Renewable Energy: The Real Cost

Bright Green Lies - MonkfishMonkfish

Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About it

By Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keither and Max Wilbert

Monkfish Book Publishing Company (2021)

Book Review

The main premise of this book is that fossil fuels, especially oil, are functionally irreplaceable – that there is no way we can run our present industrialized society on renewable energy alone. A “Bright Green” environmentalist, according to the authors, is one who believes that green technology and design, along with ethical consumerism, will allow our modern, high-energy lifestyle to continue indefinitely.

The bulk of the book examines the massive environmental degradation associated with each of the renewable technologies, alongside major economic obstacles that prevent them from replacing fossil fuels. The authors devote an entire chapter to Germany. Despite spending tens of billions of dollars annually subsidizing renewable energy, the country derives 11.5% of its energy (30% of it biomass from clear cut forests*) from renewables.

Solar

Mining and manufacturing processes that produce silicon PVC’s are enormously energy intensive. In addition to producing hundreds of tons of CO2, the process produces large amounts of hexafluoroethane, nitrogentrifluoride and sulfur hexafluoride, greenhouse gasses tens of thousands of times more potent than CO2. They are also turning vast areas of China into wastelands where nothing grows and residents experience high cancer rates.

Wind

One Bright Green environmentalist calculates we must build 3.8 million 5MW wind turbines by 2030 to phase out our fossil fuel use by 2050. This will require 1.4 billion tons of steel for the towers and 1.9 million tons of copper for the nacelles.

The world’s largest iron mine is in an area of clear cut Amazon rainforest in Brazil. In addition to displacing hundreds of thousands of indigenous Brazilians, it (like other iron mines around the world) disseminates toxic wastes that cause cancer, birth defects and lung disease in nearby residents. Steel manufacture is the third largest source of green house gases after fossil fuels and electrical generation.

The largest global copper mine is the Rio Tinto Kennicott open pit copper mine near Salt Lake City. In addition to contaminating the region’s groundwater, the mine has contaminated the Great Salt Late with mercury, arsenic and asbestos-related chemicals.

Recycling steel and copper doesn’t significantly reduce the massive amount of energy required (and carbon emissions produced). At present, roughly 80% of steel is already recycled (the rate’s even higher for copper). Steel’s massive carbon footprint stems from the fossil fuel energy required for the 3200 degree F smelting furnaces used.

In addition, expanding US wind energy to produce 20% of the country’s total electricity is estimated to result in the death of 1.4 million birds yearly from collisions with its turbine blades. This doesn’t include bird deaths from habitat destruction or collision with towers and power lines.

Energy Storage

Unlike fossil fuels, which store energy, renewable energy technology requires separate storage infrastructure for days when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.

The most efficient storage batteries use 40-year-old lithium based technology. Fifty percent of the world’s lithium comes from high desert basins in Nevada, Tibet, Bolivia and Chile. Lithium mines in Chile’s desert basin have totally wiped out fish and unique desert vegetation, in addition to deprive the area’s subsistence farmers of scarce water resources. Lithium batteries aren’t recycled because it makes no economic sense: It’s complex, hazardous and more expensive than mining lithium.

Other storage technologies explored include

  •  green (produced from hydrolysis) hydrogen fuel cells – which suck up scarce clean water resources and release carcinogenic polytetrafluoroethylene (aka Teflon) to the environment.
  • pumped hydrostorage, which requires large artificial reservoirs similar to those used for hydropower schemes. At present artificial reservoirs are responsible for 23% of all methane emissions linked to human activities.
  • Compressed air – which is only 50% efficient and requires massive investment in CO2-producing infrastructure and freshwater consumption.

The conclusion the authors reach is that serious environmentalists should stop campaigning for corporate interests promoting renewable energy technology. What they recommend instead is

1. Campaigning to stop all environmental destruction caused by so-called green energy projects; oil, gas and coal extraction: urban sprawl; road building; industrial agriculture; deforestation; the destruction of coastal wetlands and peat bogs and the production of nuclear energy and weapons

2. Helping to heal the planet  by promoting natural carbon sequestration

  • through regenerative farming and pastoral management** and
  • restoring wild grasses, forests and seaweed.

