Rachel's Democracy & Health News #995
Thursday, January 22, 2009

From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #995 ..........[This story printer-friendly]
January 22, 2009


[Rachel's introduction: Proposed solutions to both economic and environmental problems fail to challenge the core ideas that caused the problems in the first place. We may still have time to redirect the Titanic (at least the environmental ship, if not the economic ship) but it will require a radical rethinking of four core beliefs...]

By Carolyn Raffensperger

The ongoing economic collapse reveals the consequences of our blind devotion to pro-growth, free-market economic principles. The hidden assumptions are that growth is the savior of our economy, that the market will take care of whatever problems emerge, and that regulation and government are bad. These same assumptions are leading to rapidly emerging environmental catastrophes, from the collapse of the oceans to global warming.

Our environmental laws and policies are grounded in the same pro- growth, free-market economic principles and will suffer the same magnitude of problems that the economy has suffered unless we make some fundamental changes. Environmental law now clearly situates everything from fisheries to national forests to climate within the domain of property law -- the law of pro-growth, free-market economics.

So proposed solutions to both economic and environmental problems are piecemeal and ad hoc because they don't challenge the core ideas that caused the problems in the first place. In the case of the economy, we hear calls for more regulation, better pricing, bigger bailouts. And environmentalists call for more regulation, better pricing of pollution, and accurate valuation of natural assets.

But why? What's the rationale for any of the proposed solutions? Can we really buy our way out of either crisis? Is it really just a few bad actors, especially the environmental ones, that haven't played by the rules of the free-market economy? Will more free-market solutions benefit the environment? The short answer is, no. Free market solutions may sometimes be helpful, but they are certainly not the only answer. Blind faith in the market prevents us from seeing many other ways that we might address environmental problems.

We may still have time to redirect the Titanic (at least the environmental ship, if not the economic ship) but it will require a radical rethinking of four core beliefs, namely (1) whether there is more to environmental law than the free market; (2) whether government has a role, and if so, what it might be; (3) how we make decisions about the future; and (4) how we evaluate the cumulative effects of our actions.

Let us examine each of these beliefs in turn and propose environmental policies that might result from some new thinking.

I. The most obvious place to start is to rethink the outmoded system that places environmental laws in the same legal domain as private property, which is subject to whims of the free market, like buying a summer cabin in the Adirondacks. We buy and sell individual permits to pollute the air or water and ignore the cumulative impacts of all the permits taken together. We refuse to pass laws that might hurt an industry and we rarely require a polluter to pay for their damage. We assume that what is good for the market is good for the environment. So environmental matters are measured by economics. No environmental rule is allowed to interfere with the economy. Environmental lawyers routinely use the language of economics -- discounting, cost benefit analysis, cap and trade.

But there are lawyers who use an entirely different language: human rights lawyers. Human rights prohibitions against torture, slavery, and child labor have no economic measure and we don't put them up for sale on the free market. We don't care what value slavery might provide the economy. It is wrong. What if we replaced our blind devotion to the free market and measured environmental decisions by their impact on the rights of future generations? What if we said that polluting the air of any child was a violation of their fundamental right to life? What if we put it in the same category as torture or child labor?

Rights instead of Free Market Economics

Environmentalists such as our organization, the Science and Environmental Health Network and human rights lawyers at places like the Harvard Law School, Vermont Law School and the University of Iowa Law School are joining together to chart a rights based approach to environmental law. There are several areas that we are developing within the law of rights. The first is expanding core inalienable rights to include the right to a clean and healthy environment. Several nations and several U.S. states have constitutional provisions that grant all citizens a right to a clean and healthy environment. Most of these provisions, at least in the U.S. (less so in some other countries) are located in managerial sections of the constitutions, not in the rights sections, which list the rights that come with being a human being. An inalienable right is a right that cannot be sold or transferred to someone else.

Even the grandest declaration of all, the U.N. 1948 Declaration of Human Rights does not include the right to a clean and healthy environment. As states amend their constitutions they should include the right to a clean and healthy environment in the inalienable rights section for the simple reason that all other rights flow from being alive. Life is predicated on water, air, earth, and other aspects of the environment. If the right to a clean environment is something we can buy and sell than no other right has meaning. If you are not alive, your right to free speech is meaningless.

Then we must extend to future generations this inalienable right to a healthy environment. Any generation that fails to protect its children is a suicidal civilization. We are all connected in time to the future. Our decisions now affect both our own future as well as those who are to come. A powerful way to assert the rights of future generations is to appoint or designate an ombudsmen or legal guardian for them. See Tim Montague, Rachel's News #986.) A city council or mayor or the federal Department of Justice and the President can designate an ombudsmen to review regulations and assess their impact on future generations.

Another advance we must make in rights law is expanding the rights of communities to ecological integrity. A community right of fraternity was first identified in the French Revolution cry "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity." The rights of communities find expression in the 2007 U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. One clause in the Declaration says, "...indigenous individuals are entitled without discrimination to all human rights recognized in international law, and that indigenous peoples possess collective rights which are indispensable for their existence, well-being and integral development as peoples..." Essentially these collective rights are rights of relationship. These go beyond the standard U.S. rights of liberty and equality that inhere to the individual alone. Collective rights and rights of relationships allow us to construct a rationale for government to protect public health and community relationships to land and creatures that share that land with them. For instance, global warming threatens Inuit relationships to the land and the animals they depend on for survival. It becomes imperative for government to protect the Inuit's rights of fraternity with their land. It is not just a right that says the land belongs to a community but that they belong with the land.

