Rachel's Democracy & Health News #893
Thursday, February 8, 2007
From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News ...............[This story printer-friendly]
February 8, 2007
ESCAPING THE MATRIX
[Rachel's introduction: In the movie The Matrix, a false reality is manufactured by computers to keep the enslaved population happy and deluded so they can be exploited in a scheme aimed at world domination. Does this ring a bell, folks?]
By Tim Montague
In the movie, The Matrix, a computer hacker named Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) is living an ordinary life in what he thinks is 1999. However, when he is contacted by the enigmatic character, Morpheus, Neo learns that he is actually living in the year 2199 where some malevolent computers have created a realistic but totally false version of 20th-century life ("the matrix") to keep Neo and the rest of the population happily enslaved. It turns out the computers are "farming" the population to fuel a campaign of total domination being carried out in the real world of 2199. To gain freedom and justice, Neo must first make a decision to confront the awful truth, then join forces with Morpheus and others to figure out how to escape from the matrix.
Like Neo, we have a choice -- to go on pretending that everything is as it appears, or to search for a deeper truth about the nature of our reality. In our matrix, we live in a democracy where everyone is created equal, with liberty and justice for all. Our school books, television shows and politicians assure us that if we work hard and play by the rules we can all get ahead and have "the good life." In reality we live in an economy that is wrecking the planet and destroying the future for our children, increasingly benefiting only a handfull of elites.
Richard Moore's slim new book Escaping the Matrix: how we the people can change the world (ISBN 0977098303) is an intriguing indictment of our 'dominator' society, how it's killing the planet and what we might do about it.
Moore's analysis of the situation -- a world on the verge of a nervous breakdown -- is that corruption by corporate and political elites is an inevitable aspect of societies like ours, based on domination and exploitation by a warrior class -- the "military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about in 1961.
Moore begins by framing events and organizations as diverse as World War I, the World Trade Organization, and the United Nations as guided by capitalism. "Capitalism is basically the belief that those who have the most spare money -- the most capital -- should decide how our societies develop. This is a political belief, a belief about who should make the important societal decisions. It is an entirely undemocratic belief; in fact it is a belief in the virtue of plutocracy -- rule by the wealthy."(p. 54)
This has created a modern crisis. "...[C]ivilization is suffering from both a chronic disease and an acute, life-threatening infection. The acute infection is the unsustainability of our modern societies; the chronic disease is rule by elites -- a disease we've been suffering from ever since the first Mesopotamian kings, some 6,000 years ago."(p. 58)
This pretty much sums up the first third of the book -- which includes a compelling recap of world events from this point of view. Recent events, like the decline of the American manufacturing economy and the war on terror, suddenly make very good sense. Capital is finding its way out of slow-growth markets into faster growth markets. Government's role is to protect those corporate interests at any cost, including manufacturing excuses to start a nasty oil war.
In the middle third of the book, Moore serves up a brief history of humanity and what led to our violent and oppressive ways. He asks, How did hierarchical society come to be in the first place? Were human cultures always so competitive and war-like? Citing the work of Riane Eisler, author of The Chalice and the Blade, Moore says that there is good evidence that prehistoric European humans lived in 'partnership societies' that were egalitarian and based on cooperation not domination.
While the first agrarian societies were evolving in what is today the Middle-East (the fertile crescent), nomadic herding culture emerged on the Russian steppes. The herding cultures were inherently more aggressive than their agrarian counterparts by virtue of their nomadic lifestyle and relative scarcity of resources. "These were male- dominated warrior societies, with strong chiefs. Archeological evidence reveals that human sacrifice was practiced, warrior deities were worshipped, and that chiefs were buried with impressive caches of weapons. Eisler places these societies in the category of dominator societies."(p. 75)
When dominator (nomadic herder) society mixes with partnership (agrarian) you get a volatile mix: "Thus hierarchical civilization seems to have arisen as a hybrid between these two cultural strains: the partnership strain contributed the civilizing technologies and the slave to till the soil; the dominator strain contributed the ruling hierarchy and the dominator culture."(p. 77)
"With the production afforded by slave-based agriculture, rulers could afford to pursue conquest and expansion."(p. 79) Bringing us to where we stand today -- the product of 6,000 years of dominator expansion. And as we see, when dominator culture runs into more cooperatively based cultures like indigenous hunter-gatherers, dominator culture tends to absorb or exterminate the others.
"Over the centuries we've seen warrior chiefs replaced by kings, and kings replaced by corporate elites, but always there have been a few who made the rules and the many who obeyed them, a few who reaped the rewards and the many who paid the taxes and fought in the wars. We've seen slavery replaced by serfdom replaced by employment, but always it has been a few at the top who have owned the product of our labors."(p. 83)
Moore then explains, "The source of our crisis is the dominator culture itself. Environmental collapse and capitalism are merely the terminal symptoms of a chronic cancer, a cancer that has plagued us for six thousand years. No matter what dominator hierarchy might be established, or which group of leaders might be in charge, things would always evolve toward something similar to what we have now. Such is the path of domination, hierarchy, and rule by elites."(p. 84)
Then Moore lays out a path back to "...a culture based on mutual understanding and cooperation rather than on war and conquest, a culture based on common sense rather than dysfunctional doctrine, on respect for life rather than the pursuit of profit, and on democracy in place of elite rule."(p. 85)
This clearly will require nothing short of a radical awakening and transformation of our culture. Moore then reviews two social movements from which we can draw important lessons.
