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Found 4 results

  1. Despite endless conferences, treaties and solemn promises, greenhouse gas emissions have risen 61% since 1990, and the rate of increase is accelerating. As Naomi Klein tells us in her new book, This Changes Everything, we are now experiencing an “early twenty-first century emissions explosion.” The reason for this ominous failure, she shows, is that the present capitalist profit system itself is incompatible with climate and environmental stability. Our only hope is the rise of mass movements with the combined goals of saving the environment and achieving social justice. This Changes Everything is a rich resource of fact and argument: it’s a book that every climate justice activist should read, use and share. ‘The Right is right’ Klein begins with a 2011 conference of prominent and well-financed U.S. climate deniers, whose main objection, she discovered, was not to the science of global warming but to the radical implications of actions to rein it in. Such measures require “heavy-duty interventions: sweeping bans on polluting activities, deep subsidies for green alternatives…. Everything, in short, that these think tanks … have been busily attacking for decades.” For many conservatives, she adds, quoting Australian scholar Robert Manne, climate science is “an affront to their deepest and most cherished basic faith: the capacity and indeed the right of ‘mankind’ to subdue the Earth and all its fruits and to establish a ‘mastery’ over nature.” These hard-core rightist ideologues, Klein concludes, understand the significance of climate change better than most of those in the political center, “who are still insisting that the response can be gradual and painless.” The free market trumps climate Mainstream political leaders like Barack Obama and (grudgingly) Stephen Harper, acknowledge the climate crisis and tell us they are responding to it. For 35 years they have claimed to be working to reduce carbon emissions. Klein leads off her extended analysis of their record – and that of their allies among pro-establishment environmental NGOs – by describing the devastating impact of the trade treaties that now bind the governments of all major states. “Green energy programs – the strong ones that are needed to lower global emissions fast – [are] increasingly being challenged under international trade agreements,” Klein says. Major powers are launching lawsuits against each other’s wind and solar energy programs citing the provisions in these plans encouraging local sourcing of green energy equipment. The U.S. has launched such suits against India, challenging its ambitious solar energy program, and against China, over wind power. And yet, with brazen hypocrisy, Washington denounces China and India at the United Nations for not doing enough to cut emissions, claiming this as an excuse for U.S. inaction. The people of Ontario fell victim to such an attack, Klein notes. The province’s climate action plan, the Green Energy Act, created 31,000 jobs in the local solar and wind power industry between 2009 and 2014, but when it was challenged by the European Union and Japan as a violation of World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, “the province wasted little time in nixing the local content rules.” The renewable energy programs in question represent the governments’ attempts, inadequate to be sure, to carry out promises made during world climate negotiations. Yet they are being snuffed out by these same governments on the basis of trade treaties. “The trade and climate negotiations closely paralleled one another, each winning landmark agreements within a couple of years.” World Trade Organization negotiations concluded in 1994; the Kyoto protocol on reducing carbon emissions was adopted three years later. The treaties are two solitudes — each seemed to “actively pretend that the other did not exist.” Yet it was clear from the start which treaty would prevail in case of conflict. The Kyoto protocol “effectively functioned on the honour system,” while the WTO agreement was “enforced by a dispute settlement system with real teeth,” often enforcing harsh penalties. Thus asymmetry was built in from the start: trade deals were the foundation of the new “globalized” world order, while climate agreements have been little more than public relations exercises. Globalization’s dirty underside The trade system has other less obvious but more damaging climate impacts. Food production, for example, accounts for between 19% and 29% of world carbon emissions but the treaties have “helped to entrench and expand the energy-intensive, higher-emissions model of industrial agriculture around the world.” Similarly, the massive shift of manufacturing to low-wage less-developed countries, with inefficient energy industries, has led to an increase in emissions. Swedish researcher Andreas Malm points to “a causal link between the quest for cheap and disciplined labor power and rising CO2 emissions.” Significantly, climate agreements measure emissions in the country where products are manufactured, not where they are consumed. Thus about half of China’s carbon emissions are export-related. By outsourcing, rich countries have in effect exported their emissions. Betrayed by Big Green Unfortunately some major environmental groups supported the new trade deals. When the NAFTA treaty was debated in the early 1990s, a strong coalition of unions and environmental groups