Climate Deniers Are Like 'Elites Expecting to Survive Nuclear Winter'
By John Buell
Last winter when President-elect Trump tweeted: "United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes," the tweet was portrayed as shockingly new and threatening. As president, Trump continues his inflammatory rhetoric. Nonetheless, his nuclear posture is closer to his predecessors than is commonly recognized. It has long been U.S. policy and practice to seek and rely on nuclear superiority. The U.S. led every step in the arms race. That arms race remains the greatest immediate threat to the survival of human civilization and other living beings. That threat has persisted under every president from Truman to Trump.
The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump)1482425430.0
Noam Chomsky reminds us:
"Khrushchev proposed sharp mutual reductions in offensive weapons. The incoming Kennedy administration considered the offer and rejected it, instead turning to rapid military expansion, even though it was already far in the lead. The late Kenneth Waltz, supported by other strategic analysts with close connections to U.S. intelligence, wrote then that the Kennedy administration 'undertook the largest strategic and conventional peacetime military build-up the world has yet seen ... even as Khrushchev was trying at once to carry through a major reduction in the conventional forces and to follow a strategy of minimum deterrence, and we did so even though the balance of strategic weapons greatly favored the United States.'"
More recently, anti-missile systems have been portrayed as defensive weapons, but this too is deceptive. No nuclear expert seriously thinks that these could withstand a full-scale nuclear exchange. Their deployment might at least plausibly repel the survivors of a first strike against a small-scale nuclear opponent, such as North Korea or Iran.
The irrationality with which Trump is properly charged is also part of the core nuclear doctrine. He is a perfect manifestation of what nuclear strategists have in mind. Chomsky cites a crucial Strategic Air Command study:
"That Stratcom study was concerned with 'the role of nuclear weapons in the post-cold war era.' A central conclusion: that the U.S. must maintain the right to launch a first strike, even against non-nuclear states. Furthermore, nuclear weapons must always be at the ready because they 'cast a shadow over any crisis or conflict.' They were, that is, constantly being used, just as you're using a gun if you aim but don't fire one while robbing a store (a point that Daniel Ellsberg has repeatedly stressed). Stratcom went on to advise that 'planners should not be too rational about determining … what the opponent values the most.' Everything should simply be targeted. '[It] hurts to portray ourselves as too fully rational and cool-headed … That the U.S. may become irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked should be a part of the national persona we project.' It is "beneficial [for our strategic posture] if some elements may appear to be potentially 'out of control,'" thus posing a constant threat of nuclear attack—a severe violation of the UN charter, if anyone cares."
Nor is such talk merely theoretical speculation. Not only did the Kennedy Administration pour fuel on the fire of the arms race, it practiced nuclear brinksmanship of the most dangerous sort. Here is Chomsky again:
"As the crisis peaked in late October, Kennedy received a secret letter from Khrushchev offering to end it by simultaneous public withdrawal of Russian missiles from Cuba and U.S. Jupiter missiles from Turkey. The latter were obsolete missiles, already ordered withdrawn by the Kennedy administration because they were being replaced by far more lethal Polaris submarines to be stationed in the Mediterranean. Kennedy's subjective estimate at that moment was that if he refused the Soviet premier's offer, there was a 33 to 50 percent probability of nuclear war … Kennedy nonetheless refused Khrushchev's proposal for public withdrawal of the missiles from Cuba and Turkey; only the withdrawal from Cuba could be public, so as to protect the U.S. right to place missiles on Russia's borders or anywhere else it chose.
It is hard to think of a more horrendous decision in history—and for this, he is still highly praised for his cool courage and statesmanship." (Popular culture has this story right. The movie Jackie suggests JFK will be remembered for ending a crisis he created.)
