Happy Earth Day, from the Screw-The-Earth Capital of the World!

On this Earth Day two years ago, the So-Very-Rev. Sun-Myung Moon's Washington Times published my favorite editorial piece of all time. The hyperlink is dead, but I remember:

Today marks the 33rd annual celebration of Earth Day. It's an important day to mark, although it must be remembered that the reason for the holiday is not to save the Earth per se — as if anyone could preserve a vast rock that is billions of years old — but rather to remind citizens to be good stewards during their short span on it.
They went on to endorse the Bush plan to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. On Earth Day. Hilarious.

And also sad, because it basically sums up the current Washington line of thinking on the environment: the planet will still be here 1,000 years from now, so anything we do to it now is OK. People like me would prefer the planet still be able to, you know, support life. But apparently that doesn't fit in with the Repulicans' plan; I suppose they figure the Rapture will come way before that.

Thus, Earth Day 2005 sees another golden opinion piece from the TrueFather Times, this time about the Yucca Mountain controversy. For those of you unfamiliar, the government is trying to convince Nevadans that Yucca Mountain would be a good place to store radioactive nuclear waste. The nearby residents, as you might expect, are not so keen on the idea.

(Hey, I know: let's use Tom Davis' basement instead.)

The government's case has been somewhat jeopardized by e-mails sent between scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey, self-described on its website as "an unbiased science organization." For years, USGS scientists have been working on computer models to determine how much radiation escaping the dump site might end up being carried out by the underground water. It's a delicate subject, because too-high levels could wind up affecting life around the mountain in the years/decades/centuries to come. And sadly, not in the cool "Eeek! Giant ants!" way, but in the sad, cancer-causing-genetic-mutation way.

Wait did I say they were "working on" models? I meant "totally fucking making them up," as the e-mails seem to suggest. (QA = Quality Assurance, the people that check and verify the models.) (Link via this blog.)

  • "Science by peer pressure is dangerous but sometime it is necessary."
  • "The QA bullshit grows deeper. I may need to say that I did everything by hand for the data package I am submitting that you and [redacted] reviewed. The program I wrote is not in the system and QA will be all over it like flies on &%#$. All references to [redacted] are being deleted. Here’s my question: When we go to start QA’ing the site-scale modeling work, will I get taken to the cleaners because I am not referencing either a tech procedure or a scientific notebook?"
  • [In response to the above:] "What if you just download the raw files from [redacted] and say you used those? Do they need to know any more than that? You don’t really need to do an analysis just say this is the data I used. Maybe that would work."
  • [Replying:] "Not a bad idea. I am now considering it. Ideally, one would assume that the more information you proved QA, the better the QA. In reality, it seems that the opposite is true. At any rate, it’s a damn shame to be wasting time with this sort of thing."
  • “Model simulations have been in progress but about 3 weeks ago I found a small error in the model input that was generated using the [redacted] data. The error was minor but would have created a QA nightmare so this was fixed and the simulations are being re-done (I’ll send you a summary of the results when I get to this point). The input files are basically re-formatted [redacted] export files with a minor amount of parameter estimation occurring to fill small gaps in the record (even for the high ranking sites, there are gaps all over the place). Here’s the weird news; to get this milestone through QA, I must state that I have arbitrarily selected the analog sites. So for the record, seven analog sites have been arbitrarily (randomly) selected. Hopefully these sites will by coincidence match the sites you have identified. P.S. please destroy this memo."
  • "Dealing with this QA bullshit is really starting to make me sick."
  • "Don’t look at the last 4 lines. Those lines are a mystery that I believe somehow relate to the work [redacted] was doing in entering the 1994 data. These lines are not used by [redacted] (we stop at 9/30/94). I’ve deleted the lines from the 'official' QA version of the files (which do have headers). In the end I keep track of 2 sets of files, the ones that will keep QA happy and the ones that were actually used."
  • "There is of course, no scientific notebook for this work. All work is in the form of electronic files…. They may be expecting to see something that at least looks like a scientific notebook documenting work in progress. I can start making something up but then the [redacted] projects will need to go on hold."
  • "The programs, of course, are all already installed otherwise the [redacted] would not exist. I don’t have a clue when these programs were installed. So I’ve made up the dates and names (see red edits below). This is as good as its going to get. If they need more proof, I will be happy to make up more stuff, as long as its not a video recording of the software being installed."
WOW. I love it... "Please destroy this memo!" Ooooops. USGS' headquarters, by the way, is in Motherfucking Reston, down the street from where I worked for most of '04. So at least they have some nice landscaping to look at while they fudge results and doom the ecosystem.

Back to the Times, where Joshua Gilder, a "visiting fellow" at the "Lexington Institute" (yet another player in Washington's massive bullshit industry), predictably says, "don't worry about that."

In order to obtain licensing from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, scientists will likely be required to demonstrate that the repository will pose no health risks for the next 10,000 years.

Give that one a moment to seep in.

Ten thousand years ago was the beginning of the Mesolithic era, when the Ice Age was ending, Great Britain became an island, and human beings started to take up agriculture. If Yucca is still a problem in 10,000 years, it will only be because our civilization has completely collapsed and we've all reverted back to the Stone Age.
Like I said, that's basically the best argument they can come up with. Ten thousand years from now it will be somebody else's problem. Or maybe civilization will have collapsed. Or, maybe civilization won't have collapsed, and we'll have fucked up an entire region of Nevada so badly that nothing will be able to live there. Races of futuristic apes will call it the Forbidden Zone, and a time-displaced Charlton Heston will happen upon an underground race of humans who worship the nuclear material, which he will then explode to destroy the planet once and for all. (Or am I confusing reality with the Planet of the Apes series again?)

Nevertheless, the models currently estimate that nearby residents will receive little to no radiation from Yucca in the next 10,000 years. Three hundred thousand years from now, nearby residents might receive an additional 260 millirem per year, assuming earth hasn't been demolished by an asteroid by then.
Hey, maybe Earth was destroyed because the asteroid hit our nuclear waste dump!

The point is: This is not a problem that will go away in a few centuries or even a few millenia; the radiation will hang around and just get worse in the long term. If we screw up Yucca Mountain, we've screwed it up for good. It looks like the government has to once again fake its "sound science" in order to make its case, and that calls everything into question.

But even with evidence that the tests were faked, the Times still finds a way to back the government. Which, after all, is why we have a Washington Times. A despicable, batshit-crazy cult leader makes himself into a respected media figure; all he has to do is parrot the Republican agenda, no matter what the cost to the public good, and everybody looks the other way.

This could only happen here.

Happy Earth Day.

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