Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

Police in Iraq kill heat-stressed protesters

In A/C news on June 20, 2010 at 8:20 am

Extreme heat and lack electricity to run air-conditioning or fans has driven people into the streets of Basra, in southern Iraq, reports the Los Angeles Times:

Iraqis are sweating and grumbling through their eighth consecutive season of scorching heat since the U.S. invasion with only a few hours of electricity every day — and, now, without a new government to resolve the inexplicably chronic problem.

Without fans or air conditioning, sleep becomes an impossible, sweat-drenched dream. Water, stored in rooftop tanks that soak up the sun, runs hot through the taps, if it runs at all. And as the temperature soars well into triple figures, tempers also are rising.

On June 18, according to the paper, police shot into a group of protesters, killing two and injuring 4:

Those frustrations erupted violently Saturday on the streets of the southern city of Basra. As people protesting prolonged electricity outages pelted the provincial government headquarters with rocks, police opened fire to disperse them, killing two and injuring four.

Meanwhile, as I argued on the CounterPunch site this spring,  America’s military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have been the most thoroughly air-conditioned wars in history. One place where there has never a shortage of air-conditioning power is in the torture-chambers:

The US Army Field Manual, last updated in 2006, forbids “inducing hypothermia” as a means of torture. But a secret 2007 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), leaked in 2009, scrutinized the treatment of “high value detainees” held by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and it shows that the CIA did not recognize the military’s restrictions as valid. ICRC charged, “Detainees frequently reported that they were held for their initial months of detention in cells which were kept extremely cold, usually at the same time as being kept forcibly naked. The actual interrogation room was often reported to be kept cold.”

Overchilling was thought to enhance the effects of other “enhanced techniques” such as waterboarding. From 2002 through 2008, as first-hand accounts of detainees’ treatment trickled out of Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Guantanamo, and other less well-publicized scenes of horror, the over-chilling of cells and interrogation rooms was repeatedly employed as a technique of “persuasion.”


Natural gas: “twice as clean” as coal?

In A/C news on June 8, 2010 at 7:19 am

The American Natural Gas Alliance has been celebrating the opening of air-conditioning season with hilarious TV commercials announcing that natural gas is “twice as clean as coal.” That is like saying “a bacon cheeseburger is twice as good for your heart as a double bacon cheeseburger.”  In producing a kilowatt of electricity, gas generates 55 percent as much carbon dioxide as coal, and unburned methane (the chief component of gas) is a potent greenhouse gas. Currently, methane leaking along with oil from BP’s Gulf geyser is helping atomize the leaked oil, which then feeds bacteria, creating an oxygen-depleted “dead zone” in the surrounding ocean.

When air-conditioning units are running hard across the country on hot summer days, electric utilities rely largely on gas-fired plants  to meet the huge peak power demand. And mining the gas to meet that demand is a dirty business.

The nonproft news organization ProPublica and other news groups have documented the environmental consequences of drilling for natural gas. They count more than a thousand cases of contamination that have been reported by courts and state and local governments in Colorado, New Mexico, Alabama, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Drilling activities allow gas and chemicals to seep into groundwater. Additional contamination occurs aboveground, writes ProPublica’s Abraham Lustgarten, “where accidental spills and leaky tanks, trucks and waste pits allowed benzene and other chemicals to leach into streams, springs and water wells.” However, he continues, “the precise nature and concentrations of the chemicals used by industry are considered trade secrets. Not even the EPA knows exactly   what’s in the drilling fuids. And that, EPA scientists say, makes it impossible to vouch for the safety of the drilling process or precisely track its effects.”

The key innovation being employed to tap newly accessible gas reserves is hydraulic fracturing. In that process, water laced with sand, clay, and chemical additives (known as fracturing fuids) is pumped deep underground to create fssures in the rock and free trapped gas. Most of the polluted water returns to the surface and must be handled as waste. Despite corporate secrecy, some federal, state, and private investigators have managed to identify hundreds of compounds used in fracturing fuids, and many are toxic. Some—including benzene, formaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane, ethylene dioxide, and nickel sulfate—are confirmed carcinogens. Gas companies have enjoyed a slack environmental leash since the 2005 Energy Policy Act exempted them from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Water Pollution Control Act; therefore, people living near new or proposed gas-drilling operations receive even less protection than do people who have other kinds of polluters in their neighborhoods.

Drilling in shale can consume hundreds of times more water per well than does drilling in traditional gas felds. In Pennsylvania, which shares the Marcellus formation with four other states, drilling into shale reserves is expected to generate 19 million gallons of waste water daily by 2011, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.