The pet hotel entrepreneur who saved hundreds of animals post-disaster Fukushima.
An article sent to me by my sister who lives and works in Tokyo, Japan.
By Elizabeth Handover
Three years ago, in the days following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, a phone call from a woman in distress catapulted Isabella Gallaon-Aoki into an unforeseen selfless and courageous rescue of hundreds of abandoned animals.
Gallaon-Aoki, who is part British and part Italian, originally came to Tokyo to learn Japanese. She met her husband here, and after several years moved with him to Niigata, his native home.
After having two children, she became interested in animal welfare, joined a local animal help-group and was trained in animal rescue techniques. The animal group focused on saving as many abandoned animals as possible from the local welfare center, by getting them adopted or at least finding temporary foster homes.
After adopting a rescued dog of her own, Gallaon-Aoki personally observed how many animals were put down as the welfare center deadline hit before new homes could be found.
She became convinced that an animal shelter was the answer, as this would be more efficient and sustainable. It could save many more lives by providing a place to house animals for longer periods of time, until they could be adopted.
Isabella also saw a market need for a pet boarding facility. Many existing pet hotels, despite being expensive, only offered accommodation in small confined cages, and the care was unsatisfactory. Every time she travelled, she took her pets all the way down to Kobe, where they could have more space.
She felt that other pet owners, when given the opportunity, would naturally prefer to leave their pets in a spacious, pleasant environment with fresh air and opportunities for exercise.
This was exactly what Gallaon-Aoki and her husband were in an excellent position to offer; they could provide an enjoyable holiday for pets so their owners could enjoy their own trips with a clear conscience.
Gallaon-Aoki was also motivated to try her hand at an entrepreneurial venture, by establishing a profitable pet hotel business. This, in turn, could help fund an animal rescue shelter. Animal Garden Niigata was thus started.
All went well at first, business increased steadily, and the Animal Friends Japan shelter was set up shortly thereafter.
Call of duty
Then the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami hit.
Gallaon-Aoki’s first response to the disaster was to set off for Sendai and then go up to Iwate, to help animals in need. But when she got there, she found no animals to rescue. All had been swept away, together with their human owners.
Soon she started hearing reports about the situation in Fukushima. On March 21, a call came in from a woman whose dog had been left behind when the family was evacuated from Okuma. No one had been allowed to take pets, and evacuees had been told that they would be back in their homes within two to three days.
In reality, the family had been shipped out immediately to Nagasaki. The woman was crying with desperation as she described how her dog had been left chained up with no food or water. She begged Gallaon-Aoki to go to her house and rescue him.
With no thought for her own safety or the consequences of the actions she was about to take, Gallaon-Aoki immediately agreed to do whatever she could.
She realized that it would be hard to access the exclusion zone. But, having lived in Japan for many years, she gambled that barriers would be manned by police only during daytime hours. What she hadn’t reckoned on were the impassible mountain roads, which had been damaged or cut off by massive rock falls.
That first trip took many hours and involved inching along perilously narrow roads with no guardrails. This turned out to be more life-threatening than entering a radiation fallout zone. At nightfall, she successfully snuck in through a checkpoint, found the woman’s dog, and took it back to Niigata with her.
In the weeks that followed, the calls for pet rescues came flooding in, and she kept returning to Fukushima. She ended up rescuing a staggering 700 animals altogether, including cats, dogs, ducks, chickens, rabbits, and even a pig. This was far beyond anything that Gallaon-Aoki had expected.
She reached out to the community for funding, and many people kindly supported the shelter with donations, which made the huge project possible for the time being.
Gallaon-Aoki’s initial plan had been to take in the animals temporarily and care for them until their owners could reclaim them. She hoped to find homes for unclaimed animals in due course. But as time went by, she was faced with growing difficulties.
Many pet owners never returned to claim their animals, and very few people were willing to take in a pet that they feared had been irradiated. Furthermore, month by month, donations were drying up. Thus, a project intended as a short-term solution became a long-term logistical and financial burden.
Yet, Gallaon-Aoki has stayed true to her courage and convictions. Through dire necessity, she has honed her entrepreneurial skills, using creativity and resilience to keep the shelter going for over three years and to care for her huge extended “family” still in residence.
The accidental heroine is putting her entrepreneurial skills to good use in rebuilding her business. Times are changing, the economy is finally growing, and Gallaon-Aoki is gradually bringing her pet hotel back to commercial success.
