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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/11/11

Harvey Wasserman on How We'll Survive and Win

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HARVEY WASSERMAN: But it won't be the be-all and the end-all, I mean, there will be a day after and then there will be all the questioning about Obama and there are still a lot of people that hold out hope for him.


HARVEY WASSERMAN: I don't see it but I'm sure he will start to angle to the left on certain issues towards the election to try and persuade the people that voted for him in 2008 to vote for him again in 2012 and many will but there's no way that he will get the activist wing and he doesn't win without the activist wing, I just don't see it, so we'll see what happens.

DAVID SWANSON: The other success story you were emailing about yesterday other than the nukes was solar and the idea of a Solartopia.


DAVID SWANSON: Can you describe what progress we've made?

HARVEY WASSERMAN: Well, when we first started fighting nukes back in the seventies, people said well what's your alternative and we said well it's renewables; is a wind, solar tile and all these wonderful things, which we knew about in the abstract but they really didn't exist very much. There was a wind business, there was a solar business but it was nowhere near cost competitive. What we were saying was if we took the money that you're going to put in the nukes and put it instead into solar we would get a solar industry and that did happen in part and now, almost 40 years later, we have reached a tipping point technologically and economically where it's no longer an abstract arguments say well if only we wouldn't build nukes we could someday have solar. Solar this year. It is cost effective. It is at the tipping point. If I'm a Daddy Warbucks capitalist and I'm standing with 10 billion dollars to build a commercial, for-profit facility to provide energy and make me money in the next 20 to 30 years, I'm actually going to do solar because that's where the money is at the technology has advanced and is clearly moving ahead so rapidly, exponentially actually, that we are now winning in the marketplace. I'm in the odd position on advocating for a free market in energy. I would remove all subsidies, including the subsidies to renewables if we can get rid of the subsidies for nukes and for fossil fuels or what I call in Solartopia King Kong, coal, oil, nukes and gas, so I came up with this idea, why actually what happened was in I think it was 2005 some friends of mine gave me the only grant I have ever gotten in all my activist career to write a book on the hydrogen economy because the hydrogen economy was going to be a really hot, or so we thought, and so I researched it for a month and I had to say Neil, it's not happening. Hydrogen is no different than electricity in a way. It's not an energy source, it's a medium of exchange for energy, but I had taken the grant and so I had to write a book and so I said okay what I'm going to do is I'm going to portray, I'm going to give a visual image of what the world will look like or could look like if we converted to renewables and so we were in an airplane and we looked down on Scandinavia and we see wind and solar and green roofs and would go all across the United States and see basically where all the solar facilities are and it's set in 2030 and people said all that's completely unrealistic. You're never going to have a completely solar, and I'm positive that also fossil and nuclear fuel facilities are gone, that we have eradicated them and it's nothing but renewables and people said that was not realistic, it's never going to happen.

Well, Scientific American, the international policy commission on climate change, everybody is now saying hey, 2030 is entirely doable for a completely renewable economy, that the technology is that far along and there is no reason to build any more fossil or nuclear generating stations including coal and so now it's a ho-hum situation where, all yeah, okay, we'll have a totally renewable economy by 2030 I picked 2030 because I thought that was kind of the outer limits of where we could survive if we continued with any kind of fossil or nuclear generating stations but now it's technologically in range and people say we can actually do it quicker and so this is a situation where our wishes came true an anybody looking for a future should go into the solar business. Wind is very hard to do. I love the wind business. I spent about seven years working to try and help make it happen when the company and if you're not a major corporation don't think about going in the wind business but photovoltaics that's where it's at. I believe that photovoltaics, actually the panels that convert sunlight into electricity will be the largest industry in the history of the human race. They will be bigger than the dot coms, bigger than the Internet, because every structure in the world, every vehicle in the world, every open industrial space like parking lots and brown fields, they will all be covered in solar panels. The technology has just exploded and that's the way we survive really. That is our survival mechanism and we're in that transition now, so is it a success story? Absolutely. Would it have happened without the antinuclear movement? No, it would not, because we prevented all those resources from going into all those nuclear plants that didn't get built and now we have to break the back of the nuclear power industry and make this transition accelerate so that we head off global warming and stop more Fukushimas from happening and we know what we have to do. I think we have the horses to do it frankly at this point in time and Obama is a big, big problem but we just have to make it happen and so a march on Washington against war will also include an aspect against nuclear. You know, I was invited for the first time, there was a big antiwar rally in New York City and it had a very large Muslim base.

DAVID SWANSON: This April 9th, right?