In this context we need to question corporate media's frequent reference to modernizing nuclear weapons, the presumed sensible alternative to Trump's bellicosity. Weapons modernization is a euphemism that hides the real agenda, to render such weapons usable in "regional" wars. U.S. strategic rhetoric has always turned on the notion that nuclear superiority deters and that the U.S. must therefore never take the nuclear option—even first strike—off the table. That doctrine is dangerous at its core. How does the U.S. convince an opponent that it is always willing to use nuclear weapons? Eventually only by use of those weapons. (It would also be hard to convince residents of the Marshall Islands that after Japan we have never used such weapons.)
Apocalypse by Accident?
Ironically, President Trump's frequent nuclear blustering serves to hide one aspect of the nuclear risk. Focus on his instability and possible impetuous resort to the nuclear trigger may distract from equally significant dangers. Any discussion to the threat posed by nuclear weapons should include recounting and further explanation of the multiple accidents with nuclear weaponry as well as the environmental dangers their manufacture and storage pose. In a review of Eric Schlosser's book on nuclear weapons, Jenny Turner said "the effort to control nuclear weapons—to ensure that one doesn't go off 'by accident' is undermined, over and over again, by demands from the military for bombs they can trust to explode."
There is a long catalogue of near disastrous accidents with nuclear weapons. Details of an infamous 1961 incident involving the accidental drop of an H-Bomb over Greensboro, NC are especially chilling, especially given President Trump's decision similarly to arm B-52s today. These details also suggest we should place little reliance on the willingness of top level generals to restrain the president. Here is a summary from the Guardian:
"Further detail on what happened to the Mark 39 bomb when it fell over Goldsboro is given in a newly declassified document written in 1987 reviewing the U.S. nuclear weapon safety programme. It records that as the B-52 broke up, the pin to arm the bomb that was normally manually operated was yanked out as it fell, thus arming it.
All the various stages of the bomb's fall—the operation of the arming system, deployment of the parachute, timer operation, activation of its batteries, and delivery of the signal that would actually fire the bomb at impact—'all followed as a natural consequence of the bomb falling free.' Only the lack of engagement of the final ready-safe switch 'prevented nuclear detonation of this bomb.'"
Despite such expert awareness of the extremely tentative safeguards that stood between America and unthinkable disaster, successive U.S. administrations kept up the line in public that the country's nuclear arsenal was free from any risk of accidental detonation. This incident, just like the Cuban Missile crisis soon to follow, was just one more case where political and military leaders put the preservation of state power ahead of genuine public safety.
Because they are so dangerous, access to them must be limited, and thus independent investigators cannot accumulate information that could inform a critical assessment of their domestic risks. Secondly, preservation of nuclear secrecy is presented as one aspect of U.S. nuclear superiority. Finally, because they are one of the central pillars in our collective identity as a power second to none, criticism of these weapons is often written off as enemy-inspired and thus illegitimate. Add to this the economic boost nuclear arms provide to key military contractors and one has the makings of an almost invulnerable political machine. As Turner put it, "Nuclear weapons are not like Wikipedia, on which anybody can spot a mistake and write in."
About the best argument I can think of for the safety of nuclear weaponry is that none has been accidentally detonated so far. From Schlosser's description, this technological success is in large measure fortuitous. I will state it as a law—complex systems are prone to unpredictable malfunctions. And as with many features of industrial life, there is more glory and economic reward in building the technologies than in maintaining them. Furthermore, in the grand scheme of human civilization, not to say of the planet, 72 years is but a trifle.
Donald Trump's climate agenda is extraordinarily dangerous, but his posture on nuclear weapons is not as far out of the accepted strategic doctrines as his critics charge. Policy in both domains constitutes an imminent threat to the future of human civilization. Climate denialism has its parallel in those elites expecting to survive nuclear winter. Up until recently climate concerns have largely displaced the issues of nuclear weaponry. That must stop. Movements against nuclear power and nuclear weapons have a long history of facing repressive attacks and mounting cross-border collaboration. Enormous sums are already invested even in the shoddy maintenance of our nuclear arsenal, and many of Trump's opponents are committed to dangerous modernization of that arsenal. Those funds might better go to meeting the long-term climate crisis. Intensifying climate deterioration risks exacerbating cross border tensions and provoking war, which will surely some day become nuclear. These issues and movements need each other.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
John Buell lives in Southwest Harbor, Maine and writes on labor and environmental issues. His most recent book, published by Palgrave in August 2011, is "Politics, Religion, and Culture in an Anxious Age." He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Tara Lohan
Our plastic pollution problem has reached new heights and new depths.