With an increasing number of people going abroad for vacations, she is confident that more and more clients will employ her services.
There are many beautiful pets still waiting for homes at the shelter.
For more information on pets for adoption, visit www.animalfriendsjapan.org. To learn about the countryside accommodation at Isabella Gallaon-Aoki’s Animal Garden boarding facility, go to www.animalgardenjapan.com, or email Gallaon-Aoki directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wonderful story – thanks Elizabeth for sending it to me.
If one of the pools collapsed or caught fire, it could have severe adverse impacts not only on Japan … but the rest of the world, including the United States. Indeed, a Senator called it a national security concern for the U.S.:
The radiation caused by the failure of the spent fuel pools in the event of another earthquake could reach the West Coast within days. That absolutely makes the safe containment and protection of this spent fuel a security issue for the United States.
Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen and physician Helen Caldicott have both said that people should evacuate the Northern Hemisphere if one of the Fukushima fuel pools collapses. Gundersen said:
Move south of the equator if that ever happened, I think that’s probably the lesson there.
Thousands of workers and a small fleet of cranes are preparing for one of the latest efforts to avoid a deepening environmental disaster that has China and other neighbors increasingly worried: removing spent fuel rods from the damaged No. 4 reactor building and storing them in a safer place.
Tom Snitch, a senior professor at the University of Maryland and with more than 30 years’ experience in nuclear issues, said “[Japan officials] need to address the real problems, the spent fuel rods in Unit 4 and the leaking pressure vessels,” he said. “There has been too much work done wiping down walls and duct work in the reactors for any other reason then to do something…. This is a critical global issue and Japan must step up.”
Apologies, that’s more than sufficient to ruin your day! If you really want to read to the end, the item is here.
However, the next item carries a much more positive thread. It was an essay that was highlighted on Linked-In back in June.
The Number One Job Skill in 2020
What’s the crucial career strength that employers everywhere are seeking — even though hardly anyone is talking about it? A great way to find out is by studying this list of fast-growing occupations, as compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Sports coaches and fitness trainers. Massage therapists, registered nurses and physical therapists. School psychologists, music tutors, preschool teachers and speech-language pathologists. Personal financial planners, chauffeurs and private detectives. These are among the fields expected to employ at least 20% more people in the U.S. by 2020.
Did you notice the common thread? Every one of these jobs is all about empathy.
In our fast-paced digital world, there’s lots of hand-wringing about the ways that automation and computer technology are taking away the kinds of jobs that kept our parents and grandparents employed. Walk through a modern factory, and you’ll be stunned by how few humans are needed to tend the machines. Similarly, travel agents, video editors and many other white-collar employees have been pushed to the sidelines by the digital revolution’s faster and cheaper methods.
But there’s no substitute for the magic of a face-to-face interaction with someone else who cares. Even the most ingenious machine-based attempts to mimic human conversation (hello, Siri) can’t match the emotional richness of a real conversation with a real person.
Coincidentally, that thought about the ‘magic of a face-to-face interaction’ really echoed in me. Why? Because, I was ruminating on the wonderful world of human interaction this world of blogging delivers. It seems to combine all the benefits of meeting real people with a global consciousness of those same real people spread way beyond our own local domains.
Hence the reason why I offer the next seemingly unrelated item. The recent post from Sue Dreamwallker that I am republishing in full.
This is just a short post to say a Big thank you to all of my readers and to those who visit regular and comment upon my posts. You Bring with you such light and encouragement, and I often at a loss to say how much your kind support means.
I logged onto my Blog today and discover that my readership has swelled to 400 followers and so I just want to say a Big thank you for all of my oldest friends who have been with me since my beginnings of Windows Live Spaces days when I started in 2007, My first real post after transferring was called Finding Answers here on WordPress. And I remember well spending the best part of a Day getting to know and personalise my header and Blog back then as everything was alien that day was in Oct 2010. A move I am so pleased to have made, as I just love the W.P. Community of friends we have gathered here and whom I have got to know and love.
And I just want to say a big thank you to all of my newest arrivals who have clicked the follow button.. I hope to get around to discovering your blogs as soon as time allows.And to say thank you to my email subscribers also.. And Welcome, I hope you enjoy my thoughts and if not please don’t be shy to air your opinions for that’s how we grow and learn by sharing knowledge and understanding.
