Rachel's Democracy & Health News #989
Thursday, December 11, 2008

From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #989 ..........[This story printer-friendly]
December 11, 2008


[Rachel's introduction: The phrase "zero waste" includes two different activities -- municipalities aiming to recycle, reuse or compost up to 90% of municipal discards ("trash"), and "zero waste manufacturing" also know as "designing for re-use," which aims to create products that can be endlessly remanufactured and reused. Both activities are important to the future of the planet.]

By Tim Montague

The the Big Three automakers are licking their chops over the $14 to $34 billion in tax-payer bailouts they hope to find in their Christmas stocking. Meanwhile, community based environment, health, jobs and justice activists are planning an important Zero Waste Communities conference in the Motor City February 6-9, 2009.

The conference will bring together community-based activists from the U.S. and Canada aiming to create jobs by phasing out dumps and incinerators. Unlike the auto executives who have resisted innovation and the manufacture of cleaner cars, these activists will be organizing, sharing ideas, and swapping business plans to create real economic opportunity for communities of color and/or low income.

The Zero Waste Communities conference is part of a broad trend that is changing the environmental movement in the U.S. Grassroots activists are increasingly committed to solving serious environmental and health problems by creating sustainable green jobs, and using global warming as a multi-issue rallying cry for justice and sustainable prosperity.

The "Zero Waste" conference, hosted by the Coalition for a New Business Model for Detroit Solid Waste, is part of the global fight to stop landfills and incinerators from wreaking havoc on low-income people, indigenous communities, people of color, and the fabric of life on the entire planet.

The conference comes on the heels of a new report, Stop Trashing the Climate.[1] The 70-page report by Eco-Cycle, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) (who have also produced a 7 page companion statement Zero Waste for Zero Warming and a video) -- convincingly argues that governments can adopt zero waste strategies to greatly reduce their need for landfills and incinerators and combat climate change.

Dave Ciplet, an organizer with GAIA and one of the report's authors, says that the aim of Zero Waste is investing, "in the workforce, infrastructure and local strategies needed to reduce what we trash in incinerators and landfills to zero by a given year. It means stopping even another dime of taxpayer money from subsidizing waste disposal projects that contaminate environments and the people who live there."

As Rachel's readers know, there are many good reasons to find safer alternatives to burying and burning trash. Landfills and incinerators are major sources of toxic pollution that harm the environment and human health.[2] The report makes it alarmingly clear that dumps and incinerators are also major sources of greenhouse gases (GHG), speeding us towards a world too hot for human habitation.

According to the new report, we bury or burn nearly 170 million tons of stuff every year in the U.S. This is two-thirds of everything we make.(p.14) Only one-third gets recycled, re-used or composted.

Typical household trash is comprised of 59% organic matter -- an amount that equals 100 million tons (200 billion pounds) of wood, paper, food, and yard trimmings thrown away annually, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). After you bury trash, bacteria convert the organic matter into methane and CO2. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is up to 72 times more powerful at trapping heat than CO2.[3] Landfills are the largest producers of methane and consequently their gasses pose a threat to climate stability.(p. 14)

Burning garbage is a messy but profitable business. It takes useful material (wood, paper, metal, plastic, food scraps and lawn clippings) and converts it to heat and C02 (plus creating a brand new set of nasty chemicals like dioxins and furans). Then someone has to create all that stuff again. For every piece of paper that is burned or buried, a new piece of paper has to be manufactured -- starting with cutting down a tree somewhere, transporting it, chemically processing it, and so on.

The waste industry ignores the replacement cost of items that are burned or buried. They "greenwash" so-called "waste-to-energy" projects (aka, incinerators), proposing them as a 'solution' to the climate crisis, because they make something 'good' (electricity) from otherwise 'bad' stuff, like methane from landfills; or garbage that would otherwise take up precious landfill space.

Altogether, the report authors estimate that landfills and incinerators are directly responsible for 7% of our greenhouse gas emissions -- 5% from landfills and 2% from incinerators. What is important here, is that the 7% of greenhouse gas emissions produced by our garbage actually accounts for 37% of emissions if you take into account all the mining, logging, milling, oil drilling, transporting and manufacturing required to produce new stuff.(p.24)

The report advocates serious recycling of the raw materials present in discarded items, rather than burning or burying them. We could divert all the reusables, recyclables and compostables from the waste stream, capturing 90% of the material and reducing the nation's total greenhouse gas emissions in the process by at least 7%; today, in contrast, we capture only about 30% for reuse. This 7% reduction in greenhouse has emissions would be equal to shutting down 83 (one fifth) of the nation's 417 coal-burning power plants forever.(p. 15)

But this could be considered an interim goal -- on our way to a zero- waste manufacturing society. Among the 12 principles of green engineering, principle #6 is to retain complexity when reusing or recycling materials. In other words, a bottle has been manufactured for a particular purpose. Its shape, its size, the varying thickness of its base and neck -- are all essential to its purpose. Those design features should be retained, rather than just crushing the bottle back to glass shards and remelting them into a new bottle. As Paul Palmer of the Zero Waste Institute points out, bottles should be marked with a special machine-readable code so that a sorting machine can process garbage and extract bottles into proper categories. Then the bottles could be re-filled, re-sealed and re-used many times -- just as bottles used to be re-used in this country before about 1960.

Electronic circuit boards -- the guts of our computers and cell phones -- should be manufactured in modules with the circuit diagrams published online so that they could be re-used in new products rather than being simply crushed and discarded. Their inherent complexity should be viewed as an investment that we should not throw away.

For every ton of trash that we landfill or incinerate in the U.S., another 71 tons of waste are produced during the mining, drilling, logging, processing, transporting, and manufacturing of those products.(p. 19) Burning or burying our municipal discards entails great replacement costs.

Since 1970, we have consumed one-third of the world's available natural resources -- forests, minable metals, fossil fuels, and so on.[4] This enormous waste is the main reason why, if everyone in the world tried to live as we live in the U.S., we would need six planet Earths to provide the raw materials and places to throw stuff away. Our U.S. throw-away lifestyle is threatening the planet with ecological overshoot and collapse, while producing massive profits for certain industries.

Reusing, recycling and composting are threats to those major industries that profit from our single-use society. If we were reusing the 170 million tons of municipal discards that are currently going into landfills and incinerators, then we would effectively be reducing 12 billion tons (71 tons of waste times 170 million tons of stuff) of industrial waste. This is the kind of savings that could put us on the path towards real sustainability. We might actually be able to envision a no-growth, steady-state economy (gasp). (More on a steady-state economy here.)

Although zero-waste manufacturing is not on the national agenda (yet) for many municipal governments, diverting usable stuff from landfills and incinerators is an idea whose time has come, and dozens of cities around the world are taking it seriously. As part of the Urban Environmental Accords, cities like Oakland, Portland and Seattle have agreed to meet the goal of zero waste by 2040.(p.49) San Francisco (which already recycles close to 70% of its trash) has committed to increasing that proportion to 90% by 2020 -- and they are demonstrating that this can be done using today's technology with curbside recycling and composting programs.

