tetrachloride in drums two years ago." Pro-EnerTech's Shi says other companies -- including Luoyang Zhonggui -- are just dumping wherever they can. "Theoretically, companies should collect it all, process it to get rid of the poisonous stuff, then release it or recycle. Zhonggui currently doesn't have the technology. Now they are just releasing it directly into the air," said Shi, who recently visited the factory. Shi estimates that Chinese companies are saving millions of dollars by not installing pollution recovery. He said that if environmental protection technology is used, the cost to produce one ton is approximately $84,500. But Chinese companies are making it at $21,000 to $56,000 a ton. In sharp contrast to the gleaming white buildings in Zhonggui's new gated complex in Gaolong, the situation in the villages surrounding it is bleak. About nine months ago, residents of Li's village, which begins about 50 yards from the plant, noticed that their crops were wilting under a dusting of white powder. Sometimes, there was a hazy cloud up to three feet high near the dumping site; one person tending crops there fainted, several villagers said. Small rocks began to accumulate in kettles used for boiling faucet water. Each night, villagers said, the factory's chimneys released a loud whoosh of acrid air that stung their eyes and made it hard to breath. "It's poison air. Sometimes it gets so bad you can't sit outside. You have to close all the doors and windows," said Qiao Shi Peng, 28, a truck driver who said he worries about his 1-year-old son's health. The villagers said most obvious evidence of the pollution is the dumping, up to 10 times a day, of the liquid waste into what was formerly a grassy field. Eventually, the whole area turned white, like snow. The worst part, said Li, 53, who lives with his son and granddaughter in the village, is that "they go outside the gates of their own compound to dump waste." "We didn't know how bad it was until the August harvest, until things started dying," he said. Early this year, one of the villagers put some of the contaminated soil in a plastic bag and went to the local environmental bureau. They never got back to him. Zhang Zhenguo, 45, a farmer and small businessman, said he has a theory as to why: "They didn't test it because the government supports the plant." - Researchers Wu Meng and Crissie Ding contributed to this report. See also: Der Spiegel: Choking on Chemicals in China 11/28/05 Pravda: China Dumps Toxic Waste in Ocean 2/28/06 .

