Monday, May 16, 2011

Japan Changes Policy on Building More Nuclear Reactors - What Will It Take for US To Learn Same Thereby Deposing "Nuke 'Em" Boys? 3 Cups of Friedbrain

From our friends at WhoWhatWhy we hear some very good news for the world.

As reported by the New York Times,

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Tuesday that Japan would abandon plans to build new nuclear reactors, saying his country needed to “start from scratch” in creating a new energy policy.

…Tuesday’s decision will abandon a plan that the Kan government released last year to build 14 more nnnuclear reactors by 2030 and increase the share of nuclear power in Japan’s electricity supply to 50 percent. Japan currently has 54 reactors that before the earthquake produced 30 percent of its electricity.

The cancellation of the planned nuclear plants is the second time that Mr. Kan has suddenly announced big changes in Japanese nuclear policy without the usual endless committee meetings and media leaks that characterize the country’s consensus-driven decision making. Mr. Kan appears to be seeking a stronger leadership role after criticism of his government’s sometimes slow and indecisive handling of the Fukushima accident.

Last week, Mr. Kan asked a utility company to suspend operations at the Hamaoka nuclear plant, which sits atop an active earthquake fault line, about 120 miles southwest of Tokyo. After three days of delays, the company, Chubu Electric Power, finally agreed on Monday to shut down the plant until a new wave wall was built and other measures could be taken to strengthen it against earthquakes and tsunamis.

Mr. Kan said Japan would retain nuclear and fossil fuels as energy sources, but vowed to add two new pillars to Japan’s energy policy: renewable energy and conservation. While Japan has been a global leader in energy conservation, it lags behind the United States and Europe in adopting solar and wind power, and other new energy sources.

“We need to start from scratch,” Mr. Kan told reporters. “We need to make nuclear energy safer and do more to promote renewable energy.”

What’s striking here is that the Japanese are taking this responsible action even though (or perhaps because) they are desperate for ways of generating energy. Unlike the US, Japan has very few natural resources, and is hugely dependent on imports and self-generated sources, principally nuclear.

Also striking is that the Japanese have already been remarkably responsible in so many ways. The waste and consumption of the typical Japanese person is much smaller than an American in almost every category.

The United States is (or was—data not that recent) #11 in per capita electric energy consumption (the biggest users tend to be extremely cold and hot countries, with severe energy needs) at 12,747 kilowatts; Japan is #23 at 7,701 kilowatts per capita. The U.S. is #17 in natural gas consumption at 2.168 million cubic meters per 1000 population; Japan is #47 at 787,000 cubic meters. The U.S. is #5 in per capita coal consumption, at 3.58 tons of coal; Japan is #12 at 1.17.

Shall I stop yet? How about oil? “USA #1!” takes on a whole new meaning at 8.35 tons of “oil equivalent” per capita. Japan #11 at 4.13.

Mr. Kan had also previously called for Japan to sell its nuclear technology to emerging nations as a new source of export income. However, the Fukushima accident has prompted a global rethinking of nuclear energy and may drive customers away from Japanese suppliers to rivals in places like South Korea.

Mr. Kan also appeared to pull back from his earlier vows to remain committed to nuclear power. His apparent about-face may be driven partly by public opinion, which has soured on nuclear power since the Fukushima accident….

The point here is that Japan is worth looking at because it is a much more advanced model of where we all may be before too long. Japan is finding out that importing fossil fuels is not the way to go, and neither is nuclear. Conservation they’re pretty good at, and it’s still not enough.

Not long ago, we reprinted here an article based on an intriguing study aimed at achieving 100 percent renewable energy. As expected, some folks were off the blocks with criticism of why this couldn’t be done. But most readers reacted with genuine excitement at the idea of at least making a concerted effort to do something along these lines. And a new study from the UN says that at least 80 percent renewable energy is a viable prospect.

The real problem is a lack of political will and guts. Maybe our leaders can learn something from the Japanese.

As for the average American, we have to do a lot better in educating (or shaming) our fellow citizens when it comes to reckless lifestyles. Anyone who has traveled a bit around this country knows (and anyone who has traveled elsewhere is struck by the contrast) just how childishly extravagant we can be. We’re about the biggest litterers anywhere. We just have to have the latest and biggest monstrosities, from vehicles to flat screens. Everything has to be triple-packed, and 40 napkins, please. Leave the tv on all day to keep the house company. Maintenance of acres of green lawn. On and on.

