Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Ethics of Green Consumerism

Keywords: Green Living Show; green roof; green wall; Buzz Hargrove; hybrid cars; Wal-Mart; fluorescent bulbs; GE.

Yesterday, along with maybe 10,000 other people, I went to the Green Living Show at the CNE in Toronto. I’m not sure what I expected, but I enjoyed it. Mostly it was good for people-watching. I ran into acquaintances whom I hadn’t seen for ages, and I wandered through the exhibits two hours with two women friends.

But I didn’t come close to buying anything. The only thing that attracted my acquisitiveness was near the entrance: a stall showing ways of building a green roof (which I don’t need) and a (which I also don’t need, but would really like). I don’t think people often get the chance to see green roofs, but the sides of buildings are obviously visible at all times and could be absorbing CO2 from city atmosphere in big quantities. I’d even like to have one indoors, but there’s no reasonable place for that in my apartment.

They construct frames, and then there are modular units about two feet square, into which one plants a selection of small plants. You insert a stack of modules to make a vertical display. At the top there’s a container where you pour water, which trickles through and collects in another container at the bottom. Unlike vines, which supposedly damage the brick facade of buildings, these units would seem to be pretty benign. Also expensive, if you want to cover a whole building. I don’t know how much it would contribute to the quality of air and climate inside the city, but it would look pretty.

The displays did not get me yearning for anything, though there was a nice-enough “green” home to walk through. I liked the in the bedroom window. There were many shaded glass squares about four inches square that emit heat, but you can see through them. If I were building a house, I’d think about that.

All three of us, as we drove away in the car, experienced the same ambivalence about the show. It’s about whether or not consumerism is compatible with “green living.” One friend mentioned that , the president of the Union, is pressing for legislation that would remove old cars from the road. He would like for lots of us to junk our present cars and buy (or presumably, hydrogen or electric cars when they come out) ASAP. To me, that makes no sense as a contribution to the environment. Surely the amount of GHG created by mining metal, smelting, fabricating, transporting, and marketing a new car must be far greater than the amount by which one could reduce one’s overall emissions. My inclination is to live in quite the other way: make my old car last as long as possible, while driving it less often and — though these may be no more than token gestures of social responsibility. (The New York Times today has an article about that question but it doesn't actually offer any overall answer. There's a cute drawing at the top of a penitent Christian asking for absolution for his SUV; the priest takes his money and gives him absolution. Is that really all it amounts to?)

In general, the show was a commercial promotion of new, greener equipment that can save water and energy — but usually you’d do more for the planet by living with what you already have. The are an exception. Probably there are other exceptions too, if I knew which ones they are.

On the other hand, I was favorably impressed with the growing trend for business to take the initiative to develop greener new products instead of waiting for the government to institute higher environmental standards. Some companies are actually more forward-looking than political leaders. , for example, is replacing its fleet of jitneys with more efficient ones, and has asked its suppliers not to use polyvinylchloride packaging. Since Wal-Mart is so huge, it can actually change the standards in the entire industry by itself. It’s also giving away fluorescent bulbs and abolishing incandescent ones.

Along the same lines, according to Stratfor’s Bart Mongoven and Kathleen Morson, has begun promoting the marketing of energy-efficient and environmentally friendly products, such as new appliances with more efficient motors. It started producing a line of such products in 2004, leading the pack of industries. Its annual sales reaches $11 billion within three years and it is aiming now to reaching $20 billion. Now it is lobbying for energy-efficient legislation and a carbon cap. These laws would be in its own self-interest, of course, but why not? If GE had the foresight to plan for such developments, I think its leaders are pretty smart and ought to get my dollars, when I get ready to spend them.

It won’t be right away, though. I bought a new about five years ago. I'd feel guilty throwing it out, but I’ve heard that the new fridges do consume less than mine probably does. (Last week, when I bought a new reading lamp, I did make sure the old lamp was smashed up before putting it into the dumpster, so nobody would take it home and keep using it.)

That’s where the moral dilemma arises: When is it ethnically proper to go shopping and when is it better to live with what we already own? There are answers to these questions, on a case-by-case basis. But I don’t know them yet.


Saturday, April 28, 2007

Harvests, Fuel, and the Benign Market

Keywords: Steve Paikin; John Ralston Saul; Ted Turner; Don McKay; Kory Tenetcke; global agro-food market; corn; ethanol; Doha Round; protectionism; Third World farmers

I keep running into discussions about the abundance of the , though no one has been able to state just how satisfied one can be with the sufficiency of the world’s . The answer matters in practical ways. I wish I could find both firm numbers and appropriate targets, so I could tell how closely farmers are meeting humankind’s prospective problems. I’ll mention two ongoing debates that turn on the question.

The first involves the acceptability of using and other food grains for the production of fuel. This issue arose, for example, during a panel discussion a few days ago on Steve Paikin’s

The second involves the impact of the global agro-food economy on the livelihood of . This question arose both in a lecture delivered at the University of Toronto Mississauga by (see photo), and in a plea issued by to the economic summiteers in Davos, Switzerland.

Actually, there was not as much dispute as I had expected about the abundance of the world’s food supply in Paikin’s panel on ethanol. When I hear most disputes about ethanol, almost the first allegation is usually this: With the world’s growing, it is not at all sure that we’ll be able to feed everyone with the amount of grain being produced even today; what is going to happen when increasing amounts of it gets made into fuel instead of food? To my surprise, this objection was barely mentioned on The Agenda. For one thing, it turns out that there are two different types of corn; ethanol production does not use the kind that people eat. Moreover, an Ontario farmer named Don McKay allayed my concern further by noting that by-products of ethanol production are still used for livestock. And another pro-ethanol panelist, Kory Tenetcke, added: “If you don’t count the co-products coming out, then you’ll get a misleading impression of [corn’s] net energy. This will come into play for the implication on food markets as well.”

So, the competition for food seems not to arise — yet, at least — when there is a question of planting corn for human consumption. In the longer term, on the other hand, if farmers stop planting for the supermarket because corn ethanol is more profitable, the discussion will certainly arise again, and may be more acrimonious because of the realistic urgency.

Some of the panelists already foresaw that problem. For example, Kory Tenetcke suggested.

“The worst thing to do if we want to help the poor around the world is to continue a policy that artificially reduces agricultural commodity prices. Our current subsidies do now – drive down the prices so that third world farmers have trouble having a business. Look where people are starving in the world. The worst place is sub-Saharan Africa – where you are capable of growing three crops per year. ...

