Rachel's Democracy & Health News #867
Thursday, August 10, 2006

From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #867 ..........[This story printer-friendly]
August 10, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Your ENVIRONMENTAL agency is supposed to protect you and the natural environment from harm. But your local HEALTH department is supposed to create and maintain conditions that allow people to be healthy -- a far more powerful mandate. Your health department is also supposed to maintain vigilance to ensure social justice. But what if your health department doesn't do these thing? What then?]

By Peter Montague

Community-based activists may be missing an important opportunity if they don't explore alliances with their local health department. Some health departments are like dinosaurs, but many are not. Your local health department is most likely connected to the national organization, NACCHO (National Association of County and City Health Officials). This week let's look at just two of the many resolutions NACCHO has adopted and published in recent times:

ON HUMAN RIGHTS (Resolution 01-10, dated June 27, 2001)

WHEREAS, the mission of public health is "to fulfill society's interest in assuring conditions in which people can be healthy";[1] and

WHEREAS, "the values that underlie public health are the values of human rights and there is an undeniable relationship between individual rights, human dignity, and the human condition";[2] and

WHEREAS, Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, states "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his/her family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care";[3] and

WHEREAS, "Vigilance to prevent human rights violations and to ensure social justice for all people is essential to the advancement of human development and the prevention of human suffering";[4] and

WHEREAS, according to the World Health Organization, more than 40 percent of all people who died in the world died prematurely, in part due to major inequalities in access to basic human needs, poverty, poor sanitary conditions, and violence;[5]

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) will advocate for the protection of human rights and social justice as a guiding principle in public health practice, research and policies; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACCHO will work to incorporate human rights, social justice, and efforts to eliminate disparities in health status into public health curricula, workforce development initiatives, and program evaluation measures; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACCHO will collaborate with partner organizations, government agencies, global initiatives, and community groups in the prevention of human suffering and the promotion of social justice, health, equity, and sustainable development. [End of Resolution 01-10]

And this one:

SUPPORTING ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE (Resolution 00-07 Nov. 12, 2000)

WHEREAS, throughout the nation there is an overrepresentation of toxic waste sites and contaminated properties in communities of color and low-income communities[6], and race is the most significant variable that has been associated with the siting of hazardous waste facilities, even after controlling for urbanization, regional differences and socio-economic status[7]; and

WHEREAS, penalties imposed under hazardous waste laws at sites having the greatest white population were about 500 percent higher than penalties imposed at sites with the greatest people of color population[8]; and

WHEREAS, serious health concerns and exposures have resulted from the siting of toxic waste and other contaminated facilities in communities of color and low-income communities, adding to other threats posed by poor quality housing, absence of mass transit, unhealthy working conditions, poverty, and high levels of pollution production[9]; and

WHEREAS, urban sprawl and discriminatory land use decisions create economic and racial polarization, segregated neighborhoods and deteriorating neighborhoods in people of color and low-income communities,[10] thereby increasing health and safety risks, health disparities, air and water pollution, poor quality housing, unstable neighborhoods, unsustainable ecosystems, and poor quality of life;[11]

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) supports the fundamental right to political, economic, cultural and environmental self-determination of all peoples, and the right to be free from ecological destruction; and affirms the need for urban and rural ecological policies to clean up and rebuild our cities and rural areas in balance with nature while assuring healthy communities; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACCHO facilitates local public health agency efforts to ensure that no communities suffer from disproportional exposures to environmental health hazards; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that NACCHO actively supports programs, policies, and activities that build the capacity to identify disproportionate sitings of facilities, discriminatory land use and zoning laws, and to assure nondiscriminatory compliance with all environmental, health and safety laws in order to assure equal protection of the public health; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACCHO supports public and corporate policy based on mutual respect and justice for all peoples, free from any form of discrimination or bias; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACCHO supports universal protection from unnecessary radiation exposure resulting from nuclear testing, extraction, production and disposal of toxic/hazardous wastes and poisons that threatens the fundamental right to clean air, land, water, and food; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACCHO supports the principle that producers of hazardous waste and materials be held strictly accountable to the people and responsible for containment and detoxification; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACCHO supports the right of all people potentially affected to participate as equal partners at every level of decision-making about hazardous waste and materials, including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement and evaluation; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACCHO recognizes a special legal and ethical relationship of the federal, state, and local governments and Native Peoples through treaties, agreements, compacts, and covenants affirming sovereignty and self-determination; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACCHO affirms the right of all workers to a safe and healthy work environment; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACCHO calls for the education of present and future generations which emphasizes social and environmental issues, based on our experience, our concern for health, and an appreciation of our diverse cultural perspectives; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACCHO supports the right to ethical, balanced and responsible uses of land and renewable resources in the interest of a sustainable planet for humans and other living things. [End of Resolution 00-07]

In sum, NACCHO recognizes that

** Everyone has a right to an environment that promotes health; this is much more than merely having a right to an environment free of toxicants. This is the difference between your environmental agency and your health agency -- the environmental agency aims to "protect" health from bad things. Your health department has a mandate to promote health by making good things happen.