Zero-waste manufacturing -- designing for reuse -- is going to get us beyond 90% recycling -- which slows our rate of raw material consumption but doesn't stop it -- to 99%. Some of the incentives for society to make that transition will include extended producer responsibility (EPR), which makes it industry's responsibility to design non-toxic, reusable, recyclable or compostable products. With EPR, the manufacturers of an item (such as a TV) retains legal liability for the item at the end of its useful life -- creating an incentive to manufacture with something in mind besides a landfill or incinerator, both of which endanger the environment and public health. (In the U.S., California is leading the way with a Product Stewardship Council with a very broad membership. The Product Policy Institute in Athens, Ga. has been instrumental in this important development; see their video, Cradle to Cradle.)

The good news here is that we can now see unequivocally that we must change and that zero waste -- meaning both recycling and zero- waste manufacturing -- must be part of the solution if we are to get on the path towards sustainability. On our present course, the garbage stream will grow steadily from 250 million tons per year in 2006 to over 300 million tons by 2030 (an increase of 20%). With zero waste firmly in our decision-making toolkit, we can envision a world without a waste stream that poisons both future generations and ourselves.

Imagine if Congress had the creative insight and the guts to say no to the Big Three auto makers and yes to millions of green jobs and thousands of community-based economic engines (public works projects) based on the principles of resource conservation, clean production and zero waste manufacturing. That would be a bailout worth fighting for, and one that would certainly help us step back from the brink of climate chaos.

[1] Brenda Platt, David Ciplet, Kate Bailey and Eric Lombardi, Stop Trashing the Climate (June 2008). www.stoptrashingtheclimate.org

[2] See for example, Michelle Allsopp, Pat Costner, and Paul Johnson, Incineration & Public Health: State of Knowledge of the Impacts of Waste Incineration on Human Health (Greenpeace, Exeter, UK: March 2001). And, also: Cormier, S. A., Lomnicki, S., Backes, W., and Dellinger, B. (June 2006). "Origin and Health Impacts of Emissions of Toxic By-Products and Fine Particles from Combustion and Thermal Treatment of Hazardous Wastes and Materials." Environmental Health Perspectives, 114(6): 810-817.

[3] Over a twenty year period, methane is 72 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2; over a 100-year period, methane's potency drops to 25 times that of CO2 because some of the methane decomposes over time (it has a half-life of seven years in the atmosphere). The report authors use the twenty-year time period -- potency of 72 -- because of the urgency of the climate catastrophe and because of the potential benefits of reducing methane emissions in the short term. Dr. Ed J. Dlugokencky, Global Methane Expert at NOAA says, "Scientifically speaking, using the 20-year time horizon to assess methane emissions is as equally valid as using the 100-year time horizon."(p. 7)

[4] Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism, Little Brown and Company, (1999), p. 4.


From: Rachel's Precaution Reporter #172 ..................[This story printer-friendly]
December 10, 2008


[Rachel's introduction: In this letter to president-elect Barack Obama, U.S. chemicals policy activists say, "U.S. chemical regulatory policy must understand and implement the Precautionary Principle so that we may finally join the modern chemical policies of other countries around the world."]

To the Obama transition government

Dear President-Elect Obama,

Congratulations on your victory in the election for president of the United States. We look forward to the positive changes you plan on making, and send you this letter to offer our support in that endeavor, especially for the urgently needed reform of our chemical regulatory policy.

Recent reports about industry influence and possible interference with our chemical regulatory policy on chemicals at the FDA, EPA and other agencies threaten the confidence of all consumers about American products, and about our government's role in protecting health. As we are sure you know, storms of controversy over chemicals in everything from shower curtains and lipstick, to baby bottles, infant formula, canned food, cars, toys and even pet food have increasingly unnerved parents and anyone concerned about public health.

Though its effects may not be as obvious, the deregulation of the chemical industry has hurt the United States just as much as the deregulation of Wall Street, with effects likely to last generations. Scientists, physicians, health advocates, worker organizations, parent groups, health-affected groups and many others view fundamental reform to current chemical laws as urgent and necessary to protect children, workers, communities, and the environment now and in the future.

The economic costs of current levels of chemical contamination are often hidden, though they contribute significantly to reduced worker productivity, increased hospital costs, more expensive health insurance, and greater burdens on businesses for hazardous waste storage, disposal, and clean-up fees. Uncounted in the conventional cost-benefit analysis of our chemical regulatory policies is the price we pay for children with developmental disabilities or the toll on families with chemical exposure-linked illness, not to mention eco- system impacts, made worse by global warming.

Mounting scientific studies link chemical exposure to human illness and unnecessary disabilities and chronic conditions. The most vulnerable include children, women, and communities of color and those already stressed by depressed economic conditions and diminished access to health care and information. Spikes in rates of illness linked to chemical exposure include: obesity, diabetes, thyroid disease, childhood cancers, breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, asthma, neurodevelopmental problems, learning disabilities in children that persist throughout life and other effects. Although chemical exposure knows no boundaries, communities of color located around chemical manufacturing areas and whose geographic location receives chemical drift from applications elsewhere are at particular risk.

Tragically, these preventable illnesses and health effects linked to chemical exposure are on the rise, and the effects of some chemical exposure effects can last for generations. Scientists, physicians, health advocates, worker organizations, parent groups, health-affected groups and many others view fundamental reform to current chemical laws as urgent and necessary to protect children, workers, communities, and the environment now and in the future.

People all over the United States, including Mossville, Louisiana, Glynn County, Georgia, Dixon, Tennessee, Port Arthur and Corpus Christie, Texas, agricultural communities in California, North Carolina, Washington, and Florida and elsewhere are suffering from chemical contamination. Arctic Indigenous communities are among the most highly exposed populations in the world. The Arctic has become a hemispheric sink for long-lasting chemical contaminants that travel long distances on oceanic and atmospheric currents. These chemicals accumulate up the food chain in fish, wildlife and peoples of the north.

Harm from chemical exposure from U.S. based and other chemical corporations is not limited to the U.S. Despite efforts by the international community to identify the most dangerous chemicals and phase them out, the U.S. government has obstructed this movement and has lost credibility with an international community suffering from the health effects of insidious chemical exposure caused, significantly, by U.S. corporations and their foreign allies. Ongoing efforts of the U.S. government to impede and obstruct major international policy advances such as the Stockholm Treaty and REACH have had serious economic and political consequences.

The opportunity to eliminate toxic chemical exposure and build a new green economy that supports clean production of safe consumer goods is now at hand. By designing new, safer chemicals, products, and green production systems, American businesses will protect people's health and create healthy, sustainable jobs, and enhance our ability to compete in the international marketplace. Some leading companies are already on this path and the workers and neighboring communities benefit. They are creating safe products and new, green jobs by using clean, innovative technologies that benefit public health, the environment and the bottom line. But transforming entire markets will require policy change.

Please consider these five steps to improve the health and well being of Americans, to protect future generations, promote industry innovation and technological superiority in designing safer chemicals, products and manufacturing processes, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and reward businesses that protect workers and lead the way to a new, green energy economy that will benefit all Americans.

