Posts Tagged ‘Fossil Fuels’

Book on Working People’s Environmentalism in the US

September 16, 2017

Chad Montrie, A People’s History of Environmentalism in the United States (London: Continuum 2011)

I found this yesterday in the £3 bookshop on Bristol’s Park Street. It’s clearly inspired by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which told the story of the US as it affected ordinary working, blue-collar Americans and other marginalized groups, like Blacks and the indigenous peoples. It challenged the dominant, right-wing narrative of how America was founded by rich, White, and immensely wise Founding Fathers as a uniquely just society. Zinn has since passed away, but his book inspired Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s collection of radical British historical texts, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport. Contemporary scholarship has superseded some of Zinn’s work, paradoxically showing that in some areas such as ethnic minorities, his opinions were too moderate. But the Republicans still utterly despise him and his book. Looking at one right-wing website I found a list of books its readers hated and considered harmful to America. Zinn’s was one of them.

This book on working Americans and the environmental movement is particularly urgent now that Trump is set on trying to complete the destruction of both. I haven’t done more than glance at the book, but there’s a summary of the book’s contents by Kathryn Morse of Middlebury College on the back cover. This states that it’s

An engaging, critical synthesis of 20 years of new scholarship in environmental and labour history, this book tells a new story of the emergence and power of environmentalism as a movement forged by common people in defence of their lives and livelihoods. Countering previous arguments that environmentalism began in post-World War II middle-class suburbs, Montrie redefines environmentalism as a grass-roots, working class response to industrialization and urbanization dating from the early 19th century.

From the start, this movement included workers’ resistance to elite attempts to control nature both for profit and for upper-class leisure. Montrie narrates the growth of working-class environmentalism and its successes and failures from the textile mills of New England, to the Chicago streets around Hull House, to automobile plants of New England, to the coal mines of Appalachia, and to the agricultural fields of California, with other stops along the way. This detailed by accessible book offers a forceful new interpretation of American environmentalism and rewrite the narrative of the modern environmental movement.

The Republicans and the corporate backers fear and despise the Green movement, denouncing it as a strategy for introducing redistributive taxation and Socialism by the back door. They hate the way Greens recommend that rich, polluting industries should be taxed, and clean, non-polluting energy sources – like solar, wind and wave energy – should be developed to replace fossil fuels. These have got to go, as the Republicans and Libertarians are funded and bought by the Koch brothers and other oil and fossil fuel magnates.

And when the Republicans and the corporate paymasters aren’t foaming at the mouth about environmentalist ‘socialism’, they’re claiming that it’s another form of Nazism, because the Nazis were very keen on protecting the German environment. Well, they were, and this had been a major part of the German racist, volkisch movement since the 19th century. But this doesn’t mean that environmental per se is simply Nazism under another form. Where it appeared in Britain and America, it was an attempt by working people and the authorities to protect the environment and allow ordinary people to live clean, healthier lives and enjoy the beauty of the countryside in which their ancestors had lived and worked.

Hitler would have liked the Nazis to have been a party of the working class, but he hated organized labour. The first thing the Nazis did when they seized power was smash the German trade unions. But as this book shows, after the War American trade unions played a major part in the Green movement in the US. Which also explains why the Republicans go bug-eyed about the Greens and Socialism. The environmental movement and its connections to organized labour and the American working people marked a challenge to capitalism and the power of big corporations, not just to exploit the environment, but also to exploit the blue-collar, working women and men, who claimed their rights at work and to enjoy America’s great scenic beauty.

Another strand of their ideological attack on the environmental movement is to claim that it’s pagan, and so Christians should have nothing to do with it. It is true that much modern, Neopaganism is centred on the worship of the earth mother, and that pagans have been particularly environmentally conscious since the emergence of Green movement in the 1960s. But Christian writers were describing the beauty of the natural worlds and the wonders of its creatures as evidence of God’s providential handiwork from at least the Middle Ages onwards, and I’ve seen absolutely nothing to suggest that caring for the environment in itself is at all antichristian. Indeed, some theologians have pointed to Jean Calvin’s belief that as God has given human stewardship of the Earth, they have a duty and responsibility to protect the environment.

