Posts Tagged ‘Nuclear Energy’

Yes, we’re always still at war. With whom or what exactly, in the absence of formal declarations of war, is still up for grabs. While nominally a Global War on Terror or terrorism (shades of other not-really-wars on Drugs and Poverty — each made more important by using caps), our objective remains poorly defined beyond blanket justification for an expanded national security state operating both domestically and abroad, as well as the recognition that departure of U.S. forces from foreign theaters of war would almost certainly lead to even worse civil wars and power struggles among competing warlords and emerging nation-states. So the U.S. military continues to strike against diverse targets and still has boots on the ground in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Although Pres. Obama, the Commander in Chief, inherited our military escapades from his predecessor (as do most chief executives) and campaigned on promises to, among other things, close the U.S. torture site military base in Guantanamo Bay and end the wars, the U.S. has not yet abandoned its misadventures even after numerous timetables for withdrawal have been set and surpassed.

After more than a decade, the U.S. public has grown tired of news reports on wars on multiple fronts and the mainstream media no longer reports on U.S. operations with the same diligence or breathless excitement. We have all succumbed to war fatigue. I, too, no longer track or pay attention to such old news. The same inattention is characteristic of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, truly a gift that keeps giving (and giving and giving for a thousand years). Updates on Fukushima can be found here, though I hesitate to believe fully what is presented because the truth is normally spun before being released or simply withheld. Updates and news on current operations relating to war can be found here and here, but the same caveat applies.

It’s not an innocent or passive question: why do these wars on multiple fronts continue to be prosecuted? Unlike Fukushima, they can be turned off, right? Well, in a word (or three), no, they can’t. The reason is that way, way, way too much money is made off war profiteering. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) consumes 22% ($496 billion) of the Federal budget for FY 2015:

This factoid is only the base budget for defense, however. Costs of foreign wars are kept on separate ledgers, such as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), which for FY 2015 is an additional $64 billion. Like the DoD base budget, the actual amount depends on where one seeks information and varies considerably between proposed, asked for, granted, and actual (not yet known). This link actually dares the reader to “Guess How Much America Spends on Defense” with its subtitle. Exactitude is not especially important, but trying to obtain a clear and mostly accurate picture is certainly a trip down the rabbit hole. See, for instance, this graphic based on data collected from various sources, which adds the interesting category non-DoD defense spending:

All this is our tax dollars at work. If we spent these dollars on building a stable, equitable society instead of basically blowing up other people people’s shit, I wonder what the U.S. would now look like? Of course, that hypothetical is absurd, because other countries that have been content to allow the U.S. to almost single-handedly police the world and shoulder the costs, keeping their own security costs minimal, have not fared a whole lot better. Apparently, it is not necessary for a country to operate as a full-blown military-industrial complex to own its share of corruption and inequity.

One of the arguments I never see trotted out in the debate over gun control is that guns represent an unwholesome extension of power that ought to be relinquished. This brings to mind how the Japan Shogunate restricted guns and swords in 1587 to samurais because of the recognition that arms destabilize society, granting undue power to better-armed factions. (This lesson was completely lost on the architects of the Cold War.) Even today, Japanese legal restrictions on gun ownership make it so that almost no one owns one. What Japanese society has instead might be interpreted as a level playing field, where everyone is limited to whatever harm they can do through small-scale violence and force. No doubt Japan is better equipped to enforce and accept such restriction because it’s a homogeneous society, whereas most of the rest of the world is heterogeneous and thrives on power imbalance.

If one adopts a slightly different lens, the ability to accomplish work through the focused application of energy (power) provides considerable advantages in productivity and efficiency, such as moving more earth to plant and harvest crops. Large structures can now be built with less manpower and with far greater speed than, say, medieval castles and cathedrals that took generations to complete. Mining can now be done above ground and across huge swaths of land compared to the past, though damaging overburden has grown exponentially. And commercial fishing is now characterized by quite literally vacuuming up the ocean floor without regard for bycatch or ecological degradation.

Over time, all of humanity’s collective effort at increased production and efficiency has proven to be a boon in terms of standard of living and sheer population growth. Pockets of difficulty may have slowed this trend but have not altered its basic trajectory. Now that we possess so much power to engineer and transform the world to suit our singular demands, however, we are caught in a trap: the power tools we created will be the instruments of our own destruction. It’s as if the Frankenstein monster (Mary Shelley’s warning of the peril of science run amok) became Icarus (the mythological admonition against hubris), acquiring too much power and flying too near the sun (mythologically becoming gods ourselves). But for a time, dull Frankarus did soar awfully high, and maybe gloriously, too, before being foiled.

It takes considerable restraint to forswear power-granting tools such as guns or nuclear energy. If only the Japanese (and the rest of us) had been so prescient with regard to the latter. The U.S. and Russia suffered their own nuclear catastrophes before Fukushima blew two years ago, but they were limited in comparison. Fukushima has not yet been contained and faces extremely dangerous clean-up later this month. I cannot referee the veracity of alarmist reports, but credible claims that the Pacific Ocean and West Coast of North America are slowly being fried have me spooked that we may have killed ourselves even sooner than thought. It may not even require things to go badly in the clean-up effort if we’re already the proverbial frog being boiled alive. Yet the mainstream media distracts us with frivolous reports of the early kick-off of the Xmas shopping season because, ya know, Thanksgiving comes late this year and we hardly have time to fit in our annual engorgement.