Rachel's Democracy & Health News #850
Thursday, April 13, 2006
From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #850 ..........[This story printer-friendly]
April 13, 2006
WHAT IS PUBLIC HEALTH AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?
[Rachel's introduction: By adopting a "public health perspective" we could all find many new allies, connect our favorite issues with other people's favorite issues, and thus build a stronger, multi- issue movement to champion environment, health, democracy, and justice.]
By Peter Montague
I'll define public health in a minute. But first, "Why does public health matter?"
Public health matters because
** Many of us are spending our lives working on public health problems without necessarily recognizing that that's what we're doing.
When we worry about mercury in fish, the effects of diesel exhaust on asthma, lead paint in housing, schools built on toxic waste dumps, or workers getting leukemia from benzene -- we are worrying about the same kinds of problems that public health workers have been tackling since about 1850. Long before there was an Environmental Protection Agency (created in 1970), public health workers have been trying to make the environment (broadly defined) safer for humans.
** Remarkably, most of us are working on public health problems without building any bridges to the public health professionals and institutions that have been focused on related "environment and health" problems since 1850 or, in some cases earlier. (Baltimore established its public health department in 1798). As a result, we are not supporting the public health system, which definitely needs our help -- and we are failing to connect with a group of powerful allies who could help us advocate for our issues.
** We could all benefit from adopting the "public health perspective" -- which openly acknowledges that three environments influence human health: the natural, the built, and the social. Public health workers acknowledge that human health is powerfully influenced by water and air (nature) and by asbestos and diesel fumes (the built environment), but they also acknowledge the powerful influences of low income, social isolation, pyramids of status, poor education, stressful jobs, depression, and the sense that one's life is out of control.
By adopting a "public health perspective" we could all find numerous new allies, connect our favorite issues with other people's favorite issues, and thus build a stronger, multi-issue movement to champion environment, health, democracy, and justice. This is not as far- fetched as it may sound to some who have grown cynical or despondent about the possibilities for social change. Hear me out.
** Finally, public health matters because the main idea propelling public health practice has always been prevention. Thus a modern precautionary (preventive) approach to environmental protection is entirely consistent with the historical mission of public health, which can be summarized succinctly as "prevention."
Why is prevention important? Because, as Ronald Wright says in his important little book, A Short History of Progress, "Like all creatures, humans have made their way in the world so far by trial and error; unlike other creatures, we have a presence so colossal that error is a luxury we can no longer afford. The world has grown too small to forgive us any big mistakes."
So prevention is more important than ever before, prevention has always been the basis of public health practice, and now -- with the advent of the precautionary principle -- prevention is becoming the basis of modern environmental protection.
In sum, the precautionary approach to "environmental health" problems can be informed and energized by many aspects of public health practice, and the public health system could be revitalized and given new purpose by joining forces with environmental health advocates.
So what is public health?
In Chapter 1 of his graduate-level textbook, Public Health, What It Is and How It Works -- now in its third edition -- Bernard Turnock offers several "visions" of public health that various people share:
** It is literally the health of the public -- our success at curbing infectious diseases (diphtheria, polio) and our less-successful efforts to eliminate chronic disorders (cancer, diabetes, depression), and to foster good health through exercise, nutrition, decent workplaces and friendly neighborhoods.
** It is the professionals who staff public health departments -- who offer flu vaccines, make sure restaurants meet minimum health standards, try to minimize lead poisoning among children, staff clinics screening for AIDs, discourage smoking, and so on.
** Public health is the body of knowledge and techniques used by public health workers -- the laboratories for making vaccines; the systems for collecting and analyzing data on rates of disease and death; the brochures that emphasize for school children the importance of washing their hands. and so on.
** The government services that aim to give everyone access to basic medical care -- emergency rooms, nurses who make home visits, food supplements for low-income families with children, clinics offering prenatal care, and so on.
But most importantly, says Turnock, public health is
** "A broad social enterprise, more akin to a movement, that seeks to extend the benefits of current knowledge in ways that will have the maximum impact on the health status of a population. It does so by identifying problems that call for collective action to protect, promote, and improve health, primarily through preventive strategies."
Turnock goes on: "This public health is unique in its interdisciplinary approach and methods, its emphasis on preventive strategies, its linkage with government and political decision making, and its dynamic adaptation to new problems placed on its agenda."
And, he says, "Above all else, it is a collective effort to identify and address the unacceptable realities that result in preventable and avoidable health and quality of life outcomes, and it is the composite of efforts and activities that are carried out by people and organizations committed to these ends."
Turnock then examines three famous definitions of public health. Here we find good reasons for locating "environmental health" and "chemicals-and-health" in the mainstream of public health thinking.
The first definition was provided in 1988 by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), which is one of the nation's prestigious National Academies. In its study, The Future of Public Health, the IOM defined the mission of public health as
"Fulfilling society's interest in assuring conditions in which people can be healthy."
Obviously, within that definition, you can easily locate "mercury in tuna," or "toxicants in baby toys" or "lead in paint" but you can also find "school lunch" and "livable wages" and "decent working conditions." If society has an interest in "assuring" "conditions in which people can be healthy," than public health is a broad social movement indeed -- much broader, in fact, than "chemicals and health" or "environmental health." Are you seeing the possibilities here?
Turnock comments on the IOM definition of public health: "This definition directs our attention to the many conditions that influence health and wellness, underscoring the broad scope of public health and legitimizing its interest in social, economic, political, and medical care factors that affect health and illness."
He goes on, "The definition's premise that society has an interest in the health of its members implies that improving conditions and health status for others is acting in our own self-interest. The assertion that improving the health status of others provides benefits to all is a core value of public health."
Another enduring definition of public health -- widely accepted and quoted today -- was published 85 years ago, in 1920, by C.E.A. Winslow.
"... the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health and efficiency through organized community effort for the sanitation of the environment, the control of communicable infections, the education of the individual in personal hygiene, the organization of medical and nursing services for the early diagnosis and preventive treatment of disease, and for the development of the social machinery to insure everyone a standard of living adequate for the maintenance of health, so organizing these benefits as to enable every citizen to realize his birthright of health and longevity."
Turnock comments on Winslow's definition: "The phrases, 'science and art," 'organized community effort," and 'birthright of health and longevity' capture the substance and aims of public health.... His allusion to the 'social machinery necessary to insure everyone a standard of living adequate for the maintenance of health' speaks to the relationship between social conditions and health in all societies," says Turnock.
Turnock then offers a third simple definition of public health:
"If public health professionals were pressed to provide a one word synonym for public health, the most frequent response would probably be prevention. In general, prevention characterizes actions that are taken to reduce the possibility that something [bad] will happen or in hopes of minimizing the damage that may occur if it does happen."