** Everyone has a right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being; your environmental agency has no mandate to worry about your standard of living, but your health department does.

** Social justice is the guiding principle of public health practice and policies;

** Vigilance is necessary to ensure social justice;

** Local health departments "will collaborate" with partner organizations, including community groups -- perhaps your community group;

** In communities of color and low-income communities, toxic waste sites have been piled on top of other threats posed by poor quality housing, the absence of mass transit, unhealthy working conditions, poverty, and high levels of pollution. Thus your health department recognizes that toxic waste and pollution don't occur in a vacuum -- they are part of something now being called "cumulative risk."

** Sprawl and discriminatory land-use decisions (to keep the poor out of suburbs, mainly by refusing to provide affordable housing) have increased (a) health and safety risks for the poor and people of color, (b) health disparities, (c) air and water pollution, (d) poor quality housing, (e) unstable neighborhoods, (f) unsustainable ecosystems, and (g) poor quality of life. In other words, your health department "gets" that sprawl does more than chew up farmland -- sprawl makes people sick and ruins real lives of real people.

** Supports the "fundamental right" to be free from ecological destruction;

** Facilitates local agency efforts to ensure that no communities suffer from disproportional exposures to environmental health hazards;

** Supports the right of all people potentially affected to participate as equal partners at every level of decision-making about hazardous waste and materials, including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement and evaluation. In other words, your health department "gets it" about the importance of democracy.

What if your health department doesn't behave this way?

If your local health department doesn't seem to measure up to the expectations outlined by NACCHO, there's a new tool you can use to actually measure your health department's performance -- a set of minimum functions expected of all local health departments, created by NACCHO. The minimum "core functions" of a health department are spelled out officially here -- and you can use them as a benchmark for measuring the performance of your local health department. You say they don't measure up?

Well, then -- that's good ammunition for a local political fight, isn't it? A good health department is worth fighting for -- and worth going to bat for when their budget is under threat.


[1] Institute of Medicine, The Future of Public Health. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1988.

[2] Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, July 14, 1992 ILM. 1992; 31:873.

[3] Note, this was also echoed in the constitution of the World Health Organization and was ratified by subsequent international covenants and conventions.

[4] American Journal of Public Health, May 2000, Vol. 90 No. 5, Rosalia Rodriguez-Garcia, PhD, MSc, Mohammad N. Akhter, MD, MPH

[5] World Health Organization. World Health Report. Geneva, 1998

[6] Benjamin Goldman, Not Just Prosperity: Achieving Sustainability with Environmental Justice. Washington, DC: National Wildlife Federation, 1994; Carita Shanklin, "Comment, Pathfinder: Environmental Justice," 24 Ecology Law Quarterly 333 (1997); Commission for Racial Justice, United Church of Christ, "Toxic Waste and Race in the United States, a National Report on the Racial and Socio-Economic Characteristics of Communities with Hazardous Waste Sites," Public Data Access, Inc., 1987.

[7] Paul Mohai and Bunyan Bryant. "Environmental Justice: Weighing Race and Class As Factors in the Distribution of Environmental Hazards," 63 University of Colorado Law Review 921 (1992).

[8] The National Law Journal, "Unequal Protection, the Racial Divide in Environmental Law, " Sept. 21, 1992.

[9] Robert Bullard, Unequal Protection: Environmental Justice and Communities of Color. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1994;. Charles Lee, Environmental Justice, Urban Revitalization, and Brownfields: The Search for Authentic Signs of Hope. A Report on the "Public Dialogues on Urban Revitalization and Brownfields: Envisioning Healthy and Sustainable Communities. Washington, DC: National Environmental Justice Advisory Council Waste and Facility Siting Subcommittee. December, 1996. EPA 500 R-96-002. Also appears as "Environmental Justice: Creating A Vision for Achieving Healthy and Sustainable Communities," in Benjamin Amick and Rima Rudd eds. Social Change and Health Improvement: Case Studies for Action, forthcoming, 1999; Craig Anthony Arnold, "Planning Milagros: Environmental Justice and Land Use Regulation," 76(1) Denver University Law Review 1998: 1.

[10] Michael Gelobter, "The Meaning of Environmental Injustice," 21(3) Fordham Urban Law Journal (Spring, 1994): 841-56; Robert Bullard, Glenn S. Johnson and Angel O. Torres. Sprawl City. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2000; Paul Stanton Kibel, "The Urban Nexus: Open Space, Brownfields, and Justice," 25 Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review (1998): 589.

[11] Carl Anthony, Suburbs Are Making Us Sick: Health Implications of Suburban Sprawl and Inner City Abandonment on Communities of Color. Environmental Justice Health Research Needs report Series. Atlanta: Environmental Justice Resource Center, 1998; David Bollier, How Smart Growth Can Stop Sprawl. Washington, DC: Essential Books, 1998; Craig Anthony Arnold, "Planning Milagros: Environmental Justice and Land Use Regulation," 76(1) Denver University Law Review (1998): 1-152.


From: Chronicle of Higher Education ......................[This story printer-friendly]
November 15, 2002


[Rachel's introduction: It seems pretty clear that our present industrial civilization is destroying the capacity of the Earth to sustain humans. Therefore, we need a new ethics for a finite world, an ethics of the commons. This article begins a debate that we all need to have.]