The United States is #1 in the amount of municipal waste per capita. Japan is #21. Japanese generate 400 kilos of waste per person; Americans, 720.

Maybe a delegation of (slightly irradiated) Japanese, like gentle aliens in some Spielberg movie, can arrive on our shores to point us to a more thoughtful and harmonious way of getting along with Mother Earth.

Good luck with that, huh? And speaking of needing some really good luck in order to repair real damage done . . . (who woulda thunk Amurrrcans would need to use propaganda to sell wars of vengeance?):
Three Cups of T. Friedman By Russ Baker on Apr 19, 2011 Journalists cannot always get it right. But some, with a very big platform and impact, have more responsibility to get it right than most. One of those with a great deal of influence is the New York Times columnist and best-selling foreign affairs writer Thomas Friedman. What did he say about Greg Mortenson, now at the center of a storm over his credibility? Here is Friedman on July 19, 2009:

Pushghar, Afghanistan

I confess, I find it hard to come to Afghanistan and not ask: Why are we here? Who cares about the Taliban? Al Qaeda is gone. And if its leaders come back, well, that’s why God created cruise missiles.

But every time I start writing that column, something stills my hand. This week it was something very powerful. I watched Greg Mortenson, the famed author of Three Cups of Tea, open one of his schools for girls in this remote Afghan village in the Hindu Kush mountains. I must say, after witnessing the delight in the faces of those little Afghan girls crowded three to a desk waiting to learn, I found it very hard to write, “Let’s just get out of here.”

Let’s just pause here for a moment for a summary of the story that CBS 60 Minutes ran April 17:

Greg Mortenson is a former mountain climber, best-selling author, humanitarian, and philanthropist. His non-profit organization, the Central Asia Institute (CAI), is dedicated to promoting education, especially for girls, in remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and according to its web site, has established more than 140 schools there.

President Obama donated $100,000 to the group from the proceeds of his Nobel Prize. Mortenson’s book, Three Cups of Tea, has sold more than four million copies and is required reading for U.S. servicemen bound for Afghanistan.

But last fall, we began investigating complaints from former donors, board members, staffers, and charity watchdogs about Mortenson and the way he is running his non-profit organization. And we found there are serious questions about how millions of dollars have been spent, whether Mortenson is personally benefiting, and whether some of the most dramatic and inspiring stories in his books are even true.

Greg Mortenson’s books have made him a publishing phenomenon and sought-after speaker on the lecture circuit, where he has attained a cult-like status. He regularly draws crowds of several thousand people and $30,000 per engagement.

And everywhere Mortenson goes, he brings an inspirational message built around a story that forms the cornerstone of Three Cups of Tea and his various ventures – how, in 1993, he tried and failed to reach the summit of K2, the world’s second tallest mountain, to honor his dead sister, how he got lost and separated from his party on the descent and stumbled into a tiny village called Korphe.

Greg Mortenson (speaking on big T.V. screen): My pants were ripped in half and I hadn’t taken a bath in 84 days.

Mortenson (in T.V. interview): And I stumbled into a little village called Korphe, where I was befriended by the people and…

Mortenson (in another T.V. interview): They gave me everything they had: their yak butter, their tea. They put warm blankets over me, and they helped nurse me back to health.

Mortenson tells how he discovered 84 children in the back of the village writing their school lessons with sticks in the dust.

Mortenson (speaking on stage): And when a young girl named Chocho came up to me and said…

Mortenson (speaking on another stage): Can you help us build a school? I made a rash promise that day and I said, “I promise I’ll help build a school.” Little did I know it would change my life forever.

It’s a powerful and heart-warming tale that has motivated millions of people to buy his book and contribute nearly $60 million to his charity.

Jon Krakauer: It’s a beautiful story, and it’s a lie.

Jon Krakauer is also a best-selling author and mountaineer, who wrote Into Thin Air and Into The Wild. He was one of Mortenson’s earliest backers, donating $75,000 to his non-profit organization.

But after a few years, Krakauer says he withdrew his support over concerns that the charity was being mismanaged, and he later learned that the Korphe tale that launched Mortenson into prominence was simply not true.

Steve Kroft: Did he stumble into this village weak in a weakened state?

Krakauer: Absolutely not.

Kroft: Nobody helped him out. And nursed him back to health.

