All posts by Xarick

Who Wants More Cops?

Oakland Neighborhood Associations Sell Out with ‘Community Policing’

Organized neighborhood groups—representing a small handful of voices—say they speak for all of Oakland as they advocate bringing police, the gun-wielding arms of the state, deeper into the fabric of the city. Couched in euphemistic ‘community policing’ advocacy, pro-cop citizen lobbying groups are pushing for an initiative in the November elections to add 120 more cops to the Oakland PD—after lobbying against a March initiative that would have added only 30 new cops.

Increasing cop presence does nothing to address people’s fears, because cops respond only to their own agenda, which features fear and disempowerment as primary tactics for keeping people ‘in line’. Fortunately, viable models exist for grassroots community patrols that increase neighborhood safety outside of the police-state web. We can look to examples from the Black Panthers to countless neighborhood ‘Pink Shirt’ patrols, to formulate a forward-looking response to the repressed, uncreative pro-cop drivel that serves the state so well.

Who’s calling for more cops? Despite the countless creative ways that people are organized and active in their communities, it’s the picket-fence ‘neighborhood groups’—the North Oakland Voters Association, the North Lake Neighbors Association, etc.—which have a direct line to the Oakland City Council and the Oakland Police Dept. Frequently representing a minute cross-section of a neighborhood’s diversity, neighborhood groups provide the police with cover—in the form of willing complaints from a ‘respectable’ organization of Neighbors—to bust nuisance activities. Not surprisingly, this is one active front on the class war, with nuisances including everything from pesky recycling thieves and noisy nightclubs, to drug dealing, to more destructive acts lumped under the misshapen headline Gang Violence.

Recent enactment of nuisance eviction legislation makes community policing particularly deadly. Landlords are now empowered to evict tenants for being a ‘nuisance’ to the neighborhood—having loud parties, lots of people loitering around a house, unkept yards, etc. For parolees, nuisance evictions are criminalized to count as a second or third strike. Not surprisingly, the police are using this tool to place parolees under even more intense scrutiny.

Quite obviously, the system of cops, courts, and prisons is not stopping the violence that seems part-and-parcel of Oakland neighborhood life. Making rules does not suddenly transform or stop a situation; punishments are not solutions. Of course, the behaviors that cops pretend to want to address are what they are making their money on. The cops’ goal is to have more cops, not to work themselves out of a job. A framework of tickets, fines, and parole guidelines, spiraling upwards into the roar of the ghettobird helicopter, is merely an excuse for not addressing the life/death situation at hand: People are driven, even encouraged, to break the law—whether by committing acts insane or petty—in order to survive.

The basic purpose of police, of course, is not to promote general citizen well-being, but to maintain the basic power dynamics in our society. Their suspicion-driven concept of community safety means harassing into line anybody who does not fit into a very narrow window of appropriate behavior. Fortunately, the police (state) does not have unlimited resources, and this is where ‘community policing’ fits in, a bizarre euphemism for making us do their dirty work, co-opting folks’ legitimate desires for safety. Report drug deals! Call in suspicious characters! Take a stand—call the police! Conversely, community policing implies that we’re bad neighbors, bad citizens, inclined to criminality ourselves if we don’t rat on the bad people down the street.

When something serious happens, the police response is based squarely in the culture of violence that bred the disaster in the first place. People in gangs, people committing ‘crimes’, are just that—people, who amidst the media-glitzed thug life might be looking for a surrogate family and a sense of belonging. ‘Gang members’ are stereotypically inflated into inhuman violence machines to breed fear, resentment, and disempowerment in everybody. It takes a lot to rip out somebody’s heart, but the police state actively encourages a culture of violence, between uncontrollable cop violence, the cop mentality itself, the prison plantation system. If everybody—the people in gangs, the people afraid of them, the people who only see them on TV—were empowered, we would not be in this situation.

We are stuck in this cycle—but we don’t have to be. There are viable models for the real security and safety that comes from knowing you can deal with situations in your neighborhood without calling in another violent gang, the cops. The response to community policing is anti-cop, pro-people community patrols, of which there is a rich, varied history. Some groups, like the Black Panthers and CopWatch, have focused on patrolling the police themselves, establishing community control of the police instead of letting the police control the community. Countless other groups work on the pink shirt/lavender shirt model, frequently used to support queer folx, with people going out in small groups to provide a visible safety alternative to the police. The Mujeres Libres, in Condega, Nicaragua, are a group of women who provide support in domestic violence situations, confronting perpetrators at work to make sure violence does not continue at home. The Nation of Islam has a network of security forces in cities around the US who provide security in situations where real cops or rent-a-cops would normally be used. Girl Army and other self-defense outlets emphasize personal empowerment over reliance on outside forces.