By Herschel Elliott and Richard D. Lamm

What if global warming is a reality, and expanding human activity is causing irreparable harm to the ecosystem? What if the demands of a growing human population and an expanding global economy are causing our oceans to warm up, our ice caps to melt, our supply of edible fish to decrease, our rain forests to disappear, our coral reefs to die, our soils to be eroded, our air and water to be polluted, and our weather to include a growing number of floods and droughts? What if it is sheer hubris to believe that our species can grow without limits? What if the finite nature of the earth's resources imposes limits on what human beings can morally do? What if our present moral code is ecologically unsustainable?

A widely cited article from the journal Science gives us one answer. Garrett Hardin's "The Tragedy of the Commons" (1968) demonstrated that when natural resources are held in common -- freely available to everyone for the taking -- the incentives that normally direct human activity lead people to steadily increase their exploitation of the resources until they are inadequate to meet human needs. The exploiters generally do not intend to cause any harm; they are merely taking care of their own needs, or those of others in want. Nevertheless, the entire system moves inexorably to disaster. Everyone in the world shares in the resulting tragedy of the commons.

Today, our standard of living, our economic system, and the political stability of our planet all require the increasing use of energy and natural resources. In addition, much of our political, economic, and social thinking assumes a continuous expansion of economic activity, with little or no restraint on our use of resources. We all feel entitled to grow richer every year. Social justice requires an expanding pie to share with those who are less fortunate. Progress is growth; the economies of developed nations require steady increases in consumption.

Every environment is finite. At a certain point, the members of an increasing population become so crowded that they stop benefiting each other; by damaging the environment that supports everyone, by limiting the space available to each person, and by increasing the amount of waste and pollution, their activity begins to cause harm... And if the population continues to expand, its material demands may so severely damage the environment as to cause a tragedy of the commons -- the collapse of both environment and society.

What if such a scenario is unsustainable? What if we need an ethics for a finite world, an ethics of the commons?

It is not important that you agree with the premise. What is important is that you help debate the alternatives. An ethics of the commons would require a change in the criteria by which moral claims are justified.

You may believe that current rates of population growth and economic expansion can go on forever -- but debate with us what alternative ethical theories would arise if they cannot. Our thesis is that any ethical system is mistaken and immoral if its practice would cause an environmental collapse.

Many people assume that moral laws and principles are absolutely certain, that we can know the final moral truth. If moral knowledge is certain, then factual evidence is irrelevant, for it cannot limit or refute what is morally certain.

Our ethics and concepts of human rights have been formulated for a world of a priori reasoning and unchanging conclusions. Kant spoke for that absolutist ethical tradition when he argued that only knowledge that is absolutely certain can justify the slavish obedience that moral law demands. He thought he had found rational grounds to justify the universal and unchanging character of moral law. Moral knowledge, he concluded, is a priori and certain. It tells us, for example, that murder, lying, and stealing are wrong. The fact that those acts may sometimes seem to benefit someone cannot diminish the absolute certainty that they are wrong. Thus, for example, it is a contradiction to state that murder can sometimes be right, for, by its very nature, murder is wrong.

Many human rights are positive rights that involve the exploitation of resources. (Negative rights restrain governments and don't require resources. For example, governments shouldn't restrict our freedom of speech or tell us how to pray.) Wherever in the world a child is born, that child has all the inherent human rights -- including the right to have food, housing, and medical care, which others must provide. When positive rights are accorded equally to everyone, they first allow and then support constant growth, of both population and the exploitation of natural resources.

That leads to a pragmatic refutation of the belief that moral knowledge is certain and infallible. If a growing population faces a scarcity of resources, then an ethics of universal human rights with equality and justice for all will fail. Those who survive will inevitably live by a different ethics.

Once the resources necessary to satisfy all human needs become insufficient, our options will be bracketed by two extremes. One is to ration resources so that everyone may share the inadequate supplies equally and justly.

The other is to have people act like players in a game of musical chairs. In conditions of scarcity, there will be more people than chairs, so some people will be left standing when the music stops. Some -- the self-sacrificing altruists -- will refuse to take the food that others need, and so will perish. Others, however, will not play by the rules. Rejecting the ethics of a universal and unconditional moral law, they will fight to get the resources they and their children need to live.

Under neither extreme, nor all the options in between, does it make sense to analyze the problem through the lens of human rights. The flaw in an ethical system of universal human rights, unqualified moral obligations, and equal justice for all can be stated in its logically simplest form: If to try to live by those principles under conditions of scarcity causes it to be impossible to live at all, then the practice of that ethics will cease. Scarcity renders such formulations useless and ultimately causes such an ethics to become extinct.

We have described not a world that we want to see, but one that we fear might come to be. Humans cannot have a moral duty to deliver the impossible, or to supply something if the act of supplying it harms the ecosystem to the point where life on earth becomes unsustainable. Moral codes, no matter how logical and well reasoned, and human rights, no matter how compassionate, must make sense within the limitations of the ecosystem; we cannot disregard the factual consequences of our ethics. If acting morally compromises the ecosystem, then moral behavior must be rethought. Ethics cannot demand a level of resource use that the ecosystem cannot tolerate.

