Friday, June 15, 2007

"Liberty and Freedom, you can make a distinction between them. Liberty perhaps being political rights, freedom; not being enslaved. The ancient Athenian had only one word "Eleuthera" …and to him it was the noblest and defining character of his nation. To be free." – J. Rufus Fears – “The History of Freedom” Lecture series.

Pop culture is often a reflection of predominant philosophical themes. By the widespread use of an idea or phrasing we can often discern some of the philosophical attitudes of people that partake in these particular cultural expressions. They are of course never 100% accurate, and sometimes poor philosophical ideas are obfuscated and intentionally hidden to be presented to the mainstream culture. But in this general regard, there is a popular song by 3 Doors Down which contains the line “So you call this your free country, Tell me why it costs so much to live” and it reflects, I believe, a popular cultural sentiment. This line and sentiment infuriates me for a variety of reasons, the most important being that it wantonly confuses contradictory definitions of the word “Freedom”.

Freedom obviously has many different uses, for the purposes of this essay I will discuss the four predominant ones in English. To start with, one definition is being free from oppression (that is, no threat of having people force you to do something against your will) and another is Free as in ‘without cost’. Different languages use entirely different words to say these different concepts, it is only the fact that the English language uses this same word to mean a couple different things that this line is possible, and consequently that is even has a chance of trying to make the point it tries to make (that it should cost nothing to live) and that perhaps this language quirk is a major reason why this cultural sentiment exists at all, since it is superficially ‘clever’.

To illustrate why this is a fallacious way of thinking, let me use that exact same reversal of definitions of the word “Freedom” in a different context to illustrate how completely egregious it is to mix those two definitions conceptually. Consider the following statement.

“Of course I think black men should be free, everyone ought to have one”

Such is the betrayal of freedom (from oppression) that is permitted by mixing those definitions.

Being free from oppression is absolutely not the same thing as being free from cost, and ironically insisting that something be free from cost actually destroys freedom from oppression. Life, and existing, does have a cost, and it always will. That cost is food and water primarily, shelter secondarily, and health and medical care lastly. When we are hungry, we can not make food fall from the sky and into our mouths just by wishing it to. That food must be grown or killed, collected, processed, transported to us, and prepared for consumption. Every step of this process is complex and consumes a great deal of effort and time which other people have to put in. Whenever someone demands free (from cost) food, they are demanding that all of people, the farmers, packagers, truckers, train operators and tractor builders, fuel processors, grocery stores, etc, work for them without pay in order to provide that food free from cost.

We can not wish a heated home with running water into existence; such a thing requires the material and intellectual effort of literally thousands of people. Should everyone be provided with a heated home with running water for free (without cost)? To insist such a thing means that the thousands of laborers, builders, designers, carpenters, plumbers, contractors, etc do this work without pay.

Similarly, when we insist on free medical care, we are advocating every single medical practitioner, researcher, innovator, nurse and health aide to work for us to provide us these things for free without paying them anything.

Now let me be clear, I think as many people as possible ought to have the best health care, education, shelter and food possible. But under absolutely no circumstances is it right to advocate forced enslavement of people to provide these things. Each and every one of us has a right, fundamentally, to our own life, is it ours to live freely as we choose. No one else has any right to dictate to us or enslave us, and similarly we have no right to do that to anyone else. No one has a right to tell a farmer forcibly what he should charge for his food when it was his own mind, effort, and labor which produced it. No one has a right to tell a doctor what to charge for his services, his abilities are the product of his own effort and mind and they are not owned by anyone but himself. To force him, implicitly at the end of a gun, to charge no more than a certain amount for his services, is to tell him everyone but himself is the actual owner of his abilities; and as such his life. He is enslaved to everyone. He is a slave who is the property of “the people”

In fact, demanding a *right* to anything that is the result of someone else’s labor or mind means that the people who make those things have no rights. There can be NO RIGHTS in a society which demands the enslavement of all the producers and providers. No one EVER has a right to enslave. A right can not be just when it comes from the enslavement of everyone else, or even one single person. If you have a right to free from cost medical care, enforced by your government, it means you have a right to enslave the providers of medical care. If you have a right to education, it means you have a right to enslave the providers and producers of education. If you have a right to food, it means you have a right to enslave the producers and distributors of that food. This right to enslave is a founding element of socialism and communism, and no free from oppression society can be founded with the right to enslave embedded into its framework.

When we talk then about being free from cost, we are talking about a particular kind of freedom, which I will call material freedom. Material freedom is the acquisition of material goods with no cost to the person who has acquired them. Contrast this then to what I will call Political Freedom. Political Freedom is freedom from being forced to do something against your will by another person. These are the two types of freedom that are confused in the lyrics mentioned previously and in the popular cultural sentiment as well.

