Sunday, January 28, 2018

Petroleum and its By-product: Plastic Seas

Late last year the petroleum giants, including Exxon and Shell announced an allocation of $180 billion for modernizing plastic production and distribution, insuring an almost permanent pollution of our oceans. 

Although Theresa May’s UK devoted a great deal of talk to reducing plastic pollution, a motion last year to enact deposit return on plastic bottles failed to pass Parliament. But following China’s decision to ban imports of foreign recyclable material, pushing against these set-backs, Brussels announced an allocation of 340 million euros to change poor tax habits, furthering a plan that aims to make all packaging reusable or recyclable by 2030 in an effort to change the European mindset.

A recent article by Reader Supported News calls for an American plastics intervention, but in the absence of globally-coordinated efforts, looking to failed government structures—call them nations, especially now—seems unrealistic.

The use of plastics contributes to endocrine disruption. That alone is a good reason to stay away from all plastic products, including appliances, as much as possible.   Fossil fuels are killing not only humans but all life on this planet of ours, including what it does to the soils and the water.

Remember, too, that all plastics are petroleum products. They are not biodegradable. They do not decompose.  At best they break down into minute particles which find their ways into the digestive systems of land and sea birds, fish, and mammals, including human mammals..

Anything you put into the earth’s ecosystem that does not decompose, that is, anything inorganic, pollutes our planet for all eternity.

Our fisheries are failing, our continental shelves are slowing suffocating in increasingly long swaths of dead coastlines, the effect mainly of pesticide run-off, the result of increased corn subsidies for a crop that requires massive injections of nitrogen, and the reality of a Pacific garbage patch the size of Texas is no myth as a sailor friend reported to me, even finding a television set—relic of our dying culture—when he became becalmed there. I wrote a poem about it:


Stuck by the swell
of becalmed seas,
Leno wisecracks
at an empty sky,
Carson gawks
as horsetails track the trades,
a school of canned guffaws
swims just below the shallows.
Cathode ray reliquary
marks culture gone to brine:
Farnsworth’s tube, its cord
trapeze to barnacles.

Garbage accumulation in the seas is driven by the movement of six subtropical ocean gyres (SOGs), rotating clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, and counterclockwise in the Southern Hemisphere, the result of the Coriolis Effect.

Both profit driven and non-profit enterprises are stepping in where more concerted efforts have failed. Municipal governments can pass ordinances banning the use of plastic bags. Recently the Icelandic chain of UK supermarkets announced their packaging would become plastics-free. Greenpeace is circulating a petition demanding that Coca Cola cease its production of millions of plastic bottles a year in favor of establishing stations where the public can draw the product in reusable containers.

How can we live responsibly, given that our lives are embedded in a petroleum-driven economic culture? How can we reduce and eventually eliminate the use of plastics in our homes, and our purchasing lives, and in our planet-spendthrift Christmas giving? Individual efforts make a difference. One of them, spearheaded by Costa Rican artist Carolina Sevilla recovers ocean plastic and makes fashions out of it, is an example of such an individual initiative. But each one of us need to think how best to help compensate for the absence of globally coordinated initiatives.


Most critical of all, R & D allocations need to support the world’s chemists to develop biodegradable replacement products, to end the age of petroleum and its byproducts altogether.

For further reading: 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

2018 – Year of the Uterus

Originally this newsletter edition was to have addressed the matter of plastics: their role in contributing to planetary pollution, and their relationship as petroleum-derived products to the fossil fuel industry. Having reached a dangerous futility threshold, I wrote these words in my journal:

The subject this morning is Disaffection: Why does the prospect of writing           about climate collapse and dying seas, advocating for smaller human      footprints leave me feeling exhausted? Is there a choice here? And my answer: Yes! Grab the mornings! Get out there! Do stuff. Collapse if you must, but in the afternoon.