3. Campaigning to downsize energy consumption by transitioning from a perpetual growth to a steady state economy.

4. Campaigning to reduce hyper consumption and overpopulation (by liberating women***).

5. Adopting the same attitudes and behaviors required to prepare for the collapse of civilization (which looks increasingly likely). In other words, working to rebuild local communities to be self-sufficient and respectful of all life (including human beings).


*At present Germany imports timber and wood chips from clear cutting operations in the US, Canada, South Africa, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Norway, Belarus, and Ukraine to feed its biofuel industry. Much of this timber is sourced from US Southern wetland forests that are being cleared four times faster than the Amazon.

**The nacelle is the cover housing that houses all of the generating components in a wind turbine, including the generator, gearbox, drive train, and brake assembly.

***Research reveals that increase the carbon content of our soils by 2% would offset 100% of our greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

****Empowering women to pursue secondary and tertiary education is consistently associated with lower fertility rates.

Amazon’s CamperForce: A New Twist on Elder Abuse

Books About RVing And Workkamping: Nomadland Book Review

Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century

By Jessica Bruder (2017)

W W Norton

Book Review

This book is about America’s new underclass, elderly middle class Americans who (after losing their jobs, pensions and savings in the 2008 global economic crash) work at minimum wage jobs and live in vans, RVs and sedans. Spending a total of three years researching this subculture, author Jessica Bruder lived in her own van for awhile and worked as an Amazon CamperForce employee get to know some of the individuals she profiles.*

While Bruder identifies a number of industries that deliberately exploit older Americans, Amazon is clearly the most hated by elderly “vandwellers.” To avoid hiking wages, Amazon annually recruits homeless seniors to staff their warehouses in the three to four months leading up to Christmas. The program, which pays $11.50 an hour plus mandatory overtime, requires them to work ten hours a day or longer and walk an average of 15 miles, in temperatures ranging up to 90 degrees (100 degrees in some warehouses). Stress injuries are so common in CamperForce employees that the company installs vending machines dispensing free over-the-counter painkillers in many warehouses.

Ironically taxpayers subsidize this exploitation, as Amazon receives Work Opportunity Tax Credits for every employee they hire receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or food stamps.

While Bruder acknowledges the warm fuzzy feelings that can occur from helping each other out during a crisis, after three winters it became hard to ignore the genuine hardships faced by this exploited underclass. These include the struggle to keep warm in a van or camper in sub-freezing temperatures, vehicle breakdowns they can’t afford to pay for (in some cases while still paying off vehicle loans), coping with illnesses and work injuries with no health insurance coverage,** difficulty renewing renewing a drivers license with no permanent address, a growing number of local laws criminalizing homelessness and new US Forest Service policies that discourage people with no fixed address from “camping” free in federal forests.

Last, but not least, is the troubling question of where elderly vandwellers go when they become too frail to work. With most of them earning a monthly average of $424 Social Security income (following their $100 Medicare deduction), they have no hope of paying rent anywhere in the US.


*The book seems nothing like the Academy-award winning movie, at least according to a review I read. See The Amazon Warehouse as Disneyland

**Vandwellers who spend their winters in southern California, Arizona and New Mexico frequently go to Mexico for dental procedures, pharmaceuticals and eye glasses that are a fraction of what they would pay in the US.

 

 

 

 

The Amazon Warehouse as Disneyland

The Amazon Warehouse as Disneyland

By Jason Myles

Film Review

This short video is a review of Nomadland, the film that won best picture, director and  female lead at this year’s Academy Awards.. According to Myles, this film is a pro-corporate propaganda flick totally at odds with the Jessica Bruder’s 2017 book. The purpose of her book was to expose the scandalous exploitation by Amazon, Walmart, Uber and other ruthless corporate retailers of itinerant American seniors who lost their homes and life savings in the 2008 financial crash. Homeless and unable to provide for  basic needs on Social Security, they live in cars, campervans and tent cities while earning $11.50 an hour (without benefits) as contract workers in temporary warehouse jobs.

The film captures none of this real-life human misery. The main character comes from Empire, a former Nevada gypsum mining town that closed up when the 2008 recession produced so many vacant homes the construction industry (and demand for gypsum-based wallboard) collapsed. She ends up living in her van (which is totally unsuited to the region’s sub-zero weather) in Fernley Nevada working on a temporary contract in an Amazon “fulfillment center.”