That life has a cost; the actions and efforts to sustain it, and thus could never be free (unless technology like nanotechnology literally renders food and shelter as cheap as dirt) conjures up the implicit idea from mixing these definitions of freedom; that the cost of living is similar to political oppression. That needing to work to live to provide yourself food and shelter in order to survive is no different than being forced by a captor as a slave laborer under the threat of torture and death. There is a tremendous distinction between these. Needing to partake in physical labor in order to acquire the material needs for survival is a consequence of physical reality and the laws of physics. We can not continue to exist merely by wishing to. We must act. All life requires a particular series of actions to be sustained, and every single person on this planet lives by only one of two means; providing that material existence for themselves, or looting or stealing the material means of survival from someone else. Needing to get permission from a dictator to live is a far different thing than working to grow food or build housing, or working to freely trade with someone to acquire those things. Blurring the distinction between the two in any way serves to perpetuate dictatorial rule, as it then can be hidden behind the guise of the ‘natural’ difficulties inherent in life. If the cost of living is similar to political oppression, than the fact that life requires action and effort means that political oppression must also be a part of life and dodging a dictators noose is as natural a component of survival as toiling in a field is. Who is it then that benefits most from convincing you that the lack of material freedom is the same as the lack of political freedom? Well those who seek to politically enslave you of course, or that seek to ally with you to enslave someone else under the banner of ‘rights’

The idea that needing to provide yourself the material necessities of life is a violation of freedom brings up a third common definition for freedom. I call this freedom Metaphysical Freedom. Metaphysical freedom is literal freedom of volition, it is the ability to do anything you want instantly with no effort just by wishing it, whether that is transporting yourself instantly to another continent or planet, or insisting that you do not need food to live.

Metaphysical freedom has limitations placed on it as well, and just like Material Freedom being confused with Political freedom, Metaphysical freedom is also often confused with Political Freedom. In fact the lack of Material Freedom is a consequence of the limitations forced onto us in regards to our Metaphysical Freedoms. Those limitations are, of course, the laws of physics. Life requires energy to sustain it, it requires action and effort to acquire the fuel for the energy and a perpetual and directed course of action intended to further that life. The laws of physics do not allow us to survive without eating, to work forever without rest or food, or to get a better life merely by wishing it. No one has Metaphysical Freedom, and probably no one ever will, though advances in technology will get us closer and closer to a pure metaphysical like freedom, we will likely always still require energy and effort to survive. Insisting though, that life should have no cost to it, that cost being food, shelter, and medicine, is an affront to the restrictions placed by the universe on our metaphysical freedoms. It is screaming to nature in frustration that you must follow her rules. It is screaming because your car wont start, or your investment failed, or you lover no longer loves you back. It is throwing a childish tantrum at reality, it is unproductive, useless, and nothing less than ignorant savagery. When you fail at a task or something happens to make your life more difficult, you have not been frustrated by a malevolent universe out to perpetuate human suffering and misery, you have instead corrected a misconception you held about the nature of the universe. Nature and reality exist and function in particular ways, to prosper as physical beings in a material world requires us to understand and follow the rules of material existence, not whine and wail when things do not go the way of our whims and conjur up flawed philosophical notions of metaphysical freedom.

The restrictions placed on our metaphysical freedoms by the laws of nature lead us to our final definition of freedom which I will discuss in this essay, Physical Freedom. Physical Freedom is the literal freedom of action, to move about, to speak, to do things, to work, to act on the physical world. Yet again this additional definition of freedom is frequently confused with the political freedom from oppression and the freedom from cost of materials. You might hear in conversations with anarchists that Physical Freedom ought to be identical to Political Freedom. That is, everything you are physically able to do you should be allowed to do, this includes physically brutalizing and oppressing another person. After all, if the police prevent you from oppressing someone they are in fact restricting your freedoms, but in this case they are restricting your Physical Freedoms, they are not restricting your Political Freedoms. Is it any wonder than whose interest is served by blurring the distinction between Political Freedom and Physical Freedom? Again if infringing on your ‘right’ to assault someone is an assault on freedom, than it is only those who advocate dictatorial or tyrannical rule who seek to call a system where anyone can do anything to anyone else as long as he is physically able to do it, Free. This is not Freedom in any meaningful political sense of the term.

The lack of distinction of Physical Freedom from Political Freedom often leads hardcore egalitarians and socialists to proclaim that the laws of physics themselves are a form of oppression, which of course is the only logical implication of any statement that derides the fact that it costs effort to live by providing food, and to have to deal with the physical realities of nature is a form of cruel oppression, and the people able to understand and overcome nature owe it to the people who are not able or willing, and owe it to them specifically because they are not able or willing, to shield them from the difficulties of physical existence. To make the world soft, coddling, padded, welcoming and free from anything remotely damaging to the fragile egos of these solipsists.

To summarize then, the four types of Freedom are:
Material Freedom – free from cost, cost as labor or effort or money
Physical Freedom – a literal freedom of action and movement, constrained only by the laws of physics
Metaphysical Freedom – literal volitional freedom unrestrained by the laws of physics, being able to do absolutely anything you wish instantly without effort. Includes being free from being forced to do something against your will by the laws of nature. Metaphysical freedom is a philosophical impossibility.
Political Freedom – Freedom from being forced to do something against your will by someone else.