1. Hire and Gather the Best and the Brightest for your Toxics Regulatory Team

* Deploy thoughtful leaders on: chemical exposure and environmental health, scientific and common sense solutions to the toxic chemical contamination problem, innovations in business and industry with Green Chemistry development, and other innovative thinkers to advise the administration on toxic chemical exposure as a variable in all domestic and foreign policy as well as on new appointments to agencies and departments relevant to environmental health. One example would be forming a task force on chemical regulatory reform or some other multi-stakeholder process to help expedite immediate action. These innovative thinkers should advise the administration on toxic chemical exposure as a variable in all domestic and foreign policy as well as on new appointments to agencies and departments relevant to environmental health and have no financial conflicts of interest. It will be important for this group to see the interconnectivity of issues inherent to a healthy and prosperous future.

* Set a public interest research agenda that coordinates green chemistry with green energy and green engineering technologies being developed and supported.

* The administration should adopt the position that the right to a clean and healthy environment is an inalienable right that will be protected by the courts.

2. U.S. Chemicals Policy Must Adhere to Principles and Guidelines for Ethical Chemical Regulatory Reform

* U.S. residents and all peoples have a fundamental right to protection from exposure to toxic substances, including from chemicals and nuclear radiation, in our environment and our bodies. The purpose of the U.S. chemicals regulatory policy must be to protect us from these exposures, while preventing the export of toxic substances that could harm other countries.

* U.S. chemical regulatory policy must understand and implement the Precautionary Principle so that we may finally join the modern chemical policies of other countries around the world. The Precautionary Principle forms the foundation of the European Union's REACH law on chemicals and international treaties such as the Stockholm Convention. This foundation for U.S. chemical policy mandates adequate scientific evidence that will help to insure that a substance is safe before it is allowed to be introduced in the marketplace.

* U.S. chemical regulatory policy must provide remedies for the injustice of unequal environmental protection based on race that has exposed communities of color to significant levels of toxic pollution. Such remedies must include a legal standard that requires a safe distance between a residential population and a chemical facility and a private right of action against a federal, state, or local regulatory agency whose decision or action results in a racially disproportionate pollution burden.

* In addition to aligning with REACH, U.S. chemical regulatory policy must regain U.S. leadership by respecting the intentions of international agreements, including Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), the Stockholm Convention, Rotterdam Convention, Basel Convention, the Montreal Protocol, and a new global free standing legally binding agreement on mercury and other similar substances of concern.

3. Revamp the Chemical Evaluation Process

* A gross lack of knowledge currently exists in the U.S. about the data on chemical substances produced, imported, exported, and used in the U.S. This serious data deficiency demands immediate adoption of a comprehensive process of identifying and assessing critical information for all substances before they can be produced, marketed or allowed for continued use. Of utmost priority art chemicals that are suspected of being mutagens, carcinogens, reproductive or neurodevelopmental toxicants, endocrine disruptors, and persistent bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals. Examples include: phthalates, bisphenol A, perflourinated chemicals, endosulfan, lindane, perchlorate, methyl bromide, methyl iodide, organophosphates, dioxins, furans, and brominated and chlorinated flame-retardants, and non- persistent chemicals, such as benzene, which may be difficult to detect.

* Evaluation of the chemicals must be on the basis of their inherent hazards and toxicity, including threats of harm to workers who make them, the communities where they are made, the communities where the chemicals and chemical-induced products are used, disposed or destroyed, and where there is danger for impacting the health of the general public, now and in the future, as in the case of neurotoxins and many carcinogens, which can take years to trigger or manifest effects.

* Chemical evaluation processes also must be based on complete transparency and mandated data collection from the corporations that make the chemicals, removing "business security" shields from manufacturers of suspected dangerous substances. Health and safety information should not be considered confidential business information and a "No Data, No Market" rule should be implemented and enforced.

* Suspected materials must be phased out more rapidly where safer substitutes are already available.

* No U.S. government agency should be allowed to shield chemical corporations from being mandated to provide information under the guise of "national security," in regard to chemical production facilities or transportation of these chemicals.

* Evaluation of chemicals must be conducted by U.S. government scientists and academic colleagues in a manner that that upholds the integrity of the evaluation, with public financial support as well as political support for independent research and protection for speaking freely about their findings. Scientists must be expected to report unbiased results, free from political and industry-driven influences, with all findings subject to fully transparent, independent peer review. Scientists must have support and protections to be able to conduct independent scientific study and speak freely about their findings -- the "gag order" on U.S. federal scientists must be removed immediately.

* Immediate action to pursue permanent Chemical Security legislation that would require thousands of facilities, including all water treatment plants to require the use of safer chemical alternatives and processes. Millions of people inside the U.S. are at risk if an unintentional or intentional (terrorist attacks) industrial chemical accident were to occur. The framework required includes improving standards for review of safer and more secure alternatives, worker involvement, and crucial government accountability. One immediate concern is the need for a structured review of federal facilities that pose the danger of an off-site chemical emergency release. The standards for these reviews must be focused on "alternatives assessment" rather than "risk assessment."

4. Reform "Stakeholder" Influence in Decision-Making

* U.S. chemical policy regulators, including non-scientist appointees and staff members, must be completely free of ties to the chemical industry or other entities that would attempt to influence their decisions or impact the integrity of chemical evaluations. Regulators may consult with the chemical industry, but we need a change from what has become a conventional U.S. process in which the chemical industry dictates chemical regulatory policy and writes relevant legislation. The preferred "stakeholders" in this process must be the people of the United States, not the chemical corporations.

* The people of the United States need to have access and the ability to participate in the chemical evaluation process, which requires resources for capacity building and access to expertise to represent their interests.

* The Toxic Release Inventory rule and other tools for industry transparency?must be strengthened, and the public's right to know chemical data should be guaranteed. There must be Executive and legislative support for mandating complete transparency for all data regarding chemical exposure in communities, including pesticide use data.

* Toxic chemical exposure must also be considered an Environmental Justice issue, and previously ignored and disenfranchised communities of color and of modest economic standing must be brought into the process of identifying vulnerable populations and implementing culturally respectful policies for empowerment to become safe from chemical exposure. This can only be accomplished through dedicated resources for capacity building at the community level.

* Resources must be immediately directed toward environmental monitoring of air, water, and soil where chemical exposure is suspected in order to prevent, not just manage, exposure to workers and communities.

* When toxic chemical exposure is identified, immediate action and resources must be available to halt the exposure and protect communities, especially children, honoring the cultural integrities of each community.

* Assessment of toxic chemical exposures must be an immediate mandated component of all relief efforts for communities in times of disaster, with protection mitigations in place to prevent additional and new exposures (as in the example of the FEMA trailers) compounding existing tragedy.

5. Create Economic Strength and Strategy Via Toxic Chemical Exposure Protections

* A program of incentives must be developed to support the efforts of chemical corporations, the auto and oil industries, and other relevant industries to develop less harmful substitutions for their products. No new products should be allowed into the marketplace without adequate scientific study on health effects. The responsibility must be on the producer to demonstrate no harm. Regulatory and financial barriers for companies seeking to develop and use less toxic products, move away from reliance on petrochemicals, and reduce resource depletion in production, including use of water, should be addressed, and incentives provided for those corporations that demonstrate significant progress insuring that their workers, communities, and customers are protected.