As we work to fit models to meet our own community’s needs, there are a number of questions we can consider. To what degree is violence or nonviolence useful in community patrols? Where is the line between a community patrol and vigilantism? How do we effect personal and community empowerment without becoming goons? Can we do the work to make community patrols ensure everybody’s safety and welcome in a neighborhood, instead of sliding into the exclusion of certain people based on the same tired norms that currently plague us? Can we outsmart the cop mindgame and see drug dealing for what it is, itself a non-violent business transaction? Can we encourage a culture of harm reduction instead of self destruction?

Grassroots community organizing is rarely simple. There is no substitute for knowing and respecting our neighbors, all of them. Chatting with 5-10 people within our comfort zone does not negate the need to build bridges with people who seem very different than us, but live only a few houses away. Fortunately, community patrols have a rich and varied history that makes them a practical focus for grassroots organizing. They’re a good action-oriented response to liberal impotence: “I worked the schools, I volunteered at the rec center, and they’re still dealing across the street!”

Community patrols encourage people to be active on the very streets they’re fearful of, the streets they travel every day. They have the potential to effect both direct improvements in people’s lives, and structural change within the system, by challenging the power and relevance of the police. In neighborhoods as diverse as Oakland’s, radical organizing around community safety has the potential to address the culture of violence that perpetuates homicides, the undertone of racism and classism that sustains complaints about noisy nightclubs and recycling thieves, and control of the police state in our lives. We can call out community policing as bullshit, because the path to a viable alternative is clear.

Nuclear Power – Hit or Myth?

Have we time-warped back to the 1950s, or is the future here? Just a few years ago, it seemed like the anti-nuclear movement had sent nuclear energy towards its grave. Yet now major players from President Bush to the UN are hyping nuclear power as a clean, cheap energy source.

We thought we knew nuclear power was a bad deal. But the pro-nuclear arguments peppering the mainstream press are seductive: Since nuclear energy doesn’t emit greenhouse gasses, perhaps it is a good alternative to fossil fuels? And isn’t it cheaper right now than both coal and natural gas? Industry-funded polling indicates that a slim majority actually does support nuclear industry.

But although Vice President Cheney dismisses those against nuclear power as influenced by “irrational fears,” there continue to be sound arguments against nuclear energy. From an economic, environmental, and safety standpoint, nuclear energy is not a good choice. We cannot consider the work done; we must continue to voice these arguments in contrast to the pro-nuclear rhetoric appearing daily. Continued vigilance is essential to prevent a nuclear renaissance.

Myth #1: Clean

It is true that nuclear power generation emits few greenhouse gasses, even in comparison to ‘clean coal technology’. However, the immense amounts of pollution associated with the rest of the nuclear fuel cycle render this statement woefully ridiculous.

Nuclear advocates like to point out that the waste, although highly radioactive, is also very concentrated, unlike air pollution from fossil fuel plants, which is almost impossible to handle once it’s out in the atmosphere. But what to do with this concentrated waste has not been resolved by any of the countries using nuclear power. Vice President Cheney likes to cite France as an example of a well-managed waste disposal program, in contrast to the problems plaguing the US program, which he says are purely political. Perhaps Cheney should do more research: In actuality both the French and US efforts are facing humongous technical and political difficulties.

In the US, the Department of Energy (DOE) wants to permanently store spent nuclear fuel underground at Yucca Mountain, NV, about 120 miles NW of Las Vegas. Although several locations were origionally considered, Congress decided Yucca Mountain would be the only site to receive serious study. After almost 20 years of work, finding the site unsuitable would be political suicide for the Department of Energy, and is thus essentially not an option no matter what scientific results show.

Major scientific issues continue to pop up, but the DOE, in a rush to have the site certified as safe by Winter 2001, has taken an engineering approach to the project. Scientific questions are ignored in favor of ‘engineering’ the problems away. The project is poorly managed, morale is low, and the best scientists are driven away out of frustration. Politically, Nevada resents storing the nation’s waste when the state does not have any nuclear power plants.

At the earliest estimate, the dump would be open by 2010; until then, spent fuel will continue to be stored at the plants were it is used. This is a generally safe way to store the spent fuel; however, plants are already running out of storage room and the problem will only get worse if plant licenses are renewed for another 20 years of operation.