Because of the nature of Material Freedom (that of being free from any cost or effort at acquiring the material necessities for life) any advancement in Material Freedom, when provided by government decree, necessarily bears a zero sum relationship with Political Freedom, You can not have a right to your own life if everyone else does. Any material good that is provided, that the government says everyone has a *right* to must come from the material products and effort of other people, and as such those others must be forced to work, i.e. enslaved, to provide those goods and services. If you say “I have a right to education” you are saying you have a right to force others to provide you with education, a right to enslave them. Thus, political figures like Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Robert Mugabe, etc, operating under the guise of freedom are in fact seeking to forcibly enslave the majority of the population.

Is it no wonder then that every single communist nation in existence has always forbidden leaving the country? Is this not the ultimate expression of not having a right to your own life? People are not politically free in these nations, they are merely a physical tool whose only purpose is to attempt to provide equal material freedom to everyone else. Nations which do not allow people to freely leave them do not even deserve the respect of being called nations, and instead should be referred to as they truly are, prisons. Dictators and rulers of these nations, the worst of which are North Korea, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam; are in fact literal hostage takers. These nations operate under the flawed idealistic premise of material freedom as the end goal, and as a consequence have absolutely no political freedoms and are brutally oppressive, poor, and painful to live in.

Conversely, any advances in Political Freedom (including both economic and civil, which really should not be distinguished) lead directly to advances in Material Freedom, that is allowing people to rule their own lives and to discover and invent of their own accord, leads to the greatest advancements possible to man and thus the greatest reduction in the effort required to survive, implicitly speeding toward Material Freedom, though never quite completely reaching it.

I am a strong proponent of Political Freedom, that is, A life without oppression from other people. I am a strong advocate of Physical Freedom but only when it does not lead to restrictions on Political Freedom; anyone can do anything they want as long as they do not assault person or property of others. I am adamantly against Material freedom when it comes from the enslavement of the material production of those able to produce useful things, but completely for it when the free and voluntary exchange of these useful things results in people making the world an easier and more pleasant place for them to exist.

Thus, a just government would defend at all costs Political freedom both civil and economic, allow Physical Freedoms where they do not conflict with Political Freedoms, and necessarily progress more toward Material Freedom than any controlled or centralized government because of the advances made from innovators and producers which reduce the material cost of everything man needs to survive. Such a government should include a constitutional separation of church and state *as well as* a constitutional separation of business and state. While an initial incarnation of it might require taxation to sustain itself in order to provide basic infrastructure, national self defense, protect civil liberties, enforce rule of law, and final arbitration in matters of dispute, eventually a streamlined system could work on voluntary fee based system alone. Laws would allow individuals to do virtually anything they wanted as long as it did not infringe on someone else’s rights, or assault them physically or economically. Prisons would contain only violent criminals. The society would be wealthy, politically free, physically free, continually approach material freedom providing for wonderful, long, healthy lives for its inhabitants.

But when we confuse the meanings of Freedoms we open ourselves up to promulgating dictatorial rule in the name of an abstract and harmful ideal of ‘freedom’ which is in fact a literal enslavement of the vast majority of the population. Words are the only means by which we can convey ideas and as such are extremely powerful tools, we must always choose our words wisely and there is no more important area to be aware of the meanings of words than when it is in regards to the freedom (political and physical) of sentient beings.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Rand on Relationships without Sacrifice

"I want nothing from you except what you wish to give me. I want you to come to me seeking nothing but your own enjoyment. To know that the joy you give me is paid for by the joy you get from me – not by your suffering or mine. I don't accept sacrifices and I don't make them. If you asked me for more than you meant to me, I would refuse. If ever the pleasure of one has to be bought by the pain of the other, there better be no trade at all. A trade by which one gains and the other loses is a fraud."

from Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged"

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

They pretend an object is not what it really is.
In the hopes it will not be that which it always is.
Imagination, it seems to them, is meant to be absurd.
They use a gun instead of reason to make their voices heard.

They won't come to ever see how their morals shape reality, the only end they care to see is violent: forced equality.

They pretend your mind is something that belongs to them.
It's only meant to serve all those whose needs are still not met.
Self-destruction is, to them, a means that serves an end.
Self sacrifice and immolation make the best of men.

They won't come to ever see starvation comes from equity, if equal men are made by force, they turn the best into the worst.
They pretend that you'll provide under the yoke of force.
Their need the right to claim all you have made and force out more.
They pretend that they won't starve without a working mind.
And they wont see where they end up is where they wished to find.