Energy Follows Its Bliss

SUBHEAD: A variety of bad logic underlies an astonishing amount of our collective conversation about energy these days. Image above: Detail of M. C. Escher drawing of perpetual motion waterfall turning a millwheel. From ( By John Michael Greer on 24 February 2010 in The Archdruid Report - ( Industrial civilization is a complicated thing, and its decline and fall bids fair to be more complicated still, but both rest on the refreshingly simple foundations of physical law. That’s crucial to keep in mind, because the raw emotional impact of the unwelcome future breathing down our necks just now can make it far too easy to retreat into one form or another of self-deception. Plenty of the new energy technologies discussed so enthusiastically on the internet these days might as well be poster children for this effect. I think most people in the peak oil community are aware by now, for example, that the sweeping plans made for ethanol production from American corn as a solution to petroleum depletion neglected one minor but important detail: all things considered, growing corn and turning it into ethanol uses more energy than you get back from burning the ethanol. It’s not at all surprising that this was missed, for the same variety of bad logic underlies an astonishing amount of our collective conversation about energy these days. The fundamental mistake that drove the ethanol boom and bust seems to be hardwired into our culture. Here’s an example. Most bright American ten-year-olds, about the time they learn about electric motors and generators, come up with the scheme of hooking up a motor and a generator to the same axle, running the electricity from the generator back to the motor, and using the result to power a vehicle. It seems perfectly logical; the motor drives the generator, the generator powers the motor, perpetual motion results, you hook it up to wheels or the like, and away you drive on free energy. Yes, I was one of those ten-year-olds, and somewhere around here I may still have one of the drawings I made of the car I planned to build when I turned sixteen, using that technology for the engine. Of course it didn’t work. Not only couldn’t I get the device to power my bicycle – that was how I planned on testing the technology out – I couldn’t even make the thing run without a load connected to it at all. No matter how carefully I hooked up a toy motor to a generator salvaged from an old bicycle light, fitted a flywheel to one end of the shaft, and gave it a spin, the thing turned over a few times and then slowed to a halt. What interests me most about all this in retrospect, though, is that the adults with whom I discussed my project knew that it wouldn’t work, and told me so, but had the dickens of a time explaining why it didn’t work in terms that a bright ten-year-old could grasp. This isn’t because the subject is overly complicated. The reason why perpetual motion won’t work is breathtakingly simple; the problem is that the way most people nowadays think about energy makes it almost impossible to grasp the logic involved. Most people nowadays think that since energy can be defined as the capacity to do work, if you have a certain amount of energy, you can do a certain amount of work with it. That seems very logical; the problem is that the real world doesn’t work that way. In the real world, you have to take at least two other things into account. The first of them, of course, has seen a fair amount of discussion in peak oil circles: to figure out the effective energy yield of any energy source, you have to subtract the amount of energy needed to extract that energy source and put the energy in it to work. That’s the problem of net energy, and it’s the trap that’s clamped tightly onto the tender portions of the American ethanol industry; ethanol from corn only makes sense as an energy source if you ignore how much energy has to go into producing it. The second issue, though, is the one I want to stress here. It’s seen a lot less discussion, but it’s even more important than the issue of net energy, and it unfolds from the most ironclad of all the laws of physics, the second law of thermodynamics. The point that needs to be understood is that how much energy you happen to have on hand, even after subtracting the energy cost, doesn’t actually matter a bit when it comes to doing work. The amount of work you get out of a given energy source depends, not on the amount of energy, but on the difference in energy concentration between the energy source and the environment. Please read that again: The amount of work you get out of a given energy source depends, not on the amount of energy it contains, but on the difference in energy concentration between the energy source and the environment. Got that? Now let’s take a closer look at it. Left to itself, energy always moves from more concentrated states to less concentrated states; this is why the coffee in your morning cuppa gets cold if you leave it on the table too long. The heat that was in the coffee still exists, because energy is neither created nor destroyed; it’s simply become useless to you, because most of it’s dispersed into the environment, raising the air temperature in your dining room by a fraction of a degree. There’s still heat in the coffee as well, since it stops losing heat when it reaches room temperature and doesn’t continue down to absolute zero, but room temperature coffee is not going to do the work of warming your insides on a cold winter morning. In a very small way, as you sit there considering your cold coffee, you’re facing an energy crisis; the energy resources you have on hand (the remaining heat in the coffee) will not do the work you want them to do (warming your insides). Notice, though, that you’re not suffering from an energy shortage – there’s exactly the same amount of energy in the dining room as there was when the coffee was fresh from the coffeepot. No, what you have is a shortage of the difference between energy concentrations that will allow the energy to do useful work. (The technical term for this is exergy). How do you solve your energy crisis? One way or another, you have to increase the energy concentration in your energy source relative to the room temperature environment. You might do that by dumping your cold coffee down the drain and pouring yourself a fresh cup, say, or by putting your existing cup on a cup warmer. Either way, though, you have to get some energy to do the work, and that means letting it go from higher to lower concentrations. Any time you make energy do anything, you have to let some of it follow its bliss, so to speak, and pass from a higher concentration to a lower one. The more work you want done, the more exergy you use up; you can do it by allowing a smaller amount of highly concentrated energy to disperse, or by allowing a much larger amount of modestly concentrated energy to do so, or anything in between. One way or another, though, the total difference in energy concentration between source and environment – the total exergy – decreases when work is done. Mind you, you can make energy do plenty of tricks if you’re willing to pay its price; you can change it from one form to another, and you can even concentrate one amount of energy by sacrificing a much larger amount to waste heat; but one way or another, the total exergy in the system goes down. This is why my great discovery at age ten didn’t revolutionize the world and make me rich and famous, as I briefly hoped it would. Electric motors and generators are ways of turning energy from one form into another – from electricity into rotary motion, on the one hand, and from rotary motion into electricity on the other. Each of them necessarily disperses some energy, and thus loses some exergy, in the process. Thus the amount of electricity that you get out of the generator when the shaft is turning at any given speed will always be less than the amount of electricity the motor needs to get the shaft up to that speed. This gets missed whenever people assume that the amount of energy, rather than its concentration, is the thing that matters. Post something on the internet about energy as a limiting factor for civilization, and dollars will get you doughnuts that somebody will respond by insisting that the amount of energy in the universe is infinite. Now of course Garrett Hardin was quite right to point out in Filters Against Folly that when somebody says “X is infinite,” what’s actually being said is “I refuse to think about X;” the word “infinite” functions as a thoughtstopper, a way to avoid paying attention to something that’s too uncomfortable to consider closely. Still, there’s another dimension to the problem, and it follows from the points already raised here. Whether or not there’s an infinite amount of energy in the universe – and we simply don’t know one way or the other – we can be absolutely sure that the amount of highly concentrated energy in the small corner of the universe we can easily access is sharply and distressingly finite. Since energy always tries to follow its bliss, highly concentrated energy sources are very rare, and only occur when very particular conditions happen to be met. In the part of the cosmos that affects us directly, one set of those conditions exist in the heart of the sun, where gravitational pressure squeezes hydrogen nuclei so hard that they fuse into helium. Another set exists here on the Earth’s surface, where plants concentrate energy in their tissues by tapping into the flow of energy dispersing from the sun, and other living things do the same thing by tapping into the energy supplies created by plants. Now and again in the history of life on Earth, a special set of conditions have allowed energy stockpiled by plants to be buried and concentrated further by slow geological processes, yielding the fossil fuels that we now burn so recklessly. There are a few other contexts in which energy can be had in concentrated forms – kinetic energy from water and wind, both of them ultimately driven by sunlight; heat from within the Earth, caught and harnessed as it slowly disperses toward space; a handful of scarce and unstable radioactive elements that can be coaxed into nuclear misbehavior under exacting conditions – but the vast majority of the energy we have on hand here on Earth comes directly or indirectly from the sun. That in itself defines our problem neatly, because by the time it gets through 93 million miles of deep space, then filters its way down through the Earth’s relatively murky atmosphere, the energy in sunlight is pretty thoroughly dispersed. That’s why green plants stockpile only about 1% of the energy in the light striking their leaves; the rest either bounces off the leaves or gets dispersed into waste heat in the process of keeping the plant alive and enabling it to manufacture the sugars that store the 1%. Sunlight just isn’t that concentrated, and you have to disperse one heck of a lot of it to get a very modest amount of energy concentrated enough to do much of anything with it. All this explains as well why the “zero point energy” people are basically smoking their shorts. The premise of zero point energy is that there’s a vast amount of energy woven into the fabric of spacetime; if we can tap into it, we solve all our energy problems and go zooming off to the stars. They do seem to be right that there’s a huge amount of energy in empty space, but once again, the amount of energy does not tell you how much work you can do with it, and zero point energy is by definition at the lowest possible level of concentration. By definition, therefore, it can’t be made to do anything at all, and any attempt to make use of it belongs right up there on the shelf with my motor-generator gimmick. The same logic also explains why projects for coming up with a replacement for fossil fuels using sunlight, or any other readily available renewable energy source, are doomed to fail. What makes fossil fuels so valuable is the fact that the energy they contain was gathered over countless centuries and then concentrated by geological processes involving fantastic amounts of heat and pressure over millions of years. They define the far end of the curve of energy concentration, at least on this planet, which is why they are as scarce as they are, and why no other energy resource can compete with them – as long as they still exist, that is. As concentrated fossil fuel supplies deplete, in turn, a civilization that depends on them for its survival will find itself in a very nasty bind. If ours is anything to go by, it will proceed to make that bind even worse by trying to make up the difference by manufacturing new energy sources at roughly the same level of concentration. That’s a losing bargain, because it maximizes the amount of exergy that gets lost: you have to disperse a lot of energy to make the concentrated energy source, remember, before you can get around to using the concentrated energy source to do anything useful. Thus trying to fill our gas tanks with some manufactured substitute for gasoline, say, drains our remaining supplies of concentrated energy at a much faster pace than the other option – that of doing as much as possible with relatively low concentrations of energy, and husbanding the highly concentrated energy sources for those necessary tasks that can’t be done without them. This is where E.F. Schumacher’s concept of “intermediate technology,” which was discussed in last week’s post, can be fitted into its broader context. Schumacher’s idea was that state-of-the-art factories and an economy dependent on exports to the rest of the world are not actually that useful to a relatively poor nation trying to build an economy from the ground up. He was right, of course – those Third World nations that have prospered are precisely the ones that used trade barriers to shelter low-tech domestic industries, and entered the export market only after building a domestic industrial base one step at a time – but in a future in which all of us will be a good deal poorer than we are today, his insights have a wider value. A state-of-the-art factory, after all, is more expensive in terms much more concrete than paper money; it takes a great deal more exergy to build and maintain one than it does to build and maintain a workshop using hand tools and human muscles to produce the same goods. My readers will doubtless be aware that such considerations have about as much chance of being taken seriously in the governing circles of American politics and business as a snowball has for a long and comfortable stay in Beelzebub’s back yard. Fortunately, the cooperation of the current American political and executive classes is entirely unnecessary. In the next few posts, we’ll discuss some of the ways that individuals, families, and local communities can make the switch from economic dependence on highly concentrated energy sources to reliance on much more modestly concentrated and more widely available options. The fact that most of the energy in our highly concentrated energy sources has already followed its bliss into entropic ecstasy puts hard limits on what can be achieved, but there’s still plenty of room to make a bad situation somewhat better. .

Push 'em Back, Shove 'em Back Way Back!