Today I just want to post what I have been up to in recent days besides the ‘Day-job’ in picture format.. So if you click the photos, you should be able to read more in the caption headings.. [Photos available on Sue’s blogsite.]
Take care all of you and I have a busy week a head in my Day Job, so I will catch you when I can…
Love and Blessings
Still the resonances continued. For Rebecca Solnit published yesterday an incredibly powerful essay over on TomDispatch. It was called Victories Come in All Sizes. As always, Tom writes a wonderful introduction. Let me skip to Rebecca’s opening paragraphs.
Joy Arises, Rules Fall Apart Thoughts for the Second Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street
By Rebecca Solnit
I would have liked to know what the drummer hoped and what she expected. We’ll never know why she decided to take a drum to the central markets of Paris on October 5, 1789, and why, that day, the tinder was so ready to catch fire and a drumbeat was one of the sparks.
To the beat of that drum, the working women of the marketplace marched all the way to the Palace of Versailles, a dozen miles away, occupied the seat of French royal power, forced the king back to Paris, and got the French Revolution rolling. Far more than with the storming of the Bastille almost three months earlier, it was then that the revolution was really launched — though both were mysterious moments when citizens felt impelled to act and acted together, becoming in the process that mystical body, civil society, the colossus who writes history with her feet and crumples governments with her bare hands.
She strode out of the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City during which parts of the central city collapsed, and so did the credibility and power of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the PRI that had ruled Mexico for 70 years. She woke up almost three years ago in North Africa, in what was called the Arab Spring, and became a succession of revolutions and revolts still unfolding across the region.
Such transformative moments have happened in many times and many places — sometimes as celebratory revolution, sometimes as terrible calamity, sometimes as both, and they are sometimes reenacted as festivals and carnivals. In these moments, the old order is shattered, governments and elites tremble, and in that rupture civil society is born — or reborn.
However, this further extract covering the closing paragraphs explains why it resonated so strongly with me in terms of the rising consciousness of all the millions of ordinary people just trying to leave the world in a better place:
Part of what gave Occupy its particular beauty was the way the movement defined “we” as the 99%. That (and that contagious meme the 1%) entered our language, offering a way of imagining the world so much more inclusive than just about anything that had preceded it. And what an inclusive movement it was: the usual young white suspects, from really privileged to really desperate, but also a range of participants from World War II to Iraq War veterans to former Black Panthers, from libertarians to liberals to anarchist insurrectionists, from the tenured to the homeless to hip-hop moguls and rock stars.
And there was so much brutality, too, from the young women pepper-sprayed at an early Occupy demonstration and the students infamously pepper-sprayed while sitting peacefully on the campus of the University of California, Davis, to the poet laureate Robert Hass clubbed in the ribs at the Berkeley encampment, 84-year-old Dorli Rainey assaulted by police at Occupy Seattle, and the Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen whose skull was fractured by a projectile fired by the Oakland police. And then, of course, there was the massive police presence and violent way that in a number of cities the movement’s occupiers were finally ejected from their places of “occupation.”
Such overwhelming institutional violence couldn’t have made clearer the degree to which the 1% considered Occupy a genuine threat. At the G-20 economic summit in 2011, the Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, said, “The reward system of shareholders and managers of financial institution[s] should be changed step by step. Otherwise the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ slogan will become fashionable in all developed countries.” That was the voice of fear, because the realized dreams of the 99% are guaranteed to be the 1%’s nightmares.
We’ll never know what that drummer girl in Paris was thinking, but thanks to Schneider’s meticulous and elegant book, we know what one witness-participant was thinking all through the first year of Occupy, and what it was like to be warmed for a few months by that beautiful conflagration that spread across the world, to be part of that huge body that wasn’t exactly civil society, but something akin to it, perhaps in conception even larger than it, as Occupy encampments and general assemblies spread from Auckland to Hong Kong, from Oakland to London in the fall of 2011. Some of them lasted well into 2012, and others spawned things that are still with us: coalitions and alliances and senses of possibility and frameworks for understanding what’s wrong and what could be right. It was a sea-change moment, a watershed movement, a dream realized imperfectly (because only unrealized dreams are perfect), a groundswell that remains ground on which to build.