The consequences of human behavior change as the population grows. Most human activities have a point of moral reversal, before which they may cause great benefit and little harm, but after which they may cause so much harm as to overwhelm their benefits. Here are a few representative examples, the first of which is often cited when considering Garrett Hardin's work:

In a nearly empty lifeboat, rescuing a drowning shipwreck victim causes benefit: It saves the life of the victim, and it adds another person to help manage the boat. But in a lifeboat loaded to the gunwales, rescuing another victim makes the boat sink and causes only harm: Everyone drowns.

When the number of cars on a road is small, traveling by private car is a great convenience to all. But as the cars multiply, a point of reversal occurs: The road now contains so many cars that such travel is inconvenient. The number of private cars may increase to the point where everyone comes to a halt. Thus, in some conditions, car travel benefits all. In other conditions, car travel makes it impossible for anyone to move. It can also pump so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that it alters the world's climate.

Economic growth can be beneficial when land, fuel, water, and other needed resources are abundant. But it becomes harmful when those resources become scarce, or when exploitation causes ecological collapse. Every finite environment has a turning point, at which further economic growth would produce so much trash and pollution that it would change from producing benefit to causing harm. After that point is reached, additional growth only increases scarcity and decreases overall productivity. In conditions of scarcity, economic growth has a negative impact.

Every environment is finite. Technology can extend but not eliminate limits. An acre of land can support only a few mature sugar maples; only so many radishes can grow in a five-foot row of dirt. Similar constraints operate in human affairs. When the population in any environment is small and natural resources plentiful, every additional person increases the welfare of all. As more and more people are added, they need increasingly to exploit the finite resources of the environment. At a certain point, the members of an increasing population become so crowded that they stop benefiting each other; by damaging the environment that supports everyone, by limiting the space available to each person, and by increasing the amount of waste and pollution, their activity begins to cause harm. That is, population growth changes from good to bad. And if the population continues to expand, its material demands may so severely damage the environment as to cause a tragedy of the commons -- the collapse of both environment and society.

Those cases illustrate the fact that many activities are right -- morally justified -- when only a limited number of people do them. The same activities become wrong -- immoral -- when populations increase, and more and more resources are exploited.

Few people seem to understand the nature of steady growth. Any rate of growth has a doubling time: the period of time it takes for a given quantity to double. It is a logical inevitability -- not a matter subject to debate -- that it takes only a relatively few doublings for even a small number to equal or exceed any finite quantity, even a large one.

One way to look at the impact of growth is to think of a resource that would last 100 years if people consumed it at a constant rate. If the rate of consumption increased 5 percent each year, the resource would last only 36 years. A supply adequate for 1,000 years at a constant rate would last 79 years at a 5-percent rate of growth; a 10,000-year supply would last only 125 years at the same rate. Just as no trees grow to the sky, no growth rate is ultimately sustainable.

Because the natural resources available for human use are finite, exponential growth will use them up in a relatively small number of doublings. The only possible questions are those of timing: When will the resources be too depleted to support the population? When will human society, which is now built on perpetual growth, fail?

The mathematics makes it clear: Any human activity that uses matter or energy must reach a steady state (or a periodic cycle of boom and bust, which over the long run is the same thing). If not, it inevitably will cease to exist. The moral of the story is obvious: Any system of economics or ethics that requires or even allows steady growth in the exploitation of resources is designed to collapse. It is a recipe for disaster.

It is self-deception for anyone to believe that historical evidence contradicts mathematical necessity. The fact that the food supply since the time of Malthus has increased faster than the human population does not refute Malthus's general thesis: that an increasing population must, at some time, need more food, water, and other vital resources than the finite earth or creative technology can supply in perpetuity. In other words, the finitude of the earth makes it inevitable that any behavior causing growth in population or in the use of resources -- including human moral, political, and economic behavior -- will sooner or later be constrained by scarcity.

Unlike current ethics, the ethics of the commons builds on the assumption of impending scarcity. Scarcity requires double-entry bookkeeping: Whenever someone gains goods or services that use matter or energy, someone else must lose matter or energy. If the starving people of a distant nation get food aid from the United States, then the United States loses that amount of food; it also loses the fertility of the soil that produced the food. To a point, that arrangement is appropriate and workable. Soon, however, helping one group of starving people may well mean that we cannot help others. Everything that a government does prevents it from doing something else. When you have to balance a budget, you can say yes to some important services only by saying no to others. Similarly, the ethics of the commons must rely on trade-offs, not rights. It must specify who or what gains, and who or what loses.

Indeed, in a finite world full of mutually dependent beings, you never can do just one thing. Every human activity that uses matter or energy pulls with it a tangled skein of unexpected consequences. Conditions of crowding and scarcity can cause moral acts to change from beneficial to harmful, or even disastrous; acts that once were moral can become immoral. We must constantly assess the complex of consequences, intended or not, to see if the overall benefit of seemingly moral acts outweighs their overall harm.

