Rachel's News #982

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Rachel's Democracy & Health News #982

"Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?"

Thursday, October 23, 2008..............Printer-friendly version

Featured stories in this issue...

Environmental Failure: A Case for a New Green Politics
  The U.S. environmental movement is failing -- by any measure, the
  state of the earth has never been more dire. What's needed is a new,
  inclusive green politics that challenges basic assumptions about
  consumerism and unlimited growth.
Environmental Threats To Healthy Aging
  A far-reaching new report examines the arc of life, from conception
  through death, and explores the role of environmental insults,
  nutrition and social factors in diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular
  disease, metabolic syndrome and more.
Turning Coal into Liquid Fuels Increases Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  Researchers found that in realistic scenarios, the mass production
  of automotive fuel from coal or natural gas would lead to the emission
  of more climate-changing greenhouse gases than the current oil-based
Plastics Industry Behind FDA Research on Bisphenol a, Study Finds
  A report by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), claiming
  that bisphenol A is safe, was written largely by the plastics industry
  and others with a financial stake in the controversial chemical.
Climate Change Is 'Faster and More Extreme' Than Feared
  Climate change is happening much faster than the world's best
  scientists predicted and will wreak havoc unless action is taken on a
  global scale, a new report warns.
Wealth Gap Creating a Social Time Bomb
  A new report from United Nations Habitat finds that inequality in
  many U.S. cities is among the highest in the world. Many are above an
  internationally recognised acceptable "alert" line used to warn
Gap Between Rich, Poor Growing, OECD Finds
  Inequality in growing within and between nations because economic
  growth in recent decades has rewarded the rich far more than the poor,
  says a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
  Development (OECD).


From: Yale Environment 360, Oct. 20, 2008
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By James Gustave Speth

A specter is haunting American environmentalism -- the specter of

All of us who have been part of the environmental movement in the
United States must now face up to a deeply troubling paradox: Our
environmental organizations have grown in strength and sophistication,
but the environment has continued to go downhill, to the point that
the prospect of a ruined planet is now very real. How could this have

Before addressing this question and what can be done to correct it,
two points must be made. First, one shudders to think what the world
would look like today without the efforts of environmental groups and
their hard-won victories in recent decades.

However serious our environmental challenges, they would be much more
so had not these people taken a stand in countless ways. And second,
despite their limitations, the approaches of modern-day
environmentalism remain essential: Right now, they are the tools
readily at hand with which to address many pressing problems,
including global warming and climate disruption. Despite the critique
of American environmentalism that follows, these points remain valid.

Lost Ground

The need for appraisal would not be so urgent if environmental
conditions were not so dire. The mounting threats point to an emerging
environmental tragedy of unprecedented proportions.

Half the world's tropical and temperate forests are now gone. The rate
of deforestation in the tropics continues at about an acre a second,
and has for decades. Half the planet's wetlands are gone. An estimated
90 percent of the large predator fish are gone, and 75 percent of
marine fisheries are now overfished or fished to capacity. Almost half
of the corals are gone or are seriously threatened. Species are
disappearing at rates about 1,000 times faster than normal. The planet
has not seen such a spasm of extinction in 65 million years, since the
dinosaurs disappeared. Desertification claims a Nebraska-sized area of
productive capacity each year globally. Persistent toxic chemicals can
now be found by the dozens in essentially each and every one of us.

The earth's stratospheric ozone layer was severely depleted before its
loss was discovered. Human activities have pushed atmospheric carbon
dioxide up by more than a third and have started in earnest the most
dangerous change of all -- planetary warming and climate disruption.
Everywhere, earth's ice fields are melting. Industrial processes are
fixing nitrogen, making it biologically active, at a rate equal to
nature's; one result is the development of hundreds of documented dead
zones in the oceans due to overfertilization. Freshwater withdrawals
are now over half of accessible runoff, and water shortages are
multiplying here and abroad.

The United States, of course, is deeply complicit in these global
trends, including our responsibility for about 30 percent of the
carbon dioxide added thus far to the atmosphere. But even within the
United States itself, four decades of environmental effort have not
stemmed the tide of environmental decline. The country is losing 6,000
acres of open space every day, and 100,000 acres of wetlands every
year. About a third of U.S. plant and animal species are threatened
with extinction. Half of U.S. lakes and a third of its rivers still
fail to meet the standards that by law should have been met by 1983.
And we have done little to curb our wasteful energy habits or our huge
population growth.

Here is one measure of the problem: All we have to do to destroy the
planet's climate and biota and leave a ruined world to our children
and grandchildren is to keep doing exactly what we are doing today,
with no growth in human population or the world economy. Just continue
to generate greenhouse gases at current rates, just continue to
impoverish ecosystems and release toxic chemicals at current rates,
and the world in the latter part of this century won't be fit to live
in. But human activities are not holding at current levels -- they are
accelerating, dramatically.

The size of the world economy has more than quadrupled since 1960 and
is projected to quadruple again by mid-century. It took all of human
history to grow the $7 trillion world economy of 1950. We now grow by
that amount in a decade.