The first is the anti-globalization movement embodied in the World Social Forum gatherings. But Moore is uncertain of this movement saying, "It is a very large choir, but it's not a quorum of the congregation. In its current form it is unlikely to have even a restraining effect on our descent into oblivion."(p. 87) However, he acknowledges that the anti-globalization movement will likely be embodied in whatever larger transformative movement does eventually shift us to a partnership society.
Moore believes that the populist movement (which began as the Farmer's Alliance) -- is another example we should study. "The Farmers' Alliance began in 1877 as a self-help movement in Texas, organizing cooperatives for buying supplies and selling crops. The cooperatives improved the farmers' economic situation, and the movement began to spread throughout the Midwest and the South. By 1889, there were 400,000 members."
But the movement was hobbled by two things. First, it failed to build a broad and diverse base; it did not expand beyond rural farming culture. "Although movement activists sympathized with urban industrial workers, and expressed support for their strikes and boycotts, the culture of the Populist leadership did not lead them to bring urban workers into their constituency, to make them part of the Populist family. From an objective strategic perspective, it is clear that this was a fatal error of omission." (p. 93)
Second, it dove headlong into partisan politics -- a logical progression for this kind of social movement but one that created a no-win situation. "In order to promote their economic reform agenda, and encouraged by their electoral successes, they decided to commit their movement wholeheartedly to the political process. They joined forces with the Democratic Party and backed William Jennings Bryan in the election of 1896." Then the backlash: "Corporations and the elite- owned media threw their support to the Republican candidate, William McKinley, in what [Howard] Zinn calls "the first massive use of money in an election campaign." Bryan was defeated, and the Populist movement fell apart."(p. 90)
Harmonization -- group dialog
Moore believes that to avoid the fatal flaws of partisan politics we should build consensus through a process he calls 'harmonization.' Harmonization is a form of group communication where participants work together, usually with a trained facilitator, to solve common questions or problems.
You can learn much more about harmonization at Moore's website. Harmonization is about coming up with creative solutions to common problems -- solutions that take into account everyone's concerns.
There are a variety of techniques for achieving harmonization. One is the Wisdom Council, a technique developed by Jim Rough that brings people from diverse points of view together for an extended conversation. Through dynamic facilitation the group members achieve mutual understanding, respect, solidarity and community.
Another leader in this movement for creative dialog is Joseph McCormick, founder of Reuniting America which aims "To convene Americans from across the political spectrum in dialogue around areas of mutual concern to build trust and identify opportunities for collaborative action." As Moore point out, this kind of dialog can be readily facilitated in any group of people, and it is an ancient human tradition, capable of transforming conflict into creative synergy.
Moore goes on to describe how we could scale harmonization up from the community level to the regional or national level. Moore believes that harmonization has the potential to become the basis of a 'community empowerment movement' that would transform our current adversarial culture into a cooperative partnership culture.
The core principles of this movement are local sovereignty and harmonization. The local community level is where everyone involved finds a shared common interest and motivation to strengthen and protect the community. Regional or national issues can be taken on by creating delegations from local constituencies. Local wisdom councils would delegate individuals to represent their community's interests at larger regional gatherings, and so on, up the geographic scale. Moore argues that centralized governments, corporations and institutions that currently make most of the decisions will be unnecessary and counterproductive in this new partnership society.
Making the transition to a culture based on sovereignty and harmonization will require 'repossessing the commons' -- all the things we share together but none of us owns individually including air, water, wildlife, the human genome, and human knowledge. Moore also includes the financial and monetary systems in the commons. "Each community doesn't necessarily need to maintain its own currency, but it must have the right to do so at any time it chooses."(p. 174)
Moore argues that only locally owned and independently operated businesses are good for the community. And that non-local ownership is a pitfall to be avoided entirely. And though it's a radical departure from our current system, this form of sovereignty would be a huge step in the right direction. In the meantime we can get on with exploring harmonization techniques.
"Any movement, which aims to create a transformed and democratic society, needs to keep this in mind: when the new world is created, everyone will be in it -- not just the people we agree with or the people we normally associate with. A movement must aim to be all- inclusive if it seeks to create a democratic society that is all- inclusive. Is there anyone you would leave behind, or relegate to second-class citizenship? If not, then you should be willing to welcome to the movement anyone who shares the goal of creating that new world," Moore concludes.(p. 93)
From: Canadian Health Network ............................[This story printer-friendly]
February 1, 2007
HOW BEING BLACK AND FEMALE AFFECTS YOUR HEALTH
[Rachel's introduction: The health of many Black women is affected in a negative way by factors such as culture, poverty, racism, and increased risk of certain diseases, as well as by their gender -- the very fact that they are women. These are the all-important social determinants of health.]
