Rachel's Precaution Reporter #121

"Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World"

Wednesday, December 19, 2007.........Printer-friendly version
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Featured stories in this issue...

Disaster Capitalism: The New Economy of Catastrophe
  Have you ever wondered why precaution is so strongly opposed in
  Washington and on Wall Street? An economic system that requires
  constant growth while resisting almost all serious attempts at
  environmental regulation generates a steady stream of disasters all on
  its own, whether military, ecological, or financial. Now the economic
  and political systems have learned to thrive on disasters. Under these
  circumstances, precaution is the enemy.
Lloyd's of London Issues Report on Nanotechnology Risks
  "The precautionary principle is now accepted to apply to the
  degradation of human health as well as the environment, and suggests
  the use of nanotechnology should be risk assessed appropriately before
  consumption by the public. This approach is being recommended within
  the EU, though the US and Japan prefer a lighter regulatory touch. In
  the past a vacuum of regulation has proved unhelpful to insurers. The
  insurance industry should lobby for clarity in this area." --Lloyd's
The Precautionary Principle Was Ignored at Bali
  Both Canada and the United States signed the Framework Convention
  on Climate Change, and subsequently ratified the Convention. The
  Framework Convention on climate Change called for the invoking of the
  precautionary principle which reads: "The Parties should take
  precautionary measures to anticipate, prevent or minimize the causes
  of climate change and mitigate its adverse effects. Where there are
  threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific
  certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing such
At Bali, International Youth Implore World Leaders: 'Please'
  "The precautionary principle has been completely ignored.
  Negotiators are acting as though this is a political question, when it
  is instead a moral imperative. What are they doing to protect my
Fear Versus Science
  "If civilization had embraced this principle in the 1800s, our
  lives today would be almost as nasty, brutish and short as they were
  200 years ago." What were we just saying about precaution being the
  enemy of those who profit from disasters?


From: Harper's Magazine, Oct. 1, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]


By Naomi Klein

[An excerpt from Naomi Klein's new book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise
of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007).]

Only a crisis -- actual or perceived -- produces real change. When
that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas
that are lying around. -- Milton Friedman

Three years ago, when I was in Baghdad on assignment for this
magazine, I paid an early-morning visit to Khadamiya, a mostly Shiite
area. An Iraqi colleague had heard that part of the neighborhood had
flooded the night before, as it did regularly. When we arrived, the
streets were drenched in slick green-blue liquid that was bubbling up
from sewage pipes beneath exhausted asphalt. A family invited us to
see what the frequent floods had done to their once lovely home. The
walls were moldy and cracked, and every item -- books, photos, sofas
-- was caked in the algae-like scum. Out back, a walled garden was a
fetid swamp, with a child's swing dangling forlornly from a dead palm
tree. "It was a beautiful garden," Durdham Yassin, the owner, told us.
"I grew tomatoes."

For the frequent flooding, Yassin spread the blame around. There was
Saddam, who spent oil money on weapons instead of infrastructure
during the Iran-Iraq War. There was the first Gulf War, when U.S.
missiles struck a nearby electricity plant, knocking out power to the
sewage-treatment facility. Next came the years of U.N. sanctions, when
city workers could not replace crucial parts of the sewage system.
Then there was the 2003 invasion, which further fried the power grid.
And, more recently, there were companies like Bechtel and General
Electric, which were hired to fix this mess, and which failed.

Around the corner, a truck was idling with a large hose down a
manhole. "The most powerful vacuum loader in the world," it
advertised, in English, on its side. Yassin explained that the
neighbors had pooled their money to pay the company to suck away the
latest batch of sludge, a costly and temporary solution. The mosque
had helped, too. As we drove away, I noticed that there were similar
private vacuum trucks on every other block.

Later that day I stopped by Baghdad's world-famous Green Zone. There,
the challenges of living without functioning public infrastructure are
also addressed by private actors. The difference is that in the Green
Zone, the solutions actually work. The enclave has its own electrical
grid, its own phone and sanitation systems, its own oil supply, its
own state-of-the-art hospital with pristine operating theaters -- all
protected by walls five meters thick. It felt, oddly, like a giant
fortified Carnival Cruise ship parked in the middle of a sea of
violence and despair, the boiling Red Zone that is Iraq. If you could
get on board there were poolside drinks, bad Hollywood movies, and
Nautilus machines. If you were not among the chosen, you could get
shot just for standing too close to the wall.

Everywhere in Iraq, the wildly divergent values assigned to different
categories of people are on crude display. Westerners and their Iraqi
colleagues have checkpoints at the entrances to their streets, blast
walls in front of their houses, body armor, and private security
guards on call at all hours. They travel the country in menacing
armored convoys, with mercenaries pointing guns out the windows as
they follow their prime directive to "protect the principal." With
every move they broadcast the same unapologetic message: We are the
chosen, our lives are infinitely more precious than yours. Middle-
class Iraqis, meanwhile, cling to the next rung down the ladder: they
can afford to buy protection from local militias, they are able to
ransom a family member held by kidnappers, they may ultimately escape
to a life of poverty in Jordan. But the vast majority of Iraqis have
no protection at all. They walk the streets exposed to any possible
ravaging, with nothing between them and the next car bomb but a thin
layer of fabric. In Iraq, the lucky get Kevlar; the rest get prayer

Like most people, I saw the divide between Baghdad's Green and Red
zones as a simple by-product of the war: This is what happens when the
richest country in the world sets up camp in one of the poorest. But
now, after years spent visiting other disaster zones, from post-
tsunami Sri Lanka to post-Katrina New Orleans, I've come to think of
these Green Zone/Red Zone worlds as something else: fast-forward
versions of what "free market" forces are doing to our societies even
in the absence of war. In Iraq the phones, pipes, and roads had been
destroyed by weapons and trade embargoes. In many other parts of the
world, including the United Stares, they have been demolished by
ideology, the war on "big government," the religion of tax cuts, the
fetish for privatization. When that crumbling infrastructure is
blasted with increasingly intense weather, the effects can be as
devastating as war.

Last February, for instance, Jakarta suffered one of these predictable
disasters. The rains had come, as they always do, but this time the
water didn't drain our of Jakarta's famously putrid sewers, and half
the city filled up like a swimming pool. There were mass evacuations,
and at least fifty-seven people were killed. No bombs or trade
sanctions were needed for Jakarta's infrastructure to fail in fact,
the steady erosion of the country's public sphere had taken place
under the banner of "free trade." For decades, Washington-backed
structural-adjustment programs had pampered investors and starved
public services, leading to such cliches of lopsided development as
glittering shopping malls with indoor skating rinks surrounded by
moats of open sewers. Now those sewers had failed completely.