rallied to lead a massive opposition to the deal, and “for a time it even looked as if they would win.” At that point, proponents of the deal tacked on two “toothless” side agreements, one for labor and one for environmentalists. “The labor movement knew better than to fall for this ploy,” Klein says, but leaders of many large environmental organizations capitulated. Some groups held firm, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the Sierra Club, but U.S. President Bill Clinton was still able to claim that “groups representing 80% of national [environmental] group membership have endorsed NAFTA.” Klein devotes many pages to a much-needed exposé of Big Green, the conservative environmental groups. Over time, she demonstrates, many NGOs and foundations fell under the domination of the extractive corporations whose power they were set up to contest, and now contribute to greenwashing oil-industry operations. The Nature Conservancy, for example, partners with BP and JP Morgan in fracking development, and has even drilled its own gas well in the middle of one of its Texas nature preserves. Toward solidarity-based trade “It is not too late for a new kind of climate movement to take up the fight against so-called free trade,” Klein says, calling for transfer of resources and green technology to developing countries and measures to support, not penalize renewable energy. She could also have pointed to the success of mass hemisphere-wide opposition in quashing the proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), one of the most dangerous of these schemes, a movement in which she played a prominent role. Although she doesn’t mention it, that campaign contributed to the formation of what might be called the anti-FTAA, a trade and cultural alliance based on solidarity – the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), which includes Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Klein criticizes the dependence of majority-indigenous Bolivia on exports generated by extractive industries. However, as Klein herself says elsewhere of many indigenous peoples’ deals with extractive industries, they face “a paucity of good choices”; at present extraction may be essential to maintenance of sovereignty. Westerners who want poverty-stricken natives to swear off extraction for the world’s sake must ask, she says, “What are we going to do for them?” Despite their poverty, some ALBA nations have registered significant climate achievements, such as Nicaragua’s program to produce 70% of its electricity by renewable energy. Indeed, ALBA’s very existence is step forward along the path Klein outlines. Stranded assets The sense of unreality surrounding world climate negotiations is reinforced by Klein’s observations on oil and gas corporations’ balance sheets. To maintain stable share prices, Klein notes, these companies must demonstrate that they have sufficient untapped reserves to replace current wells when their production declines. “It is this structural imperative that is pushing the industry into the most extreme forms of dirty energy,” she says. Currently, the total amount of carbon in oil, gas, and coal reserves is valued at about $27 trillion – more than half again as much as the annual GDP of the United States. How much of that can be burned without launching the world into uncontrollable global warming? The best available estimates cited by Klein indicate that 80% of fossil fuel reserves – worth roughly $20 trillion – must be left in the ground if the currently accepted goal of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius is to be achieved. Alternative sources of energy are available – that’s not the problem. The “loss” of these fossil fuel resources will make life better, not worse – that’s not the problem either. The problem, Klein says, is that “we need to keep large, extremely profitable pools of carbon in the ground – resources that the fossil fuel companies are fully intending to extract.” The $20 trillion in unusable fossil fuel reserves is written into corporate balance sheets as “assets” and sustains their share value. Oil company executives defend not the public but their shareholders’ wealth – which means defending their ‘right’ to extract without limit. To this end, corporations mobilize their immense wealth and social influence to block any move to reduce the burning of their product – fossil fuels. Under their influence, when governments act at all, it is to encourage use of renewable energy rather than to restrain the rise of carbon emissions. The oil industry and its many corporate allies have maintained a blockade against measures to rein in rising emissions for 25 years and are in no mood to change course. A troubling imperative Averting climate disaster, Klein tells us, “will mean forcing some of the most profitable companies on the planet to forfeit trillions of dollars of future earnings by leaving the vast majority of proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground. It will also require coming up with trillions more to pay for zero-carbon, disaster-ready societal transformations.” And these radical measures must be taken “democratically and without a bloodbath.” This means we must oppose unfettered capitalism –the profit-based economic and social system that wages war on our climate. This requirement poses a question that Klein finds troubling. When has there ever been a transformation that intruded on capitalist property to such an extent – moreover, a