One model for these fraternity rights is the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) work creating a framework for the rights of nature and the corresponding duties of the human community. A critical feature of CELDF's law is that it strips corporation's of their fictitious personhood thereby denying corporations the rights granted to legal persons. Why should corporations have rights and ecosystems not have them? A great example of Linzey's legal approach is the (Pennsylvania) Tamaqua Township Sewage Sludge Ordinance of 2006. The ordinance does two things: it refuses to recognize corporations' rights to apply sewage sludge to land, and it recognizes natural communities and ecosystems as "legal persons" for the purposes of enforcing rights. The community is designated the trustee for nature and ecosystems and is required to fulfill all legal mandates of trusteeship.

II. Government as Trustee of the Commons, of Nature

Both CELDF's model of the rights of nature and our work on future generations assert a new role for government. Under the old law and economics regime, government's primary role was balancing economics with the environment. At worst it was making sure that environmental regulations didn't impede the economy. But a more visionary, even heroic role for government comes out of something called the Public Trust Doctrine, an ancient idea that government must manage the public shoreline and tidal waters for the benefit of the public. This public trust role means that government is the trustee of the commonwealth and the common health for present and future generations.

No more balancing or shrinking or getting out of the way of the corporate onslaught. Instead, the new government job description is stewarding, caretaking, increasing, and restoring our shared wealth and public health. Imagine government at every level scaled to the commons under its care. Seeds, parks, libraries, bridges, wildlife, air and water would all be turned over to future generations in better shape than we got them.

The Commons

A key function of government is to serve as the trustee of the commons, but what exactly are the "commons"? They are our shared wealth, especially the gifts of nature like air, water, wildlife, silence, crop seeds, and the genome (among other things). According to the Tomales Bay Institute Report on The State of the Commons,[1] the commons "embraces all the creations of nature and society that we inherit jointly and freely, and hold in trust for future generations."[2] It encompasses common assets,[3] common property,[4] and common wealth.[5] Government care is most important for those commons essential for survival -- air, water, biodiversity (pollinators and plants, wolves and whales). It is these that must be tended in such a way that they provide the means to meet individuals' and communities' right to a clean environment, and are handed down unimpaired to future generations in fulfillment of their rights to a habitable planet.

The trustee responsibilities of government help determine what kind of budget governments should have. What are the commons under their jurisdiction? What must be done to monitor, regulate, and enforce rules, as well as restore and augment the commons? Budgets should be tailored to the tasks necessary for government to fulfill its obligations to current and future generations to leave a habitable planet.

The Tomales Bay Institute proposes that governments audit the commons and provide a report as part of the budget since the commons represents the shared wealth of the people. Imagine the guardian of future generations doing the audit and providing recommendations for strengthening our legacy to future generations.

Protecting the commons for current and future generations requires some new principles of law. Consider these:

1. A life-sustaining, community-nourishing, and dignity-enhancing ecological commons is a fundamental human right of present and future generations.

2. It is the duty of each generation to pass the commons on to future generations unimpaired by any degradation or depletion that compromises the ability of future generations to secure their rights and needs.

3. The services and infrastructure of the Earth necessary for humans and other living beings to be fully biological and communal creatures shall reside within the domain of the commons.

4. All commoners (the public or a defined community) have rights of access to, and use of, the ecological commons without discrimination unrelated to need. Such rights shall not be alienated or diminished except for the purpose of protecting the commons for future generations.

5. Publicly owned commons belong not to the state but to the commoners (the public or a defined community), both present and future, who are entitled to the benefits of their commons.

6. It is the responsibility of government to serve as trustee of the commons assigned to it by law for present and future generations. In fulfillment of this responsibility, governments may create new institutions and mechanisms as well as authorize responsible parties to manage the commons or resources therein. All actions taken by government or its designees must be transparent and accountable to commoners.

7. The precautionary principle is a critical tool for protecting the commons for present and future generations.

8. Eminent domain (the "taking" of private property for a public use and subject to payment of just compensation) is the principal legal process for moving private property into the commons.

9. The market, commerce, and private property owners shall not externalize damage or costs onto the commons. If the commons are damaged, the polluter, not the commoners, pays.

10. Future generations shall not inherit a financial debt without a corresponding commons asset.

III. The Precautionary Principle

As mentioned above, the precautionary principle is a key rule of law and policy that enables government to protect the commons for current and future generations. It is a future-oriented decision rule that couples science with ethics. How can we prevent harm and increase wellbeing to nature, the commons and future generations? The precautionary principle lays out a strategy for preventing harm by setting goals, seeking good alternatives to problem technologies, reversing the burden of proof, getting everybody to the table to look for solutions and heeding early warnings.

IV. Cumulative Impacts

The warnings that we are receiving about climate change, the loss of species, and a planet blanketed with toxic chemicals point to the fact that our actions are cumulative. Poverty and bad nutrition set a different stage for exposures to toxic chemicals than wealth and good food. Similarly, we've granted permits to each polluting facility one by one. As my colleague Joe Guth says, "the Earth is dying from a thousand cuts." So are our children's lungs and brains. Any one of the cuts is unfortunate, but together our cumulative impacts are disastrous. We can revamp the law to address cumulative impacts in a systematic way. New torts, new ways of allocating responsibility, new regulations, will go a long way to saying enough is enough. Imagine permits only given to industries that improve public health and the environment.