In comparison to US disposal problems, Cheney points to France and their “well-run” program of both recycling nuclear fuel (called reprocessing) and attempting to dispose of it underground. But the French situation is a joke. Cheney is apparently unaware that France does not even have a site picked out for the underground dump, due to intense public opposition to the locations selected (at least one of which was, unsurprisingly, in a poor region of the country). And fuel reprocessing is an international scandal. One of the main objections to reprocessing is that it makes available plutonium that could be used in nuclear weapons. Theoretically this plutonium is carefully tracked and disposed of. However, the French plant is managed in such high disregard of French law that their ability to properly handle the plutonium is in doubt: Under French law the plant (the largest reprocessing facility in the world, with a majority of shares owned by the French government) can take fuel from other countries, but the recycled fuel and highly radioactive waste must be returned to the country of origin after the 5-8 year process. Surprise! Contracts from the early 1990′s indicate that foreign countries had no intention of retrieving their reprocessed waste- in order to continue generating contracts, the French facility essentially became a dump for European high level nuclear waste. Lawsuits from the mid 1990′s are forcing the plant to return the waste, but extreme public all along the transport route makes this difficult. The reprocessing facility has also repeatedly treated wastes for which it did not have a permit. Several EU countries are moving to shut down the plant.

And while the waste is the biggest dilemma, the rest of the fuel cycle is far from benign. Uranium mining leaves behind piles of uranium mine tailings. The process of turning uranium ore into fuel is the single largest user of electricity in the US– and this electricity is ironically generated by some of the dirtiest coal plants in the country, according to the executive director of the US Enrichment Corporation (located in the heart of Appalachia in Padacuh, KY). Power plants emit radioactive gasses and particles; it is difficult to quantify damage to surrounding communities by this radiation, but the Massachusetts Department of Health did link high leukemia rates in the counties surrounding the Pilgrim power plant outside Boston to radiation emitted from the plant.

Myth #2: Cheap

The production price of nuclear power (including the costs of fuel, plant maintenance, and operation) is now less than that of coal or natural gas, at 1.83 cents/kilowatthour compared to 2.07 and 3.52 cents/kwh, respectively, during Winter 2000. But look at muddy dealings behind these numbers, first at the fuel market and secondly at the large subsidies given to the nuclear industry.

Nuclear power is suddenly so attractive mainly because of the spikes in natural gas prices over winter 2000. Incidently, one of the major natural gas suppliers in the country, Enron Corp in Texas, is also one of the two corporations scrambling to buy nuclear power plants across the northeast. The uranium fuel market has been glutted since the late nineties when the Department of Energy privatized the world’s largest fuel enrichment facility. At the same time that uranium fuel became dirt cheap compared to platinum-priced natural gas, construction costs on many plants were finally paid off, leaving utilities ready to reap the benefits of their nuclear behemoths.

The industry requires a huge infrastructure, which relies heavily on government support even when the plants themselves belong to investor-owned utilities. Much of this support net is already in place, but has not yet been completely paid off. One example is fuel enrichment. The Department of Energy (DOE) is required by law to get a full return on the approximately $11 billion it has put out toward uranium enrichment. Including the costs of cleaning up and decommissioning enrichment facilities, this figure rises an additional $4-20 billion (depending on different estimates). Utilities are only liable for a third of the clean-up costs. Privatizing the enrichment company was one step towards recovering the costs, but also flooded the uranium market, thus lowering fuel prices. (In order to look appealing to investors, the newly private company, US Enrichment Corp, stated it had huge reserves of enriched uranium.) Simultaneously, legislation wrote off all but $3 billion of the debt the DOE had accumulated around uranium enrichment. The public absorbed most of the enrichment expenditures, while the nuclear power industry had a large supply of cheap fuel.

The government also siphons money to the nuclear industry through the Price-Anderson Act. First passed in the 1950s and extended through the 1990s, this legislation is government-provided insurance for the nuclear industry. Utilities are liable for damages up to $8 billion; past this figure the government assumes responsibility. There are many possible accidents that could result in damages in excess of $8 billion: The cost of the Chernobyl, for instance, was $350 billion. (A better comparison would be a damage figure from Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island accident; however, for some strange reason, updated estimates are not readily available.) Although Germany and Switzerland adopted unlimited liability for utilities in the 1980s, a bill in Congress (H.R. 1679) now proposes renewing the Price Anderson Act past its 2002 expiration date.

In recent years the government has been less willing to support the nuclear industry. The amount the industry receives from the federal government has not been increasing; in fact, although Bush administration rhetoric supports nuclear power, the Bush 2002 budget proposal cuts funding for parts of the industry up to 50%. However, bills have been introduced in both the Senate and House drastically increasing government support, including the Price-Anderson act extension. Watch out for Senator Pete Dominici (R-NM), a major supporter of the nuclear industry and sponsor of the Senate bill (S-472).