The escalating processes of climate disruption, biotic impoverishment,
and toxification, which continue despite decades of warnings and
earnest effort, constitute a severe indictment of the system of
political economy in which we live and work. The pillars of today's
capitalism, as they are now constituted, work together to produce an
economic and political reality that is highly destructive
environmentally. An unquestioning society-wide commitment to economic
growth at any cost;

All we have to do to destroy the planet's climate and biota is to keep
doing exactly what we are doing today.

powerful corporate interests whose overriding objective is to grow by
generating profit (including profit from avoiding the environmental
costs their companies create, amassing deep subsidies and benefits
from government, and continued deployment of technologies originally
designed with little or no regard for the environment); markets that
systematically fail to recognize environmental costs unless corrected
by government; government that is subservient to corporate interests
and the growth imperative; rampant consumerism spurred by
sophisticated advertising and marketing; economic activity now so
large in scale that its impacts alter the fundamental biophysical
operations of the planet -- all combine to deliver an ever-growing
world economy that is undermining the ability of the earth to sustain

Are Environmentalists To Blame?

In assigning responsibility for environmental failure, there are many
places to lay blame: the rise of the modern, anti-government right in
American politics; a negligent media; the deadening complexity of
today's environmental issues and programs, to mention the most
notable. But a number of observers have placed much of the blame for
failure on the leading environmental organizations themselves.

For example, Mark Dowie in his 1995 book Losing Ground notes that the
national environmental organizations crafted an agenda and pursued a
strategy based on the civil authority and good faith of the federal
government. "Therein," he believes, "lies the inherent weakness and
vulnerability of the environmental movement. Civil authority and good
faith regarding the environment have proven to be chimeras in
Washington." Dowie argues that the national environmental groups also
"misread and underestimate[d] the fury of their antagonists."

The mainstream environmental organizations were challenged again in
2004 in the now-famous The Death of Environmentalism. In it, Michael
Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus write that America's mainstream
environmentalists are

Today's environmentalism accepts compromises as part of the process.
It takes what it can get.

not "articulating a vision of the future commensurate with the
magnitude of the crisis. Instead they are promoting technical policy
fixes like pollution controls and higher vehicle mileage standards --
proposals that provide neither the popular inspiration nor the
political alliances the community needs to deal with the problem."
Shellenberger and Nordhaus believe environmentalists don't recognize
that they are in a culture war -- a war over core values and a vision
for the future.

These criticisms and others stem from the fundamental decision of
today's environmentalism to work within the system. This core decision
grew out of the successes of the environmental community in the 1970s,
which seemed to confirm the correctness of that approach. Our failure
to execute a dramatic mid-course correction when circumstances changed
can be seen in hindsight as a major blunder.

Here is what I mean by working within the system. When today's
environmentalism recognizes a problem, it believes it can solve that
problem by calling public attention to it, framing policy and program
responses for government and industry, lobbying for those actions, and
litigating for their enforcement. It believes in the efficacy of
environmental advocacy and government action. It believes that good-
faith compliance with the law will be the norm, and that corporations
can be made to behave and will increasingly weave environmental
objectives into their business strategies.

Today's environmentalism tends to be pragmatic and incrementalist --
its actions are aimed at solving problems and often doing so one at a
time. It is more comfortable proposing innovative policy solutions
than framing inspirational messages. These characteristics are closely
allied to a tendency to deal with effects rather than underlying
causes. Most of our major environmental laws and treaties, for
example, address the resulting environmental ills much more than their
causes. In the end, environmentalism accepts compromises as part of
the process. It takes what it can get.

Today's environmentalism also believes that problems can be solved at
acceptable economic costs -- and often with net economic benefit --
without significant lifestyle changes or threats to economic growth.
It will not hesitate to strike out at an environmentally damaging
facility or development, but it sees itself, on balance, as a positive
economic force.

Environmentalists see solutions coming largely from within the
environmental sector. They may worry about the flaws in and corruption
of our politics, for example, but that is not their professional
concern. That's what Common Cause or other groups do. Similarly,
environmentalists know that the prices for many things need to be
higher, and they are aware that environmentally honest prices would
create a huge burden on the half of American families that just get
by. But universal health care and other government action needed to
address America's gaping economic injustices are not seen as part of
the environmental agenda.

Today's environmentalism is also not focused strongly on political
activity or organizing a grassroots movement. Electoral politics and
mobilizing a green political movement have played second fiddle to
lobbying, litigating, and working with government agencies and

A central precept, in short, is that the system can be made to work
for the environment. In this frame of action, scant attention is paid
to the corporate dominance of economic and political life, to
transcending our growth fetish, to promoting major lifestyle changes
and challenging the materialistic values that dominate our society, to
addressing the constraints on environmental action stemming from
America's vast social insecurity and hobbled democracy, to framing a
new American story, or to building a new environmental politics.