As Hardin suggested, the collapse of any common resource can be avoided only by limiting its use. The ethics of the commons builds on his idea that the best and most humane way of avoiding the tragedy of the commons is mutual constraint, mutually agreed on and mutually enforced.

Most important, the ethics of the commons must prevent a downward spiral to scarcity. One of its first principles is that the human population must reach and maintain a stable state -- a state in which population growth does not slowly but inexorably diminish the quality of, and even the prospect for, human life. Another principle is that human exploitation of natural resources must remain safely below the maximum levels that a healthy and resilient ecosystem can sustain. A third is the provision of a margin of safety that prevents natural disasters like storms, floods, droughts, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions from causing unsupportable scarcity.

Not to limit human behavior in accordance with those principles would be not only myopic, but also ultimately a moral failure. To let excess human fertility or excess demand for material goods and services cause a shortage of natural resources is as immoral as theft and murder, and for the same reasons: They deprive others of their property, the fruits of their labors, their quality of life, or even their lives.

The ethics of the commons is a pragmatic ethics. It denies the illusion that human moral behavior occurs in a never-never land, where human rights and duties remain unchanging, and scarcity can never cancel moral duties. It does not allow a priori moral arguments to dictate behavior that must inevitably become extinct. It accepts the necessity of constraints on both production and reproduction. As we learn how best to protect the current and future health of the earth's ecosystems, the ethics of the commons can steadily make human life more worth living.

As populations increase and environments deteriorate, the moral laws that humans have relied on for so long can no longer solve the most pressing problems of the modern world. Human rights are an inadequate and inappropriate basis on which to distribute scarce resources, and we must propose and debate new ethical principles.


Herschel Elliott is an emeritus associate professor of philosophy at the University of Florida. Richard D. Lamm, a former governor of Colorado, is a university professor at the University of Denver and executive director of its Center for Public Policy and Contemporary Issues.


From: Grist ..............................................[This story printer-friendly]
March 7, 2006


What Mexican activists can teach the U.S. about poverty and the planet

[Rachel's introduction: People are an important part of an ecosystem. If they are poor and unhealthy, then the ecosystem is poor and unhealthy. Many Mexican activists know this too well, but the closest thing the mainstream environmental movement in the United States has to this integrated people-and-poverty approach is the often-neglected environmental justice movement.]

By Oliver Bernstein

As the border organizer for Sierra Club's Environmental Justice program, I bounce back and forth across the U.S.-Mexico border supporting grassroots environmental activists. More than the food, language, or currency, the biggest difference from one side to the other is what issues are considered "environmental." Perhaps nowhere else on earth is there such a long border between such a rich country and such a struggling one, and this disparity seems to carry over to which issues take priority.

For example, Laguna La Escondida in Reynosa, Mexico, a water source for the surrounding community whose name means Hidden Lagoon, is also an important migratory bird stopover point. Reynosa citizens concerned about their environment are working to clean up the lagoon to protect their families' health from the waste dumped into its waters. Neighboring Texas citizens concerned about their environment are working to clean up the lagoon to prevent habitat destruction for hundreds of migratory birds. This binational effort is a terrific start, but it avoids confronting the issue of poverty. For all their goodwill and concern, the Texans' narrow focus on bird habitat prevents many of them from seeing the bigger problem -- human habitat.

Since the enactment of NAFTA in 1994, rapid industrialization along the border has led to some of the fastest population growth in either country. Almost 12 million people now live in Mexico and the United States along the nearly 2,000-mile border, and by 2020 that number could reach 20 million. This is not "smart growth," but instead a ferocious growth to support the movement of consumer goods.

NAFTA was supposed to bring economic prosperity to Mexico, but the poverty and human suffering along the border tell a different story. Mexico's more than 3,000 border maquiladoras -- the mostly foreign- owned manufacturing and assembly plants -- send about 90 percent of their products to the United States. The Spanish word "maquilar" means "to assemble," but it is also slang for "to do someone else's work for them." This is what's really going on; the maquiladora sector produced more than $100 billion in goods last year, but the typical maquiladora worker earns between $1 and $3 per hour, including benefits and bonuses. Special tariff-free zones along the border mean that many maquiladoras pay low taxes, limiting the funds that could improve quality of life.

Those who don't work in the maquiladoras live in their shadows. The industrial growth has drawn more people and development to the region, putting additional pressure on communities and the environment. Towns that until recently were small agricultural settlements now produce toxic chemicals for a worldwide market. Informal, donkey-drawn garbage carts cannot keep up with the waste stream from booming border cities. The natural environment suffers, indeed, but the most immediate suffering is human.

I recently visited a community near Matamoros, at the eastern end of the border, where the streets and canals were filled with trash. Rather than a classic litter campaign, the local activists explained that their biggest concern was the roads. If the local authorities don't pave the road, they told me, the garbage trucks cannot get in and pick up the waste. Even burning the waste would be preferable to having to live with it in their homes, they say. The activists lament the polluted canals and the litter, but their focus is on the people. Without regular pickups, families live with trash piling up in their houses, and their children get sick.