change “demanded from below, by regular people, when leaders have wholly abdicated their responsibilities”? In the West, she says, the transformative social movements have been for human rights – for blacks, women, gays, she says. “But the legal and cultural battles were always more successful than the economic ones.” As a precedent, she points to the movement in the nineteenth century to abolish slavery, particularly as it developed in the United States. The weight of slave capital in the U.S. economy then was comparable to the weight of stranded fossil fuel investment today. For many decades the slave-owners maintained full control over the U.S. state. But ultimately a mass movement broke that control and abolished slave property forever. And this was done democratically, although only at the cost of a protracted civil war. Klein’s analogy has merit. However, it is also worth considering the precedent of socialist revolutions, even if they did not occur “in the West.” One such revolution took place only 90 miles from the U.S., in Cuba. In the 1990s, Cuba carried out the world’s most successful reduction of fossil fuel dependency. Despite a damaging U.S. blockade, the Cuban revolution continues to display creative vigor, most recently in the country’s role as world leader in on-the-ground response to the Ebola virus epidemic. The experience of twentieth century socialist revolutions, while troubled, is surely relevant to what we must now accomplish in the face of a systemic crisis of capitalism triggered by climate change. It is hard to see how the fossil fuel stranglehold can be broken without popular ownership and control over dominant industries. This case is made in three books on ecology and socialism that I’ve listed below. Mass social movements Klein’s book has a single overriding strength: a comprehensive analysis – much broader than can be indicated here – that demonstrates that a movement to overcome the climate challenge must confront the prevailing economic and political system, and for that it must be massive, broad, and militant. A substantial and inspiring part of her book is devoted to first-hand accounts of what she calls “Blockadia” – grassroots movements on every continent that are directly challenging the fossil fuel industry’s destructive projects. A movement on the climate issue alone cannot win, she says. Climate activism must link up with “the unfinished business of the most powerful liberation movements of the past two centuries, from civil rights to feminism to Indigenous sovereignty.” “Climate change can be the force – the grand push – that will bring together all of these still living movements.” Calls for such a fusion are increasingly frequent. The liberation movements Klein mentions – and labor, too – were in evidence at the great People’s Climate March of 400,000 in New York on September 21 and in the surrounding conferences, as well as in parallel actions in Canada and around the globe. Naomi Klein’s book is an inspiring contribution to this movement, which is increasingly becoming identified with the goals of climate justice and system change. “Only mass social movements can save us now,” Klein concludes. “If that happens, well, it changes everything.” This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein (Alfred A Knopf, 2014), reviewed by John Riddell.
  2. Since humans evolved from apes and climbed down from the trees we have altered nature through our activity. This is especially so since the rise of capitalism and its ruthless, destructive global exploitation of nature. In her book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert clearly and passionately describes how human destruction of ecological systems is today causing the sixth great mass extinction of biological species, including possibly the human species itself. In the words of scientist Paul Ehrlich, "In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches." Over its 4.5 billion years of existence, the Earth has evolved through many geologic periods. We are now in a new one - what is called the Anthropocene, or human caused, era. Dutch chemist Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize winning scientist who helped discover ozone depleting compounds, developed the term. Crutzen observed human activity has so altered Earth that it constitutes a new geologic age. Humans have transformed land surfaces, soil, rivers, oceans, and most importantly, have altered the atmosphere through a combination of greenhouse gas emission and deforestation. "Because of these (human caused) emissions," Crutzen said, global climate is likely to "depart significantly from natural behavior for many millennia to come." In popular language, Kolbert recounts how scientists came to understand extinction and discovered five previous mass extinction events. These include the end-Ordovician extinction caused by an ice age; the end-Permian extinction or Great Dying, which emptied the Earth of 96 percent of species; and the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction about 65 million years ago that did in the dinosaurs. A sixth extinction is occurring before our eyes. Species are dying at a rate 1,000 times faster than pre-human habitation. "It is estimated that one-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all freshwater mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion," writes Kolbert. Kolbert documents pioneering scientific research of the current disappearance of species. She