Sunday, March 27, 2011


 “it’s more dangerous now than it was at 
the height of the Cold War”
With the world's attention currently transfixed by the possible consequences of a nuclear power reactor meltdown down at Fukushima in Japan - try to imagine for a moment what even the most limited kind of nuclear war would be like. We can't, because the consequences are unimaginably terrible. Unless, of course, you are a politician, or a boffin in the Pentagon, in which case "megadeaths" might come trippingly enough from the tongue.

The Australian activist Doctor Helen Caldicott has spent almost her entire adult life speaking out to alert communities around the world about the appalling perils of nuclear weapons and nuclear power (which produces plutonium that arms such doomsday weapons). 

Named by the Smithsonian Institute as one of the most influential women of the twentieth century, Dr Caldicott was born in Melbourne. She gained her medical degree from the University of Adelaide in 1961, and founded the Cystic Fibrosis Clinic at the Adelaide Children's Hospital in 1975. She later moved to the United States where she was an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, but resigned in 1980 to work full-time on the prevention of nuclear war and stopping environmental destruction.  
She has received 19 honorary doctoral degrees, and among her many prizes and awards are the Lannan Foundation's 2003 Prize for Cultural Freedom. She was personally nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Linus Pauling - himself a Nobel Laureate. In this speech delivered in Los Angeles in October 2008, in the dying days of the Bush administration, she reminds her audience that the nuclear risk to humanity posed by the Cold War has by no means passed, and in fact is worse than ever. She also pours scorn on the US anti-missile “Star Wars” programme initiated more than two decades ago by the Reagan administration, saying it heightens international tensions - and will never work. And while President Obama has worked for a new missile reduction programme, humanity will for the foreseeable future still live under the threat of nuclear annihilation. It is the gun we aim at our own temple, as an entire race, and our finger sweats on the trigger.

