Friday, June 24, 2011

Governor Christine Todd Whitman Turns to Tricks for the Nuclear Energy Industry

My finger has been hesitating over the "publish" button since Wednesday as I dithered.  It's been years since I smoked but I've actually caught myself thinking...a cigarette would be just the thing to clear the fog in my brain so I could make some sort of decision.

Then, yesterday afternoon, I passed a pair of young oak trees after I had just posted photographs of them taken on June 2.  At that time, earlier this month, I described them as typical examples of trees, even recently planted saplings, that are visibly impaired by exposure to the rising levels of background tropospheric ozone.  The foliage of the one on the left was abnormally sparse and decidedly lacking in healthy green chlorophyll - while the one on the right was in slightly better shape but in my opinion, the pale undertone of leaves indicated it was headed in the same direction - the decline and eventual death that will ultimately kill all vegetation if we continue to poison the atmosphere with toxic emissions.

When I happened to go by them again, I couldn't believe how much they had deteriorated in the intervening time, still so early in summer after a spring with more than ample rainfall.  I decided in the seconds after I pulled off the road and walked over to them, astonished at the deterioration in just three weeks, that there is no virtue in being squeamish about reporting my unvarnished thoughts.  (Besides, it's likely I'm already the reputed village lunatic...plus, I suspect I've been disinvited to several traditional parties, and have the impression my membership at an exclusive private club has been revoked.  So what the hell.)

Here's the pair as they appeared June 2:
In a zoom of the crown on the left, it was evident that branches were exposed, and the color of leaves had a uniform and bizarrely yellow cast.
Yesterday, just a glimpse as I was driving by was enough for me to realize that they now are singed with brown, so I stopped to cross over the street for a closer inspection.
 Sure enough!  Chlorosis is proceeding rapidly to necrosis.
Among people who are, for whatever reason, acutely aware of cataclysmic climate change, ecosystem collapse, and peak resources, there is much MUCH debate about what should be done, as well as whether anything substantive can be done to avert wars and the end of civilization.  Some welcome those outcomes as the only conceivable path to save what remains of natural biodiversity.
It's made even more difficult because although it sometimes seems that there are many, many individuals who understand acutely how dangerously destabilized the future for climate, food, and water supplies will be, and in numerous locations is already occurring, still we are a tiny percentage of the overall population.
It's impossible to keep up with, let alone participate in, all of the different organizations which sadly often as not seem to be in competition with each other - some established decades ago like Greenpeace or the World Wildlife Fund and others more recent like the Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Defense Fund - without even counting all the the purely political committees trying to garner attention and funds.  There are too many blogs and articles to read them all, like Al Gore's latest, which concludes with the more common cautious approach advising activists to work for change within the existing system - while other advocacy groups that reject the current exploitative system run a gamut all the way through the Transition Town movement and Rising Tide to Derek Jensen or the Deep Green Resistance.  It's very confusing to know which way to turn especially because, after all, we are on uncharted territory.
People have faced moral dilemmas before, and certainly throughout human history were challenged with decisions where it must have felt like fate hung in the balance...but in these contemporary circumstances, this really is the very first time the fate of ALL humanity (and most other species) has been at stake.  We are left with limited choices as to how to respond, because unlike in the past, there is no longer a manifest destiny to follow, no more fertile uninhabited lands to conquer, no indigenous undiscovered peoples to enslave, no teeming populations of tasty animals left to devour and exterminate nor towering pristine forests to obliterate (at least, not unless we want to end up exactly like the Easter Islanders)...Here's the view of the second tree from yesterday - the one on the right - which now has the most peculiar loss of chlorophyll in leaves at the tips of the branches.

 
One common if not universal assessment in the bleaker recesses of the doomer community is that it is definitely past time to DO something - including past time to still feel obligated to play by rules that don't apply to a global corporate oligarchy with tentacles that control most information, whether by advertising dollars or armed troops - and way past time to be polite and play by the rules established by the very tiny minority who profit from them.
And so although I have hesitated, when I saw those struggling trees yesterday, with their leaves turning from anemically pale to scabrous brown, I decided to throw caution to the wind and say exactly what I have been thinking...and what I have been thinking is that either Christine Todd Whitman's native cognitive ability is constricted by some ideologically driven misconceptions, or she is unabashedly, mercenarily disingenuous.  In other words, she is deluded, or lying for money.
 How else to explain what she said on the radio?
Wednesday while tuned to NPR I heard an interview with her on the Brian Lehrer Show.  I've always been inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt, even though she's a Republican...after all, she can't help that, she was born into one of the most prominent political families in that party.  I even harbored a hope that she resigned honorably as head of the EPA because she couldn't fulfill the demands made upon her by Cheney and the Bush administration to ignore science - and she was being attacked by the fuel industry in court for trying to enforce regulation of polluting emissions.
I have to admit though, it was nigh impossible to excuse throwing all the first responders to 9/11 under the bus, by assuring them the air was safe to breathe, when any idiot not possessed by the adrenaline rush of emotion at that time could see that would necessarily have been impossible - the air was full of dust, for one thing, that you could SEE, and dust of any composition is bad for people to inhale - let alone dust full of asbestos, incinerated heavy metals, and god only knows what other toxic detritus from the explosions and fires!
picture credits here
When Brian Lehrer asked her whether she had any regrets about her handling of the air quality warnings it was disappointing that she could not bring herself to express ANY misgivings, and blamed the scientists who advised her instead.  Well, I guess she has to take that line because she's already been sued for liability!
She's also a neighbor, as such things are reckoned out here in the hinterlands.  The family farm she inherited is only a mile from Wit's End (of course, any size comparison is off the scale!) and she once did me a very kind personal favor while she was Governor of New Jersey.