trudges through jungles in Panama with scientists studying the mass disappearance of amphibians, in particular the Panamanian golden frog. What's crashing frog populations is fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which spread worldwide. Scientists speculate the fungus migrated through international shipping. Kolbert accompanies scientists to caves in upstate New York and Vermont in search of what are killing millions of bats. Up to 90 percent of brown bats have succumbed to a cold loving fungus accidentally imported from Europe. The fungus is spreading and causing mass die offs of other varieties of bats. The author then introduces us to scientists researching the effect of climate change on flora and how slight changes in global temperature can make life inhospitable to plant species. To illustrate global warming's "equally evil twin," or ocean acidification, we visit Castello Aragonese, a tiny island the product of volcanic activity in the Tyrrhenian Sea near Naples. Underwater vents around the island emit 100 percent carbon dioxide gas, which dissolves in the water. Scientists clearly see the effects of C02. Approaching the vents, life disappears. This mimics macro changes in the world's oceans. Atmospheric greenhouse gases exchange with ocean water that cover 70 percent of the Earth's surface. Historically, about one third of all greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, have been dissolved into the vast oceans raising the acidification level. Atmospheric C02 concentration levels are higher than at anytime in the last 800,000 years. By the end of the century the oceans are projected to be 150 percent more acidic than at the beginning of the industrial revolution. Acidification levels are reaching a "tipping point" where conditions will become inhospitable to most forms of life. Already coral reefs are disappearing. Kolbert discusses what's called the "New Pangaea." Pangaea is the original global land expanse, when all the present day continents were connected and a single fauna and flora evolved. Plate tectonics caused the landmasses to separate into the present day continents. Fauna and flora evolved separately into unique species. "Invasive species" are nothing new. Beginning with modern human migration out of Africa, the continents have been exchanging fauna and flora. Many scientists speculate modern humans drove to extinction other archaic human species that existed simultaneously including the Neanderthals, which apparently we Homo sapiens also mated with. With modern trade and transport, species are being exchanged worldwide at an accelerating rate leading to the "New Pangaea." Kolbert helps us understand that unless we act now, the human species can also be a victim of the sixth extinction. At the very least humanity will deal with the effects of climate change far into the future and many biological species will disappear. Large parts of the human family, mainly the poorest and those living in the most ecologically fragile and vulnerable regions are facing an existential threat by drought and rising sea levels. Reading the book, one is struck by the ability of humans to grasp their situation and act to change it. Climate awareness is growing and with it action to halt the discharge of greenhouse gas emissions. Also growing is awareness that the capitalist exploitative system and its drive for profits is incompatible with sustainability. Humanity faces its biggest collective challenge - its very existence. We must not only deal with the impact of the climate crisis on nature and society today, we must be about winning a sustainable society for the future. We must face it with the "fierce urgency of tomorrow." The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert. Henry Holt and Company, 2014, 336 pp (hardcover).
  3. Too many supposedly radical books are written by academics for academics, apparently competing to see who can produce the most incomprehensible prose. My list of ‘books to be reviewed’ contains literally dozens of overstuffed and overpriced volumes that only a handful of specialists will ever read, books with little or no relevance to the non-university world. So it’s a true delight to receive a book written by an activist for activists, a practical contribution to building real struggles for a better world. Confronting Injustice is a powerful call for collective action against the social causes of poverty and climate change. It’s a compact and well-written book that deserves to be widely read. Umair Muhammad is a student at York University, but he lives and is politically active among low-income and immigrant workers, as a member of Jane Finch Action Against Poverty. He is also active in the campaign to block Enbridge’s plan to pump tar sands crude through Toronto in the Line 9 pipeline. His book addresses young people like himself, men and women in their teens and twenties. He argues that environmental destruction and poverty, the two biggest crises facing humanity today, have common roots in an economic system that allows corporations and the wealthy to vastly over-exploit the world’s resources, while billions live lives of hunger and desperation. “There can be no such thing as a democratic, socially just, and environmentally sustainable capitalism. … it unavoidably produces a world full of injustice and inequality in order to secure a global division of labour suitable to profit-making; and it unavoidably produces the kind of ecological destruction