Rachel's News #995

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Rachel's Democracy & Health News #995

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

Thursday, January 22, 2009..............Printer-friendly version

Featured stories in this issue...

Four Ideas to Change the Game: Transforming Environmental Law
  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...
Surveyed Scientists Agree Global Warming Is Real
  Most earth scientists believe humans are causing global warming,
  including 97 percent of climatologists, according to a survey.
Climate Warming 'Highly Unusual' Says New Study
  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
'Only Four Years Left to Act on Climate Change,' Jim Hansen Warns
  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.
One Last Chance to Save Mankind
  "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."
Are Big Feedlots for Cows and Pigs Harming Infant Children?
  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.
Parking Lots Are Major Source of Cancer-Causing Chemicals
  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.


From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #995, Jan. 22, 2009
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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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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From: CNN.com, Jan. 20, 2009
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Ninety-seven percent of climatologists but only 64 percent of
meteorologists say humans are contributing to global warming; a
majority of petroleum geologists dissent.

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

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

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From: Vancouver (British Columbia) Sun, Jan. 18, 2009
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Findings counter argument that melt is part of climate cycle

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

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

Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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From: The Guardian (Manchester, U.K.), Jan. 18, 2009
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"We have only four years left to act on climate change -- America has
to lead."

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

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

"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

** 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.

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From: New Scientist (pg. 30), Jan. 21, 2009
[Printer-friendly version]


An interview with James Lovelock, originator of the gaia hypothesis.

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

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

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

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

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.

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From: Science News, Jan. 16, 2009
[Printer-friendly version]


Megafarm production is associated with infant illness, death rates

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

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

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From: Environmentl Health News, Jan. 22, 2009
[Printer-friendly version]


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:


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

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.

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

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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
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