Press Release- #Uttarakhand- We cannot ignore the climate crisis anymore!


INDIA CLIMATE JUSTICE

 

STATEMENT ON THE UTTARAKHAND CATASTROPHE

We cannot ignore the climate crisis anymore!

 

 

25 June 2013

 

The India Climate Justice collective notes with deep anguish the devastating loss of life, livelihoods, and homes in Uttarakhand and beyond. The death toll is likely in the thousands, way beyond current official figures. We extend our deep condolences to the families and friends of those killed, and our support to those still fighting for survival, and to local populations whose livelihoods will take years to rebuild.

 

This tragedy was triggered by extreme unseasonal rains in North India, 2-3 weeks in advance of what is normal for this region. The Director of the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), Dehradun, said that 340 mm fell in a single day at Dehradun, a record not seen for five decades. Such extreme and unseasonal rainfall seems to us to indicate a global warming induced climate change phenomenon. Warmer air due to global warming has the capacity to hold more moisture, leading to more intense bursts of rainfall. The natural monsoon cycle in India has already been badly disrupted, and a new cycle of extreme rainfall events and prolonged droughts have been reported from all over the country in the recent past. Thus, contrary to statements by senior politicians, the Uttarakhand disaster is not natural: it is no less man-made than the other contributors to the tragedy. And if it is indeed induced by global warming, similar catastrophes could recur with increasing frequency and intensity anywhere in the country in the coming years.

 

In Uttarakhand, a chaotic process of ‘development’ that goes back many years exacerbated the effects of this extreme rain. Extensive deforestation of mountain tracts, by the state and more recently due to ‘development’ projects, led to soil erosion and water run-off, thus destabilizing mountain slopes and contributing to more intense and frequent landslides and floods. Unchecked hill tourism has resulted in the huge growth of vehicular traffic, spread of roads not suitable to this mountainous terrain, and the construction of poorly designed and unregulated hotels and structures, many near rivers. Sand mining along river banks has intensified water flows into rivers.

 

Most of all, the construction and planning of hundreds of small, medium and large dams across the Himalayan states from Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand in the northern Himalayas to Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh in the east, have destabilized an already fragile ecosystem and threatened biodiversity. A staggering 680 dams are in various stages of planning, or construction in Uttarakhand alone! These dams have a direct connection with the extent of the damage that can be caused in such flooding events, in that the tunnelling and excavation in the so-called run-of-the-river projects cause huge and unregulated dumping of excavated debris into river basins, leading to increased siltation, and in turn aggravating the flood situation. The electrical power generated by these dams will be consumed by urban elites elsewhere. It is ironic that these dam projects, while adversely impacting people’s access to their river commons, claim to be climate change solutions in the guise of renewable and green energy, and have already made huge profits by fraudulently claiming CDM (clean development mechanism) status. In 2009, the CAG had warned the government of Uttarakhand that the “potential cumulative effect of multiple run-of-the-river projects can turn out to be environmentally damaging”. Like many other warnings by environmentalists and local community groups in the past, this was also ignored. And now we are facing one of the biggest disasters that the country has seen in decades.

 

The central government of India and various state governments, including the govt of Uttarakhand, have prepared action plans for combating climate change. Any such plan ought to include the establishment of a disaster-prediction and warning mechanism. The Uttarakhand government has taken no measures to prepare for this kind of eventuality, though it has paid lip service to climate action plans over the last three years.  In the present case, the IMD issued inadequate warning, which was disregarded by the state government. An urgent prior warning could have ensured that pilgrims don’t move forward and retreat to relative safety, that locals reduce their exposure to risk to the extent possible. Thousands of pilgrims from different states, locals, workers in hotels and dharamshalas, and transport animals have been killed. Cars with people inside them were washed away. Those who have survived had to go without food for several days. Thousands are still stranded at different points, or in forests, and we are still counting the dead.

 

There has also been extensive devastation of local lives and the regional economy. Serious devastation has been reported from over 200 villages, so far. Innumerable locals, including agricultural workers, drowned in the raging waters or were submerged under mud and debris. Houses have collapsed or been washed away. Tourism and the local employment it generates have been hit indefinitely at the peak of the tourist season. Floods, landslides and debris have devastated agriculture along the rivers. Irrespective of whether these extreme rains are due to climate change or not, this is what a climate change world in the Himalayas looks like. This devastation is a glimpse into a climate uncertain future.