* "Polluter pays," reverse onus, and other precautionary policies, in addition to the Rio Principles should be adopted as a foundation for U.S. environmental protections and for restoring confidence in U.S. corporations, their standing in the community, and the products they make. Re-establish support and enforcement of Superfund policies.

* Support programs for farmers to transition to safer, less toxic means of food production must be instituted.

* Integrate Toxic Chemical Exposure Issues Throughout U.S. Government Agencies and Policies

* EPA must partner with the Centers for Disease Control and immediate resources need to be made available for biomonitoring and public health surveys of communities where chemical exposure impact is suspected. Monitoring should also include biota and human tissue contamination with the intention of tracing the sources of contamination. These agencies must develop and use a protocol for the evaluation of chemical exposure impact that is based on the Precautionary Principle

* Intentional dosing of human beings, especially children, with pesticides and other known toxic chemicals in experiments is unethical and must be prohibited.

* Chemical contamination knows no political boundaries. Testing of imported foods and other products for chemical contamination must be reinstated.

* The U.S. government must make it illegal for U.S. corporations to dump toxic waste or sell banned or restricted products outside of the country. U.S. corporations must be accountable and responsible for harm that befalls communities at home and overseas from chemical exposure caused by these corporations chemical manufacture, use (including in consumer products), and disposal. The U.S. must become a party to the Basel Treaty and uphold its principles.

* The U.S. government must define toxic substance hazard as a variable in all international trade, human rights, and other agreements and encourage and support other nations to reduce and eliminate toxic substance exposure.

* Toxic chemical exposure must be taken into account for all U.S. policies, including stimulus for the economy,?job creation, the transition away from petrochemical fuels, education, and other urgent changes in U.S. economic and social enterprises.

* A timeline must be set for putting a modern chemical regulatory process and policy in place; time is of the essence with the health of hundreds of millions of people at stake.

Thank you.

The undersigned groups are eager to assist with designing and building support for transformational change to the U.S. chemical regulatory system and offer our recommendations as enthusiastic partners of the President-Elect's new administration to achieve necessary and timely change.


[Organizational affiliations given for identification purposes only.]

Laura Abulafia, MHS, Director, Environmental Health Initiative, American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (Formerly AAMR)

Martha Dina Arguello, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility

Ruth Berlin, LCSW-C, Executive Director, Maryland Pesticide Network

Joan Blades, President and Co-founder, MomsRising.org

Arlene Blum, Executive Director, Green Science Policy Institute

Lin Kaatz Chary, Great Lakes Green Chemistry Network

Elizabeth Crowe, Director, Kentucky Environmental Foundation

Kathleen Curtis, Policy Director, Clean New York

Carol Dansereau, Executive Director, Farm Worker Pesticide Project, Washington

Joe DiGangi, International Pops Elimination Network

Tracey Easthope, Environmental Health Director, Michigan Ecology Center

Jay Feldman, Executive Director, Beyond Pesticides

Christopher Gavigan, CEO, Healthy Child, Healthy World

Lois Gibbs, Executive Director, Center for Health, Environment and Justice

Dori Gilels, Executive Director, Women's Voices for the Earth

Kathryn Gilje, Executive Director, Pesticide Action Network North America

Monique Harden, Co-director and attorney, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights

Amanda Hawes, attorney

Rick Hind, Legislative Director, Greenpeace

Dr. J. William Hirzy, Vice-President NTEU Chapter 280 (EPA HQ Professionals Union), and Chemist in Residence, American University

John Kepner, Project Director, Beyond Pesticides

Bettie D. Kettell, RN Durham, Maine

Elise Miller, MEd, Executive Director, Institute for Children's Environmental Health

Pam Miller, Biologist and Director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics

Mark A. Mitchell, MD, MPH, President, Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice

Peter Montague, PhD, Environmental Research Foundation

Suzanne Murphy, Executive Director, Worksafe

Janet Nudelman, Director of Program and Policy Breast Cancer Fund

Judith Robinson, Director of Programs, Environmental Health Fund

Mike Schade, PVC Campaign Coordinator, The Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ)

Ted Shettler, MD, MPH, Science and Environmental Health Network

Lynn Thorp, National Campaigns Campaigns Coordinator, Clean Water Action

Laurie Valeriano, Policy Director, Washington Toxics Coalition

Nathalie Walker, Co-director and attorney, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights

Kristen Welker-Hood, ScD MSN RN, Director, Environment and Health Programs, Physicians for Social Responsibility

Charlotte Wells, Galveston BAYKEEPER®, Texas


Contaminated without Consent www.contaminatedwithoutconsent.org

Is It In Us? isitinus.org/

The Louisville Charter www.louisvillecharter.org

Principles of Environmental Justice ej4all.org/environmental.principles.php

Scientific Consensus Statement on Environmental Agents Associated with Neurodevelopmental Disorders Developed by the Collaborative on Health and the Environment's Learning and Developmental Disabilities Initiative February 20, 2008 (revised July 1, 2008) www.iceh.org/pdfs/LDDI/LDDIPolicyStatement.pdf

Toxic Playroom www.toxicplayroom.org


From: The Independent (London, U.K.) .....................[This story printer-friendly]
December 7, 2008


[Rachel's introduction: A compilation of scientific research from around the world reveals that the male gender is in danger, with far- reaching consequences for both wildlife and humans.]

By Geoffrey Lean

The male gender is in danger, with incalculable consequences for both humans and wildlife, startling scientific research from around the world reveals.

The research -- to be detailed tomorrow in the most comprehensive report yet published -- shows that a host of common chemicals is feminising males of every class of vertebrate animals, from fish to mammals, including people.

Backed by some of the world's leading scientists, who say that it "waves a red flag" for humanity and shows that evolution itself is being disrupted, the report comes out at a particularly sensitive time for ministers. On Wednesday, Britain will lead opposition to proposed new European controls on pesticides, many of which have been found to have "gender-bending" effects.

It also follows hard on the heels of new American research which shows that baby boys born to women exposed to widespread chemicals in pregnancy are born with smaller penises and feminised genitals.

"This research shows that the basic male tool kit is under threat," says Gwynne Lyons, a former government adviser on the health effects of chemicals, who wrote the report.

Wildlife and people have been exposed to more than 100,000 new chemicals in recent years, and the European Commission has admitted that 99 per cent of them are not adequately regulated. There is not even proper safety information on 85 per cent of them.

Many have been identified as "endocrine disrupters" -- or gender- benders -- because they interfere with hormones. These include phthalates, used in food wrapping, cosmetics and baby powders among other applications; flame retardants in furniture and electrical goods; PCBs, a now banned group of substances still widespread in food and the environment; and many pesticides.

The report -- published by the charity CHEMTrust and drawing on more than 250 scientific studies from around the world -- concentrates mainly on wildlife, identifying effects in species ranging from the polar bears of the Arctic to the eland of the South African plains, and from whales in the depths of the oceans to high-flying falcons and eagles.

