Mutually Assured Destruction Gives Way To Monetizing Atomic Derelicts

atlas thermonuclear warheadWe were utterly fascinated to read this article in the New York Times revealing that a full 50% of the nuclear fuel used in reactors in the United States comes from recycled nuclear bombs, primarily from Russia. Which pretty much explains why disarmament has been happening! And it has a nice swords-to-plowshares narrative, to boot.

Eventually, however, the available supply of decommissioned nuclear weapons will run out, and nuclear power plants will have to turn to much more expensive unenriched uranium ore from mines around the world. An MIT study estimates that there is enough ore in the ground to “fuel the development of 1000 reactors over the next half century and to maintain this level of development over a 40 year lifetime of this fleet,” although there are dipsutes over how efficiencies in ore extraction and recycling will affect long-term supply.

Does that take care of the problem, then? Continue reading

What Does Buffett’s Railroad Play Mean For The Environment?

bnsfYesterday, famed American investor Warren Buffett announced that his holding company, Berkshire Hathaway, would purchase the remaining shares of Burlington North Sante Fe railroad that it did not already hold. The $44 billion acquisition is the largest in Berkshire’s history, and pundits have been opining on what it says about Buffett’s forecasts for the U.S. economy (not for nothing is he called the “Oracle of Omaha”).

The dominant narrative is that by purchasing a railroad, Buffett has made a bet on a U.S. economic recovery. That is to say, the demand for the cross-country shipment of raw and finished materials would increase, and Buffett’s investment would prosper.

But the story has an environmental component, too. Buffett himself said that in terms of relative energy efficiency, rail transport is done “in an extraordinarily environmentally friendly way.” Buffett posited that on average in the United States, one gallon of fuel can move a ton of goods 470 miles over rail (or 435 miles, either way); compare to trucking, which gets anywhere between 130 to 186 ton-miles/gallon, depending on who you ask. This is quite a large difference in any case, and considering that domestic freight transport emissions have increased 58% since 1990 and alone exceed the total GHG emissions of Canada, they will likely be a target of future U.S. climate change legislation. In essence, the narrative goes, Buffett thinks that the future of transport in the U.S. will be trains out of environmentally-induced economic necessity.

Meanwhile, skeptics have found another reading. Continue reading

What Difference Does 350 Make?

09-1950-THREEFIFTY-045

350 at BU's Marsh Plaza

This past Saturday (October 24th) was the International Day of Climate Action. The “Action” chosen this year was thousands of displays of the number “350” around the globe, including the above, at BU‘s Marsh Plaza. The number refers to the carbon dioxide atmospheric load in parts per million. This commonly used metric is the independent variable upon which policymakers base their reduction targets.

There has been quite a lot of press in the run-up to the event exclaiming how 350 ppm is the maximum load under which the climate would remain stable. The number comes from Jim Hansen, the NASA climate scientist, by way of environmentalist Bill McKibben. It is something of an arbitrary number (why not 365?), but more importantly, politically untenable. The IPCC barely recognizes 350 as a possible stabilization level in its latest synthesis report, and even pro-environment lawmakers do not see this target as attainable. Continue reading

Oil And Gas Going Their Separate Ways On Climate Bill?

An Oil Field near Kirkuk, Iraq

An Oil Field near Kirkuk, Iraq

The New York Times has an article today on how the U.S. energy industry is reacting to the climate bill making its way through the Senate. Oil and gas companies, historically an effective hydrocarbon bloc, have started angling against each other as the differences in their emissions footprints become salient on a policy level. Traditionally, oil and gas would have worked together to defeat a climate bill through lobbying efforts. The fact that oil and gas are now on opposite sides of the debate (at least on this one topic) evince the level of seriousness with which the energy industry is taking the latest round of climate legsilation in the run-up to Copenhagen. The question is, can the oil industry still muster sufficient support on its own to torpedo climate legislation in 2009?

Futher Reading on oil industry lobbying tactics:

• “Big Oil behind shady climate bill attack” [Facing South]

• “Lobby Groups to Use Town Hall Tactics to Oppose Climate Bill” [WSJ Blogs]

• “Small Oil Refineries Pull Support For Climate Change Bill [HuffPo]

What Kind Of Centrism Underlies "Should Trees Have Standing?"

"Should Trees Have Standing" book cover

"Should Trees Have Standing" book cover

No one would accuse Christopher Stone’s 1972 discourse-changing article, “Should Trees Have Standing,” of being centrist. The article, which advocated assigning legal rights to animals and inanimate environmental objects, legal rights that could be activated to protect the trees, etcetera, for their own sake and not explicitly in the property interest of humans, was received as radical, if not laughable, in its attempt to reconceptualize the role of the legal system in anointing non-humans as fully realized legal beings. No, the type of centrism at play here is anthropocentrism versus biocentrism – in this context, saving the world for the sake of humanity, or saving the world for the sake of the world. Continue reading