They won't come to ever see their morals shape reality, the only end they care to see is violent: forced equality

– Thosquanta lyrics


In the late 50's as Chairman Mao Ze Dong solidified power in "Revolutionary China" he sought to increase the standing of China on the international scene. To do this, China had to sell it's primary domestic product; food. Of course in China most people producing food consumed the food they were producing. The communist party of China issued new orders and directives, every bit of food produced by the population would be 'given' to the government, who would then re-distribute it according to who needed it, or rather, according to what would benefit the oppressive rulers the most. Mao's ruling part of China began a campaign to become one of the world's largest agricultural exporters. Farmers were forced to hand over at gun point the food they were growing while they were starving. Where they were producing more than enough food for themselves and others, now there was not even enough food to feed the population of China. People were literally working themselves to death growing and collecting their own food, and being forced to give it away. Millions and millions of people starved to death. In all, historians estimate, about 35 million Chinese peasants starved to death during this period in the absolute worst human famine to have ever occurred, yet few today know about it.

This famine was not cause by droughts or freezes, but instead by a controlled economy in the hands of a murderous dictator, in fact all of the famines experienced in the 20th century were at the hands of controlled economies

Additionally Communist party members were fans of an "alternative" science, brought about by philosophical Dialectical materialism, which asserts all growth comes from conflict, among other bad ideas, and also abandons the mechanism of heredity, genetics, in favor of a deadly Marxist pseudoscience, Lysenkoism. Lysenko and his poor science caused the famines in the Soviet Union which killed tens of millions of people, and many of these policies, despite these spectacular failures, were adopted in China promulgating Mao's famine. Later, when adopted in Cambodia, Ethiopio, and North Korea, all produced still more man-made famines. The lysenko ideas including 'conditioning' seeds to grow in cold weather by dunking them in cold water, forcing peasants to bury seedlings much deeper, and forcing peasants to cover fields with 5 times as many seeds as a field could support, on the theory that similar plants do not compete with each other for resources.

You can read more on these dreadful policies here

Beyond that, Communist party members sought to make China a world player on the industrial scene in the world and desired to capitalize on their greatest resource; manpower from physical labor. Tens of millions of farmers and peasants were ordered to leave their productive farms and build small communal "steel refractories" these refractories resembled termite mounds more than steel production furnaces and produced steel that looked more like animal droppings earning it a nickname in kind.

The single major change which ended this dreadful famine was when farmers were again allowed to produce food as they saw fit, and while they still had to provide a large quota to the government, they were allowed to keep any excess they grew and sell it. Within 5 years agricultural output in China, from 1960 – 1965, almost tripled. Production continued to climb until Chairman Mao regained much of the power he lost and instituted a "cultural revolution" where anyone eductated in the ways of the west was executed, again agriculture production plummeted as the people responsible for the radical increase were sent to prison camps or outright executed as "counter revolutionaries" Millions of educated Chinese fled the country, and chances are if you are in a western country and have some Chinese friends, their parents most likely fled the cultural revolution.

Read more here is as well

Many people in western nations have a hard time believing such statistics, assuming by de-facto that governments tend to operate well and for the benefit of the people. But government encroachment into markets does not bring about equality, increased standards of living, or a general betterment of society, it always plummets toward ineptitude, corruption, and inefficiencies. . No bureaucrat can ever respond quickly enough to rapidly changing climate and markets to get the food where it is needed, only the independent and rapid decisions of the millions of producers and distributors are capable of adjusting with lighting rapidity to great strains on products. Any politician who controls immense swaths of the economy is immediately open to corruption, where the currency de jour is not product superiority but instead influence and bribery. To the extent at which governments interfere in markets is the extent to which people in those nations suffer harder, shorter, more painful lives, and to the extent to which nations let free people make free decisions and produce the goods they desire of their own accord, and trade with each other of their own free will, is the extent to which a nation and it's people prosper and live longer, healthier, happier lives as a whole.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

50,000 galaxies, killer asteroids, and beat again

Some quick news items

Somebody beat me to it =( Still, mine will be better, but too slow on the draw again...

Check out this amazing Hubble image, 50,000 galaxies, be sure to load the zoomed version and explore the galaxies, 50,000 of them!

On existential threats: NASA lacks funds to find killer asteroids

"They are a threat even if they don't hit Earth because if they explode while close enough -- an event caused by heating in both the rock and the atmosphere -- the devastation from the shockwaves is still immense. The explosion alone could have with the power of 100 million tons of dynamite, enough to devastate an entire state, such as Maryland, they said."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Check out my updated essay "Humanity Needs an Insurance Policy" on

Humanity Needs an Insurance Policy
Is Self Destruction from the Rapid Growth of Technology the Answer to the Fermi Paradox?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Here in south eastern CT, one of the most heavily traveled corridors of the nation sitting squarely between Boston and NYC, a battle is being waged between rational progress and environmentalist paranoia. In the early 70’s a highway was constructed which connected route 2 near Hartford, the capital of CT and major business center, with south eastern CT. Before that the highway route required traveling the edges of a box, north to Norwich area of CT and then west to Hartford. Route 11 was supposed to be a nice diagonal connecting the two corners of this important exchange, instead the project lost funding in 1974 half way through completion and stopped at the interchange with Route 85. South eastern CT is home to Pfizer Pharmaceuticals Global Central Research headquarters, General Dynamics Electric Boat submarine building facility, a large Navy base, and the US Coast Guard academy. So commuters heading here from all central and western parts of Massachusetts and New York enjoy highway for the majority of the journey, only to get off and travel on a rural undivided tree lined winding route for the last 10 miles. A route where giant signs demand headlights to be on at all times, where joggers and bicyclists have abandoned for fear of their lives, residents pray before they pull out of their driveways, and where this 10 miles stretch averages 1 fatality per year.