HARVEY WASSERMAN: Oh is that what it was? Yeah I think it was April 9th and they invited me to speak. It was the first time that they reached out to the antinuclear movement and it was very successful, very well received and a lot of people there from the movement against Indian Point, the reactor that's 35 miles north of Manhattan, so this happening and people understand the issue now and of course it's no accident that our wars are in the Middle East in the heart of the oil country and this has to change. For example, I'll tell you right now what's going to happen with transportation, or maybe it's a bit arrogant of me to make this prediction but I think most people in the business will understand what I'm saying. The entire use of gasoline for automobiles for transportation is going to end and is going to end of a lot more quickly than people think because the technology is very clear. Electric cars are much more efficient than gas-driven automobiles. If you're driving around in a vehicle that has a cooling system, as do all gas-driven automobiles and you've got a tremendous amount of waste just by definition, just like all the nuclear plants that have cooling towers; that's just a statement that hey we can't deal with this and we're wasting a very large percentage of the energy that were creating here. Electric cars are way more efficient. There's no cooling system. The big problem, of course, is shlepping around a battery, but that's on par in terms of weight with a cooling system and the radiators and so what's going to happen with transportation I think that mass transportation will come out much more strongly than it's been in the next couple decades but with the automobile, all automobiles will go electric. That was the original vision by the way, that Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, their vision of the automotive industry was every car would be electric and you would drive around and when you ran out of a charge you would call into a station and just switch out batteries which would take 30 seconds, and you watch Nascar. All the Nascar cars are going to be electric within 15 years and instead of pulling into the pits to refuel with gasoline, they're just going to switch out the batteries. You watch, that will happen. So with cars, presuming that people still drive cars, and I think there will be fewer because I do see a revival of mass transit, but everybody will have an electric car, your home will have photovoltaics and your parking lot will have photovoltaics and so you will drive the distance from home to wherever you're going to work at any rate and you'll be charging the car at home and then you'll sit in the parking lot and the parking lots will all be covered with photovoltaics. You know the critics of solar say all well you have to cover a land mass the size and Arizona. Well maybe, but, you know, the thousands of square miles of parking lots that we have in this country will all be covered with PV and sell your car will sit there all day, it will charge, and you may have enough charge in your car to come home and charge up your house as opposed to vice versa and that's how it'll be. It's very simple and very few people would disagree with that vision. It will be hugely expensive but imagine how much money we would not be paying and how many wars we would be having for gasoline.


HARVEY WASSERMAN: So, you know technologically we have there. All the basic elements are clearly visible for a solartopian totally green powered future. The task we have to do is to make the political transition.

DAVID SWANSON: Well this is the question that's been in my head since you've been describing this. It seems we're technologically there despite the resistance over the decades of our government, but are we politically there, I mean is it possible for the free market to overcome the corporatocracy of our so-called representative government; do we not have to overcome this regime that hands out the subsidies as well as fighting the wars for the fossil fuel industry if we are to succeed with this vision or are you suggesting that we can achieve this vision despite the resistance of Washington, DC?

HARVEY WASSERMAN: No, Solartopia is different from all the other sort of mechanical market-driven visions of getting to a green-powered earth. It's very political. We don't do this without mass movements and we don't do this without policy change and we don't do this without rising up the issue by issue and site by site and moment by moment with political action because in Solartopia the vision, there are four sort of mechanical things we do which is we shut down King Kong, we shut down coal, oil, nukes and gas and read the planet of all fossil and nuclear fuels. If we install this beautiful green solar-vision, PV-driven, wind-driven, ocean thermalgeo from all the technological stuff which we know is either there are coming quickly and in Solartopia by the way, I do not posit some magical breakthrough in 2015 or 2020 where everything is possible. This is all with tangible and clearly-evolving real technologies that are on their way and are somewhat market-driven, but its policy-driven too; and then of course, we have to eliminate all waste. People in this country, remarkably, we are technically a capitalist country and people are supposed to only do things for money, but millions and millions and millions of Americans just recycle every day, every week, and they put out their little blue or green bins and they're not paid to do it. I was on my street and people do it and it's just part of life now and so the problem is not the rear end. The problem is the front end. It should be illegal to produce anything in this country that can be 100% recycled and actually they do that in Germany and that will spread, and then finally all agriculture has to be organic. No more pesticides or chemical fertilizers.

That has got to stop, so that's the easy technical fix but the next step is political and there are four basic things that we have to do, and we don't survive if we don't do them and this has nothing to do with the market. It has entirely to do with political action and people rising up. The first thing we have to do is change the nature of the corporation. The number one problem, the big blood clot in our system is corporate personhood and the power of corporations, which has been with us essentially since the American civil war, 1870s, 80s and 90s, is when the corporations took hold and they have been in power ever since and it's a global phenomenon. It certainly started here with Standard Oil of New Jersey but corporations are not people, they don't have human rights, they must have human responsibilities. At the time of the American revolution there were six corporations in the United States and they were all state chartered and they were very restricted in the business they could do and they had other responsibilities in addition to making a profit.

You cannot run a planet that is survivable where the dominant economic institutions operate only on the profit motive and we have a situation where it's actually illegal for corporations to do anything but make profit. If a corporation is confronted, the management of a corporation is confronted with a situation where they can do the right thing for the planet that will lose money doing it they can be sued if they do the right thing for the planet and we can't have that structural situation in place and so the essential corporate charter, and they have to credit Richard Grossman and one of those, they are acronymically challenged, Committee On Corporations, Law And Democracy is sort of what it's been called, POCLAD, Project on Corporations, Law And Democracy, that's what it is, and they raise the issue. Richard wrote in a brilliant pamphlet of a couple decades ago I think, raised the issue of corporate charters and we have to look at that. The nature of the corporation is the core problem that we face and people say well, I say you have to start by changing the corporation, they roll their eyes and say it's not possible. It is possible. It has to be done. We don't survive if it's not done. The essential nature of the corporation has to change and that's the single largest and most important structural problem that we face as a species to survive on this planet. The profit motive will not allow us to continue to exist on this earth, and so that basically has to be done and it's the biggest and toughest and most important challenge we face and we will just have to do it.

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)
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