So I went to the Oakland Women’s March, not really convinced that I would, not at 9 AM (I don’t like crowds), not at 10 AM (There won’t be any buses running. That walk to Lake Merritt could be over a mile. And how will I get back?) with a promise to myself: “Go only if you enjoy every minute.” Evidently I must have decided to go. By 10:30 I had printed out 50 two-sided flyers.

sign by Bev Voloshin
Muni sees to it buses run infrequently—especially when a demonstration is called.  I missed the bus heading north. That left the south-going option, which let me off downtown with over a mile to walk, joining up with increasing numbers of folks heading in the same direction, one of them carrying a DEPORT ICE sign. We zigzagged a couple of blocks and as we rounded the 12th Street corner, I  gasped:  You couldn’t see the sidewalks, you couldn’t see the lakeside greensward for the solid mass of people. And rounding another corner, I could see the crowd was so vast, it had spilled over into lakeside park two blocks away. I hadn’t seen such crowds since the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The best way to enjoy the density of such a crowd is to plow right in and, as the march heads out, move in the opposite direction. You get to distribute your 50 flyers with people falling all over themselves to get a copy. You get to high five the best signs, groove with the hottest bands, and boogey with the coolest dancers. It’s a beautiful, stunningly sunny winter day, clear skies, and full of thousands of very well disposed and joyful people who despite their anger and frustration show no hate and astonishingly little negativity.

This is the Day of the Uterus: in a sea of pink, thousands of folks, including bearded men, sport pussy hats. Helpful people point out that you are headed in the wrong direction. So you tell them that like a sperm, you like travelling upstream. From your vantage point you happen upon all your friends, and because the march is advancing at a turtle’s pace, you get to hug them, and admire the political astuteness of their home-made signs:


Have you ever seen a Fallopian Tube flip someone the bird? Picture a flowery garland-surrounded uterus, one Fallopian Tube raised giving hate the finger.
Oakland finest lounged about uselessly, proudly displaying one example of their battle-grade weaponry, but otherwise incapable of providing information about any available transportation—a serious concern for this footsore octogenarian—but they give me their estimate of the crowd. My 100,000 contests their 70,000. It took a full hour and a half for it to funnel itself into a narrowing six-lane thoroughfare on its way downtown to Oscar Grant Plaza, its final destination.

Next week: plastics. Or What a Government Shutdown Means to You. Or…

Check out Women’s March Youth Empower.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

California Goes Nuclear Free!

Once one of its earliest and largest promoters, California has decided to get out of the nuclear power business. On January 11th, 2018, The California Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously to shut down Pacific Gas & Electric Company's (PG&E) Diablo Canyon reactors at the end of its current license permits or sooner, if appropriate information comes forward to do so.

With the passing of the nuclear tea pot industry, there isn't a better example of the hopeful saying “as goes California, so goes the nation!” From Fremont to Reagan, its Hollywood promotional claim that the rest of the country will eventually follow in California's lead is on display. After 60 years of opposition to nuclear development, California has put a stopper on the nuclear genie.  The state has become a world leader in renewable energy, already producing 39% of its electricity from it - over twice as much energy as nuclear ever produced. Legislative attempts to go 100% renewable failed this past fall, but there can be no doubt that that campaign will only grow stronger, with over 100,000 solar jobs in the state, far more than nuclear's few thousand ever produced.

Claiming that nuclear energy would become too cheap to meter, General Electric and PG&E became one of the country's earliest nuclear power promoters, constructing the Vallecitos nuclear facility southeast of Oakland. Plans for more installations across the state were soon to follow.
In 1958, following PG&E's announcement of plans to build a large nuclear complex at Bodega Bay just 1,000 meters from the epicenter of the 1906 earthquake that decimated San Francisco, Northern Californians launched what would eventually become a global movement against nuclear power.  A few years later, with its plans to build the world's largest nuke at Malibu, Southern California Edison would kick off Hollywood's opposition, leading to movie stars like Bob Hope coming out in opposition. Both projects were eventually stopped after years of opposition.

With California's penchant for gigantic systems (including the world’s largest water projects, its freeways, agribusiness, urban sprawl, banks and military contractors) leave it to PG&E, the largest privately owned electric utility company in the United States at the time to claim that it would build over 60 units in its service territory alone - part of Nixon's call for 1,000 reactors nationwide by the year 2000.    