A recent front page story ran in The Day, the largest local newspaper. Did it run a profile on each person that has been killed on that road commuting to work? Did it show how much money is lost to the area on that road in damages from non fatal accidents? No, it featured a pretty waterfall, a beautiful wooded landscape, and some pictures of rabbits; revealing a very obvious bias on the project. For 20 years the state of CT has repeatedly attempted to get Route 11 completed, which would bypass the dangerous Route 85 and save lives, and it has been repeatedly blocked. This time the EPA is at it again arresting any progress or development. The EPA has publicly stated that in general it opposes all new roads and it is given virtually limitless power to stop new road construction. Is this reasonable? It opposes ALL NEW ROADS? Is this the way to progress? Is this the way to strengthening our economy?

In a story that ran on June 26, 2006 on Route 11 The Day reports:
Environmental Concerns Could Derail Route 11 Plan

"Bartlett contends that the road designs would “cause or contribute to significant degradation of waters of the United States, ” and he and the top U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official call the most recent assessment of the project's environmental impact inadequate"

And really now, an 8.5 mile highway will cause SIGNIFICANT DEGRADATION OF THE WATERS OF THE [ENTIRE?] UNITED STATES. Are they serious? More delays and studies, favorite tactics of the EPA.

The article quotes a lone voice of reason:

"The agency has been studying whether building the road could deplete the habitat of the New England cottontail rabbit, which is being considered for endangered species status. U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-Connecticut, has ridiculed the study, contending the agency is more concerned with rabbits than the human lives lost because of accidents on Route 85."

In 1919 future president and then solder Dwight D. Eisenhower traveled with a military caravan on a cross country trip. The journey was torturous and took months to complete, with horses and wagons and trucks routinely getting trapped in muddy ravines and overburdened roads. There is no doubt this terrible experience played a role in his future advocacy of a national interstate highway system. From 1956 to 1975 the Federal Highway Act created 35,000 miles of it’s planned 42,000 miles of highways. In the subsequent 20 years from 1975 to 1995 only the remaining 7,000 miles were built. In the latest 10 years from 1995 to today, a mere 4,000 more miles have been paved, a 10% percent increase. According the Bureau of Transportation Statistics the number of vehicle miles traveled in 1975 was 1.4 trillion miles, in 1995 was 2.4 trillion miles while in 2005 that number was 3 trillion. Today highways represent less than one percent of the nation’s total road mileage yet carry over 20 percent of the nations traffic. We see barely 20% more highway travel lanes than in 1975, while the number of vehicle miles traveled has doubled, and the number of cars on the road continues to sky rocket.

Interstate 95, which goes from the Florida Keys to the cost of Maine, through Atlantic City, New York city, and Boston, also passes through Connecticut on it’s southern coast. Most of 95 through CT is two lanes, and the Stretch of 95 that goes from Danbury CT (near the New York border) to Old Saybrook is one of the busiest exchanges in the country. Recently a plan was unveiled to add one single lane on the north and south bound parts of 95 in CT, along 65 mile stretch. The estimates for the cost and time frame? 20 billion dollars and 20 years! Are you kidding me, we paved half the nation in that time and cost.

In 1991 work began in Hong Kong on the most ambitious civil engineering project of the 21st century. In the following 7 years, and at a cost of 20 billion dollars, a six lane one mile tunnel, two bridges, one of which was the worlds longest double decker suspension bridge, the other the worlds longest cable-stayed bridge, twenty-two miles of an elevated superhighway, much of it built over an existing fourteen lane highway which remained opened, a high speed rail along that highway, an artificial island and on top of it a new airport with the worlds largest passenger terminal in history were built. Yet it takes the US 20 years and 20 billion dollars to add one lane to 65 miles of highway!

