Rachel's Democracy & Health News #983
"Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?"
Thursday, October 30, 2008..............Printer-friendly version
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Featured stories in this issue... Is Nuclear Power Green? How can people judge whether a technology is green or not? They can compare it to the 12 principles of green engineering and the 12 principles of green chemistry. Here we compare nuclear power to these green principles. Nuclear Power May Be in Early Stages of a Revival "Little effective political opposition to new reactors has emerged so far. The environmental movement is spending its energy fighting new coal-burning power plants, with considerable effect." Diabetes Rate Doubles Over 10 Years, U.S. Says The rate of occurrence of new diabetes cases has nearly doubled in the United States in the last 10 years. Male, Interrupted As more genital birth defects are seen in boys, attention turns to phthalates, chemicals found in a variety of consumer products. Two Greenhouse Gases on the Rise Worry Scientists Two potent greenhouse gases are building in the atmosphere, raising an unexpected new threat for accelerating global warming, new studies show. The gases are methane and nitrogen trifluoride, and their levels are building faster than expected. World Faces a Natural Resources Crisis Worse Than Financial Crunch A new report predicts that by 2030, if nothing changes, mankind would need two planets to sustain its lifestyle. "The recent downturn in the global economy is a stark reminder of the consequences of living beyond our means.... But the possibility of financial recession pales in comparison to the looming ecological credit crunch." Global Warming and Modern Capitalism "Sadly, while environmentalists have been winning many battles, we are losing the planet." --James Gustave Speth, Dean of the School of Environmental Studies, Yale University :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #983, Oct. 30, 2008 [Printer-friendly version] IS NUCLEAR POWER GREEN? By Peter Montague We are told that nuclear power is about to achieve a "green renaissance," "clean coal" is just around the corner, and municipal garbage is a "renewable resource," which, when burned, will yield "sustainable energy." On the other hand, sometimes we are told that solar, geothermal and tidal power are what we really need to "green" our energy system. How is a person to make sense of all these competing claims? Luckily, scientists have developed two sets of criteria that we can use to judge the "greenness" of competing technologies. The first is called "The 12 principles of green engineering" and the second is "The 12 principles of green chemistry." Both sets of principles were developed by teams of technical experts and published in peer-reviewed journals. They are now widely understood and endorsed. Most importantly, they offer ordinary people, as well as experts, a way to decide which technologies are worth supporting and which ones should be phased out or never developed at all. Even most members of Congress should be able to understand and apply these principles. You can find both sets of principles listed at the end of this article. In this short series, we'll apply these principles as a "filter" to nuclear power, coal power, so-called "waste to energy" incinerators, and finally to solar power. These comparisons will not be exhaustive because the green principles are just that -- principles -- and they clarify without requiring great detail. Nuclear Power and Green Engineering So let's get right to it. Anyone can readily see that nuclear power violates green engineering principles #1 (prefer the inherently nonhazardous) and #2 (prevent instead of manage waste). Nuclear power produces radioactive wastes and "spent fuel," which are are exceptionally hazardous and long-lived. Just mining the fuel -- uranium -- has littered the western U.S. (and other parts of the world) with mountainous piles of radioactive sand ("uranium tailings"), which no one knows how to stabilize or detoxify, and which continually blow around and enter water supplies and food chains. Furthermore, nuclear power violates green engineering principle #12 (raw materials should be renewable and not depleting) because it depends on uranium for fuel and the world supply of uranium is finite and dwindling. Nuclear power also violates green engineering principles #9 (design for easy disassembly) and #11 (design for commercial re-use) because, after a nuclear power plant has lived out its useful life, many of its component parts remain extremely radioactive for centuries or aeons. Large parts of an old nuclear plant have to be carefully disassembled (by people behind radiation shields operating robotic arms and hands), then shipped to a suitable location, and "mothballed" in some way -- usually by burial in the ground. An alternative approach is to weld the plant shut to contain its radioactivity, and walk away, hoping nothing bad happens during the next 100,000 years or so. In any case it's clear that nuclear power violates principles #9 and #11 of green engineering. Nuclear Power and Green Chemistry When we compare nuclear power against the principles of green chemistry, we can readily see that it violates #1 (prevent waste), #3 (avoid using or creating toxic substances), and #10 (avoid creating persistent substances) because of the great toxicity and longevity of radioactive wastes. It also violates #7 (use renewable, not depleting, raw materials) because the basic fuel, uranium, is not renewable. Plans for extending the life of global uranium supplies all entail the use of "breeder reactors," which create plutonium. But plutonium itself violates green chemistry principles 1, 3, 4 and 10. The scientist who discovered plutonium (Glenn Seaborg) once described it as "fiendishly toxic." Plutonium is also the preferred material for making a rogue atomic bomb, which is why the New York Times has called the world's existing supplies of plutonium "one of the most intractable problems of the post-cold-war era." Lastly, nuclear power plants produce what is called "spent fuel" -- a misnomer if there ever was one. "Spent" makes it sound tired and benign. There is nothing benign about "spent fuel." It is tremendously radioactive -- so much so that it must be stored in a large pool of water to keep it cool. If someone accidently (or malevolently) drained the "spent fuel pool" that exists on-site at nearly every nuclear reactor, the "spent fuel" would spontaneously burst into flame and burn out of control for