“The question is, is there a link between third world hunger and commodity prices? I would say no – quite the opposite. Where people are starving, local farmers have been driven out of business by the ... agricultural subsidy program...”

Tenetcke’s argument seems to reflect the following reasoning: Grain farmers have been increasingly productive, so that there is always a surplus, which could be shipped overseas and either given or sold to reduce hunger in Third World countries. This indeed, is what lies behind the historical pattern of food export subsidies. However, instead of reducing hunger, it has the opposite effect. It lowers the market price for Third World grain and thereby reduces the farmers’ income there. We would be more responsible by using this surplus grain for non-food purposes that do not lower, but rather raise, its market price.

It is unclear how widespread this theory may be, but I think it is probably the prevailing opinion among agricultural economists. But is it consistent with the argument advanced by John Ralston Saul last week?

The theme of Saul’s talk is that is dead, for the free market is actually being replaced by — a managed, regulated world-wide economic system. In particular, he addresses the potential impact of the on Third World agriculture. In fact, the Doha Round seems not to be happening, though its failure is not yet absolutely certain. Saul said,

“The right says Doha will destroy the agricultural industry of the West by taking away subsidies. The left and people in the developing economies say Doha will be great because it will help the Third World farmers get to world market because they won’t have to compete with Western protectionist subsidies.”

For his own part, Saul asserts that the left’s position is mistaken: Doha would actually harm Third World farmers. Why? Free trade made sense during the nineteenth century, when there was scarcity. But today, there is the opposite situation — a surplus of food — and in that condition, the producers lose. Money goes to the people who control the market. Any form of unleashed competition will simply drive the prices further down, so the Doha Round is absolutely the wrong thing to do.

All I know is that Ted Turner remains a great believer in , for several months ago he appeared before the world’s money-controllers at and begged them in the name of humanity to save the Doha Round. His argument was based on a version of the one Kory Tenetcke summarized above, but with a new wrinkle, showing them how to make it palatable politically.

Turner says that the blessings of ethanol production are about to make life newly prosperous for American and other corn producers, who normally have made it impossible for US politicians even to consider reducing the protective tariffs that now exclude African farm commodities. If, on the other hand, the American producers start making a lot of money, they will become more flexible and hence let go of their protectionist benefits — i.e. allow the U.S. politicians to ratify Doha. Hence accepting ethanol is the best (albeit indirect) way to fight hunger around the world.

I won’t venture to guess whether Doha will benefit or harm Third World Farmers, but I do have two additional facts to put into the dispute about the political effects of ethanol production in the United States. It seems that a couple of weeks ago, a bill came up for renewal covering foreign aid. Whereas in the past, legislation had specified that any US funds given to Third World countries must be spent (largely or entirely, I’m not sure which) in the United States, things have changed. Because farmers are feeling especially prosperous now, owing to their additional income from sales to ethanol manufacturers, no objections were raised to the highly reasonable alternative. Funding to the Third World can now be spent for goods produced within the Third World itself.

Obviously, this is a beneficial move. When this was mentioned to , he said that the idea had never cross his mind while he was President. Presumably John Ralston Saul expects the money to wind up in the pockets of financiers, not farmers. That would be a sad outcome, since the new development itself looks unmistakably progressive. It also seems to confirm Ted Turner’s theory.

Yet it remains possible that there are such narrow margins of supply in the world’s agrarian storehouses that it still makes no sense to divert food to other purposes. Although per capita food production regularly increased enough to keep pace with the growing world population (contrary to Malthus’s predictions), the productivity increases have slowed in the past few years. Theoretically, a major global crop failure or other crisis could put a significant population into a risky situation for the first time in many years. This could be the case even though, as Saul suggested, the global market prices reflect a situation of overall surplus.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

I Believe in Technological Fixes

Keywords: Earth Day; demand; technological fix; ecology; Sir Nicholas Stern; subsistence farm

This is . Or maybe it was yesterday, or tomorrow. Sometime around now.

I’ve been revising my lifestyle, making the kind of changes that will make my consumption habits more ethical. My will all be okay by Monday, when a new reading lamp replaces the halogen. I’m going to a one-day conference in Atlanta next month by bus and train, despite the discomfort. I’ve turned off the computer that had been left on to receive faxes. (The incoming ones were mostly junk anyhow.) Instead of buying lettuce during the winter, I’m buying Ontario cabbage. (Lettuce gives 40 calories per head and very little food value, but it takes 400 calories to travel here.) I’m eating slightly less meat, though carbohydrates are bad for my blood sugar. I will no longer fly except for extremely serious reasons, and when I do, I’ll pay an amount equal to the price of the ticket as an offset, paying for trees to be planted somewhere on earth. I’m already paying an offset equal to the price of gas for driving my car around, and even so I’m trying to reduce the amount. Also, I try to take passengers along when I go out of town.

But nevertheless, my is over seven. At the rate I use energy, it would take at least five planets to let the human population live as well as I do. Feeling guilty, I ask myself: What more can I do?

I have friends who are going to move to a remote place in the southern hemisphere and do subsistence farming. From what I’ve read, that’s no solution. Urban people have more ways of reducing their GHG emissions than rural people do. I live in a , where the shared walls, floor, and ceilings conserve heat. I live near a subway station. My new reading lamp will be delivered Monday from the Sears catalog, and my groceries are delivered straight from the warehouse, saving me the cost of travel and saving the grocery store the cost of heat, light, and the labor of stocking the shelves and putting my groceries into plastic bags. (Grocery Gateway recycles the boxes they bring and place on my kitchen counter.)

No matter how hard I try, I don’t see how to get my footprint much below seven. And if I moved to a farm, and raised my own food, I understand that even that would not reduce my footprint. There are no high-rise apartments in the countryside, and everything not handmade has to travel farther.

I can’t reduce my demand as a householder enough to matter. So is there any hope? Yep.

A hundred times I’ve heard people say piously, “There are no .” But there really are! In fact, technology is the only thing that can fix us.

I’ve been reading the report by (see photo), which famously proves that the financial costs of climate change are going to be stupendous unless we forestall them by collective action. Stern is as credible as any economist can get. (I see that he has also co-authored quite a lot of research with , the saintliest economist I have ever known — a man who is devoting his life to saving Indian peasants from poverty.)