In wealthier countries, where public infrastructure was far more
robust before the decline began, it has been possible to delay this
kind of reckoning. Politicians have been free to cut taxes and rail
against big government even as their constituents drove on, studied
in, and drank from the huge public-works projects of the 1930s and
1940s. But after a few decades, that trick stops working. The American
Society of Civil Engineers has warned that the United States has
fallen so far behind in maintaining its public infrastructure --
roads, bridges, schools, dams -- that it would take more than a
trillion and a half dollars over five years to bring it back up to
standard. This past summer those statistics came to life: collapsing
bridges, flooding subways, exploding steam pipes, and the still-
unfolding tragedy that began when New Orleans's levees broke.

After each new disaster, it's tempting to imagine that the loss of
life and productivity will finally serve as a wake-up call, provoking
the political class to launch some kind of "new New Deal." In fact,
the opposite is taking place: disasters have become the preferred
moments for advancing a vision of a ruthlessly divided world, one in
which the very idea of a public sphere has no place at all. Call it
disaster capitalism. Every time a new crisis hits -- even when the
crisis itself is the direct by-product of free-market ideology -- the
fear and disorientation that follow are harnessed for radical social
and economic re-engineering. Each new shock is midwife to a new course
of economic shock therapy. The end result is the same kind of
unapologetic partition between the included and the excluded, the
protected and the damned, that is on display in Baghdad.

Consider the instant reactions to last summer's various infrastructure
disasters. Four days after the Minneapolis bridge collapsed, a Wall
Street Journal editorial had the solution: "tapping private investors
to build and operate public roads and bridges," with the cost made up
from ever-escalating tolls. After heavy rain caused the shutdown of
New York City's subway lines, the New York Sun ran an editorial under
the headline "Sell the Subways." It called for individual train lines
to compete against one another, luring customers with the safest,
driest service and "charging higher fares when the competing lines,
stingier on their investments, were shut down with tracks under
water."' It's not hard to imagine what this free market in subways
would look like: high-speed lines ferrying commuters from the Upper
West Side to Wall Street, while the trains serving the South Bronx
wouldn't just continue their long decay, they would simply drown.

The same week as the bridge collapse, hysteria erupted over canceled
flights and delays at London's Heathrow airport, prompting The
Economist to demand "radical reform" of the "grubby, cramped"
facility. London's airports are already privatized, but now, according
to the magazine, they should be deregulated, allowing terminals to
compete against one another: "different firms could provide different
forms of security checks, some faster and dearer than others."
Meanwhile, in New Orleans, schools were getting ready to reopen for
fall. More than half the city's students would be attending newly
minted charter schools, where they would enjoy small classes, well-
trained teachers, and refurbished libraries, thanks to special state
and foundation funding pouring into what the New York Times has
described as "the nation's pre-eminent laboratory for the widespread
use of charter schools." But charters are only for the students who
are admitted to the system -- an educational Green Zone. The rest of
New Orleans's public-school students -- many of them with special
emotional and physical needs, almost all of them African American --
are dumped into the pre-Katrina system: no extra money, overcrowded
classrooms, more guards than teachers. An educational Red Zone.

Other institutions that had attempted to bridge the gap between New
Orleans's super-rich and ultra-poor were also under attack: thousands
of units of subsidized housing were slotted for demolition, and
Charity Hospital, the city's largest public-health facility, remained
shuttered. The original disaster was created and deepened by public
infrastructure that was on its last legs; in the years since, the
disaster itself has been used as an excuse to finish the job.

There will be more Katrinas. The bones of our states -- so frail and
aging -- will keep getting buffeted by storms both climatic and
political. And as key pieces of the infrastructure are knocked out,
there is no guarantee that they will be repaired or rebuilt, at least
not as they were before. More likely, they will be left to rot, with
the well-off withdrawing into gated communities, their needs met by
private suppliers.

Not so long ago, disasters were periods of social leveling, rare
moments when atomized communities put divisions aside and pulled
together. Today they are moments when we are hurled further apart,
when we lurch into a radically segregated future where some of us will
fall off the map and others ascend to a parallel privatized state, one
equipped with well-paved highways and skyways, safe bridges, boutique
charter schools, fast-lane airport terminals, and deluxe subways.

As Iraq and New Orleans both reveal, the markets opened up by crises
aren't only the roads, schools, and oil wells; the disasters
themselves are major new markets. The military-industrial complex that
Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against in 1961 has expanded and morphed
into what is best understood as a disaster-capitalism complex, in
which all conflict- and disaster-related functions (waging war,
securing borders, spying on citizens, re-building cities, treating
traumatized soldiers) can be performed by corporations at a profit.
And this complex is not satisfied merely to feed off the state, the
way traditional military contractors do; it aims, ultimately, to
replace core functions of government with its own profitable
enterprises, as it did in Baghdad's Green Zone.

It happened in New Orleans. Within weeks of Hurricane Katrina, the
Gulf Coast became a domestic laboratory for the same kind of
government run by contractors that was pioneered in Iraq. The
companies that snatched up the biggest contracts were the familiar
Baghdad gang: Halliburton's KBR unit received a $60 million contract
to reconstruct military bases along the coast. Blackwater was hired to
protect FEMA operations, with the company billing an average of $950 a
day per guard. Parsons, infamous for its sloppy work in Iraq, was
brought in for a major bridge-construction project in Mississippi.
Fluor, Shaw, Bechtel, CH2M Hill -- all top contractors in Iraq -- were
handed contracts on the Gulf Coast to provide mobile homes to evacuees
just ten days after the levees broke. Their contracts ended up
totaling $3.4 billion, no open bidding required. To spearhead its
Katrina operation, Shaw hired the former head of the U.S. Army's Iraq
reconstruction office. Fluor sent its senior project manager from Iraq
to the flood zone. "Our rebuilding work in Iraq is slowing down, and
this has made some people available to respond to our work in
Louisiana," a company representative explained. Joe Allbaugh, whose
company, New Bridge Strategies, had promised to bring Wal-Mart and 7-
Eleven to Iraq, was the lobbyist in the middle of many of the deals.
The feeling that the Iraq war had somehow just been franchised was so
striking that some of the mercenary soldiers, fresh from Baghdad, were
having trouble adjusting. When David Enders, a reporter, asked an
armed guard outside a New Orleans hotel if there had been much action,
he replied, "Nope. It's pretty Green Zone here."