Here we can see the connection between public health and what I call "modern environmental protection," which I believe is based on the precautionary approach -- the approach that aims to prevent harm rather than justify harm after the fact using numerical risk assessment or other means. At their core, the precautionary approach and the public health approach are one and the same.
Those who have begun to adopt a precautionary approach will almost certainly feel a strong connection to the central purpose, the history, and the philosophy of public health. And, one hopes, the public health community can begin to recognize that the environmental health advocacy movement represents a huge untapped wellspring of energy, resources, and talent that could "go to bat" for public health, to restore and rebuild the budgets and the infrastructure of our public health institutions.
Because it is prevention oriented, public health does not always have a strong, vocal constituency, calling on decision makers to maintain its staff, its facilities and equipment, its capacity to prevent disease and injury. You can imagine a rally to "Get toxic chemicals out of baby toys" -- but it is harder to imagine a candlelight vigil attracting all the people who have not gotten diphtheria as a result of public health advances of the last 50 years.
As Turnock points out, the largest number of beneficiaries of public health can never show up at a public hearing and can never write a letter to the editor praising their health department because they have not yet been born. The public health movement is constantly working to make sure the world our children inherit is a decent place. But often theirs is a thankless job.
Still, prevention is a highly-regarded purpose of public health. Turnock reports polls showing that
* 91 percent of all adults believe that prevention of the spread of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, measles, flu, and AIDS is very important
* 88 percent also believe that conducting research into the causes and prevention of disease is very important
* 87 percent believe that immunization to prevent diseases is very important
* 86 percent believe that ensuring that people are not exposed to unsafe water, air pollution, or toxic waste is very important
* 85 percent believe that it is very important to work to reduce death and injuries from violence
The Basis of Public Health Practice is Social Justice
Importantly, public health has been built on a solid philosophical foundation of fairness and social justice. Thus a "justice perspective" is built into public health, and this provides a natural bridge to "environmental justice."
As Turnock says,
"It is vital to recognize the social justice orientation of public health and even more critical to understand the potential for conflict and confrontation that it generates. Social justice is said to be the foundation of public health. The concept first emerged around 1848, a time that might be considered the birth of modern public health.
"Justice is an abstract concept that determines how each member of a society is allocated his or her fair share of collective burdens and benefits. Societal benefits to be distributed may include happiness, income, or social status. Burdens include restrictions of individual action and taxation. Justice dictates that there is fairness in the distribution of benefits and burdens; injustices occur when persons are denied some benefit to which they are entitled or when some burden is imposed unduly.
"If access to health services, or even health itself, is considered to be a societal benefit (or if poor health is considered to be a burden), the links between the concepts of justice and public health become clear."
Turnock then makes a statement that I believe is extremely important for the environmental health movement to consider:
"Extending the frontiers of science and knowledge may not be as useful for improving public health as shifting the collective values of our society to act on what we already know."
Shifting the collective values of society to act on what we already know.
Think about that. It tells us that our goal is not to pass one law or another or enforce one regulation or another (though those might be secondary results of our work). Our primary goal could be -- and arguably should be -- to shift the values of society... to what?
Perhaps to these basic goals:
** To make it repugnant and unthinkable to harm public health or nature any more than is minimally necessary to achieve our human purposes;
** To make it repugnant and unthinkable to deprive anyone of liberty, equality, or democracy any more than is minimally necessary to achieve our human purposes.
Achieving these broad goals would require deep cultural shifts toward the acknowledgment of limits, the value of sharing, and the essential modern requirement for prevention.
In his important essay, "Public Health as Social Justice," Dan Beauchamp makes this stunning point:
"The critical barrier to dramatic reduction in death and disability is a social ethic that unfairly protects the most numerous or the most powerful from the burdens of prevention. This is the issue of justice."
In other words
** Injustice stems from our failure to prevent harm, our failure to take precautionary action.
** Failure to prevent harm occurs because prevention might inconvenience some powerful group (powerful with votes, or powerful with money). Public health -- like environmental justice -- calls us to take collective action to overcome the resistance of the powerful.
So that's why public health matters, and that's what it's about.
 In his 1850 Report [to the Massachusetts Legislature] of a General Plan for the Promotion of Public and Personal Health, Lemuel Shattuck defined public health this way:
"The condition of perfect public health requires such laws and regulations, as will secure to man associated in society, the same sanitary enjoyments that he would have as an isolated individuals; and as will protect him from injury from any influences connected with his locality, his dwelling-house, his occupation, or those of his associates or neighbors, or from any other social causes."
Mr. Shattuck went on to highlight the main idea that has motivated and undergirded public health from 1850 to the present day: prevention: "We believe that the conditions of perfect health, either public or personal, are seldom or never attained, though attainable; -- that the everage length of human life may be very much extended; and its physical power greatly augmented; -- that in every year, within this Commonwealth [of Massachusetts], thousands of lives are lost which might have been saved; -- that tens of thousands of cases of sickness occur, which might have been prevented; -- that a vast amount of unnecessarily impaired health, and physical debility exists among those not actually confined by sickness; -- that these preventable evils require an enormous expenditure and loss of money, and impose upon the people unnumbered and immeasurable calamities, pecuniary, social, physical, mental, and moral, which might be avoided; -- the means exist, within our reach, for their mitigation or removal; -- and that measures for prevention will effect infinitely more, than remedies for the cure of disease." (pg. 10)
 C.E.A. Winslow, "The untilled field of public health," Modern Medicine Vol. 2 (1920), pgs. 183-191.
From: United Farm Workers Of America, AFL-CIO ............[This story printer-friendly]
March 15, 1989
WHAT IS THE WORTH OF A MAN OR A WOMAN?
[Rachel's introduction: Most of our food is harvested by migrant workers who are exposed to extremely dangerous conditions on the job and who are paid a pittance. In a memorable speech in 1989, Cesar Chavez asked, "What is the worth of a man or a woman? What is the worth of a farm worker? How do you measure the value of a life?"]
By Cesar Chavez
What is the worth of a man or a woman? What is the worth of a farm worker? How do you measure the value of a life?
Ask the parents of Johnnie Rodriguez.
Johnnie Rodriguez was not even a man; Johnnie was a five year old boy when he died after a painful two year battle against cancer.
His parents, Juan and Elia, are farm workers. Like all grape workers, they are exposed to pesticides and other agricultural chemicals. Elia worked in the table grapes around Delano, California until she was eight months pregnant with Johnnie.
Juan and Elia cannot say for certain if pesticides caused their son's cancer. But neuroblastoma is one of the cancers found in McFarland, a small farm town only a few miles from Delano, where the Rodriguezes live.
"Pesticides are always in the fields and around the towns," Johnnie's father told us. "The children get the chemicals when they play outside, drink the water or when they hug you after you come home from working in fields that are sprayed.