days, releasing clouds of highly-radioactive cesium-137 all the while. Green chemistry principle #12 says our technologies should be chosen to minimize the potential for accidents such as releases and fires. By this standard, nuclear power does not measure up. On the face of it, applying a "green principles" test to nuclear power would force us to conclude that it fails by any objective standard and that we should be looking elsewhere for green energy. Next installment: coal ============================================================== The 12 Principles of Green Engineering [First published in Paul T. Anastas and J.B. Zimmerman, "Design through the Twelve Principles of Green Engineering", Environmental Science & Technology Vol. 37, No. 5 (March 1, 2003), pgs. 95A-101A.] Principle 1: Designers need to strive to ensure that all material and energy inputs and outputs are as inherently nonhazardous as possible. Principle 2: It is better to prevent waste than to treat or clean up waste after it is formed. Principle 3: Separation and purification operations should be designed to minimize energy consumption and materials use. Principle 4: Products, processes, and systems should be designed to maximize mass, energy, space, and time efficiency. Principle 5: Products, processes, and systems should be "output pulled" rather than "input pushed" through the use of energy and materials. Principle 6: Embedded entropy and complexity must be viewed as an investment when making design choices on recycle, reuse, or beneficial disposition. Principle 7: Targeted durability, not immortality, should be a design goal. Principle 8: Design for unnecessary capacity or capability (e.g., "one size fits all") solutions should be considered a design flaw. Principle 9: Material diversity in multicomponent products should be minimized to promote disassembly and value retention. Principle 10: Design of products, processes, and systems must include integration and interconnectivity with available energy and materials flows. Principle 11: Products, processes, and systems should be designed for performance in a commercial "afterlife". Principle 12: Material and energy inputs should be renewable rather than depleting. ========================================================= The 12 Principles of Green Chemistry [First published in Martyn Poliakoff, J. Michael Fitzpatrick, Trevor R. Farren, and Paul T. Anastas, "Green Chemistry: Science and Politics of Change," Science Vol. 297 (August 2, 2002), pgs. 807-810.] 1. It is better to prevent waste than to treat or clean up waste after it is formed. 2. Synthetic methods should be designed to maximize the incorporation of all materials used in the process into the final product. 3. Wherever practicable, synthetic methodologies should be designed to use and generate substances that possess little or no toxicity to human health and the environment. 4. Chemical products should be designed to preserve efficacy of function while reducing toxicity. 5. The use of auxiliary substances (e.g., solvents, separation agents, and so forth) should be made unnecessary wherever possible and innocuous when used. 6. Energy requirements should be recognized for their environmental and economic impacts and should be minimized. Synthetic methods should be conducted at ambient temperature and pressure. 7. A raw material or feedstock should be renewable rather than depleting wherever technically and economically practicable. 8. Unnecessary derivatization (blocking group, protection/deprotection, temporary modification of physical/chemical processes) should be avoided whenever possible. 9. Catalytic reagents (as selective as possible) are superior to stoichiometric reagents. 10. Chemical products should be designed so that at the end of their function they do not persist in the environment and break down into innocuous degradation products. 11. Analytical methodologies need to be developed further to allow for real-time in-process monitoring and control before the formation of hazardous substances. 12. Substances and the form of a substance used in a chemical process should be chosen so as to minimize the potential for chemical accidents, including releases, explosions, and fires. ========================================================  Matthew L. Wald, "Agency To Pursue 2 Plans to Shrink Plutonium Supply," New York Times December 10, 1996, pg. 1. Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: New York Times, Oct. 24, 2008 [Printer-friendly version] NUCLEAR POWER MAY BE IN EARLY STAGES OF A REVIVAL By Matthew L. Wald WASHINGTON -- After three decades without starting a single new plant, the American nuclear power industry is getting ready to build again. When the industry first said several years ago that it would resume building plants, deep skepticism greeted the claim. Not since 1973 had anybody in the United States ordered a nuclear plant that was actually built, and the obstacles to a new generation of plants seemed daunting. But now, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 21 companies say they will seek permission to build 34 power plants, from New York to Texas. Factories are springing up in Indiana and Louisiana to build reactor parts. Workers are clearing a site in Georgia to put in reactors. Starting in January, millions of electric customers in Florida will be billed several dollars a month to finance four new reactors. On Thursday, the French company Areva, the world's largest builder of nuclear reactors, and Northrop Grumman announced an investment of more than $360 million at a shipyard in Newport News, Va., to build components for seven proposed American reactors, and more for export. The change of fortune has come so fast that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which had almost forgotten how to accept an application, has gone into a frenzy of hiring, bringing on hundreds of new engineers to handle the crush of applications. Many problems could derail the so-called nuclear revival, and virtually no one believes all 34 proposed plants will be built. It is still unclear how many billions they would cost, whether the expense can be financed in a troubled credit market, and how the cost might compare with other power sources. But experts who follow the industry expect that at least some of the 34 will be built. Given rising public concern about global warming and a recent history of reliable operation among nuclear plants, "the climate for introducing new plants is probably the best it's been since the industry started canceling plants" 30 years ago, said Brian Balogh, a history