What is Next?

The upshot of applying these ideas would be a radically different way of behaving in the world. We can insert these changes in law and policy at every level of government from the township or city to the United Nations. We can build these ideas into every branch of government, the courts, the executive branch and the legislature. We can invent new institutions to carry out these visionary and sacred responsibilities of government. New institutions could be anything from the Office of Legal Guardian mandated by executive order to the Alternatives Assessors Division of an environmental protection agency. What about a Commons Auditor in every county?

And imagine this: the next Supreme Court nominee is before Congress. Senator Arlen Specter asks her whether she will uphold the right of future generations to inherit a beautiful and habitable planet.


Carolyn Raffensperger is executive director of the Science & Environmental Health Network (SEHN).


[1] The State of The Commons: A Report to Owners from Tomales Bay Institute (2003) (coauthored by Peter Barnes, Jonathan Rowe, and David Bollier).

[2] Same as note 1, pg. 3.

[3] "Common assets are those parts of the commons that have a value in the market. Radio airwaves are common asset, as are timber and minerals on public lands. So, increasingly, are air and water." Same as note 1, pg. 3.

[4] "Common property refers to a class of human-made rights that lies somewhere between private property and state property. Examples include conservation easements held by land trusts, Alaskans' right to dividends from the Alaska Permanent Fund, and everyone's right to waterfront access." Same as note 1, pg. 3.

[5] "Common wealth refers to the monetary and non-monetary value of the commons in supporting life and well-being. Like stockholders' equity in a corporation, it may increase or decrease from year to year depending on how well the commons is managed." Same as note 1, pg. 3.


From: CNN.com ............................................[This story printer-friendly]
January 20, 2009


[Rachel's introduction: Most earth scientists believe humans are causing global warming, including 97 percent of climatologists, according to a survey.]

Human-induced global warming is real, according to a recent U.S. survey based on the opinions of 3,146 scientists. However there remains divisions between climatologists and scientists from other areas of earth sciences as to the extent of human responsibility.

A survey of more than 3,000 scientists found that the vast majority believe humans cause global warming.

Against a backdrop of harsh winter weather across much of North America and Europe, the concept of rising global temperatures might seem incongruous.

However the results of the investigation conducted at the end of 2008 reveal that vast majority of the Earth scientists surveyed agree that in the past 200-plus years, mean global temperatures have been rising and that human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures.

The study released today was conducted by academics from the University of Illinois, who used an online questionnaire of nine questions. The scientists approached were listed in the 2007 edition of the American Geological Institute's Directory of Geoscience Departments.

Two questions were key: Have mean global temperatures risen compared to pre-1800s levels, and has human activity been a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures?

About 90 percent of the scientists agreed with the first question and 82 percent the second.

The strongest consensus on the causes of global warming came from climatologists who are active in climate research, with 97 percent agreeing humans play a role.

Petroleum geologists and meteorologists were among the biggest doubters, with only 47 percent and 64 percent, respectively, believing in human involvement.

Copyright 2009 Cable News Network


From: Vancouver (British Columbia) Sun ...................[This story printer-friendly]
January 18, 2009


[Rachel's introduction: Summarizing a new report, U.S. Geological Survey director Mark Myers warns that "sustained warming of at least a few degrees" is probably enough "to cause the nearly complete, eventual disappearance of the Greenland ice sheet, which would raise sea level by several metres."]

By Randy Boswell, Canwest News Service

A major U.S. government report on Arctic climate, prepared with information from eight Canadian scientists, has concluded that the recent rapid warming of polar temperatures and shrinking of multi-year Arctic sea ice are "highly unusual compared to events from previous thousands of years."

The findings, released Friday, counter suggestions from skeptics that such recent events as the opening of the Northwest Passage and collapse of ice shelves in the Canadian Arctic are predictable phenomena that can be explained as part of a natural climate cycle rather than being driven by elevated carbon emissions from human activity.

A summary of the report -- described as "the first comprehensive analysis of the real data we have on past climate conditions in the Arctic," by U.S. Geological Survey director Mark Myers -- warns that "sustained warming of at least a few degrees" is probably enough "to cause the nearly complete, eventual disappearance of the Greenland ice sheet, which would raise sea level by several metres."

The study also sounds the alarm that "temperature change in the Arctic is happening at a greater rate than other places in the Northern Hemisphere, and this is expected to continue in the future. As a result, glacier and ice-sheet melting, sea-ice retreat, coastal erosion and sea-level rise can be expected to continue."

Ice cover in the Canadian Arctic and throughout the polar world has experienced record-setting melts in the past few years. The summer of 2007 saw polar ice cover shrink to its lowest extent in recorded history. Last summer's melt came close to matching that record, and recent research indicates that overall ice volume -- because of the continual replacement of thicker, multi-year ice with thinner new ice -- was lower in 2008 than 2007.

This past summer also saw further dramatic evidence of the unusual warming of the Canadian Arctic, including record-setting high temperatures in Iqaluit, Nunavut, rapid erosion and flooding of a glacial landscape on Baffin Island, the re-opening of the Northwest Passage, an unprecedented clearing of ice from the Beaufort Sea and the collapse of hundreds of square kilometres of ancient ice shelves on Ellesmere Island.

