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"Forget the Rest" blog

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July 25, 2012

Bulletin #154: Reminder about tonight’s solar energy presentation

Dear friends –

Big things are happening on the nuclear weapons front, but right now I just want to remind those of you who live nearby and who happen to see this note, about this evening’s presentation and discussion about solar energy at the CloudCliff Bakery in Santa Fe, 1805 Second St. (map), at 6:30 pm, presented and led by Allan Sindelar of Positive Energy and Claudia Pavel.  This promises to be a very interesting evening and we hope you will come!

Positive Energy, a leading installer of photovoltaic systems in our state, recently was named Santa Fe’s Small Business of the Year by the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce.

Why is the Los Alamos Study Group hosting this event?  Those of you who have been to our meetings will know some of the answers to this question.

Certainly we must build renewable energy generation if we would:

  • wean ourselves from coal and nuclear power;

  • build local community resilience as well as a decentralized and more stable electric grid;

  • change our identities and attitudes from consumers to producers;

  • attract many millions of dollars of outside capital to our area and provide local investments for many millions more;

  • train young people generate thousands of jobs and a mutually-supportive nexus of innovative businesses;

  • save the billions of gallons of water expended in cooling thermal electrical power plants of any kind (air-cooled plants are possible but less efficient);

  • save thousands of lives (yes, you read that right; the coal burned for electricity in New Mexico kills about 1.6 persons per day from respiratory disease, preponderantly near the plants);

  • improve local visibility and tourism;

  • prevent the pollution caused by burning coal at the mine, power plant (coal ash), and in our waters and fish (mercury); and

  • (The list could go on much longer).

And you almost certainly know that nuclear warheads compete directly with renewable energy funding as well as with low-income energy assistance, home weatherization, and energy efficiency programs for business and homes in the same appropriations bill.

That’s plenty of reasons – mostly policy reasons, although some of them extend into our necessary cultural transformation, which we may or may not manage.  (It was always impossible to support our present extravagant lifestyles on renewable energy, no matter how clever we are.  In addition, it is also now very late in the day for our civilization.  Nevertheless, a late start is better than none, and could lead to much better outcomes – in addition to being much more satisfying!)

I would like to suggest there is another powerful class of reasons that we ought to be “up and building.”  Simply put, protest has never been enough, protest should always be small relative to a larger constructive program, protest has proven to be increasingly ineffective as our democracy has waned, and in part as a result of this last factor protest has become increasingly problematic in itself in a number of ways.

Our reasoning goes something like this.

Objectively, the overall impact of "antinuclear activism" in New Mexico in recent years has been little to none.  We think it has been zero.  Two important recent pieces of data stand out in this assessment.  First, local governments in northern New Mexico are now participating and funding the Coalition of LANL Regional Communities, a group of local elected officials with a small professional staff that lobbies for LANL spending, including nuclear weapons spending and including the proposed (but indefinitely delayed) plutonium warhead “pit” factory annex, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF).  This represents a political failure of local organizing (first and foremost, of our own) and is a major setback in the local expression of the humane values that drew many of us into public life in the first place.  (It could, however, be quite usefully brought to an end, a very worthwhile project for some of you!)

Second, Representative Ben Ray Lujan, and it almost goes without saying at this point Representative Martin Heinrich, voted against renewable energy and green jobs amendments this spring on the House floor during debate on the Energy and Water Appropriations bill.  The money for these initiatives would have come from nuclear weapons.  (Where else could it have come from?)  That is: all the activist talk about “lab conversion,” “cleanup” and so on has produced no positive outcomes we know of.  Quite the reverse.  Among the negative outcomes: providing political cover for the above coalition.

To our eyes, most “protest” is simply so much sterile and ineffectual posturing – more a symptom than an effective and creative response to the shallow culture of spectacle, make-believe, and propaganda in which we find ourselves mired.  It’s often terribly lightweight, involving the most transient of commitments, and often has little grounding in constructive political engagement, or knowledge.  The presumed “badness” of others, deriving from the evil of nuclear weapons for example, becomes the basis for the presumed “goodness” of us and our efforts.

Contrary to this narrative, we do not see such protest as occupying any sort of moral “high ground,” nor do we think it nonviolent – especially when it is predicated, as it often is, on false propaganda of its own, such as the notion that anyone’s water supply is, will be, or even realistically could become, contaminated by Los Alamos National Laboratory.  But that is just one example.  Many more could be provided.

So what’s the answer?  There is no one answer, but a big part of the answer is the constructive engagement and activity that is so often missing.  There will always be a need for effective protest – and please, let’s make it effective, by building the networks of trust and common commitment that must be grounded in much more than negative protest.  We need to be up and building – the physical and political infrastructures, the identities and characters, the skill sets and social contacts, the institutions and “habits of the heart” that will allow the life of this planet and the best values of civilization to survive.

That’s why we invited Allan and Claudia to speak.  They are real experts in the best sense, and we hope some of you can join us tonight.


Greg Mello, for the Study Group

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