Not everything, of course, fits within these patterns. There have been
exceptions from the start, and recent trends reflect a broadening in
approaches. Greenpeace has certainly worked outside the system,

Organizations built to litigate and lobby are not necessarily the best
ones to mobilize a grassroots movement.

the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club have had a
sustained political presence, groups like the Natural Resources
Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund have developed
effective networks of activists around the country, the World
Resources Institute has augmented its policy work with on-the-ground
sustainable development projects, and environmental justice concerns
and the emerging climate crisis have spurred the proliferation of
grassroots efforts, student organizing, and community and state

But organizations that were built to litigate and lobby for
environmental causes or to do sophisticated policy studies are not
necessarily the best ones to mobilize a grassroots movement or build a
force for electoral politics or motivate the public with social
marketing campaigns. These things need to be done, and to get them
done it may be necessary to launch new organizations and initiatives
with special strengths in these areas.

The methods and style of today's environmentalism are not wrongheaded,
just far, far too restricted as an overall approach. The problem has
been the absence of a huge, complementary investment of time, energy,
and money in other, deeper approaches to change. And here, the leading
environmental organizations must be faulted for not doing nearly
enough to ensure these investments were made.

America has run a 40-year experiment on whether this mainstream
environmentalism can succeed, and the results are now in. The full
burden of managing accumulating environmental threats has fallen to
the environmental community, both those in government and outside. But
that burden is too great. The system of modern capitalism as it
operates today will continue to grow in size and complexity and will
generate ever-larger environmental consequences, outstripping efforts
to cope with them. Indeed, the system will seek to undermine those
efforts and constrain them within narrow limits. Working only within
the system will, in the end, not succeed -- what is needed is
transformative change in the system itself.

A New Environmental Politics

Environmental protection requires a new politics.

This new politics must, first of all, ensure that environmental
concern and advocacy extend to the full range of relevant issues. The
environmental agenda should expand to embrace a profound challenge to
consumerism and commercialism and the lifestyles they offer, a healthy
skepticism of growthmania and a redefinition of what society should be
striving to grow, a challenge to corporate dominance and a
redefinition of the corporation and its goals, a commitment to deep
change in both the functioning and the reach of the market, and a
powerful assault on the anthropocentric and contempocentric values
that currently dominate.

Environmentalists must also join with social progressives in
addressing the crisis of inequality now unraveling America's social
fabric and undermining its democracy. It is a crisis of soaring
executive pay, huge incomes, and increasingly concentrated wealth for
a small minority, occurring simultaneously with poverty near a 30-year
high, stagnant wages despite rising productivity, declining social
mobility and opportunity, record levels of people without health
insurance, failing schools, increased job insecurity, swelling jails,
shrinking safety nets, and the longest work hours among the rich
countries. In an America with such vast social insecurity, economic
arguments, even misleading ones, will routinely trump environmental

Similarly, environmentalists must join with those seeking to reform
politics and strengthen democracy. What we are seeing in the United
States is the emergence of a vicious circle: Income disparities shift
political access and influence to wealthy constituencies and large
businesses, which further imperils the potential of the democratic
process to act to correct the growing income disparities. Corporations
have been the principal economic actors for a long time; now they are
the principal political actors as well. Neither environment nor
society fares well under corporatocracy. Environmentalists need to
embrace public financing of elections, regulation of lobbying,
nonpartisan Congressional redistricting, and other political reform
measures as core to their agenda. Today's politics will never deliver
environmental sustainability.

The current financial crisis and, at this writing, the response to it,
reveal a system of political economy that is profoundly committed to
profits and growth and profoundly indifferent to people and society.
This system is at least as indifferent to its impacts on nature. Left
uncorrected, it is inherently ruthless and rapacious, and it is up to
citizens, acting mainly through government, to inject values of
fairness and sustainability into the system. But this effort commonly
fails because progressive politics are too enfeebled and Washington is
increasingly in the hands of powerful corporate interests and
concentrations of great wealth. The best hope for real change in
America is a fusion of those concerned about environment, social
justice, and strong democracy into one powerful progressive force.

The new environmentalism must work with this progressive coalition to
build a mighty force in electoral politics. This will require major
efforts at grassroots organizing; strengthening groups working at the
state and community levels; and developing motivational messages and
appeals -- indeed, writing a new American story, as Bill Moyers has
urged. Our environmental discourse has thus far been dominated by
lawyers, scientists, and economists. Now, we need to hear a lot more
from the poets, preachers, philosophers, and psychologists.

Above all, the new environmental politics must be broadly inclusive,
reaching out to embrace union members and working families, minorities
and people of color, religious organizations, the women's movement,
and other communities of complementary interest and shared fate. It is
unfortunate but true that stronger alliances are still needed to
overcome the "silo effect" that separates the environmental community
from those working on domestic political reforms, a progressive social
agenda, human rights, international peace, consumer issues, world
health and population concerns, and world poverty and

The final watchword of the new environmental politics must be, "Build
the movement." We have had movements against slavery and many have
participated in movements for civil rights and against apartheid and
the Vietnam War. Environmentalists are often said to be part of "the
environmental movement." We need a real one -- networked together,
protesting, demanding action and accountability from governments and
corporations, and taking steps as consumers and communities to realize
sustainability and social justice in everyday life.

Can one see the beginnings of a new social movement in America?
Perhaps I am letting my hopes get the better of me, but I think we
can. Its green side is visible, I think, in the surge of campus
organizing and student mobilization occurring today, much of it
coordinated by the student-led Energy Action Coalition and by Power

If there is a model within American memory of what must be done, it is
the civil rights revolution of the 1960s.