which makes its own longevity, and that of human civilization, impossible.” In contrast to some radical writers who promote “anti-capitalism” as an end in itself, Muhammad argues firmly for socialism, which, following Michael Lebowitz, he defines as a “solidarian society” motivated by human needs, not profit. “Socialism would entail an end to the existence of a distinct area of life regarded as the economic sphere. The democratic management of economic life would mean that the economy would become subordinate to the wider relationships that make up society. Non-economic motives would direct economic activity, as they have throughout most of human history. Building a solidarian society based on social ownership and democratic management of production and distribution will mean the achievement of ‘the real purpose of socialism,’ as Albert Einstein saw it: ‘to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development.’” Two of the book’s four chapters address “Inequality and Activism” and “Climate Change and Activism.” Each concisely outlines the problems, the role of capitalism in creating and perpetuating them, and the inadequacies of the most commonly promoted solutions – charity and NGOism for poverty, market solutions for climate change. These chapters deserve careful study, if only as examples of how to explain these subjects in a clear and popular style. The book’s most important chapter (and the longest) is the first, “The Age of Individualism.” Here, and in the Introduction, Muhammad argues that a major barrier to the development of effective movements against poverty and environmental destruction is capitalism’s successful implantation of pro-capitalist ideology in the minds of the people who should be its strongest opponents. Contrary to claims frequently made by journalists, young people today are not indifferent to social problems. Indeed, “activist ideals and vocabulary have securely made their way into everyday life.” But those ideals are distorted by “the cultural values that have arisen out of capitalism,” and as a result “are used to reinforce the social realities they were originally devised to change.” “Living within a social system dominated by the market, it is no coincidence that so many of us have adopted an individualist outlook. The routine of market exchange between individuals who are driven by self-interest has conditioned us to see human society as a collection of disconnected and primarily self-interested individuals.” This could have been a dry and abstract discussion, but it reads like a friendly discussion among activists. For example, Muhammad stresses the dangers of a focus on individual lifestyle change, while recognizing that such an approach often rests on honorable motives. “On its own, there are many good things to be said about cutting back on what we consume and living in a way that is not grounded in petty materialistic values. Living a clutter-free life is a wonderful thing, but it is not in itself the same thing as working to create social change. … “There is a qualitative difference between, on the one hand, embracing the individualism that defines lifestyle-centric activism and, on the other, coming to recognize the social dimensions of the problems we face. The former is not a bridge to the latter, but a distraction away from it. It is a step in the wrong direction. If anything, the first step to take in engaging with social activism should be to openly reject individualist approaches.” Muhammad wisely refrains from offering detailed guidelines on how to build a movement for revolutionary change. He writes: “The exact sequence of events, and the events themselves, through which the needed change comes about will no doubt differ from place to place. The conditions which exist in any given country will require a strategy specific to them. The pace, too, will vary from location to location.” What he provides in his final chapter is a general approach to social change, based on sources as varied as Martin Luther King, George Orwell, Michael Lebowitz, Bertrand Russell, Mahatma Gandhi and David Graeber. This is obviously not your father’s radical orthodoxy: Muhammad’s views are influenced by various schools of radical thought, and it’s not clear to me that the result is consistent or coherent. Be that as it may, what he provides is an opening statement in an important discussion that activists must have. It’s especially important that it be read and debated by the new generation that, like its predecessors, is searching for its own path to radical conclusions. Socialists my age – we of the ‘60s and ‘70s – often complain that we don’t seem able to reach younger people, that liberalism in its reformist and anarchist forms has captured and held their attention, while socialism is rejected out of hand. Part of the reason may be that we don’t know how to talk to people for whom the Cold War and Vietnam are ancient history. Those people are this book’s most important audience. Umair Muhammad raised the seed money to publish Confronting Injustice through Indiegogo, and is selling it for just $15, with a sizeable portion of that going to Jane Finch Action Against Poverty. For those with limited finances, it can be downloaded free from the website ConfrontingInjustice.com. But if the price isn’t a barrier, my advice is: buy several! Keep one and read it carefully, and use the others to initiate conversations. The bread you cast upon the waters will return many times over.