Since then, privatized disaster response has become one of the hottest
industries in the South. Just one year after Hurricane Katrina, a slew
of new corporations had entered the market, promising safety and
security should the next Big One hit. One of the more ambitious
ventures was launched by a charter air service in West Palm Beach,
Florida. Help Jet bills itself as "the world's first hurricane escape
plan that turns a hurricane evacuation into a jet-setter vacation."
When a storm is coming, the charter company books holidays for its
members at five-star golf resorts, spas, or Disneyland. With the
reservations made, the evacuees are then whisked out of the hurricane
zone on a luxury jet. "No standing in lines, no hassle with crowds,
just a first class experience that turns a problem into a vacation....
Enjoy the feeling of avoiding the usual hurricane evacuation
nightmare." For the people left behind, there is a different kind of
privatized solution. In 2006, the Red Cross signed a new disaster-
response partnership with Wal-Mart. "It's all going to be private
enterprise before it's over," said Billy Wagner, chief of emergency
management for the Florida Keys. "They've got the expertise. They've
got the resources." He was speaking at the National Hurricane
Conference in Orlando, Florida, a fast-growing annual trade show for
the companies selling everything that might come in handy during the
next disaster. Dave Blandford, an exhibitor showing off his "self-
heating meals" at the conference, observed: "Some folks here said,
'Man, this is huge business this is my new business. I'm not in the
landscaping business anymore; I'm going to be a hurricane-debris

Much of the parallel disaster economy has been built with taxpayers'
money, thanks to the boom in privatized war-zone reconstruction. The
giant contractors that have served as "the primes" in Iraq and
Afghanistan have spent large portions of their income from government
contracts on their own corporate overhead -- between 20 and 55
percent, according to a 2006 audit of Iraq contractors. Much of those
funds has, quite legally, gone into huge investments in corporate
equipment, such as Bechtel's battalions of earth movers, Halliburton's
fleets of planes and trucks, and the surveillance architecture built
by L-3, CACI, and Booz Allen. Most dramatic has been Blackwater's
investment in its paramilitary infrastructure. Founded in 1996, the
company has used its steady stream of contracts to build up a private
army of 20,000 on-call mercenary soldiers and a military base in North
Carolina worth between $40 million and $50 million. It reportedly has
the ability to field massive humanitarian operations faster than the
Red Cross, and boasts a fleet of aircraft ranging from helicopter
gunships to a Boeing 767.[2] Blackwater has been called "al Qaeda for
the good guys" by its right-wing admirers. It's a striking analogy.
Wherever the disaster-capitalism complex has landed, it has produced a
proliferation of armed groups that operate outside the state. That is
hardly a surprise: when countries are rebuilt by people who don't
believe in governments, the states they build are invariably weak,
creating a market for alternative security forces, whether Hezbollah,
Blackwater, the Mahdi Army, or the gang down the street in New

The reach of the disaster industry extends far beyond policing. When
the contractor infrastructure built up during the Bush years is looked
at as a whole, what we see is a fully articulated state-within-a-state
that is as muscular and capable as the actual state is frail and
feeble. This corporate shadow-state has been built almost exclusively
with public resources, including the training of its staff: 90 percent
of Blackwater's revenues come from state contracts, and the majority
of its employees are former politicians, soldiers, and civil servants.
Yet the vast infrastructure is all privately owned and controlled. The
citizens who funded it have absolutely no claim to this parallel
economy or its resources.

The actual state, meanwhile, has lost the ability to perform its core
functions without the help of contractors. Its own equipment is out of
date, and the best experts have fled to the private sector. When
Katrina hit, FEMA had to hire a contractor to award contracts to
contractors. Similarly, when it came time to update the Army manual on
the rules for dealing with contractors, the Army outsourced the job to
one of its major contractors, MPRI, because it no longer had the in-
house expertise. The CIA has lost so many staffers to the privatized
spy sector that it has had to bar contractors from recruiting in the
agency dining room. "One recently retired case officer said he had
been approached twice while in line for coffee," reported the Los
Angeles Times. And when the Department of Homeland Security decided it
needed to build "virtual fences" on the U.S. borders with Mexico and
Canada, Michael P. Jackson, deputy secretary of the department, told
contractors, "This is an unusual invitation.... We're asking you to
come back and tell us how to do our business." The department's
inspector general explained that Homeland Security "does not have the
capacity needed to effectively plan, oversee, and execute the [Secure
Border Initiative] program."

Under George W. Bush, the state still has all the trappings of a
government -- the impressive buildings, presidential press briefings,
policy battles -- but it no more does the actual work of governing
than the employees at Nike's Beaverton, Oregon, campus stitch running

The implications of the decision by the current crop of politicians to
systematically outsource their elected responsibilities will reach far
beyond a single administration. Once a market has been created, it
needs to be protected. The companies at the heart of the disaster-
capitalism complex increasingly regard both the state and nonprofits
as competitors; from the corporate perspective, whenever governments
or charities fulfill their traditional roles, they are denying
contractors work that could be performed at a profit.

"Neglected Defense: Mobilizing the Private Sector to Support Home-land
Security," a 2006 report whose advisory committee included some of the
largest corporations in the sector, warned that "the compassionate
federal impulse to provide emergency assistance to the victims of
disasters affects the market's approach to managing its exposure to
risk." Published by the Council on Foreign Relations, the report
argued that if people know the government will come to the rescue,
they have no incentive to pay for protection. In a similar vein, a
year after Katrina, CEOs from thirty of the largest corporations in
the United States joined together under the umbrella of the Business
Roundtable, which includes in its membership Fluor, Bechtel, and
Chevron. The group, calling itself Partnership for Disaster Response,
complained of "mission creep" by the nonprofit sector in the aftermath
of disasters. The mercenary firms, meanwhile, have been loudly
claiming that they are better equipped than the U.N. to engage in
peacekeeping in Darfur.

Much of this new aggressiveness flows from suspicion that the golden
era of bottomless federal contracts might not last much longer. The
U.S. government is barreling toward an economic crisis, thanks in no
small part to the deficit spending that has bankrolled the privatized
disaster economy. Sooner rather than later, the contracts are likely
to dip significantly. In late 2006 defense analysts began predicting
that the Pentagon's acquisitions budget could shrink by as much as 25
percent in the coming decade.

When the disaster bubble bursts, firms such as Bechtel, Fluor, and
Blackwater will lose much of their primary revenue streams. They will
still have all the high-tech equipment bought at taxpayer expense, but
they will need to find a new business model, a new way to cover their
high costs. The next phase of the disaster-capitalism complex is all
too clear: with emergencies on the rise, government no longer able to
foot the bill, and citizens stranded by their hollow state, the
parallel corporate state will rent back its disaster infrastructure to
whoever can afford it, at whatever price the market will bear. For
sale will be everything from helicopter rides off rooftops to drinking
water to beds in shelters.

Wealth already provides an escape hatch from most disasters -- it buys
early-warning systems for tsunami-prone regions and stockpiles of
Tamiflu for the next outbreak. It buys bottled water, generators,
satellite phones, and renta-cops. During the Israeli attack on Lebanon
in 2006, the U.S. government initially tried to charge American
citizens for the cost of their own evacuation, though it was
eventually forced to back down. If we continue in this direction, the
images of people stranded on New Orleans rooftops will not only have
been a glimpse of America's unresolved past of racial inequality but
will also have foreshadowed a collective future of disaster apartheid,
in which survival is determined primarily by one's ability to pay.