But my friends — those who will soon be survivalists — do not believe in . They also are predisposed to believe that technological innovations will cause more trouble than they cure. There is no point, I guess, in directing their attention to Sir Nicholas, who shows that a reduction of demand cannot by itself solve our problems. If there is any hope, he says, it will come primarily from increasing efficiencies and from preventing further . And is a “technological fix.” More efficient machines, housing, and transportation will magically reduce the footprints of everyone who adopts them. Yes, let’s reduce demand for our GHG emitting gadgets, but that’s not enough. Nor will solar power, or hydrogen. No, humankind’s future well-being depends on increased efficiency.

Still, that won’t cut any ice with my friends. Their minds are made up. They expect urban, modern civilization to die off within a decade or two (contrary to the predictions of genuine energy economists) — which they see as ultimately a good outcome, since by thinning us out, the population’s die-off will bring humankind back into balance with nature. A few hundred thousand people, living simply on the land and cooperating with their like-minded neighbors, will survive these hard days and create a benign new society. In preparation for that, my friends are going to “experiment” with a simpler, less technological way of life.

This means, of course, that they have written off their Canadian friends as doomed, beyond any prospect of rescue. They, unlike us ill-fated capitalist consumerists, truly care about saving the ecological niches in which so many species are now endangered. Indeed, when told that there is a new technological innovation that may be able to suck ambient from the air and restore the atmosphere to its pristine, preindustrial condition, my friend expressed “horror” at the prospect. She has expressed no horror, however, at the prospective death of billions of human beings, and no guilt about abandoning them in favor of saving her own kin. She does not believe that her “experiments” in subsistence farming will help the world. It is, in her opinion, too late for that. And besides, she no longer apparently cares.

Happy Earth Day, my dear Earthlings! I pledge to work with you to save our precious, gorgeous world. Let’s use every technological fix that anyone invents. Bless us all — especially those of you who can invent technological fixes.


Friday, April 20, 2007

I'll Interview a Green Revolutionary

Keywords: M.S. Swaminathan; Green Revolution; GMOs; high yielding varieties; seeds; Mark Dowie; Communism; New Deal; Socialist agriculture.

I’m trying to prepare for an interview with within the next couple of weeks. Normally I don’t have to do any homework to get ready for a Peace Magazine interview, but when I talk with Dr. Swaminathan, it will not be predominantly about peace or even Pugwash, which he heads, but mostly about — and I am far from an expert on that subject. So I started by reading articles of his from the Internet.

But he is a geneticist, and his articles have a technological, non-controversial tone. I cannot hold readers’ attention unless I go for debates. And, although he does not show it in the articles I have read, Swaminathan must be a rather controversial figure, but he is called “the father of India’s .” And the Green Revolution is reportedly a subject about which there is no consensus. Though I downloaded the annual report of his own M.S. Swaminathan Foundation in Chennai, it did not remark on any disputes about the hundreds of ongoing projects that are being conducted there. I had to go to Wikipedia to find what is contested about that subject.

I should have guessed that the current debate is about the value of genetically modified plants. Swaminathan has been rearranging the inner molecules of rice and other seeds for a long time, though the objections against “” seem to be increasing. People worry that they are dangerous and may escape into the atmosphere and contaminate other traditional organisms. I don’t know whether to worry about that or not. However, I found an interesting book on the Amazon web site and have ordered it. (Amazon is smart to let us sample their wares pretty liberally on-line, since I generally wind up ordering the books that I inspect.)

But Wikipedia gave me an older set of objections to the Green Revolution — one that partly dates back to the late 1960s. It’s hard to complain too harshly against those changes, since it is certain that they have saved many thousands — probably many millions — of lives. Today, Indians consume about 25 percent more calories than before the “revolution” began. It takes a weird mind to find fault with an innovation that achieves such results.

Nevertheless, there were right away. The problem is, the new strains of grain (HYV for “high yielding varieties“) require , , and fertilizer. (In the absence of these inputs, they do not always perform better than certain traditional varieties.) Also the seeds are that have to be purchased by a farmer every season instead of being saved from previous crops.

All this is fine for prosperous farmers, but small, poor ones may lack the cash or access to credit. It has been said (I don’t know how accurately) that the Green Revolution increased disparities between regions and economic groups. Moreover, the relative abundance of food reduced prices, making life easier for urban people to buy food. This presumably increased the rate of to the cities — a trend that is generally considered regrettable by Indian writers, though I am disposed to think otherwise. (I would certainly move from a rural Indian village to a city if I possibly could, wouldn’t you?)

Another complaint against the Green Revolution is that it increased and hence decreased . This does not surprise me, since I understand that the same thing is happening in all the large, agribusiness farms of the developed countries, including Canada.

Also, I learned of one other allegation that did surprise me. (whom I once knew slightly) was a critic of the Green Revolution who complained that it was part of the Cold War. He argues that the revolution’s Western funders, especially the Ford Foundation, were motivated to create stability in the underdeveloped countries as a way of limiting the appeal of communism. The agricultural changes offered this stability by providing increased food to the poor.

This reminds me of the argument that Roosevelt’s was concocted to prevent the spread of communism by ameliorating suffering. Certainly it had that effect – thank God — but it seems simplistic to say it was done just for that purpose.

In any case, the outcome is surely something to be celebrated. The US indeed might have gone communist during the Great Depression, and India might have gone when large populations were hungry. In both cases, the world would have been the worse for it. Dowie is probably correct in arguing that the “technological fix” allowed people to avoid the alternative approach — land reform —which was favored more by socialists. However, just think about it: The countries that adopted may have “reformed” land tenure all right, but by confiscating it from smallholders and consolidating it as collective farms. I do happen to know a bit about , and it clearly was a disastrous approach. In this case, the “technological fixes” were vastly superior.

So I shall not encounter M.S. Swaminathan with a long list of vicarious grievances. I think he has contributed immensely, especially in view of the alternatives that have been avoided, thanks to his innovations. And today he is in his eighties, but he’s working ceaselessly to solve the remaining problems with yet more innovations — including conservationist policies such as in addition to his genetic manipulations of food plants.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Do We Want Low or High Prices?

Keywords: Thomas Friedman; Geo-Green strategy; petroauthoritarians; Al Qaeda; petroleum prices; dictatorship

has published a big piece in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine: “The Greening of .” His basic argument is summed up in the deck underneath the title: “What does America need to regain its global stature? Environmental leadership.”

Good idea. Yes, Friedman says, people will still hate the United States for Bush’s Iraq War, but this antipathy can be offset by initiatives that show the world how to solve the climate change crisis. There is even a demand on “Main Street, USA” for a political leader who will lead their “Geo-Green” strategy. But hardly anyone recognizes the scale of the changes that are going to be required – the costs, and the effort involved in shifting the world toward emissions-free energy.