  4. Mad Science: The Nuclear Power Experiment

    Some environmentalists champion nuclear power as an answer to global warming. But a new book by anti-nuclear campaigner Joseph Mangano argues that the dangers far outweigh any benefits. Elaine Graham-Leigh has reviewed Mad Science: The Nuclear Power Experiment by Joseph Mangano. The review was first published on Counterfire. The thesis of Mangano's book is that the era of nuclear power, in the US at least, is nearly over. The US nuclear power programme, he argues, "˜has been a failure, and will fade into obscurity with time "¦ Building a single new reactor will either take years to complete or never occur' (pp.280-1). For Mangano, this is a victory for the anti-nuclear campaigners like him who have fought for decades against official denials that nuclear power plants were dangerous or could cause health problems. It is, he says, "˜a triumph for truth over non-truth'. This might be the expected position from any environmentalist - on the side of campaigners against government and big business - but recently this has changed. For some prominent environmentalists now, an end to nuclear power would be a catastrophe. Both Mark Lynas and George Monbiot, for example, argue that the only attainable way to phase out fossil fuels is to replace them with a combination of renewable and nuclear power. Mangano does not address what sort of power generation would take nuclear power's place, and this is an omission, considering how the question is implicit in any consideration of this most controversial way of generating power. Nonetheless, Mad Science adds important research and argument to the case against nuclear power. Mangano's conclusion about nuclear power's continued viability seems applicable not just to the US but around the world. While the UK government has recently granted EDF permission to build two new reactors at Hinkley Point, in Somerset, according to the World Nuclear Report 2012, major nuclear projects were abandoned in six countries last year, while four (Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Taiwan) announced that they would phase out nuclear power altogether. This does not include Japan, where after more than a year in which no nuclear power stations were running following the meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant, the Ohi reactor was restarted, but the future of Japanese nuclear power is surely doubtful. The most obvious cause of this grim picture for nuclear power enthusiasts is of course the reminder provided by Fukushima of the potential for nuclear accidents. Mangano does not address the legacy of Fukushima specifically but, in the US context, argues that economic factors are more important in the decline of nuclear power than is often allowed. The US nuclear industry is supposed to have been damaged because the public panicked about safety issues following the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979. Mangano points out however that the last nuclear reactor which actually managed to open was approved six years before Three Mile Island, in 1973. A major nuclear disaster is unlikely ever to endear the industry to the public, but the problems in US industry were evident long before. Nuclear power stations were supposed to produce electricity which was "˜too cheap to meter', as Lewis Strauss, chair of the Atomic Energy Commission pronounced in 1954, as part of a vision of a futuristic "˜age of peace', in which people would also "˜travel effortlessly over the seas and under them and through the air with a minimum of danger and with great speeds' (p.15). The reality however did not live up to the science fiction: building and operating nuclear reactors turned out to take much longer, cost much more, and be more risky than had originally been anticipated. This was a problem because in the US, power generation was a matter for the private sector. In 1954, this also applied to nuclear, as the Atomic Energy Act allowed private companies access to technical information about nuclear power generation and enabled them to get licences from the government to start nuclear reactors. The first hurdle these companies faced was insuring themselves against the financial consequences of a nuclear accident, which a 1957 estimate put at potentially $7 billion. No insurance company would take this on, so the government was compelled to pass the Price-Anderson Act, limiting the liability of nuclear plant owners to $60m. Other countries followed suit, so for example energy companies in the UK now have maximum liability of £140 million if they allow their reactor to meltdown. This may seem like a significant sum and it would make a dent in any company's balance sheet, but for comparison, the cost of Fukushima on the latest estimate could be as high as $70 billion. Even with this limitation of liability, nuclear power generation turned out to be a difficult activity to make profitable. Reactor construction tended to take a long time; sometimes as long as fifteen years between permission to start building and actually generating electricity. Problems once up and running meant that the plants ran at lower capacities than would have been estimated. By the late 1980s, US nuclear power plants were still running at an average of only 57% of capacity and some experimental reactor types never got off the ground. It is often claimed than modern nuclear reactors are much less problematic than the early designs: defenders of nuclear power argue that the reactors at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima were old technology and more risky than newer types. This may be so, but nuclear power generation is still seen as a dangerously unprofitable enterprise. In 2012, ratings agencies downgraded seven energy companies and approved RWE and E.ON pulling out of UK nuclear reactor plans because this meant that they could "˜focus on investment in less risky projects' (World