It's visible also in the increasing activism of religious
organizations, including many evangelical groups under the banner of
Creation Care, and in the rapid proliferation of community-based
environmental initiatives. It's there in the joining together of
organized labor, environmental groups, and progressive businesses in
the Apollo Alliance and there in the Sierra Club's collaboration with
the United Steelworkers, the largest industrial union in the United
States. It's visible too in the outpouring of effort to build on Al
Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, and in the grassroots organizing of 1Sky
and others around climate change. It is visible in the green consumer
movement and in the consumer support for the efforts of the Rainforest
Action Network to green the policies of the major U.S. banks. It's
there in the increasing number of teach-ins, demonstrations, marches,
and protests, including the 1,400 events across the United States in
2007 inspired by Bill McKibben's "Step It Up!" campaign to stop global
warming. It is there in the constituency-building work of minority
environmental leaders and in the efforts of groups like Green for All
to link social and environmental goals. It's just beginning, but it's
there, and it will grow.

The welcome news is that the environmental community writ large is
moving in some of these directions. Local and state environmental
groups have grown in strength and number. There is more political
engagement through the League of Conservation Voters and a few other
groups, and more work to reach out to voters with overtly political
messages. The major national organizations have strengthened their
links to local and state groups and established activist networks to
support their lobbying activities. Still, there is a long, long way to
go to build a new and vital environmental politics in America.

American politics today is failing not only the environment but also
the American people and the world. As Richard Falk reminds us, only an
unremitting struggle will drive the changes that can sustain people
and nature. If there is a model within American memory for what must
be done, it is the civil rights revolution of the 1960s. It had
grievances, it knew what was causing them, and it also knew that the
existing order had no legitimacy and that, acting together, people
could redress those grievances. It was confrontational and
disobedient, but it was nonviolent. It had a dream. And it had Martin
Luther King Jr.

It is amazing what can be accomplished if citizens are ready to march,
in the footsteps of Dr. King. It is again time to give the world a
sense of hope.


James Gustave "Gus" Speth is the dean of the School of Forestry and
Environmental Studies at Yale University. His most recent (and
important) book is The Bridge at the Edge of the World (Yale
University Press, 2008).

Copyright 2008 Yale University

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From: Earth Times, Oct. 23, 2008
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Environmental factors are key drivers in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's
diseases, according to the authors of a new report, "Environmental
Threats to Healthy Aging," released today.

Importantly, the report demonstrates that the risks for Alzheimer's
and Parkinson's can be dramatically reduced.

It offers the most comprehensive review of the currently available
research on the lifetime influences of environmental factors on
Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, two of the most common
degenerative diseases of the brain. These influences include common
dietary patterns, toxic chemical exposures, inadequate exercise,
socio-economic stress and other factors. These influences can begin in
the womb and continue throughout life, setting the stage for the later
development of neurodegenerative as well as other chronic diseases.

In addition, the report describes the substantial emerging evidence
that, collectively, these environmental factors alter biochemical
pathways at the cellular and subcellular levels. These alterations
fuel Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, as well as other chronic
illnesses referred to in the report as the "Western disease cluster"
-- diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome.
Each of these diseases in turn increases the risk of Alzheimer's
disease. This collection of diseases is being driven by dramatic
alterations over the past 50 to 100 years in the U.S. food supply, an
increasingly sedentary lifestyle, and exposure to toxic chemicals.

The full report, "Environmental Threats to Healthy Aging", is
published jointly by Greater Boston Physicians for Social
Responsibility and the Science and Environmental Health Network and is
available online at: www.agehealthy.org.

The report authors provide recommendations so that individuals,
families, communities, and societies can take action at all levels and
move towards healthy living and healthy aging. This is especially
important because the population over the age of 65, which is highly
vulnerable to chronic disease, is expected to nearly double in the
U.S. by 2030 -- from about 38 million to over 71 million. With that
increase will come a dramatic escalation of chronic diseases unless
steps are taken now to reduce the risks. Among these recommendations

-- Increase sustainable, diversified and local alternatives to
industrial farming -- to improve the nutritional value of food, cut
down on harmful content, ensure access to healthy food, and lessen
serious damage to the environment;

-- Regulatory reforms of chemical policy that help prevent hazardous
toxic exposures from air, water, food, and other consumer products;
business policy changes that give preference to purchasing and using
products made of safer chemicals;

-- Health care policy changes that increase the focus on disease
prevention and ensure equitable and accessible health care for all;

-- An energy policy that reduces toxic emissions, promotes
conservation and efficiency, curtails dependence on fossil fuels, and
encourages more physical activity.

In addition to these societal recommendations, the report contains
recommendations for actions for healthy living and healthy aging that
individuals can take to reduce the risks for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's,
and other diseases of the Western disease cluster. These include
specific recommendations relating to:

-- Eating healthy and nutritious food, and avoiding common hazards in
the typical modern diet;

-- Staying active physically and mentally;

-- Avoiding harmful toxicants and pollutants; and,

-- Being socially engaged with family, friends and community.