‘There is no possible physical way that missile defence will ever work. I mean, just briefly, Russia’s missiles are MIRVed. MIRVing means Multiple Independent Re-Entry Vehicles. So they might have eight bombs on one missile. They launch the rocket, the missile goes into space, the “bus” continues - these are Pentagon terms - with its “passengers”, which are the hydrogen bombs, and then out of that single target come eight more targets. 
And so America launches an anti-ballistic missile, with a “kill vehicle” that homes in only on the specks of light and reflection of light as these bombs hurtle through space. One missile will never hit eight - A. B, you can confuse the kill vehicle by putting balloons amongst the hydrogen bombs and then the kill vehicle doesn’t even know what’s going on... add lots of what they call chaff, or aluminium pieces, and it’s totally confused.
And every test they’ve done, with only one target, and one kill vehicle, and the target sending out radio signals saying “here I am, here I am” - never worked! None of them have ever worked. None of them. But they have spent 110 billion dollars of your money on this aimless, stupid, ridiculous project, which is provocative because Russia says, “oh yeah, you’re building a missile defence system, well we’ll just super-saturate it and build more missiles.” So does China. 
The psychology behind this is aimless but it’s stupid. I don’t understand the men in the White House at the moment... I don’t understand some of the men in the Pentagon, and I do think there’s a bell-shaped curve of men.  On one end are beautiful, lovely men like every one of you here who would never hurt a fly. In the middle are men who would go from nought to 100 miles an hour in three seconds and that’s why they want these crazy cars. Who would play video games... you walk through airports and you see them all the time... and who would go to war and who would many of them come back absolutely devastated, as we’re seeing. And then on the other end I think there’s a small minority of men whose reptilian mid-brain has a toxic reaction to testosterone....
I know that a couple of miles from here is an ammunition base almost certainly housing nuclear weapons. Did you know that? Did you? Well they say you’re not allowed to know on account of national security, but in fact they’re your weapons. You paid for them. This is your democracy and you have an absolute right to know. Do you know they drive nuclear weapons around in Winnebagos? On the highways, with submachine guns on the dashboard? Do you know the ships coming in to San Diego, the nuclear-powered ships, have nuclear weapons on board? Probably transporting them from the ships to the ammunition depot. Find out what is going on at that depot. Insist. Demand, and the military has no right to keep you in ignorance. Because they’re your weapons and it’s your life.
Do you know what would happen if one of them exploded? I’ll tell you. By accident. They’re a thing called “broken arrows”... they drop them sometimes... they have accidents with them, their safety catches go off. Just near here, right here in Los Angeles, it would explode with the heat inside the centre of the sun and dig a hole three-quarters of a mile wide and eight hundred feet deep, turning millions of tons of rock into radioactive fallout. Then five miles... and you are within that radius... five miles in all directions, every person is vaporized. 
In Hiroshima, which was a tiny little firecracker of a bomb, a little boy was reaching up to catch a red dragonfly on his hand against the blue sky, and there was a blinding flash - and he disappeared. And if you go to the Hiroshima museum there’s a shadow on the pavement of that little boy. Never before have we been about to vaporize our fellow human beings. A woman was running with her baby and she and the baby have been converted to a charcoal statue.
Twenty miles from here in all directions radius, everyone’s lethally burnt. Winds of 500 miles an hour - a hurricane’s a hundred - suck people out of buildings turning them into missiles travelling at a hundred miles an hour... shards of glass like pop corn fly through the air, decapitating people. Then the whole area would be engulfed in a firestorm and there’s a lot to burn in houses now... plastic and wood... and the fire would consume everything, a raging firestorm, so if you are in a shelter you would be asphyxiated. 
And then if all bombs are used in the arsenal, a huge cloud of toxic black smoke would rise up and cover the earth with a cloud so thick it blots out the sun for maybe four or five years creating a nuclear winter, and the end of most life on earth, except for cockroaches...
Of the 30,000 hydrogen bombs in the world, Russia and America own 97 percent of them, so who are the real rogue nations? Russia’s got you targeted with 40 H-Bombs on New York alone. And almost certainly LA would have 40 to 60 H-Bombs. Because Russia’s got two and a half thousand weapons she can launch and land in half an hour, and such a redundancy as there are only 240 cities in the northern hemisphere. Such a redundancy everything’s targeted - universities, factories, everything that you hold most dear.
And you have five and a half thousand hydrogen bombs to drop on Russia, and since the Cold War ended, you have now targeted China. Fancy that, for god’s sake. 
And America’s got a policy, which you might not know, to fight and win a nuclear war against Russia. How do you win it? You send over a missile, you decapitate Moscow and kill Putin so he can’t press his button. Then quickly you launch all your missiles and land two hydrogen bombs on each missile silo and you kill the missiles. Millions of people dying, this is called collateral damage, it’s really irrelevant to the Pentagon. 
Now the Russians are a little paranoid, and they’ve got a missile called the Dead Hand, and if Putin is decapitated they launch the Dead Hand which sends a signal to all their missiles to launch, with no human input.
That’s the situation we live in, right this minute.
And the Russian early warning systems have ceased to work, because they haven’t afforded to be able to keep them up. And they are clinically paranoid. You don’t threaten clinically paranoid patients because they’ll do something really dangerous.
On 9-11 you got to the second highest stage of nuclear alert. Five - four - three - two, and the last one is they turn the keys in the locks and off they go. Why? Because no-one knew what was happening.
As the international situation becomes more and more anxiety-making, and fear prevails, ecologically, economically, so we enter a period of an unknown territory... with these bombs it’s more dangerous now than it was at the height of the Cold War when we were all so frightened... we’ve forgotten, it’s the elephant in the sitting room that’s never talked about.’

Utterly compelling, chilling video map of nuclear tests conducted worldwide since 1945, created by Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto:

Dr Caldicott's speech is from my book, "Speeches of War and Peace", published by New Holland Publishers.


Sunday, March 13, 2011


Is Tony Abbott, the leader of the conservative forces in Australian politics, the lowest, most cynical, lying, amoral, opportunistic, venal, self-serving, vainglorious, repulsively arrogant bastard this nation has seen? Only asking. Certainly he has a propensity for the big-mouthed scatological, calling climate change "crap", and remarking on the death of an Australian soldier in Afghanistan that "shit happens". It does, and would appear to be happening in his mouth.

His latest stance, playing on the fears of the Australian electorate that they might actually have to pay for something beyond their cigarettes, booze, beloved SUVs and flatscreen televisions to help mitigate the amount of seawater their grandchildren will have to wade through to get to school, is breathtaking even by his standards. Calling PM Julia Gillard a liar for changing her mind and backing a carbon tax, he changed his mind from support for it, to opposing it. Mind you, at the same time he did tell us that he lies in public, unless he's saying otherwise, which is nothing at least if not possibly honest. Though of course, we can't be sure he was telling the truth when he said it.

Some say he is exploiting the ignorance of the electorate about the coming tax, and that the less well off will be properly recompensed for any higher living charges, blah blah blah. The truth is that Australians have had many years to acquaint themselves with this crucial issue, if they wish to, and they know that actually doing anything about climate change will cost them something. But when it comes to paying anything, they say NO, and back Abbott, who has been running round like a preschooler sing-songing "great big new tax, great big new tax!"