Rather than accurately depicting the cruel exploitation of her situation (as the book does), the film portrays Fern’s exploitation as a modern day hobo adventure story based on poor lifestyle choices.

The Amazon warehouse she works in is totally unlike any I’ve previously read about or seen in documentaries. Rather than being stressed to the max with exhausting efficiency demands (see  https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/5004230/amazon-warehouse-working-conditions/), Fern is portrayed as casually laughing and joking with other employees as she works.

Digital Disconnect: Does the Internet Make US Smarter or Dumber?

Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy

Directed by Ridley Scott (2018)

Film Review

Based on media critic Robert McChesney’s book by the same name, this is a thoughtful exploration of the growing debate whether the Internet makes us smarter (by giving us access to information) or dumber (owing to information overload and algorithms that trap us in unique information bubbles* and bombard us with corporate/government propaganda, “fake news” and orchestrated distraction).

McChesney begins by tracing the steady transition from the Internet’s early egalitarian, democratic, community-focused roots to its present domination by four major corporations (Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google).

McChesney begins by dispelling the myths we our taught in school – that capitalism is synonymous with democracy. He points out that capitalist economic systems are very common under totalitarian systems, eg China, Chile under Pinochet and Italy under Mussolini. Class society and inequality are fundamental aspects of capitalism, as is the tendency for monopolies to drive small and medium sized companies out of business.

He points to a number of significant government decisions that have enabled the inevitable corporate takeover of the Internet, first created in 1969 (at taxpayer expense) as the military project Arpanet.

In 1985, the US military transferred Internet oversight to the National Science Foundation (an independent agency of the US government). While under NSF control there was a specific ban on using the Internet for profit-making purposes.

Under the 1993 Communications Act, the Clinton administration repealed this ban, allegedly to increase competition and reduce costs. This, combined with an FCC ruling exempting telecoms and cable providers from an obligation to share their cable networks with Internet service providers (ISPs), would allow three telecoms monopolies (Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T) to dominate the entire US broadband network. Thanks to this monopoly power, US Internet enjoys the highest access costs and lowest Internet speeds in the world.

McChesney devotes the final third of the film is devoted to an analysis of the importance of surveillance (data collection) in enabling the Internet monopolies to derive income from their services. By collecting massive amounts of data on our online lives (and selling this date to other corporations), corporate monopolies produce complex algorithms enticing us to purchase ever more stuff we don’t really want or need.


*Google, Facebook and Amazon all use complex algorithms to only show you news and search items that reflect your past Internet history.

 

 

 

Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos

Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos

PBS (2020)

Film Review

This new PBS documentary about Bezos and Amazon is far more extensive than prior exposes. In addition to getting six senior Amazon managers to respond (on camera) to critics, it also reflects significant moves within the federal government to limit Amazon’s monopoly power.

What comes across most clearly for me is the stark contrast between Trump’s attacks on Bezos (on Twitter)* and Obama’s fawning attitude towards the company’s stellar financial success.

This is the first documentary to make clear that Bezos deliberately set out to create a monopoly – how he deliberately operated at a loss for more than a decade to undercut (via lower prices) and destroy his competition. The list of businesses of all sizes (including authors, publishers, bookstores, and increasingly other retailers) Amazon has put out of business is substantial. Globally, the company is directly responsible for shutting down 38% of retail outlets in two decades.

In recent years, Amazon has also set out to capture the services market at well, seeking to undercut FedEx and UPS in delivery services, Netflix in film production and streaming, Apple and Spotify in music streaming services, and Dropbox, Google, and Microsoft in cloud streaming services.

The company also has health professionals worried with their expansion into pharmaceutical sales and health insurance, likewise food retailers with their purchase of Whole Foods. Moreover in the past year, Bezos has announced his intention to launch a digital advertising platform to rival Google and Facebook.

At present Amazon essentially “owns” the online Main Street, controlling 40% of the global online market place. They also spend more on lobbying US politicians than an any other single entity. However despite all the cash flowing to Washington lawmakers, both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and a House Committee chaired by Congressman David Cicillini (Dem, RI) are investigating the need to restrict the range of services Amazon is allowed to offer, as well as their collection and use of customer data.


*Trump has attacked Amazon for tax avoidance and exploiting the US Post Office, and Bezo personally for his ownership of the Washington Post (and its attacks on Trump).