Friedman’s argument is divided into two parts. The first half addresses America’s growing conflict with Islamic countries. He rightly notes that the nations that have nurtured and funded Al Qaeda — especially — are the ones the US is supporting financially by buying their oil. Addiction to foreign oil makes Americans vulnerable. Some Saudi mosques are even sending cash to the insurgents in Iraq. As James Woolsey said, “We are funding the rope for the hanging of ourselves.”

Moreover, the more money America pays them, the more audacious are their attacks. Indeed, the higher the price of oil, the more anti-democratic is the behavior of this whole dictatorial Islamic world.

This is not new to me; my friend John Bacher’s book pointed out the extreme correlation between countries’ degree of dictatorship and their oil revenues. But I had not seen before what Friedman points out here: that when oil prices go down, these “petroauthoritarian” countries begin to behave according to American values, whereas when oil prices go up, they become aggressive again. Middle Eastern political reform, then, involves this plan: We must find ways of lowering the price of oil. Friedman writes,

“People change when they have to — not when we tell them to — and falling oil prices make them have to. That is why if we are looking for a Plan B for Iraq there is no better tool than bringing down the price of oil.”

Next his argument turns to the domestic scene, where he shows that “Main Street” is becoming worried about global warming. The responses are going to be exceedingly difficult. New innovations are required, and American know-how is still the most promising source of these developments. We have to create low-cost clean power alternatives that selling at the “.”

To do so, the most effective mechanism is free-market capitalism. Unfortunately, the energy market does not work well enough now to enable the construction of new nuclear power plants or coal sequestration technologies. The government needs to get involved, stabilizing prices and environmental standards. As matters stand now, the market is too risky for multi-year investments involving billions of dollars. The government needs to set high standards for efficiency and sustainability, and keep raising them. Ironically, it was George W. who led this approach when he was governor of Texas. His renewable energy legislation required Texas power companies to produce a specific amount of electricity from wind power. Today, there’s a locomotive factory in Pennsylvania that is selling engines to China that emit less CO2 and offers fuel efficiency. That is the way to go. Friedman quote ’s insight that is posing “a series of great opportunities disguised as insoluble problems.”

I like Friedman’s analysis, though I am puzzled by what seems to be a contradiction. He emphasizes the importance of lowering the price of Middle Eastern oil — not only as a way to subdue the anti-democratic tendencies of that region, but also as a “Geo-Green” strategy. Yet he does not spell that out. Presumably he means that by developing alternative fuels, Americans will reduce their consumption of Middle Eastern oil and hence reduce its price.

Most environmentalists see the causal relationship in a different way — and indeed Friedman does too. That is, we’d like to increase the at US pumps so as to make the (necessarily more expensive) alternative fuels competitive and hence worth developing. High gas prices are required to create the incentives for the market to support new ways of reducing greenhouse gases.

Yet isn’t this contradictory? Low petroleum prices in the Middle East will make for low (not higher) gasoline prices in the United States.

Besides, I don’t know how Friedman expects us to force the price of oil downward. That will happen, he implies, if we develop wind, nuclear, solar, and other . But elsewhere he suggests that we won’t develop those alternatives unless gas gets expensive. Where is the magic lever that’s going to set off the salutary chain of events?

Or am I missing something in his argument?


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Secular Intellectuals Confront the “Muslim Tide”

Keywords: Secularism; Muslims; nationalism; religion

My weekly treat happened today. (He’s so smart! The Globe and Mail is lucky to have him.)

This time he wrote about the “ tide,” setting up the debate by mentioning Basem, an Algerian youth living in France. Doug asked him whether he thinks of himself more as French or as Algerian. Basem replied, “Actually, I don’t see myself as French or Algerian. I just consider myself Muslim. I’m proud to be French, but I’m part of the Islamic nation before anything else.”

Naturally, Doug disliked that answer. He’s a , Western intellectual, as I am too (sort of). We feel more uncomfortable confronting a zealous religious identity than even a zealous — which set my train of thought running in a different direction from Doug’s. Yet both his subsequent thoughts and my own are worth pursuing.

What he did with the rest of his column was to reassure himself and his readers that the so-called “Muslim tide” is not as dangerous as one might think. His proof? There are two elements in it: first, that a huge and growing number of people in Europe do identify more as Muslim than as citizens of their state; but second, that the kind of Islam that they are embracing is increasingly compatible with secular values.

He picks as foreshadowing the trends we’ll soon see elsewhere. In 1999, only 36 percent of Turks considered themselves “Muslim first and Turkish second,” but today that has increased to 45 percent. At the same time, the wearing of has declined, along with attendance at mosques and support for shari’a law and the idea of Islamic political parties. To Saunders these seemingly contradictory trends mean that a form of Islam is emerging that can be a private, non-political matter. A sociologist explained to Doug that “It’s an expansion of belief, but it’s also a massive secularization of belief.”

Another related point was that the supposed “” is a myth in the West. Muslim women have lots of babies only if they live where women don’t get much education. Elsewhere, the are dropping — indeed, almost to the levels prevailing in North America and Europe.

That’s nice. I’m glad. And I take heart from the trend toward what Saunders calls “secularization.” It’s necessary if Muslims are to fit comfortably into the modern world.

But soon after reading his column, my mind went back to the original question he had set me to pondering: Why do we think national identity is okay while we dislike any primacy given to religious identity? After all, most of the wars for hundreds of years have been clashes between different nationalities. True, there had been religious wars in Europe before then — notably between Catholics and Protestants — but surely the prospect of zealous nationalism remains more ominous today than the conflict between religious communities. I myself rather cringe when I have to call myself either a Canadian or an American. Legally, I am both, but I look for a time when it is possible to say “world citizen” instead of proclaiming my territorial citizenship at all. I am an Anglican too (sort of — in a deviant way) and I would hesitate to declare myself as such. This is not because Anglicanism requires anything of me that clashes culturally within the wider society. I don’t have to wear a head scarf or kneel on the floor to pray, for example. Nobody can spot me as Anglican in a crowd. The possibility of such religious anonymity for Muslims is exactly the kind of future I hope they attain.

Yet I am a bit uncomfortable with Doug Saunders’s prescribed means to attaining that freedom: by “secularization.” The term, as he uses it here, refers to the principle that religion should be a private matter, expressed only in personal relationships and never visible in any public discourse or activity.