Krakauer: Absolutely not. I have spoken to one of his companions, a close friend, who hiked out from K2 with him and this companion said Greg never heard of Korphe till a year later.

Strangely enough, Krakauer’s version of events is backed up by Greg Mortenson himself, in his earliest telling of the story. In an article he wrote for the newsletter of The American Himalayan Foundation after his descent from K2, Mortenson makes no mention of his experience in Korphe, although he did write that he hoped to build a school in another village called Khane.

To get the full import of the revelations, including how many of the purported schools Mortenson helped are actually empty, or don’t exist, or say they got no help from him, and how Mortenson allegedly transformed villagers who were helping him into Taliban who had kidnapped him, you need to watch the full 60 Minutes segment.

Ok, back to journalist Thomas Friedman:

Indeed, Mortenson’s efforts remind us what the essence of the “war on terrorism” is about. It’s about the war of ideas within Islam — a war between religious zealots who glorify martyrdom and want to keep Islam untouched by modernity and isolated from other faiths, with its women disempowered, and those who want to embrace modernity, open Islam to new ideas and empower Muslim women as much as men. America’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were, in part, an effort to create the space for the Muslim progressives to fight and win so that the real engine of change, something that takes nine months and 21 years to produce — a new generation — can be educated and raised differently.

Which is why it was no accident that Adm. Mike Mullen, the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — spent half a day in order to reach Mortenson’s newest school and cut the ribbon. Getting there was fun. Our Chinook helicopter threaded its way between mountain peaks, from Kabul up through the Panjshir Valley, before landing in a cloud of dust at the village of Pushghar. Imagine if someone put a new, one-story school on the moon, and you’ll appreciate the rocky desolateness of this landscape.

But there, out front, was Mortenson, dressed in traditional Afghan garb. He was surrounded by bearded village elders and scores of young Afghan boys and girls, who were agog at the helicopter, and not quite believing that America’s “warrior chief” — as Admiral Mullen’s title was loosely translated into Urdu — was coming to open the new school.

While the admiral passed out notebooks, Mortenson told me why he has devoted his life to building 131 secular schools for girls in Pakistan and another 48 in Afghanistan: “The money is money well spent. These are secular schools that will bring a new generation of kids that will have a broader view of the world. We focus on areas where there is no education. Religious extremism flourishes in areas of isolation and conflict.

…It is no accident, Mortenson noted, that since 2007, the Taliban and its allies have bombed, burned or shut down more than 640 schools in Afghanistan and 350 schools in Pakistan, of which about 80 percent are schools for girls. This valley, controlled by Tajik fighters, is secure, but down south in Helmand Province, where the worst fighting is today, the deputy minister of education said that Taliban extremists have shut 75 of the 228 schools in the last year. This is the real war of ideas. The Taliban want public mosques, not public schools. The Muslim militants recruit among the illiterate and impoverished in society, so the more of them the better, said Mortenson.

This new school teaches grades one through six. I asked some girls through an interpreter what they wanted to be when they grow up: “Teacher,” shouted one. “Doctor,” shouted another. Living here, those are the only two educated role models these girls encounter. Where were they going to school before Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute and the U.S. State Department joined with the village elders to get this secular public school built? “The mosque,” the girls said.

Mortenson said he was originally critical of the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he’s changed his views:The U.S. military has gone through a huge learning curve. They really get it. It’s all about building relationships from the ground up, listening more and serving the people of Afghanistan.”

So there you have it. In grand strategic terms, I still don’t know if this Afghan war makes sense anymore. I was dubious before I arrived, and I still am. But when you see two little Afghan girls crouched on the front steps of their new school, clutching tightly with both arms the notebooks handed to them by a U.S. admiral — as if they were their first dolls — it’s hard to say: “Let’s just walk away.” Not yet.

It does seem, at times like this, that we ought not simply treat matters like the Mortenson Affair as isolated cases, with the suddenly-embarrassing fellow hastily shown the door, nervous coughs all around.

We need to examine the uses of major media for propaganda purposes, and what responsibility, if any, host publications have to consider the impact of giving such propaganda their platform, without any due diligence.

Vietnam, after all, was not really all that long ago. And, as CBS noted in its report, those who knew Mortenson well, including staff, board members, and others, had been saying for many years that something was deeply wrong.

But Tom Friedman has never been wrong about anything. Notice how well the War on Iraq went. And the Afghanistan "humanitarian" efforts. ____________________

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