Amazon: Taking Over the Global Economy

The World According to Amazon

Directed by Adrian Anon and Thomas Larfarge

Film Review

In this documentary, filmmakers express grave concerns about Amazon corporation assuming monopoly control over the entire global market place. At present the company has three million customers across five continents. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is the world’s first centibillionaire.

Amazon destroys two jobs for every one it creates. Owing the monopoly’s power to undercut all competitors, it is largely responsible for the closure (over 10 years) of 85 small businesses and 35,000 small and medium size manufacturers.

Amazon controls half of online US commerce and leads the market in sales of books, electronics, personal care products, DVDs toys, and clothing (which it also manufactures). It also sells drugs, insurance, video on demand, music streaming, video games, and cloud data storage. I was surprised to learn that 60% of Amazon’s profits derive from its 120 data centers, which host web servers in addition to providing cloud storage.

Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post, Whole Foods, and Blue Origin, a private rocket manufacturer and spaceflight services company.

Bezos’ immense wealth affords him immense political power. Last year, he forced Seattle City Council to repeal a $275 per employee tax on the city’s largest companies to fund an emergency housing program.*

Largely thanks to Amazon, which has its headquarters there, Seattle has the highest per capita homeless rate in the US. At present, 1,000 people move to Seattle every week, most to work for Amazon. With no possible way for the city’s housing market to keep up, this pushes many existing residents (who can’t afford 10% year rent increases) onto the streets.

Bezos’ steady takeover of the global marketplace receives little mainstream media attention. The only serious push back he has received has been from striking German unions and from Dehli merchants determined to keep Amazon out of India. Owing to its immense monopoly power, Amazon can afford to operate (for years) at a loss in India. Dehli merchants, who are a major base of support for Narenda Mohdi’s BJP party, are busy organizing national bus tours to warn other small business owners of the risk Amazon poses to their survival.

Unlike Europe, where Amazon faces no major competition, both Flipkart (started by two former Amazon employees) and Paytm (a subsidiary of China’s giant e-commerce platform Alibaba) are both major competitors in India.


*Bezos, who initially agreed to the tax, changed his mind 24 hours after the city council enacted it unanimously.

Anyone with a public library card can see the documentary free on Kanopy. Type “Kanopy” and the name of your library into your search engine to register.

Amazon Rainforest Protectors: Putting Their Lives on the Line

Brazil’s President vs the Amazon

SBS Dateline (2019)

Film Review

This Australian documentary is about the indigenous Mundruku tribe and their efforta to stop illegal deforestation in the Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Altogether the Amazon is home to 300 indigenous tribes. All are threatened by multinational mining, agricultural and logging interests. This film also looks at the big threat to their way of life posed by the election of right wing populist Jair Bolsonaro as president.

The fillmmakers begin by interviewing the mayor of nearly Intaituba, a strong Bolsonaro supporter facing fines and corruption charges for illegally clearing forest to set up a cattle ranch. The mayor lobbies for international gold mining interests in addition to international and domestic agribusiness.

Under Brazil’s former government, indigenous tribes could file claims to have their ancestral lands demarcated for protection from logging schemes. Bolsonaro who has transferred oversight of indigenous rights to the department of agriculture, has suspended the right of Brazil’s first peoples to make further claims.

In response, Mundruku women from adjoining villages have installed their own signs demarcating their land.They are also organizing a resistance movement to confront illegal loggers. They do so despite numerous threats they have received from logging interests in the past.

They’re not the first Amazon protectors to put their lives on the line. Hundreds of rainforest activists have been murdered (with impunity) in the decades-long battle to save the rainforest known as the lungs of the world.

Omnipotent: Amazon, Jeff Bezos and Collecting Data

Omnipotent: Amazon, Jeff Bezos and Collecting Data

DW (2019)

Film Review

Amazon, which presently controls 50% of the US retail marketplace, relies heavily on data collection to flog its products, as Facebook and Google do. In addition to books and consumer products, Amazon also sells insurance, medication, films, TV programs and facial recognition software. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also owns Whole Foods and the Washington Post.

In addition to aggressively buying out competitors to maintain his retail monopoly, he also uses the massive amount of personal data he collects to suggest products for his customers to buy. .