SUBHEAD: Keep Pushing - Together we will get the bikepath 100% OFF of Wailua Beach. Call the Mayor - thank him and let him know you care: 241-4900. Image above: Hit 'em again, Hit 'em again - Harder Harder! By Jonathan Jay on 26 February 2010 - Last night at the Mayor's meeting in Kilauea, I spoke directly to Bernard about the issue of the path along Wailua still being half-way on the beach - and he really seemed to listen. I thanked him for the work he has done so far in responding to the community's concerns about the alignment of the path, and encouraged him to press more firmly to get the DOT to shift the highway a few more feet mauka - so building onto what is still existing beach can be avoided. He looked me in the eye - and said he would try. Now is the critical time - Add your voice. While a makai path alongside the highway was not everyone's most preferred path placement, keeping all new construction OFF the sand is something we can all agree on. Please now call the mayor's office and offer him your support to keep the beach clear from further encroachment by construction: 241-4900. There is enough room. Between the mauka edge of the highway, and the fence to Coco Palms, there is roughly 30'. This is plenty enough room to shift the road inland to easily accommodate a new lane, a safety barrier, and a pedestrian/bicyle pathway. As things stand right now with the 1/2way compromise, the DOT is not budging. The path has been shrunk to only 8'-0" in width - down from the design standard of 12'-0". All because the DOT is refusing to shift the roadbed. We can do better - the full path width can be restored, and all the construction can take place mauka of the existing stone wall. Push em back - Push em back - Way Back! Maybe is it is a silly metaphor, but as a former football player (and a lineman!), I'll bet Mayor Bernard understands the importance of holding the line. Perhaps it is true that - alone - even a big man like Bernard can not push back the DOT by himself, but that is where "together" comes in. If you can - suit up and get into the scrum! If that is not your cup of tea, you can still play a valuable role as a strong cheering section. Do something! Since the Mayor is just about to announce his plans for re-election, please call him and make sure he understands how important it is to you that together we protect the sands of `Alio from further encroachment. Together we can - and together we will. Call Mayor Bernard's office: 241-4900 .

Here comes the wave

SUBHEAD: Found this "Stuck in Tsunami" video of surfer on monster wave. How did I know on February 25th this would be of any interest? Dunno.

By Juan Wilson on 25 February 2010 for Island Breath -

Image above: Still frame from video below. No, it's a wave not a tsunami. Yes, that's a surfer.  

 I don't usually post videos for the sake of entertainment unless it is satire. This clip caught my eye and breath. I cannot imagine getting onto such a ride voluntarily, but there are those that do. Once you start there is no getting off. Events just take you along and your heroic, yet incremental, efforts to shape the course ahead relies on skill, luck and experience. I guess we are all in that boat when it comes to where the Peak Oil wave is taking us. As my old friend Tom Teitge (once of Hanapepe Town) was fond of saying; "Surf all Things!"

Video above: "Stuck in Tsunami" video of surfer on monster wave. From (


CNBC Poopoo's Greek Protests

SUBHEAD: Reporters banter as Greek struggle with debt and falling quality of life turns violent. Image above: Still from CNBC video clip below. By Mark Haines & Erin Burnetton 25 February 2010 on CNBC - ( Greece was gripped by widespread and violent protests Wednesday as thousands stayed away from work and marched through Athens against planned government spending cuts. .