Over the long term the government (ie, the public) will be forced to pour money into the decommissioning and cleanup of different nuclear facilities, because surcharges mandated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to support these long range activities are estimated to be too small. Even with the nuclear industry dormant the public foots their bill; reviving nuclear energy will require a renewal of government-funded infrastructure support.

Myth #3: Safe

It is theoretically possible to run a nuclear program very safely. Safety at US plants is generally good and is actually improving as the plants are privatized. (Since one company owns several plants, knowledge is shared among the plants, and investor-owned utilities have monetary incentives to keep the plants running well.) The industry likes to point to nifty new reactor designs which prohibit the possibility of a meltdown.

However, even at well-run facilities, strange mistakes happen, like the incident at the Japanese enrichment plant where hurried workers added too much uranium. And, although little work has been done to investigate connections between nuclear facilities and local leukemia rates, some strong links have been established (for example, between high leukemia rates and both the Pilgrim power plant outside of Boston and the French fuel reprocessing facility).

Nuclear power is a bad deal. Despite Cheney’s claim that people against nuclear power are slaves to “irrational fears,” nuclear power’s unsuitability is obvious to anyone who can step outside the industry’s rhetoric. You don’t have to be a paranoid freak to oppose spending billions supporting the creation of a highly radioactive riddle (nuclear waste), the solution to which has not yet been developed and requires even more billions of dollars. All because nuclear power doesn’t directly emit greenhouse gasses? Last time I checked, there was a comparatively benign solution to both energy and global warming woes: energy efficiency and solar/wind power.

In fact, research into energy efficiency wins the prize for the greatest returns on the least amount of money, a piddly $8 billion compared to $66 billion spent on nuclear energy research over the past 50 years. The US today uses 42% less energy per unit of gross domestic product than in 1970, a much greater gain than the 11% of the country’s energy supply generated by nuclear power.

According to a MSNBC poll, a majority of young, college-educated people in the US think both nuclear energy and energy efficiency are “energy sources of the future”. Many people support renewable energy but question how it can meet the baseload energy demands currently covered by a combination of coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy (20%). Well, yes, that is the billion dollar question: the answer is dependent upon whether the government chooses to support renewables and energy efficiency research or nuclear power.

Unfortunately, energy efficiency and solar/wind power are not as sexy as the image of ‘harnessing the atom’. And more importantly, they are smaller scale projects that don’t require the huge infrastructure and long time attention associated with nuclear power. The nuclear industry is large and almost inseparable from governments around the world. Now that the Bush administration is vocally supporting nuclear energy, and investor owned utilities have taken an interest, the industry may experience a small renaissance in the form of extended plant operating licenses. Plants are initially licensed for 40 years; licenses will be up for renewal as soon as 2006, with all but two due by 2030. Two plants in Maryland and South Carolina recently had their licenses extended by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a move unforeseen a few years ago. Investor-owned energy companies will not back down easily from their quest to re-license their newly-acquired plants.

But as Congressman Ed Markey said, you can prop up a corpse but you can’t reanimate it. Even with the recently completed designs for small scale, passively safe reactors, it will be very difficult to build a new nuclear plant in this country. Anti-nuclear activists must follow the nuclear industry’s rapacious gaze to lesser- industrialized countries; China, India, South Korea and other countries have developed nuclear energy programs without the hindrance of the strong US and European antinuclear movement.

Germany, with 25% of its electricity generated by nuclear power, is the first industrial country to dismantle its nuclear power system. In an exciting, unprecedented move, Germany will be shutting down their 19 plants over the next 25 years in favor of energy efficiency and alternative energy sources.

Within the US, activists must push whole-heartedly for government and cultural support of energy efficiency and renewable energy. Although there has been little public scrutiny of the nuclear industry in recent years, the legacy of the strong anti-nuclear movement means that nuclear policy in this country is still somewhat dependent upon public opinion. It is thus up to the public to shove the government towards energy efficiency and renewable energy research, and to support the cultural shift required by a serious commitment to these technologies. We must break out of the inertia holding us to a grossly consumptive lifestyle.

Perhaps the ‘irrational fear’ of a nuclear meltdown will help fuel this cultural shift, although the primary arguments against nuclear power aren’t safety-orientated. Rational considerations of economic and environmental realities dictate a move away from nuclear power. From any angle, the heart of the nuclear industry is rotten.

Decapitate the Energy Behemoth

We are at a critical point in global energy usage. Global economic growth, and the emissions produced by fossil fuels powering the growth, are spiraling upwards at a dizzying rate. Mammoth-scale power generation and energy usage are a recipe for disaster in the form of climate change.