(Learn all about Hong Kong's mega engineering project - here)

This is completely absurd. Our interstate highways are the lifeblood of our economy. They are not called major arteries for nothing, if you choke of a major highway, all transportation suffers, all manufactured goods, fuels, and foods are delayed. Everything is more expensive. Sitting in endless traffic jams with engines idling for hours on end. The nation suffers as a whole. America has the majority of its population on opposing costs separated by a thousand miles of nothing except massive farms. The greater metropolitan area of New York contains an estimated 21 million people, people who get their food, goods, and fuel primary by vehicles traveling on highways. The greater metropolitan area of Los Angeles is home to 18 million people, again all fed, clothed, and fueled primarily through highways. The greater metropolitan area of Chicago, the 3rd largest in the US and the only major one in the middle of the east and west coasts, is home to 10 million people. Together these three cities make up almost 50 million people and contain 1/6 of the nations population. A cursory look at any population density map shows that the majority of the US’s population lies on opposing costs, with huge swaths of land in between with population densities of 1 – 5 people per square mile. This area, of course, is where much of our food, and a significant portion of the worlds food supply, is produced. Roads and highways are the only way to get these goods to their destinations. Our entire economy and livelihood center on fast, efficient, and smooth transportation, with the interstate highways at the core. Yet we would rather pull our teeth out than build new roads, and when we do they cost an absurd amount of money and take decades to construct. What is going on here? Have we lost our minds?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Nuclear Power vs Coal Power

Many people consider Uranium and subsequently nuclear power to be worse, over all, than coal or other fossil fuels. They claim, for various reasons, including mining, refining, storage, and disposal; that nuclear power is worse than coal, but the reality is that in all areas Uranium and Fission power far outshine coal power.

Lets take a quick look at the Energy Density of these sources of energy to start with.

Coal - ~6,150 kilowatt-hours (kWh)/ton
Uranium – 2,000,000,000 kWh/ton
Uranium, Fast Breeder reactors (up to 100x more) - 200,000,000,000 kWh/ton

Energy density is measured in power divided by mass of a material, so when we say that Coal has 6,150 Kilowatt-hours per ton, it means that one ton of coal will produce 6,150 kW for one hour, or 615 kW for 10 hours, etc. To compare this with a typical piece of home equipment, say a television, a television might consume 500W of power when in operation, if run for one hour that would be 500 watt – hours. Two televisions would then be 1 kilowatt – hour. So one ton of coal would power 12,300 televisions for 1 hour. Current energy costs (which you can read in your electric bill) hover around 10 – 15 cents per kilowatt hour.

As noted above, Uranium, per ton, produces more than 300,000 times the amount of energy that coal does. What, exactly, makes a material with 300,000 times as much energy as coal 'uneconomical' then? Is uranium 300,000 times more difficult to mine and obtain? 300,000 times more expensive to dispose of? Will it kill 300,000 times more people? The answer, of course, even combining all the complexities of nuclear power, is a resounding NO. Lets compare Uranium Fission, which generates about 15% of US power, with Coal generated power, which generated 80% of the US’s power.

Claim: Coal poses almost no hazard for human health, except when swallowed or hit on the head and therefore doesn't have to be kept safe and secured at all times.-
Certainly NOT true, the atmospheric irritants emitted by the combustion of coal and their effects include:
- Sulphur dioxide (SO2) - respiratory disorders, impaired breathing
- Nitrous oxide (NOx) - respiratory disorders, infections, pulmonary diseases
- Carbon monoxide (CO) - fatal angina, various other effects
- Ozone (O3) - respiratory disorders, impaired breathing, asthma, edema
- Particulate matter (PM10) - various toxic particle (organic matter, carbon, mineral dusts, metal oxides and sulphates and nitrate salts) effects, main
mortality factor due to fossil fuels
- Toxic substances, heavy metals - specific substance effects

All of these combustion products of fossil fuels are estimated by the WHO in its 1997 report on sustainable development, to account for 6% of the total 50 million annual global deaths. That's approximately 3 million deaths *every year* from atmospheric pollutants released from the combustion of fossil fuels. These are real people dying painful deaths every year. 3 million. Outdoor air pollution in the U.S. due to particulate pollution alone was estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1997 to cause at least 20,000 premature deaths each year. 3rd world countries, many of which cook on wood or dung fired stoves, fare much worse, and are some of the places that would benefit most from cheap electricity generated by a full fledged global nuclear infrastructure.

Claim: Coal is not suitable for deadly weapons and therefore of no value for villains of any kind, including despotic dictators -
True of course, coal has little intrinsic value to oppressive regimes, unlike Nuclear power which is a stepping stone to nuclear weapons. If 'suitability for deadly weapons' was the only consideration of what type of power source should be utilized, you could make a strong case against nuclear and for coal. However, other factors include a) cost b) number of people it kills every year d) monopolistic domination potentials etc. etc. Because Uranium fission holds 300,000 times as much energy, it is far more cost effective, makes electricity available to more people at less of a cost, and consequently directly raises their standards of living. Coal kills many people per year, not only in frequent large accidents (which happen most often in mines) but slowly and spread out over the globe. Coal and oil, because they are present in small areas in dense qualities and require little technology to utilize, easily facilitate the rise to power of oppressive regimes. Most of the worlds Oil is in the middle east, where the exports have financially supported the oppressive rulers of that region, every single one of which is a brutal oppressive dictatorship or theocracy. Luckily for many people the worlds largest coal deposits happened to be in the lands that were free-er earlier on, in the UK and in the US. The US alone has a coal field that is the size of the UK. However the vast coal fields in Europe fueled the Nazi war machine. So while it is more difficult for an individual to utilize any aspect of coal as a weapon, it’s extraordinarily easy for governments to do so, and history shows us that governments have killed far more people than individual terrorists and even wars have