"Once your son has cancer, it's pretty hard to take," Juan Rodriguez says. "You hope it's a mistake, you pray. He was a real nice boy. He took it strong and lived as long as he could."
I keep a picture of Johnnie Rodriguez. He is sitting on his bed, hugging his Teddy bears. His sad eyes and cherubic face stare out at you. The photo was taken four days before he died.
Johnnie Rodriguez was one of 13 McFarland children diagnosed with cancer in recent years; and one of six who have died from the disease. With only 6,000 residents, the rate of cancer in McFarland is 400 percent above normal.
In McFarland and in Fowler childhood cancer cases are being reported in excess of expected rates. In Delano and other farming towns, questions are also being raised.
The chief source of carcinogens in these communities are pesticides from the vineyards and fields that encircle them. Health experts believe the high rate of cancer in McFarland is from pesticides and nitrate-containing fertilizers leaching into the water system from surrounding fields.
Last year California's Republican Governor, George Deukmejian, killed a modest study to find out why so many children are dying of cancer in McFarland. "Fiscal integrity" was the reason he gave for his veto of the $125,000 program, which could have helped 84 other rural communities with drinking water problems.
Last year, as support for our cause grew, Governor Deukmejian used a statewide radio broadcast to attack the grape boycott.
There is no evidence to prove that pesticides on grapes and other produce endanger farm workers or consumers, Deukmejian claimed.
Ask the family of Felipe Franco.
Felipe is a bright seven year old who is learning to read and write.
Like other children, Felipe will some day need to be independent. But Felipe is not like other children: he was born without arms and legs.
Felipe's mother, Ramona, worked in the grapes near Delano until she was in her eighth month of pregnancy. She was exposed to Captan, known to cause birth defects and one of the pesticides our grape boycott seeks to ban.
"Every morning when I began working I could smell and see pesticides on the grape leaves," Ramona said.
Like many farm workers, she was assured by growers and their foremen how the pesticides that surrounded her were safe, that they were harmless "medicine" for the plants.
Only after Ramona took her son to specialists in Los Angeles was she told that the pesticides she was exposed to in the vineyards caused Felipe's deformity. The deep sadness she feels has subsided, but not the anger.
Felipe feels neither anger nor sadness. He is lavished with the care and love he will always need. And he dreams of what only a child can hope for: Felipe wants to grow arms and legs. "He believes he will have his limbs someday," his mother says. "His great dream is to be able to move around, to walk, to take care of himself."
Our critics sometimes ask, 'why should the United Farm Workers worry about pesticides when farm workers have so many other more obvious problems?'
The wealth and plenty of California agribusiness are built atop the suffering of generations of California farm workers. Farm labor history across America is one shameful tale after another of hardship and exploitation.
Malnutrition among migrant children. Tuberculosis, pneumonia and respiratory infections. Average life expectancy more than twenty years below the U.S. norm.
Savage living conditions. Miserable wages and working conditions. Sexual harassment of women workers. Widespread child labor. Inferior schools or no school at all.
When farm workers organize against these injustices they are met with brutality and coercion-and death.
Under Governor Deukmejian's control, California's pioneering 1975 law which guarantees farm workers the right to organize and vote in secret ballot union elections is now just one more tool growers use to oppress our people.
Thousands who thought the law protected them were threatened and fired and beaten by the growers; two were murdered -- shot to death by gunmen their employers had hired.
For 100 years succeeding waves of immigrants have sweated and sacrificed to make this industry rich. And for their sweat and for their sacrifice, farm workers have been repaid with humiliation and contempt.
With all these problems, why, then, do we dwell so on the perils of pesticides?
Because there is something even more important to farm workers than the benefits unionization brings.
Because there is something more important to the farm workers' union than winning better wages and working conditions.
That is protecting farm workers -- and consumers -- from systematic poisoning through the reckless use of agricultural toxics.
There is nothing we care more about than the lives and safety of our families.
There is nothing we share more deeply in common with the consumers of North America than the safety of the food all of us rely upon.
We are proud to be a part of the House of Labor.
Collective bargaining is the traditional way American workers have escaped poverty and improved their standard of living. It is the way farm workers will also empower themselves.
But the U.F.W. has always had to be something more than a union.
Because our people are so poor. Because the color of our skin is dark. Because we often don't speak the language. Because the discrimination, the racism and the social dilemmas we confront transcend mere economic need.
What good does it do to achieve the blessings of collective bargaining and make economic progress for people when their health is destroyed in the process?
If we ignored pesticide poisoning -- if we looked on as farm workers and their children are stricken -- then all the other injustices our people face would be compounded by an even more deadly tyranny.
But ignore that final injustice is what our opponents would have us do.
'Don't worry," the growers say.
'The U.F.W. misleads the public about dangers pesticides pose to farm workers," the Table Grape Commission says. 'Governor Deukmejian's pesticide safety system protects workers," the Farm Bureau proclaims.
Ask the family of Juan Chabolla.
Juan Chabolla collapsed after working in a field sprayed only an hour before with Monitor, a deadly pesticide.
But instead of rushing Juan to a nearby hospital, the grower drove him 45 miles across the U.S.-Mexico border and left him in a Tijuana clinic. He was dead on arrival.
Juan, 32, left his wife and four young children in their impoverished clapboard shack in Maneadero, Mexico.
Just after Juan Chabolla died, Governor Deukmejian vetoed a modest bill, strongly opposed by agribusiness, that would have required growers to post warning signs in fields where dangerous pesticides are applied.
One billion pounds of pesticides are applied each year in the United States -- 79 percent of them in agriculture; 250 million pounds go on crops in California; in 1986, 10 million pounds went on grapes.
And that 10 million pounds on grapes only covers restricted use pesticides, where permits are required and use is reported. Many other potentially dangerous chemicals are used that don't have to be disclosed.
Grapes is the largest fruit crop in California. It receives more restricted use pesticides than any fresh food crop.
About one-third of grape pesticides are known carcinogens -- like the chemicals that may have afflicted Johnnie Rodriguez; others are teratogens -- birth defect-producing pesticides -- that doctors think deformed Felipe Franco.
Pesticides cause acute poisoning -- of the kind that killed Juan Chabolla -- and chronic, long-term effects such as we're seeing in communities like McFarland.
More than half of all acute pesticide-related illnesses reported in California involve grape production.
In 1987 and '88, entire crews of grape workers -- hundreds of people -- were poisoned after entering vineyards containing toxic residues.
In all those episodes, the grapes had been sprayed weeks before. All the legal requirements were followed. The vineyards were thought to be "safe."
But farm workers were still poisoned.
Illegal use of pesticides is also commonplace.
Grape growers have been illegally using Fixx, a growth enhancer, for 20 years. Another illegal pesticide, Acephate, which causes tumors, has also been used on grapes.