However, burgeoning interest in renewable energy may avert the crisis. Wind and solar energy technology, around the corner since the 1970\’s, is finally readily available, and continues to improve. Overall energy efficiency is increasing.

Perhaps most promisingly, renewable energy technology works best on in a decentralized, locally based system. The large, capital-intensive infrastructure that supports the fossil fuel energy market is not required by solar, wind, and fuel cell technology, which are well suited for home, neighborhood, and regional power generation.

Some folks, including Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, are calling renewable energy firms the next dot-coms. But therein lies the problem! The technology is being developed largely in a free-market manner that continues to emphasize the very economic growth that is overwhelming the planet. And implementation often depends heavily on government incentives.

The energy revolution must extend all the way from the development stages to installation. We must develop a structure for technology development and implementation independent from the old funding giants that are the cornerstone of the energy status quo.

Renewables are here!

Renewable energy has been a household term for the past two decades. People in the US and Europe overwhelmingly support use of renewable energy. Wind energy is now cost-competitive with the artificially low fossil fuel energy prices. Houses and neighborhoods can be cleanly powered through a combination of photovoltaic (PV), wind, and hydrogen fuel cell technology.

Energy captured by wind turbines and PV panels can be used to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis. Energy is stored in the form of hydrogen gas, which can be recombined with oxygen later in a fuel cell to generate electricity. Fuel cells can use other fuels than hydrogen, like methane and other natural gasses, with relatively few emissions.

However, when fuel cells use hydrogen, the only products are heat, pure water, and an electric current. Pretty neat, huh? This technology is all available today, and continues to improve rapidly.

Energy status quo

With such promising technology, why does oil and coal still dominate the energy market? Why is renewable energy just now seriously emerging? Fossil fuels still supply 85% of US energy and 75% world-wide.

This dominance was launched by two key technological developments: that of the internal combustion engine and of electric power, both at the (previous) turn of the century. The economic growth fueled by the petroleum industry, the automotive industry, and world-wide electrification shaped our contemporary world, complete with global warming and environmental and indigenous peoples\’ destruction.

This harmful growth burgeoned with the cheap oil available during the 1950\’s and 60\’s. Few paid attention to the fact that complex worldwide economic and social structures were increasingly dependent upon one fuel, available primarily in one part of the world. The petroleum industry gained tremendous political influence in the US and elsewhere.

With the oil crises of the 70\’s and 80\’s, governments and industry were forced to think about non-petroleum ways to satiate their addiction to economic growth. But because of the overwhelming focus on oil and coal, the technology for a large-scale shift to truly renewable energy was not yet available. The Carter administration funded a number of crash efforts into renewable energy development, but none of these were successful because the efforts were biased by the existing fossil fuel infrastructure.

And, of course, most of the research funding went to nuclear power, progeny of the defense industry and major mining companies like Kerr-McGee.

Independent US companies did in fact develop quite a bit of renewable energy technology, but it was all shipped to Europe. The US and many other industrialized countries chose to use more coal to meet the market share neglected by oil. Then oil prices dropped and everything was \”fine\” again.

European green energy

European countries responded much differently to the 70\’s oil crisis. With an established environmental consciousness, and without such strong oil and coal lobbies, European governments made a commitment to green power through systems of tax incentives and mandated green power purchases. Until recently, most renewable technology used in Europe was actually produced in the US. Recently, European firms have taken over their market.

Does green power require large Euro-style governmental support? Yes and no! Wind power, for example, has been most successful in Denmark, where turbines were first developed in the early 1980\’s by local agricultural engineers as a craft. More than 75% of Danish wind farms continue to be owned locally. Because the power is used locally, there is little \’not in my backyard\’ opposition. Local ownership has also been key in German wind power development.

In contrast, in the UK, although the public largely supports wind power, only 22% of wind projects have been implemented, because locals object to ownership by a national utility.

However, some kind of government investment in green power, whether on European Union or local scale, has to this point been important in establishing renewable energy as a major power source. Despite selected public opposition, renewable energy is much more widely used in Europe precisely because of the EU\’s commitment. Without some kind of a guaranteed market, such as that provided by a government power purchase, profit-blinded energy corporations are reluctant to invest in an unexplored market.

Increasing interest

Renewable energy is actually beginning to surface in the mainstream energy mire. \’Sustainability\’ has replaced \’national security\’ as the energy industry buzzphrase.

Groups as diverse as Royal Dutch/Shell, the World Energy Council, and Greenpeace are considering scenarios including renewable energy. In 1995, Shell experts estimated that by 2060, 50% of energy used would be green. Greenpeace advanced a plan to reduce fossil fuels to a third of energy generation by 2030, completely phasing them out by 2100. Other groups estimate that by 2050, increases in energy efficiency will cut our energy consumption in half.