The construction of Diablo Canyon would become the most controversial nuclear facility of its time, taking over 20 years to complete and coming in ten times over budget, able to open only with the legal legerdemain of Nixon's Saturday night massacre Judge Robert Bork’s his lame decision the day before the Chernobyl meltdown. 

With all of its drawn-out drama, PG&E's strategy to bribe the Sierra Club into supporting  Diablo Canyon led to the formation of Friends of the Earth, which split off from the Sierra Club.  Later, with his book Soft Energy PathsAmory Lovins would join Friends of the Earth (FOE) and play a prominent role in launching the global renewable energy campaign. 

In the mid 1970's, as part of Californians for Nuclear Safeguards', June 1976 statewide Proposition 15 ballot measure calling for the end of nuclear power in the state, three General Electric nuclear engineers would quit.  The ballot measure failed but the large statewide campaign with thousands of volunteers so terrified the industry that it agreed to new regulations banning any further development until a solution to spent fuel could be found.   It would be this initiative that would signal the death knell for nuclear in California.  PG&E would take the rule it helped produce to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1983 only to be rebuffed.  Industry supporters considered another attack on the law in 2006, an attack that eventually collapsed.  

A year after the vote, the Abalone Alliance (AA) was formed with the objective of using direct action to stop Diablo Canyon, while the Mothers for Peace took on the legal campaign to close it.  Based on Whyl Germany's 1975 direct action model, the Abalone Alliance was formed in 1977 and quickly spread across the state, eventually including dozens of local groups, large and small.  With the addition of Alliance for Survival, based in San Diego and Los Angeles, estimates placed total membership at nearly 100,000.  The group adopted a radical new model developed by the Quakers of consensus as its decision making process.

Following two years of blockades at the gates of Diablo Canyon, where hundreds of activists trained in Non-violent tactics were arrested, the group's San Francisco chapter, People Against Nuclear Power was actively planning a rally at the Civic Center when unit 1 of the Three Mile Island nuclear facility in Pennsylvania melted down on March 28th,  1979.  The Alliance's timing resulted in over 25,000 attendees at the April 7th event, followed by another rally with 50,000 attendees in San Luis Obispo two months later, when Governor Jerry Brown came out against Diablo.  

After a strategic decision to schedule its next blockade when PG&E planned to open the facility, the alliance, joined by Greenpeace, mounted the nation's largest direct action campaign starting on September 11, 1981.  Nearly 2,000 arrests were made during the ten- day-long blockade at Diablo.  On the last day of the blockade, a newly hired 25-year-old engineer happened to notice that the facilities’ seismic supports had been installed in a mirror-image reversal, following a similar situation at San Onofre, forcing PG&E to be rebuild Diablo for a 3rd time.  (The second rebuild followed the 1972 discovery of the Hosgri Fault, a warning sign that many believed had been covered up by the utility following its failure to build the Bodega Bay facility north of San Francisco in 1958.) This would not end PG&E's seismic nightmare; eventually many new faults even closer to the facility would be discovered. 

1981 Blockade

In the meantime, Santa Cruz activists successfully stopped PG&E's plans to build another large facility less than 20 miles from what would have been the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake ($6 billion in damages) that shattered Santa Cruz and parts of San Francisco.  

PG&E was eventually forced to shell out an additional $5.8 billion dollars for construction costs (and even more in financing) with much of the cost coming, thanks to President Reagan, from a secret EPA loan. Then Judge Bork saved Diablo Canyon who refused to look at the NRC’s leaked transcripts in a decision rendered a day before the catastrophe at Chernobyl happened.

Brown's administration promised to limit ratepayers costs to $2.2 billion, but with Republicans taking control of the state in 1984, a new experiment in rate making allowed PG&E to rake in cash. That ruling led to the 1994 electric rebellion, followed in 2001 by Governor (Pistol) Pete's deregulation fiasco that included a $28 billion give away, with PG&E's portion disappearing when the company went bankrupt.

The TMI disaster that preceded Chernobyl led to a nationwide movement that, given its goal of stopping the use of nuclear power and replacing it with renewable energy sources, has been intentionally ignored by most of the mainstream media. In a matter of years, political opposition combined with nuclear energy's failed economic promises, put a stop to the industry's expansive agenda.