Avatar - The Prequel

SUBHEAD: Will the Cameron's fllowup Avatar: Earth’s Last Stand sweep the 2013 Oscars? Image above: Detail of painting 'Soldiers in Jungle" by Allan Barnes-Graham 1943-45. From ( By Michael T. Klare on 24 February 2010 in CBS News - ( The anticipation may be building, but we’ll all have to wait for the 82nd Academy Awards on March 7th to find out just how many Oscars the global box-office smash Avatar will receive. That 3-D sci-fi spectacle, directed by James Cameron, has garnered nine nominations, including ones for Best Picture and Best Director, and it’s already overtaken Titanic, another Cameron global blockbuster, as the top money-maker in movie history. But there’s an even bigger question absorbing Avatar’s millions of fans: What will Cameron, who has already indicated that he’s planning to write a novel based on Avatar, do for a screen encore? As it happens, I have a suggestion: skip the sequels on faraway Pandora’s sister worlds, and do the prequel. Admittedly, the movie I have in mind (set in a world that Avatar hints at) would lack the blue-skinned Na’vi people, but it would still feature Jake Scully, this time in his real body, on the most intriguing planet of all: Earth. And given a global audience that can’t get enough of Cameron’s work, how many wouldn’t pay big bucks for a chance to take a Pandora-style, sensory-expanding guided tour of our own planet? It would be part of a harrowing tale of environmental degradation, resource scarcity, and perennial conflict in the twilight years of humanity’s decline. Think of it as Avatar: Earth’s Last Stand. Cameron offers many indications in Avatar that this is the logical direction for him to take. At a poignant moment before the climactic battle between the Na’vi and the remorseless humans begins, for instance, Scully, the renegade Marine turned native rebel, pleads for help from Eywa, the goddess who rules over Pandora:
“See, the world we come from -- there’s no green there -- they killed their Mother.”
At another point, Colonel Quaritch, the homicidal Marine commander played with gusto by Stephen Lang, refers to Scully’s previous service with the First Marine Reconnaissance unit on Earth, highlighting his three combat tours in Venezuela. “That was some mean bush,” he says. Then, speaking of his own combat record, Quaritch alludes to fierce fighting in Nigeria. For anyone familiar with the present competition for global energy resources, Venezuela and Nigeria stand out as major oil producers with a history of civil strife. 2144 in 3-D Imagine them, then, on a future, energy-starved planet. In fact, I can easily picture such a future, so let me take one more step and offer myself to Cameron as a technical consultant on his prequel. Admittedly, I wouldn’t be the person to write the film’s plot or script -- I know my limits -- but when it comes to charting future resource wars, I think I could be useful. Drawing on Cameron’s clues in Avatar and my own books, including Resource Wars, Blood and Oil, and Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet, let me just sketch out the prequel scenario I envision: It’s the torrid summer of 2144, just a decade before Avatar begins. (That movie takes place in summer 2154, after a flight from Earth that, we’re told, involves six continuous years of sleep, which helps us backdate Jake Scully’s Venezuelan combat tours.) As it has been for decades, the world is at war, with competing power blocs fighting bitterly over a diminishing pool of vital resources. Three great power centers dominate the global resource struggle, all located in the northern latitudes where the climate still remains tolerable and the land still receives sufficient rainfall to support agriculture. • The first of these, in whose legions both Scully and Quaritch fight, is the North American Federation, founded after the United States, facing desertification in its southern half, invaded and absorbed Canada. • The second, Greater China, incorporating northern China, the Korean peninsula, and eastern Siberia (seized from Russia in a series of wars), dominates what’s left of Asia. • The third, the North European Alliance, encompassing Germany, Russia (west of the Urals), and Scandinavia, relies heavily on Arctic resources. As in the world portrayed by George Orwell in 1984, these powers continually jockey for dominance in shifting alliances, while their armies face one another in the torrid, still relatively resource-rich parts of the planet. In this neo-Orwellian world, warfare and the constant pressure of resource competition are the only constants. Thanks to global warming, the planet’s tropical and subtropical regions, including large parts of Africa, the Mediterranean basin, the Middle East, and South and Southeast Asia, as well as Mexico and the American Southwest, have become virtually uninhabitable. Many island nations and coastal areas, including much of Florida, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and the Philippines, lie under water. Critical raw materials like oil, coal, natural gas, uranium, copper, and cobalt are perennially scarce. Starvation is a constant fear for those not affluent enough to pay for increasingly expensive genetically-modified crops and meat produced on corporate farms with multiple chemical inputs. Large-scale industrial civilization still persists, but many once-industrialized areas have been abandoned, and what factories and transport systems remain are constantly constrained by limited energy supplies and the lack of steady flows of vital resources. Oil is particularly hard to come by, and so, in all three power blocs, its use is largely restricted to the military, security forces, emergency services, the largest of corporations, and the very rich. (If you want to get a sense of such a world, imagine Mel Gibson’s 1979 movie Road Warrior on steroids.) Other sources of energy, including natural gas and uranium, are also in increasingly scant supply. Renewable sources, including wind and solar power, help to make up some, but not enough, of the difference, while a shortage of critical minerals -- copper, cobalt, tin, manganese, titanium -- limits the scale of many industrial undertakings. For ordinary people -- and only somewhat less so for the elites of the planet’s heavily militarized states -- survival is a constant struggle. Outside of the industrialized power centers, life involves a daily search for food, water, and energy of any sort, as well as whatever precious goods (gems, weapons, bits of technology) might be traded to get those basics. For the big corporations and their government sponsors, as they send the Scullys and Quadritches to the distant corners of the planet to enforce their will, the struggle is no less fierce for control of the world’s few remaining deposits of oil, natural gas, coal, copper, and uranium. In 2144, only five areas of the world still possess any significant reserves of oil and natural gas: Russia (and contiguous areas of the former Soviet Union), the Persian Gulf, West Africa (including Nigeria), the Orinoco basin of Venezuela, and the now long ice-free Arctic. Even these areas have been substantially depleted, giving the remaining deposits staggering value to whichever country or company controls them. If these are not quite as valuable as “unobtanium,” the rare metal being plundered from Pandora and brought back to Earth, they are close enough to be thought of as “barely-obtanium.” Life (and Death) on a Depleted Planet For the record, I’m being an optimist here for the sake of Avatar: Earth’s Last Stand. Based on my own assessment of planetary energy resources, I doubt that any oil or natural gas worth drilling for will remain in 2144. But for narrative purposes, if such deposits are to be found anywhere almost a century and a half from now, the likely candidates are: the Persian Gulf area because it still possesses the world’s largest combined reserves of oil and natural gas, and so probably will be the last to run out; Russia, Africa, and the Orinoco basin because they have to date been spared intensive exploitation by the major Western firms, and so still retain substantial recoverable reserves; and the Arctic, which will only become fully accessible to oil producers when global warming has melted the ice cap. Given the tripartite global power structure of 2144, Russian oil and gas reserves will have been divided between the North European Alliance, controlling western Siberia and the Caucasus, and Greater China, garrisoning eastern Siberia and Central Asia. The Arctic will be a constant source of conflict among all three blocs, with periodic fighting breaking out concerning overlapping territorial claims in the region. That leaves the Persian Gulf, West Africa, and Venezuela -- the sites of constant warfare between the Na’vi of this planet and the various expeditionary forces sent out by the three big power blocs which, often in temporary alliances of convenience, will also be fighting each other. Already, we can get a sense of what this might look like. Under its ultra-nationalist president Hugo Chávez, Venezuela has sought to distance itself from its traditional client, the United States, and bolstered its ties with Russia and China. As part of this effort, Venezuela has purchased billions of dollars worth of arms from Russia and forged a strategic energy alliance with China. Claiming evidence of a U.S. plan to invade his country, Chávez has also conducted sizeable self-defense maneuvers and strengthened the military’s control over ports and other infrastructure. Looking into the future, one can imagine a time, some decades distant, when Venezuela is a satellite of Greater China and its deposits of heavy oil -- the largest remaining on the planet -- are reserved for China’s exclusive use. Under these circumstances, it is not hard to imagine a move by the North American Federation to oust the prevailing Venezuelan regime by launching an invasion on a remote stretch of coast and striking out for the capital, Caracas. The Venezuelans, backed up by Chinese expeditionary forces, might manage to halt the invasion, but fail to dislodge the North Americans, holed up in harsh patches of the countryside. Brutal fighting might follow -- the "mean bush" mentioned by Quaritch in Avatar. Jake Scully, sent back into this gruesome contest for his third deployment, is gravely wounded and barely survives the trek back to safety. If Venezuela is still a peaceful land today, Nigeria is already conflict-ridden and certainly destined to be a major battlefield in the unending resource wars of a future planet. Possessing the largest pool of untapped oil and natural gas in Africa, it is already the site of a fierce competitive economic struggle involving the United States, China, Russia, and the European Union, all of which seek to exploit the nation’s energy riches. Nigeria’s oil and gas reserves were first developed by Royal Dutch Shell and British Petroleum (now BP) -- a legacy of the country’s past as a British colony - but now American, Chinese, and European firms have acquired drilling rights to valuable hydrocarbon deposits. Russia, too, has entered the scene, promising to help build a natural gas pipeline from the Niger Delta in southern Nigeria across the Sahara to the Mediterranean coast for eventual shipment to Europe. Disgruntled inhabitants of the Niger Delta area, where most of the country’s oil is produced and few benefits are ever seen, have taken up arms in a struggle to receive a bigger share of the nation’s oil revenues. Both the United States and China are competing to provide the Nigerian government with military aid to defeat the insurgents, hoping to strengthen their respective positions in the country’s oil fields in the process. Again, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine a scenario in which, 134 years from now (or a lot sooner), Nigeria has fallen under the sway of Greater China or the North American Federation and Colonel Quaritch and his cohort are carrying out combat operations in the Delta’s jungle regions, a setting not so unlike Pandora’s, with obvious Cameron-esque possibilities. Where else might Scully, Quaritch, and their buddies be sent to fight? As a start, don’t assume that the current fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan will simply end or that the United States will ever willingly withdraw its forces from a whole string of bases in the Persian Gulf area. As long as the United States obtains part of its oil from the region -- and the North American Federation might still be fighting to do so in 2144 -- U.S. forces are likely to remain. Given the historic enmities that divide the region and a widespread antipathy to the U.S. presence, don’t be surprised if North American Federation forces are still in battle there deep into the twenty-second century. Finally, the warming Arctic, not currently on the global conflict map, could also experience warfare as it attracts major oil and gas drilling operations. The region also houses some of the world’s last remaining indigenous communities that still practice a traditional way of life, and which will undoubtedly face the sort of habitat-destroying invasions pictured in Avatar. Still, as Cameron imagined, despite constant warfare, the North American Federation (like the other major power centers) will, by 2144, still find itself in desperate need of vital materials, no longer easily available on this planet. Economic conditions, even for privileged elites, will by then be deteriorating rapidly. It is in this context that the giant mining corporations might join in a fabulously expensive bid to use space travel to replenish the planet’s resources, voyaging to distant Pandora to extract its precious supply of unobtanium, a miraculous new source of energy. It’s not that hard to imagine just such a future world if we continue on our present course toward ever greater resource consumption, increased carbon emissions, and the militarization of resource dependency. Can you doubt that the movie Cameron and I would make, Avatar: Earth’s Last Stand, would be both gripping and spectacular? It would be an amazing, if tension-producing place to visit in 3-D. Here’s the only catch: you wouldn’t want to live there. .