Research for the U.S. Congress-commissioned report was conducted by 37 scientists from the U.S., Germany, Canada, Britain and Denmark.

"The current rate of human-influenced Arctic warming is comparable to peak natural rates documented by reconstructions of past climates. However, some projections of future human-induced change exceed documented natural variability," the scientists conclude. "The past tells us that when thresholds in the climate system are crossed, climate change can be very large and very fast. We cannot rule out that human-induced climate change will trigger such events in the future."

Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun


From: The Guardian (Manchester, U.K.) ....................[This story printer-friendly]
January 18, 2009


[Rachel's introduction: Jim Hansen is the 'grandfather of climate change' and one of the world's leading climatologists. In this rare interview in New York, he explains why President Obama's administration is the last chance to avoid flooded cities, species extinction and climate catastrophe.]

By Robin McKie, Science Editor

Along one wall of Jim Hansen's wood-panelled office in upper Manhattan, the distinguished climatologist has pinned 10 A4-sized photographs of his three grandchildren: Sophie, Connor and Jake. They are the only personal items on display in an office otherwise dominated by stacks of manila folders, bundles of papers and cardboard boxes filled with reports on climate variations and atmospheric measurements.

The director of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York is clearly a doting grandfather as well as an internationally revered climate scientist. Yet his pictures are more than mere expressions of familial love. They are reminders to the 67-year-old scientist of his duty to future generations, children whom he now believes are threatened by a global greenhouse catastrophe that is spiralling out of control because of soaring carbon dioxide emissions from industry and transport.

"I have been described as the grandfather of climate change. In fact, I am just a grandfather and I do not want my grandchildren to say that grandpa understood what was happening but didn't make it clear," Hansen said last week. Hence his warning to Barack Obama, who will be inaugurated as US president on Tuesday. His four-year administration offers the world a last chance to get things right, Hansen said. If it fails, global disaster -- melted sea caps, flooded cities, species extinctions and spreading deserts -- awaits mankind.

"We cannot now afford to put off change any longer. We have to get on a new path within this new administration. We have only four years left for Obama to set an example to the rest of the world. America must take the lead."

After eight years of opposing moves to combat climate change, thanks to the policies of President George Bush, the US had given itself no time for manoeuvre, he said. Only drastic, immediate change can save the day and those changes proposed by Hansen -- who appeared in Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and is a winner of the World Wildlife Fund's top conservation award -- are certainly far-reaching. In particular, the idea of continuing with "cap-and-trade" schemes, which allow countries to trade allowances and permits for emitting carbon dioxide, must now be scrapped, he insisted. Such schemes, encouraged by the Kyoto climate treaty, were simply "weak tea" and did not work. "The United States did not sign Kyoto, yet its emissions are not that different from the countries that did sign it."

Thus plans to include carbon trading schemes in talks about future climate agreements were a desperate error, he said. "It's just greenwash. I would rather the forthcoming Copenhagen climate talks fail than we agree to a bad deal," Hansen said.

Only a carbon tax, agreed by the west and then imposed on the rest of the world through political pressure and trade tariffs, would succeed in the now-desperate task of stopping the rise of emissions, he argued. This tax would be imposed on oil corporations and gas companies and would specifically raise the prices of fuels across the globe, making their use less attractive. In addition, the mining of coal -- by far the worst emitter of carbon dioxide -- would be phased out entirely along with coal-burning power plants which he called factories of death.

"Coal is responsible for as much atmospheric carbon dioxide as other fossil fuels combined and it still has far greater reserves. We must stop using it." Instead, programmes for building wind, solar and other renewable energy plants should be given major boosts, along with research programmes for new generations of nuclear reactors.

Hansen's strident calls for action stem from his special view of our changing world. He and his staff monitor temperatures relayed to the institute -- an anonymous brownstone near Columbia University -- from thousands of sites around the world, including satellites and bases in Antarctica. These have revealed that our planet has gone through a 0.6C rise in temperature since 1970, with the 10 hottest years having occurred between 1997 and 2008: unambiguous evidence, he believes, that Earth is beginning to overheat dangerously.

Last week, however, Hansen revealed his findings for 2008 which show, surprisingly, that last year was the coolest this century, although still hot by standards of the 20th century. The finding will doubtless be seized on by climate change deniers, for whom Hansen is a particular hate figure, and used as "evidence" that global warming is a hoax.

However, deniers should show caution, Hansen insisted: most of the planet was exceptionally warm last year. Only a strong La Nina -- a vast cooling of the Pacific that occurs every few years -- brought down the average temperature. La Nina would not persist, he said. "Before the end of Obama's first term, we will be seeing new record temperatures. I can promise the president that."

Hansen's uncompromising views are, in some ways, unusual. Apart from his senior Nasa post, he holds a professorship in environmental sciences at Columbia and dresses like a tweedy academic: green jumper with elbow pads, cords and check cotton shirt. Yet behind his unassuming, self-effacing manner, the former planetary scientist has shown surprising steel throughout his career. In 1988, he electrified a congressional hearing, on a particular hot, sticky day in June, when he announced he was "99% certain" that global warming was to blame for the weather and that the planet was now in peril from rising carbon dioxide emissions. His remarks, which made headlines across the US, pushed global warming on to news agendas for the first time.