On the second anniversary of that day in lower Manhattan when people first sat down in outrage and then stayed in dedication and solidarity and hope, remember them, remember how unpredictably the world changes, remember those doing heroic work that you might hear little or nothing about but who are all around you, remember to hope, remember to build. Remember that you are 99% likely to be one of them and take up the burden that is also an invitation to change the world and occupy your dreams.
Rebecca Solnit, author most recently of The Faraway Nearby spent time at Occupy San Francisco, Occupy Oakland, and Occupy Wall Street in 2011 and wrote about Occupy often for TomDispatch in 2011-2012. This essay is adapted from her introduction to Nathan Schneider’s new book, Thank You, Anarchy(University of California Press).
Copyright 2013 Rebecca Solnit
The final element was from an email yesterday in from Chris Snuggs. Chris has previously written guest posts on Learning from Dogs, the last one being In Defence of Politics back on July 8th. In that email was the following photograph.
Let me draw out the thread that I saw in all these items.
That is that the 1% that Rebecca Solnit wrote about are incredibly powerful people, with access to more power, money and control than one can even imagine. But what that 1% cannot control is the growing consciousness, the growing mindfulness and awareness of millions of people across this planet that something as simple and pure and beautiful as unconditional love will conquer all.
The most fundamental lesson that we can learn from dogs!
Our Planet is a living entity, which means…. well, allow Professor Klare to spell it out.
A few months back, specifically on the 3rd May, I reflected on views that the Planet Earth was a living entity responding to how it was treated. One of those views was the now-famous Gaia hypothesis from Prof. James Lovelock; the other idea, of an avenging planet, was from Michael T. Klare, a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College.
Then in June, Tom Engelhardt, of TomDispatch fame, published a further article from Professor Michael Klare. Tom’s generosity allows me the permission to re-publish the article, which is riveting reading.
Here’s the good news about energy: thanks to rising oil prices and deteriorating economic conditions worldwide, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that global oil demand will not grow this year as much as once assumed, which may provide some temporary price relief at the gas pump. In its May Oil Market Report, the IEA reduced its 2011 estimate for global oil consumption by 190,000 barrels per day, pegging it at 89.2 million barrels daily. As a result, retail prices may not reach the stratospheric levels predicted earlier this year, though they will undoubtedly remain higher than at any time since the peak months of 2008, just before the global economic meltdown. Keep in mind that this is the good news.
As for the bad news: the world faces an array of intractable energy problems that, if anything, have only worsened in recent weeks. These problems are multiplying on either side of energy’s key geological divide: below ground, once-abundant reserves of easy-to-get “conventional” oil, natural gas, and coal are drying up;above ground, human miscalculation and geopolitics are limiting the production and availability of specific energy supplies. With troubles mounting in both arenas, our energy prospects are only growing dimmer.
Here’s one simple fact without which our deepening energy crisis makes no sense: the world economy is structured in such a way that standing still in energy production is not an option. In order to satisfy the staggering needs of older industrial powers like the United States along with the voracious thirst of rising powers like China, global energy must grow substantially every year. According to the projections of the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), world energy output, based on 2007 levels, must rise 29% to 640 quadrillion British thermal units by 2025 to meet anticipated demand. Even if usage grows somewhat more slowly than projected, any failure to satisfy the world’s requirements produces a perception of scarcity, which also means rising fuel prices. These are precisely the conditions we see today and should expect for the indefinite future.
It is against this backdrop that three crucial developments of 2011 are changing the way we are likely to live on this planet for the foreseeable future.
The first and still most momentous of the year’s energy shocks was the series of events precipitated by the Tunisian and Egyptian rebellions and the ensuing “Arab Spring” in the greater Middle East. Neither Tunisia nor Egypt was, in fact, a major oil producer, but the political shockwaves these insurrections unleashed has spread to other countries in the region that are, including Libya, Oman, and Saudi Arabia. At this point, the Saudi and Omani leaderships appear to be keeping a tight lid on protests, but Libyan production, normally averaging approximately 1.7 million barrels per day, has fallen to near zero.
When it comes to the future availability of oil, it is impossible to overstate the importance of this spring’s events in the Middle East, which continue to thoroughly rattle the energy markets. According to all projections of global petroleum output, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf states are slated to supply an ever-increasing share of the world’s total oil supply as production in key regions elsewhere declines. Achieving this production increase is essential, but it will not happen unless the rulers of those countries invest colossal sums in the development of new petroleum reserves — especially the heavy, “tough oil” variety that requires far more costly infrastructure than existing “easy oil” deposits.