 

We see this tragedy as a result of cumulative and widespread injustice and wrongdoing: not only against the Himalayan environment, but also against mountain communities whose survival depends on that environment. This tragedy is also a crime, because our policy makers and administrators are also part of the larger climate injustice at a global scale that threatens, displaces and kills the marginal and the poor everywhere. On another plane, they simply let it happen. We believe that adaptation to disasters does not just mean desperate rescue work during and after the event, but also reducing vulnerability and risk before. Effective adaptation involves a series of measures that need to be adopted on a war footing. The sustainable development of a hill economy, and equity – not profit for a few – should be at its core.

 

India Climate Justice demands:

 

·         That the governments at the central and state level retreat to a low carbon pathway of development that has equity, decent employment, and sustainability at its core.

 

·         That the planning and construction of dams in the entire Indian Himalayas be reviewed, and all construction be halted until such a review is carried out.

 

·         That the use of explosives in all such infrastructure development works is completely stopped.

 

·         That, given the likelihood of extreme rainfall events and other climate extremes in the future, extensive and sub-regional warning systems are put in place urgently across all the Himalayan states, the coastal areas and beyond.

 

·         That a proper assessment of the carrying capacity of specific ecosystems is carried out.

 

·         That the eco-sensitive zone measures be implemented from Gaumukh to Uttarkashi and eco-sensitive zones be established in other river valleys.

 

·         That a river regulation zone be enforced such that no permanent structures are allowed to be constructed within 100 metres of any river.

 

·         That the residents and their organizations are thoroughly consulted in a democratic plan on climate change, in the revival of the local hill economy, and the generation of decent employment.

 

·         That all working people be compensated for the loss of life and livelihood, and that urgent plans are put in place for the revival of local livelihoods and agriculture.

 

·         That the central government learn from the Uttarakhand catastrophe to put in place prior adaptation measures not just for the mountainous regions but beyond, for coastal and the drought-prone interiors as well.

 

 

 

(INDIA CLIMATE JUSTICE)

 

 

Endorsing Organizations

All India Forum of Forest Movements; Pairvi; Beyond Copenhagen; South Asia Network of Dams, Rivers and People; National Alliance of People’s Movements; Himalaya Niti Abhiyan; New Trade Union Initiative; All-India Union of Forest Working People; Chintan; Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha; Toxics Watch Alliance; Nadi Ghati Morcha, Chhattisgarh; Rural Volunteers Centre, Assam; Vettiver Collective, Chennai; Himal Prakriti, Uttarakhand; Maati, Uttarakhand; Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti; River Basin Friends (NE); India Youth Climate Network; Intercultural Resources; Kabani, Kerala; Human Rights Forum, Andhra Pradesh; National Cyclists Union, India; Equations; Posco Pratirodh Solidarity, Delhi; Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives; Science for Society, Bihar; Nagarik Mancha; SADED; JJBA, Jharkhand; BIRSA; Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee; Adivasi Mulvasi Astitva Raksha Manch; National Adivasi Alliance; Bank Information Centre; Focus on the Global South; Jatiyo Sramik Jote, Dhaka; Jharkhand Jungle Bachao Andolan; People’s Union for Democratic Rights; All India Students Association; All India Progressive Women’s Association

 

Individuals

Badri Raina, Kamal Mahendroo, Benny Kuruvilla, Subrat Sahu, Arun Bidani, Saurav Shome, Amitava Guha

 

India Climate Justice is a collective comprising social movements, trade unions, other organizations and individuals. It was formed in 2009 to respond to the growing climate crisis, from a perspective of justice and equity.

Emailindiaclimatejustice@gmail.com

Tel:  09434761915, 09717771255, 09910476553

 

Why Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer to Global Warming


AlterNet / By Christian Parenti

There is no “nuclear renaissance” and there won’t be: it just doesn’t make sense economically.
April 4, 2012

Despite the triple meltdown at Fukushima—which has driven tens of thousands of Japanese from their homes, cast radioactive fallout across the U.S., and will likely cost the Japanese economy ¥50 trillion, or $623 billion—many desperate Greens now embrace nukes. They include Stewart Brand and George Monbiot. What drives these men is panic—a very legitimate fear that we will trigger self-fueling runaway climate change.

Part of this green embrace of the atom is a macho performance of seriousness. Nuke hugging demonstrates a technophilic resolve, manly determination to muscle through. The semiotics of the green nuke huggers’ message is clear: “I am a man, an adult, ready to do whatever it takes to fight climate change. I have put aside childish utopianism and even endorsed this most dangerous, capital intensive, and war-tainted of technologies: atom smashing.”

So far, so very brave.

However, back in the real world, nukes face nearly insurmountable economichurdles. Never mind the issue of safety, economic factors—capital costs, construction cost, availability and prices of special metals and engineering expertise, and profitability—are the real issue. Economics will determine the future of atomic power—or rather, already have. And here is the takeaway: there will be no nuclear future.