Claim: The by-products of coal can be put back without any hazard for the biosphere. Coal ashes are not dangerous and does not need to be kept off our biosphere for thousands of years.-
Again, certainly NOT true. Billions of tons of harmful chemicals and radioactive uranium are dumped into the air during the process of burning coal, even in highly advanced modern coal burning plants. Additionally other heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, lead, mercury, nickel and vanadium are present in coal ash. In fact living near a coal burning power plant, even a modern hi tech one, is far more hazardous to your health than living near a nuclear power plant. The background radiation levels are always higher around coal plants than nuclear plants specifically because coal plants are allowed to dump their waste into the air, which, again, includes radioactive uranium ash. In fact a typical coal plant actually chemically burns and releases into the air more Uranium than is used in a comparable nuclear reactor, as fuel. Indeed, you could put a nuclear reactor on the smokestack of a coal plant and generate more power than the was generated from the coal. Remember, one pound of Uranium generates as much energy as more than 300,000 pounds of coal.

Claim: Even a very large malfunction in a coal fired power plant could not devastate a large area, cost millions of lives and billions of Euros (please read about the effects of Tschernobyl '86 in FSU and Europe).
Anti Nuclear advocates love to point to Chernobyl as an example of the dangers posed by nuclear reactors. However Chernobyl killed 31 people when a pressurized steam channel blew (which was not even a chemical explosion, let alone a nuclear one) and released approx 6% of the radioactive contents of the reactor. The accident resulted in 31 short term deaths, with 28 due to extremely high radiation exposures. Additionally, some 200,000 clean up workers received average exposures of twice the yearly permitted, and a few thousand more received ten times the permitted yearly doses. Of the 116,000 nearby residents evacuated, 95% received less than the average of the fist group of cleanup workers. A remaining 400,000 received significantly less than that. For the 1,116,000 total affected out of the workers, evacuees, and nearby residents, the predicted long term radiation induced cancer deaths and normally non-fatal thyroid cancers are projected to be some 3,500. Mostly later in life. A terrible toll of course, but this is about how many people are killed from the combustion products of fossil fuels every 12 hours. Most of these deaths from the Chernobyl incident could have been avoided had the Soviet government acknowledged the nuclear nature of the accident and administered the iodide pills it had all ready stockpiled for just such an incident. Additionally, this reactor would have never been built, licensed, or operated in any country that actually cared about its people, unlike the Soviet Union, which had a long track record of sacrificing millions for 'the good of the state'.

In addition to the estimated 3 million annual deaths from atmospheric pollutants many people are killed from coal mining explosions, natural gas explosions, and obviously the many wars fought over and related to Oil, which in fact runs most of the world. Here are some of the worst coal mining disasters.

- Liaoning mine disaster, Fuxin, People's Republic of China (February 14, 2005), 210 reported killed.

- Sunshine Mine disaster, Kellogg, Idaho, United States, 91 killed (May, 1972)

- Buffalo Creek flood, Logan County, West Virginia, United States, 125 killed (February 26, 1972)

- Mina de Barroterán Coal Mine disaster, Coahuila, Mexico, (March 31, 1969), 176 died. Mexico's second worst coal mine disaster.

- Luisenthal Mine disaster (near Völklingen), Germany (February 7, 1962), 299 killed

- Marcinelle, Belgium, 262 killed (August 8, 1956)

- Gresford, Wrexham, 266 killed (September 1934)

- Hillcrest mine disaster, Hillcrest, Alberta, Canada, 189 killed (June 19, 1914). Canada's worst mine disaster

- Courrières mine disaster, Courrière, France, 1099 killed (March, 1906)

- Hanna, Wyoming, United States, Union Pacific Coal Company, Mine No. 1, 234 killed (June 30, 1903)

See a full list at

Consider also

- Dam failures and overtopping have caused thousands of deaths and massive disruption in social and economic activities with the displacement of entire towns - the Varont dam overtopping in Italy and dam failures in Gujarat and Orissa in India are three such examples, each with several thousand fatalities.

- Explosions and major fires in the oil and gas industry have involved both occupational and public fatalities and injuries. A pipeline gas leak
explosion in the Urals involved 500 fatalities.

- There are estimated to be a few hundred CO related deaths every year in the US due to faulty or inefficient fossil fuel burning home heating systems.