Guam DEIS "Environmentally Unsatisfactory"

SUBHEAD: The Environmental Protection Agency calls military GUAM expansion plan unsound. Image above: Still from titles of video below from Pacific News Center. By Clynt Ridgell on 25 February 2010 at Pacific News Center - ( Guam - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that the Department of Defense's Draft Environmental Impact Statement of the military buildup is "environmentally unsatisfactory." This comes from a comment paper submitted by the USEPA that is over 100 pages long.

Read the Summary in the Cover Letter of EPA's Assessment of The Guam DEIS

Read the EPA's Assessment of The Guam DEIS

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reviewed the 9 volume long Draft Environmental Impact statement of the Guam / CNMI military buildup. Their assessment is that the DEIS is "Environmentally Unsatisfactory". The USEPA gave the DEIS an EU-3 rating. This is the absolute worst rating that the USEPA could have given to the DEIS.

Here's some of their reasons for this rating. For the EU rating the USEPA cites the lack of a specific plan to address the wastewater treatment and water supply needs of the construction workers and induced population growth. The USEPA says this may result in "significant adverse public health impacts."

The second reason is that the "project will result in unacceptable impacts to 71 acres of high quality coral reef ecosystem in Apra harbor."

Then there are the reasons for the 3 rating. The category 3 rating is also the worst rating that they can give it means that the DEIS is inadequate. The first reason for this is that the DEIS offers no specific workable plan for addressing the enormous increase in Guam's population. Finally, the methodology used in the DEIS for evaluating the full extent of impacts to coral reef habitat is not adequate. That is the DEIS does not present an adequate plan for mitigating the unavoidable loss of coral reef habitat.

The EPA also listed several primary concerns. First that the DEIS inappropiately excludes the impacts of construction workers and induced population growth. Secondly the military realignment to Guam will result in an immediate island-wide shortfall in water supply. This will result in low water pressure which has a direct result on public health. It could lead to increased exposure to water borne disease from sewage stormwater infiltration into drinking water and low water pressure for fire fighting. It could also result in saltwater intrusion into Guam's acquifer. Then there is the problems of an already inudated wastewater system. The USEPA says the miltary buildup will result in an increase in raw sewage spills. This means people will be exposed to raw sewage in their drinking water supply, ocean recreation, and shellfish consumption. Finally DOD's inadequate assessment of the dredging of coral in Apra harbor could lead the USEPA to find them in violation of the Clean Water Act.

Furthermore the USEPA states that "These impacts are of sufficient magnitude that EPA believes the action should not proceed as proposed."

CCU Chairman Simon Sanchez has read some of the USEPA's comments and he says they mirror most of what GWA has been saying all along. Sanchez will be meeting with the USEPA and DOD on the second week of March.

Meanwhile the USEPA says that if they are unable to resolve their concerns they may forward the matter to the Council on Environmental Quality.

Video above: Report on EPA review on Guam military DEIS From ( See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Guam as modern Bikini Atoll 12/25/09 .

Prescription for (Killing) the Planet

SUBHEAD: We need to stop murdering the living planet on which we depend. Image above: Rusted cars filling the natural landscape. From (!.html) By Guy McPherson on 23 February 2010 in Nature Bats Last - (

"Prescription for the Planet" was written by Tom Blees and published in 2008. It was recommended to me, with a strong sense of urgency, by a couple friends. It is written in a very compelling style, which is too bad because it suckers people into the kind of wishful thinking for which we’ve become infamous in this country.

Indeed, "Prescription for the Planet" promises to save the planet. But instead, it develops a prescription for furthering the industrial economy and therefore killing the planet. Saving? Killing? Apparently some people think these words are synonymous.

Ultimately, Blees’ plan boils down to two “solutions,” both of them extremely suspect. First, he claims we can we can ramp up production of renewable energy systems and also fourth-generation nuclear reactors to keep the power on. Indeed, Blees claims our lives depend on electricity. As such, he dismisses the first two million years of the human experience. If our lives depend on electricity, it’s because we’ve abandoned a viable, durable set of living arrangements in exchange for endless opportunities to destroy the living planet. Second, Blees promotes the notion that boron-powered automobiles will keep us on the highways. And he thinks that’d be a good thing. After all, boron seems to be essentially limitless on this world. Just as crude oil seemed, not so long ago.

First, let’s consider and dismiss Blees’ electrical option. Figures on energy supply and efficiency are readily available for renewable systems, so it is relatively simple to evaluate Blees’ map to determine whether “alternative” energy sources can fill the void at the scale of a world with nearly seven billion people.

They can’t. And it’s not even close. I don’t know a single energy-literate individual who thinks we can replace fossil fuels with alternatives by 2030. Most people who write about energy issues have concluded we’ll be firmly in the post-industrial Stone Age well before 2030. I’ll not run the numbers here because I’ve run them many times already, and so have a lot of people a lot smarter than me. But I’ll start by picking a few nits, then I’ll move on to the big-picture moral issues we try so hard to avoid in our national conversations.

And, I’ve written about one kajillion times, that all electrical power is derived from oil, even nuclear power. We use plenty of oil to transport nuclear materials (even the stuff Blees discusses). And also for maintaining the grid. And then there’s the massive mountain of concrete needed to build cooling towers for nuclear power plants. As a result, nuclear plants become carbon neutral only after about 20 years in operation, at which point we start shutting them down for safety reasons.

And what about those cars? Building a planet’s worth of boron-powered cars will require a lot of oil. My Prius uses less energy than the cars Blees writes about, but it still requires more energy to construct than a Hummer. I seriously doubt we have enough oil in the world to make enough cars to replace the U.S. fleet, much less get a billion Chinese cars on the road. And then there’s the issue of financing, in a world where credit is drying up faster than Lake Mead. Who will be able to buy a $40,000 car with cash?

If all goes according to Blees’ plan, the first fourth-generation nuclear power plant will be producing electricity in 2015. I strongly suspect, and hope, that we’ll be in the new Dark Age by then. This Dark Age will cause much suffering and death among industrial humans. And I think it’s our only chance to save the living planet, and our own species.

Further along Blees’ road to ruin, by 2020 plasma energy will fulfill 5% of our energy “needs” and boron-powered cars will be filling the roads. I cannot imagine a scenario in which we will avoid landing in the post-industrial Stone Age by then.