Perhaps part of the reason so many of our elites, both political and
corporate, are so sanguine about climate change is that they are
confident they will be able to buy their way out of the worst of it.
This may also partially explain why so many Bush supporters are
Christian end-timers. It's not just that they need to believe there is
an escape hatch from the world they are creating. It's that the
Rapture is a parable for what they are building down here on Earth --
a system that invites destruction and disaster, then swoops in with
private helicopters and airlifts them and their friends to divine

As contractors rush to develop alternative stable sources of revenue,
one avenue of business is in disaster-proofing other corporations.
This was Paul Bremer's line of work before he became Bush's proconsul
in Iraq: turning multinationals into security bubbles able to function
smoothly even if the states in which they are doing business crumble
around them. The early results can be seen in the lobbies of many
office buildings in New York or London -- airport-style check-ins
complete with photo-ID requirements and X-ray machines -- but the
industry' has far greater ambitions, including privatized global
communications networks, emergency health and electricity services,
and the ability to locate and provide transportation for a global
workforce in the midst of a major disaster. Another potential growth
area identified by the disaster-capitalism complex is municipal
government: the contracting out of police and fire departments to
private security companies. "What they do for the military in downtown
Fallujah, they can do for the police in downtown Reno," a spokesperson
for Lockheed Martin said in November 2004.

The contracting industry predicts that these new markets will expand
dramatically over the next decade. A frank vision of where these
trends are leading is provided by John Robb, a former covert-action
mission commander with Delta Force turned management consultant. In a
widely circulated manifesto for Fast Company magazine, he describes
the "end result" of the war on terror as "a new, more resilient
approach to national security, one built not around the state but
around private citizens and companies.... Security will become a
function of where you live and whom you work for, much as health care
is allocated already."

Robb writes, "Wealthy individuals and multinational corporations will
be the first to bail out of our collective system, opting instead to
hire private military companies, such as Blackwater and Triple Canopy,
to protect their homes and facilities and establish a protective
perimeter around daily life. Parallel transportation networks --
evolving out of the time-share aircraft companies such as Warren
Buffett's NetJets -- will cater to this group, leapfrogging its
members from one secure, well-appointed lily pad to the next." That
elite world is already largely in place, but Robb predicts that the
middle class will soon follow suit, "forming suburban collectives to
share the costs of security." These "'armored suburbs' will deploy and
maintain backup generators and communications links" and be patrolled
by private militias "that have received corporate training and boast
their own state-of-the-art emergency response systems."

In other words, a world of suburban Green Zones. As for those outside
the secured perimeter, "they will have to make do with the remains of
the national system. They will gravitate to America's cities, where
they will be subject to ubiquitous surveillance and marginal or
nonexistent services. For the poor, there will be no other refuge."
The future Robb describes sounds very much like the present in New
Orleans, where two very different kinds of gated communities emerged
from the rubble. On the one hand were the so-called FEMA-villes:
desolate, out-of-the-way trailer camps for low-income evacuees, built
by Bechtel or Fluor subcontractors and administered by private
security companies that patrolled the gravel lots, restricted
visitors, kept journalists out, and treated survivors like criminals.
On the other hand were the gated communities built in the wealthy
areas of the city like Audubon and the Garden District, bubbles of
functionality that seemed to have seceded from the state altogether.
Within weeks of the storm, residents there had water and powerful
emergency generators. Their sick were treated in private hospitals,
and their children went to private or charter schools. And they had no
need for public transit. In St. Bernard Parish, a New Orleans suburb,
DynCorp had taken over much of the policing; other neighborhoods hired
security companies directly. Between the two kinds of privatized city-
states was the New Orleans version of the Red Zone, where the murder
rate soared and neighborhoods like the storied Lower Ninth Ward
descended into a postapocalyptic no-man's-land.

Another glimpse of a disaster-apartheid future can be found in a
wealthy Republican suburb outside Atlanta. Its residents decided that
they were tired of watching their property taxes subsidize schools and
police in the county's low-income African-American neighborhoods. They
voted to incorporate as their own city, Sandy Springs, which could
spend most of its taxes on services for its 100,000 citizens and
minimize the revenue that would be redistributed throughout Fulton
County. The only difficulty was that Sandy Springs had no government
structures and needed to build them from scratch -- everything from
tax collection to zoning to parks and recreation. In September 2005,
the same month that New Orleans flooded, the residents of Sandy
Springs were approached by the construction and consulting giant CH2M
Hill with a unique pitch: Let us do it for you. For the starting price
of $27 million a year, the contractor pledged to build a complete city
from the ground up.

A few months later, Sandy Springs became the first "contract city."
Only four people worked directly for the new municipality -- everyone
else was a contractor. Rick Hirsekorn, heading up the project for CH2M
Hill, described Sandy Springs as "a clean sheet of paper with no
governmental processes in place." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
reported that "when Sandy Springs hired corporate workers to run the
new city, it was considered a bold experiment." Within a year,
however, contract-city mania was tearing through Atlanta's wealthy
suburbs, and it had become "standard procedure in north Fulton
[County]." Neighboring communities took their cue from Sandy Springs
and also voted to become stand-alone cities and contract out their
government. One new city, Milton, immediately hired CH2M Hill for the
job -- after all, it had the experience. Soon, a campaign began for
the new corporate cities to join together to form their own county.
The plan has encountered fierce opposition outside the proposed
enclave, where politicians say that without those tax dollars, they
will no longer be able to afford their large public hospital and
public transit system; that partitioning the county would create a
failed state on the one hand and a hyperserviced one on the other.
What they were describing sounded a lot like New Orleans and a little
like Baghdad.

In these wealthy Atlanta suburbs, the long crusade to strip-mine the
state is nearing completion, and it is particularly fitting that the
new ground was broken by CH2M Hill. The corporation was a
multimillion-dollar contractor in Iraq, paid to perform the core
government function of overseeing other contractors. In Sri Lanka
after the tsunami, it not only had built ports and bridges but was,
according to the U.S. State Department, "responsible for the overall
management of the infrastructure program." In post-Katrina New
Orleans, CH2M Hill was awarded $500 million to build FEMA-villes and
was put on standby for the next disaster. A master of privatizing the
core functions of the state during extraordinary circumstances, the
company was now doing the same under ordinary ones.

If disasters had served as laboratories of extreme privatization, the
testing phase was clearly over.

For decades, the conventional wisdom was that generalized mayhem was a
drain on the global economy. Individual shocks and crises could be
harnessed as leverage to force open new markets, of course, but after
the initial shock had done its work, relative peace and stability were
required for sustained economic growth. That was the accepted
explanation for why the Nineties had been such prosperous years: with
the Cold War over, economies were liberated to concentrate on trade
and investment, and as countries became more enmeshed and
interdependent, they were far less likely to bomb one another.