South of Tijuana, on the western end of the border, a small environmental group advocates for more drains and sewers. Heavy seasonal rains flood the valleys and bring sewage and trash tumbling down to the beaches. While a goal of the local campaign may be to have cleaner beaches and unpolluted water, the way to reach that goal is by talking about quality-of-life issues like proper drainage from homes, regular trash pickup in outlying areas, and safe drinking water -- something that 12 percent of border residents do not have. In the United States, these issues are all too often considered a given, lumped into the category of "basic services." But even in the U.S. there are people who suffer as we ignore their poverty, having decided that it is not an environmental issue.

People are an important part of an ecosystem. If they are poor and unhealthy, then the ecosystem is poor and unhealthy. Many Mexican activists know this too well, but the closest thing the mainstream environmental movement in the United States has to this integrated people-and-poverty approach is the often neglected environmental- justice movement. The EJ movement works for justice for people of color and low-income communities that have been targeted by polluters. The EJ movement is our salvation -- but we must stop viewing it as extracurricular to the business of conservation.

It's time to support the right to a clean and healthful environment for all people. This means that residents in the border region should not suffer disproportionately from environmental health problems because of the color of their skin, the level of their income, or the side of the international line on which they live. It also means that environmental activists should not look past human poverty to save an endearing species, but must look instead at the big picture.

The cries of intense poverty and injustice across the world are getting louder. It is time for the environmental movement to listen, and to act.

- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -

Oliver Bernstein is a Sierra Club environmental-justice organizer along the U.S.-Mexico Border.


From: Satya Magazine ......................................[This story printer-friendly]
August 1, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The old anti-communist "red scare" is being replaced by a new "green scare."]

By friends and family of Daniel McGowan

On December 7th, 2005, Daniel McGowan, a highly respected and long- time environmental and social justice activist from New York, was unjustly arrested by federal marshals as part of a nationwide crackdown on activists. He is being charged in federal court with multiple counts of arson, property destruction and conspiracy, relating to two direct actions that occurred in Oregon in 2001. Daniel maintains his innocence and has pled not guilty to all charges. He is facing a minimum of life in prison if convicted on all counts.

Daniel's arrest is part of "Operation Backfire," a well- coordinated, multi-state sweep of environmental activists by the federal government. Many of the charges, including Daniel's, are for cases whose statute of limitations were about to expire. Fifteen people have since been indicted by a grand jury on 65 charges in connection with 17 direct actions that took place between 1996 and 2001 in Oregon, Washington, California, Colorado and Wyoming. This FBI offensive appears as just the beginning of a nationwide "green scare."

The Green Scare

The term "green scare" was first introduced in 2002 in the zine Spirit of Freedom referring to tactics used by the U.S. government to attack environmental and social justice activists. In the U.S. today, "terrorism" has replaced "communism" as the catchphrase for all the evils in the world. Where the red scare once saw leftwingers stigmatized as "communists," today we have a green scare where environmentalists and animal rights activists are being targeted as "eco-terrorists" by the media, business interests and politicians- including Attorneys General Gonzales and Ashcroft.

Since 2001, there has been a rise in the number of environmentalists arrested and a dramatic lengthening of the potential sentences they face. Activists who have never physically harmed or injured anyone now risk being arrested and charged with crimes carrying life sentences (or, in some cases, a charge sheet that could result in a 300-plus year prison sentence).

Similar to the campaign of Senator Joe McCarthy and the House Un- American Activities Committee (HUAC) of the 1950s, today, legislators, property rights advocates and industry spokespeople are using threats and propaganda to crush political resistance. History is repeating itself and one cannot help but wonder which of our friends and family will be next.

Anti-Terror Legislation

In the current political climate, it is virtually impossible for the accused to get a fair trial once the specter of "terrorism" has been raised. This climate of fear is reinforced by legislative changes that have considerably broadened the definition of a "terrorist."

Lobbying by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a powerful right wing advocacy group funded by over 300 corporations, is successfully pushing for legislation defining terrorism as an act by "two or more persons organized for the purpose of supporting any politically motivated activity intended to obstruct or deter any person from participating in an activity involving animals or natural resources." It includes such acts as property defacement -- which is already illegal -- within the scope of terrorism, and holds the potential to include other forms of legal protest within the same definition. So far ten states have already passed legislation defining the destruction of property as terrorism.

Additionally, fake grassroots groups, or "astroturf" groups like the deceptively-named Stop Eco Violence, the Center for Consumer Freedom and the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, have organized letter writing campaigns to Northwest politicians lobbying to push legislation that would increase penalties for environmentalist direct action.

At a federal level, Section 802 of the USA PATRIOT (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act defines domestic terrorism as an act which intends to "intimidate or coerce a civilian population," "influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion," or "affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping." But, as the American Civil Liberties Union has pointed out, the breadth of the first two definitions means that "Greenpeace, Operation Rescue, Vieques Island and WTO protesters, and the [Earth] Liberation Front have all recently engaged in activities that could subject them to being investigated as engaging in domestic terrorism."

Although none of the defendants in this case are technically charged with domestic terrorism, the government has used the term extensively in the media to discredit the activists involved.

The larger aim of such legislation is to spread fear and distrust in the activist community with the hope that it will act as a deterrent and make it hard for us to support our friends and family when they are targeted.