professor at the University of Virginia. Unlike most types of power generation, nuclear plants do not emit the gases that cause global warming, once they are completed. In the United States, orders for new reactors essentially ended in October 1973. That was also the month that the Arab oil embargo began, inaugurating an era of economic problems that drove up construction costs and suppressed demand for power. In the end, more than 100 nuclear reactors, some in advanced stages of construction, were canceled, and tens of billions of dollars were squandered. On top of that, the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 and the Chernobyl explosion in 1986 made nuclear power a hard sell. And cheap turbines were developed to burn natural gas to generate electricity. By the 1990s, even some nuclear plants that had been running for a few years were deemed too costly and were closed. But nuclear power never went away. The United States has 104 commercial reactors in operation, and the industry has improved their reliability markedly, increasing their output. They generate almost 20 percent of the country's electric power. As concerns over global warming and natural gas supplies have worsened, strong support has developed in Congress and some states for new reactors. The governor of Maryland recently cited a "moral imperative" to build plants to counter the threat of climate change. Support for new reactors has long been strong in some localities, particularly those that are candidates for billions of dollars in construction work. And investment dollars are starting to flow. "We have a long-term vision," Anne Lauvergeon, chief executive of Areva, said in an interview here on Thursday, explaining her company's decision to join forces with Northrop Grumman at Newport News. To help spur a revival, Congress provided $18.5 billion in loan guarantees in a 2005 energy law, plus operating subsidies similar to those available for solar and wind power, and insurance against regulatory delays. Little effective political opposition to new reactors has emerged so far. The environmental movement is spending its energy fighting new coal-burning power plants, with considerable effect. While few environmental advocates are enthusiastic about nuclear power, a handful acknowledge it could play a role in countering global warming. "There is no question that some of the passion of the antinuclear movement has drained away," said Professor Balogh, who is the author of a 1990 book on opposition to nuclear power. Worried about its ability to build coal plants, but needing new power plants to meet rising electric demand, the utility industry is determined to move ahead on nuclear power. While most spending so far is on engineering work and environmental studies, physical work is in the early stages, as well. The Georgia Power Company wants new units adjacent to its two Vogtle reactors, finished in the 1980s, and workers there are tearing down old buildings left over from that construction to make space for new construction. At the Port of Lake Charles, La., the Shaw Group and Westinghouse Electric, owned by Toshiba, are building a factory bigger than 10 football fields that will make components for new reactors in the United States and around the world. BWX Technologies, a subsidiary of McDermott International, is setting up a plant in Mount Vernon, Ind., to resume manufacturing reactor vessels and other big components. Both companies expect work for years to come. The industry's most intractable problem, what to do with spent nuclear fuel, has not been solved. The government was supposed to begin accepting spent fuel for burial in 1998 but now says it will be 2017 at the earliest, and it is not clear that the site under study, Yucca Mountain in Nevada, will win a license. But companies that want to build say the industry could make do for the next few decades with an above-ground "interim storage" site. That might mean centralized storage in a remote desert facility. Some skeptics argue that a technology that needs taxpayer help on a large scale should not be built. In fact, construction costs for power plants of all kinds have risen sharply in the last two years, creating special problems for nuclear power, which has more steel and concrete than other plants of equal output. By some estimates costs have more than doubled since 2000. The critics argue that the same money spent elsewhere -- on wind power, or on retrofitting buildings -- could create bigger cuts in carbon dioxide output. Joseph J. Romm, an official in the Energy Department during the Clinton administration, pointed to a recent estimate by Florida Power & Light that a new reactor could cost a steep $8,000 for each kilowatt of capacity -- enough power to run a window air- conditioner. That is at least double what a coal-burning power plant would cost, and Mr. Romm said that it was only the preconstruction estimate of an industry famous for cost overruns. He said the plants would be hard to finance. "I just read that McDonald's was having trouble getting money, and there's not a lot of risk in building a new McDonald's," he said. "Obviously, the risks with a nuclear plant are enormous." He predicted a return to the problem of the 1970s -- high prices for electricity driving electric demand down so much that plants under construction were no longer needed. Some people say they believe more political opposition will emerge once some of the proposed plants move closer to construction. At the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group in Washington that frequently criticizes the nuclear industry, David A. Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer, said it was too soon to say that opposition was weaker now than during construction of the older plants, when grandmothers tried to block bulldozers. "We've got the grandmothers; we just don't have the bulldozers," he said. "There's not the Kodak moment that a lot of these protests need." Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Newsweek Magazine, Oct. 30, 2008 [Printer-friendly version] DIABETES RATE DOUBLES OVER 10 YEARS, U.S. SAYS By Mike Stobbe Atlanta (AP) -- The rate of new diabetes cases nearly doubled in the United States in the last 10 years, with the highest levels in the South, the government said Thursday in its first state-by-state review of new diagnoses. The highest rate was in West Virginia, where about 13 in 1,000 adults were diagnosed with the disease. The lowest was in Minnesota, where the rate is 5 in 1,000. About 90 percent of the cases are Type 2 diabetes, the form linked to obesity. The findings echo geographic trends seen with obesity and physical inactivity, which are also tied to heart disease. Southern states rank worst in those measures, too. "It isn't surprising the problem is heaviest in the South -- no pun intended," said Matt Petersen, who oversees data and statistics for the American Diabetes Association. But the study provides important new information on where new cases are emerging each year, giving a more timely picture of where the disease is exploding. The information should be a big help as the government and health insurers decide where to focus prevention campaigns, he said. The study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention covered most states. More than 23 million Americans have diabetes. The number is growing quickly. About 1.6 million new cases were diagnosed in people 20 or older last year, according to the CDC. Some studies have offered state-specific estimates of diabetes cases, but this is the first to chart where new cases are being diagnosed. "It's important work," said Angela Liese, a diabetes researcher at the University of South Carolina, who was not involved in the CDC study. The study involved a random-digit-dialed survey of more than 260,000 adults. Participants were asked if they'd ever been told by a doctor that they have diabetes, and when the diagnosis was made. The annual rate of new diabetes cases rose from about 5 per 1,000 in the mid-1990s to 9 per 1,000 in the mid-2000s, according to data gathered for 33 states for which CDC had complete data for both time periods. The researchers had data for 40 states for the years 2005-07. West Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Texas and Tennessee had the highest rates, all at 11 per 1,000 or higher. Minnesota, Hawaii and Wyoming had the lowest rates. It's not completely clear why some states have a worse incidence than others. Older people, blacks and Hispanics tend to have higher rates of Type 2, and the South has large concentrations of older people and blacks. Texas has a large Hispanic population. However, West Virginia -- the state with the highest rate of new cases -- is overwhelmingly white. The report only asked about diagnosed diabetes. Because an estimated 1 in 4 diabetics have not been diagnosed, the findings probably underestimate the problem, Liese said. The underestimates may be particularly bad in the rural South and other areas where patients have trouble getting health care, she noted. Diabetes is increasing everywhere, said Karen Kirtland, the study's lead author, who said the rate rose in all states. "It's a national problem," she said. The CDC report: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr Copyright The Associated Press Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 27, 2008 [Printer-friendly version] MALE, INTERRUPTED By Faye Flam, Inquirer Staff Writer At Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, surgeon Howard Snyder says he and his colleagues repair the genitalia of roughly 300 baby boys every year -- about double what they did when he started his practice 30 years ago. He's not the only doctor who's noticed an increase in this kind of birth defect. The most common of them, hypospadias, nearly doubled in the United States between the late 1960s and early 1990s, according to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Snyder suspects that while in the womb, some of these boys may have been affected by hormone-disrupting chemicals called phthalates, found in dozens of consumer products. These chemicals give plastics flexibility, prevent perfumes from losing their scents, and keep nail polishes from chipping. But in lab rats and mice, doses comparable to those we humans absorb from the environment can disrupt the formation of male genitals and otherwise feminize male animals. One small study from the University of Rochester also linked these chemicals to irregularities in male genital development. Despite that, phthalates are added to numerous products ranging from deodorants to shower curtains to IV tubing in hospitals. While the European Union has banned one type of phthalate in nail polishes and several others in children's toys, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is "assessing the toxicity of several phthalates," and awaiting results of a National Research Council study, expected next year, a spokesman said. The specific problem that concerns Children's Hospital's Snyder - hypospadias -- is considered an incomplete development of the male organs, causing a boy's urethra to exit the underside of his penis. In most cases, surgeons can reroute the urethra, but it can take several difficult operations. While there's yet no direct link between this defect and phthalates, the dramatic increase in cases and the animal data have many doctors concerned. The American Chemistry Council, a trade group, defends the compounds, saying that the animal data may not apply to humans. Chris Bryant, a council spokesman, cited a council news conference, stating that dozens of studies found no link between phthalates and adult diseases. Industry and federal toxicologists also questioned the validity of the one human study, he said, because it was small and flawed in its methods. But the animal data alone should prompt concern, said Theodore Schettler, a physician and science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, an environmental advocacy group. "There's a huge animal database showing how exposures to phthalates during development can have effects at levels hundreds of times lower than these needed to show any impact on an adult," he said. Timing of the exposure matters, and the most harm may occur between the eighth and 15th weeks of pregnancy, when a fetus' sexual differentiation starts, he said. "If my testosterone dropped by 20 or 30 percent for a couple of days, it wouldn't matter," he said. "But for a developing fetus, it could matter a whole lot if there was a substantial drop in testosterone." Phthalates fall into a group of chemicals called endocrine disruptors because they either mimic or block the action of human hormones. Phthalates interfere with the synthesis of testosterone. Bisphenol A, another controversial chemical that is found in plastics, can mimic female hormones. Consumers' concerns about bisphenol A, which has been used for years to make plastics stiff, have prompted some producers and retailers to announce in recent months that they would stop using and selling it. The attorneys general of New Jersey, Delaware and Connecticut sent letters to 11 manufacturers two weeks ago, urging that the chemical be eliminated from baby bottles and other children's products. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee is scheduled to discuss conflicting reports about bisphenol A on Friday. Phthlates affect males more than females, at least in animals, because of the way sex organs grow. Developmental biologists say that up until eight weeks, fetuses have the rudiments of both male and female sex organs. After that point, those with a Y chromosome develop gonads that are supposed to secrete testosterone, after which the male hormone starts turning the fetus into a male. Testosterone starts the construction of male genitalia. As part of that, the opening of the urethra migrates from a position near the testicles to the end of the penis. Hypospadias is thought to result from incomplete masculinization. No studies so far have directly connected hypospadias to phthalate exposure, but one study by University of Rochester researcher Shanna Swan suggested a link to anatomical variations. Swan, a professor of environmental medicine and obstetrics/gynecology, collected urine samples from several hundred pregnant women and tested them for nine compounds known to come from metabolizing phthalates. Then she asked pediatricians to conduct a standard genital exam on 134 boys born to these women. She found that boys whose mothers were most exposed to certain phthalates were more likely to have undescended testicles and to have smaller penises. More pronounced was a feature known to indicate feminization in lab animals -- a shortened distance between the genitals and the anus. This so-called anogenital distance, or AGN, is normally twice as long in boys as in girls, as it is in male rats compared with females. Swan found that boys of mothers with the highest phthalate levels during pregnancy were much more likely to have relatively short AGNs. Not all phthalates affected boys in the study. A common one that did was called DBP, or dibutyl phthalate, an ingredient in nail polish, hair sprays, perfumes, and other personal-care products. The chemistry council said the study was too small to be considered valid. University of California San Francisco urologist Larry Baskin said he was trying to get grant money for a larger study to check these findings. In the meantime, he said, "I think there's enough animal evidence that it's reasonable to have a warning label for pregnant women." The problem is that no one is quite sure how people are getting exposed, said the Environmental Health Network's Schettler. The human body can clear out phthalates in a day or two, but many people seem to continue picking it up from the environment. Another common phthalate, DEHP, is used to make plastic flexible in shower curtains, vinyl flooring, and IV bags and tubes. Some pregnant women and their babies may get a harmful dose of DEHP in the hospital, he said. Pregnant women may also be absorbing DBP from personal-care products and cosmetics, Schettler said. "You'll almost never find it on the label," he said. Because it's often used as a solvent for fragrances, companies are allowed to simply list "fragrance" on the label of DBP- containing products. He said that a few years ago he participated in a study along with the group Health Care Without Harm. They bought dozens of common personal- care products from supermarkets and pharmacies and analyzed them for phthalates. "We found them in one form or another in 70 percent of the products we tested," he said. Unfortunately, he said, regulatory agencies are swamped with untested substances. "You're being exposed to a series of chemicals that have not undergone safety testing because our regulatory system is nonfunctional." Snyder, at Children's Hospital, said he became concerned about phthalates 15 years ago when he noticed the number of hypospadias cases seemed to be rising. And while hypospadias can be corrected, he said, it still can be traumatic for patients. "It's a very tricky surgery," Snyder said. Though his specialty is officially urology, he said, "you have to be well-versed in plastic surgery to be able to handle these delicate tissues in boys between 6 and 9 months old." Some children need to come back for several surgeries. "It bothers kids to have genitalia that don't look standard," he said. "Boys should be able to stand up and write their names in the snow." Copyright Philly Online, LLC. Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: KTAR.com (Phoenix, Ariz.), Oct. 24, 2008 [Printer-friendly version] TWO GREENHOUSE GASES ON THE RISE WORRY SCIENTISTS By Seth Borenstein, Associated Press Science Writer Washington -- Carbon dioxide isn't the only greenhouse gas that worries climate scientists. Airborne levels of two other potent gases -- one from ancient plants, the other from flat-panel screen technology -- are on the rise, too. And that's got scientists concerned about accelerated global warming. The gases are methane and nitrogen trifluoride. Both pale in comparison to the global warming effects of carbon dioxide, produced by the burning of coal, oil and other fossil fuels. In the past couple of years, however, these other two gases have been on the rise, according to two new studies. The increase is not accounted for in predictions for future global warming and comes as a nasty surprise to climate watchers. Methane is by far the bigger worry. It is considered the No. 2 greenhouse gas based on the amount of warming it causes and the amount in the atmosphere. The total effect of methane on global warming is about one-third that of man-made carbon dioxide. Methane comes from landfills, natural gas, coal mining, animal waste, and decaying plants. But it's the decaying plants that worry scientists most. That's because thousands of years ago billions of tons of methane were created by decaying Arctic plants. It lies frozen in permafrost wetlands and trapped in the ocean floor. As the Arctic warms, the concern is this methane will be freed and worsen warming. Scientists have been trying to figure out how they would know if this process is starting. It's still early and the data are far from conclusive, but scientists say they are concerned that what they are seeing could be the start of the release of the Arctic methane. After almost eight years of stability, atmospheric methane levels -- measured every 40 minutes by monitors near remote coastal cliffs -- suddenly started rising in 2006. The amount of methane in the air has jumped by nearly 28 million tons from June 2006 to October 2007. There is now more than 5.6 billion tons of methane in the