It concludes: "Males of species from each of the main classes of vertebrate animals (including bony fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals) have been affected by chemicals in the environment.

"Feminisation of the males of numerous vertebrate species is now a widespread occurrence. All vertebrates have similar sex hormone receptors, which have been conserved in evolution. Therefore, observations in one species may serve to highlight pollution issues of concern for other vertebrates, including humans."

Fish, it says, are particularly affected by pollutants as they are immersed in them when they swim in contaminated water, taking them in not just in their food but through their gills and skin. They were among the first to show widespread gender-bending effects.

Half the male fish in British lowland rivers have been found to be developing eggs in their testes; in some stretches all male roaches have been found to be changing sex in this way. Female hormones - largely from the contraceptive pills which pass unaltered through sewage treatment -- are partly responsible, while more than three- quarters of sewage works have been found also to be discharging demasculinising man-made chemicals. Feminising effects have now been discovered in a host of freshwater fish species as far away as Japan and Benin, in Africa, and in sea fish in the North Sea, the Mediterranean, Osaka Bay in Japan and Puget Sound on the US west coast.

Research at the University of Florida earlier this year found that 40 per cent of the male cane toads -- a species so indestructible that it has become a plague in Australia -- had become hermaphrodites in a heavily farmed part of the state, with another 20 per cent undergoing lesser feminisation. A similar link between farming and sex changes in northern leopard frogs has been revealed by Canadian research, adding to suspicions that pesticides may be to blame.

Male alligators exposed to pesticides in Florida have suffered from lower testosterone and higher oestrogen levels, abnormal testes, smaller penises and reproductive failures. Male snapping turtles have been found with female characteristics in the same state and around the Great Lakes, where wildlife has been found to be contaminated with more than 400 different chemicals. Male herring gulls and peregrine falcons have produced the female protein used to make egg yolks, while bald eagles have had difficulty reproducing in areas highly contaminated with chemicals.

Scientists at Cardiff University have found that the brains of male starlings who ate worms contaminated by female hormones at a sewage works in south-west England were subtly changed so that they sang at greater length and with increased virtuosity.

Even more ominously for humanity, mammals have also been found to be widely affected.

Two-thirds of male Sitka black-tailed deer in Alaska have been found to have undescended testes and deformed antler growth, and roughly the same proportion of white-tailed deer in Montana were discovered to have genital abnormalities.

In South Africa, eland have been revealed to have damaged testicles while being contaminated by high levels of gender-bender chemicals, and striped mice from one polluted nature reserved were discovered to be producing no sperm at all.

At the other end of the world, hermaphrodite polar bears -- with penises and vaginas -- have been discovered and gender-benders have been found to reduce sperm counts and penis lengths in those that remained male. Many of the small, endangered populations of Florida panthers have been found to have abnormal sperm.

Other research has revealed otters from polluted areas with smaller testicles and mink exposed to PCBs with shorter penises. Beluga whales in Canada's St Lawrence estuary and killer whales off its north-west coast -- two of the wildlife populations most contaminated by PCBs - are reproducing poorly, as are exposed porpoises, seals and dolphins.

Scientists warned yesterday that the mass of evidence added up to a grave warning for both wildlife and humans. Professor Charles Tyler, an expert on endocrine disrupters at the University of Exeter, says that the evidence in the report "set off alarm bells". Whole wildlife populations could be at risk, he said, because their gene pool would be reduced, making them less able to withstand disease and putting them at risk from hazards such as global warming.

Dr Pete Myers, chief scientist at Environmental Health Sciences, one of the world's foremost authorities on gender-bender chemicals, added: "We have thrown 100, 000 chemicals against a finely balanced hormone system, so it's not surprising that we are seeing some serious results. It is leading to the most rapid pace of evolution in the history of the world.

Professor Lou Gillette of Florida University, one of the most respected academics in the field, warned that the report waved "a large red flag" at humanity. He said: "If we are seeing problems in wildlife, we can be concerned that something similar is happening to a proportion of human males"

Indeed, new research at the University of Rochester in New York state shows that boys born to mothers with raised levels of phthalates were more likely to have smaller penises and undescended testicles. They also had a shorter distance between their anus and genitalia, a classic sign of feminisation. And a study at Rotterdam's Erasmus University showed that boys whose mothers had been exposed to PCBs grew up wanting to play with dolls and tea sets rather than with traditionally male toys.

Communities heavily polluted with gender-benders in Canada, Russia and Italy have given birth to twice as many girls than boys, which may offer a clue to the reason for a mysterious shift in sex ratios worldwide. Normally 106 boys are born for every 100 girls, but the ratio is slipping. It is calculated that 250,000 babies who would have been boys have been born as girls instead in the US and Japan alone.

And sperm counts are dropping precipitously. Studies in more than 20 countries have shown that they have dropped from 150 million per millilitre of sperm fluid to 60 million over 50 years. (Hamsters produce nearly three times as much, at 160 million.) Professor Nil Basu of Michigan University says that this adds up to "pretty compelling evidence for effects in humans".

But Britain has long sought to water down EU attempts to control gender-bender chemicals and has been leading opposition to a new regulation that would ban pesticides shown to have endocrine- disrupting effects. Almost all the other European countries back it, but ministers -- backed by their counterparts from Ireland and Romania - are intent on continuing their resistance at a crucial meeting on Wednesday. They say the regulation would cause a collapse of agriculture in the UK, but environmentalists retort that this is nonsense because the regulation has get-out clauses that could be used by British farmers.

Copyright 2008 Independent News and Media Limited


From: Agence France Presse ...............................[This story printer-friendly]
November 29, 2008


[Rachel's introduction: New studies indicate that human activity may be triggering powerful natural forces that would be nearly impossible to reverse and that could push temperatures up even higher than scientists had previously predicted.]

PARIS (AFP) -- Earth's climate appears to be changing more quickly and deeply than a benchmark UN report for policymakers predicted, top scientists said ahead of international climate talks starting Monday in Poland.

Evidence published since the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change's (IPCC) February 2007 report suggests that future global warming may be driven not just by things over which humans have a degree of control, such as burning fossil fuels or destroying forest, a half-dozen climate experts told AFP.

Even without additional drivers, the IPCC has warned that current rates of greenhouse gas emissions, if unchecked, would unleash devastating droughts, floods and huge increases in human misery by century's end.

But the new studies, they say, indicate that human activity may be triggering powerful natural forces that would be nearly impossible to reverse and that could push temperatures up even further.

At the top of the list for virtually all of the scientists canvassed was the rapid melting of the Arctic ice cap.

"In the last couple of years, Arctic Sea ice is at an all-time low in summer, which has got a lot of people very, very concerned," commented Robert Watson, Chief Scientific Advisor for Britain's department for environmental affairs and chairman of the IPCC's previous assessment in 2001.

"This has implication's for Earth's climate because it can clearly lead to a positive feedback effect," he said in an interview.

When the reflective ice surface retreats, the Sun's radiation -- heat -- is absorbed by open water rather than bounced back into the atmosphere, creating a vicious circle of heating.