At the 2007 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, however,
political and corporate leaders were scratching their heads over a
state of affairs that seemed to flout this conventional wisdom. It was
being called the "Davos Dilemma," which Financial Times columnist
Martin Wolf described as "the contrast between the world's favourable
economics and troublesome politics." As Wolf put it, the economy had
faced "a series of shocks: the stock market crash after 2000; the
terrorist outrages of September 11, 2001; wars in Afghanistan and
Iraq; friction over US policies; a jump in real oil prices to levels
not seen since the 1970s; the cessation of negotiations in the Doha
round [of WTO talks]; and the confrontation over Iran's nuclear
ambitions" -- and yet it found itself in "a golden period of broadly
shared growth." Put bluntly, the world was going to hell, there was no
stability in sight, and the global economy was roaring its approval.

This puzzling trend has also been observed through an economic
indicator called "the guns-to-caviar index." The index tracks the
sales of fighter jets (guns) and executive jets (caviar). For
seventeen years, it generally found that when fighter jets were
selling briskly, sales of luxury executive jets went down, and vice
versa: when executive-jet sales were on the rise, fighter-jet sales
dipped. Of course, a handful of war profiteers always managed to get
rich from selling guns, but they were economically insignificant. It
was a truism of the contemporary market that you couldn't have booming
economic growth in the midst of violence and instability.

Except that the truism is no longer true. Since 2003, the year of the
Iraq invasion, the index has found that spending has been going up on
both fighter jets and executive jets rapidly and simultaneously, which
means that the world is becoming less peaceful while accumulating
significantly more profit. The galloping economic growth in China and
India has played a part in the increased demand for luxury items, but
so has the expansion of the narrow military-industrial complex into
the sprawling disaster-capitalism complex. Today, global instability
does not just benefit a small group of arms dealers; it generates huge
profits for the high-tech-homeland-security sector, for heavy
construction, for private health-care companies, for the oil and gas
sectors -- and, of course, for defense contractors.

The scale of the revenues at stake is certainly enough to fuel an
economic boom. Lockheed Martin, whose former vice president chaired
the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which loudly agitated for
the invasion, received $25 billion in U.S. government contracts in
2005 alone. Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman noted that the sum
"exceeded the gross domestic product of 103 countries, including
Iceland, Jordan, and Costa Rica... [and] was also larger than the
combined budgets of the Department of Commerce, the Department of the
Interior, the Small Business Administration, and the entire
legislative branch of government." Lockheed itself deserved to be
characterized as an emerging market. Companies like Lockheed (whose
stock price tripled between 2000 and 2005) are a large part of the
reason why the U.S. stock market was saved from a prolonged crash
following September 11. While conventional stocks have underperformed,
the Spade Defense Index, "a benchmark for defense, homeland security
and aerospace stocks," went up 76 percent between 2001 and 2006 --
while Standard & Poor's 500 average dropped 5 percent in that same

The Davos Dilemma is being fueled further by the intensely profitable
model of privatized reconstruction that was forged in Iraq. Share
prices of heavy-construction companies, which include the big
engineering firms that land juicy no-bid contracts after wars and
natural disasters, went up 300 percent between 2001 and July 2007.
Reconstruction is now such big business that investors greet each new
disaster with the excitement of hot initial public stock offerings:
$30 billion for Iraq reconstruction, $13 billion for tsunami
reconstruction, $110 billion for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, $7.6
billion for Lebanon.

Terrorist attacks, which used to send the stock market spiraling
downward, now receive a similarly upbeat market reception. After
September 11, 2001, the Dow Jones plummeted 685 points as soon as
markets reopened. In sharp contrast, on July 7, 2005, the day four
bombs ripped through London's public transportation system, killing
dozens and injuring hundreds, the U.S. stock market closed higher than
it had the day before, with the Nasdaq up 7 points. A year later, on
the day British law-enforcement agencies arrested twenty-four suspects
who had allegedly planned to blow up jetliners headed to the United
States, the Nasdaq closed 11.5 points higher, largely thanks to
soaring homeland-security stocks.

Then there are the outrageous fortunes of the oil sector -- a $40
billion profit in 2006 for ExxonMobil alone, the largest profit ever
recorded, and its colleagues at rival companies like Chevron were not
far behind. Like the fortunes of corporations linked to defense, heavy
construction, and homeland security, those of the oil sector improve
with every war, terrorist attack, and Category 5 hurricane. In
addition to reaping the short-term benefits of high prices linked to
uncertainty in key oil-producing regions, the oil industry has
consistently managed to turn disasters to its long-term advantage,
whether by ensuring that a large portion of the reconstruction funds
in Afghanistan went into the expensive road infrastructure for a new
pipeline (while most other major reconstruction projects stalled), or
by pushing for a new investor-friendly oil law in Iraq while the
country burned, or by piggybacking on Hurricane Katrina to plan the
first new refineries in the United States since the Seventies. The oil
and gas industry is so intimately entwined with the economy of
disaster -- both as a root cause behind many disasters and as a
beneficiary from them -- that it deserves to be treated as an honorary
adjunct of the disaster-capitalism complex.

The recent spate of disasters has translated into such spectacular
profits that many people around the world have come to the same
conclusion: the rich and powerful must be deliberately causing the
catastrophes so that they can exploit them. In July 2006 a national
poll of U.S. residents found that more than a third of respondents
believed that the government had a hand in 9/11 attacks or took no
action to stop them "because they wanted the United States to go to
war in the Middle East." Similar suspicions dog most the catastrophes
of recent years. In Louisiana in the aftermath of Katrina, the
shelters were alive with rumors that the levees hadn't broken but had
been covertly blown up in order to keep the rich areas dry while
cleansing the city of poor people. In Sri Lanka, I often heard that
the tsunami had been caused by underwater explosions detonated by the
United States so that it could send troops into Southeast Asia and
take full control over the region's economies.

The truth is at once less sinister and more dangerous. An economic
system that requires constant growth while bucking almost all serious
attempts at environmental regulation generates a steady stream of
disasters all on its own, whether military, ecological, or financial.
The appetite for easy, short-term profits offered by purely
speculative investment has turned the stock, currency, and real estate
markets into crisis-creation machines, as the Asian financial crisis,
the Mexican peso crisis, the dot-com collapse, and the subprime-
mortgage crisis demonstrate. Our common addiction to dirty, non-
renewable energy sources keeps other kinds of emergencies coming:
natural disasters (up 560 percent since 1975) and wars waged for
control over scarce resources (not just Iraq and Afghanistan but
lower-intensity conflicts such as those in Colombia, Nigeria, and
Sudan), which in turn spawn terrorist blow-back (a 2007 study
calculated that the number of terrorist attacks has increased
sevenfold since the start of the Iraq war).

Given the boiling temperatures, both climatic and political, future
disasters need not be cooked up in dark conspiracies. All indications
are that if we simply stay the current course, they will keep coming
with ever more ferocious intensity. Disaster generation can therefore
be left to the market's invisible hand. This is one area in which it
actually delivers.