That is, to be sure, the way things are moving in the West. Take, for example, the increasingly frequent trend toward eliminating Christmas trees from public places, along with in the schools and other civic rituals. That is secularization, all right, but it is not how I resolved my own conflicts about religion. I would not push religion out of public activities. if anything, I’d prefer a more inclusive approach, welcoming all kinds of other faith traditions into the public sphere.

Instead of excluding religion, I would accept all kinds of religious symbolism, but with a difference. We’d need to “read” religious symbolism in a new way — as metaphor and inspirational poetry instead of literally or doctrinally. Yes, I’d have a certain private back room to which I would relegate and all of closeness to God. The public sphere would not be competitive at all, but we could nevertheless invoke spiritual guidance as we determine our collective agendas.

I am not truly secular, I guess — nor are most scientists and intellectuals, if you ask them quietly. We have a certain faith that sustains us, but we downplay the controversial beliefs and social mores that traditionally went with religion. I didn’t go to church on Easter Sunday and I certainly don’t believe that Jesus ascended bodily to heaven, yet that does not impede the valuable part of faith, which is open to everyone, regardless of his/her spiritual tradition. It’s just a matter of taking the sting out of religiosity. And I would favor that anyhow, even when it comes to private religious expressions. I want an inclusive, yet remarkably vague, kind of rhetoric. If you make it vague enough, and non-prescriptive, I can get into it with enthusiasm. If you get too familiar, however, (such as referring to Jesus by his given name in everyday conversation) I want to back away.

Yet this does not give me any specifiable principles that would make public religion generally okay. I know what it looks like when I see it, but I can’t tell you when the line has been crossed. Given that ill-defined attitude, probably the best solution really is, as Doug Saunders suggests, to define religion entirely as a private matter. Even in private, I’ll have the same uneasiness about it when I encounter fundamentalist rhetoric, but then it will just be my personal problem, not a political one.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Energy is Easy, the Environment is Hard

Keywords: Klaus Lackner; fossil fuel; carbon dioxide; climate change; carbon capture and sequestration; renewable energy; Net Zero Carbon Economy.

I spent the day reading and watching a video about energy. By far the most impressive experience was watching a superb lecture on the computer by Klaus Lackner, an engineer/physicist at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. I want to urge you to download and watch it. I was so fascinated that I watched it a second time, actually typing up a transcript of it as I watched.

Go to Lackner shows up in several places on that page but what you want is on the right side of the page – where the heading is “Klaus Lackner: The Technology Key to Sustainability.” It’s a Real Video, 1 hour and 47 minutes long. You’ll do yourself a big favor by watching it. I cannot do it justice here, but I want to tell you something about it.

The value to me was in getting a better sense of proportion about the various problems facing us – the relative weight of the options and dangers. I’d like to pass some of those insights along here.

He notes that for sustainability, we have to have land, energy, water, food, and mineral resources – but is especially important because if we have lots of it, we can make up for shortages in the other things. For example, we could de-salinate water. raise plenty of food, separate minerals from the ore, and so on. If we keep the human population below 20 billion, we need not run out of any of these supplies, so long as we have abundant energy.

And we do have energy. Plenty of it. But we cannot use much of the form of energy that we’ve been using because it is wrecking the environment. Our serious problem is not energy; it’s . And the solution has to be technological. Fortunately, are nearly within our grasp. They don’t exist yet, but Lackner is optimistic that we can make them practicable.

We are not running out of , though we may be running out of oil and gas. There are 5,000 gigatons of cheap fuel, of which we are consuming only 6 gigatons a year. Moreover, the various fossil fuels are all fungible. They can all make synthetic gas, or electricity, or transportation fuel. Chemicals can be made from hydrocarbons. Energy in the year 2100 need not be more expensive than today.

The problem with all fossil fuels consists of the , of course – including the amount that has been emitted by human activities over the past 200 years.

Lackner cannot tell us where we’re going to be in 2050 because there are too many promising possibilities. Nevertheless, he can tell us what options are “non-solutions.” Energy efficiency or reduction will not do the trick, though they may help buy us a few years of leeway in reaching other solutions. Unfortunately, we will need a 97 percent reduction of carbon in the US, and efficiency will not suffice for that. We need a .

Nor can we succeed by growing trees. Or by a hydrogen economy, for hydrogen is only an energy carrier. It may work in the future, but at present it depends on electricity, which is produced mainly by coal or nuclear. Coal costs only one-fourth as much as nuclear, but that does not mean that solves our problem.

As for nuclear, Lackner is not enthusiastic, but nor does he suggest giving it up altogether yet. Fusion is still fifty years away. may be limited by the availability of uranium, but you could still get it from ocean water fairly cheaply, and the quantity there is virtually unlimited. Besides, breeder technology allows us to amplify uranium and to obtain thorium. However, the waste disposal issue is difficult, and the cost issue is impossible. Nuclear is far too expensive.

Turning to , Lackner holds out little prospect of getting sufficient energy from hydro, wind, tidal, or ocean thermal. I was surprised that he thought wind could not make up more than 20 percent of the total. In the longer term, solar is his preferred solution. It is unlimited. However it is still too expensive right now. Nevertheless, taking all these sources together, Lackner has no doubt that future generations will have abundant access to energy.

In the short term, there are definite challenges. We will probably need to go on using fossil fuels for decades — and from his point of view we may even opt to use such fuels as gasoline indefinitely if we also develop technologies for capturing and sequestering carbon from the air and from concentrated sources such as factory smokestacks.

The sequestration has to be perfected. Even a small leak can be disastrous, so the storage underground or under the sea bed has to be secure for millennia.

Lackner is looking into the use of such as magnesium silicates, which can be turned into . is an example; it would be mined, and there is plenty of it available. The resources far exceed the world’s fossil fuel supplies. It could be done right now but at present it is too expensive – even more expensive than nuclear power plants.

Lackner surprisingly proposes using a that runs on carbon. Theoretically its efficiency is 100%, whereas hydrogen’s efficiency is only 65% or 80%. Unfortunately, I did not completely understand his description of the carbon fuel cell idea, though he showed a drawing of it. (My grasp of chemistry is weak.)