At this point, one might suggest that while nuclear energy production is relatively the safest form of energy, the weapons made from nuclear power have killed 100,000’s of thousands. True enough, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts killed an estimated 400,000 people. But in considering these deaths as a consequence of nuclear power, we must all consider the deaths that came from the utilization of fossil fuels. How many people have been killed by conventional explosives in all wars in all of history? How many have been killed by the military industrial segments of brutal nations that run on these fossil fuels? The Japanese invasion of Manchuria, very obviously powered by Oil, Coal, and gunpowder, saw 400,000 people killed in the infamous “Rape of Nanking” alone. In fact, all throughout history we have seen a continual rise in the number of people killed in war, both as an absolute and as a percentage of the population, until 1945, when the number plummeted. Even after the use of nuclear weapons in war, and many subsequent brutal wars, the number of war dead still continues to fall. Fortunately, Nuclear weapons have had the effect of taming wars so far.

Claim: The byproducts of Nuclear power can be used for Terrorism
Indeed, and many many things can be used for Terrorism. Oil Wells, for instance, can be set ablaze, burning self sufficiently for months or years with devastating environmental effects. A typical Liquefied Natural Gas tanker has the explosive capacity of a small nuclear bomb. How difficult does one really think it would be to detonate a single hulled tanker full of LNG which contains hundreds of thousands of tons of fuel? How many of these tankers sit unguarded in ports all over the world? Which is more rational to protect against terrorism, a few well designed and guarded nuclear power plants, which can even be moved underground, or tens of thousands of gigantic bombs in the form of gas lines, gas tanks, tankers, and fuel storage facilities? Nuclear plants generate so much power that an entire nations energy supply can come from a few dozen of them set in areas far from dense population centers and well guarded.

Consider that unused, uranium still sits in the earth undergoing fission anyway, producing radioactive elements and heat, which is part of what warms the internal parts of the earth. In fact, a host of still unexplained observations about the Earth has led some physicists to suggest the core of the earth is actually a giant nuclear fission reactor. The theory was a cover feature in Discover magazine in August 2002.

Additionally, many technological developments have occurred in nuclear reactor design, including ceramic coated uranium pellets, which keep the uranium spaced out far enough to generate a controlled amount of eat and which can not be melted by the temperatures produced, completely negating the need for any active cooling system and making ‘meltdowns’ a physical impossibility. Further, other types of reactors, called “Fast Breeder” reactors can create more fuel from the waste products of the nuclear fission reaction, so much so that some physicists estimate that up to 100 times as much energy can be generated, meaning entire nations could be run on a handful of nuclear power plants.

Coal generated power kills thousands of people every year directly, and millions of people indirectly. It is far more dangerous, hazardous, and environmentally devastating than Nuclear power; generating essentially more than 300,000 times as much pollution as a comparable amount of energy generated from Nuclear sources does. If you are concerned about global warming from man made carbon dioxide, then Nuclear power is the only way to generate power without generating green houses gases. This is why world renowned environmentalist James Lovelock cites Nuclear power as one of the key solutions to global warming and why Greenpeace founding member Patrick Moore now says he was wrong about opposing nuclear power for the past 30 years and is now a nuclear power advocate.

Compared with every other form of wide scale energy production (hydro-electric, oil, coal) Nuclear is by far the safest form of energy creation yet used by man. So where is our Nuclear infrastructure? If Nuclear power makes so much more sense, why does it not supply the majority of our energy? Instead we are dependant on Coal and imported Oil supplies from brutally oppressive and murderous terrorist sponsoring regimes all over the world, who sustain their oppression only from their global oil proceeds. The reason is that an irrational and unscientific fear of Nuclear power was promulgated by a handful of influential public figures. While a healthy scientific assessment of things is always valid, this has gone overboard and has, literally, scared millions of people to death about nuclear power. We have been scared so much with the unscientific claims of potential deaths caused by nuclear power that it has been illegal to build any new nuclear power plants in this nation since the Carter administration, all the while millions of people worldwide choke on the soot, heavy metals, and radioactive ash pumped into the air because of the scare mongering of unscientific environmentalists, who while hyping up invalid fears of the environmental impact of nuclear plants are ignoring the millions of deaths caused by the inhalation from the combustion products of fossil fuels.

We need to wake up and smell the collective radioactive ash. Nuclear power is safe, reliable, and will free the western world from the tyrannical noose of the murderously brutal middle east. A few well guarded breeder reactor plants could provide a majority of the worlds power. These same plants could electrolyze water to provide clean drinking water and hydrogen as fuel for a 'hydrogen economy' or, at least, create synthetic fuels through sabatier cells and use existing hydrocarbon infrastructures but not contribute to greenhouse gas increases, as the sabatier cell needs CO2 from the atmosphere. Implementing such at system until fusion becomes viable is the only real, viable, practical method of maintaining exceptional standards of living and a healthy environment. Reducing the global standard of living is not an option, as many millions in third world countries need energy, and lots of it, to get out of poverty. Even small increases in the costs of energy will have devastating impacts on the poverty stricken 3rd world which depends on cheap food generated from the energy intensive agricultural industry to survive The ideological intellectually dishonest endorsement of fossil fuels over nuclear power leads to millions of deaths every year, continues to perpetuate global instability through propping up murderous regimes, and destroys the environment through a flagrant un scientific hysteria. Nuclear power is clean, safe, and cheap.