Over the years, Hansen persisted with his warnings. Then, in 2005, he gave a talk at the American Geophysical Union in which he argued that the year was the warmest on record and that industrial carbon emissions were to blame. A furious White House phoned Nasa and Hansen was banned from appearing in newspapers or on television or radio. It was a bungled attempt at censorship. Newspapers revealed that Hansen was being silenced and his story, along with his warnings about the climate, got global coverage.

Since then Hansen has continued his mission "to make clear" the dangers of climate change, sending a letter last December from himself and his wife Anniek about the urgency of the planet's climatic peril to Barack and Michelle Obama. "We decided to send it to both of them because we thought there may be a better chance she will think about this or have time for it. The difficulty of this problem [of global warming] is that its main impacts will be felt by our children and by our grandchildren. A mother tends to be concerned about such things."

Nor have his messages of imminent doom been restricted to US politicians. The heads of the governments of Britain, Germany, Japan and Australia have all received recent warnings from Hansen about their countries' behaviour. In each case, these nations' continued support for the burning of coal to generate electricity has horrified the climatologist. In Britain, he has condemned the government's plans to build a new coal plant at Kingsnorth, in Kent, for example, and even appeared in court as a defence witness for protesters who occupied the proposed new plant's site in 2007.

"On a per capita basis, Britain is responsible for more of the carbon dioxide now in the atmosphere than any other nation on Earth because it has been burning it from the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. America comes second and Germany third. The crucial point is that Britain could make a real difference if it said no to Kingsnorth. That decision would set an example to the rest of the world." These points were made clear in Hansen's letter to the prime minister, Gordon Brown, though he is still awaiting a reply.

As to the specific warnings he makes about climate change, these concentrate heavily on global warming's impact on the ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica. These are now melting at an alarming rate and threaten to increase sea levels by one or two metres over the century, enough to inundate cities and fertile land around the globe.

The issue was simple, said Hansen: would each annual increase of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere produce a simple proportional increase in temperature or would its heating start to accelerate?

He firmly believes the latter. As the Arctic's sea-ice cover decreases, less and less sunlight will be reflected back into space. And as tundras heat up, more and more of their carbon dioxide and methane content will be released into the atmosphere. Thus each added tonne of carbon will trigger greater rises in temperature as the years progress. The result will be massive ice cap melting and sea-level rises of several metres: enough to devastate most of the world's major cities.

"I recently lunched with Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, and proposed a joint programme to investigate this issue as a matter of urgency, in partnership with the US National Academy of Sciences, but nothing has come of the idea, it would seem," he said.

Hansen is used to such treatment, of course, just as the world of science has got used to the fact that he is as persistent as he is respected in his work and will continue to press his cause: a coal- power moratorium and an investigation of ice-cap melting.

The world was now in "imminent peril", he insisted, and nothing would quench his resolve in spreading the message. It is the debt he owes his grandchildren, after all.


The climate in figures

** The current level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 385 parts per million. This compares with a figure of some 315ppm around 1960.

** Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that can persist for hundreds of years in the atmosphere, absorbing infrared radiation and heating the atmosphere.

** The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's last report states that 11 of the 12 years between 1995-2006 rank among the 12 warmest years on record since 1850.

** According to Jim Hansen, the nation responsible for putting the largest amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is Britain, on a per capita basis -- because the Industrial Revolution started here. China is now the largest annual emitter of carbon dioxide .

** Most predictions suggest that global temperatures will rise by 2C [3.6 F.] to 4C [7.2 F.] over the century.

** The IPCC estimates that rising temperatures will melt ice and cause ocean water to heat up and increase in volume. This will produce a sea-level rise of between 18 [7 inches] and 59 centimetres [23 inches]. However, some predict a far faster rate of around one to two metres [3.3 ft. to 6.6 ft.].

** Inundations of one or two metres would make the Nile Delta and Bangladesh uninhabitable, along with much of south-east England, Holland and the east coast of the United States.


From: New Scientist (pg. 30) .............................[This story printer-friendly]
January 21, 2009


[Rachel's introduction: "Most of the 'green' stuff is verging on a gigantic scam," says James Lovelock. "Carbon trading, with its huge government subsidies, is just what finance and industry wanted. It's not going to do a damn thing about climate change, but it'll make a lot of money for a lot of people and postpone the moment of reckoning."]

By Gaia Vince

With his 90th birthday in July, a trip into space scheduled for later in the year and a new book out next month, 2009 promises to be an exciting time for James Lovelock. But the originator of the Gaia theory, which describes Earth as a self-regulating planet, has a stark view of the future of humanity. He tells Gaia Vince we have one last chance to save ourselves -- and it has nothing to do with nuclear power

GV: Your work on atmospheric chlorofluorocarbons led eventually to a global CFC ban that saved us from ozone-layer depletion. Do we have time to do a similar thing with carbon emissions to save ourselves from climate change?

JL: Not a hope in hell. Most of the "green" stuff is verging on a gigantic scam. Carbon trading, with its huge government subsidies, is just what finance and industry wanted. It's not going to do a damn thing about climate change, but it'll make a lot of money for a lot of people and postpone the moment of reckoning. I am not against renewable energy, but to spoil all the decent countryside in the UK with wind farms is driving me mad. It's absolutely unnecessary, and it takes 2500 square kilometres to produce a gigawatt -- that's an awful lot of countryside.