"We had always known that the Arctic was going to respond first," said Mark Serreze of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. "What has us puzzled is that the changes are even faster than we would have thought possible," he said by phone.

New data on the rate at which oceans might rise has also caused consternation.

"The most recent IPCC report was prior to... the measurements of increasing mass loss from Greenland and Antarctica, which are disintegrating much faster than IPCC estimates," said climatologist James Hansen, head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

Unlike the Arctic ice cap, which floats on water, the world's two major ice sheets -- up to three kilometers (two miles) thick -- sit on land.

Runaway sea level rises, Hansen said, would put huge coastal cities and agricultural deltas in Bangladesh, Egypt and southern China under water, and create hundreds of millions of refugees.

The IPCC's most recent assessment "did not take into account the potential melting of Greenland, which I think was a mistake," said Watson, the former IPCC chairman.

Were Greenland's entire ice block to melt, it would lift the world's sea levels by almost seven meters (22.75 feet), while western Antarctica's ice sheet holds enough water to add six metres (20 feet).

Neither of these doomsday scenarios is on the foreseeable horizon.

But for coastal dwellers, even a relatively small loss of their ice could prove devastating.

IPCC estimates of an 18-to-59 centimetre (7.2-to-23.2 inches) rise by 2100 has been supplanted among specialists by an informal consensus of one metre (39 inches), said Serreze.

The accelerating concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and signs of the planet's dwindling ability to absorb them, are also causing some scientists to lose sleep.

During the 1970s, there were on average 1.3 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide -- the main greenhouse gas -- in the air. In the 1980s the figure was 1.6 ppm, and in the 1990s 1.5 ppm.

In the period 2000-2007, however, the concentration jumped to an average 2.0 ppm, with a high of 2.2 last year, according to the Global Carbon Project, based in Australia.

"The present concentration is the highest during the last 650,000 years and probably during the last 20 million years," said the Global Carbon Project's Pep Canadell, a researcher at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

And in 2008, he said, there has been an "exponential growth" in the atmospheric concentration of methane, another greenhouse gas that is an even more potent driver of global warming than CO2.

One potential source of both gases is frozen tundra in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions, where temperatures have risen faster than anywhere else on Earth.

"The amount of carbon that is locked up in permafrost that could be released into the atmosphere is just about on a par with the atmospheric load the world has right now," said Serreze.

These higher concentrations of greenhouse gases come at a time when Earth's two major "carbon sinks" -- forests and especially oceans -- are showing signs of saturation.

The December 1-12 forum of 192-member UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) comes midway through a two-year process launched in Bali for braking the juggernaut of global warming.

Scheduled to run until December 12, the talks are a stepping stone towards a new pact -- due to be sealed in Copenhagen in December 2009 -- for reducing emissions and boosting adaptation funds beyond 2012, when the current provisions of the UN's Kyoto Protocol expire.

Copyright 2008 AFP


From: The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah) .......[This story printer-friendly]
December 3, 2008


[Rachel's introduction: After 70 interviews in a dozen countries over 18 months, "I have reached four conclusions that I didn't even suspect when I began the process. The first is simply this: The scientists are really scared. Their observations over the past two or three years suggest that everything is happening a lot faster than their climate models predicted."]

By Gwynn Dyer

About two years ago, I realized that the militaries in various countries were starting to do climate change scenarios in-house -- scenarios that started with the scientific predictions about rising temperatures, falling crop yields and other physical effects -- and examine what that would do to politics and strategy.

The scenarios predicted failed states proliferating because governments couldn't feed their people; waves of climate refugees washing up against the borders of more fortunate countries; even wars between countries that shared the same rivers.

So I started interviewing everybody I could get access to. Not only senior military people, but scientists, diplomats and politicians.

About 70 interviews, a dozen countries and 18 months later, I have reached four conclusions that I didn't even suspect when I began the process. The first is simply this: The scientists are really scared. Their observations over the past two or three years suggest that everything is happening a lot faster than their climate models predicted.

This creates a dilemma for them, because for the past decade they have been struggling against a well-funded campaign that cast doubt on the phenomenon of climate change.

Now, finally, people and even governments are listening. Even in the United States, the world headquarters of climate change denial, 85 percent of the population now sees climate change as a major issue, and both presidential candidates in last month's election promised 80 percent cuts in American emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050.

The scientists are understandably reluctant at this point to announce publicly that their predictions were wrong; that it's really much worse and the targets will have to be revised. Most of them are waiting for overwhelming proof that climate change really is moving faster, even though they are already privately convinced that it is.

So governments, now awakened to the danger at last, are still working to the wrong emissions target. The real requirement, if we are to avoid runaway global warming, is probably 80 percent cuts by 2030, and almost no burning whatever of fossil fuels (coal, gas and oil) by 2050.

The second conclusion is that the generals are right. Food is the key issue, and world food supply is already very tight: We have eaten up about two-thirds of the world grain reserve in the past five years, leaving only 50 days' worth in store. Even a 1.8-degree rise in average global temperature will take a major bite out of food production in almost all the countries that are closer to the equator than to the poles, and that includes almost all of the planet's breadbaskets.

So the international grain market will wither for lack of supplies. Countries that can no longer feed their people will not be able to buy their way out of trouble by importing grain from elsewhere, even if they have the money. Starving refugees will flood across borders, whole nations will collapse into anarchy -- and some countries may make a grab for their neighbors' land or water.

These are scenarios that the Pentagon and other military planning staffs are examining now. They could start to come true as little as 15 or 20 years down the road. If this kind of breakdown becomes widespread, there will be little chance of making or keeping global agreements to curb greenhouse gas emissions and avoid further warming.

The third conclusion is that there is a point of no return after which warming becomes unstoppable -- and we are probably going to sail right through it. It is the point at which human-caused warming triggers huge releases of carbon dioxide from warming oceans, or similar releases of both carbon dioxide and methane from melting permafrost, or both. Most climate scientists think that point lies not far beyond 3.6 degrees hotter.

Once that point is passed, the human race loses control: Cutting our own emissions may not stop the warming. But we are almost certainly going to miss our deadline. We cannot get the 10 lost years back, and by the time a new global agreement to replace the Kyoto accord is negotiated and put into effect, there will probably not be enough time left to stop the warming short of the point where we must not go.

So -- final conclusion -- we will have to cheat. In the past two years, various scientists have suggested several "geo-engineering" techniques for holding the temperature down directly. We might put a kind of temporary chemical sunscreen in the stratosphere by seeding it with sulphur particles, for example, or we could artificially thicken low-lying maritime clouds to reflect more sunlight.

These are not permanent solutions; merely ways of winning more time to cut our emissions without triggering runaway warming in the meanwhile. But the situation is getting very grave, and we are probably going to see the first experiments with these techniques within five years.

There is a way through this crisis, but it isn't easy and there is no guarantee of success. As the Irishman said to the lost traveler: "If that's where you want to go, sir, I wouldn't start from here."