Over 2,000 consumers were poisoned in 1984 after eating watermelons illegally sprayed with Aldicarb.
And these are only cases where growers were caught applying illegal chemicals.
Farm workers and their families are exposed to pesticides from the crops they work. The soil the crops are grown in. Drift from sprays applied to adjoining fields -- and often to the very field where they are working.
The fields that surround their homes are heavily and repeatedly sprayed. Pesticides pollute irrigation water and groundwater.
Children are still a big part of the labor force. Or they are taken to the fields by their parents because there is no child care.
Pregnant women labor in the fields to help support their families. Toxic exposure begins at a very young age -- often in the womb.
What does acute pesticide poisoning produce?
Eye and respiratory irritations. Skin rashes. Systemic poisoning.
What are the chronic effects of pesticide poisoning on people, including farm workers and their children, according to scientific studies?
Birth defects. Sterility. Still births. Miscarriages. Neurological and neuropsychological effects. Effects on child growth and development.
Use of pesticides are governed by strict laws, agribusiness says. Growers argue reported poisonings involved only one (1) percent of California farm workers in 1986.
But experts estimate that only one (1) percent of California pesticide illness or injury is reported. The underreporting of pesticide poisoning is flagrant and it is epidemic.
A World Resources Institute study says 300,000 farm workers are poisoned each year by pesticides in the United States.
Even the state Department of Food and Agriculture reported total pesticide poisoning of farm workers rose by 41 percent in 1987.
Yet the Farm Workers aren't sincere when we raise the pesticide issue, grape growers complain.
They won't admit that the first ban on DDT, Aldrin and Dieldrin in the United States was not by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1972, but in a United Farm Workers contract with a grape grower in 1967.
Who will protect farm workers from poisoning if it isn't the farm workers' union?
The Environmental Protection Agency won't do it.
They're in bed with the same agricultural and chemical interests they are supposed to regulate.
It was an accident of history that E.P.A. got stuck with regulating pesticides. It happened after the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration -- which is supposed to safeguard all American working people -- refused to protect farm workers.
The law won't do it.
Agribusiness lobbied mightily to exclude farm workers from federal job safety and health laws. And they won.
You think the National Rifle Association wields a powerful lobby? They're pussy cats compared to organizations that lobby for agribusiness when it comes to protecting their interests.
Too many people still think of small family farmers -- an image corporate agribusiness likes to promote. The American Medical Association tries to do the same thing; except most people don't believe doctors still make house calls. But we all know what farming is today in states like
California: a $14 billion a year industry dominated by huge corporations -- the state's richest industry.
There has never been a law at the state or national levels that has ever been enforced for farm workers and against growers: child labor, minimum wage and hour, occupational health and safety, agricultural labor relations.
Now will agribusiness protect farm workers from pesticides?
The agrichemical industry won't do it.
It's out to maximize profits. Using smaller amounts of safer chemicals more wisely is not in the interest of chemical companies and agribusiness groups like the Farm Bureau that have heavy financial stakes in maintaining pesticide use.
There is nothing is wrong with pesticides, they claim; the blame rests with abuse and misuse of pesticides.
It's like the N.R.A. saying, 'guns don't kill people, people kill people."
Universities won't do it.
America's colleges and universities are the best research facilities in the world. But farm workers are of the wrong color; they don't speak the right language; and they're poor.
The University of California, and other land grant colleges spend millions of dollars developing agricultural mechanization and farm chemicals. Although we're all affected in the end, researchers won't deal with the inherent toxicity or chronic effects of their creations.
Protecting farm workers and consumers is not their concern.
Doctors won't do it.
Most physicians farm workers see won't even admit their patients' problems are caused by pesticides. They usually blame symptoms on skin rashes and heat stroke.
Doctors don't know much about pesticides; the signs and symptoms of acute pesticide poisoning are similar to other illnesses.
Doctors who work for growers or physicians with close ties to rural communities won't take a stand.
Two years ago in Tulare County, California 120 orange grove workers at LaBue ranch suffered the largest skin poisoning every reported. The grower had changed the formulation of a pesticide, Omite CR, to make it stick to the leaves better. It did.
It also stuck better to the workers. Later they discovered the reentry delay had to be extended from seven to 42 days.
After the poisoning, the company doctor said workers should just change clothes and return to work. When we demanded the workers be removed from exposure, the doctor replied, "Do you know how much that would cost?"
Workers endure skin irritations and rashes that none of us would tolerate. They continue to work because they desperately need the money. They don't complain out of fear of losing their jobs.
Farm workers aren't told when pesticides are used. They have no health insurance. They are cheated out of workers compensation benefits by disappearing labor contractors or foremen who intimidate people into not filing claims.
In the old days, miners would carry birds with them to warn against poison gas. Hopefully, the birds would die before the miners.
Farm workers are society's canaries.
Farm workers -- and their children -- demonstrate the effects of pesticide poisoning before anyone else.
But the unrestrained use of agricultural chemicals is like playing Russian Roulette with the health of both farm workers and consumers. So much of so many pesticides are used and so little is known about them.
There are 600 active ingredient pesticides used in agriculture; they to into thousands of pesticide products.
Of the 600 farm pesticides, 496 can leave residues on or in food.
Only 316 of the 496 pesticides that leave residues on food have maximum legal tolerance levels set by the E.P.A. saying how much of these pesticides can be in what we eat.
Of the 316 pesticides with tolerance levels, only 41 percent can be detected by the most common and widely used tests.
Two hundred and ninety-three (293) pesticides that could leave residues on food cannot be detected by any current test that checks for more than one chemical at a time. Many can't be detected by any test at all.
Forty-four (44) percent of the pesticides used on grapes that pose potential health hazards to humans can't be detected by tests used to check for toxic residues.
A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences concludes that pesticides in 15 commonly eaten foods, including grapes, pose the greatest pesticide-caused dietary cancer risk to people.
Many pesticides used on food -- that have government tolerance levels -- can cause cancer in human beings.
Almost all tolerance levels of pesticides in food were set by the federal government without adequate testing for potential harmful health effects on consumers.
Some safety studies on these pesticides were conducted by an Illinois laboratory that was closed after it was found to be reporting fraudulent data to the E.P.A. Two of its toxicologists are in jail.
The U.S. General Accounting Office estimates that it will take E.P.A. until well into the 21st century to ensure all pesticides now on the market meet current health and safety standards.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration takes an average of 18 days to test food for pesticide residues. Before test results are available, the food has been marketed and consumed.
Most pesticides were approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the 1940s and '50s. Little or no testing for chronic health effects was required.
Not long ago the Delaney Amendment, passed by Congress, banned any food additive known to cause cancer in animals or humans. That ban applies to everything -- except farm pesticides.