GV: What about work to sequester carbon dioxide?

JL: That is a waste of time. It's a crazy idea -- and dangerous. It would take so long and use so much energy that it will not be done.

GV: Do you still advocate nuclear power as a solution to climate change?

JL: It is a way for the UK to solve its energy problems, but it is not a global cure for climate change. It is too late for emissions reduction measures.

GV: So are we doomed?

JL: There is one way we could save ourselves and that is through the massive burial of charcoal. It would mean farmers turning all their agricultural waste -- which contains carbon that the plants have spent the summer sequestering -- into non-biodegradable charcoal, and burying it in the soil. Then you can start shifting really hefty quantities of carbon out of the system and pull the CO2 down quite fast.

GV: Would it make enough of a difference?

JL: Yes. The biosphere pumps out 550 gigatonnes of carbon yearly; we put in only 30 gigatonnes. Ninety-nine per cent of the carbon that is fixed by plants is released back into the atmosphere within a year or so by consumers like bacteria, nematodes and worms. What we can do is cheat those consumers by getting farmers to burn their crop waste at very low oxygen levels to turn it into charcoal, which the farmer then ploughs into the field. A little CO2 is released but the bulk of it gets converted to carbon. You get a few per cent of biofuel as a by- product of the combustion process, which the farmer can sell. This scheme would need no subsidy: the farmer would make a profit. This is the one thing we can do that will make a difference, but I bet they won't do it.

GV: Do you think we will survive?

JL: I'm an optimistic pessimist. I think it's wrong to assume we'll survive 2 deg. C [3.6 deg. F.] of warming: there are already too many people on Earth. At 4 deg. C [7.2 deg. F.] we could not survive with even one-tenth of our current population. The reason is we would not find enough food, unless we synthesised it. Because of this, the cull during this century is going to be huge, up to 90 per cent. The number of people remaining at the end of the century will probably be a billion or less. It has happened before: between the ice ages there were bottlenecks when there were only 2000 people left. It's happening again.

I don't think humans react fast enough or are clever enough to handle what's coming up. Kyoto was 11 years ago. Virtually nothing's been done except endless talk and meetings.

GV: It's a depressing outlook.

JL: Not necessarily. I don't think 9 billion is better than 1 billion. I see humans as rather like the first photosynthesisers, which when they first appeared on the planet caused enormous damage by releasing oxygen -- a nasty, poisonous gas. It took a long time, but it turned out in the end to be of enormous benefit. I look on humans in much the same light. For the first time in its 3.5 billion years of existence, the planet has an intelligent, communicating species that can consider the whole system and even do things about it. They are not yet bright enough, they have still to evolve quite a way, but they could become a very positive contributor to planetary welfare.

GV: How much biodiversity will be left after this climatic apocalypse?

JL: We have the example of the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum event 55 million years ago. About the same amount of CO2 was put into the atmosphere as we are putting in and temperatures rocketed by about 5 deg. C over about 20,000 years. The world became largely desert. The polar regions were tropical and most life on the planet had the time to move north and survive. When the planet cooled they moved back again. So there doesn't have to be a massive extinction. It's already moving: if you live in the countryside as I do you can see the changes, even in the UK.

GV: If you were younger, would you be fearful?

JL: No, I have been through this kind of emotional thing before. It reminds me of when I was 19 and the second world war broke out. We were very frightened but almost everyone was so much happier. We're much better equipped to deal with that kind of thing than long periods of peace. It's not all bad when things get rough. I'll be 90 in July, I'm a lot closer to death than you, but I'm not worried. I'm looking forward to being 100.

GV: Are you looking forward to your trip into space this year?

JL: Very much. I've got my camera ready!

GV: Do you have to do any special training?

JL: I have to go in the centrifuge to see if I can stand the g-forces. I don't anticipate a problem because I spent a lot of my scientific life on ships out on rough oceans and I have never been even slightly seasick so I don't think I'm likely to be space sick. They gave me an expensive thorium-201 heart test and then put me on a bicycle. My heart was performing like an average 20 year old, they said.

GV: I bet your wife is nervous.

JL: No, she's cheering me on. And it's not because I'm heavily insured, because I'm not.


James Lovelock is a British chemist, inventor and environmentalist. He is best known for formulating the controversial Gaia hypothesis in the 1970s, which states that organisms interact with and regulate Earth's surface and atmosphere. Later this year he will travel to space as Richard Branson's guest aboard Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo. His latest book, The Vanishing Face of Gaia, is published by Basic Books in February.

Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.


From: Science News ........................................[This story printer-friendly]
January 16, 2009


[Rachel's introduction: Are mega-farm feedlots killing infant children? New research finds a positive relationship between concentrated animal feeding operations (feedlots, or CAFOs) and infant death rates in the counties where the farms reside.]

By Rachel Ehrenberg

The manure generated by thousands of cows or pigs doesn't just stink it may seriously affect human health.

New research examining two decades' worth of livestock production data finds a positive relationship between increased production at industrial farms and infant death rates in the counties where the farms reside. The study reported in the February American Journal of Agricultural Economics implicates air pollution and suggests that Clean Air Act regulations need to be revamped to address livestock production of noxious gases.