And what does he propose to do about the climate change he thinks is "crap". Use public money, derived from cuts to benefits and services, inevitably to the least well off, to recompense the massively wealthy transnational mining companies, to reduce their carbon pollution. He claims to be able to reduce emissions by 5% with an outlay of only, well, three or four billion of our money. What does he plans to do after that, to make real and meaningful cuts? Nothing. No word. But his only choice, if he still refuses to tax the polluters, is to tax the people, either through higher taxation, or reducing ever more their benefits and services. And the cost to us all would be immense.

The concern for planet earth of this hypocritical, self-declared liar, "anti-tax" crusader, is preicsely zero. To put it in Abbott's favoured terms, he couldn't give a shit about our world, and its survival. His single concern, is grasping political power. The best thing that could come from his mouth about climate change would be a zero emission. Fat chance.

Soon after Abbott wrested the leadership from Malcolm Turnbull in late 2009, virtually his first statement was to put nuclear power for Australia back on the public agenda, just as Howard had tried in 2006-7, and failed.  Australia is rich in every kind of renewable resource, such as solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, but the conservatives continue to campaign for nuclear power.

Nuclear will always be too dangerous, too polluting for a virtual eternity - oh, and it produces nuclear weapons materials too - but it appeals to the major corporations that are the bedfellows of political conservatives, as it is a centralised capital-intensive business that would allow them to retain control of energy in post-fossil fuel era. 

Thus the "solution" to the problem of carbon pollution will be radioactive waste, and pollution, and a yet greater proliferation of the nuclear weapons.

Soon after Abbott seized control of the Liberal Party, I posted two pieces about nuclear power and alternative sources. These are re-posted below. Given the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan, the timing is appropriate.

Wed, Feb 3 2010

As must now be apparent to almost anyone even vaguely interested in this debate, the global warming sceptics and deniers are winning. The average Australian - as indeed the average American, Chinese, Indian, Briton and European - by now has very little idea at all which side is right, and what to do about it. The end result will be policy paralysis, inertia, which is what the sceptics and deniers have wanted all along.

The current trip to Australia by lord chief denier Christopher Monckton, a conspiracy theorist cum standup comedian, is a case in point. Because of his likeness to another gifted funnyman, Lord Marty Feldman, and because he gives “good copy”, he has become the centre of a fawning media circus which has in effect turned its collective back upon all the good and patient work done by the world’s tens of thousands of expert climate scientists, dedicated men and women who are in no doubt that the world is warming and that at least part of the cause is our burning of carbon fossil fuels.

Lord Monckton is not a climate scientist, nor indeed a scientist of any sort. He is a conspiracist nut who believes global warming has been cooked up, literally, by a cabal in the bowels of the benighted UN building in New York, to usher in world government. He believes the EC is also the result of an international conspiracy which has ended democracy in Britain. More than anything else he is an attention-seeking media poodle.

His tour of course only adds to the campaign of disinformation already being worked effectively in our mainstream media by the likes of Devine, Duffy, Bolt, Albrechtsen, and Shockjock Jones. Their campaign, all dutifully published by people who know  better because it generates sales and hits, has now muddied the waters to such an extent that the public has no idea of what is going on and is simply switching off to the debate, which is exactly what the sceptics and the conservatives and those backing them  - I am wildly presuming coal and oil interests - want. 

As such it is a carbon (sic) copy of the entirely successful campaign of disinformation against the scientific evidence linking smoking and cancer, and thus we still have a drug that kills one in two addicts, openly on sale in corner shops today.

The science of global warming is clear for anyone who wants to take an honest look at it. The overwhelming weight of scientific opinion is united on this - which is why so many government leaders came together in Copenhagen in the first place. The fact that no effective world agreement came from it is not to do with doubts about the science, but an understandable reticence of developing nations to take their foot off the accelerator towards a developed world standard of living. We cannot blame them that for, but they have to know that if they achieve that standard of living they will do it in swimming flippers. That they also do not want the mechanisms to address global warming simply to be dictated from the old colonial capitals of London and Washington can hardly be surprising too. 

That there is now a climate of utter confusion is evidenced by the hide of the conservatives in Australia to propose a scheme which is no scheme at all, but an insult to the Australian electorate. Opposition leader Tony Abbott is being marketed as a straight-talking action man, whereas in fact he is as sly as a Jesuit double agent and as cocky as Barnaby Joyce. This “scheme” will take no action whatever to reduce the emissions of the coal and oil companies whose products are creating the problem. Its “target” is a 5% reduction by 2020 by using taxpayers’ money to try to bribe the companies to emit a bit less - but Abbott is yet to be asked by what means would deeper reductions be achieved after that. Surely this is the most glaring omission, and yet I am yet to see or read of him being questioned about it.

