CHEERLEADING FOR NUCLEAR? LOOKING BEYOND THE HYPE

Plus, Can Organics Feed the World, The Zen of Dick Cheney, and More in the May/June 2006 issue of World Watch

Washington, DC—Many politicians and even a few environmentalists have begun advocating nuclear power as a remedy for climate change. And in an effort to ride the coattails of a far more popular set of energy alternatives, political leaders including U.S. President George W. Bush are now referring to nuclear power as "a renewable source of energy".

In “Brave Nuclear World,” part one of a two-part series, contributor Karen Charman questions whether this latest effort to bring nuclear power back to life will be any more successful than the other five nuclear “revivals” that have been predicted since the industry first collapsed a quarter-century ago.

Analyses have shown that some 700 new large nuclear reactors—producing about twice the total power of the world's currently operating reactors—would be needed to achieve just one-seventh the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions required to stabilize atmospheric carbon concentrations at 500 parts per million. Yet over the past two years, construction has begun on just three new reactors, while seven operating plants were permanently closed during the same period.

Building 700 nuclear reactors would cost at least $1.7 trillion dollars and would require construction of a new disposal site the size of Nevada’s controversial Yucca Mountain depository “somewhere in the world every three to four years.” If that money were instead spent on energy efficiency measures and renewable energy, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by a far greater amount.

CAN ORGANIC FARMING FEED US ALL?

Two recent studies reveal that a global shift to organic farming would yield more food, not less, for the world's hungry, writes Worldwatch Institute Senior Researcher Brian Halweil in “Can Organic Farming Feed Us All?” Organic farming tends to raise yields in poorer nations, precisely those areas where people are hungry and can't afford chemical-intensive farming. Where there is a yield gap between conventional and organic crops, it tends to be widest in wealthy nations, where farmers use copious amounts of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in a perennial attempt to maximize yields. “In poorer nations, organic farming techniques like composting and green manuring and biological pest control may be farmers' best hope for boosting production and reducing hunger,” writes Halweil.

Beyond this yield advantage, organic farming has proven benefits for wildlife, water and air quality, and food safety. And while analysts on the two sides of this issue are constantly at odds, some experts are starting to advocate a middle path that uses many of the principles of organic farming and depends on just a fraction of the chemicals used in conventional agriculture. Such an integrative system, they believe, would have great benefits for farmers, consumers, and the environment. “The lack of widespread support for organic farming from governments, industry, and farmer organizations is short-sighted and may ultimately be contributing to world hunger,” says Halweil.

THE ZEN OF DICK CHENEY

In this month's “Groundwork” column, Worldwatch Institute Research Director Gary Gardner examines U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's recent comments about markets, showing how “political treatment of markets borders on iconography.” Gardner examines Cheney's choice of words after dismissing suggestions that a gasoline tax could help cure America's addiction to oil, noting that “the market is nearly a diety in modern political discussion, and many leaders and citizens prostrate themselves before it.” Such rhetoric undermines opportunities to use markets to achieve politically favorable goals to serve human needs, concludes Gardner. 
 
GREEN GUIDANCE: THE HUMAN BENEFITS OF FORESTS

In this month's “Green Guidance,” Paul W. McRandle discusses ways that people can support the life-saving work of forests worldwide. Intact forests act as natural water-treatment plants and defense against disease outbreaks from Lyme disease to malaria. People can contribute to forest health by “adopting” a forest, buying sustainable wood products, and choosing wood substitutes such as bamboo flooring, recycled plastic outdoor furniture, and recycled decking and fencing.

ENVIRONMENTAL INTELLIGENCE: FEATURED TOPICS

Malaria Linked to Deforestation
Nutrients Declining in Food Supply
World Bank Backs Controversial Gold Mine
Electronics Recycling Law is First in U.S. to Bill Manufacturers
Wal-Mart to Source Fish "Sustainably"

MATTERS OF SCALE

Valuing the Earth

Average or typical cost, price, or value, in U.S. dollars per square meter, of:

Privately owned Brazilian virgin timberland                                                                                      $.005
New Mexico (U.S.A.) agricultural land                                                                                      $.05
Privately owned Costa Rican rainforest                                                                                      $.20
Kerala (India) agricultural land                                                                                                        $.78
Indonesian coral reefs                                                                                                             $1.00
New Jersey (U.S.A.) agricultural land                                                                                    $1.98
Prime Australia vineyard                                                                                                            $9.07
U.S. interstate highway                                                                                                                   $154.00
Standard Tokyo three-bedroom apartment                                                                             $5,066.67
Manhattan real estate, New York, U.S.A.                                                                           $10,821.60
Single-depth lakeside plot, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood,
California, U.S.A.                                                                                                   $62,857.14

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Sources: Cited values in, or Worldwatch estimates based on data in, the following (in order): Land and Farm, Inc. (www.landandfarm.com); U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service (New Mexico and New Jersey land values); Portfolio Costa Rica (www.portfoliocr.com); National Council of Applied Economic Research (New Delhi, India); Kilikanoon Wines/news; United Nations Environment Programme; U.S. Federal Highway Administration; Daily Times (Pakistan); Miller Samuel, Inc.; Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

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