The next phase of his argument is even more obscure to me: It’s about removing carbon dioxide from the air. He says that if you take any strong hydroxide (calcium or sodium hydroxide) and let it react with the air, it will turn into a carbonate. Would that be a practical thing to do on a global scale? To answer that, he compares the kinetic energy of a windmill to the chemical energy involved in capturing the CO2 from the wind. (I can’t imagine in what sense these two things are equivalent, but that’s my problem, not his.) If the wind is going six meters per second, a “window” about the size of a TV screen can capture 22 tons of CO2 per year. That is equivalent (so he says, and I believe him) to the energy created by a windmill 400 times greater in size. It would cost about 50 cents per ton of CO2. (I don’t understand this, so probably I’m not describing it correctly. If you have any scientific savvy I hope you can figure it out anyhow.)

Next he asks whether you’d rather run your car on hydrogen or , and then sequester the CO2 that it emits. Both gasoline and hydrogen come from fossil fuel. The difference is that with hydrogen you have to transport the CO2 to the place where you will dispose of it. With gasoline, on the other hand, you don’t have to transport it – you go ahead and emit it into the air. But then you have to go extract an equivalent amount of CO2 from the air someplace else – at the site where you will sequester it. You would compare the two costs – transporting the CO2 in the former case or extracting it from the air in the other case. At present, transporting the CO2 is far cheaper. However, Lackner’s ambition is to get the price of extraction down to $30 per ton. Even if it comes down to the $100 per ton range, it would probably favor air extraction. So he is not certain that we will want to give up fossil fuels even when we have the chance.

At present, anyway, it would be folly to try to close the fossil fuel option. It may even remain the main source of energy for decades to come.

Now, I did not expect to agree to any such idea. A few days ago I would have been horrified at the very thought of living indefinitely with fossil fuels. And even today I’m not sure. For one thing, he does not say anything here about preventing the emission of other pollutants or other greenhouse gases such as nitrogen. Beyond that, I certainly don’t know enough to have an opinion, but it seems to me that this is a promising idea.

Indeed, my complaint is that Lackner does not seem sufficiently bold! He’s thinking properly, as an engineer, about comparative costs for privately-owned businesses and homes. What struck me most about his idea, though, is that it can undo mistakes that have been made in the past, and which will otherwise destroy our future. We don’t have to go through global warming at all. We can go put up some of his carbon-capturing devices right now and reverse the climate change that has already taken place – reverting to the air that our pre-industrial ancestors enjoyed. We could start building those things next year. I think our governments should do this, not auto manufacturers or electrical power plants. Sure, they will have a duty too: to clean up an equivalent to the emissions they were generating from that point onward. But we don’t have to wait. Even if is an expensive technology right now, it must be cheap compared to the climatic disasters that are already beginning and which will surely get worse over time.

Hey, Professor Lackner! If you can do this already, please don’t be modest. Tell the world what you’ve figured out. Shout out your great news! I’ll be your publicity agent.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Two New Anti-Global Warming Inventions

Keywords: Reed Jensen; SOLAREC; hydrogen production; electrolysis; carbon monoxide; concentrating solar power; Klaus S. Lackner; carbon hydroxide; capture carbon dioxide; Richard Branson; Science for Peace; Pugwash.

Last week I was enthralled by “Terra Preta,” the Amazonian soil that can save the world’s agriculture while providing us with a terrific carbon sink. This week I’ve encountered two more inventions that go far toward solving climate change. I found them on a TV broadcast that’s a lot better than the average of its kind. It’s called “,” and the third episode is the one with the best stuff. I have taped it and can share that episode with friends. There are two proposed machines that particularly intrigued me and which I’ll describe here. Unfortunately, the short segment on each one of them only stimulated my curiosity without giving many details so I’ve done further investigation through good old Google.

First, there’s the installation (see photo/graphic) created by and his daughter Anne. A working prototype (maybe even several versions) are already functioning in the desert near Los Alamos, New Mexico, where Jensen used to be a laser specialist with the National Laboratory. (I don’t even like to think about his former job, which must have been related to nuclear weapons somehow.) When the sun is shining this machine produces both and fuel without using any fossil fuels whatever.

Until now the problem with the vaunted “hydrogen economy” has been that the hydrogen is produced by electrolysis, which cracks water into hydrogen plus water. But this electrolysis requires electricity, which is generated mainly by fossil fuels. For this reason, there’s no advantage in hydrogen cars, so long as fossil fuels are required to produce the hydrogen. “You’d do better just to run your diesel engines,“ says Jensen.

His invention, on the other hand, is truly green. Not only does the production take place entirely without fossil fuels, but the hydrogen that it produces costs only half as much as the fuel made by .

The electricity production is done through the same method that has been applied elsewhere: . An array of mirrors is set up to move around to keep up with the sun. It looks a bit like a satellite TV dish, but the function is entirely different. Here the sun’s rays focus on a small chamber that concentrates heat, which powers a turbine. I’m not completely sure of this, because it’s not described at all – probably because this electricity production aspect is not the interesting part. It gets exciting only when we turn to the hydrogen production aspect.

To produce hydrogen, you want solar rays (tightly focused by the ) to create intense heat in the small chamber, where it splits to create plus oxygen. You release the oxygen into the air, but you must combine the carbon monoxide very quickly with water. (Speed is essential, lest the whole process go backward.) Neither the film nor the Internet description is completely adequate — neither source gives the chemical formula — but from my weak memory of high school chemistry, I infer that it probably goes like this: H2O + CO -> CO2 + 2H. Thus you get some carbon dioxide back at the end, in addition to this separate hydrogen, which is the name of the game. You hang onto your two hydrogen atoms until the sun sets and leaves you needing electricity in the dark, whereupon you burn the hydrogen to generate power. Indeed, you will probably even have some surplus hydrogen to sell to, say, service stations that provide fuel for hydrogen-powered cars.

Jensen says that a 100 square meter mirror SOLAREC system produces about 24 kilowatts worth of hydrogen and 25 kilowatts of electricity, making it nearly 48 percent efficient. Other systems that generated only electricity with concentrated solar power are about 30 percent efficient.

His company, Renewable Energy Corp (RECO), produced a dish that cost about $30,000. It operated for about two years. The next version was slated to measure about 20 square meters and to be located south of Santa Fe. RECO’s web site mentions a potential installation in Hawaii, which would produce 1 megawatt of power with about 40 solar concentrators. It would cost about $5 million and would power about 300 homes. At that volume, electricity would cost about one-fourth as much as electricity produced by photovoltaic electrolysis using solar panels. Or it would cost one-half the price of fuel produced by windmill/ electrolysis. Best of all, a SOLOREC plant will prevent the emission of about 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions over its lifetime.

The company says that some of their customers will avoid the grid connection altogether. Grid customers, on the other hand, may order groups of 10,000 focusing dish, each one with a single turbine and fuel conversion plant.