Abbott has no proposal to curb carbon emissions because he truly does believe global warming to be crap. His country cousin Joyce doesn’t even believe in home insulation, except as fluffy stuff in the roof that rats piss in. 

These men are not sceptics, they are deniers. Monckton is not a sceptic, he is a denier. The same goes for the posse of media commentators. If they were sceptics they would propose what Rupert Murdoch did - and many before him did as well - that while the arguments go on we give the earth the benefit of the doubt and reduce emissions effectively. That they do not propose that shows them to be deniers. Presumably Abbott’s first act as prime minister would be to order a new fleet of ministerial V8s. Why not, if carbon is not a problem? He could send it around for Miranda Devine and Bolt and Jones, and they could celebrate by lighting sparklers. And light up Marlboros all round.

Sunday March 21 2010

From last week's post...

...the taxpayer will have to foot at least part of the bill for this enormously expensive scheme which would place nuclear reactors up and down our coastline, sites which would become prime and very dangerous terrorist targets, and which would generate waste which would remain highly toxic for thousands of years, and which we would dump in a big hole in the ground on or near tribal Aboriginal lands, and pollute the last water we could rely upon in the droughts to come. And that is not to mention the danger of increased nuclear proliferation.

So all in all, it’s obviously a very attractive idea, this “clean and green” nuclear energy. 

Then why would any political party ever consider a scheme that is so vexed, and that no-one wants? The reason Liberals are again pushing it, as part of their brawl-crafted non-response to the global warming many of them don’t believe humans are causing anyway, is the profit would stay in the hands of those would build and operate the plants. It is a big money-led, centralised, top-controlled model, with the bonus of lots of space age decontamination suits, white coats and clipboards.

The billions spent to create an Australian nuclear nightmare could so readily fund an effective, safe national solar power scheme.

Solar offers the opposite solution to nuclear: the potential for individuals to meet their own electricity needs through the power they generate off their roof. Decentralised and localised, it also provides employment to a wide range of small industries and businesses. 

Critics of the solar option say it cannot provide the holy grail of 24/7 baseload power. 

But according to the CSIRO, solar technology could supply all of Australia’s electricity needs by 2020, using an aggregate of only fifty by fifty kilometres of otherwise arid land. 
Its solar/gas prototype uses solar energy focussed from mirrors to energise natural gas, embodying the captured solar power into the gas so that there is a 25 percent increase in energy yield. This means both a 25 percent reduction in Greenhouse Gas emissions, and an extension of the life of Australia’s gas reserves by a similar amount. 
The “solar-embodied” gas could be piped to cities for baseload power generation, and exported in liquid form too, to resource-poor countries such as Japan and Korea.
Such a technology could also be part of a set of solar options that could obviate the nuclear option. 

Australia is now dotted with homes whose owners took advantage of the Federal Government’s solar rebate scheme, which allowed them to install a 1 kilowatt system on their rooves for as little as $1200 after the $8000 rebate. Mine is one of them.

One thousand houses doing the same thing could generate a megawatt. As there are literally millions of homes, apartment blocks, commercial, industrial and other structures in Australia, it’s not difficult to see how far we could go as a nation towards meeting our collective power needs, from our own rooftops. 

We also have open areas around many of our cities and towns suitable for siting large arrays of solar cells for solar power stations. Thus we could use a combination of solar arrays on rooftops throughout the nation, as well as solar power stations attached to cities and towns, to generate power for the grid by day - and switch back to fossil fuel generation at night, or in cloudy conditions. 

Such a measure would provide a significant reduction in Greenhouse emissions, while buying time for other alternatives such as wind and tidal power, and “clean coal” - should that ever eventuate - to kick in significantly. The imminent wave of hybrid and electric vehicles could be re-charged from solar generation too, reducing transport emissions.

Such a scheme would require a huge national investment, but it would be a once-off. Installed, the solar network would require minimal maintenance, as opposed to the safe disposal for many generations to come of deadly nuclear waste. 

But still the nuclear lobby is present and it is vocal. And make no mistake, it is not confined to the Liberal Party. Uranium has tainted the very heart of the Labor Party, which has the hide and hypocrisy to flog it off to distant nations while seeing it as too dangerous for our own use. The Liberal push for nuclear power has possibly less hypocrisy, but poses an even greater peril for Australians. One can only hope Tony Abbott can resist the temptations of that shiny, ugly Lucifer, nuclear power.