air. "If it's sustained, it's bad news," said MIT atmospheric scientist Ron Prinn, lead author of the methane study, which will be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters Oct. 31. "This is a heads up. We're seeing smoke. It remains to be seen whether this is the fire we're really worried about. "Whenever methane increases, you are accelerating climate change," he said. By contrast, nitrogen trifluoride has been considered such a small problem that it's generally been ignored. The gas is used as a cleaning agent during the manufacture of liquid crystal display television and computer monitors and for thin-film solar panels. Earlier efforts to determine how much nitrogen trifluoride is in the air dramatically underestimated the amounts, said Ray Weiss, a geochemistry professor with Scripps Institution of Oceanography and lead author on a nitrogen trifluoride paper. It is set to be published in Geophysical Letters in November. Nitrogen trifluoride levels in the air -- measured in parts per trillion -- have quadrupled in the last decade and increased 30-fold since 1978, according to Weiss, who is also a co-author of the methane paper. It contributes only 0.04 percent of the total global warming effect that man-made carbon dioxide does from the burning of fossil fuels. But nitrogen trifluoride is one of the more potent gases, thousands of times stronger at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Methane is more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide on a per molecule basis. Carbon dioxide remains the most important gas because of its huge levels and rapid growth. Still, methane and the potential of future increases is a worry, Weiss and others say. Its recent increase coincides with anecdotal evidence of more methane being released in the shallow parts of the Arctic Ocean. A scientific survey in late summer found methane levels in the east Siberian Sea up to 10,000 times higher than normal, said Orjan Gustafsson, an environmental scientist at Stockholm University who has just returned from the six-week survey. Prinn's data are consistent with the early results of "whole fields of methane bubbles" that Gustafsson said he found last month. The highest methane level increases were seen in monitoring stations in Alert, Canada, which with recent anecdotal evidence points to plants in permafrost thawing and decaying. Stanford University environmental scientist Stephen Schneider cautioned that the recent increase is new and that "it is pretty hard to be very confident of any trend or big story yet on methane." Methane levels have kept scientists guessing for the past decade. They were on the rise until about 1997, then soared in 1998 and then leveled off until jumping again in 2006. Copyright 2008 The Associated Press Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: The Guardian (Manchester, U.K.), Oct. 29, 2008 [Printer-friendly version] WORLD FACES A NATURAL RESOURCES CRISIS WORSE THAN FINANCIAL CRUNCH ** Two planets needed by 2030 at this rate, warns report ** Humans using 30% more resources than sustainable By Juliette Jowit The world is heading for an "ecological credit crunch" far worse than the current financial crisis because humans are over-using the natural resources of the planet, an international study warns today. The Living Planet report calculates that humans are using 30% more resources than the Earth can replenish each year, which is leading to deforestation, degraded soils, polluted air and water, and dramatic declines in numbers of fish and other species. As a result, we are running up an ecological debt of $4tr (£2.5tr) to $4.5tr every year -- double the estimated losses made by the world's financial institutions as a result of the credit crisis -- say the report's authors, led by the conservation group WWF, formerly the World Wildlife Fund. The figure is based on a UN report which calculated the economic value of services provided by ecosystems destroyed annually, such as diminished rainfall for crops or reduced flood protection. The problem is also getting worse as populations and consumption keep growing faster than technology finds new ways of expanding what can be produced from the natural world. This had led the report to predict that by 2030, if nothing changes, mankind would need two planets to sustain its lifestyle. "The recent downturn in the global economy is a stark reminder of the consequences of living beyond our means," says James Leape, WWF International's director general. "But the possibility of financial recession pales in comparison to the looming ecological credit crunch." The report continues: "We have only one planet. Its capacity to support a thriving diversity of species, humans included, is large but fundamentally limited. When human demand on this capacity exceeds what is available -- when we surpass ecological limits -- we erode the health of the Earth's living systems. Ultimately this loss threatens human well-being." Speaking yesterday in London, the report's authors also called for politicians to mount a huge international response in line with the multibillion-dollar rescue plan for the economy. "They now need to turn their collective action to a far more pressing concern and that's the survival of all life on planet Earth," said Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the president of WWF International. Sir David King, the British government's former chief scientific adviser, said: "We all need to agree that there's a crisis of understanding, that we're removing the planet's biodiverse resources at a rate which is as fast if not faster than the world's last great extinction." At the heart of the Living Planet report is an index of the health of the world's natural systems, produced by the Zoological Society of London and based on 5,000 populations of more than 1,600 species, and on an "ecological footprint" of human demands for goods and services. For the first time the report also contains detailed information on the "water footprint" of every country, and claims 50 countries are already experiencing "moderate to severe water stress on a year-round basis". It also shows that 27 countries are "importing" more than half the water they consume -- in the form of water used to produce goods from wheat to cotton -- including the UK, Switzerland, Austria, Norway and the Netherlands. Based on figures from 2005, the index indicates global biodiversity has declined by nearly a third since 1970. Breakdowns of the overall figure show the tropical species index fell by half and the temperate index remained stable