Scientists have found bits of plastic on the seafloor, thousands of feet below the ocean's surface. Plastic debris has also washed ashore on remote islands; traveled to the top of pristine mountains; and been found inside the bodies of whales, turtles, seabirds and people, too.
1. There’s a lot of it.<p>In a September study published in <em>Science </em>about the growth of plastic waste, an international team of researchers estimated that 19 to 23 million metric tons — or 11% of plastic waste generated — ended up in aquatic ecosystems in 2016. And even with countries pledging to help cut waste or better manage it, the amount of plastic pollution is <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/369/6510/1515" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">likely to double</a> in the next 10 years.</p><p>A <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/369/6510/1455" target="_blank">study</a> about solutions to plastic waste, published in the same issue, attributed the plastic pollution epidemic to a rise in single-use plastic and "an expanding 'throw-away' culture." The researchers also found that waste-management systems simply can't deal with the onslaught of plastic, which is why so much of it ends up in the environment. We now know that only <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.org/article/whopping-91-percent-plastic-isnt-recycled/" target="_blank">9% of the plastic products</a> we use actually get recycled.</p>
2. The United States is a big culprit.<p>Plastic pollution is a global problem, but the United States plays an outsized role. In 2016 the United States was responsible for more plastic waste than any other country, a <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/44/eabd0288" target="_blank">new study</a> in <em>Science Advances</em> found. Some of that waste was dumped illegally within the country and some was shipped to other countries that lacked the necessary infrastructure to handle it.</p><p>"The amount of plastic waste generated in the United States estimated to enter the coastal environment in 2016 was up to five times larger than that estimated for 2010, rendering the United States' contribution among the highest in the world," the researchers concluded. Part of that is because the United States ranks second in exporting plastic scrap.</p>
3. It threatens wildlife and ecosystems.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg3MTUwMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzE1MzM2MH0.YL5C-5GF2mq9OZBLSkcAnreq2Mai20DweKSNqeUSWM4/img.jpg?width=980" id="20233" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3db4a05d5d417d925a770cf309db1db1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A giant otter plays with a plastic bottle. Paul Williams / CC BY-NC 2.0<p>Out of sight (for Americans) is <em>not </em>out of mind — and definitely not out of our waterways. An estimated 700 marine species and 50 freshwater species have either ingested plastic or been entangled in it.</p><p>"If we don't get the plastic pollution problem in the ocean under control, we threaten contaminating the entire marine food web, from phytoplankton to whales," George Leonard, the Ocean Conservancy's chief scientist and coauthor of the September <em>Science </em>study about plastic waste's increase, <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/10/plastic-pollution-huge-problem-not-too-late-to-fix-it/" target="_blank">told <em>National Geographic</em></a>. "And by the time the science catches up to this, perhaps definitively concluding that this is problematic, it will be too late. We will not be able to go back. That massive amount of plastic will be embedded in the ocean's wildlife essentially forever."</p><p>Microplastics have also been found in terrestrial animals, soil, drinking water and, not surprisingly, <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/victoriaforster/2020/08/18/microplastics-found-in-human-organs-for-the-first-time/?sh=42994a4e16f2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in our own bodies</a>, although it's not clear yet just how dangerous that is for people.</p>
4. The fracking boom is producing a plastic boom.<p>Despite the known risks of plastic pollution and concern over its mounting presence in the environment, plastic production — driven by fossil fuels like fracked gas and its component chemicals — is on pace to increase by 40% in the next 10 years.</p><p>The American Chemistry Council <a href="https://www.americanchemistry.com/Shale-Infographic/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">boasted that shale gas drilling is driving a surge</a> in plastic production, including the investment of more than $200 billion to fund new and expanded operations at 343 production plants in the United States.</p><p>On the ground this means more harmful pollution along the Gulf Coast's "Cancer Alley," where petrochemicals have been manufactured for decades in low-wealth communities of color. And it means the build-out of new facilities in Rust Belt states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.</p><p>Fracking also causes harmful greenhouse gas emissions, like methane, to be released into the atmosphere — amplifying the climate crisis. The refining process and the incineration of plastic waste also further drives greenhouse emissions and hazardous pollution.</p>
A petrochemical plant in Houston's ship channel. Louis Vest / CC BY-NC 2.0