For more than a decade, the atomic power industry and many in government have promised us a “nuclear renaissance.” A whole new fleet of atomic power plants, new high-tech third and fourth generation reactors, are supposed to be coming online.

Well, where is it? Climate change is kicking in; science tells us we need to make drastic cuts starting now. If nukes are to ride to the rescue, we need a few on the horizon now.

But the new fleet of reactors has not been built and won’t be, because Wall Street won’t fund them. The only way nukes get built is with real or de facto socialism. The public sector has to pick up the tab, either during construction or after the fact, when bankrupt utilities get bailed out.

The first wave of nuclear reactor construction peaked after the Arab oil embargo of 1973. The logic was geostrategic energy security, not cost-efficient electrical production. Japan and France built the most. Then came the Three Mile Island accident. Suddenly, the industry was subject to a more rigorous safety regime. With that costs rose precipitously, wiping out 90 percent of projected profits of theU.S. nuke industry. Hundreds of planned plants in the United States were canceled. In the United States and the United Kingdom, cost overruns on nuclear plants helped bankrupt several utility companies.

In February 2002, the Bush administration tried to jump-start nuclear construction with its “Nuclear Power 2010 Program,” a package of subsidies and streamlined planning procedures. Obama has continued this with more generous support for the nuclear industry. It was expected that these incentives would lead to at least one “Generation III+” unit being operational by 2010. That has not happened.

Work has finally begun on a two-reactor plant in Georgia. But already there are conflicts between the utility, Southern Company, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Moreover, this project is going forward only because the utility, operating on a cost-plus basis, can pass on to rate payers all of its expense overruns. This is because the Southeast power market was the only U.S. region never deregulated.

In Western Europe, nuclear economics are also a mess. Only two “Generation III+” reactors are under construction. The plant closest to completion is the 1,600-megawatt European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) at Olkiluoto 3 in Finland. It was scheduled to take four years and cost about $5 billion. But now construction will take at least eight years and is 68 percent over budget, at a projected final cost of $8.4 billion.

The other EPR under construction is in Flamanville, France. It began in 2007 and is now two years late and at least 50 percent over budget. In the best case scenario, it will open in 2012, also massively over cost.

China has also cut back its nuke program, based almost entirely on the old generation two style plants. If the Chinese nuke program is fully built out the share of nukes in their overall power mix will go from less than 2 percent to less than 5 percent of all Chinese power.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy gives 2021 as the earliest possible date for a fourth-generation nuclear plant to open. No American nuclear plant has yet been built on time or within budget, so the forecast may be rather optimistic.

An authoritative study by the investment bank Lazard Ltd. found that wind beat nuclear and that nuclear essentially tied with solar. But wind and solar, being simple and safe, are coming on line faster. Another advantage wind and solar have is that capacity can be added bit by bit; a wind farm can have more or less turbines without scuttling the whole project. As economies of scale are created within the alternative energy supply chains and the construction process becomes more efficient, prices continue to drop. Meanwhile, the cost of stalled nukes moves upward.

The World Watch Institute reports that between 2004 and 2009, global electricity from wind (not capacity, but actual power output) grew by 27 percent, while solar grew by 54 percent. Over the same time, nuclear power output actually declined by half a percent.

What would a nuke build out really cost? Mark Cooper, senior fellow for economic analysis at the Vermont Law School, has found that adding 100 new reactors to the U.S. power grid would cost $1.9 to $4.1 trillion, and that would take at least a decade to do.

In a comparative analysis of U.S. states, Cooper found that the states that invested heavily in nuclear power had worse track records on efficiency and developing renewables than those that did not have large nuclear programs. In other words, investing in nuclear technology crowded out developing clean energy.

Only when clean technologies—like wind, solar, hydropower, and electric vehicles—are cheaper than other options will the world economy make the switch away from fossil fuels. Right now, alternatives are slightly cheaper than nukes, come on line faster, and are growing robustly.

Nuclear power is not only physically dangerous—it is also economically wasteful. If the nuke huggers are so brave and serious they must begin to explain why, after a decade of billions in subsidies being on offer, there is no wave of construction underway. If the nuke renaissance is to begin, who will fund it? And who will build it in time to stave off climate tipping points? How long will it take? Thus the quip “Atomic power is the fuel of the future”—and always will be.

We have already wasted a decade on this blather and hype. Being manly is not enough. Realism is also required.

Christian Parenti is the author of “The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq” (New Press) and a visiting fellow at CUNY’s Center for Place, Culture and Politics.

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