The new work is in line with several studies documenting the ill effects of megafarms, which typically have thousands of animals packed into small areas, comments Peter Thorne, director of the Environmental Health Sciences Research Center at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Higher rates of lung disease have been found in workers at large poultry and swine operations and respiratory problems increase in communities when these large-scale farms move in, Thorne notes.

"This study is a very important contribution," says Thorne. "This is an industry we really need -- it provides food and a lot of jobs -- the answer isn't for everyone to become vegetarians." But, he says, "I think we need a fundamental change in the way this industry is going. There's a very strong case that under the Clean Air Act the EPA should be looking seriously at the livestock industry."

The study, by economist Stacy Sneeringer of Wellesley College in Massachusetts, examined birth and death records from the National Center for Health Statistics and the increase in "animal units" per county across the United States from 1982 to 1997. (Animal units are a normalizing unit used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. One animal unit equals roughly 1,000 pounds of average live weight; or 250 layer chickens (for eggs); or 1.14 fattened cattle; or 2.67 breeding hogs.) An increase of 100,000 animal units in a county corresponded to 123 more infant deaths per year per 100,000 births. Doubling livestock numbers was linked to a 7.4 percent increase in infant mortality.

Several potentially confounding variables were taken into account, such as per capita income, the availability of health care, climate, land and housing use, possible effects of other industries and whether large farms move to areas that already have poor infant health.

"I was surprised to see this association -- I kept expecting it to go away but it didn't," Sneeringer says.

Farm pollution is typically associated with groundwater contamination. Leaks in manure lagoons or runoff from fertilizers or pesticides get into streams and other waterways. But increased livestock production had greater effects in areas with low well-water usage, implicating air pollution.

Ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and airborne particulate matter are all associated with livestock production, Sneeringer says. Exposure to the gases has been linked to respiratory distress in infants, while exposure in the womb has been linked to disorders that occur late in pregnancy or shortly after birth, and has also been linked to spontaneous abortions. Sneeringer found that about 80 percent of the infant deaths associated with increased livestock production occurred in the first 28 days of life.

"Livestock are the number one source of volatilized ammonia in the nation," Sneeringer says.

Increasingly, farms that generate manure don't use it as fertilizer, Sneeringer points out. Many large livestock operations have no crops to fertilize. The manure may be shipped out to become pelleted fertilizer elsewhere, or sit in a big, sealed lagoon.

Several steps might be taken to assuage the problem, says Thorne. Aerobic digesters can oxygenate manure as it breaks down, eliminating some of the noxious gases that anaerobic bacteria produce. Fertilizer could be injected into the ground instead of sprayed onto fields. And large livestock facilities could be required to buy additional surrounding land, increasing the distance between people and pollution.

Citations & References:

S. Sneeringer. 2009. Does Animal Feeding Operation Pollution Hurt Public Health? A National Longitudinal Study of Health Externalities Identified by Geographic Shifts in Livestock Production. American Journal of Agricultural Economics. 91:1. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-82 76.2008.01161.


From: Environmentl Health News ...........................[This story printer-friendly]
January 22, 2009


[Rachel's introduction: Parking lots sprayed with coal-tar-based sealcoats contain very high levels of PAHs [polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons] -- up to 30 percent by weight. PAHs are known to cause an array of health effects and pose a significant threat to wildlife and humans.]

By Wendy Hessler and Carys L. Mitchelmore

Review of: Van Metre, PC, BJ Mahler and JT Wilson. PAHs underfoot: Contaminated dust from coal-tar sealcoated pavement is widespread in the United States. Environmental Science and Technology doi: 10.1021/es802119h.


Parking lots and other paved areas are sometimes sealed to protect them from the elements. Two main sealants are used in the US: asphalt (crude oil base) and coal-tar base. Asphalt is more common in western states, while coal-tar base is the dominant form used in eastern and central states.

Coal-tar is formed when coal is coked, a process to prepare coal for use as a fuel. Coal-tar base sealants contain high levels of a class of chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). A mix of different types of PAHs are found in the sealant.

The long-lived PAHs widely pollute the environment, wildlife and people. These highly dangerous chemicals are expected to cause cancer in people.

PAHs form if oil, coal, wood and petroleum do not burn completely. Sources include vehicles, factories, power plants and pavement sealcoats. Of the many sources of PAHs in the environment, it is not known how much of it comes from sealcoated pavements.

As the black, shiny sealcoats wear away over time, small, dusty particles form. The specks can contain PAHs and other chemicals found in the sealants.

Wind and water disperse the particles into the surrounding environment. Wind carries the contaminated dust almost everywhere -- into the water, onto other pavements or onto land used for gardens or crops. Potentially, the dust, if very fine, could be breathed in by animals and people.

The dust is also washed off the surfaces into local lakes, streams and other waterways by rain and snow melt. The stormwater runoff can contain high levels of PAHs. Some researchers suggest that coal-tar based sealcoats are a major source of PAH pollution in streams. Often, high levels of PAHs are found in the sediments of the lakes and streams accepting the stormwater runoff.

This pollution poses an environmental health risk for the organisms that live in the waterways, including fish that may be eaten by humans. A study of sealcoats in runoff in Austin, Texas, has linked adverse effects in local amphibians to sealcoat dust runoff (Bryer et al. 2006).

What did they do?