The disaster-capitalism complex does not deliberately scheme to create
the cataclysms on which it feeds (though Iraq may be a notable
exception), but there is plenty of evidence that its component
industries work very hard indeed to make sure that current disastrous
trends continue unchallenged. Large oil companies have bankrolled the
climate-change-denial movement for years; ExxonMobil alone has spent
an estimated $19 million on the crusade over the past decade. Although
the phenomenon is well known, the interplay between disaster
contractors and elite opinion makers is far less understood. Several
influential Washington think tanks -- including the National Institute
for Public Policy and the Center for Security Policy -- are heavily
funded by weapons and homeland-security contractors, which profit
directly from these institutes' ceaseless portrayal of the world as a
dark and menacing place, its troubles responsive only to force. The
homeland-security sector is also becoming increasingly integrated with
media corporations, a development that has Orwellian implications. In
2004 the digital-communications giant LexisNexis paid $775 million for
Seisint, a data-mining company that works closely on surveillance with
federal and state agencies. That same year, General Electric, which
owns NBC, purchased InVision, the major producer of controversial
high-tech bomb-detection devices used in airports and other public
spaces. InVision received a staggering $15 billion in homeland-
security contracts between 2001 and 2006, more of such contracts than
any other company.

The creeping expansion of the disaster-capitalism complex into the
media may prove to be a new kind of corporate synergy, one building on
the vertical integration that became so popular in the Nineties. It
certainly makes sound business sense. The more panicked our societies
become, convinced that there are terrorists lurking in every mosque,
the higher the news ratings soar, the more biometric IDs and liquid-
explosive-detection devices the complex sells, and the more high-tech
fences it builds. If the dream of the open, borderless "small planet"
was the ticket to profits during the Clinton years, the nightmare of
the menacing, fortressed Western continents, under siege from
jihadists and illegal immigrants, plays the same role in the new

There is only one cloud that looms over the thriving disaster economy-
from weapons to oil to engineering to surveillance to patented drugs.
It is the threatening if unlikely scenario that this latest boom could
somehow be interrupted by an outbreak of climatic stability and
geopolitical peace.


Naomi Klein's most recent article for Harper's Magazine, "Baghdad Year
Zero," appeared in the September 2004 issue. Her new book, The Shock
Doctrine, from which this essay was adapted, was just published by
Metropolitan Books.

[1] If these solutions seemed to present themselves with uncanny
speed, it is largely because Washington's think tanks have been on
such an aggressive campaign to privatize the essential functions of
the state. As a May 2007 cover story in Business Week explained, "In
the past year, banks and private investment firms have fallen in love
with public infrastructure. They're smitten by the rich cash flows
that roads, bridges, airports, parking garages and shipping ports
generate and the monopolistic advantages that keep those cash flows as
steady as a beating heart.... Investors can't get in fast enough."

[2] One of the most alarming aspects of this industry is how
unabashedly partisan it is. Blackwater, for instance, is closely
aligned with the anti-abortion movement and other right-wing causes.
It donates almost exclusively to the Republican Party, rather than
hedging its bets like most big corporations. Halliburton sends 93
percent of its campaign contributions to Republicans; Fluor, 78
percent. Is it far-fetched to imagine a day when political parties
will hire these companies to spy on their rivals during an election
campaign -- or to engage in covert operations too shady even for the

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From: NanoScienceWorks.org, Dec. 15, 2007
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HD Lloyd's of London Embraces Precaution for Nanotechnology

By Vance McCarthy

World-famous insurer Lloyd's of London has released an 'Emerging Risk
Team Report on Nanotechnology." The report provides Lloyd's views on
how insurers should work with researchers, private firms, and even
regulators to foster nanotechnology's benefits and mitigate risks.

One notable statement from the report: "In the past a vacuum of
regulation has proved unhelpful to insurers. The insurance industry
should lobby for clarity in this area."

Here are other elements of the report, taken from its Executive
Summary of Nanotechnology, Recent Developments, Risks and
Opportunities by Lloyd's Emerging Risks Team Report

1. A potentially large market.

The report focuses on nanotechnology; a class of products containing
materials built on the atomic scale. Nanotechnology represents an
entire scientific and engineering field, and not just a single product
or even group of products. Market research suggests that products
valued between US$30 billion -- US$200 billion contained
nanotechnology in the year 2005. One estimate by the Lux Research says
that 15% (by value) of all products will contain nanotechnology by the
year 2014. A project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, set up in part by
the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars now has 580
products in its database, an increase of 175% since the database was
released in March 2006. Currently most nanotechnology products are
found in the sports, household and food industry though others are
using them to a growing extent. This is a rapidly growing and
potentially large future market.

2. Nano Particles, different material properties.

The chemical reactivity of a material is related to its surface area
when compared to its volume. Dissecting a 1 centimetre cube of any
material into 1 nanometer cubes increases the total combined surface
area some ten million times. Nano particles can therefore be much more
reactive than larger volumes of the same substance. They are
relatively cheap and can be manufactured in large quantities. They are
already used in consumer products and can be highly reactive. Such
particles often have unknown toxicity which can be difficult to
quantify. They can disperse easily in air or water. Researchers
believe this form of nanotechnology is the most risky at present and
the insurance industry should monitor developments in this field

3. Unknown impacts on health.

It is unclear whether nanoparticles can cause chronic health effects.
There are several ways that nanoparticles can enter the body, these
include: inhalation, ingestion, absorption through the skin and direct
injection for medicinal purposes. The skin is surprisingly permeable
to nanomaterials. Carbon nanotubes are strong and can have a similar
shape to asbestos fibres; several reviews conclude that carbon
nanotubes are potentially toxic to humans. Given that nano-sized
objects tend to be more toxic than their large scale form it would be
unwise to allow the unnecessary build up of nanoparticles within the
body until the toxicological effects of that nanoparticle are known.
Such studies are still speculative but insurers would be prudent to
consider adverse scenarios when agreeing terms and conditions and when
determining pricing and capital. In particular whether a claims made
trigger as opposed to an occurrence trigger is appropriate and whether
limits should have an aggregate limitation.

4. Unknown impacts on the environment.

Removing nanoparticles from the environment may also present a
significant problem due to their small size. If absorbed, the
particles may travel up the food chain to larger animals in a similar
way to DDT though there is no evidence either way that this is a valid
mechanism. There is still too little research into the potential
negative impacts of this technology on the environment. However, some
nanoparticles (such as copper or silver) have been shown to be harmful
to aquatic life. Given the large pollution losses faced by the
insurance industry in the past this is cause for concern although
there are now many exclusions in place to limit such losses. As for
health impacts, where there is cover, insurers may want to consider
the terms and conditions carefully and, in addition whether to exclude
losses due to the reduction of property values.