February is Black History Month in Canada, which is celebrated as African Heritage Month in Nova Scotia. It's a time to celebrate the many achievements and contributions of Black Canadians and learn about their experiences, including those related to their health. And it's a great time to take a closer look at what shapes and affects the health of Black women.
Black Canadian women are a diverse group who come from many different cultures, backgrounds and situations, each with unique experiences that shape their health. The health of many Black women is affected in a negative way by factors such as culture, poverty, racism, and increased risk of certain diseases, as well as by their gender -- the very fact that they are women. Also, some Black women do not have access to culturally competent healthcare -- that is, healthcare that meets their social, cultural and linguistic needs.
Who are Black Canadian women?
Black people have been part of Canadian history since the early 1600's, first as slaves then as free persons. Currently, most Black Canadians live in Ontario (62%) and Quebec (23%), as well as Nova Scotia, Alberta, British Columbia and Manitoba.
According to the 2001 census, there are now over 660,000 Black people in Canada, 346,000 of whom are women.
Black Canadian women are a diverse group from many cultures, backgrounds and situations. Over half (54%) are immigrants, who mostly come from African and Caribbean countries and Bermuda. Forty-three percent are non-immigrants, and the remaining three percent are non- permanent residents, a category which includes refugees.
While most Black women speak at least one of Canada's official languages, about 1% speak neither English nor French.
Gender and culture affect Black women's health
The health and well-being of many Black women is affected by cultural norms and traditional gender roles and expectations. Jeanine* is a Black refugee from Cameroon. She is a woman who does not fit the traditional expectations of her culture. Single and without children, she faces pressures and judgment from her cultural community. This adds extra stress to her life, which can harm her health and may put her at risk for health problems such as headaches, high blood pressure or insomnia. "I'm in my forties now," she says, "I don't have a child, I'm not married, so I'm judged because of that. It's considered a failure in my community. Men don't experience the same issue."
Strong Black Women don't always get the help they need
In many Black communities, women are often expected to be the main support for their families and others. In the Menopause and the Strong Black Woman Project, Dr. Josephine Etowa, Assistant Professor at the Dalhousie School of Nursing, examined the health and well-being of Nova Scotian women of African descent. "There is an ideology of having to be strong and be there for everybody else", says Dr. Etowa, who notes that "these strong Black women often care for others before themselves". The stress and pressure of this responsibility can take a toll on their health.
Many of these women also reported symptoms of depression, which is often stigmatized as are many mental health issues. "It's a topic that people don't want to talk about in the [Black] community", says Dr. Etowa. "It's a taboo, and they don't want to be labeled with mental conditions." Because of this stigma, some women remain isolated and don't get the support they need from health professionals, family or friends.
Poverty linked to poor health
According to the authors of the Canadian Association of Social Workers' report Income of Black Women in Canada, Black women often work in lower-paying jobs (Table 5) and are less likely to be employed (Table 10), despite having education levels that are similar to other Canadian women. They are also more likely to be poor, with over 46% living in poverty, compared to 29% of all Canadian women (Table 8). Because they're more likely to be poor, Black women are also more likely to have poor health.
Poor women have extra healthcare challenges; for example, some live in shelters or on the street and don't have access to regular care. Others, especially single mothers, can't afford to pay for medications or healthcare services. Black women who are new immigrants to Canada face additional financial challenges. For example, newcomers in some provinces have a three-month waiting period before they are eligible for public healthcare insurance, and have to pay for healthcare services while they wait.
Other women, like Jeanine, support families back home, which can take a toll both on their finances and their well-being. "I have to help the people I left behind by sending them money," she says. "So other things I could do to have better health, I put that all aside because I have to send the money back home. Even if I considered that I am in good health, if I know that my family back home is not, it will affect my well-being." If she had the money to do so, Jeanine would socialize more, join a gym and eat better, all of which would help her to have better health.
* Finding culturally competent healthcare can be a challenge for Black women. "
Racism also affects Black women's health
According to Canada's Action Plan Against Racism, approximately 47% of Black women who participated in Statistics Canada's 2002 Ethnic Diversity Survey: portrait of a multicultural society reported experiencing racial discrimination. While little research has been done on the direct impact of racism on health, it's acknowledged as another factor that can seriously affect health. According to the World Health Organization, "overt or implicit discrimination violates one of the fundamental principles of human rights and often lies at the root of poor health status... Discrimination both causes and magnifies poverty and ill-health."
Dr. Carol Amaratunga, Women's Health Research Chair at the University of Ottawa's Institute of Population Health, is a co-investigator with Dr. Wanda Thomas Bernard's team on the ongoing Racism, Violence and Health Project and researcher on other projects looking at the health of Black women and men. She sees a direct link between women's experiences of racism in a healthcare setting -- like being stereotyped, talked down to or neglected by their healthcare provider because they are Black -- and their future use of the system. "It really results in people delaying access to healthcare when they're ill, so that by the time they access treatment, in many cases their illness is quite advanced."