In 2018, Bezos used his monopoly status to force the Seattle City Council to repeal a 0.7 payroll tax to provide housing for the city’s growing homeless population. Amazon, which pays virtually no taxes, provides 45,000 jobs in Seattle. About a third receive such low pay they qualify for food stamps.

Across the US and throughout Europe, the growing Amazon monopoly has led to the closure of hundreds of thousands of brick and mortar retail stores and the virtual death of numerous city centers.

As a matter of policy, Amazon declined to be interviewed for this documentary. So the filmmakers interviewed Alexa instead.


*Alexa is Amazon’s cloud-based voice activated Internet search service.

 

 

If It’s Free, You’re the Product

Digital Dissidents Part 2

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

“If It’s Free You’re the Product”

In Part 2, Digital Dissidents reminds us that Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple daily collect and “monetize” (ie sell) millions of data points about us (including records of financial transactions).

The documentary also features rare commentary by Julian Assange on Sweden’s attempts* to charge him with sexual assault. These charges mysteriously surfaced exactly two weeks after Anonymous hacker Jeremy Hammonds released hacked emails between intelligence contractor Stratfor and the US government about potential charges against Assange under the 2017 Espionage Act. Was this mere coincidence? It seems unlikely.

NSA whistleblowers Thomas Drake and William Binney also talk candidly about the devastating effects of whistleblowing on their personal lives. His career in software systems management ruined, Drake presently clerks in an Apple retail outlet.

Binney, who refers to the NSA as “the Stasi** on super steroids, calls for the total dissolution of NSA. He maintains it has too much power to be reformed.


*Sweden dropped the sexual assault charges against Assange in Sept 2017. As Assange points out in the film, neither woman filed a police complaint and one accuses the police of inventing the crimes she supposedly accused him of.

**As the intelligence/security service for the former East German Republic, the Stasi was one of the most viciously repressive secret police agencies ever.

The video, which can’t be embedded for copyright reasons, can be viewed for free at the Al Jazeera website: Digital Dissidents

The Coming Financial Crash: Learning from History

Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity

Edited by Michael Lewis

WW Norton (2009)

Book Review

This book is a collection of essays about the four major Wall Street crashes of the last 30 years. The first was Black Monday, on October 19, 1987; the second the 1997 Asian financial crisis; the third the Dotcom crash of 2000-2002; and the fourth the global economic crash of 2007-2008.

Black Monday

At the time, Black Monday was the worst Wall Street crash in history – with a percentage decline in stock prices twice that of the 1929 crash. The various essays blame Black Monday on two main causes: an overvalued stock market (with too many shares bought with borrowed money) and new computerized trading programs that automatically sold larges volumes of institutional stocks (from pension plans, mutual funds, etc) once their price dropped below a designated price.

Asian Financial Crisis

The collapse of South East Asian currencies (South Korea, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia) in 1997 is blamed on a variety of factors. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad blamed Soros, but Lewis claims the latter had temporarily stopped currency trading in 1997. The Asian crisis was contagious, causing investors to also pull their funds out of Russia and Brazil, as well as the six Asian countries. Both the ruble and the Brazilian real collapsed in 1998.

China, India and Vietnam were virtually unaffected, as they defied the US and IMF by imposing capitol and currency controls (preventing foreign investors from withdrawing funds or exchanging large amounts of currency without government authorization).

All three countries continued to experience 9-11% growth during the next decade.

Dot Com Crash

The Dot Com boom was largely fueled by the advent of computerized day trading, allowing investors to purchase large volumes of stock directly without going through established brokers. It was also the first time in history that investors scurried to buy shares in companies that operated at a loss. The immediate cause of the Dot Com crash was a decision by the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates, bankrupting hundreds of Internet startups that could no longer afford to borrow money. Amazon, which also operated at a lost, was spared by the continued support of Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr.

The 2008 Global Economic Collapse

The most interesting essays in this section are by analysts who predicted the collapse. Hedge fund manager John Paulson made $3-4 billion in 2007-2008 by correctly predicting the timing of the crash and purchasing cheap credit default swaps.* As mortgage bonds started failing, demand for CDS’s skyrocketed as investors rushed to limit their losses.


*A credit default swap is a financial swap agreement that the bank that issues the CDS will compensate the buyer in the event of a debt default or other credit event.