Sounds good to me.

Meanwhile in New York City, has been working to develop a device that is not going to produce energy at all, but will remove carbon from the atmosphere for . The TV series also described his project, which is also described on-line.

The great thing about Lackner’s system is that it can immediately remove CO2 that is already ambient in the air, where it is causing global warming. You don’t have to capture it while it is being emitted from, say, a factory or a vehicle — in fact, that would be inefficient because then you’d have to transport the CO2 (probably through pipelines) to the site where it would be sequestered. Instead, let the air transport it for you. The novel point about Lackner’s scheme is this: you set up the device to capture the carbon from the air exactly where you’re going to bury it. It also doesn’t matter whether this CO2 is anthropogenic or of natural origins (as about 99 percent of it is). It all moves around in the wind, so it does not matter where it originated. You just want to remove an amount equal to the stuff that is being emitted elsewhere.

Lackner is not optimistic about being able to replace fossil fuel with sustainable sources of energy in a timely way. We are going to continue emitting greenhouse gases for quite a while, like it or not. But we can capture the CO2, starting pretty soon. In fact, with enough of his tall, “harp-shaped” towers, we could even reduce the atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to pre-Kyoto levels.

Apparently there are numerous chemicals that bind with carbon dioxide and therefore can be captured and sequestered. Lackner is proposing the use of — also called because of its frequent use in portland cement. This “slaked lime” apparently is available in ample quantities from limestone. However, Lackner is not committed to this particular chemical and says that probably other substances would work equally well or even better. The point of his paper is to show mathematically that the carbon dioxide capture from natural airflow is technically feasible at a rate far above the rate at which trees capture it.

Removing CO2 from one cubic meter of air and disposing of it will offset the effects of generating 10,000 joules of heat from gasoline anywhere in the world. Is this economically viable? Lackner says yes.. He points out that the kinetic energy of a cubic meter of air is 60 j. A windmill that operates by extracting kinetic energy from natural airflow needs to be two orders of magnitude larger than a CO2 collector that compensates for the emissions of a diesel engine that generates the same amount of energy. “Since appear economically viable, this suggests that the capturing apparatus should not be too expensive to build,“ he argues. Indeed, he pursues other kinds of comparisons between alternative fuels and his scheme, always reaching encouraging conclusions.

“Average fluxes in desert climates accounting for weather and day and night are around 200 W/m2. Photovoltaic panels can capture maybe 25 percent of this flux. Under conditions of intensive agriculture, biomass growth can capture maybe 1.5% of this flux, and thus would rate at roughly 3 W/m2. typical unmanaged forest growth would fall far short of capturing even that much carbon equivalent. ...If one could maintain a flow of 3 m/s through some filter system and collect half the CO2 that passes through it, then the system would collect per square meter the CO2 output from 15 kW of primary energy. This is more than the per capita primary energy consumption in the US, which is approximately 10 KW. The size of a CO2 collection system would thus have to be less than 1 m square per person. Covering the same energy demand with wind-generated electricity instead would require an area at least a hundred times larger. ”

Lackner also calculates the probable costs. If the only costs were those involved in capturing and scrubbing out the CO2, it would add only about 50 cents to the cost of a ton of CO2 – but there is more involved than that. For example, there the cost of recovering the sorbent and releasing the CO2 in a concentrated stream ready for disposal. These steps are likely to be far more expensive than the capture itself, so that processing a ton of material will be measured in dollars, not cents. Citing an estimate by Gilberto Rozenchan of some $10 to $15 per ton of CO2, Lackner concludes that this is still a promising prospect for, “it would allow capturing the CO2 from gasoline for 9 – 14 cents per gallon of gasoline.”

No life-sized prototypes of this scheme have been built, apparently, but Lackner describes what they would look like. Each filter bank would be about as tall as a high-rise building, located in an airflow stream, not spaced close to other filters (for that would be inefficient).

“The cost of a collection tower, even if it exceeded the $9 million implied by a cost of $3,000/kW for its electricity generating cousin [the wind turbine, I think he means] would still be extremely cheap compared to the cost of the coal-fired power plant, which would be approximately $300 to $400 million.”

If the sorbent chosen is calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)2), its output will be , the stuff of which seashells are composed. Attached to the filter system, it will easily capture CO2 from the air; the expensive requirement will then be to recover the sorbent. However, Lackner thinks that other sorbents may be much cheaper than calcium hydroxide.

“Even a worldwide collection system does not have to be extremely large. Per person the cross sectional area facing the wind would have to be about 0.12 m. The area would increase to 0.65m per person if the world’s per capita energy consumption would reach the current US per capita consumption. At present rate, 380,000 collection units, each taking up 100 m by 100 m in land area could collect all the CO2 emissions from human activities. One would need one such unit (roughly two football fields ) for every 16,000 people. These units could share the land with other activities... The 380,000 units would have to be spread out over an area at least 530 km by 530 km, of which they would occupy 1.4%.”

I want to see this scheme elaborated. Who is ready to pay the bill for a prototype filter? Perhaps Sir . He has offered a huge reward (I think $1 billion) to the person who comes up with a practical way of capturing CO2 from the planet’s atmosphere. Maybe Lackner will win. (I hope so, though it does worry me slightly that his filters would capture CO2 but not the other greenhouse gases, such as methane and nitrogen. Perhaps someone else will work out a filter for them too.)

It seems to me that and include a number of scientists who are qualified to review this proposal expertly. I intend to circulate this blog entry to several people in the hope that our organizations can take the initiative in lobbying for government support to experiment with these two remarkable inventions.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Privacy and Immortality

Keywords: Steve Paikin; Justin Kan; Facebook; The Agenda; privacy; immortality; Bertrand Russell; Ervin Laszlo; Akashic field

Steve Paikin’s TV show “The Agenda,” tonight was about the decline of privacy. Much of the program dealt with a 23-year-old guy named (see photo), who has been wearing a on the side of his head, 24 hours per day for the past 18 days. It records what he is seeing and all the sounds around him, and he presumably posts that on ,” for all the world to see. He says he even wears it in the bathroom and in the shower. Everyone else had a qualified acceptance of this new openness, which they say is prevalent among young people who carry on a good deal of their social life on-line. I myself am not quite sure what to think of it. Steve Paikin joked that he will be very embarrassed late in life when this record of his youth is viewed, for most people are not proud of their lost youth.

Justin says it has made him a better person. He no longer talks about other people much behind their backs. He tells the truth more consistently because he knows he will get caught if he lies.