It is essential that we combat this misrepresentation of our movement and not allow people who are arrested to fade away and be forgotten. These legal (and illegal) measures look likely to make an already bad situation worse. There are now so many pending cases against activists that it is impossible to mention them all here. We urgently need to provide arrested activists with moral support so they know that people are aware of their situation and feel less isolated, and we need to ensure that fear does not spread as our movement continues to be targeted under this green scare.

An Activist in Need

For years Daniel McGowan was behind the scenes keeping countless campaigns afloat. He worked on old growth protection campaigns, fighting to keep trees over 2,000 years old from becoming toilet paper. He ran successful Burma divestment campaigns. He did extensive education and press work about genetically modified organisms. He provided active support for indigenous people, including the Dineh, the Ogoni and the Uwa people, all the while supporting political prisoners all over the world.

During the 2004 Republican National Convention, Daniel decided to publicly organize demonstrations, fundraisers and benefit shows as part of the RNCnotwelcome.org protest mobilization. Daniel is an expressive, caring, thoughtful and compassionate person and his tireless dedication and support for political prisoners makes it all the more moving that we are now being called upon to provide the same support for him.

To find out how you can help Daniel McGowan, visit www.supportdaniel.org and email friendsofdanielmcg@yahoo.com to receive regular updates. To learn more about the green scare see www.greenscare.org. If you would like to write to Daniel, please send your letter of support to:

Daniel McGowan, P.O. Box 106, New York, NY 10156.


From: AlterNet ...........................................[This story printer-friendly]
August 4, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: It's an ugly truth that manufacturing weapons to kill abroad also kills at home. In other words, the military is killing some of the people it is supposed to be protecting. After you read this article, get more details from the Military Toxics Project.]

By Sunaura Taylor and Astra Taylor

The US military is poisoning the very citizens it is supposed to protect in the name of national security.

In 1982 our family was living on the southside of Tucson, Ariz., in a primarily working class and Latino neighborhood not far from the airport. That year Sunaura was born with a congenital birth defect known as arthrogryposis, a condition that severely impedes muscle growth and requires her to use an electric wheelchair. On nearby blocks, women were giving birth to babies with physical disabilities and neighbors were dying of cancer at worrisome rates. Over time, we learned that our groundwater was contaminated.

Most of us are vaguely aware that war devastates the environment abroad. The Vietnamese Red Cross counts 150,000 children whose birth defects were caused by their parents' exposure to Agent Orange. Cancer rates in Iraq are soaring as a result of depleted uranium left from the Gulf War. But what about closer to home?

Today the U.S. military generates over one-third of our nation's toxic waste, which it disposes of very poorly. The military is one of the most widespread violators of environmental laws. People made ill by this toxic waste are, in effect, victims of war. But they are rarely acknowledged as such.

On Sept. 11, 2001, we were living together in New York City. In the months following the attack on the World Trade Center, the media and government routinely informed a fearful citizenry of the importance of clean drinking water. Terrorists, they warned, might contaminate public sources with arsenic. We were instructed to purchase Evian along with our duct tape.

In 2003, when the Defense Department sought (and later received) exemptions from America's main environmental laws, the irony dawned on us. The military was given license to pollute air and water, dispose of used munitions, and endanger wildlife with impunity. The Defense Department is willing to poison the very citizens it is supposed to protect in the cause of national security.

Our family knows of something much more dangerous than arsenic in the public aquifers: trichloroethylene, or TCE, a known carcinogen in laboratory animals and the most widespread industrial contaminant in American drinking water.

Disturbingly Common

Last week a study was released by the National Academy of Sciences, raising already substantial concerns about the cancer risks and other health hazards associated with exposure to TCE, a solvent used in adhesives, paint and spot removers that is also "widely used to remove grease from metal parts in airplanes and to clean fuel lines at missile sites." The report confirms a 2001 EPA document linking TCE to kidney cancer, reproductive and developmental damage, impaired neurological function, autoimmune disease and other ailments in human beings.

The report has been garnering some publicity, but not as much as it deserves. TCE contamination is disturbingly common, especially in the air, soil and water around military bases. Nationwide millions of Americans are using what Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey, D-NY, has called "TCE-laden drinking water." The Associated Press reports that the chemical has been found at about 60 percent of the nation's worst contaminated sites in the Superfund cleanup program.

"The committee found that the evidence on carcinogenic risk and other health hazards from exposure to trichloroethylene has strengthened since 2001," the study says. "Hundreds of waste sites are contaminated with trichloroethylene, and it is well-documented that individuals in many communities are exposed to the chemical, with associated health risks."

The report urges the EPA to amend its assessment of the threat TCE poses, an action that could lead to stricter regulations. Currently the EPA limits TCE to no more than five parts per billion parts of drinking water. Stricter regulation could force the government to require more thorough cleanups at military and other sites and lower the number to one part per billion.

The EPA found it impossible to take such action back in 2001, because, according to the Associated Press, the agency was "blocked from elevating its assessment of the chemical's risks in people by the Defense Department, Energy Department and NASA, all of which have sites polluted with it." The Bush administration charged the EPA with inflating TCE's risks and asked the National Academy to investigate. Contrary to the administration's hopes, however, the committee's report has reinforced previous findings, which determined TCE to be anywhere from two to 40 times more carcinogenic than previously believed.