I haven’t really had time to read the book properly yet, but I will have to. Trump and the big corporations which control him are a real, present threat to the environment, working people, and indeed the future of the Earth and humanity, just as the Tories and their paymasters are over this side of the Pond. We have to protect both in order to create a better future and preserve the planet.

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Open University Course Book on Climate Change

July 23, 2017

Looking through one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham on Friday, I found a copy of a course book for the Open University’s series on climate change. I didn’t buy it, because I’ve got enough books I’m reading already. And I’m afraid I can’t remember who wrote it, except that the first name of one of the authors was ‘Kiki’.

However, I think it’s worth mentioning just to let people know that this literature is out there. Donald Trump and his fellow anti-science fanatics in the White House are trying to suppress all the evidence relating to climate change, and gag and sack the federal scientists researching it. Within months of his election he had inserted clauses in their contracts, which forbid them to publish academic papers supporting climate change. Now, according to one of the left-wing American news sites I follow, he’s decimated the number of employees and researchers within the American civil service dealing with climate change to the point where the federal office is basically empty.

All this is for the benefit of the Republican party’s corporate donors, particularly in big oil, led by the Koch Brothers. The gruesome twosome have tried to suppress investigation and research in climate change and environmental damage by campaigning for the closure of federal and university laboratories. Once these have been closed, the Koch brothers then donate money to the universities to relaunch the labs, but with a different focus which avoids these issues.

The last thing the fossil fuel industries want is Americans getting clean, green, renewable energy, which is why they’re also trying to pass legislation outlawing it and penalizing those Americans who use it. And they really, really don’t want ordinary Americans realizing just how much the planet is being trashed, thanks to industrialists like the Kochs.

Space Scientist John S. Lewis on Prosperity and the Colonisation of the Asteroid Belt

December 27, 2016

I found this really interesting, optimistic passage below in John S. Lewis’ Mining the Sky (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley 1997).

John S. Lewis is the Professor of Planetary Sciences and Codirector of the Space Engineering Research Center at the University of Arizona-Tucson. Subtitled, Untold Riches from the Asteroids, Comets and Planets, the book discusses the ways the immense mineral wealth of the solar system and the access it gives to the energy available from the Sun through solar power can be exploited through the colonisation of the solar system with present-day space technology, or developments from it that can reasonably be expected. The chapter ‘The Asteroid Belt: Treasure Beyond Measure’ describes the vast resources of the tiny, rocky worldlets of that part of the solar system, situated between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Not only does he describe the various metals and other minerals available there, but he also discusses the vast increase in personal wealth that would be given to nearly everyone on Earth if the money gained from the mining of these minerals were shared out equally.

I do not want to leave the impression that enough mineral wealth exists in the asteroid belt to provide $7 billion for each person on Earth. That would not be fair. In fact, this estimate completely ignores the value of all th other ingredients of asteroids besides iron. We know, for example, that for every ton of iron in the asteroids, there’s 140 pounds of nickel. That comes to about $6 billion worth of nickel. Meteorite metals contain about 0.5 percent cobalt, which sells for about $15 a pound. That gives another $26 billion each. The platinum-group metals, which sell for about $460 per troy ounce ($15 per gram, or $6,800 per ound) make up about fifteen parts per million of meteorite metal. That comes to another $1.6 X 10 X 20, which is $32 billion per person. So far that is about $72 billion each, and we are not close to done. Add in gold, silver, copper, manganese, titanium, the rare earths, uranium, and so on, and the total rises to over $100 billion for each person on Earth.

It appears that sharing the belt’s wealth among five billion people leads to a shameless level of affluence. Each citizen, assuming he or she could be persuaded to work a forty-hour week, could spend every working hour for 70 years counting $100 bills at the rate of one per second (that’s $360,000 per hour) and fail to finish counting this share of the take. If we were instead to be satisfied with an average per capita wealth comparable to that in the upper economic classes of the industrialised nations today, roughly $100,000 per person, then the resources of the belt would suffice to sustain a million times as many people on Earth. These 10 to the power of 16 people could all live as well as ninety-fifth percentile American of the late twentieth century. With recycling and an adequate source of power, this immense population is sustainable into the indefinite future. The best use of the wealth of the asteroid belt is not to generate insane levels of personal wealth for the charter members; the best use is to expand our supply of the most precious resource of all-human beings. People embody intelligence, by for the most precious resource in the universe and one in terribly short supply. (p. 196).