Higher rates of certain diseases and conditions
In 2001, Dr. Etowa completed a research project that looked at existing data on the health status of Black women in Nova Scotia. She found little Canadian information on the issue, mainly because health data collected in Canada doesn't often include information about a person's race or ethnicity. However, research from other countries like the United States indicates that Black women experience certain conditions and diseases, like fibroids, lupus and diabetes, more often than other women.
Dr. Etowa believes that to best prevent and treat illness in Black women, a more complete picture of their health status and the issues that affect their health is needed. "We don't know if we have the same issues [as women in the United States]," she says. "We need medical and quantitative research to tell us the incidence of disease among Black women. Ultimately, this is not [just] a Black issue; it's a healthcare system issue."
In some regions of Canada, data are being collected on ethnicity and rates of HIV/AIDS. These data indicate that women from countries in the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa experience higher rates of HIV and AIDS compared to other Canadian women (see page 96).
Culturally competent healthcare not always easy to find
Access to culturally competent healthcare that meets social, linguistic and cultural needs can also affect a person's health. Finding this kind of healthcare can be a challenge for Black women.
Lack of access to culturally competent healthcare is a theme that has come up in the ongoing project On the Margins: Understanding and Improving Black Women's Health in Rural and Remote Nova Scotia Communities. According to Dr. Etowa, " [Black women] don't see people who look like them or who understand their issues." For many, this creates a barrier to accessing healthcare.
Culturally competent healthcare means:
Providing health care to patients with diverse values, beliefs and behaviors, and tailoring delivery to meet their social, cultural and linguistic needs
Having an understanding of the communities being served, and the cultural influences on individual health beliefs and behaviors
Developing strategies to identify and address cultural barriers to accessing healthcare.
Adapted from: A Cultural Competence Guide for Primary Healthcare Professionals in Nova Scotia
Developing solutions that work
Targeted prevention initiatives
In response to emerging information on the higher rates of HIV and AIDS among African and Caribbean women, groups in Ontario have developed prevention initiatives aimed specifically at Black communities. For example, the Keep it alive campaign, developed by and for African and Caribbean people, raises awareness about HIV/AIDS among Black communities in Ontario, and Healthy Options for Women provides information to help Black pregnant women make decisions about HIV testing and/or treatment.
Integrating culturally competent care
Women's Health in Women's Hands (WHIWH) is a community health centre in Toronto that serves primarily Black women and women of colour. It is a unique example of a service that provides culturally competent healthcare.
The staff, who are mostly Black women and other women of colour, offer a range of holistic services in multiple languages. They also look at ways to address social issues. "We try to change the system through advocacy and lobbying the external environment to increase their access to care," says Ms. Notisha Massaquoi, the Executive Director. The soon-to-be-completed Collaborative Process to Achieve Access to Primary Health Care for Black Women and Women of Colour is an example of the collaborative research the centre undertakes. The project is investigating barriers Black women face when accessing healthcare, and possible solutions to reduce those barriers.
According to Dr. Sandra Romain, WHIWH physician, there is a growing need for more services for Black women. While opening more centres like WHIWH would be a good start, this may not be possible in some areas of the country. Dr. Romain says there is also a need for cultural competency training for all healthcare providers.
A number of resources on developing cultural competence are already available, such as A Cultural Competence Guide for Primary Healthcare Professionals in Nova Scotia. Also, some professional healthcare associations have adopted policies to encourage their members to develop and maintain cultural competence. For example, the Community Health Nurses Association of Canada Standards of Practice state that community health nurses working in Canada are expected to assess and understand "individual and community capacities including norms, values, beliefs, knowledge, resources and power structure", and provide "culturally sensitive care in diverse communities and settings."
Involving Black women in program development
"Women are experts on their own lives and their own healthcare", says Ms. Massaquoi. "It's important to include them at every level of healthcare, not just in providing services, but in the decision-making as well. We need to let women design the programs in the mainstream, have proper consultation and involve them in program development." For example, in the Healthy Balance Research Program, which looked at how caregiving affects women's health and well-being, women of African descent were involved in various aspects of the program including writing questionnaires and holding focus groups.
As Dr. Amaratunga puts it, the greatest value of working with Black women as they take charge of their health is that the process "recognizes the voice and power in the [Black] community". And as we take time during Black History Month to reflect on the past achievements of Black Canadians, we can also take inspiration from the strength of Black women who are working together to create a healthier future.
*Name changed to protect privacy
This article was prepared by womenshealthmatters.ca at Women's College Hospital, the Canadian Health Network Women Affiliate.
From: The Pump Handle .....................................[This story printer-friendly]
February 5, 2007
DROP IN CANCER DEATHS HYPE -- WHAT'S BEHIND THE NUMBERS?
[Rachel's introduction: Deaths from cancer have dropped slightly for the past two years, as more people have quit smoking. Does this bit of good news mean the cancer epidemic is over? Hardly.]
By Dick Clapp
Late last month, there was a series of news stories about the drop in cancer deaths reported in 2004 as compared to 2003. The Washington Post story ran under the headline "Cancer Deaths Decline for Second Straight Year," and the New York Times headline read "Second Drop in Cancer Deaths Could Point to a Trend, Researchers Say." President George W. Bush was quoted as saying "This drop was the steepest ever recorded... Progress is being made." What he did not say was that a drop in cancer deaths has been recorded in only two years since the data have been collected -- and this drop was greater than the one the previous year, 2003 compared to 2002. Both stories noted that the decline was small in absolute numbers (3,014 fewer deaths due to cancer in 2004 compared to 2003), but neither pointed out that cancer incidence has been either slightly increasing (females) or flat (males) in the past decade.