Nuclear Report 2012). As with any privatised industry, the fortunes of nuclear power in the US have depended on its short-term profitability for the private companies concerned. The government assumed the lion's share of the risk, but as Mangano shows, was prevented from making nuclear power happen in the way it wanted by that fact that the industry was run according to the needs of the market. It is a useful demonstration of how privatisation promotes profits at the expense of everything else, regardless of whether we celebrate or deplore the end of nuclear power. Whether a world free from nuclear power would be a good or a bad thing is of course the fundamental question, setting the safety of nuclear power generation against the idea that it is a green option. Mangano describes how the attempt to resurrect nuclear power from the late 1990s used the argument that nuclear power was green power, since the nuclear reaction does not emit any greenhouse gases. He points out that for the nuclear industry this was more a useful ploy than an argument emerging from a deeply-held belief in the necessity of combating climate change, and that the green credentials of nuclear power can be overstated. The reaction itself may be carbon-free, but every other step in generating nuclear power, from making the concrete to build the plants, to mining the uranium, to disposing of the waste, is not. For defenders of nuclear power however, the point is that whatever the greenhouse gas emissions associated with nuclear power, they are less than those made from using fossil fuels. Lynas, for example, cites the calculation that Chinese nuclear power generation would displace six million tonnes of CO2 per year per plant. In this view, nuclear is the only realistic replacement for fossil fuel power generation: our choices are not between renewables (solar, wind, wave power etc.) and nuclear or fossil fuels, but between nuclear and renewables or fossil fuels and renewables. To argue this however, green nuclear power enthusiasts have not only to convince us that nuclear power is green, but also that it can be safe. The most fervent environmental argument about nuclear power is not about its carbon footprint, but how many people it has killed. The sixty-year history of nuclear power generation is littered with major accidents: Windscale in 1957, Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011. The nuclear industry in the West and its supporters cannot pretend that these did not happen, although the USSR was able to keep what appears to have been a serious accident at their nuclear plant at Chelyabinsk in 1957 secret until the late 1980s. Nuclear accidents differ from other industrial accidents in that potential casualties may not fall ill until much later, so the final death toll is not immediately apparent. This opens the door for the argument that they are not as serious as a scaremongering media and panicking public might think. Thus there are extreme differences between the maximum and minimum numbers said to have been killed as a result of Chernobyl. The International Atomic Energy Agency estimates that about fifty people who worked at the plant or in the emergency services responding to the accident died shortly afterwards and about 4,000 other "˜excess deaths' are expected. On the other hand, in 2009, three Russian scientists published "˜The Difficult Truth about Chernobyl', in which they presented evidence for 985,000 excess deaths between 1986 and 2004 and a collapse in childhood health in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia (p.228). Nuclear supporters dismiss this as paranoid: a familiar argument about nuclear accidents, deployed about both Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, is that depression caused by the fear of nuclear exposure is worse for those who were living near the plants than the risk of cancer as a result of the accident. No doubt people are also now saying this about Fukushima. Mark Lynas argued in 2011 that no one had died as a result of Fukushima, although it was surely then, and still is now, too early to tell. The pro-nuclear position that Fukushima can be regarded as nothing more than a moderate industrial accident requires exposure to even large doses of radiation to be safe. It may be difficult to trace beyond doubt the effects of Chernobyl on the large populations exposed to it, and too soon to be definitive about the effect of Fukushima, but as Mangano makes clear, this does not mean that we have no evidence about the advisability or otherwise of exposing people to radiation leaks. The normal operation of nuclear power plants in the US has given us ample evidence of how likely the major accidents are to have caused harm. This is Mangano's particular area of interest, as he is director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, and one of the strengths of the book is its detailed examination of the evidence for the health risks of the normal operation of nuclear plants. It is first of all noteworthy that normal operation can include a number of accidents: Three Mile Island is the well-known US nuclear accident, but there are others, including a meltdown at an experimental reactor at Santa Susana, California in 1959, which may have released more radioactivity than Three Mile Island, and a less serious incident at Browns Ferry, Alabama in 1975. The operation of any nuclear plant also involved some routine releases of radiation outside of major incidents. As a result of popular pressure the federal government was forced to fund a report into the effect of nuclear plants on the populations living around them. Issued in 1990, the report was greeted as a clean bill of health for the nuclear industry, as it proclaimed that there was "˜no evidence that an excess occurrence of cancer has resulted from living near nuclear facilities' (p.161). However, this was more a whitewash than the final