And even further along the route of Blees’ nuclear wet dreams, we’ll have all the nuke plants we need to satisfy the world’s demand for electricity by 2050. If we come even remotely close to that goal, there will be no humans on the planet to use the electricity. The latest (ultra-conservative) projections indicate extinction of our species by mid-century.

And that’s just the small stuff. The moral issues are much more daunting.

The further we go into ecological overshoot, the worse the outcome will be for every species on the planet, including our own. Maintaining the ability to produce more cars, and more babies, is a prescription for the planet, all right: a prescription for disaster. There are limits to growth. I strongly suspect they’re driven, in this country, by the price of oil. If not, rarity of other materials will force our hand.

Hopefully, our hand will be forced in time to prevent our extinction. It won’t happen, though, if we return to the American lifestyle of happy motoring. We certainly do not need to export car culture, and its many attendant consequence, to other nations.

Meanwhile, against Blees’ backdrop of fourth-generation nuclear ambitions, Barack Obama is pushing for an older version of nuclear dreams. He’s committing serious bling to build nuclear reactors in all the wrong places, ignoring the fact that nuclear power is the twentieth century’s most expensive technological failure. Even Time magazine knows this bet won’t pay off, that the nuclear dream is really a nightmare. Even as Obama pursues failed technology in the homeland –- while denying other countries the same option — he wants to maintain or expand our nuclear arsenal in the name of security (sic).

Fortunately, the next great economic crash is right around the corner. After the China bubble pops, the human population bubble surely will follow. It’s time to grow accustomed to chaos as an everyday event.

As usual, you can count on me for the good news associated with life in the doomosphere. Soon enough, we won’t be threatening the entire living planet with extinction via carbon dioxide emissions. Or by flooding the atmosphere with methane.

Soon enough, we won’t be spending all your hard-earned tax money on oil, much less on securing that oil at the point of a bazooka. Soon enough, Afghanistan will be a distant memory instead of a broad expanse of imperial killing fields. Soon enough, Obusha will not be able to order the massacre of civilians on a whim. Soon enough, the world’s largest companies will not be able to cause $2.2 trillion worth environmental degradation each year.

On the other hand, it’s time you started thinking about how to spend your own money, while sellers still think it has inherent value.

I know my message is not the one desired by industrial humans. We want our children to have more stuff than we had. Instead of more stuff, I want them to have more of the living planet, if only to insure their own survival (and that of our species). In contrast, Obama’s dream is the same as Ronald Reagan’s dream: economic growth at all costs, including obedience at home, oppression abroad, and the devastation of the planet and all non-Americans (with the possible exception of Israelis).

Western civilization is omnicidal. We need to stop murdering the living planet on which we depend, instead of attempting to extend the reach of western civilization. And we’re running out of time. Fortunately, the conquest of the living planet has turned into a war. And now, finally, this war has two sides. Which side are you on?


Cash-for-clunker Appliances

SUBHEAD: The new incentives are for getting appliances that carry the government's Energy Star label. Image above: Lone undercounter refrigerator recycled at the Hanapepe, Kauai, Transfer Station ion Hawaii. Photo by Juan Wilson. By Julie Schmit on 23 February 2010 in USA Today - (
Three dozen states will launch programs in March and April to distribute almost $300 million in rebates to consumers buying energy-efficient appliances.

The federally funded programs, similar to the cash-for-clunkers auto rebate program last year, are intended to improve energy efficiency and stimulate the economy. Rebates differ by state and appliance.

Eight states launched programs this month, including New York, which offered $50 to $75 rebates on refrigerators, washers and freezers. On opening weekend, "There were people waiting outside every store to get started," says Doug Moore, president of appliances for Sears, which opened early to meet demand.

New York's $18.7 million program was set to expire Sunday but was extended because millions remained. "It's been a boon to consumers and retailers," says Francis Murray, CEO of the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority.

Michigan launched its program Feb. 10. It expects it'll take four months to distribute the $9 million in rebates, says Stephanie Epps, appliance analyst for the Michigan Bureau of Energy Systems. "The weak economy has a lot to do with it," Epps says.

Some states started programs earlier. Each state sets the rules and dates of their programs. Oregon and Kansas require applicants to be low income. Alaska has reserved rebates for people with disabilities.

To qualify for rebates, consumers must buy Energy Star appliances, which meet energy standards set by the federal government and are up to 30% more efficient than standard models, Murray says.

Many states offer rebates for refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers and water heaters, Moore says. Some states are more restrictive. Many offer extra rebates if consumers recycle old appliances. Rebates are largely first come, first served. In Michigan, consumers can reserve rebates, then buy and apply, Epps says.

The Department of Energy, at, provides information on each state's program.

Some say the programs' costs will outweigh the benefits. University of Delaware economics professors George Parsons and Burton Abrams estimate that for every dollar spent on the programs, they'll return 94 cents in environmental benefits.

The benefits will be muted because some consumers will buy appliances they would've bought anyway, Parsons says. Some appliances will be retired sooner than they could be. Also, some people may buy new refrigerators but keep old ones, too.

Hawaii Appliance Rebates (

The State of Hawaii will implement a mail-in rebate program to help residents replace older, inefficient appliances with ENERGY STAR® qualified appliances. The program, to be run through Hawaii’s utilities, is tentatively scheduled to begin in April 2010, and will continue until funds are depleted.

Eligible products include

  • Refrigerators

Residents must include both the new appliance sales receipt and proof that the replaced products were removed and recycled.

Contacts: Oahu, Big Island, Maui, Mololokai, and Lanai and Kauai Island Utility Cooperative

Total Funding: $1,236,000

Burtynsky aims at big picture

SUBHEAD: Photographer's recent focus is on water rooted in political power and control. Image above: Lake Baikal is the most voluminous freshwater lake in the world with roughly 20 percent of the world's surface fresh water (Wikipedia). Photo by David Lang from ( By Murray Whyte on 23 February 2010 in the Star - (

For more than two decades, Toronto artist Edward Burtynsky has been making large-scale photographs of scenes of humankind's staggering ability to bend the natural landscape to its will. From freight trains slicing through sheer mountain faces to rivers of molten slag in Northern Ontario to the oil-saturated beaches of the Chittagong Delta in Bangladesh, where decommissioned oil tankers are broken down for scrap, Burtynsky has captured the startling scale of humanity's viral invasion of the planet – one that has only accelerated since his work began.

Most recently, Burtynsky mounted a show of work specific to the oil industry: both its environmental ravages and its globe-spanning influence. He's currently at work on another long-term project about something more elemental: water, both its absence and its absolute necessity.

Q: In the past, your work with heavy industry hasn't necessarily been topical – railways, mining, ship-breaking all operate at an astonishing scale but aren't necessarily front-of-mind issues. With oil, and now water, you've turned to some real hot-button subjects.

A: I think, as I'm progressing through this train of thought, which started 30 years ago, the next logical step for me as an artist – this is where it was pointing to. Mining, resource extraction – those are big issues. I think when we're engaged with transforming a landscape for our own use, it always raises a lot of questions because of the scale at which we engage.