The drop in cancer deaths from 556,902 in 2003 to 553,888 in 2004 represents a one half of one percent drop. The National Center for Health Statistics report (see Table 2 in particular) actually reported some other findings that are more important than the drop in cancer deaths, in terms of public health. For example, there were 50,673 fewer deaths from all causes in 2004 than in 2003, and the drop in heart disease deaths was much greater than for cancer. The drop in deaths due to cerebrovascular disease (strokes), chronic lower respiratory disease, influenza and pneumonia, septicemia, hypertension and diabetes were all greater in percent decline than the drop in cancer deaths. In fact, many of these causes of death are related to the same risk factors (smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, access to health care) that the news accounts say were the reason for the decline in cancer deaths. The question then becomes, why are these other diseases declining more than cancer. The headlines might have been, "Cancer lags behind other diseases in decline from 2003 to 2004."
One other missing aspect of the cancer stories is what is sometimes called the cancer burden, or the number of people diagnosed and living with the disease. Needless to say, it's better to be alive, considering the alternative, but the economic and psychological burden on families of cancer patients can be enormous. So, while age-adjusted cancer incidence rates have been slightly increasing in females and essentially staying flat in males over the last decade (see SEER Program data) and mortality rates have been declining, this means the number of people living with cancer (the burden) has been getting steadily larger. The real goal from a public health point of view, is to reduce the incidence of cancer by prevention programs. Probably the best news in the past decade in this regard has been the declining lung cancer rate in males -- which has mostly been due to declining prevalence of cigarette smoke exposure, both to smokers and those around them. The incidence of this cancer has not declined because of better screening or treatment, but because of primary prevention.
Another piece of the cancer story has to do with childhood cancer incidence and mortality. Cancer is, thankfully, a rare illness in children, and mortality rates have gone down for many childhood cancers over the past two decades. Childhood cancer incidence has been steadily going up, however, and this cannot be due to some of the factors cited in adults (smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, etc.). It's also not that genetic susceptibility is increasing in children because heritable factors would not be likely to change in one generation. Here, most people would gladly accept the burden of keeping a child alive who has been diagnosed with cancer. But wouldn't we all rather that the children not be getting cancer in the first place? The explanation for the steady increase in childhood cancer incidence is not at hand, but at least one place to look is prenatal and early childhood environmental carcinogenic exposures. A report by Tami Gouveia-Vigeant and Joel Tickner published by the University of Massachusetts's Lowell Center for Sustainable Production (PDF summary here; PDF report here) finds that "evidence increasingly indicates that parental and childhood exposures to certain toxic chemicals including solvents, pesticides, petrochemicals and certain industrial by-products (dioxins and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) can result in childhood cancer."
In any event, the recent flurry of headlines about the decline in cancer deaths seems to be more wishful thinking and political spin than a sober look at what's behind the numbers. We'll be saying more about this in coming months.
Dick Clapp is a professor at Boston University School of Public Health, a member of the Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy Planning Committee, and Co-Chair of Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility. He was Director of the Massachusetts Cancer Registry from 1980-1989 and has been involved in numerous cancer cluster investigations.
From: The Independent (UK) ...............................[This story printer-friendly]
February 8, 2007
EU SEEKS POWER TO JAIL POLLUTERS UNDER NEW ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS
[Rachel's introduction: Releasing toxic chemicals, dumping hazardous waste and other serious "green crimes" would be punished by up to 10 years in prison and a 1.5 million Euro ($1.9 million) fine anywhere in Europe, under a new plan.]
By Stephen Castle
Releasing toxic chemicals, dumping hazardous waste and other serious "green crimes" would be punished by up to 10 years in prison and a 1.5 million Euro ($1.9 million) fine anywhere in Europe, under a plan to be launched tomorrow.
The plan is likely to provoke opposition from several national capitals -- including London -- because some governments jealously defend their right to determine tariffs for criminal offences.
But Franco Frattini, European commissioner for justice and home affairs, believes that the public is so concerned about damage to the environment that the measure will be popular across the continent.
His proposal lists nine sets of offences which would be recognised in all 27 EU member states, with possible punishment ranging from one to 10 years' imprisonment. These include illegal treatment or shipment of waste, discharge of dangerous substances into the air, soil or ground or unlawful possession of protected wild plants and animals. Other crimes would include causing drastic deterioration of a protected habitat and unlawful trade in ozone-depleting substances.
Maximum penalties for the most serious offences would include jail sentences or fines of at least 1.5 million Euros ($1.9 million). These would include "crimes that have resulted in death or serious injury of a person or a substantial damage to air, soil, water, animal or plants, or when the offence has been committed by a criminal organisation".