Now clearly, this is the ideal situation, presented without the risks and costs of actually reaching the asteroid belt and extracting the wealth bound up in its rocks. I also believe that in practice, much of that wealth would also be consumed by the mining companies or terrestrial government agencies responsible for the belt’s commercial exploitation. But it is refreshing to see humans viewed not as a cost in the process of production, which needs to be eliminated as much as possible, but as a valuable and indispensable resource, which needs to be used in the process of exploration and commercial exploitation as much as possible, and handsomely rewarded for its contribution.

On the next page, Lewis also describes the advantages of solar power for the future miners and colonists over fossil fuels and nuclear fission.

But wait a minute! Why not use solar power? The Sun pumps out power at the prodigious rate of 4 X 10 to the power of 33 ergs per second, equivalent to 4 X 10 to the power of 26 watts. Our supercivilisation needs 10 to the power of 19 watts to keep going. The Sun is pumping out forty million times as much power as we need! But what do we need to do to capture and use that energy? The simplest answer (not necessarily the best-there may be even more desirable options that we have not thought of yet) is to use vast arrays of solar cells to convert sunlight into electrical power. If the cells have an efficiency of about 20 percent, similar to the best commercial cells made at present, then each square meter of cell area exposed to the Sun near Earth’s orbit would generate 270 watts of electrical power continuously. We would need thirty-seven billion square kilometers of solar cells to provide our power needs, an area comparable to the total surface area of our habitats. At about 0.1 grams per square centimeter for the solar cells, we would need about 3.7 X 10 to the power of 19 grams of silicon to make the cells and perhaps three times as much metal to provide the supports and wires for the power-collection system. The asteroids give us 4X10 to the power of 23 grams of silicon, more than ten thousand times the amount we need for this purpose. The cost of the solar power units is set by the need to construct a few square meters of solar cells per person. The cost would be about two hundred dollars per person at present prices, or a few dollars per person at future mass-production prices. That is not your monthly electric bill: it is a one-time-only expenditure to provide all the electric power you will need for the rest of your life.

All this reckons with 1997 technology. New types of high-efficiency solar cells made of gallium arsenide or other exotic materials, combined with ultra-lightweight parabolic reflectors to collect and concentrate sunlight onto small areas of these cells, promise to perform much better than these highly conservative estimates. (pp. 197-8).

This is the solar power available for the asteroid colonies near Earth. In a later chapter, 14, Lewis discusses ‘Environmental Solutions for Earth’.

Lewis certainly isn’t against private industry in space. Indeed, in an imaginary scenario in one of the first chapters he has a future businessman enthusing about the profits to be gained from mining the Moon or other parts of the Solar system. But he’s clearly like many space visionaries in that he believes that humanity’s expansion into the cosmos will bring immense benefits in enriching and raising the personal quality of life for each individual as well as benefiting the environment down here on Earth.

But reading that paragraph on the benefits of solar power does show why some politicians, particularly in the Tory and Republican parties in Britain and America, who are the paid servants of the nuclear and fossil fuel companies, are so dead set against solar power, as well as other renewables. Quite simply, if it’s adopted, these industries immediately become obsolete, the obscene wealth enjoyed by their CEOs, senior management, and the aristocracy of Middle Eastern oil states, like Saudi Arabia, vanishes along with their political power. And the proles have access to cheaper power. Indeed, people using solar power today are actually able to reverse the usual norm slightly and sell power back to the grid.

No wonder the Tories are trying to shut it all down in favour of nuclear and fracking.

Victorian Solar Power for Moon Explorers

October 1, 2016

I’ve put up a number of pieces on this blog about the history of science. It never ceases to amaze me how inventive humans have been throughout history, and how peoples as far back as the ancient and medieval worlds nevertheless produced scientific ideas that even now seem stunningly modern. Solar power is another example of scientific ingenuity. It was demonstrated by a French engineer, Pifre, at a scientific expo in the Tuileries in Paris in the 1880s. Monsieur Pifre rigged up a parabolic mirror so that it powered a printing press, which produced his own newspaper for the exhibition.