Copyright 2008 PR Newswire.
CP Copyright 2008 www.earthtimes.org, The Earth Times

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From: Science News Magazine, Oct. 20, 2008
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Getting liquid fuels from coal would not reduce carbon emissions, and
would likely increase them.

By Davide Castelvecchi

If the United States tried to achieve independence from foreign oil by
making gasoline from vast reserves of domestic coal, the country would
probably end up increasing its carbon emissions, a new study

Researchers found that in realistic scenarios, the mass production of
fuel from coal or natural gas would lead to the emission of more
climate-changing greenhouse gases than the current oil-based economy.
But even in the most optimistic scenarios, which assumed that
breakthroughs in technology could be achieved, coal and gas would not
help reduce emissions from transportation, the researchers report in
the Oct. 15 Environmental Science & Technology.

"In terms of greenhouse gases, this was dead on arrival, so to speak,"
says study coauthor Michael Griffin, an environmental engineer at
Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and coauthor of the new

The authors have done a "remarkable job in developing robust life
cycle analysis tools," comments chemical engineer Blake Simmons of
Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, Calif. The results show
that converting coal or gas "might not be the panacea to our current
challenges associated with transportation fuels, especially in terms
of negative environmental impact," Simmons adds.

Both coal and natural gas can be turned into syngas, a mixture of
carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Engineers have known for almost a
century how to turn syngas into liquids similar to gasoline or diesel
fuel -- a process Nazi Germany used during World War II to keep its
economy going while it was unable to import oil.

Turning coal into syngas and then into liquid fuels could in principle
enable the United States to free itself from its dependence on foreign
oil, at least as far as transportation fuels are concerned, says study
coauthor Paulina Jaramillo. But it would come at a cost, the authors

The researchers used data from the U.S. Department of Energy, the
Environmental Protection Agency and the engineering company Bechtel
Corp. to calculate the emissions generated during the production,
transportation and consumption of different fuels -- the impact of
each type of fuel from cradle to grave. This included, for example,
estimates of methane -- a greenhouse gas -- seeping out of coal mines;
the energy required to dig out and transport coal; the energy that
would go wasted in industrial-scale coal-to-fuel conversion; and the
efficiency of internal-combustion engines running on different liquid

Greenhouse gas emissions could, in some scenarios, almost double if
natural gas or domestic coal were to replace foreign oil, the
researchers found. But even if all potential ways of reducing
emissions were implemented -- for example, capturing carbon dioxide
that's a byproduct of syngas conversion -- the alternative fuels would
not help stem climate change. "This is certainly not a greenhouse-gas
reduction technology, no matter what you do," says Griffin.

Citations & references

Jaramillo, P., W. Michael Griffin and H. S. Matthews 2008. Comparative
Analysis of the Production Costs and Life-Cycle GHG Emissions of FT
Liquid Fuels from Coal and Natural Gas. Environmental Science &
Technology 42 (Oct. 15): 7559.

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From: Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisc.), Oct. 22, 2008
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By Susanne Rust and Meg Kissinger sr...@journalsentinel.com

A government report claiming that bisphenol A is safe was written
largely by the plastics industry and others with a financial stake in
the controversial chemical, the Journal Sentinel found.

Although the Food and Drug Administration will not reveal who prepared
its draft, the agency's own documents show that the work was done
primarily by those with the most to gain by downplaying concerns about
the safety of the chemical.

That includes Stephen Hentges, executive director of the American
Chemistry Council's group on bisphenol A, who commissioned a review of
all studies of the neurotoxicity of bisphenol A and submitted it to
the FDA. The FDA then used that report as the foundation for its
evaluation of the chemical on neural and behavioral development. The
American Chemistry Council is a trade group representing chemical

The FDA's draft, released in August, found no cause for worry about
bisphenol A, which is found in thousands of household products,
including baby bottles, infant formula containers and the lining of
aluminum cans.

That finding is at odds with the conclusions of the FDA's own advisers
from the National Toxicology Program. The NTP announced in September
that the chemical is of some concern for effects on the development of
the prostate gland and brain, and for behavioral effects in fetuses,
infants and children. The NTP also found some concern for the
neurodevelopment of young children, infants and fetuses.

Last week, the government of Canada declared that bisphenol A is a
toxin and is banning its use in baby bottles and other products used
by children.

The FDA draft finding no harm is under review by a subcommittee, which
will decide if the conclusions need to be amended. That assessment is
expected to be released any day and will be presented Oct. 31 in


Sidebar: Bisphenol A Timeline

April 14: FDA convenes a task force on the safety of bisphenol A.

Aug. 15: The task force releases its draft saying that bisphenol A is

Sept. 3: The National Toxicology Program releases its report finding
some concern for the chemical's effects on children, infants and

Sept. 16: An FDA subcommittee meets to consider whether to amend the
task force draft.

Oct. 15: A congressional committee launches an investigation of
possible conflicts of interest after the Journal Sentinel reveals a $5
million donation to the subcommittee chairman's science center by an
advocate for bisphenol A.

Oct. 18: Canada declares bisphenol A toxic and announces a move to ban
the sale, import and advertising of baby bottles and other children's
products containing the chemical.