In introducing the legislation now, Mr Frattini and the environment commissioner, Stavros Dimas, have chosen their moment well. As The Independent's Campaign Against Waste has shown, there is mounting concern across Europe over the state of the environment -- from climate change and greenhouse gas emissions to wasteful packaging of consumer goods.
One official said: "I am 100 per cent confident that we will get the support of EU citizens, despite the worries of member states that want to hold on to individual sovereignty." The proposal argues: "Criminal sanctions are not in force in all member states for all serious environmental offences even though only criminal penalties will have a sufficiently dissuasive effect."
If adopted this would be only the second time in the EU's legal history that national governments would give up the full sovereign right to decide what constitutes a crime and what the punishment should be. The first move was triggered by a landmark ruling on environmental crimes by the European Court of Justice in September 2005, which gave Brussels a new competence over criminal laws across the EU. The court stated that it was up to the Commission to decide on penal measures in order to make community legislation effective.
This latest proposal stirred immediate debate. Chris Davies, environment spokesman for the Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament said: "I don't think we should support cheats. What the commission is trying to do is ensure that not only do we meet the object of legislation, which is to protect the environment, but that we have a level playing field for British business which, by and large, works within a good UK regulatory system."
But Timothy Kirkhope, leader of the Conservative MEPs, said the Commission's proposals were worrying because they could eventually result in other legislation being targeted for EU-wide criminalisation.
He argued: "This appears to be a worrying erosion of British sovereignty. Notwithstanding our support for environmental protection, this is a blow to Britain's ability to decide things for ourselves. I fear the Commission sees this as an opportunity to extend its powers and start interfering in the criminal law of member states."
From: Nature .............................................[This story printer-friendly]
February 8, 2007
EDITORIAL: LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
[Rachel's introduction: This editorial leads off a series of stories on global warming in this week's Nature magazine. The series includes commentaries on practical steps being taken in response to global warming.]
The release of the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last Friday [Feb. 2] marks an important milestone (see pages 578-585 and 595-598). Following the scientific consensus that has been apparent for some time, a solid political consensus that acknowledges the problem finally seems to be within reach. But achieving this outcome brings its own risks.
Until quite recently (perhaps even until last week), the general global narrative of the great climate-change debate has been deceptively straightforward. The climate-science community, together with the entire environmental movement and a broad alliance of opinion leaders ranging from Greenpeace and Ralph Nader to Senator John McCain and many US evangelical Christians, has been advocating meaningful action to curtail greenhouse-gas emissions. This requirement has been disputed by a collection of money-men and some isolated scientists, in alliance with the current president of the United States and a handful of like-minded ideologues such as Australia's prime minister John Howard.
Sidebar: Climate Change 2007
Special Report: From words to action
What we don't know about climate change
Climate sceptics switch focus to economics
What price a cooler future
Light at the end of the tunnel
Carbon copies [carbon trading]
Energy efficiency: Super savers: Meters to manage the future
Energy efficiency: Super savers: Experimenting with efficiency
Is the global carbon market working?
Climate change 2007: Lifting the taboo on adaptation
The IPCC report, released in Paris, has served a useful purpose in removing the last ground from under the climate-change sceptics' feet, leaving them looking marooned and ridiculous. However, this predicament was already clear enough. Opinion in business circles, in particular, has moved on. A report released on 19 January by Citigroup, Climatic Consequences -- the sort of eloquently written, big-picture stuff that the well-informed chief executive reads on a Sunday afternoon -- states even more firmly than the IPCC that anthropogenic climate change is a fact that world governments are moving to confront. It leaves no question at all that large businesses need to get to grips with this situation -- something that many of them are already doing.
So then, the enemy is vanquished and the victors can rejoice? Hardly. In fact, the pending retreat from the stage of the president of the United States and his allies leaves those who do acknowledge the severity of the problem facing an even greater challenge than before. The world now broadly accepts that we have a problem, if not a crisis. So what is to be done?
The policy choices that lie ahead are more daunting than political leaders (or the media) have thus far been ready to acknowledge. In a sense, twenty years of frustrating trench-warfare with the sceptics has prevented a rational discussion about what needs to be done from even taking place.
At present, the political response to the situation is, in large part, incongruous. We need to restrict emissions in the developed world, and some steps are being undertaken to do just that, chiefly through the much-maligned Kyoto Protocol. We need to develop clean energy sources, and these are being pushed ahead quite rapidly, although each one -- nuclear power, biofuels, wind power and hydropower, for example -- creates its own environmental battlefield. Steps are also being taken to build systems for large-scale carbon capture and storage, and to improve the efficiency with which energy is used (see pages 586-591).
The trouble is, none of this is even close to being sufficient to meet the challenge. Hybrid cars are being purchased (and often allow their lucky drivers special access to empty highway lanes). David Cameron, the leader of Britain's Conservative Party, has sought planning permission to erect a wind turbine in his back garden. And Pink Floyd and Pearl Jam have declared that their most recent world tours would be 'carbon neutral'. But we are all vaguely aware that all of this is nowhere near enough. Economic sacrifice
Even the most progressive governments continue to put the issue of climate change on the back seat behind their fundamental commitment to strong economic growth, which is needed to ensure political survival (in developed countries) and to enable human dignity (in developing countries). So in a typical European nation, for example, governments are calling for strenuous emissions cuts while also planning airport expansions that anticipate a further tripling over the next twenty years of air travel -- the fastest-growing source of emissions, and one not capped by the Kyoto Protocol.