The agrichemical industry convinced Congress that pesticides which cause cancer are not really food additives since they are added to food before it is harvested.
In 1978, E.P.A. allowed new chemicals to be registered conditionally without complete testing for chronic health effects. Testing on half of all new pesticides registered between 1978 and 1984 did not meet current health and safety testing standards.
All this means that we do not know if pesticide residues on the food you buy in supermarkets cause cancer, birth defects, and other tragedies.
And E.P.A. -- charged with protecting America's land and people from toxic contamination -- has made no effort to encourage the use of safer alternatives to toxic pesticides.
The chemical companies have convinced the growers -- and they want you to believe -- that if it wasn't for them, the whole world would be dead of malaria and starvation.
But, brothers and sisters, pesticides haven't worked.
Crop loss to pests is as great or greater than it was 40 years ago. The pesticides haven't changed anything.
Because Darwinian evolution has favored pests of all kinds with this enormous ability to resist and survive.
It's why antibiotics stop working after awhile. If you don't kill everything, the organisms that survive are tougher and more resistant; and they're the ones that breed.
There are mosquitos in parts of the world that can survive any combination of pesticides delivered in any dose. There is a startling resurgence of malaria around the world. And it's much worse now because 40 years ago we relied entirely on a chemical solution.
So we ignored alternatives: draining ponds, dredging ditches, observing sound crop practices, encouraging use of natural predators.
In the long run, more lives will be lost because for 30 years we also stopped developing malaria vaccines.
You can't fool Mother Nature. Insects can outfox anything we throw at them. In time, they will overcome.
People thought pesticides were the cure-all -- the key to an abundance of food. They thought pesticides were the solution; but they were the problem.
The problem is this mammoth agribusiness system. The problem are the huge farms. The problem is the pressure on the land from developers. The problem is not allowing the land to lay fallow and recover. The problem is the abandonment of cultural practices that have stood the test of centuries: crop rotation, diversification of crops.
The problem is monoculture -- growing acres and acres of the same crop; disrupting the natural order of things; letting insects feast on acres and acres of a harem of delight... and using pesticides that kill off their natural predators.
Meantime, these greedy chemical companies, multi-national corporations, try to sanctify their poisons. They would have us believe they are the health givers -- that because of them people are not dying of malaria and starvation.
When all the time, they just want to defend their investments. They just want to protect their profits. They don't want anything to change.
The chemical companies believe in the Domino Theory: if any chemical is attacked then all chemicals are threatened. No matter how dangerous it is.
It's a lot like that saying from the Vietnam War: we had to destroy the village in order to save it.
They have to poison us in order to save us.
But at what cost?
The lives of farm workers and their children who are suffering?
The lives of consumers who could reap the harvest of pesticides ten, twenty years from now? The contamination of our ground water. The loss of our reverence for the soil. The raping of the land.
We see these insane practices reflected in the buy-outs and takeovers on Wall Street. It's the same thing: exchanging long term security for short-term gain.
You sacrifice a company for the immediate rewards. But you destroy what produces jobs and livelihoods and economic health.
If you eat the seed corn, you won't have a crop to plant.
Oscar Wilde once said, "A cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."
We look at the price, but we don't look at the value. Economics and profit drive everything.
People forget that the soil is our sustenance. It is a sacred trust. It is what has worked for us for centuries.
It is what we pass on to future generations.
If we continue in this thoughtless submission to pesticides -- if we ruin the top soil -- then there will not be an abundance of food to bequeath our children.
Farm workers and consumers cannot get pesticide regulation because those who make the laws and set the rules are captives of these bankrupt 40- and 50-year old policies that have been shown not to work.
E.P.A.'s pesticide standards are not health standards created to protect the American public.
With health standards, a company cannot complain to the government that it will go out of business or that its business will be hurt of it is forced to comply with the standards.
Because protecting public health is considered more important than protecting the profits of any corporation.
But E.P.A.'s standards are based on something very different: cost benefit standards.
If growers or chemical companies can show that standards protecting eople will cost more than they will benefit, they can get off the hook.
Under cost benefit standards, the costs of pesticide safety are quantifiable: like the money chemical companies invest in producing pesticides or in the stock of toxics that have already been manufactured; like the crops growers claim could be endangered if some pesticides are banned.
The benefits of pesticide protection -- especially long term chronic threats to farm workers and consumers -- are impossible to express in dollars and cents. They are often contained, at best, in vague and incomplete toxicological studies -- thanks to growers and chemical companies that have resisted testing for health effects.
So they don't ban the worst of these poisons because some farm worker might give birth to a deformed child.
So they don't imperil millions of dollars in profits today because, some day, some consumer might get cancer.
So they allow all of us, who place our faith in the safety of the food supply, to consume grapes and other produce which contain residues from pesticides that cause cancer and birth defects.
So we accept decades of environmental damage these poisons have brought upon the land.
The growers, the chemical companies and the bureaucrats say these are acceptable levels of exposure.
Acceptable to whom?
Acceptable to Johnnie Rodriguez's parents? Acceptable to Felipe Franco? Acceptable to the widow of Juan Chabolla and her children?
Acceptable to all the other farm workers -- and their sons and daughters -- who have known tragedy from pesticides?
There is no acceptable level of exposure to any chemical that causes cancer. There can be no toleration of any toxic that causes miscarriages, still births, and deformed babies.
Risk is associated with any level of exposure. And any level of exposure is too much.
Isn't that the standard of protection you would ask for your family and your children? Isn't that the standard of protection you would demand for yourself?
Then why do we allow farm workers to carry the burden of pesticides on their shoulders?
Do we carry in our hearts the sufferings of farm workers and their children?
Do we feel deeply enough the pain of those who must work in the fields every day with these poisons? Or the anguish of the families that have lost loved ones to cancer? Or the heartache of the parents who fear for the lives of their children? Who are raising children with deformities? Who agonize the outcome of their pregnancies?
Who ask in fear, 'where will this deadly plague strike next?'
Do we feel their pain deeply enough?
I didn't. And I was ashamed.
I studied this wanton abuse of nature. I read the literature, heard from the experts about what pesticides do to our land and our food.
I talked with farm workers, listened to their families, and shared their anguish and their fears. I spoke out against the cycle of death.
But sometimes words come too cheaply. And their meaning is lost in the clutter that so often fills our lives.
That is why, in July and August of last year, I embarked on a 36-day unconditional, water-only fast.
The fast was first and foremost directed at myself. It was something I felt compelled to do to purify my own body, mind and soul.
The fast was an act of penance for our own members who, out of ignorance or need, cooperate with those who grow and sell food treated with toxics.
The fast was also for those who know what is right and just. It pains me that we continue to shop without protest at stores that offer grapes; that we eat in restaurants that display them; that we are too patient and understanding with those who serve them to us.