The Journal Sentinel reported earlier this month that subcommittee
chairman Martin Philbert is founder and co-director of an institute
that received $5 million from a retired medical supply manufacturer
who said he considered bisphenol A "perfectly safe." The donor,
Charles Gelman, told the newspaper that he has expressed his views to
Philbert in several conversations.

Philbert at first denied ever having been contacted by Gelman about
bisphenol A. He now says that he is aware of Gelman's views but is not
influenced by them. Congressional inquiry

A congressional committee launched an investigation into the
connection, citing the newspaper report.

Those same congressional investigators are now looking into other
possible conflicts of interest. They are scrutinizing the role that
ICF, a consulting firm whose clients include the American Chemistry
Council and the American Petroleum Institute, had in preparing the FDA

Neither ICF nor the FDA would say what role the consulting firm had in
the agency's review of the chemical. But the newspaper found reports
issued to the FDA by the consulting firm from 2000 to 2007. Those
reports included reviews of government and industry studies on the
effects of bisphenol A on animal health.

The task force used ICF's reviews in its draft.

ICF spokesman Douglas Beck declined to comment on his company's
involvement in the study of bisphenol A..

FDA spokesman Michael Herndon is referring all questions about the
draft to congressional investigators.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce and its subcommittee on
Oversight and Investigation has asked FDA Commissioner Andrew von
Eschenbach to appear for an interview by committee staff to explain
the agency's decision-making relating to bisphenol A.

"Specifically, why industry-funded studies provide the basis of your
regulatory decisions and why the totality of the science around the
chemical continues to be ignored by your science-based agency," the
committee letter said.

Investigators want transcripts of all communication between ICF and
the FDA by Wednesday. Poring over evidence

The newspaper reviewed the body of evidence that the task force
considered. It found memos with entire sections blacked out, reviews
commissioned by the American Plastics Council, an arm of the American
Chemistry Council, and reviews completed by consulting firms with
clients who havefinancial interests in the sale of bisphenol A.

Many of these reviews of individual studies are at odds with the NTP's
reviews of the same studies.

For example, one study funded by the National Institutes of Health and
the Department of Defense looked at the effects of bisphenol A on
prostate development in rats.

The FDA called it "severely limited," in contrast to the NTP's review,
which labeled it of "high utility."

Another government-funded study, which also looked at the effects of
the chemical on the prostate, again was considered of "high utility"
by the NTP for its evaluation, and it was deemed "very limited" by the

Much of the science that the task force considered was 20 years old or
older, including a study commissioned in 1976.

The older studies are not as sensitive as modern tests. They used high
doses of the chemical and did not consider the unique effects on the
endocrine system.

Bisphenol A was developed in 1891 as a synthetic estrogen.

It came into widespread use in the 1950s when scientists realized it
could be used to make polycarbonate plastic and some epoxy resins to
line food and beverage cans.

The chemical is used in a host of products from dental sealants and
eyeglasses to CDs and water bottles. Bisphenol A has been detected in
the urine of 93% of Americans tested.

Sales of the chemical reached $6 billion worldwide in 2007.

Last year, the Journal Sentinel reviewed 258 research papers on
bisphenol A and found that a large majority showed the chemical was
harmful to lab animals. Those that didn't find harm overwhelmingly
were paid for by the chemical industry. The newspaper also found that
the government was basing its safety recommendations for bisphenol A
on outdated studies performed more than two decades ago.

Columbia University professor David Rosner, who researches the
relationship of industry and government regulators of toxic
substances, has compared the controversy over bisphenol A to tobacco
and asbestos.

"It makes sense that we have a process that is not tainted by
corruption," he said. "This looks tainted."

A plastics industry spokeswoman defended the role of Hentges and
others in shaping the FDA's task force draft. Hentges was out of the
country on Wednesday and not available for comment.

Tiffany Harrington, spokeswoman for the American Chemistry Council,
said Hentges was acting appropriately in his capacity as an advocate
for the plastics industry.

"We are a stakeholder just like anyone else," Harrington said. "It's
part of the process."

Copyright 2005-2007, Journal Sentinel Inc.

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From: Telegraph (London, U.K.), Oct. 20, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


By Paul Eccleston

'Extreme weather events' such as the hot summer of 2003, which caused
an extra 35,000 deaths across southern Europe from heat stress and
poor air quality, will happen more frequently.

Britain and the North Sea area will be hit more often by violent
cyclones and the predicted rise in sea level will double to more than
a metre, putting vast coastal areas at risk from flooding.

The bleak report from WWF -- formerly the World Wildlife Fund --
also predicts crops failures and the collapse of eco systems on both
land and sea.

And it calls on the EU to set an example to the rest of the world by
agreeing a package of challenging targets for cutting greenhouse gas
emissions to tackle the consequences of climate change and to keep any
increase in global temperatures below 2C.

The agency says that the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change (IPCC) -- a study of global warming by 4,000
scientists from more than 150 countries which alerted the world to the
possible consequences of global warming -- is now out of date.