What?! Why is Shell talking about sustainability? The energy industry refers to sustaining the economy, not to sustaining life. The energy industry recognizes that a transition to renewables must occur at some point; they want to engineer the shift in order to maximize their profit…. or minimize their losses. The industry recognizes that, as in any major cultural shift, there will be some winners and some losers. They want to win, at all costs.

Massive social, political, and economic change are required to thwart their schemes. How can the technology that will facilitate such massive social change be developed by capitalist energy firms most interested in garnering a greater market share? To fully establish a renewable, sustainable energy scheme, economic growth must be de-emphasized, and de-coupled from energy consumption. The focus must be on quality of life, which is NOT dependent on astronomical economic growth and energy consumption. We must use less energy and increase efficiency.

The energy behemoth must be forced to veer off its current course, and must eventually be decapitated. Governmental incentives are the cattle prod; direct action is the guillotine.

Hope Lies with the SUn

Energy is the foundation of life. We can no longer afford to treat energy generation as the vague realm of benign public utilities and powerful corporations beyond our control. We must educate ourselves about this fundamental part of life and society, and literally retake the power for the people. This article gives a brief overview of renewable energy sources. Renewable energy currently constitutes 3.4% of US total energy supply, the vast majority of which is generated by biomass.


Energy from the sun is the foundation of renewable energy. Technically, sunlight, wind, and biomass are all forms of energy from the sun. Although both solar and wind are extremely promising renewable energy sources, they account for only 0.4% of the US primary energy supply, and a smaller fraction of our electricity generation.

Photovoltaic (PV)cells use the sun\’s energy to generate electricity; the electricity can be used directly, to charge batteries for later use, or to generate hydrogen from water by electrolysis/ PV cells are only about 15% efficient; more research must be done to increase the efficiency and make PV generated electricity less expensive. PV cells, particularly when paired with hydrogen fuel cells, hold great promise for a decentralized, clean energy system.

The sun can also be used to directly heat water, buildings, and to provide ventilation.


Heat from the sun warms air, causing the air movement we call wind. Wind energy is very successful in several European countries, especially Denmark, where it accounts for 3.5% of their primary energy. More than 75% of Danish wind turbines are owned collectively; turbines are operated singly or in small groups. Denmark also has a number of off-shore wind farms. In contrast, the US and the UK have concentrated on large land-based wind farms which have not been as successful.

There are a number of tricky issues with wind turbines, such as the maintenance associated with so many moving parts and buffeting by strong/varied wind speeds. Wind power has essentially no emissions. It is estimated that 30% of European electricity demand may be met by wind by 2030.


Hydrogen is a good way to store energy. The gas can be produced from water by electrolysis powered by photovoltaic panels or wind turbines, or from natural gas, methanol or biomass with added heat. Hydrogen can be recombined with oxygen in a fuel cell to generate extremely clean electricity, or burned as fuel. When coupled with wind/solar technology, hydrogen is a potentially very decentralized, clean way to generate electricity and heat.

Caution: Hydrogen could also be used in a way requiring a large transportation infrastructure similar to that of natural gas (the \’hydrogen economy\’). This is the industry\’s goal.


Biomass involves using organic matter (manure, dedicated energy crops, agricultural waste, liquid/solid/gaseous fuels (like biodiesel, hydrogen, ethanol, etc.), heat and chemicals.

Biomass accounts for 3% of both US total energy supply and electrical supply. Biomass emits little carbon and can reduce nitrous and sulfur dioxides and other air pollutants.

Concerns: What kind of land should be dedicated to producing energy crops? Also, organic matter can be used to produce certain plastics and chemicals that would be superfluous in a truly sustainable society (think Archer Daniel Midland, DuPont, etc.)


Geothermal energy employs steam or very hot water coming form the earth to power turbines and generate electricity.

Geothermal energy meets only a tiny fraction of the US electricity demand.

Current technology is very reliable (>95%) and emits almost no carbon. Geothermal energy is not cost competitive with current fossil fuel technology, because the US government is not interested in investing in technology/exploration. Total possible generating capacity is not know but estimated to be large with the right technology.

Other Possibilities

Folks like to talk about capturing energy from tides, waves, magma within the earth, and other wacky sources. Right now these are not technically feasible options, and will not be needed if we commit to using less energy.

Damming Up Justice

People around the world are escalating the fight to remove large dams and reclaim watersheds, fisheries, and their traditional way of life. Once thought to provide environmentally clean power, in reality dams are extremely damaging to both the environment and the lives of many people who make their homes in the watershed. The number of dams being planned has been drastically reduced over the past two decades due to mass protests and economic problems with power generation. However, the World Bank continues to fund dam projects in countries with repressive regimes that allow little popular opposition.