But here, with the water issue, the difference is that there's a water crisis brewing. You can talk about climate change or peak oil; either one of these can bring on seismic changes in our society. But water has the most potential for dramatic, immediate impact. For instance, when water's not there, there's not a lot of time. Within days, cities collapse, society starts to unravel.

Q: With this kind of urgency, it would be easy for the work to come across as alarmist. But you've always taken a distant perspective – standing far back and letting the images tell their own story.

A: Sure. My work has always been a journey of learning, trying to understand our world and where the thresholds are: how we're using the planet and where we're coming close to the edge.

That's been the undercurrent, without the work being didactic, but trying to hover within that zone of contemplation.

Q: In a way, with oil and now water, that allows a deeper kind of contemplation, in that these are the two things that underpin our continued existence on the planet and they're both in crisis.

A: Well, yeah. Only 3 per cent of the world is water and we're using it like drunken sailors. We don't have a system as beautiful and efficient as the hydrological system, where evaporation from the oceans can be taken into the clouds and drop fresh water onto our land.

We've taken for granted that this is an infinite cycle – we're always going to have this, refreshing our land, our lakes and rivers. We're quickly finding out that this is not the case.

Q: So is this a departure from your previous priorities, of industrial consequences, to something more elemental?

A: Not necessarily. I'm not just trying to paint this bigger picture of humans and water.

One of the chapters I'm working on is how human beings control water, because if you can do that, ultimately, that's at the core of political power and you can control society.

If you don't have water, you don't have food – it's at the base of the hierarchy – if you don't have basic needs dealt with then you have no control. You have people who are ecological refugees, immediately.

It could get very ugly as people are literally trying to land on the shores of a country where they see hope of solving their problems. And I believe we'll be seeing this sort of thing in my lifetime.

Q: So this is really the undercurrent: political power and control.

A: Absolutely. And that has made for some very short-term thinking. In the Southwestern U.S., the biggest aquifer in North America has been feeding the corn boom, and they're literally draining it dry. It would be like if you were given a lake that spanned seven states, and put a straw in it and sucked it dry. It would be like draining Lake Superior.

When you hit the bottom, that's it; there's no rain there. This has huge implications, at least initially, for the economy down there. You won't be selling retirement condos in Arizona and California if you tell them there's only 10 years of water left.

Q: So what happens?

A: That's where it gets interesting. There will be a howl that will ring across the world, especially from the wealthy, towards every political force there is. They'll be looking at anything – the Great Lakes, anything – to save this investment.

Video above: Edward Burtynsky, TED prize talk on sustainability and photography (

See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Photographs of Oil 11/1/09


KIUC candidates' answers

SUBHEAD: The KIUC board candidates were each asked three questions by the Garden Island News. Here are the results. Image above: The Human Energy Convertor (H.E.C.) was 14-human powered electric generator capable of a sustained 1kw at 24 volts. This may be our KIUC future if bad planning continues. From ( [Publisher's note: The following opinions are those of Juan Wilson concerning the KIUC board candidates. They are based solely on the responses of the candidates to the TGI questions detailed below. Other Island Breath editors have varying opinions. We realize that future circumstances may make a difference how we might vote. None the less, at this date if we were to vote for three candidates we recommend Carol Bain, Pat Gegen, and Allan Smith. We were to vote two candidates we recommend Carol Bain and Pat Gegen. We have re-ordered the responses to the questions in our order of preference of the candidates.] By Staff on 21 February 2010 in Garden Island News - ( A candidates forum will be held at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, at the Kaua‘i Community College cafeteria in Puhi. Ballots will be mailed to all members early next month for the March 27 election. Members will also be able to vote online and by phone. Visit for more information. The five candidates running to serve on the KIUC Board of Directors were asked the following three preliminary questions.

1. In 200 words or less, why are you running to serve on the KIUC Board of Directors?

2. In 100 words or less, what experience and/or expertise will you bring to the board?

3. In 200 words or less, what would you do as a board member to help the co-op meet its renewable energy goals? (Generating at least 50 percent of its electricity renewably without burning fossil fuels by 2023).

Below are the candidates response.

Carol Bain *****

1. Two key reasons I am running to serve on the KIUC Board of Directors:

• To guide the KIUC team to reach strategic goals, including reducing our fossil fuel dependence through conservation, efficiency, renewable alternatives.

• To encourage KIUC to recognize the cooperative member as the owner and move away from the investor-owned utility mindset of viewing owners as customers. To better communicate with its members, KIUC shall consider all as partners working together on energy solutions.

KIUC has a tremendous renewable resource that can be tapped: its own membership. As second term KIUC board member, my next priority is to involve our members in the energy challenges that face Kaua‘i. Together, we are the energy solutions leaders.

In 2007, I ran for KIUC board to get access to the information that I knew board members had and succeeded. Once “inside” I became impressed with the highly qualified staff I met. I am confident KIUC has the technical expertise to meet strategic goals, but as a board member my role is to guide our cooperative toward timely completion by keeping on budget, staying informed, asking hard questions, and correct the path if we are off-point.

2. My formal education includes a M Ed. in Educational Communications and Technology and a B.S. in Public Communication and Journalism. I have taught college level communications and journalism courses, and know the importance of research and planning to achieve better outcomes. I own a media production and consulting company. As an experienced grant writer, I understand budgeting for successful projects, the importance of timelines and ongoing evaluation process.

I have three years experience as a cooperative utility board member, served as Policy Chair in 2009, and as a Credentialed Cooperative Director, completed over 15 energy-related workshops including Financial Decision Making; Director Duties & Liabilities; Understanding the Electric Business; Strategic Planning, etc.

I bring the good common sense of an educator, business and home owner and 27-year resident to ask hard questions, demand open communications with membership, and commitment to represent the best interest of all KIUC members.

3. Our electric utility and our island are in a time of transition from energy dependence to independence. During the past three years as a KIUC board member, I contributed a sense of urgency to initiate projects to reduce our dependence upon fossil fuel. Over 2 MW of solar PV systems have been installed on the island and contribute renewable electric energy into our grid every day. Renewable projects are planned, including hydro, biomass, solar thermal and solar PV, that I will continue to support as a board member.

In January 2010, along with other board members, I witnessed the installation of a solar PV project on a KIUC warehouse roof that will provide 68-kilowatt of renewable energy from sunny Port Allen. Every day the sun shines, less fossil fuel will be used.

KIUC has a tighter budget and a vision of energy leadership now, but must be guided along this path. As a board member, I will vote to prioritize conservation projects, oversee the planned implementation of “Smart Grid” technology, and alternatives to fossil fuel.

I will be there to ask the hard questions if renewable energy and conservation projects are delayed, and will be part of the board team to guide KIUC to successfully reach the 50 percent goal by 2023.