The fundamental difficulty here is that it has been politically impossible to accept that fighting global warming may involve some economic sacrifice, at least while the sceptics were in the picture. As these are vanquished, it becomes possible -- and indeed necessary -- to start the discussion.
Similarly, it has been hard to talk about actions that need to be taken to mitigate the damage already certain to be caused by climate change and associated rises in the sea level, as such steps were regarded as a capitulation to those who just want to keep emitting greenhouse gases. This is no longer the case (see page 597). Mitigation, which can take many forms ranging from the Thames Barrier in London to the introduction of drought-resistant crop strains in the Sahel and the establishment of a proposed climate-change adaptation fund, needs to be squarely on the agenda, alongside emissions cuts.
A similar relaxation arises with regard to revised negotiations for the second stage of the Kyoto Protocol. There is a case for opening the second phase beyond a simple extension of the cap-and-trade proposals that made up the core of the first. US President George W. Bush will remain a participant in such negotiations until the end of 2008. But even before then, talks should include all the options open to a planet that is now ready, at last, to acknowledge the fix it is in.
In a related story, Joel Makower reviews the Citigroup report Climate Consequences and an eye opening 11 minute interview with Ed Kerschner, Chief Investment Officer at Citigroup Investment Research, discussing his report.
/* http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/docs/WG1AR4_SPM_Approved_05Feb.pdf */
From: The Guardian (UK) ...................................[This story printer-friendly]
February 2, 2007
SCIENTISTS OFFERED CASH TO DISPUTE CLIMATE STUDY
[Rachel's introduction: Scientists and economists have been offered $10,000 each by a lobby group funded by Exxon-Mobil to undermine the major climate change report published Feb. 2.]
By Ian Sample, science correspondent
Scientists and economists have been offered $10,000 each by a lobby group funded by one of the world's largest oil companies to undermine a major climate change report due to be published today.
Letters sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded thinktank with close links to the Bush administration, offered the payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Travel expenses and additional payments were also offered.
The UN report was written by international experts and is widely regarded as the most comprehensive review yet of climate change science. It will underpin international negotiations on new emissions targets to succeed the Kyoto agreement, the first phase of which expires in 2012. World governments were given a draft last year and invited to comment.
The AEI has received more than $1.6m from ExxonMobil and more than 20 of its staff have worked as consultants to the Bush administration. Lee Raymond, a former head of ExxonMobil, is the vice-chairman of AEI's board of trustees.
The letters, sent to scientists in Britain, the US and elsewhere, attack the UN's panel as "resistant to reasonable criticism and dissent and prone to summary conclusions that are poorly supported by the analytical work" and ask for essays that "thoughtfully explore the limitations of climate model outputs".
Climate scientists described the move yesterday as an attempt to cast doubt over the "overwhelming scientific evidence" on global warming. "It's a desperate attempt by an organisation who wants to distort science for their own political aims," said David Viner of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.
"The IPCC process is probably the most thorough and open review undertaken in any discipline. This undermines the confidence of the public in the scientific community and the ability of governments to take on sound scientific advice," he said.
The letters were sent by Kenneth Green, a visiting scholar at AEI, who confirmed that the organisation had approached scientists, economists and policy analysts to write articles for an independent review that would highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the IPCC report.
"Right now, the whole debate is polarised," he said. "One group says that anyone with any doubts whatsoever are deniers and the other group is saying that anyone who wants to take action is alarmist. We don't think that approach has a lot of utility for intelligent policy."
One American scientist turned down the offer, citing fears that the report could easily be misused for political gain. "You wouldn't know if some of the other authors might say nothing's going to happen, that we should ignore it, or that it's not our fault," said Steve Schroeder, a professor at Texas A&M university.
The contents of the IPCC report have been an open secret since the Bush administration posted its draft copy on the internet in April. It says there is a 90% chance that human activity is warming the planet, and that global average temperatures will rise by another 1.5 to 5.8C this century, depending on emissions.
Lord Rees of Ludlow, the president of the Royal Society, Britain's most prestigious scientific institute, said: "The IPCC is the world's leading authority on climate change and its latest report will provide a comprehensive picture of the latest scientific understanding on the issue. It is expected to stress, more convincingly than ever before, that our planet is already warming due to human actions, and that 'business as usual' would lead to unacceptable risks, underscoring the urgent need for concerted international action to reduce the worst impacts of climate change. However, yet again, there will be a vocal minority with their own agendas who will try to suggest otherwise."
Ben Stewart of Greenpeace said: "The AEI is more than just a thinktank, it functions as the Bush administration's intellectual Cosa Nostra. They are White House surrogates in the last throes of their campaign of climate change denial. They lost on the science; they lost on the moral case for action. All they've got left is a suitcase full of cash."