Dams affect every corner of the earth. There are more than 40,000 large dams in the world, almost half of which are in China. Dams have significantly altered more than three quarters of the rivers in the northern hemisphere; in China, between 40 and 60 million people have been displaced by dams. Dam construction occurred most furiously between 1950 and 1980, but by now has slowed nearly to a halt.

Why were dams built so feverishly, and why is the World Bank still funding these unjustifiable projects? Dams are built for a number of reasons. To generate power that is supposedly cleaner than burning fossil fuels. Dam proponents also say that irrigation, flood control and improved navigation are all benefits of dams and the reservoir has increased \’recreational\’ value.

Some municipalities draw water from dammed reservoirs, although this accounts for less than a fifth of reservoirs world-wide. If drinking water were a major purpose for dams, the dams would be much smaller than those built primarily for power generation. Most people world-wide rely on groundwater for drinking water.

Perhaps more powerfully than other human constructions, dams signify control of nature. Water behind a dam becomes a tool of commerce and leisure. Dams hold tremendous political appeal, at least before construction begins and things begin to sour; big projects that control nature and harness power are easily related to national pride and the power of the state. But large dams do not benefit people practicing traditional agriculture and ways of life. Nor are dams beneficial to the earth itself.

Rivers Die

Closely related to the social catastrophe of large dams is the environmental devastation caused by these behemoths. Rivers are extremely important dynamic systems: the water that forms rivers has literally shaped the face of the earth. Dams render rivers static, with dire consequences. Rivers and their valleys are among the most diverse environments on earth. Because each river is unique, each riverine environment is ecologically distinct. The changes caused by dams both upstream and downstream have lead to population declines in 51% of the world\’s freshwater species, according to a 1999 report by the World Wildlife Fund. Diverse habitats are flooded, migratory routes are cut off by reservoirs, and logging in remote areas is facilitated by the roads used in dam construction, as well as by displaced farmers clearing more farmland. Dams trap sediment, with consequences that reach the ocean floor. The river downstream of the dam is deprived of sediment and over time becomes a straight, rock-lined channel that supports fewer species and allows less natural flood control. At the mouth of the river, extremely diverse delta environments die without sediment inflow. The balance of sand deposit and erosion along beaches is disturbed, causing coastlines to erode, sea cliffs to collapse and beaches to disappear.

Dams also drastically alter river chemistry and nutrient flow. The water let out of dams is cold and pure. Nutrients that should be replenishing downstream flood plain farmland are trapped behind the concrete, giving rise to blossoming algae populations that, in severe cases, leave water unfit for drinking or agriculture. High algae populations consume the oxygen in the water, leaving the water more acidic and thus more able to dissolve heavy metals from rocks, leading to further contamination.

Rotting vegetation in newer reservoirs actually emits the same greenhouse gases that fossil fuel consumption releases, sometimes at comparable levels! In a particularly notorious case, workers at the Brokopondo Dam in Surinam (South America) had to wear masks for two years after the reservoir began to fill, to protect themselves from severe levels of hydrogen sulfide.

Social Catastrophe

Dams have forced roughly 60 million people worldwide to abandon their homes and land. Millions more people lose their land to roads and irrigation canals, and/or lose access to grazing, foraging, and farm land covered by the reservoir. Diseases carried by insects breeding in reservoirs become serious health problems. People living downstream from the dams are deprived of annual floods that fertilized soil and recharged their wells. The vast majority of people affected are politically powerless, often indigenous people or ethnic minorities.

People are rarely compensated for their losses. Reimbursements that do materialize can hardly rectify the loss of a highly specialized way of life. Resettling people living in a river valley to the plains, or even to a reservoir shore, is far more drastic than moving a family from one US suburb to another. An Indian indigenous person displaced by the Sardar Sarovar dam described the inadequacy of the compensation process: \”Our firewood comes from the forest, our fodder from there, our herbs and medicines from there… our fish come from the river down here – which rehabilitation scheme of theirs will even look at all these as our earnings, as items to be compensated?\” Capitalist, investment-minded dam sponsors do not understand the importance of common resources and the intricacies of local economies based on direct interactions with specific ecosystems.

As people fight for more just resettlement policies, they drive up the total cost of dam construction. Particularly fierce struggles or high population densities can result in resettlement costs of more than a third of total construction. These spiraling costs are a major factor in private industry\’s unwillingness to fund new dam projects.