From: Gulf Times (Doha, Qatar) ............................[This story printer-friendly]
December 3, 2008


[Rachel's introduction: "Over the past 20 years, the number of reported disasters has doubled from roughly 200 [per year] to 400. Today, floods are happening more frequently. In 1985, we used to have 50 floods per year. In 2005, the number jumped to 200." Reflecting the trend, contributions for natural disaster relief have leapt hugely, from $257 million in 2006 to $808 million in 2007 to $961 million so far this year, he said.]

By Agence France Presse

POZNAN (AFP) -- Climate change is overwhelming the capacity of relief agencies to cope with people made sick or homeless by natural disasters, humanitarian groups warned here yesterday.

Speaking on the sidelines of the UN climate talks, the heads of three leading agencies said catastrophic droughts and floods were already becoming more frequent, fuelling demands to help those in need.

The problem will amplify in the coming decades as the expected impacts of global warming bite hard, they said.

"The problem we are facing today is that the capacity (of relief agencies) has been overwhelmed," Kasidis Rochanakorn, head of the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told a press conference.

"Climate change is here and it's here now... the impact is clear to us, the burden is getting heavier," he said.

"Over the past 20 years, the number of reported disasters has doubled from roughly 200 [per year] to 400. Today, floods are happening more frequently. In 1985, we used to have 50 floods per year. In 2005, the number jumped to 200."

Reflecting the trend, contributions for natural disaster relief have leapt hugely, from $257mn in 2006 to $808mn in 2007 to $961mn so far this year, he said.

Bekele Geleta, secretary general of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, urged the UN negotiations, being held in the Polish city of Poznan, to factor disaster relief into a future treaty on climate change.

"Climate change is a global problem but its impacts are felt locally.

It leads to more frequent and more extreme weather events, and so much more and bigger disasters," he said.

In a landmark report last year, top scientists gathered for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that rising temperatures, stoked by greenhouse-gas emissions, would change weather patterns this century.

Depending on how far temperatures increase, the consequences could be dramatic for many millions of people, the Nobel-winning panel said.

They pointed to worsening water stress and drought, floods, storm surges that could threaten low-lying deltas, hunger and malnutrition, and a threat from cholera, malaria and other diseases.

Charles Vincent, a director of the World Food Programme (WFP), said that it is sometimes difficult to pinpoint climate change as one of the factors that caused disasters today.

Overpopulation, the building of homes in vulnerable areas and poor preparedness for catastrophes were other big causes for loss of life and homelessness, he said.

"However, the number of extreme (weather) events has quadrupled in 20 years. Droughts are longer, and coming more quickly.

"When you look at it closely, (the impact of climate change) is hard to see. It's like looking at the hour hand of your watch. You don't see it move, but somehow it does."

Jose Riera, a senior policy advisor for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that people displaced by future climate change - sometimes called "climate refugees," a term the UNHCR rejects on legal grounds -- was "the elephant in the room" that everyone tried to ignore.

Predictions of how many people would be forced from their homes by climate damage vary widely, from 250mn to as many as 1bn by 2050, he said.

Some experts argue that the war in Sudan's Darfur is an example where climate change has already driven a badly stressed region over the brink. One of the triggers for the conflict was below-average rainfall that depleted harvests, amplifying competition, experts say.

The December 1-12 conference of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is aimed at advancing towards a new pact on reducing carbon emissions that trap the Sun's heat, and on boosting help to poor, vulnerable countries. -- AFP

Gulf-Times.com 2007-2008


From: Sunday Times (London, U.K.) .........................[This story printer-friendly]
November 30, 2008


[Rachel's introduction: Carbon trading has created the most complex commodity market the world has ever known. As such, it is open to abuse, and will reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere far too slowly to avoid warming the planet by 7 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit -- a catastrophe for the environmment and for humanity.]

By Jonathan Leake

It was a deal to make Alistair Darling hug himself with glee. Just as the world's existing financial markets were hitting a five-year low two weeks ago, the Treasury raked in a cool £54m ($79.3 million) from a brand new one. The occasion was Britain's first auction of CO2 permits. Almost £4m ($5.9 million) were knocked down to greenhouse gas emitters in a sale that was four times oversubscribed. The government expects to sell £80m ($117.5 million) more over the next four years, raising a further £1 billion ($1.47 billion).

The plan, at first glance, seems simplicity itself: by charging companies for the right to emit CO2, the government hopes to encourage them to switch to cleaner and greener technologies. It is the latest development in a global campaign to save the planet by making polluters pay.

We are witnessing the birth of the greatest and most complex commodity market the world has seen. Last year alone, permits worth more than £55 billion ($80.76 billion) were traded on the world's carbon markets -- but future trading volumes, if all goes global according to plan, will dwarf these.

Carbon trading schemes originate from the Kyoto protocol on climate change agreed under the auspices of the United Nations in 1997. Governments adhering to Kyoto accept limits on the CO2 their countries can emit. To meet their pledges, they put caps on the carbon outputs of domestic companies, which have to buy annual permits to exceed them.

Permits are bought from governments or from carbon traders, who, naturally, charge a commission. For the City the arrival of carbon trading is a bonanza. The sector already employs about 3,000 people and has created a few dozen new millionaires.

Several such schemes are up and running around the world: Europe's Emissions Trading Scheme, founded in 2005, is the biggest, but others are following in Australia, the US and even China.

It sounds good news for everyone: governments, taxpayers, City boys and the environment. The reality is a great deal less rosy -- indeed some of those closest to the carbon markets say openly that the system is doomed to failure.

Many carbon traders believe they could make the system work but fear the politicians who oversee it will never dare put a sufficiently high price on carbon emissions to make a difference.

Those millions collected by the Treasury, for example, came mainly from UK power companies, and the cost will be added directly to our bills, as will the cost of annual CO2 permits in future. More worrying still, carbon trading shows no sign of achieving its purpose: CO2 emissions have increased, not slackened, since the first trading schemes. What, then, is the point? Good question, particularly for the 10,000 politicians, policy-makers and civil servants arriving this week in Poznan, Poland, for the latest round of global climate negotiations. They will consider a proposal to make carbon trading one of the world's main tools for cutting greenhouse gas emissions after the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012.

The incongruity of proposing that a brand new financial market might be able to save the world -- when faith in every other kind of financial market is tumbling -- needs no underlining. But there are plenty of other reasons for scepticism, too.

Jim Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard space centre and a renowned critic of global measures to combat climate change, believes carbon trading is a "terrible" approach. "Carbon trading does not solve the emission problem at all," he says. "In fact it gives industries a way to avoid reducing their emissions. The rules are too complex and it creates an entirely new class of lobbyists and fat cats."

Even some of those involved in setting up the carbon markets fear they will fail in their principal aim of cutting carbon emissions. Liz Bossley of CEAG, a City consultant in carbon trading, may have helped the fledgling system to grow from nothing into a big business but she is frank about its limitations. "The fatal flaw is... the politicians, because they set the cap which determines the supply of CO2 credits," she says.

"The problem is that making those caps tough enough to achieve real cuts in CO2 emissions would have all kinds of political consequences. The chances of any politician taking such a decision are negligible." What Bossley means is that consumers -- voters -- have to foot the bill when the cost of permits turns up in domestic energy prices.