but at historically low levels. Divided up another way, indices for terrestrial, freshwater and marine species, and for tropical forests, drylands and grasslands all showed significant declines. Of the main geographic regions, only the Nearctic zone around the Arctic sea and covering much of North America showed no overall change. Over the same period the ecological footprint of the human population has nearly doubled, says the report. At that rate humans would need two planets to provide for their wants in the 2030s, two decades earlier than the previous Living Planet report forecast just two years ago. This figure is "conservative" as it does not include the risk of a sudden shock or "feedback loop" such as an acceleration of climate change, says the report. But it warns: "The longer that overshoot persists, the greater the pressure on ecological services, increasing the risk of ecosystem collapse, with potentially permanent losses of productivity." In the 1960s most countries lived within their ecological resources. But the latest figures show that today three-quarters of the world's population live in countries which consume more than they can replenish. Addressing concerns that national boundaries are an artificial way of dividing up the world's resources, Leape says: "It's another way of reminding ourselves we're living beyond our means." The US and China account for more than two-fifths of the planet's ecological footprint, with 21% each. A person's footprint ranges vastly across the globe, from eight or more "global hectares" (20 acres or more) for the biggest consumers in the United Arab Emirates, the US, Kuwait and Denmark, to half a hectare in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Afghanistan and Malawi. The global average consumption was 2.7 hectares a person, compared with a notional sustainable capacity of 2.1 hectares. The UK, with an average footprint of about 5.5 hectares, ranks 15th in the world, just below Uruguay and the Czech Republic, and ahead of Finland and Belgium. Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: The Nation, Oct. 6, 2008 [Printer-friendly version] GLOBAL WARMING AND MODERN CAPITALISM By James Gustave Speth [This article is adapted from James Gustave Speth's The Bridge at the Edge of the World (Yale University Press, 2008).] I grew up in a small town on the Edisto River in South Carolina in the 1940s and '50s. As a boy, I often swam the Edisto, though at first I could not buck the river's current. But as I grew older and stronger, I was able to make good headway against it. In my environmental work for close to four decades, I've always assumed America's environmental community would do the same--get stronger and prevail against the current. But in the past few years I have come to the conclusion that this assumption is incorrect. The environmental community has grown in strength and sophistication, but the environment has continued to deteriorate. The current has strengthened faster than we have and become more treacherous. It is time to consider what to do besides swimming against it. It is no accident that environmental crisis is gathering as social injustice is deepening and growing inequality is impairing democratic institutions. Each is the result of a system of political economy-- today's capitalism--that is profoundly committed to profits and growth and profoundly indifferent to nature and society. Left uncorrected, it is an inherently ruthless, rapacious system, and it is up to citizens, acting mainly through government, to inject human and natural values into that system. But this effort fails because progressive politics are too feeble and Washington is more and more in the hands of powerful corporations and great wealth. The best hope for change in America is a fusion of those concerned about the environment, social justice and strong democracy into one powerful progressive force. This fusion must occur before it is too late. Sadly, while environmentalists have been winning many battles, we are losing the planet. Half the world's tropical and temperate forests are gone. The rate of deforestation in the tropics is about an acre a second. 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 overfished, fished to capacity or depleted, up from 5 percent a few decades ago. Twenty percent of the corals are gone; another 20 percent severely threatened. Species are disappearing 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. Each year desertification claims a Nebraska-sized area of productive capacity worldwide. Toxic chemicals can be found by the dozens in essentially every one of us. Earth's ozone layer was severely depleted before the change was discovered. Human activities have pushed atmospheric carbon dioxide levels up by more than a third and have started the most dangerous change of all--planetary warming and climate disruption. 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 dead zones in the oceans because of overfertilization. Withdrawals of fresh water consume more than half of accessible runoff, and water shortages are multiplying here and abroad. The following rivers no longer reach the oceans in the dry season: the Colorado, Yellow, Ganges and Nile, among many others. The United States--responsible for about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere--is, of course, deeply complicit in these global trends, and four decades of environmental effort have not stemmed the tide of decline. The United States is losing 6,000 acres of open space every day, and 100,000 acres of wetlands every year. Forty percent of US fish species are threatened with extinction, a third of plants and amphibians, 15 to 20 percent of birds and mammals. Half of US lakes and a third of the rivers still fail to meet the standards that the 1972 Clean Water Act said should be met by 1983, and a third of Americans live in counties that fail to meet EPA air- quality standards. We have done little to curb our wasteful energy habits or our steady population growth. 