5. Many positive effects.

Nanotechnology could also bring direct benefits to risk mitigation in
the form of new materials that are stronger or more adaptive than
before. Cars could be made to absorb more of the impact during a
crash; building materials could be made stronger and more flexible to
resist damage from earthquakes, fire, flood and corrosion.
Environmental clean-up operations could be made easier and cheaper
with the use of specialised nanoparticles. Medicine could also be
transformed by nanotechnology allowing cheaper and more sensitive
diagnostic tools for diseases giving insurance professionals better
statistics to determine pricing. However, this is perhaps one of the
great dangers; because the benefits are so seductive society may rush
to capitalize on them before adequately assessing safety. The
insurance industry must ensure that its own financial health is not
compromised by systemic aggregations of loss from these technologies.

6. Lack of regulation.

Currently almost all regulation of nanotechnology is done using
existing mechanisms. Stakeholders in nanotechnology are divided on
whether specific regulation is required. However, the "wait and see"
approach is increasingly becoming a dangerous way to determine the
risks. There is progress in this area and the Economic Co-operation
and Development (OECD) have released a "Nano Risk Framework" which
provides a framework for risk managers to address this. The
precautionary principle is now accepted to apply to the degradation of
human health as well as the environment, and suggests the use of this
technology should be risk assessed appropriately before consumption by
the public. This approach is being recommended within the EU, though
the US and Japan prefer a lighter regulatory touch. In the past a
vacuum of regulation has proved unhelpful to insurers. The insurance
industry should lobby for clarity in this area.

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From: PEJ News (Victoria, B.C., Canada), Dec. 15, 2007
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In Bali, the Current Regimes in Canada and the United States Have No
Right to Speak for Canada and the US

By Joan Russow Global Compliance Research Project

The Dominance of the United States, aided and abetted by Canada, in
the recent climate change conference in Bali, spawned a profound
comment about international negotiating process; "If you are not
willing to lead get out of the way."

The US exceptionalism has been prevalent at the United Nations for
years; Now, with the "new" Conservative government in Canada, the US
has a willing accomplice in undermining international resolve.

At the 2002 World Summit Conference on Sustainable Development (WSSD),
Canada and the United States were placed on the "Environmental Axis of
Evil" until suddenly the Right Honourable Jean Chretien, the former
Prime Minister of Canada, drifted into the Conference and declared
that Canada would ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Now in 2007, Canada will
be perceived as a charter member of the Environmental Axis of Evil.

The Dominance of the United States, aided and abetted by Canada, in
the recent climate change conference in Bali, spawned a profound
comment about international negotiating process; "If you are not
willing to lead get out of the way."

The US exceptionalism has been prevalent at the United Nations for
years; Now, with the "new" Conservative government in Canada, the US
has a willing accomplice in undermining international resolve.

At the 2002 World Summit Conference on Sustainable Development (WSSD),
Canada and the United States were placed on the "Environmental Axis of
Evil" until suddenly the Right Honourable Jean Chretien, the former
Prime Minister of Canada, drifted into the Conference and declared
that Canada would ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Now in 2007, Canada will
be perceived as a charter member of the Environmental Axis of Evil.

One must question when governments can speak on behalf of their
citizens. The Bush and Harper regimes are at the 30 and 33 percentile
respectively; yet, they can undermine, in the name of their countries,
the international resolve to set firm targets and deadlines for the
reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. In Canada, the three opposition
parties representing 66% of the electorate, voted for Canada to meet
its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.

It is often forgotten that both Canada and the United States signed
the Framework Convention on Climate Change, and subsequently ratified
the Convention. The Framework Convention on climate Change called for
the invoking of the precautionary principle which reads: The Parties
should take precautionary measures to anticipate, prevent or minimize
the causes of climate change and mitigate its adverse effects. Where
there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full
scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing
such measures....

Both the US and Canada caved into the fossil fuel industry's plethora
of "deniers". These deniers, including academics funded by the fossil
fuel industry, were continually referring to what they claimed to be
the lack of scientific evidence, and thus fundamentally contravening
the essence of the precautionary principle.

If the governments in Bali were to seriously address the threat of
climate change, they should have agreed to the following:

The UNFCCC must reach agreement immediately on a path to below 2 deg.
C and 400ppm CO2-equivalent emission target within adequate timeframes
should be imposed, and a phase out to at least 90% of 1990 levels by
2050. Governments should agree to take immediate actions to maximise
reductions in CHG emissions, with the ultimate aim to phase out CHG
emissions by 2050 and reduce atmospheric concentration below 400 ppm/
levels that result in interference with our climate, these must be
below 2 % or less. It is not enough for targets to be set to these
levels, targets must be set to maximums as possible taking into
account maximum possible reductions. Emissions must be reduced to at
least 40% of 1990 levels by 2030 (Russow/Levicki. December 2nd.
Submission to Negotiators in Bali).

To achieve this goal, all states all member states of the United
Nations must implement the commitment made, in Agenda 21, to the "the
reallocation of resources presently committed to military purposes" (
33.18e); and urge part of the peace dividend to be transferred to the
development of environmentally safe and sound alternative energy.

The Canadian and US regimes are so intertwined currently in the
pursuit of militarism and corporatism, that the rest of the member
states in the United Nations should demand that the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change investigate and estimate the full impact on
greenhouse gas emissions by the military and demand that each state
release information related to the greenhouse gas emissions, from the
production of all weapons systems, military exercises, from war games,
weapons testing, military aviation, environmental warfare, troop
transfer, military operations, waste generation, and reconstruction
afteracts of violent interventions etc.

In 2008 at the United Nations, the annual meeting of the Commission on
Sustainable Development (CSD) will be taking place in New York. At
this meeting, hopefully there will be an opportunity to revisit the
weak measures agreed to at the Conference in Bali.

Also at that time, perhaps the new voting measures in the European
Union Constitution will be in place; the current voting procedures
require consensus which results in the dominance of the minority; the
new measures require majority support. Hopefully, at the CSD, will not
succumb to the Compromiser's credo that "the best is the enemy of the

Until this time, low-lying states, should seriously consider taking
the United States and Canada to the International Court of Justice,
for violations of the obligations under the Framework Convention on
Climate change.

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From: CommonDreams.org, Dec. 14, 2007
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We Call on the Conscience of World Leaders to Act to Protect the Youth
and Children of the World

BALI, Indonesia -- December 14 -- As the negotiations reach their
final day, international youth are gravely concerned for their future.
Strong, urgent action must be taken by delegates. Inaction will have
irreversible consequences. With the security of the world's future
generations hanging in the balance, Youth delegates implore world
leaders to move beyond the last-gasp delaying tactics of the United
States, Canada, and Japan.

"It is humiliating to have to implore our leaders to take action and
protect our futures. We have no options left but this one humble plea.
Please. Please act." Kelley Greenman, 20, US youth delegate.