The fast, then, was for those who know that they could or should do more -- for those who, by not acting, become bystanders in the poisoning of our food and the people who produce it.
The fast was, finally, a declaration of noncooperation with supermarkets that promote, sell, and profit from California table grapes. hey are as culpable as those who manufacture the poisons and those who use them.
It is my hope that our friends everywhere will resist in many nonviolent ways the presence of grapes in the stores where they shop.
The misery that pesticides bring farm workers -- and the dangers they pose to all consumers -- will not be ended with more hearings or studies. The solution is not to be had from those in power because it is they who have allowed this deadly crisis to grow.
The times we face truly call for all of us to do more to stop this evil in our midst.
The answer lies with you and me. It is with all men and women who share the suffering and yearn with us for a better world.
Our cause goes on in hundreds of distant places. It multiplies among thousands and then millions of caring people who heed through a multitude of simple deeds the commandment set out in the book of the Prophet Micah, in the Old Testament: "What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."
Thank you. And boycott grapes.
From: Eureka (Calif.) Times-Standard .....................[This story printer-friendly]
March 27, 2005
MEASURE T WILL ENSURE LOCAL CONTROL
[Rachel's introduction: On June 6, the voters of Eureka, California will vote on Measure T, titled "Ordinance to Protect Our Rights to Fair Elections and Local Democracy." The ordinance would prohibit non- local corporations from making campaign contributions to local elections in Eureka. The opposition has wrapped itself in the First Amendment arguing that corporate money is a form of "free speech." Advocates for measure T reply that the First Amendment was intended to protect living, breathing humans, not pieces of paper called corporations. The fight is on.]
By Nicole Spencer
"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country." -- Thomas Jefferson.
In the last Voices issue [in the Eureka Times-Standard newspaper], Robert Zigler authored an opinion piece attacking Measure T. Among his many factually challenged criticisms of our campaign, Zigler cites Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County as his source of understanding for Measure T. He quotes the Democracy Unlimited website at length, but it appears that he didn't even go to the website of the organization actually sponsoring the measure: the Humboldt Coalition for Community Rights (HCCR) -- www.VoteLocalControl.org.
Democracy Unlimited is one of the organizations endorsing Measure T, but Zigler conveniently fails to mention the other people and organizations backing the measure, including: the Humboldt Democratic Party, the Humboldt Green Party, the Central Labor Council, a number of other local labor unions, over a dozen current and former elected officials including Humboldt District Attorney Paul Gallegos, a host of other local organizations and over 250 individuals (including a number of local and national attorneys). This diverse coalition is standing together to support Measure T because we support community rights, local control and individual rights over the notion that corporations should be treated the same as human beings.
And we stand in good company. From Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith to Abraham Lincoln and the late Chief Justice Rehnquist, there have been many patriotic Americans who have pointed out the obvious truth: a corporation is not a person. While there is nothing wrong with doing business and nothing inherently wrong with a corporation, that does not mean that corporate personhood is necessary, inevitable, democratic or in keeping with American values.
Measure T is not anti-corporate, it is pro-local control. Local corporations would still be allowed to contribute to elections. Measure T would in no way limit the rights of newspapers, corporate controlled or otherwise, to endorse or oppose candidates or ballot measures, nor would it restrict any person from contributing to campaigns.
The statement that Measure T restricts freedom of speech is based on the false assumptions that corporations are human beings and that money is speech. Corporate personhood isn't necessary for corporations to exist. Corporations existed in this country for over 100 years before they were dubbed "people" by the courts.
In the United States, corporations were originally mandated to serve the public good. However, during the late 1800s (known as the "Robber Baron" era in history textbooks), railroad corporations amassed tremendous wealth that would be used to litigate their way to becoming "people." Corporate lawyers brought lawsuit after lawsuit, all the way up to the Supreme Court, claiming that the clauses guaranteeing equal protection and due process in the 14th Amendment had been meant for them. Between 1890 and 1910, there were 307 cases brought before the court under the 14th Amendment. 288 of these cases were brought by corporations and only 19 by African Americans (the people for whom the amendment's protections had been intended).
Judges gave way to the pressure in 1886 with Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad. This case substantially changed the democracy our founding fathers intended and breathed life and "personhood" into an artificial entity that had always been beholden to the people before that time.
This is not ancient history. Today the power of corporate personhood outweighs labor, environmental and small-business protections. When a corporation successfully argues that its personhood "rights" are violated, a law attempting to protect people from potential harm is overturned.
In the 1970s, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations would be allowed to move into the political arena when it decided that "money equals speech." This was an entirely new idea. Before this decision, all corporations had been explicitly denied participation in the political process. In Wisconsin it was a felony until 1953 for a corporation to contribute any "thing of value" to any political campaign.
Most cases granting corporations personhood status have been 5-4 decisions. In other words, even the courts have been divided. In First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (1977) Justices White, Brennan and Marshall dissented on the court's decision to overturn state laws limiting corporate expenditures on ballot initiatives. They wrote: "(T)he special status of corporations has placed them in a position to control vast amounts of economic power which may... dominate not only our economy but the very heart of our democracy, the electoral process.... The state need not allow its own creation to consume it." Justice Rehnquist, a staunch conservative, also dissented: "The blessings of perpetual life and limited liability... so beneficial in the economic sphere, pose special dangers in the political sphere."
Measure T is not intended to get rid of corporate personhood. Measure T ensures local control by getting rid of money from outside entities in local elections -- be those entities corporations, unions or nonprofits. The only connection to corporate personhood is that the law refuses to sacrifice our community's right to define our elections to the idea that a corporation's personhood status comes before the rights of the people who live here.
During the DA recall campaign we all heard it over and over again: "This ought to be illegal." Don't let corporate personhood apologists tell you that we don't have the right to define our community for ourselves. On June 6, stand up for your rights and vote yes on Measure T!
"History honors none above those who, in the past, have set themselves against unjust laws.... The Republic of the United States is founded upon defiance of unjust law.... Manifestly unjust decisions of courts must be defied." -- Samuel Gompers.
From: Permaculture Activist ...............................[This story printer-friendly]
February 24, 2006
POWER OF COMMUNITY: HOW CUBA SURVIVED PEAK OIL
[Rachel's introduction: With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 Cuba lost 50% of its oil imports and the belt-tightening began. Cubans lost an average of 30 pounds. Single-occupant cars became a relic from the past. But in the process, Cubans also gained better education, mass transportation, and sustainable agriculture. Petroleum scarcity drove their economy to organic farming, urban agriculture, mass transit, and a reinvigorated health care system whose preventive, locally-based approach conserves scarce resources.]