Thousands Contaminated

We didn't know it when we lived there, but our Tucson neighborhood's public water supply was one of thousands nationwide contaminated with TCE (along with a medley of other toxic chemicals including, ironically, arsenic). It wasn't terrorists who laced our cups and bathtubs with these poisons -- it was private contractors employed by the Air Force.

Beginning during the Korean War, military contractors began using industrial solvents, including TCE, to degrease airplane parts. Hughes Missiles Systems Co. (which was purchased by the Raytheon Corp. in 1997) worked at the Tucson International Airport, spilling chemicals off the runway and letting them sink into the soil of a city entirely dependent on its underground water supply. What didn't seep into the earth was dumped into unlined pits scraped into the desert floor. Over the course of many years Hughes used barrels and barrels of TCE at the airport hangars and at weapons system manufacturing facilities on government-owned and contractor-operated land not far from where we lived. As late as 1985, 2,220 pounds of TCE was still being dumped in Tucson landfills every month.

Like so many other toxic hotspots, Tucson's southside is primarily a working-class community called home by many people of color. It is situated near the San Xavier Indian reservation, which also had residential areas affected by runoff.

Generally, fines associated with hazardous waste laws are up to six times higher in white communities than their minority counterparts. What has happened in Tucson since the early '80s reflects this unevenness. There has been only one legal case against the military and its cohorts, a lengthy personal-injury lawsuit filed in behalf of 1,600 people against the aircraft manufacturer, the city of Tucson and the Tucson Airport Authority (citizens are not allowed to sue the federal government over such matters). The case excluded thousands of potential plaintiffs and did not include funds from which future claimants could collect for illnesses like cancers, which typically do not appear until 10 or 20 years after chemical exposure. As a result, many southside residents have yet to be compensated and probably never will be. To this day, some area wells remain polluted, and most estimate cleanup will not be completed for another 20 to 50 years. Meanwhile, residents have the small consolation their water supply is being monitored.

The National Academy of Sciences study is a step in the right direction, but one that will certainly be met with resistance. In Tucson, because the lawsuit was settled out of court, none of the defendants had to admit that TCE is carcinogenic. Instead of acknowledging the link between TCE and local health problems, officials blamed the smoking and eating habits of local residents and said their cancer was the result of "eating too much chili." It was suggested to our parents, who are white, that Sunaura's birth defect may have been the consequence of high peanut butter consumption.

But people who have lived on the southside of Tucson don't need experts to verify that TCE is deadly. Some estimate that up to 20,000 individuals have died, become ill, or been born with birth defects. Providing further proof, the Tucson International Airport area is one of the EPA's top Superfund sites. Arizona state guidelines also assert that TCE is toxic; they say one gallon of TCE is enough to render undrinkable the amount of water used by 3,800 people over an entire year. Over 4,000 gallons drained into Tucson aquifers. As a result of this week's report, Arizona's environmental quality chief says the state is independently and immediately going to adopt stricter TCE soil standards.

It's an ugly truth that manufacturing weaponry to kill abroad also kills at home. The process involves toxic chemicals, metals and radioactive materials. As a consequence, the U.S. military produces more hazardous waste annually than the five largest international chemical companies combined. The Pentagon is responsible for over 1,400 properties contaminated with TCE.

Citizens, who pay for the military budget with their tax dollars, are also paying with their health and sometimes their lives.


Sunaura Taylor, a figurative painter, has written on disability for various publications. View her paintings online at www.sunnytaylor.org. Astra Taylor is a writer and documentary filmmaker. Her first book, Shadow of the Sixties, is forthcoming from the New Press in 2007.


From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #867 ..........[This story printer-friendly]
August 10, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Chicago is home to two coal burning power plants and Illinois is home to 25. Their pollution pumps mercury, soot and smog into the air, causing asthma and brain damage to thousands of children. Now residents are organizing to fight back. Join up!]

By Tim Montague

Please join the Chicago Clean Power Coalition for a town-hall style meeting to learn what you can do to make Chicago and Illinois a more livable and healthy place to live, work and play. Please come to our next bi-weekly meeting on Chicago's near south side.

When: Wednesday, August 23, 2006; Where: 2856 S. Millard Ave Chicago IL 60623-4550 (held at the offices of Little Village Environmental Justice Organization; tel. 773.762.6991).

For more information http://www.ChicagoCleanPower.org or contact Tim Montague: tim@rachel.org

Did you know... Chicago is home to two coal burning power plants. Their pollution pumps mercury, soot and smog into our city's air just a few miles southwest of the downtown, causing asthma and brain damage to thousands of children in the Chicago area.

The agreement reached between the coal power industry (Ameren) and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, announced on August 1st 2006, is a significant setback for improving our state's polluted air from dirty coal power plants. Organized action by residents is needed now to take back our right to healthy air.


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?"

Rachel's Democracy and Health News is published as often as necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject.

Peter Montague - peter@rachel.org
Tim Montague - tim@rachel.org


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