Over the past two weeks, youth from around the world have gathered to
express their optimism about the process, highlight the potential for
all nations to build upon global momentum, and forge a true Bali
Breakthrough. "Already, we are seeing the devastating impacts of
climate change -- and they are only going to get worse unless
something is done immediately," said US youth delegate Matt Maiorana,
19. "The precautionary principle has been completely ignored.
Negotiators are acting as though this is a political question, when it
is instead a moral imperative. What are they doing to protect my

"The negotiators don't seem to realize the consequences of the
decisions they are making, they talk only about themselves and don't
listen to others. It seems so selfish" said Indonesian delegate,
Choiriatun Nur Annisa, 20, "These are human lives we are talking
about, not numbers on a piece of paper. Please. Please, do everything
you can. The world and our future depends on what we do now,"

Youth are calling for the recommendations made by the Nobel Prize
winning IPCC to be adopted. To protect the next generation, developed
countries need to reduce their emissions by at least 25 40% by 2020.
As youth are the most impacted, the world must build an adaptation
fund that is just and able to protect those most vulnerable to the
impacts of climate change. To unleash the potential of youth in
developing nations, technology transfer must become a priority to
ensure the decarbonization of all countries.

As youth, we simply ask, Please.

As countries argue, time runs out. If the wrong decisions are made,
there wont be time to undo them. Please protect our future.


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From: International herald Tribune, Dec. 15, 2007
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By Mark Schwartz

The European Union's environment commissioner, Stavros Dimas, recently
indicated that two genetically engineered varieties of corn might soon
be banned in Europe because they could possibly harm certain
beneficial insects. The European biotechnology industry countered that
the very scientific studies cited by Dimas actually bolstered the
already overwhelming evidence of the safety of these corn varieties.

This is only the most recent in a long line of EU claims about the
supposed harms of biotech. At the core of this dispute is the
"precautionary principle" -- the idea that regulatory measures should
be taken to prevent or limit actions that raise even conjectural
risks, even when the scientific evidence of the existence, magnitude
or potential impact of a risk may be incomplete or inconclusive. This
principle, incorporated into EU law, has effectively precluded the
cultivation or sale of biotech crops or foods in the EU.

In the United States, by contrast, dozens of new crops and foods
resulting from recombinant DNA technology have been marketed over the
past decade, and they have been an overwhelming success.

Indeed, fully 90 percent of the soybeans currently planted in the U.S.
are of a biotech variety, and close to 80 percent of cotton and 60
percent of corn are biotech varietals. Fully three-quarters of the
processed foods in American supermarkets contain ingredients from
recombinant DNA modified plants.

The integration of biotech foods into the U.S. economy has its origin
in the Reagan administration's Coordinated Framework for Regulation of
Biotechnology, which laid the groundwork for establishing that the
characteristics of the end product -- and not of the process by which
the end-product is developed -- determine the risk level, and hence
the level of federal regulation.

This approach is based on the fact that the genes of virtually all
organisms consist of DNA, and, scientifically speaking, it's what the
DNA produces, not where it comes from, that matters. The result is
that biotech foods in the United States are effectively regulated no
differently than conventional foods. Furthermore -- because the end-
product, not the process, determines the level of risk -- biotech
foods are generally not labeled any differently than conventional

The relative importance of regulating the process (as in the EU)
rather than the end-product is referred to as the "process-product
paradigm." With 10 years of hindsight to guide us, which is the better
regulatory framework?

Whether we compare these products on the basis of their production
costs, diversity of new varietals or safety, the clear winner is end-
product regulation of biotech crops and foods.

For example, farmers who have used crops containing genes enhancing
resistance to pests have significantly reduced their reliance on
pesticides, and simultaneously increased their yields. For cotton
plants alone, the net financial gain to American farmers has been in
the hundreds of millions of dollars. One of the most promising areas
of new crop development involves varieties genetically engineered to
have an increased content of essential minerals and vitamins.

As for safety, by the end of this year, the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration will have evaluated approximately 70 biotech food
products and found them all to be as safe as their conventional

Furthermore, a large body of independent scientific evidence confirms
that there is nothing about biotech foods that causes them to be
inherently more dangerous than foods made from conventional crops. A
study by the National Academy of Sciences evaluated the likelihood of
unintended health effects as a result of various methods of developing
new strains, and concluded that mutagen breeding, a century-old means
of altering crops, was more likely to be genetically disruptive than
any form of genetic engineering, and also produced the widest range of
unintended effects.

What many opponents of bioengineering refuse to acknowledge is that
many traditional plant-breeding techniques are simply imprecise forms
of the very genetic engineering that they claim to reject. For
instance, mutagen breeding involves bombarding plants with X-Rays,
gamma rays, fast neutrons, or one of a variety of toxic chemicals in
an attempt to induce favorable chromosomal changes and genetic
mutations. These techniques are so imprecise that researchers never
know which chromosomes they are disrupting, let alone the genes on
these chromosomes that they are mutating.

Examples of products developed using these conventional methods
include some of the most common varieties of grapefruit, watermelon,
wheat, barley, rice, peanuts and lettuce, along with hundreds of other
fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes that have found their way onto
supermarket shelves around the world. None of the foods produced
through mutagen breeding is labeled "mutagen bred" or "engineered
using ionizing radiation or toxic chemicals."'

An increasing number of studies have concluded that biotech foods are
actually healthier and safer in many respects than their conventional
counterparts. Examples include the very products that Commissioner
Dimas is considering banning, namely varieties of biotech engineered

Minute quantities of the fungal toxin Fumonisin have been linked to
cancer, liver toxicity and neural tube defects in newborns. The
principal way these toxins enter the food supply is via insect-damaged
plants. Biotech crops produce a protein that is toxic to many boring
insects, but perfectly safe to mammals, thereby substantially reducing
damage to crops, and the vehicle by which fungal toxins enter our food
supply. Biotech corn has been shown to contain 900 percent fewer
fungal toxins than the non-GM corn varieties grown by organic and
traditional farmers.

These scientific conclusions have led to suggestions that health
claims be allowed on biotech corn products or that warning labels be
mandated on certain conventional corn products, turning on its head
the argument that bioengineered foods be labeled as "genetically
engineered" in order to enable consumers to seek out the "safer"
conventional products.

The precautionary principle seriously impedes the further advancement
of society by eroding science-based risk-management practices, leading
to the banning of net-beneficial products as well as products for
which no harm has been demonstrated.

If civilization had embraced this principle in the 1800s, our lives
today would be almost as nasty, brutish and short as they were 200
years ago.

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  Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical
  examples of the Precautionary Principle, or Foresight Principle, in
  action. The Precautionary Principle is a modern way of making
  decisions, to minimize harm. Rachel's Precaution Reporter tries to
  answer such questions as, Why do we need the precautionary
  principle? Who is using precaution? Who is opposing precaution?

  We often include attacks on the precautionary principle because we  
  believe it is essential for advocates of precaution to know what
  their adversaries are saying, just as abolitionists in 1830 needed
  to know the arguments used by slaveholders.

  Rachel's Precaution Reporter is published as often as necessary to
  provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject.

  As you come across stories that illustrate the precautionary 
  principle -- or the need for the precautionary principle -- 
  please Email them to us at rpr@rachel.org.

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Environmental Research Foundation
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