By Megan Quinn
Havana, Cuba -- At the Organiponico de Alamar, a neighborhood agriculture project, a workers' collective runs a large urban farm, a produce market and a restaurant. Hand tools and human labor replace oil-driven machinery. Worm cultivation and composting create productive soil. Drip irrigation conserves water, and the diverse, multi-hued produce provides the community with a rainbow of healthy foods.
In other Havana neighborhoods, lacking enough land for such large projects, residents have installed raised garden beds on parking lots and planted vegetable gardens on their patios and rooftops. Since the early 1990s, an urban agriculture movement has swept through Cuba, putting this capital city of 2.2 million on a path toward sustainability.
A small group of Australians assisted in this grass-roots effort, coming to this Caribbean island nation in 1993 to teach permaculture, a system based on sustainable agriculture which uses far less energy. This need to bring agriculture into the city began with the fall of the Soviet Union and the loss of more than 50 percent of Cuba's oil imports, much of its food and 85 percent of its trade economy. Transportation halted, people went hungry and the average Cuban lost 30 pounds.
"In reality, when this all began, it was a necessity. People had to start cultivating vegetables wherever they could," a tour guide told a documentary crew filming in Cuba in 2004 to record how Cuba survived on far less oil than usual.
The crew included the staff of The Community Solution, a non-profit organization in Yellow Springs, Ohio which teaches about peak oil -- the time when oil production world-wide will reach an all-time high and head into an irreversible decline. Some oil analysts believe this may happen within this decade, making Cuba a role model to follow. "We wanted to see if we could capture what it is in the Cuban people and the Cuban culture that allowed them to go through this very difficult time," said Pat Murphy, The Community Solution's executive director. "Cuba has a lot to show the world in how to deal with energy adversity."
Scarce petroleum supplies have not only transformed Cuba's agriculture. The nation has also moved toward small-scale renewable energy and developed an energy-saving mass transit system, while maintaining its government-provided health care system whose preventive, locally-based approach to medicine conserves scarce resources.
The era in Cuba following the Soviet collapse is known to Cubans as the Special Period. Cuba lost 80 percent of its export market and its imports fell by 80 percent. The Gross Domestic Product dropped by more than one third.
"Try to image an airplane suddenly losing its engines. It was really a crash," Jorge Mario, a Cuban economist, told the documentary crew. A crash that put Cuba into a state of shock. There were frequent blackouts in its oil-fed electric power grid, up to 16 hours per day. The average daily caloric intake in Cuba dropped by a third. According to a report on Cuba from Oxfam, an international development and relief agency, "In the cities, buses stopped running, generators stopped producing electricity, factories became silent as graveyards. Obtaining enough food for the day became the primary activity for many, if not most, Cubans."
In part due to the continuing US embargo, but also because of the loss of a foreign market, Cuba couldn't obtain enough imported food. Furthermore, without a substitute for fossil-fuel based large-scale farming, agricultural production dropped drastically.
So Cubans started to grow local organic produce out of necessity, developed bio-pesticides and bio-fertilizers as petrochemical substitutes, and incorporated more fruits and vegetables into their diets. Since they couldn't fuel their aging cars, they walked, biked, rode buses, and carpooled.
"There are infinite small solutions," said Roberto Sanchez from the Cuban-based Foundation for Nature and Humanity. "Crises or changes or problems can trigger many of these things which are basically adaptive. We are adapting."
A New Agricultural Revolution
Cubans are also replacing petroleum-fed machinery with oxen, and their urban agriculture reduces food transportation distances. Today an estimated 50 percent of Havana's vegetables come from inside the city, while in other Cuban towns and cities urban gardens produce from 80 percent to more than 100 percent of what they need.
In turning to gardening, individuals and neighborhood organizations took the initiative by identifying idle land in the city, cleaning it up, and planting.
When the Australian permaculturists came to Cuba they set up the first permaculture demonstration project with a $26,000 grant from the Cuban government.
Out of this grew the Foundation for Nature and Humanity's urban permaculture demonstration project and center in Havana. "With this demonstration, neighbors began to see the possibilities of what they can do on their rooftops and their patios," said Carmen Lopez, director of the urban permaculture center, as she stood on the center's rooftop amongst grape vines, potted plants, and compost bins made from tires.
Since then the movement has been spreading rapidly across Havana's barrios. So far Lopez' urban permaculture center has trained more than 400 people in the neighborhood in permaculture and distributes a monthly publication, "El Permacultor." "Not only has the community learned about permaculture," according to Lopez, "we have also learned about the community, helping people wherever there is need." One permaculture student, Nelson Aguila, an engineer-turned-farmer, raises food for the neighborhood on his integrated rooftop farm. On just a few hundred square feet he has rabbits and hens and many large pots of plants. Running free on the floor are gerbils, which eat the waste from the rabbits, and become an important protein source themselves. "Things are changing," Sanchez said. "It's a local economy. In other places people don't know their neighbors. They don't know their names. People don't say 'hello' to each other. Not here." Since going from petrochemical intensive agricultural production to organic farming and gardening, Cuba now uses 21 times less pesticide than before the Special Period. They have accomplished this with their large-scale production of bio-pesticides and bio-fertilizers, exporting some of it to other Latin American countries.
Though the transition to organic production and animal traction was necessary, the Cubans are now seeing the advantages. "One of the good parts of the crisis was to go back to the oxen," said Miguel Coyula, a community development specialist, "Not only do they save fuel, they do not compact the soil the way the tractor does, and the legs of the oxen churn the earth."
"The Cuban agricultural, conventional, 'Green Revolution' system never was able to feed the people," Sanchez said. "It had high yields, but was oriented to plantation agriculture. We exported citrus, tobacco, sugar cane and we imported the basic things. So the system, even in the good times, never fulfilled people's basic needs." Drawing on his permaculture knowledge, Sanchez said, "You have to follow the natural cycles, so you hire nature to work for you, not work against nature. To work against nature, you have to waste huge amounts of energy."
Because most of Cuba's electricity had been generated from imported oil, the shortages affected nearly everyone on the island. Scheduled rolling blackouts several days per week lasted for many years. Without refrigerators, food would spoil. Without electric fans, the heat was almost unbearable in a country that regularly has temperatures in the 80s and 90s.
The solutions to Cuba's energy problems were not easy. Without money, it couldn't invest in nuclear power and new conventional fossil fuel plants or even large-scale wind and solar energy systems. Instead, the country focused on reducing energy consumption and implementing small- scale renewable energy projects.
Ecosol Solar and Cuba Solar are two renewable energy organizations leading the way. They help develop markets for renewable energy, sell and install systems, perform research, publish newsletters, and do energy efficiency studies for large users.
Ecosol Solar has installed 1.2 megawatts of solar photovoltaic in both small household systems (200 watt capacity) and large systems (15-50 kilowatt capacity). In the United States 1.2 megawatts would provide electricity to about 1000 homes, but can supply power to significantly more houses in Cuba where appliances are few, conservation is the custom, and the homes are much smaller.