word on nuclear safety. Mangano points out a number of serious flaws in the study which undermine its optimistic conclusions. The study was based on a comparison of cancer rates in counties near to nuclear facilities with counties having similar demographics elsewhere. The selection of areas for study was rather arbitrary from the start, as it excluded all nuclear plants which were not operating by 1981 and some others, like the Santa Susana reactor. This meant that some of the control counties were themselves close to nuclear plants not included in the study, so they were hardly providing a baseline of cancer rates which could not possibly be affected by nuclear power generation. The analysis of death rates by county also ignored wind direction: it would not be particularly surprising if areas upwind (according to prevailing wind direction) of a nuclear plant did not show a marked increase in cancer deaths, but this could not be taken, as the study did, as evidence that there is no risk to health in living downwind from one. Finally, the study only looked at cancer deaths, rather than at cancer cases, so ignored cases of cancers like thyroid cancer which is often curable. Of course, the study was also limiting itself by only looking at cancer rather than other potential health effects like infant mortality. As Mangano shows, even with this selective use of data, the federal study did provide some indications of health problems caused by nuclear power plants, at odds with its executive summary. The analysis of counties near Three Mile Island, for example, showed that incidence of ten types of cancer had increased since the plant was started up, and childhood cancer deaths rose by 10%. In addition, studies carried out by his Radiation and Public Health Project have suggested that there is a clear effect on the health of nearby populations from nuclear power plants, including a striking decline in infant deaths, birth defects and childhood cancers within two years of the closure of a plant. Also suggestive is work by Ernest Sternglass, who pointed out that US infant mortality rates had been falling steadily from 1935-1950, in line with improvements in health care and living standards, but then levelled off for 1951-1964, before then starting to decline again. No one has come up with an explanation for what amounts to 375,000 excess infant deaths, except that the US began to test large scale nuclear weapons in the Nevada desert in 1951 and stopped doing so in 1963. Since there are therefore distinct suggestions that nuclear power plants may not be good for the health of the people living downwind of them, it seems likely that a meltdown, which releases far more radiation in one go than during normal operation, would have marked deleterious effects. The studies of the health effects of the US nuclear programme make the larger rather than the smaller estimate of the death toll from Chernobyl seem more likely. Chillingly, Mangano points out that there is reason to think that as far as nuclear accidents are concerned, we have so far got off lightly. Many US reactors are located close to major cities, and in 1966, for example, the Fermi 1 reactor came perilously close to a major explosion which would have irradiated most of Detroit. Older reactors are also more dangerous than newer ones because they have amassed more spent fuel. One of the features of the Fukushima disaster was that some of the cooling pools, used to cool spent fuel rods safely, ran dry and caught fire. The reactors at Fukushima were relatively young and had not built up a large amount of spent fuel. If the same type of accident were to happen at one of the many older US plants, with cooling pools already filled to more than capacity with spent fuel rods, the release of radioactivity would be very much greater. The response to all this from pro-nuclear greens would be that industrial accidents happen in any industry. This is clearly true: recently fifteen people were killed and buildings flattened in West, Texas after a fertilizer plant exploded. The evidence Mangano presents does suggest that there is a difference in scale. Nuclear power is the only type of power generation to be able to kill nearly a million people from a single accident. However, this is not really the point. Pro-nuclear environmentalists are effectively arguing that we have to choose between a number of murderous power generation options, and since they all kill people, we may as well go for the one which is least bad for the climate. This is indeed the unpalatable choice if we only look at what would be attainable within the current framework of power generation run by private companies for their profit. If we were able to plan our power generation with the needs of people at the forefront, there is nothing to say that we could not have electricity which managed both not to cook the planet and to kill hundreds of thousands of people. There are after all renewable options out there. Footage of a wind turbine on fire has been seized on with delight by climate change deniers and anti-wind farm campaigners, but as far as I am aware, the death toll remains at zero. Industrial production under capitalism has always been about making profit while killing and maiming workers and anyone else who could not afford to live far enough away from industry. Just because that has been the norm however is no reason why it must continue in a new century of power generation. What it takes is an understanding that we have to fight to change the system and not simply rely on EDF to decide to build a nuclear reactor rather than a coal-fired power station. The nuclear argument is one of the most contentious and difficult in the environmental movement, and it is far from settled. Mangano's book provides important ammunition for anyone who sees that nuclear is the answer only if we give up believing in our collective power to change the question.