I found the illustration below in David Kyle’s The Illustrated Book of Science Fiction Ideas and Dreams (London: Hamlyn 1977). This is an illustrated history of SF and its concepts from Jules Verne in the 19th century to the late 20th. The caption for the illo reads

‘This is a solar-heat condenser’, says the young astronomer in The Conquest of the Moon (1890) by A. Laurie. This one hundred-year-old SF ide, as illustrated by J. Roux, looks like something being tested today. The novel is filled with scientific facts and explanations, much in the manner of Verne. (p. 28).

victorian-moon-power

With the exception of the dress of the Victorian visitors, it looks like something from the pen of a modern illustrator for either a popular science journal like New Scientist, or a work of SF. it is amazingly modern. I was reminded of it by Hasan Piker’s piece for The Young Turks, discussing how Germany is well on its way to replacing fossil fuels with Green energy, including solar power, by 2050. I’ve blogged about that in my last piece. The Victorians were discussing the use of such power sources and the colonisation of space over a hundred years ago. Now it seems, we’re just catching up with their visions.

The Young Turks: Germany Shows Renewable Energy Not Only Possible, but Extremely Effective

October 1, 2016

This is simply amazing, and really inspirational. In this piece by The Young Turks’ anchor Hasan Piker, they discuss how the Germans a few years ago proved that renewable energy from solar power, wind and biomass generators, can provide an extremely effective, cost-efficient and highly competitive alternative to fossil fuels. Germany is the third largest economy in the world. It is the economic powerhouse of Europe, and consumes more energy than most European countries. But it seems on one day a few years ago, Green energy provided for a few hours 87 per cent of the country’s energy. For a few moments, energy prices actually went negative, meaning that the power companies were actually paying citizens for consuming it. The Germans were able to achieve this, as they have massively invested in solar power and wind energy. The country aims to achieve 100 per cent reliance on Green energy, instead of fossil fuels, by 2050, and is well on its way there.

Mr Piker cites an academic study that says that America could also achieve the same, but Green energy in the US is held back through the massive subsidies given to the fossil fuel industries. Coal and oil are at the moment vastly cheaper in America than their renewable alternatives, which obviously discourages uptake. And also Green energy is at a massive disadvantage because of the power of the fossil fuel lobby.

Mr Piker ends on an optimistic note, stating rather mischievously that America has beaten Germany once before, while behind him plays footage of Nazis from World War II. And with the future of the whole human species at stake, America can do so again.

The Young Turks: Electric Cars to Overtake Petrol by 2020

August 16, 2016

I know that many of the readers of this blog are keenly interested in Green issues and renewable energy. In this interesting little snippet, The Young Turks’ main anchor, Cenk Uyghur, discusses a prediction by the head of Nissan’s electric car division that by 2020, the number of recharging stations for electric vehicles will have overtaken the number of petrol stations in the UK. At the moment the number of petrol stations in Britain is 7,800 odd. This is down from the 37,000 + stations there were in Britain in the 1970s. However, purchases of electric vehicles are growing by such an extent, that they’re expected to reach 7,900 in four years time. The growth in popularity is put down to advances in one area of technology, such as batteries, driving improvements in others as more people buy electric vehicles. He also notes the example of a stretch of road that had a high number of electric charging stations installed by a company called Ecotrity, which resulted in more electric vehicles being purchased. At the moment, America is far behind the UK, with only 14,000 recharging stations for electric cars compared to 168,000 gas stations. But this is going to change, predicts Uyghur.

This is really going to drive Conservatives up the wall. They’re very heavily tied into the oil industry, and hence the Tory enthusiasm for fracking. This challenges the market dominance of the petrol industry, at least for automobiles, and hence is going to be potentially a major blow to the power of their corporate donors. Cameron and the Tories are already doing their level best to starve renewables of funds to prop up fossil fuels and nuclear power. If this really does start to go ahead, we’d better get ready to watch them try to close down the electric car industry.