WWF's report, Climate Change: Faster, stronger, sooner, has updated
all the scientific data and concluded that global warming is
accelerating far beyond the IPCC's forecasts.

As an example it says the first 'tipping point' may have already been
reached in the Arctic, where sea ice is disappearing up to 30 years
ahead of IPCC predictions and may be gone completely within five years
- something that hasn't occurred for a million years.

It could result in rapid and abrupt climate change rather than the
gradual changes forecast by the IPCC.

The findings include:

* Global sea level rise could more than double from the IPCC's
estimate of 0.59m by the end of the century.

* Natural carbon sinks, such as forests and oceans, are losing their
ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere faster than expected.

* Rising temperatures have already led to a major reduction in food
crops resulting in losses of 40m tonnes of grain per year.

* Marine ecosystems in the North and Baltic Sea are being exposed to
the warmest temperatures measured since records began.

* The number and intensity of extreme cyclones over the UK and North
Sea are projected to increase, leading to increased wind speeds and
storm-related losses over Western and Central Europe.

The report was issued to coincide with a meeting of EU Environment
Ministers today to discuss new laws aimed at tackling climate change.
Some countries, including Italy and Poland, have already rejected
proposals for higher cuts in emissions claiming they are unaffordable
and unrealistic when many countries are facing recession.

The UK is the only country so far to commit to a legally binding 80
per cent cut in emissions by 2050 which the Government claims can be
achieved by a switch to renewable energy sources -- such as wind and
wave -- combined with a new generation of nuclear power stations.

In the report WWF urges the EU to commit to a reduction target of at
least 30 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 without relying on
offsetting overseas and to provide financial support so developing
countries can cut their own emissions and prepare for unavoidable
impacts of climate change.

WWF-UK's Head of Climate Change, Dr. Keith Allott, said: "Climate
change is a major challenge to the future of mankind and the
environment, and this sobering overview highlights just how critical
it is that EU environment ministers, who are meeting today to discuss
EU legislation to tackle climate change, commit to a strong climate
and energy package, in order to ensure a low carbon future.

"If the European Union wants to be seen as leader at UN talks in
Copenhagen next year, and to help secure a strong global deal to
tackle climate change after 2012, then it must stop shirking its
responsibilities and commit to real emissions cuts within Europe."

The report has been endorsed by Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele,
the newly elected Vice Chair of the IPCC, who said: "It is clear that
climate change is already having a greater impact than most scientists
had anticipated, so it's vital that international mitigation and
adaptation responses become swifter and more ambitious."

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From: The Guardian (Manchester, U.K.), Oct. 23, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


By John Vidal, environment editor

Growing inequality in US cities could lead to widespread social unrest
and increased mortality, says a new United Nations report on the
urban environment.

In a survey of 120 major cities, New York was found to be the ninth
most unequal in the world and Atlanta, New Orleans, Washington, and
Miami had similar inequality levels to those of Nairobi, Kenya Abidjan
and Ivory Coast. Many were above an internationally recognised
acceptable "alert" line used to warn governments.

"High levels of inequality can lead to negative social, economic and
political consequences that have a destabilising effect on societies,"
said the report. "[They] create social and political fractures that
can develop into social unrest and insecurity."

According to the annual State of the World's cities report from UN-
Habitat, race is one of the most important factors determining levels
of inequality in the US and Canada.

"In western New York state nearly 40% of the black, Hispanic and
mixed-race households earned less than $15,000 compared with 15% of
white households. The life expectancy of African-Americans in the US
is about the same as that of people living in China and some states of
India, despite the fact that the US is far richer than the other two
countries," it said.

Disparities of wealth were measured on the "Gini co-efficient", an
internationally recognised measure usually only applied to the wealth
of countries. The higher the level, the more wealth is concentrated in
the hands of fewer people.

"It is clear that social tension comes from inequality. The trickle
down theory [that wealth starts with the rich] has not delivered.
Inequality is not good for anybody," said Anna Tibaijuka, head of UN-
Habitat, in London yesterday.

The report found that India was becoming more unequal as a direct
result of economic liberalisation and globalisation, and that the most
unequal cities were in South Africa and Namibia and Latin America.
"The cumulative effect of unequal distribution [of wealth] has been a
deep and lasting division between rich and poor. Trade liberalisation
did not bring about the expected benefits."

The report suggested that Beijing was now the most egalitarian city in
the world, just ahead of cities such as Jakarta in Indonesia and Dire
Dawa in Ethiopia.

In Europe, which was generally more egalitarian than other continents,
Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Slovenia were classed as the
most equal countries with Greece, the UK and Spain among the least.
"Disparities are particularly significant in the cities of eastern
Europe, larger Spanish cities and in the north of England," it said.

It documents the seemingly unstoppable move of people away from rural
to urban areas. This year it is believed that the number of people
living in urban areas exceeded those in the countryside for the first
time ever, but the report says there is no sign of the trend slowing.

"The dramatic transition between rural and urban communities is not
over. Urbanisation levels will rise dramatically in the next 40 years
to reach 70% by 2050," it predicts.

The most dramatic urbanisation has been taking place in China, with
many millions of people moving from the countryside to cities. The
report says 49 new cities have been built in the past 18 years. The
rapid transition to an urban society has brought great wealth but also
many negative results.