In a front-page story entitled “Facing Up to the End of ‘Easy Oil,’” the Wall Street Journal noted that any hope of meeting future world oil requirements rests on a Saudi willingness to sink hundreds of billions of dollars into their remaining heavy-oil deposits. But right now, faced with a ballooning population and the prospects of an Egyptian-style youth revolt, the Saudi leadership seems intent on using its staggering wealth on employment-generating public-works programs and vast arrays of weaponry, not new tough-oil facilities; the same is largely true of the other monarchical oil states of the Persian Gulf.
Whether such efforts will prove effective is unknown. If a youthful Saudi population faced with promises of jobs and money, as well as the fierce repression of dissidence, has seemed less confrontational than their Tunisian, Egyptian, and Syrian counterparts, that doesn’t mean that the status quo will remain forever. “Saudi Arabia is a time bomb,” commented Jaafar Al Taie, managing director of Manaar Energy Consulting (which advises foreign oil firms operating in the region). “I don’t think that what the King is doing now is sufficient to prevent an uprising,” he added, even though the Saudi royals had just announced a $36-billion plan to raise the minimum wage, increase unemployment benefits, and build affordable housing.
At present, the world can accommodate a prolonged loss of Libyan oil. Saudi Arabia and a few other producers possess sufficient excess capacity to make up the difference. Should Saudi Arabia ever explode, however, all bets are off. “If something happens in Saudi Arabia, [oil] will go to $200 to $300 [per barrel],”said Sheikh Zaki Yamani, the kingdom’s former oil minister, on April 5th. “I don’t expect this for the time being, but who would have expected Tunisia?”
Nuclear Power on the Downward Slope
In terms of the energy markets, the second major development of 2011 occurred on March 11th when an unexpectedly powerful earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. As a start, nature’s two-fisted attack damaged or destroyed a significant proportion of northern Japan’s energy infrastructure, including refineries, port facilities, pipelines, power plants, and transmission lines. In addition, of course, it devastated four nuclear plants at Fukushima, resulting, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, in the permanent loss of 6,800 megawatts of electric generating capacity.
This, in turn, has forced Japan to increase its imports of oil, coal, and natural gas, adding to the pressure on global supplies. With Fukushima and other nuclear plants off line, industry analysts calculate that Japanese oil imports could rise by as much as 238,000 barrels per day, and imports of natural gas by 1.2 billion cubic feet per day (mostly in the form of liquefied natural gas, or LNG).
This is one major short-term effect of the tsunami. What about the longer-term effects? The Japanese government now claims it is scrapping plans to build as many as 14 new nuclear reactors over the next two decades. On May 10th, Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced that the government would have to “start from scratch” in devising a new energy policy for the country. Though he speaks of replacing the cancelled reactors with renewable energy systems like wind and solar, the sad reality is that a significant part of any future energy expansion will inevitably come from more imported oil, coal, and LNG.
The disaster at Fukushima — and ensuing revelations of design flaws and maintenance failures at the plant — has had a domino effect, causing energy officials in other countries to cancel plans to build new nuclear plants or extend the life of existing ones. The first to do so was Germany: on March 14th, Chancellor Angela Merkelclosed two older plants and suspended plans to extend the life of 15 others. On May 30th, her government made the suspension permanent. In the wake of mass antinuclear rallies and an election setback, she promised to shut all existing nuclear plants by 2022, which, experts believe, will result in an increase in fossil-fuel use.
China also acted swiftly, announcing on March 16th that it would stop awarding permits for the construction of new reactors pending a review of safety procedures, though it did not rule out such investments altogether. Other countries, including India and the United States, similarly undertook reviews of reactor safety procedures, putting ambitious nuclear plans at risk. Then, on May 25th, the Swiss government announced that it would abandon plans to build three new nuclear power plants, phase out nuclear power, and close the last of its plants by 2034, joining the list of countries that appear to have abandoned nuclear power for good.
How Drought Strangles Energy
The third major energy development of 2011, less obviously energy-connected than the other two, has been a series of persistent, often record, droughts gripping many areas of the planet. Typically, the most immediate and dramatic effect of prolonged drought is a reduction in grain production, leading to ever-higher food prices and ever more social turmoil.