On Monday, another Exxon-funded organisation based in Canada will launch a review in London which casts doubt on the IPCC report. Among its authors are Tad Murty, a former scientist who believes human activity makes no contribution to global warming. Confirmed VIPs attending include Nigel Lawson and David Bellamy, who believes there is no link between burning fossil fuels and global warming.
From: Campus Climate Challenge / Better Days Alliance ....[This story printer-friendly]
January 31, 2007
YOUTH MOBILIZING ON GLOBAL WARMING
Largest youth mobilization on global warming: events on 575 campuses and Inconvenient Truth screenings anchored a week of action, January 29 -- February 2, 2007.
[Rachel's introduction: Students across the US and Canada recently completed a week of actions including rallies, film showings, and teach-ins to make governments, universities and schools enact carbon- free energy policies and reverse global warming.]
By Michael Crawford and Will Dugan
Contact: Michael Crawford, Communications Director, Campus Climate Challenge, 202 247-0965 or Michael@energyaction.net or Will Duggan, Better Days Alliance, 860 345-0000, firstname.lastname@example.org
In the largest mobilization in the history of the youth global warming movement, students have risen up to demand immediate action to end our addiction to fossil fuels. Students on over 575 college and high school campuses across the United States and Canada urged their campus administrators to enact clean energy policies as a key solution to the impending climate crisis. The demands are part of Rising to the Climate Challenge: Visions of Our Future, a week-long series of actions coordinated by the Campus Climate Challenge. "The Challenge" is uniting young people to win 100% clean energy policies at their schools.
Anchoring the week of action were hundreds of screenings of the Oscar- nominated documentary An Inconvenient Truth. In partnership with The 11th Hour Project and Truth on Campus, the Challenge made copies of the DVD and public screening licenses available to college and high school campuses across the U.S. and Canada.
In addition to the film screenings, students organized rallies, educational forums and requested meetings with members of Congress to urge that the U.S. take a leading role in reducing greenhouses gases. Events occurred in 49 states and 8 Canadian provinces.
* Students at Rutgers University collected 200 invitations sent to Rep. Frank Pallone D-NJ to invite him to attend a screening and discussion of An Inconvenient Truth. The screening kicked off a campus-wide dorm competition to save energy.
* Students from Ivy League universities joined together to call for their campuses to go climate neutral.
* January 30: Billionaires for Coal rallied outside the New York headquarters of Merrill Lynch to protest its investment in TXU, a company proposing to build 11 new coal power plants in Texas.
* January 31: West Virginia elementary school students presented letters to Governor Manchin urging him to build them a new school away from the coal silo that sits 150 feet from their current school.
For a complete list of events during the week of action, please visit http://www.climatechallenge.org/woa.
"Students recognize that climate change is the most critical issue facing their generation. Throughout the Week of Action they are demanding less talk and more action to end our addiction to fossil fuels," said Michael Crawford, communications director for the Campus Climate Challenge. "Beginning with their college campuses and extending to the halls of Congress, young people are sounding the alarm about global warming and providing real solutions that move us towards a clean energy future."
"At American University, we have already held a successful student referendum to move the university towards wind-generated energy," says student Claire Roby. "But that's not enough. We are joining with students from around the country during the week of action to demand real solutions to stop global warming."
"There is a growing sense of urgency about global warming among young people because we are the generation that will be most affected," says Andrew Nazdin, a freshman at the University of Maryland. "The week of action is a way for students to demand real solutions to end our addiction to fossil fuels."
The Campus Climate Challenge, a project of the Energy Action Coalition, unites young people to organize on college campuses and high schools to win 100% clean energy policies at their schools. Energy Action Coalition is a network of 41 organizations from across the United States and Canada, founded and led by youth to help support and strengthen the student and youth clean energy movement in the United States and Canada.
Energy Action Coalition partners are: Americans for Informed Democracy, Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, Black Mesa Water Coalition, Brower New Leaders Initiative, California Student Sustainability Coalition, Campus Progress, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Clean Air Cool Planet, Climate Crisis Coalition, ConnPIRG,CoPIRGDakota Resource Council, Earth Day Network,Energy Justice Network,Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative,Global Exchange,Greenpeace Student Network,Indigenous Environmental Network,INPIRG,Kids Against Pollution,League of Conservation Voters Education Fund: Project Democracy,League of Young Voters,MarylandPIRG,MASSPIRG,MoPIRG,National Association of Environmental Law Societies,National Wildlife Federation's Campus Ecology Program,NJPIRG,OhioPIRG,OSPIRG,Rainforest Action Network,Restoring Eden,Sierra Student Coalition,Sierra Youth Coalition, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy,Student Environmental Action Coalition,Students United for a Responsible Global Environment,Sustainable Endowments Institute,SustainUS,Utah Clean Energy,WashPIRG,WISPIRG,Young People For, and Youth Environmental Network.
Truthoncampus.org is helping colleges, universities and high schools across the country increase the positive outcomes from their screenings of "An inconvenient Truth." Coordination is being led by Better Days Alliance, a Connecticut-based 501(c)(3) organization with support from Aveda, Annie's Homegrown, Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Clif Bar, Stonyfield Farm and the 11th Hour Project.
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