"China has attained some of the deepest disparities in the world with
urban incomes three times those in rural areas. Inequalities are
growing, with disproportionate rewards for the most skilled workers
... and serious problems for the unemployed and informal workers."

Urban growth rates are highest in the developing world, which absorbs
an average 5 million new urban residents a month and is responsible
for 95% of world urban growth. The report predicts that Asian cities
will grow the most in the next 40 years and could have 63% of the
world urban population by 2050.

Tokyo is expected to remain the world's largest mega city, with 36.4m
people by 2025. But Mexico City, New York, and Sao Paulo could give
way in the league table to Mumbai, Delhi and Dhaka. Kinshasa and Lagos
are the two African cities expected to grow the most, with each adding
more than 6 million people by 2025.

Rather than countryside to city movement, which has marked rapid
population growth in the last 40 years, the UN expects more people to
move from city to city.

Capital cities in particular are attracting much more of countries'
investments and are growing fast. Some are becoming home to nearly
half a country's population.

But the report also identified what it believes is the emergence of a
new urban trend, with many cities now shrinking in size. The
populations of 46 countries, including Germany, Italy, Japan and most
former soviet states, are expected to be smaller in 2050 than they are
now, and in the past 30 years, says the report, more cities in the
developed world have shrunk than grown.

It found that 49 cities in the UK, including Liverpool and other old
industrial centres in the north of England, and 100 in Russia reduced
in size between 1990 and 2000, mainly because of unemployment. In the
US 39 cities are smaller now than they were 10 years ago.

The reasons for the decline of cities was mostly economic, but the
report says that the environment is now an important factor.

Air quality and pollution from mines, power plants and oil exploration
have been responsible for population losses in India, Mexico and
Africa, it says. "Cities tend to struggle most with health-threatening
environmental issues, such as the lack of safe water, sanitation and

Copyright Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

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From: Agence France Presse, Oct. 21, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


BERLIN (AFP) -- The gap between rich and poor has grown in most
developed countries over the past 20 years, leading to an increase in
child poverty, an organisation of 30 leading economies said in a
report Tuesday.

"The gap between rich and poor has grown in more than three-quarters
of OECD countries over the past two decades," said the Organisation
for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an influential
policy forum for 30 top world economies.

Economic growth of recent decades had benefitted the rich more than
the poor, it said in the report entitled "Growing Unequal: Income
distribution and poverty in OECD countries."

Across the OECD countries, the average income of the richest 10
percent of people was, on average, "nearly nine times that of the
poorest 10 percent."

Canada, Germany, Norway and the United States were most affected by
the widening gap between rich and poor, while Greece, Mexico and
Britain had seen a shrinking gap, the study found.

The danger of poverty was greatest in countries with the widest wage
gap and lowest social mobility, it said.

And the risk of poverty has moved away from older people and towards
children and young adults.

"Those around retirement age have seen the biggest increases in
incomes over the past 20 years, and pensioner poverty had fallen in
many countries. In contrast, child poverty had increased," the study

Children and young adults are now 25 percent more likely to be poor
than the population as a whole.

"Child poverty has increased and is now above average for the
population as a whole," the OECD stated.

"This is despite mounting evidence that child wellbeing is a key
determinant of how well someone will do as an adult -- how much they
will earn, how healthy they will be, and so on.

"The increase in child poverty deserves more policy attention than it
is currently receiving in many countries. More attention is needed to
issues of child development to ensure that no child is left behind."

Presenting the report at a news conference in Berlin, one of the
study's co-authors, Michael Foerster, said child poverty had risen in
countries such as Germany, the Czech Republic, Canada and New Zealand.

But child poverty was lower in countries where a large percentage of
women worked, Foerster said.

Britain had succeeded in reducing child poverty over the past five

In the report, OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria warned of the
dangers posed by inequality and the need for governments to tackle it.

"Growing inequality is divisive. It polarises societies, it divides
regions within countries, and it carves up the world between rich and
poor," he said.

"Greater income inequality stifles upward mobility between
generations, making it harder for talented and hard-working people to
get the rewards they deserve. Ignoring increasing inequality is not an

Single-parent households were three times as likely to be poor than
the population average, the OECD said.

"And yet OECD countries spend three times more on family policies than
they did 20 years ago."

In developed countries, governments had been taxing more and spending
more on social benefits to offset the trend towards more inequality.
Without this spending, it said, the rise in inequality would have been
even more rapid.

But new ways of tackling this issue needed to be found, Gurria said.

"Trying to patch the gaps in income distribution solely through more
social spending is like treating the symptoms instead of the disease,"
Gurria said.

"The largest part of the increase in inequality comes from changes in
the labour markets. This is where governments must act. Low-skilled
workers are having ever-greater problems in finding jobs. Increasing
employment is the best way of reducing poverty," he said.

Copyright 2008 AFP

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

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

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

  As you come across stories that might help people connect the dots,
  please Email them to us at d...@rachel.org.
  Rachel's Democracy & Health News is published as often as
  necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the

  Peter Montague - pe...@rachel.org

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