Intense drought over the past year in Australia, China, Russia, and parts of theMiddle East, South America, the United States, and most recently northern Europehas contributed to the current record-breaking price of food — and this, in turn, has been a key factor in the political unrest now sweeping North Africa, East Africa, and the Middle East. But drought has an energy effect as well. It can reduce the flow of major river systems, leading to a decline in the output of hydroelectric power plants, as is now happening in several drought-stricken regions.
By far the greatest threat to electricity generation exists in China, which is suffering from one of its worst droughts ever. Rainfall levels from January to April in the drainage basin of the Yangtze, China’s longest and most economically important river, have been 40% lower than the average of the past 50 years, according toChina Daily. This has resulted in a significant decline in hydropower and severe electricity shortages throughout much of central China.
The Chinese are burning more coal to generate electricity, but domestic mines no longer satisfy the country’s needs and so China has become a major coal importer. Rising demand combined with inadequate supply has led to a spike in coal prices, and with no comparable spurt in electricity rates (set by the government), many Chinese utilities are rationing power rather than buy more expensive coal and operate at a loss. In response, industries are upping their reliance on diesel-powered backup generators, which in turn increases China’s demand for imported oil, putting yet more pressure on global fuel prices.
Wrecking the Planet
So now we enter June with continuing unrest in the Middle East, a grim outlook for nuclear power, and a severe electricity shortage in China (and possibly elsewhere). What else do we see on the global energy horizon?
Despite the IEA’s forecast of diminished future oil consumption, global energy demand continues to outpace increases in supply. From all indications, this imbalance will persist.
Take oil. A growing number of energy analysts now agree that the era of “easy oil” has ended and that the world must increasingly rely on hard-to-get “tough oil.” It is widely assumed, moreover, that the planet harbors a lot of this stuff — deep underground, far offshore, in problematic geological formations like Canada’s tar sands, and in the melting Arctic. However, extracting and processing tough oil will prove ever more costly and involve great human, and even greater environmental, risk. Think: BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster of April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico.
Such is the world’s thirst for oil that a growing amount of this stuff will nonetheless be extracted, even if not, in all likelihood, at a pace and on a scale necessary to replace the disappearance of yesterday’s and today’s easy oil. Along with continued instability in the Middle East, this tough-oil landscape seems to underlie expectations that the price of oil will only rise in the coming years. In a poll of global energy company executives conducted this April by the KPMG Global Energy Institute, 64% of those surveyed predicted that crude oil prices will cross the $120 per barrel barrier before the end of 2011. Approximately one-third of them predicted that the price would go even higher, with 17% believing it would reach $131-$140 per barrel; 9%, $141-$150 per barrel; and 6%, above the $150 mark.
The price of coal, too, has soared in recent months, thanks to mounting worldwide demand as supplies of energy from nuclear power and hydroelectricity have contracted. Many countries have launched significant efforts to spur the development of renewable energy, but these are not advancing fast enough or on a large enough scale to replace older technologies quickly. The only bright spot, experts say, is the growing extraction of natural gas from shale rock in the United States through the use of hydraulic fracturing (“hydro-fracking”).
Proponents of shale gas claim it can provide a large share of America’s energy needs in the years ahead, while actually reducing harm to the environment when compared to coal and oil (as gas emits less carbon dioxide per unit of energy released); however, an expanding chorus of opponents are warning of the threat to municipal water supplies posed by the use of toxic chemicals in the fracking process. These warnings have proven convincing enough to lead lawmakers in a growing number of statesto begin placing restrictions on the practice, throwing into doubt the future contribution of shale gas to the nation’s energy supply. Also, on May 12th, the French National Assembly (the powerful lower house of parliament)voted 287 to 146 to ban hydro-fracking in France, becoming the first nation to do so.
The environmental problems of shale gas are hardly unique. The fact is that all of the strategies now being considered to extend the life-spans of oil, coal, and natural gas involve severe economic and environmental risks and costs — as, of course, does the very use of fossil fuels of any sort at a moment when the first IEA numbers for 2010 indicate that it was an unexpectedly record-breaking year for humanity when it came to dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
With the easily accessible mammoth oil fields of Texas, Venezuela, and the Middle East either used up or soon to be significantly depleted, the future of oil rests on third-rate stuff like tar sands, shale oil, and extra-heavy crude that require a lot of energy to extract, processes that emit added greenhouse gases, and as with those tar sands, tend to play havoc with the environment.