About 60 percent of Ecosol Solar's installations go to social programs to power homes, schools, medicals facilities, and community centers in rural Cuba. It recently installed solar photovoltaic panels to electrify 2,364 primary schools throughout rural Cuba where it was not cost effective to take the grid. In addition, it is developing compact model solar water heaters that can be assembled in the field, water pumps powered by PV panels, and solar dryers.
A visit to "Los Tumbos," a solar-powered community in the rural hills southwest of Havana demonstrates the positive impact that these strategies can have. Once without electricity, each household now has a small solar panel that powers a radio and a lamp. Larger systems provide electricity to the school, hospital, and community room, where residents gather to watch the evening news program called the "Round Table." Besides keeping the residents informed, the television room has the added benefit of bringing the community together.
"The sun was enough to maintain life on earth for millions of years," said Bruno Beres, a director of Cuba Solar. "Only when we [humans] arrived and changed the way we use energy was the sun not enough. So the problem is with our society, not with the world of energy."
Transportation -- A System of Ride Sharing
Cubans also faced the problem of providing transportation on a reduced energy diet. Solutions came from ingenious Cubans, who often quote the phrase, "Necessity is the mother of invention." With little money or fuel, Cuba now moves masses of people during rush hour in Havana. In an inventive approach, virtually every form of vehicle, large and small, was used to build this mass transit system. Commuters ride in hand-made wheelbarrows, buses, other motorized transport and animal- powered vehicles.
One special Havana transit vehicle, nicknamed a "camel," is a very large metal semi-trailer, pulled by a standard semi-truck tractor, which holds 300 passengers. Bicycles and motorized two-passenger rickshaws are also prevalent in Havana, while horse drawn carts and large old panel trucks are used in the smaller towns.
Government officials in yellow garb pull over nearly empty government vehicles and trucks on Havana's streets and fill them with people needing a ride. Chevys from the 1950s cruise along with four people in front and four more in back.
A donkey cart with a taxi license nailed to the frame also travels Cuba's streets. Many trucks were converted to passenger transport by welding steps to the back so riders could get on and off with ease.
Health Care and Education -- National Priorities
Even though Cuba is a poor country, with a per capita Gross Domestic Product of only $3,000 per year (putting them in the bottom third of all nations), life expectancy is the same as in the U.S., and infant mortality is below that in the U.S. The literacy rate in Cuba is 97 percent, the same as in the U.S. Cuba's education system, as well as its medical system is free.
When Cubans suffered through their version of a peak oil crisis, they maintained their free medical system, one of the major factors that helped them to survive. Cubans repeatedly emphasize how proud they are of their system.
Before the Cuban Revolution in 1959, there was one doctor for every 2000 people. Now there is a doctor for every 167 people. Cuba also has an international medical school and trains doctors to work in other poor countries. Each year there are 20,000 Cuban doctors abroad doing this kind of work.
With meat scarce and fresh local vegetables in abundance since 1995, Cubans now eat a healthy, low-fat, nearly vegetarian, diet. They also have a healthier outdoor lifestyle and walking and bicycling have become much more common. "Before, Cubans didn't eat that many vegetables. Rice and beans and pork meat was the basic diet," Sanchez from the Foundation for Nature and Humanity said. "At some point necessity taught them, and now they demand [vegetables]."
Doctors and nurses live in the community where they work and usually above the clinic itself. In remote rural areas, three-story buildings are constructed with the doctor's office on the bottom floor and two apartments on the second and third floors, one for the doctor and one for the nurse.
In the cities, the doctors and nurses always live in the neighborhoods they serve. They know the families of their patients and try to treat people in their homes. "Medicine is a vocation, not a job," exclaimed a Havana doctor, demonstrating the motivation for her work. In Cuba 60 percent of the doctors are women.
Education is considered the most important social activity in Cuba. Before the revolution, there was one teacher for every 3,000 people. Today the ratio is one for every 42 people, with a teacher-student ratio of 1 to 16. Cuba has a higher percentage of professionals than most developing countries, and with 2 percent of the population of Latin America, Cuba has 11 percent of all the scientists.
In an effort to halt migration from the countryside to the city during the Special Period, higher education was spread out into the provinces, expanding learning opportunities and strengthening rural communities. Before the Special Period there were only three institutions of higher learning in Cuba. Now there are 50 colleges and universities throughout the country, seven in Havana.
The Power of Community
Throughout its travels, the documentary crew saw and experienced the resourcefulness, determination, and optimism of the Cuban people, often hearing the phrase "Si, se puede" or "Yes it can be done." People spoke of the value of "resistir" or "resistance," showing their determination to overcome obstacles. And they have lived under a U.S. economic blockade since the early 1960s, viewed as the ultimate test of the Cuban ability to resist.
There is much to learn from Cuba's response to the loss of cheap and abundant oil. The staff of The Community Solution sees these lessons as especially important for people in developing countries, who make up 82 percent of the world's population and live more on life's edge. But developed countries are also vulnerable to shortages in energy. And with the coming onset of peak oil, all countries will have to adapt to the reality of a lower energy world.
With this new reality, the Cuban government changed its 30-year motto from "Socialism or Death" to "A Better World is Possible." Government officials allowed private entrepreneurial farmers and neighborhood organizations to use public land to grow and sell their produce. They pushed decision-making down to the grassroots level and encouraged initiatives in their neighborhoods. They created more provinces. They encouraged migration back to the farms and rural areas and reorganized their provinces to be in-line with agricultural needs.
From The Community Solution's viewpoint, Cuba did what it could to survive, despite its ideology of a centralized economy. In the face of peak oil and declining oil production, will America do what it takes to survive, in spite of its ideology of individualism and consumerism? Will Americans come together in community, as Cubans did, in the spirit of sacrifice and mutual support?
"There is climate change, the price of oil, the crisis of energy," Beres from Cuba Solar said, listing off the challenges humanity faces. "What we must know is that the world is changing and we must change the way we see the world."
This article appeared in the special Peak Oil issue of Permaculture Activist, Spring 2006. The author, Megan Quinn, is the outreach director for The Community Solution, a program of Community Service Inc., a nonprofit organization in Yellow Springs, Ohio. For information about its soon-to-be-released documentary, "The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil" visit its website, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 937-767-2161.
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Rachel's Democracy & Health News (formerly Rachel's Environment & Health News) highlights the connections between issues that are often considered separately or not at all.
The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining because those who make the important decisions aren't the ones who bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the rise of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among workers and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy, intolerance, and racial injustice that allow us to be divided and therefore ruled by the few.
In a democracy, there are no more fundamental questions than, "Who gets to decide?" And, "How DO the few control the many, and what might be done about it?"
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