Other panelists said that most employers now look over the web sites and Facebook or MySpace pages of candidates for jobs. Some employers even say that they would not hire someone he lacked any such evidence about his interests and personality, for that is the best way to tell how trustworthy a person is.

There was some discussion as to whether it’s a good idea to let your own name and personal identifying information be posted on-line. One panelist said that it is not essential to use one’s real name; what matters is the establishing of a “persistent identity,” even under a pseudonym. By operating publicly in an on-line community over time, you build up a reputation because other people talk about you and say what they really think. It might be good for lots of us to know what other people were saying about us -- or then, maybe not.

I guess I tend to be relatively unconcerned about . I was naming my friends here in my blog for a long time until someone told me that it is unethical or maybe illegal. That surprised me. Since then I have made up a name once or twice, but generally I just describe a conversation I had with “a friend” or “a colleague” without naming them. To me it feels normal to post stories about conversations and even disputes with others, but now I know that I should not do so, except in the case of friends who are famous and therefore have forfeited their privacy already – as in the case of politicians and movie actors. Legally I think these people are called “public personalities.”

Am I a better person for having a blog? No. But I think the motivation for keeping a blog is the same as Justin’s motivations for living his life completely transparently. I like the idea of leaving footprints behind me – as permanently as possible. I don’t expect to experience personal in the sense of continuing my individual consciousness after I die. I don’t expect to attain “immortality” in the way that a great writer or painter may hope to become respected for hundreds or even a thousand years. But I like the idea of leaving my fingerprints and footprints – evidence that I did exist and had experiences.

I’ve just finished reading ’s marvelous book, , which is relevant to this idea of leaving footprints. I consider Laszlo extremely credible. He says that consciousness is part of every physical particle in the universe. Moreover, he says that underlying the physical universe is a field of information that pervades the universe and perhaps all universes that have and will exist.

Now, within this field, picture two boats that leave wakes behind them. Where their wakes meet, a new is created. In the case of water, the ripples die down after a while because of friction, but there are elements in existence that have no friction whatever, so in such a medium, the wakes and the interference patterns that they create will be permanent. A is that kind of thing: an interference pattern.

That is also the kind of thing that the is, according to Laszlo. It’s permanent and frictionless. Whatever we do in the world creates a “wake” that is multi-dimensional (not just on the flat surface of a lake) and that makes interference patterns with all the other wakes that are created by others. These wakes and interference patterns are immortal – they last forever.

I find that notion heartening. Unfortunately, the evidence as to my past misdeeds will also be there in what others called “the book of life,” (along with Justin’s photo wearing nothing but whipped cream) but we must just accept that as the price of having a kind of immortality. Derek Paul said the other day (here I go, using his name without his permission) that he arrived at a notion similar to Laszlo’s from . Although Russell called himself an atheist, he said that after he died he expected to rejoin the great field of consciousness. (Or something close to that notion.) Derek liked the concept and has believed it ever since. I think I do too. And I’m not even an atheist — nor is Derek. I don’t know whether Laszlo would call himself an atheist or not.

But lest Laszlo and Russell are mistaken about the frictionless information field, I hope to leave my blogs and books behind for as long as possible after I’m gone. (Not that anyone is likely to search through them.)

And Justin is leaving behind a video recording of his daily life. I looked a few minutes ago and he was walking down the street in San Francisco. The sidebar said he was annoyed because his date had been fucked up by the Canadian TV appearance. Let me check in again before leaving him now. Ah, so. He’s rummaging through his backpack in his apartment and watching TV with a friend. This is his grab at immortality without privacy and, I hope for his sake, without regrets.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Dealing with Iran

Keywords: Iran; Tony Blair; George W. Bush; Javier Solana; rhetoric; US attack on Iran; Andrei Uglanov; Ahmadinajad; Democrats in Congress.

Iran seems to be undermining the solidarity between the Blair and Bush administrations. Despite the fact that Iran is still holding (see photo), alleging that they were captured in Iranian waters, the rhetoric between the UK and seems to be quieting down. The Iranians deny that they are going to put the sailors on trial, and the British say they are willing to engage on dialogue about the issue, though of course they have not apologized. It seems that the British wisely are proceeding by cooling the rhetoric, and the Iranians may be reciprocating, at least in reducing the overt saber-rattling.

However, now other countries are taking stands. The has weighed in today, with its chief diplomat holding his first contacts with the Iranian authorities about this and other controversies. Next week, he will talk with the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator next week.

Meanwhile, President Bush answered a reporter’s question about the sailors with much greater hostility than the British have been displaying, referring to them as , a term that has been pointedly avoided in London. And, characteristically, , until recently the US Ambassador to the United Nations, called the British approach to their problem “pathetic.” Fortunately, it is not up to Bush to decide how to handle Britain’s predicament.

Yet Bush may be ready to wage war against Iran anyway, both on the grounds that it is sending weapons into Iraq and, more seriously, that it has not bent to any foreign demands to halt the presumed pursuit of nuclear weaponry. Though gambling types have been placing bets for weeks as to whether the US will attack Iran, there is no compelling evidence either way. Nevertheless, there are growing rumors, especially since the , under pressure by the Israel lobby, recently passed a supplement that did not rule out an attack against Iran. To be sure, they want to halt the war in Iraq, but evidently Iran is quite another matter.

Today a report was forwarded to me on-line detailing supposed plans for a US attack on Iran, which is supposedly set for 4 am on April 6 – Good Friday. The Russian journalist reported this story in Moscow’s Argumenty Nedeli, citing Russian military experts.

The attack will last 12 hours, and will bomb about 20 targets, including facilities, research centers, and laboratories. One reactor will not be attacked however, since Russians are working there. The battle plan involves the impairment of the Iranian air defence system, the sinking of several Iranian in the Persian Gulf, and the destruction of the chief headquarters of the Iranian armed forces.

The attacks will come from several basis, notably Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, where B-52 bombers are based. Aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean will send airplanes, and submarines will fire cruise missiles. The intention is the set back Iran’s nuclear weapons program by several years.

Some people never learn. Bush especially. The US is laboring under great difficulty throughout the Islamic world because he has antagonized so many Muslims. There is very considerable opposition to in Iran, and if US pressure against him were subdued, the who oppose him would soon gain the upper hand. But no! Bush may indeed strike against that country and make it impossible for Iranian moderates to oppose their own wild president.

Settle down, George. This time you need to take a lesson from Tony Blair.