The authors studied paving in nine US cities, choosing the cities because of their proximity to lakes and their regional location in the western (Seattle, WA; Portland, OR; Salt Lake City, UT), eastern (New Haven, CT; Washington, DC) and central (Minneapolis, MN; Chicago, IL; Detroit, MI; Austin, TX) parts of the country. The pave study sites within each city were not near industry and represented different uses, such as home driveways, schools, office parks and retail businesses. Dust was also gathered from adjacent roads and soils.

The samples were collected, sieved and analyzed for total PAHs. Depending on the comparisons made, data were either combined -- to examine PAHs in dust from surfaces with or surfaces without sealants -- or analyzed individually -- to determine site-to-site variability. The researchers compared PAH levels in the dust samples: 1) among different US cities, 2) between the nonsealcoated and sealcoated pavements, 3) between the two major types of sealcoatings and 4) with levels in nearby lake sediments as measured by other studies.

What did they find?

The amount of PAHs in the dust samples reflected whether the pavement was unsealed or sealed. Very low levels of PAHs were found in all unsealed pavements.

However, the level of PAHs in dust on sealed pavements depended on which sealant was used. Surfaces sealed with an asphalt-based product contained low PAH levels, similar to those of unsealed pavements.

In sharp contrast, samples from coated pavements in the east and central US had mean total PAH levels up to 80 times higher than those from unsealed lots. In the six central and eastern cities, where coal- tar based products dominate, the average levels of total PAHs were 2,200 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg). Samples from uncoated pavements from the same cities were just 27 mg/kg. The sealcoated samples also had large variablity -- an order of magnitude -- among sites, with levels ranging from 345 to 3,400 mg/kg.

Samples from both coated and uncoated sites in cities in western states had low levels of PAHs. All but one were less than 13 mg/kg, which is 1,000 times lower than levels found in the eastern and central sites. One of the nine coated lots was sealed with a coal-tar base product and had PAH levels of 850 mg/kg. These data highlight the predominant use of asphalt base rather than coal-tar base sealants.

Samples of soil and dust collected from areas close to sealcoated lots had elevated levels of PAHs, from 2 to 39 times higher than samples obtained near unsealcoated lots. A similar trend was seen between PAH levels in local lake sediments near sealed lots.

Two residential homes in suburban Chicago had the highest levels of PAHs at 5,800 and 9,600 mg/kg.

What does it mean?

In general, the amount of PAHs in dust samples clearly differed among regions. Eastern and central cities had higher levels of PAHs than the study sites in western states. This held for PAH levels in the dust from the paved areas, in the samples from nearby streets/soil and from records of lake sediments.

These differences reflect the type of sealant predominantly used in different areas of the country. Some of the contamination found in eastern and central cities was chemically traced to coal-tar based sealcoats. Also, the difference between eastern and western samples in PAH levels -- reported as a ratio of 1,000 to 1 -- mimics the total PAH concentrations found in the coal-tar base and the asphalt base products, respectively.

This study adds more informtion about regional and national PAH pollution from coal-tar sealants. It also highlights the potential human health risk from coal-tar based products and shows a need to better understand and reduce use and impacts.

Coal-tar based sealcoats contain very high levels of PAHs -- up to 30 percent by weight. PAHs are known to cause an array of health effects and pose a significant threat to wildlife and humans.

Sealcoats are not stable. The coatings break down over time, forming dust that moves the PAHs from the paved surfaces to surrounding areas, including soil, water and air.

Of particular concern are the levels found in residential driveways. PAH levels in the collected dust were above toxic guideline limits for indoor dust and soils. Potentially, the outside dust could pose a human health risk either directly, by someone touching the surface, or indirectly through objects that contact the surface, such as shoes or basketballs.

Hand to mouth contact is a major route of exposure for infants, children and adults. People can ingest contaminant-laden house dust by touching it then eating without washing their hands. Mouthing toys and other objects is another way babies are exposed (Stapleton et al. 2008).

Outdoor, PAH-laden dust could also be ingested by hand to mouth contact. The dust could be picked up on hands or carried indoors on the bottom of shoes. It could also be breathed in while working or playing outside (driveways, playgrounds, etc.).

PAHs in the lake sediments and surrounding soils is also a concern for wildlife and people. Humans could eat contaminated fish or agriculural crops grown on soils polluted with PAHs.

Clearly, the high levels of PAHs observed in these urban and suburban areas warrant further research as to the health risk of these common and widely used sealing products.

Coal-tar sealants are banned from use in some places. One simple solution is use asphalt-containing sealcoats, particularly for residential use and playgrounds.


Bryer, P, JN Elliott and EJ Wilingham. 2006. The effects of coal tar based pavement sealer on amphibian development and metamorphosis. Ecotoxicology 15 (3):241-247.

Stapleton, HM, SM Kelley, JG Allen, MD McCleanw and TF Webster. 2008. Measurement of polybrominated diphenyl ethers on hand wipes: Estimating exposure from hand-to-mouth contact. Environmental Science and Technology. 42(9); 3329-3334.

Van Metre, P, BJ Mahler, M Scoggins and PA Hamilton. 2006. Parking lot sealcoat: A major source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in urban and suburban environments. US Geological Survey and the City of Austin, Fact Sheet 2005-3147.

Copyright Environmental Health Sciences


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?"

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