Economic failures

Subsidies are the ship that carried the parasitic dams over the face of the earth. Dams are economic failures which survive only by absorbing money from the state, either via government construction or hidden subsidies to private industry.

Dams are consistently more expensive and take longer to build than planned. They infrequently deliver all of the promised power, due to periods of low rainfall. This is called \’hydrological risk\’. This risk increases as global warming contributes to more erratic rainfall patterns.

Hydrological risk was rarely examined during the era of government funding. However, with the wave of privatization that hit in the 1990s, profit-blinded investors have arranged schemes to pass the costs of hydrological risks along to the power utility. In an opaque dam subsidy, power consumers absorb these costs so that dam investors get returns even when the dam is not generating power.

Why do dams, receive such generous subsidies? Dams are a grand monument to state power, control of nature, the advancement from ÒprimitiveÓ, natural, dynamic chaos to the ordered, engineered, reasoned state. Dams supposedly improve the value of rivers by harnessing water power. The World Bank, the major funder of dams in lesser-industrialized countries, observed in 1987, \”It is difficult to conceive of a scenario in which India can afford to let the waters of a major river such as the Narmada run wasted to the sea.\”

Dams are the epitome of pork barrel politics, a sure way to bring astronomical amounts of fast money to a district. A significant portion of the money flows via illicit channels. For example, Itaipu dam on the Paraguay-Brazil border is \”perhaps the largest fraud in the history of capitalism,\” according to Brazilian journalist Paulo Schilling and Paraguayan ex-legislator Ricardo Canese. Bribes to Brazilian and Paraguayan military rulers rocketed total construction costs from the estimated $3.4 billion to $20 billion.

A relatively small number of construction and equipment companies feed on the $20 billion spent annually on dams. Well-known dam builders include Bechtel Corp, located in San Francisco, Toshiba and Mitsubishi.

Other industries benefit from dams and hence support them. In the United States, electricity-intensive industries, agribusiness, water supply utilities, barge owners, and cities that want \”flood control\” are major advocates. The aluminum industry, whose smelters rely on a strong electric current, is in bed with dam-builders worldwide.

Dams have been a major sink for aid money. During the Cold War, dams were a powerful symbol of domination by capitalist, industrialized countries and the \”improvements\” in life offered by these advancements. More recently, as the dam industry has withered in the northern hemisphere, aid for dams in the southern hemisphere is primarily a life jacket for the dam-building industry.

The World Bank is the star player in the dam-money-as-aid racket. Dams conveniently allow large sums of money to move into southern countries, and large northern construction companies to continue working, much to the pleasure of both northern and southern Bank board members. Because World Bank loans are secured by taxpayers in industrial countries, and repaid by taxpayers in lesser-industrialized countries, there is little incentive to make sure Bank-funded dams are economically viable.

Scrutiny and Mutiny

Wealthy, powerful people are con artists, wrecking the earth and the lives of poor and indigenous people with the dam scam. But, through a strange, inspiring combination of factors, the scam is almost up. As dam privatization continues, close economic scrutiny by potential investors reveals what a bad deal dams are. Capitalists are partially responsible for the death of their own fat baby.

Also largely responsible for the dramatic drop in dam construction are massive protests by people fucked over by dams around the world. In Thailand this past spring, villagers took over two major dams. More than 1,000 people occupied the crest of the Pak Mun dam and began removing rocks forming part of the dam, a structure that traps water over a salt dome, leaving the water too salty for drinking and agricultural use. At Rasa Salai dam, people set up makeshift huts and vowed not to leave as reservoir waters rose around them.

Protests around the world are making dam construction more expensive, discouraging private investors. The World Bank has greatly decreased funding for dam projects in countries with vocal opposition, preferring the calmer waters of repressive regimes like China.

Despite the bleak reality, dam builders, like addicts, continue to salivate over the ultimate high. Pipe dreams include the Atlantropa Project, which involves damming Straits of Gibraltar, thus turning the Mediterranean sea into freshwater body fed by water from Zaire River. Fanatics would also like to dike off James Bay in Canada to make it a freshwater body comparable to Lake Superior. Water would be sent to Great Lakes, Canadian Prairies, US Midwest and even to the ever-hungry US Southwest.

The Russian government considered reversing flow of major Siberian rivers to empty into Central Asia and Aral Sea, shrinking to death by water diversion to the Russian breadbasket region. Some dream of a huge reservoir in Canadian Rocks to hold irrigation water for CA, TX, AR and Mexico.

The absurdity of each of these plans reveals the obscene lust for wealth and control of nature that fuels all large dam construction. Fortunately, people are fighting these absurd projects.

For additional info contact: International Rivers Network, 1847 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, CA 94703. Phone: (510) 848-1155.