British consumers are already paying about £60 ($88) extra each year on their gas and electricity bills to support renewable energy. Will they take more of this medicine in the middle of the worst recession for decades? Nervous politicians remember the backlash in 2000 when angry lorry drivers almost brought the country to a standstill over the fuel accelerator tax.

There's more. Under the 1997 Kyoto deal the main 37 industrialised nations (but not America) agreed that one of the ways they could cut emissions was by financing "clean development" projects in the developing world.

The idea is certainly appealing: if a company is emitting too much CO2 it can either make cuts or pay other companies to cut their emissions instead. If it turns out to be cheaper to pay someone in China to plant a forest to absorb carbon dioxide, or a factory in India to install clean technology to cut its emissions of greenhouse gases, then this is allowed, provided the project has been approved under the UN framework convention on climate change. For each tonne of CO2 saved, the convention issues a certified emission reduction certificate, or CER. These are valuable: indeed, they are the nearest thing to currency that the carbon markets acknowledge. Each one is worth about £14 ($20.56).

The original plan was to create a system for transferring wealth from developed countries such as Britain and America to the Third World, hence killing two birds with one stone: cutting emissions and helping international development.

It certainly sounded good -- but the reality is the most complex trading system the world has known.

The complexity naturally means the system is open to abuse. Last year The Sunday Times revealed how SRF, an Indian company that produces refrigeration gases at a sprawling chemical plant in Rajasthan, stood to make £300m ($440.5 million) from selling certificates to overseas companies including Shell and Barclays. The Indian company had spent just £1.4m ($2.06 million) on equipment to reduce its emissions -- and was using the profit to expand production of another greenhouse gas, a thousand times more. Other manufacturers damaging than CO2 in India and China producing similar products are expected to earn an estimated £3.3 billion ($4.85 billion) over the next six years by cutting emissions at a cost of just £67m ($98.4 million).

Internal papers leaked from the UN show that such problems arose because the system for checking companies involved in emissions reductions schemes was seriously flawed. One official estimated that up to 20% of the carbon credits issued did not represent genuine reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. This meant that the real effect of the system had been to increase the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

Nor is this all. One of the unintended consequences of the carbon trading system is a potentially huge -- and massively destabilising - transfer of money and influence from the industrialised West to Russia. This is because when the Kremlin signed up to the Kyoto treaty it was given an annual emissions limit based on the horrors pumped out by filthy old Soviet industries back in 1990. Since then Russia's industrial base has contracted so drastically that it uses only a fraction of its allowances. One recent analyst's report found that Russia has accumulated emissions permits worth about four billion tonnes of CO2. The report warned: "Russia must be singled out as a potential threat to the ability of the market to produce a meaningful carbon price."

There is of course another huge incongruity in Russia, one of the world's biggest suppliers of coal, gas and oil, also in effect having control of the system for reducing emissions from these fossil fuels. It means that the West could end up paying the Russians for fuel -- and then paying them again for the right to burn it.

Undeterred by these fundamental flaws, the UN is planning many more CER [certified emission reduction] schemes. About 4,000 are awaiting approval, including plans for capturing methane from Indian chicken farms, Filipino pig farms and Thai coal mines. Other schemes propose destroying industrial gases at factories in China and India and cutting CO2 emissions by building wind farms in Mongolia. One of the ideas under discussion in Poznan could result in European industry paying millions of pounds to landowners in Brazil and Indonesia not to cut down their rainforests.

It is easy to mock such schemes but the mockery hides from view the really big question, and the one that is hardest to answer: are the emerging carbon markets capable of making a significant dent in the world's surging carbon emissions?

Lord May, a former government chief scientist, is now an influential member of the British government's climate change committee, whose inaugural report (Building a Low-Carbon Economy -- the UK's Contribution to Tackling Climate Change) will be published tomorrow.

The report will include a full scientific and economic analysis of how Britain can achieve its target of cutting emissions by 80% by 2050, including specific reduction targets for each of the UK's first three five-year "carbon budget" periods. Although the report will support carbon trading as a possible means of reducing emissions, May has warned that the system risks creating a false sense of security.

Speaking at the Royal Society last month, he said: "The [inclusion of] these fiscal instruments could give the misleading impression that they can deliver real emissions reductions. Sooner or later, people are going to have to realise that, in climate change, we now face something far worse than world war two."

Some of his fellow scientists even warn that governments may soon have to accept that combating climate change is becoming incompatible with economic growth. A recent peer-reviewed paper from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, the government's leading academic research centre for global warming, warned: "Unless economic growth can be reconciled with unprecedented rates of decarbonisation, it is difficult to foresee anything other than a planned economic recession being compatible with stabilising the climate."

At the Royal Society, Professor Kevin Anderson, director of the Tyndall Centre, spelt it out: "The target set for the climate talks was to keep global temperature rises below 2C [3.6 degrees Fahrenheit]. At the moment, however, the level of emissions is rising so fast that we are heading for a world that is 4-5C [7.2 to 9 degrees F.] warmer than now by 2100. That would be catastrophic for the environment and for humanity."

In other words, if the scientists are right, all our efforts to fight off the recession are wrongheaded. We should be embracing it. So where does this leave the world leaders and their Sherpas, heading for Poznan with their hopes set on trading our way out of the abyss? Anderson's answer is a shrug.

"Carbon trading may have been the answer once but not any more," he says. "It will just take too long to achieve anything, and we no longer have the luxury of time."

Stinking rich

For clever City boys, carbon markets are a marvellous way of turning muck into brass. Daniel Co, a Filipino pig farmer, used to shovel the dung from his 10,000 animals into ponds on his UniRich Agro Industrial farm. The manure generated thousands of tons of methane, a global warming gas, but Co did not want to spend £110,000 [$161,500] on kit [equipment] to trap the gas.

Then EcoSecurities, a British carbon trading firm, worked out that anything that captured the methane would entitle the farmer annually to nearly 3,000 "certified emission reductions" -- the nearest thing to a carbon trading currency.

EcoSecurities did the paperwork for Co and gave him just over £2 [$2.94] per certificate. He put in the methane-capture kit, generating power and saving about £24,000 [$35,239] a year in utility bills. EcoSecurities sells the CERs for about £10 [$14.68] each to a French bank, which sells them on to power plants that need to offset emissions. The consumer pays through higher bills. A nice little earner for everyone except the poor mugs (us) at the end of the chain -- but can it save the planet?

Copyright 2008 Times Newspapers Ltd.


Rachel's Democracy & Health News highlights the connections between issues that are often considered separately or not at all.

The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining because those who make the important decisions aren't the ones who bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the rise of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among workers and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy, intolerance, and racial injustice that allow us to be divided and therefore ruled by the few.

In a democracy, there are no more fundamental questions than, "Who gets to decide?" And, "How DO the few control the many, and what might be done about it?"

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

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


To start your own free Email subscription to Rachel's Democracy & Health News send a blank Email to: rachel-subscribe@pplist.net

In response, you will receive an Email asking you to confirm that you want to subscribe.


Environmental Research Foundation
P.O. Box 160, New Brunswick, N.J. 08903