5. Solutions are multifaceted.<p><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/plastic-pollution-do-beach-cleanups-really-make-a-difference/a-46196975" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Beach cleanups</a> tend to make headlines, but it's a losing battle as long as petrochemical companies keep producing so much plastic and we keep using plastic for products we're meant to toss after a single use.</p><p>The September study in <em><a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/369/6510/1455" target="_blank">Science</a></em> on plastic solutions found that it's possible to cut plastic pollution — perhaps as much as 80% by 2040 — but it will take systemic change both in reducing the amount of plastic produced and in better managing the waste stream.</p><p>Regulatory efforts can help this process, including by regulating plastic as a pollution source under the Clean Water Act.</p><p>Efforts to ban single-use plastics, as the European Union aims to do by 2021, are another positive step. So too are "<a href="https://therevelator.org/california-plastic-legislation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">circular economy laws</a>," which have been <a href="https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/5845?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22H.R.5%22%5D%7D&s=1&r=5" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">introduced, but not yet passed</a>, in the United States.</p><p>These laws would halt the production of new petrochemical facilities and encourage businesses to take responsibility for the full lifecycle of the products they produce by requiring them to be reused, adequately recycled or composted.</p><p>Getting circular economy laws enacted, though, will mean enough public and political will to counter the petrochemical, fossil fuel and plastic industries.</p><p>At <em>The Revelator</em>, we'll keep covering the push for solutions to the plastic problem and new science to better understand the threats. And if you want to know more about how wildlife has already been affected, what laws could help, whether industry will be held accountable and more, check out these stories from our archives:</p><p><strong>Laws and Regulations</strong></p><p><strong></strong><a href="https://therevelator.org/plastic-pollution-warnings/" target="_blank">Plastic Pollution: Could We Have Solved the Problem Nearly 50 Years Ago?</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/clean-water-plastic/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">How an Old Law Is Helping Fight New Plastic Problems</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/california-plastic-legislation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New California Bill Could Revolutionize How the U.S. Tackles Plastic Pollution</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/plastic-pollution-laws/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">What Laws Work Best to Cut Plastic Pollution?</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/plastic-illegal/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Can Plastic Ever Be Made Illegal?</a></p><p><strong>Impacts</strong></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/toxic-plastic-pollution-food-chain/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Something Fishy: Toxic Plastic Pollution Is Traveling Up the Food Chain</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/plastic-pollution-ship-shore/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Plastic Pollution: From Ship to Shore</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/plastics-fracking-climate/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Plans to Turn America's Rust Belt Into a New Plastics Belt Are Bad News for the Climate</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/trash-galapagos-ecotourism/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Trash in the Galápagos Reveals the Dark Side of Ecotourism</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/elephant-seals-diving-garbage/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephant Seals: Diving Through Garbage</a></p><p><strong>Taking Action</strong></p><p><em><a href="https://therevelator.org/story-plastic-review/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Story of Plastic: </a></em><a href="https://therevelator.org/story-plastic-review/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New Film Exposes the Source of Our Plastic Crisis</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/plastic-movie-stuff/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">How to Win the Fight Against Plastic</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/cities-zero-waste/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Can Cities Go Zero-waste? One Japanese Town Tried</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/secret-value-trash/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Secret Value of Trash</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/junk-raft-polluted-ocean/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Junk Raft: A Journey Through a Polluted Ocean</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/bioplastics-environment/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Are Bioplastics a Better Environmental Choice?</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/plastic-straws-problem-solution/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Plastic Pollution Is a Problem — These Kids Are Working for a Solution</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/thai-activists-fight-trash-taboo/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Thai Activists Fight Trash Taboo</a></p><p><em><a href="https://therevelator.org/author/taralohan/" target="_blank">Tara Lohan</a> is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://therevelator.org/plastic-pollution-archives/" target="_blank">The Revelator</a>. </em></p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Hundreds of endangered sea turtles were stranded on beaches after suffering "cold stunning" in the waters off Cape Cod, Mass. Local rescuers and wildlife rehabilitators stabilized the turtles at the New England Aquarium (NEAQ) and National Marine Life Center and began treatment. Many of the sea turtles were transported by land or air to partner facilities around the Eastern Seaboard for longer-term care to make room for more incoming, cold-stunned animals.