So I didn't want to become completely disillusioned and was thus very unhappy to hear her regurgitating - with facile fluency, of course - standard excuses condoning the unwarranted prospects for nuclear safety.  Afterwards I learned that apparently this cozy relationship on behalf of nuclear power has been going on for quite some time but, silly me, I didn't know it!  Shame on Brian Lehrer and NPR for giving the nuclear energy industry free advertising propaganda time without making it crystal clear that Whitman is paid to perpetuate their lies!

To his credit, Brian Lehrer did refer to her at one point as a "professional advocate" which apparently is the purpose of the "Whitman Strategy Group" she formed after leaving office - and he asked her rather pointedly what, of all the career paths she could have chosen after leaving government, induced her to choose to become the "co-chair" of the CASEnergy Coalition?  (Oh, you didn't know that nuclear is America's "Clean And Safe Energy" solution??  How could anyone miss that??  Okay - greenwashing has a long and venerable history - corporations have been pretending to care about the environment for as long as there have been environmentalists criticizing their records - and doing a creditable job at it too, some of which is traced here.)
By way of reply, she launched into a dubious explanation as to why nuclear is SO wonderful she just HAD to  become a spokesperson for the industry (Does she really need money that badly?  Wasn't the silver spoon in her mouth she was born with big enough?) - meanwhile she NEVER once alluded to any financial incentive, nor did Mr. Lehrer bother to ask her about it specifically.  He did slip in yet another cleverly phrased question though, when she expressed her support for some version of cap and trade on carbon emissions.  And he did make a brief ineffectual challenge to her laughable claim (she laughed) that "We have more regulatory scrutiny in America than any other country in the world."

And I thought I detected an implicit cynicism when he wondered after she expressed support for legislation, whether any sort of tax on fossil fuel would be to the benefit of the nuclear industry.  Of course, she rushed to reply - any of the green energies would benefit!  Her claim to be a champion for a clean environment in this instance isn't substantiated in her overall record, unfortunately.  She then went on to pooh pooh the problem of long-term storage as "political" not "scientific" despite the fact that one of the biggest threats at Fukushima is the stored, spent fuel!

So basically as I heard it, the talking points she is being paid to so glibly repeat include:

1.  the nuclear industry is committed to voluntary safety monitoring and that is sufficient
2.  the nuclear industry has spent SO MUCH MONEY to enhance safety and NOBODY appreciates it (wahh)!
3.  "We're always going to have coal gas and oil but we should become less reliant on power sources that we import from other countries," in other words nuclear = energy independence = NATIONAL SECURITY, NATIONAL SECURITY, NATIONAL SECURITY
4.  We already have nuclear so we have to use it because WE NEED all that energy (God forbid Americans practice let alone mandate conservation...you know, cutting back on frivolous wasteful stuff?)
4.  Switching to really green energy will cost too much MONEY, MONEY, MONEY

When asked in the awkward context of tritium leaks into the aquifers of New Jersey (and from three-quarters of US commercial plants as well) whether voluntary standards were adequate, she bristled and responded it's a question for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, for their scientists ( a class for which she seems to have nothing but derision and contempt)..."they have scientists that are required to be...on site at every nuclear reactor every day...and those people have access to everyone...and they can look at everything that is happening...and they should be asking the relevant questions..."  Notice how that phrase tripped off her tongue?  I told you she was born with a silver spoon!  "Those people," as in, you know, scientists, people who have to work for a living, NOCD.  She can't help it.

She skirted around the seriousness of Fukushima and the latest revelations that the US government has been routinely loosening regulations so older plants can maintain certification.  The AP series "Aging Nukes" is essential reading to fully comprehend just how disingenuous her reassurances of safety are.  It's perplexing once you penetrate the inexplicable near-blackout of media attention to the literally unprecedented, ongoing disaster at Fukushima (never mind Fort Calhoun on the verge of being flooded in Nebraska!) just how any knowledgable person could publicly proclaim in good conscience that nuclear power can be remotely considered safe.  It's safe until it isn't.

Not wanting to be hasty and jump to the premature conclusion that she is dabbling in what should be criminal negligence by way of complicity with such life-threatening lapses simply based on one radio interview, I reluctantly started googling when I got home later to find out what sort of activities Governor Whitman has been up to since she formed her consulting company and was hired by CASE.  The first thing to pop up was a meeting this past May, described on the CASE website as follows:


Gov. Whitman was joined by Dominion Generation CEO David Christian for a productive conversation on the future of nuclear power with Washington Post journalists Stephen Stromberg and Fred Hiatt.