The failure of the U.S. nuclear power program ranks as the largest managerial disaster in business history.  The utility industry has already invested $125 billion, with an additional $140 billion to come before the decade is out – and only the blind, or the biased, can now think that that money has been well spent.

Forbes Magazine, February 1986

From the start, in 1974, when as a result of its plumbing system’s first test, over 10,000 abalone were killed, the facilities environmental hazards became evident. In 1998 the company was caught lying about the massive offshore impacts of dumping 2.2 billion gallons of hot toxic water into the Pacific Ocean daily, but the resulting fine, which would have been the largest ever, magically disappeared through the efforts of the outgoing Clinton administration.  Similar impacts were also found at San Onofre. Eventually the state ordered all coastal thermal facilities to replace their Once-Through Cooling systems that, for Diablo, would have cost the company upwards of $7 billion to install. 

Following George W. Bush's nuclear 2.0 campaign in 2005 with the goal of reboosting nuclear power, the industry started pushing to extend nuclear licenses for old reactors like Diablo and building new ones.  But once again, the industry's claims turned out to be false and within years the new push faltered.  Both Diablo and San Onofre applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for license extensions but when Fukushima happened, both companies were forcedd to delay those plans. San Onofre, which was just completing the replacement of its steam generators, suffered leaks in one of the new units, ultimately leading to closure of the two units in June 2013.

As a result of the seismic hazards revealed by the Fukushima disaster, PGE hoped with a battery of sonic seismic testing, to verify that Diablo Canyon was safe after all. But dramatic opposition to the hazards of sonic testing put an end to that. The final trip wire for PGE came when they realized that their lease of state lands required new hearings.

Just days before the state hearing on June 21st, 2016 the company announced that it had reached an agreement with a number of groups including Friends of the Earth to close the facility in 2024.   After nearly two years of controversial hearings, the California Public Utilities Commission signed off on Diablo's closure.

During the 2016 hearings, PG&E acknowledged that over half of Diablo's power was no longer needed, nor was it critical to maintain it for any base-load purposes.  A handful of pro-nuclear activists attempted to make any number of claims, even attempting to do blockades of groups that were supporting its closure.  But the decision to allow the facilities to continue until 2024 was most definitely not agreed to by groups like Mothers for Peace, Women's Energy Matters and The World Business Academy of Santa Barbara, demanding that it close sooner.  Put on the record during the hearings, those contentions and their documentation were acknowledged and could still come into play.  But, there will never be another nuclear facility allowed again in California.  

This piece is dedicated to those activists who gave their hearts and energy to one of the longest, most difficult struggles imaginable. 

Please note that a number of links giving much more background on Diablo are to Mark Evanoff's unpublished 1983 manuscript on the state's anti-nuclear history.


Roger Herried - Abalone Alliance archivist

This week’s generous bouquet of roses amidst the thorns

Courts in California and Pennsylvania temporarily block rollback of reproductive rights.

More than 100 U.S. House and Senate candidates pledge to move off fossil fuels use.

Sunday, January 7, 2018


An extraordinary story in a decaying world, one without hope, in a landscape stripped of growth. A landscape that became a desert—like 33% of the planet now. But there is a lesson here: this dearest Mother Earth is no place for quitters. When he started, the landscape must have appeared as hopeless as the ones we inhabit today. For thirty-seven years he slugged on, quand meme. Meet Jadav Payeng.

Forest Man  - 16:34

Small Acts Make a Difference. 1.19 minutes.

 Like seeds, there are no instant people. Read about Jadav’s gestation: 

Read about Jadav’s Society. A Man Who Planted the Jungle:  38:05

Please consider making a New Year’s gift to one of the seven organizations reforesting the world as recommended by Dr. James Borrell:

Trees for the Future –
International Tree Foundation –
Tree Aid –
Plant A Billion –
Global Trees Campaign –
Trees for Change –
And if you want to hit a really worthwhile grass roots project…
Tetik’asa Mampody Savoka” (Madagascar) –

Other Roses This Week

While the U.S. wallows in matters of harassment, Iceland becomes first country to legislate equal pay for women and men.

Becerra winds case against trump administration depriving women of full access to the health care they need.