Rehabilitators at The Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys assess critically endangered, cold-stunned Kemp's ridley sea turtles flown in after rescue in New England. The Turtle Hospital<p>NEAQ and local rescuers begin seeing turtles every fall when water temperatures drop to that 50 degrees F threshold, and typically expect to find them into early January. After that, <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/sea-turtle-cape-cod-weather-2621527394.html" target="_self">temperatures are so cold that any animals found are usually no longer alive</a>.</p><p>Merigo estimated that this year's cold season "looks very busy" and noted that local rescue efforts had already surpassed 400 turtles.</p><p>"It is a lot of animals. They're still coming in," she told EcoWatch as she surveyed 39 rescued turtles that day and 20 the day prior. "So far, this is a huge year."</p><p>At NEAQ, the turtles are gradually warmed up about five to 10 degrees F a day. More aggressive warming can cause serious damage and the turtle might not survive, Merigo said. Emergency treatments also include providing replacement fluids, balancing electrolytes and addressing pneumonia. Assessments take place for other serious problems too, such as shell or limb fractures, frostbite, emaciation and eye damage.<span></span></p><p>As local aquariums don't have the capacity to care for all the injured turtles, a group of private pilots called <a href="https://www.turtlesflytoo.org/" target="_blank">"Turtles Fly Too"</a> donated planes, fuel and time to transport some to various partner facilities around the country. Other turtles were driven to closer care facilities.</p><p>"We have a huge network of really great partners working with us, so if we can spread out the care, we can give better care to all the animals," Merigo said.</p><p>The 40 Kemp's ridley sea turtles recovering in The Turtle Hospital will continue to be treated and rehabilitated anywhere from 30 days to a year, depending on the severity of injuries, Zirkelbach said.</p><p>The turtle expert noted that while she's treated cold-stunned turtles from the north before, the newest arrivals were the most cold-stunned Kemp's ridleys ever received at one time.</p>
After rescue, cold-stunned sea turtles received immediate emergency care and assessments at the New England Aquarium. Caitlin Cunningham / New England Aquarium<p>In the past decade, the Gulf of Maine, which spans from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia, has warmed 99 percent faster than the rest of the ocean, Zirkelbach said. The warm water encourages turtles that migrate north along the Gulf Stream in warmer months to stay in the bay longer.</p><p>"Turtles that fail to migrate south get stuck in the unique horseshoe-shaped topography of the Cape Cod peninsula, and when temperatures drop, the bay becomes a death trap," she added.</p><p>Before ocean temperatures warmed, the waters of Maine were too cold for many of these sea turtles, Merigo echoed. Now, with warming sea surface temperatures, Maine can reach the high 70s to low 80s, which is "perfect turtle temperature," she said. The potential for more turtles getting trapped in the bay and then cold-stunned is nerve-racking for Merigo.</p><p>In addition to shifting habitats as waters warm, warming global temperatures also disrupt natural gender balance in sea turtles, Merigo warned. Gender is determined by the temperature of eggs in nests, and as the planet warms, it will result in all females at some point, she said.</p><p>"The turtles we work with are all endangered and threatened," Merigo said. "For sea turtles in general, the future is a little grim. Climate change is real; it does impact them."</p>
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