Pat Gegen ****

1. I am running for KIUC Board of Directors because I am frustrated with the current board’s actions and their inaction toward meeting the goals they set for themselves or those that have been set by the Hawai‘i Clean Energy Initiative.

After attending the board meetings for the past year I have been witness to many votes that have been contradictory in nature to the stated long-term goals and have not been in the best long-term interest for KIUC’s member owners or our beautiful island. Too many decisions are based on short-term goals that will not set the utility up well into the future. Changes are occurring now but sometimes only because they are being forced on KIUC.

We need a Board of Directors that is focused on the long-term good of the co-op and the island, a board that is looking out for its members’ best interest going forward. I feel that with my background in the energy field and my vision for a clean and renewable based energy future for Kaua‘i I can help guide our utility to be a co-op the member owners can be proud of.

2. I have been involved in the energy field for the past 13 years in a variety of positions. Currently I am a consultant on the design/build team for Honolulu Sea Water Air Conditioning which is going to use the thermal dynamics of the ocean to cool office buildings in downtown Honolulu saving approximately 70 percent of the energy currently used to air condition these buildings.

Prior to this I was involved in the oil and gas industry for over 11 years where my focus was on safety, environmental excellence and profitable production. I was responsible for setting and executing multi-million-dollar budgets and projects as well as the day-to-day operations of the 8th largest and one of the cleanest oil refineries in the United States. Prior to this energy field experience I was a school counselor and teacher for five years in the Kaua‘i District before and after Hurricane Iniki.

3. To help KIUC meet its renewable energy goals I would not have voted for a work plan which includes a fossil-fuel generator like the current board approved.

I would have pushed for a renewed look at this plan and explored other potential generation capabilities to replace this short-sighted lack of vision. I would push for looking at the rate structure and figure out the best method for promoting and encouraging smart conservation while making it attractive for small and large scale power generators to be connected to the KIUC grid.

I would look for ways to not lose the large commercial users of electricity (resorts, government, businesses). The more commercial customers that find alternative energy systems to be more cost effective than KIUC creates a larger burden on those of us dependent on KIUC. If KIUC is to meet the self-directed initiative of reaching 50 percent renewable generation by 2023 (only 13 short years) and they want to keep our future rates in a reasonable area the KIUC board needs to be much more aggressive in committing and moving toward renewable alternatives. I want to help KIUC meet and exceed their current goals in a cost-effective manner for the good of Kaua‘i.

Allan Smith ***

1. I am running for a second three-year term. I will continue to make a positive difference in transforming KIUC to become independent of close government oversight (PUC) and become more member-governed. We will work to achieve a high level of sustainable energy solutions while keeping power affordable and reliable. I have demonstrated that I possess the required skills, knowledge and disciplines required to set policy for this dynamic organization. I have gained more understanding of and insights unique to KIUC’s challenges over the past three years. We need to continue to move ahead smartly.

2. My many years in leadership roles in agribusiness, business and our community give me the basis to share experience and guidance with other board members and senior staff. My working for large land-based companies on Kaua‘i was rewarding and an intimate knowledge of Kaua‘i’s environment, geography, natural resources and our citizens was gained.

3. We must continue to move ahead on two significant areas. The first is conservation- and demand-side management which is not as expensive as new generation equipment. Second is the support of good sustainable projects that use local resources. Products and energy harvested on Kaua‘i need to be brought on line. The 2023 goal of 50 percent renewables will need to have the present projects that are being contemplated such as Green Energy and Pacific West to become successful. New fuels from bio-algae or other not-yet-developed sources will also need to become reality.

Image above: The Headwaters Forest Protest PA system was powered by the H.E.C. in 1995.

Jan TenBruggencate **

1. Our utility requires guidance that is grounded in the needs of the community yet comfortable with both traditional generation and cutting edge technologies. I have been encouraged to serve, both by people inside the utility and in the larger community, and I hope be given the opportunity to help make a difference.

These are challenging times for our electric cooperative. Our almost total dependence on oil for our electrical generation places our county at extreme risk.

The environmental costs of a fossil fuel-based system are undeniable. The security risks associated with supply disruptions are significant. But for most residents, the immediate threat is the uncontrolled volatility in electricity bills associated with swings in oil price. Kaua‘i families cannot budget for power bills that spike and crash.

We need to get stable, affordable power generation in place, and soon. And we must also address electrical demand with conservation and efficiency programs even more aggressive than those now in place. We must — and we can — help residents cut their energy bills without compromising comfort and quality of life.

2. I have lived in Hawai‘i almost all my life. I am active in the community, a coach, volunteer, member of community organizations and the operator of my own small business. Most of my career has been as a researcher and communicator, which I believe are important assets for today’s utility board.

I have long experience in public policy discussions. As a part of my job as science writer with The Honolulu Advertiser, and more recently as an independent consultant, I have worked on many of the conservation, generation, efficiency, renewable technology and other issues facing our electric utility.

3. This goal should not be difficult to achieve if we work hard on it. Just a generation ago, half of the island’s power was produced from renewable resources — primarily bagasse and the power of falling water. We still have a skilled workforce trained and capable of operating biomass and hydroelectric facilities. There appear to be opportunities to move forward on new electricity generating plants in both of these areas. Between them, they could nearly get us to the 50 percent renewable goal.

There are also newer technologies under discussion. Among them, solar thermal, solar photovoltaic, plasma arc, biofuel, landfill gas, waste-to-energy, wind and ocean power. Wave power projects are being tested on both Maui and at Kane‘ohe, O‘ahu.

But just because there’s a bright new energy idea doesn’t mean it’s right for Kaua‘i. We can not simply grab at any project that comes along. Some new energy technologies have significant environmental consequences of their own. Some are just so new they can’t yet be trusted. Some have reliability issues. Some intermittent sources have energy storage challenges for which there are no obvious answers today.

We need careful, considered judgment as we move into the energy future.

Carol Medeiros *

1. One of the main reasons for running for the KIUC Board of Directors was the cost of my electric bill. Whenever something really irritates me, I try to find the reason and if possible find solution. The best place to get the answer is from the board.

I would like to see more communication between the board and the members. Over the past few weeks more good things have come to light that KIUC does for the low-income members.

Having served on two condo boards and also the Dog Fancier’s of Kaua‘i board, it should be a challenge and exciting experience to take on this job.

2. My main qualifications have been developed over the last 35 years as president/treasurer of C.A.L.M. Inc. The business specializes in tax accounting and payroll. I have worked with hundreds of business people in advising on budgeting and helping to make good business choices. With the current economy, good choices are most important. I have two college degrees, was a licensed securities dealer, and also am a paralegal. I was instrumental in setting up Wilcox Hospital and the County of Kaua‘i in their computer systems back in the early 1970s.

3. I have not been able to read the material on the goals of KIUC in the next 13 years.

I can say that they are promoting solar use by giving rebates and loans to residents. The use of wind power, perhaps in a barren location, could be a possibility. Having the solar farms are a great idea. The main savings would come from the residents and businesses by getting solar and buying hybrid cars. We have to make good choices for our personal use.