I love that euphemistic description of a "productive conversation" especially with an obsequious creepy disinformer like Fred Hiatt! Next I noticed, also on their website, that Whitman's co-chair is Robert Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace.  Will wonders never cease!  With credentials such as these, who would dare to suspect ulterior motives?  But oops...this is how his background is described in an entry at Wiki:


"Today he is the co-founder, chair, and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies in Vancouver, a consulting firm that provides paid public relations efforts, lectures, lobbying, opinions and committee participation to government and industry on a wide range of environmental and sustainability issues. He is a frequent public speaker at meetings of industry associations, universities, and policy groups.
He has sharply and publicly differed with many policies of major environmental groups, such as Greenpeace, on other issues including forestry, biotechnology, aquaculture, and the use of chemicals for flame retardants.[1] He is an outspoken proponent of nuclear energy[2]and skeptical of sole human responsibility for climate change.[3]"

There are a number of other revelations about him, including a lawsuit by other members of Greenpeace to oust him from control, and his advocacy for a logging group accused of illegal practices.  He's a proponent of genetically modified food (remember, Monsanto rules the world) and a paid consultant hack for quite a few other polluting industries.  Strange bedfellows - why does Whitman, who in her interview praised our current New Jersey Governor Christie for admitting humans are causing (they prefer to modify it as "contributing to") global warming, co-chair CASE with a renegade fink who claims there is NO scientific evidence for it?

The more I read the angrier and sicker at heart I became.  I found an article she purportedly authored in the HuffPo last summer about nuclear safety questions arising after the Deep Water spill, with the tag line at the end:

Christie Whitman currently co-chairs the nuclear industry funded Clean and Safe Energy Coalition (CASEnergy), a national grassroots coalition that promotes the economic and environmental benefits of nuclear energy as part of a clean energy portfolio.

Really?  Excuse me, but if it's a "nuclear industry funded" organization then in what sense other than Orwellian can it be considered "a "grassroots coalition'"!?  Why did HuffPo editors allow that to be printed unchallenged?  Are they too complicit, and do they think we are all idiots? And if Whitman and Moore are "PAID CONSULTANTS" how come they are called "co-chairs?"  And why is NPR giving a paid spokesperson a half-hour of free advertising time with no rebuttal from an environmentalist critical of that industry?  Shame on you Brian Lehrer!

Worst still is this litany of nefarious activities I found at SourceWatch, which connects Whitman's use of her prestige to a number of irremediably evil enterprises, from Halliburton in general to gas fracking specifically - which in general means it would require some strenuous mental gymnastics to view her activities as anything other than selling her influence to the highest bidder.  And naturally, gigantic industries like nuclear power can bid much, much higher than trees, butterflies, frogs and porpoises.

It is all so disillusioning.  I mean, I knew American is corrupt.  I watched the whole film, The Corporation, so I know how slick and skilled the lobbyists and former government appointees are at spinning through the revolving door.  But I have had a secret hope ever since I realized trees are dying that maybe if I just worked up the nerve to contact someone with a national reputation, like say fellow Oldwickian Christie Whitman, she would make an honest assessment of the sad trees crumpling around our little village everywhere in yards, woods and hedgerows and exclaim "Oh my God!  You're right!  The lovely trees in our pristine rural countryside - in fact all the trees in our Garden State - and even, all the trees around the world - are suffocating from being enveloped in a poisonous atmosphere!  We must warn people, and save them, and ourselves, from extinction!"  Unlike my easily dismissed efforts, she would have the influence and the prestige to do something about it.
When the program began I was toying with the idea of calling in to ask her whether perhaps she had noticed that the trees around her very own property are dying (which I photographed for this post from the summer of 2009) but as the interview went on it appeared they wouldn't be taking any listener questions for that episode.  I guess in hindsight, there's a reason I never got up the nerve to ask her before if she would like to take an honest inventory.  Deep in my soul I feared that she was long since bought and sold and would probably just laugh at me, or get angry.  Who knows though, maybe she'll come around.  I of course would welcome that!
In one of life's many amusing coincidences, that post linked above, which had pictures from her estate, also included a series of photographs from properties owned by a couple of other prominent right-wing leaders in this area - Donald Trump and Steve Forbes.  When the radio segmant began I happened to be on my way to visit a friend and was driving down a dirt road, along the perimeter of the home which was owned by the late, flamboyant Malcolm Forbes and where his son Steve grew up.  When I saw that toppled pine and row of maples opposite the entrance, I stopped the car, rolled down the windows and cranked up the volume so I wouldn't miss the show, while I hopped out to take pictures.
One after the other, the trees get progressively more skeletal.
They were planted not long ago, but next I passed some oaks so old and huge they dwarf the house they surround.  Young or old, it matters not - they are all dying back at an increasing rate from ozone.
Physiological damage as ozone is absorbed, season after season, causes the bark to become coarse and split off in chunks - eventually the deterioration spreads until a gaping hole invites invasions by insects and disease that will finish the job.
I missed the end of the program when I reached my friend's house before it was over, and turned the radio off with relief.  But go ahead and listen to the whole thing if you want:

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