Shale gas is typical. Though plentiful, it can only be pried loose from underground shale formations through the use of explosives and highly pressurized water mixed with toxic chemicals. In addition, to obtain the necessary quantities of shale oil, many tens of thousands of wells will have to be sunk across the American landscape, any of one of which could prove to be an environmental disaster.
Likewise, the future of coal will rest on increasingly invasive and hazardous techniques, such as the explosive removal of mountaintops and the dispersal of excess rock and toxic wastes in the valleys below. Any increase in the use of coal will also enhance climate change, since coal emits more carbon dioxide than do oil and natural gas.
Here’s the bottom line: Any expectations that ever-increasing supplies of energy will meet demand in the coming years are destined to be disappointed. Instead, recurring shortages, rising prices, and mounting discontent are likely to be the thematic drumbeat of the globe’s energy future.
If we don’t abandon a belief that unrestricted growth is our inalienable birthright and embrace the genuine promise of renewable energy (with the necessary effort and investment that would make such a commitment meaningful), the future is likely to prove grim indeed. Then, the history of energy, as taught in some late twenty-first-century university, will be labeled: How to Wreck the Planet 101.
Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, ofRising Powers, Shrinking Planet. A documentary movie version of his previous book, Blood and Oil, is available from the Media Education Foundation. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Klare discusses the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and resource conflicts, click here, or download it to your iPod here.
One side effect of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Northern Japan on the 11th March causing an explosion at the Fukushima nuclear power station is that the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster is much more a news item than I suspect it might have been.
The nuclear accident at Chernobyl in Russia occurred on the 26th April, 1986, twenty-five years ago today. One major difference between the two disasters was, of course, how they were reported.
Here’s a small extract from a fuller article in The Financial Times published on the 19th April written by Tony Barber who was in Russia those 25 years ago.
Twenty-five years after the explosion at the Ukrainian facility, I vividly recall every detail of those terrible days of April 1986. I was a 26-year-old foreign correspondent working in Moscow for Reuters news agency. On Friday, April 25, I flew to Kiev to spend a couple of days with Rhona, an ebullient Scottish friend who was teaching at the city’s university under a British Council programme. I was the only western journalist in Kiev that weekend.
While we caroused the night away, extraordinary events were unfolding 130km to the north. Technicians were conducting experiments that involved the disabling of automatic shutdown mechanisms at the plant’s fourth reactor. After a tremendous power surge, the reactor blew up at 1.23am on Saturday, April 26.
Except for high-ranking Communist party officials, the KGB and a number of scientists, doctors and fire-fighters, no one in the Soviet Union, let alone the wider world, knew anything about this. Soviet habits of secrecy and deception kept millions of people in the dark even as radiation spread across Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and beyond.
Certainly the disaster in Japan was widely broadcast across the world without any delays or restraints. But the thrust of this Post today is to point out what, in the end, will have to be understood by the majority of the world’s peoples and their representatives in power. That is that our dependence, our love affair, with cheap carbon-based energy has to come to an end, and soon.
On the 26th March, The Economist published a briefing on nuclear power entitled, When the steam clears. As with so many of this newspaper’s essays, it was very well written [I am a subscriber to The Economist; have been for years.] Here’s a taste of the article,
When last year a volcano closed the skies over Europe and a blown-out oil-rig turned the Gulf of Mexico black, there was no widespread enthusiasm for giving up oil or air travel. But nuclear power is much less fundamental to the workings of the world than petrol or aeroplanes. Nuclear reactors generate only 14% of the world’s electricity, and with a median age of about 27 years (see chart) and a typical design life of 40 a lot are nearing retirement. Although the world is eager to fly and thirsts for oil, it has had little appetite for new nuclear power for the past quarter of a century.
And towards the end of the article, this,
Distressing though it is, the crisis at Fukushima Dai-ichi is not in itself a reason for the world to change energy policy. The public-health effects seem likely, in the long run, to be small. Coal, with its emissions of sulphur, mercury and soot, will continue to kill far more people per kilowatt hour than nuclear does. But as an opportunity to reflect it may be welcome. [my italics]
Power of hope
We need a continued growing awareness of the craziness of using coal and oil as primary sources of energy, and from that awareness a growing political pressure for change. Change that recognises that mankind’s present energy strategies of continuing to pump carbon-based gases into the atmosphere are insane; pure and simple.