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, with no growth in the human population or the world economy. Just continue to release greenhouse gases at current rates, 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 world economy has more than quadrupled since 1960 and is projected to quadruple again by mid century. At recent rates of growth, it will double in fifteen to seventeen years. It took all of human history to grow the $7 trillion world economy of 1950. We now grow by that amount in a decade. Societies face the prospect of enormous environmental deterioration just when they need to be moving strongly in the opposite direction. The escalating processes of climate disruption, biotic impoverishment and toxification--which continue despite decades of warnings and earnest effort--are a severe indictment of capitalism. Capitalism as it is constituted today produces an economy and politics that are highly destructive to the environment. An unquestioning commitment to economic growth at any cost, powerful corporations whose overriding objective is to grow by generating profits (including profits from avoiding the environmental costs they create, from amassing deep subsidies and benefits from government and from continued deployment of technologies designed with little regard for the environment), markets that 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 so large in scale that it alters the fundamental biophysical operations of the planet--all combine to deliver an ever growing world economy that is undermining the ability of the planet to sustain life. Mainstream environmentalism has proved largely incapable of coping with these forces. It works within the system--raising public awareness, offering responsive policies, lobbying and litigating. America has run a forty-year experiment on whether this environmentalism can succeed, and the results are in. The full burden of managing accumulating environmental threats has fallen to the environmental community, both in and outside government. But that burden is too great. The system of modern capitalism will 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. Transformative change in the system itself is needed. The fundamental questions thus are about transforming capitalism as we know it. Can it be done? If so, how? And if not, what then? The good news is that there are a variety of prescriptions to take the economy and the environment off a collision course and to transform economic activity into something benign and restorative. The most important of these prescriptions range far beyond the traditional environmental agenda. Market failure can be corrected by government, perverse subsidies can be eliminated and environmentally honest prices can be forged. The laws, incentives and governance structures under which corporations operate can be transformed to move from shareholder primacy to stakeholder primacy. But even more vital is the need to challenge economic growth and the consumerism it depends on. This challenge is as relevant to addressing social problems as environmental ones. The never-ending drive to grow the economy undermines families, jobs, communities, the environment, a sense of place and continuity, even national security--but we are told that, in the end, we will somehow be better off. America has not applied its growth dividend to meeting social and environmental needs. There is good evidence that increased incomes do not lead to greater satisfaction with life. In affluent countries we have what might be called uneconomic growth, to borrow Herman Daly's phrase, where, if one could total up all the costs of growth, they would outweigh the benefits. Overriding commitment to economic growth--mere GDP growth--is consuming environmental and social capital, both in short supply. Affluent countries must become postgrowth societies where jobs and work life, the environment, communities and the public sector are no longer sacrificed to push up GDP. There are many steps to slow growth while improving social and environmental well-being, such as: shorter workweeks and longer vacations; greater labor protections, job security and benefits; restrictions on advertising; a new design for the twenty-first-century corporation; strong social and environmental provisions in trade agreements; rigorous environmental and consumer protection, including full-cost pricing; greater economic and social equality, with progressive taxation of the rich and greater income support for the poor; heavy spending on public services and environmental amenities; a huge investment in education, skills and new technology; and initiatives to address population growth at home and abroad. Instead of merely pursuing GDP growth, we need policies that address social needs directly--that strengthen families and communities and address the breakdown of social connectedness and the erosion of social capital; that guarantee good, well-paying jobs (and green- collar ones); that provide for universal healthcare and alleviate the devastating effects of mental illness; that provide a good education for all; that ensure care and companionship for the chronically ill and incapacitated; that recognize responsibilities to the half of humanity who live in poverty. There are many things that need to grow, and policy should concentrate there. Such measures, wise in their own right, should be seen as environmental measures too: central parts of the alternative to the destructive path we are on. Americans are struggling with the combined impacts of higher food and fuel prices, crumbling financial assets, tighter credit and layoffs. These problems are not the result of a slowdown in GDP growth, and they will not be cured by more growth. Each is the result of government failing to intervene in the marketplace--in financial markets, in housing markets, in labor markets and elsewhere. As with climate change, we are on the receiving end of misguided policies that have led to deep structural maladies. High prices are a problem not because they are high but because people don't have the money, and alternatives (e.g., truly fuel-efficient vehicles) are not readily available. In a gutsy article in July, Time noted that $4 gas was curbing sprawl, reducing pollution and traffic deaths, increasing fuel efficiency, and stimulating public transport, bike sales and walking. Honest prices would be higher prices for many things, but that does not mean Exxon should pocket the difference or that equity issues should remain unaddressed. Conventional wisdom on the clash of economy and environment is that we can have it both ways, thanks to new technology. We do indeed need a revolution in the technologies of energy, transportation, construction, agriculture and more. But the rate of technological change required to deal with environmental challenges in the face of rapid economic growth is extremely high and rarely achieved. If pollution is cut in half but output doubles, there is no net gain. Housing, appliances and transportation can become more energy- efficient, but the improvements will be overwhelmed if there are more cars, larger houses and new appliances--and there are. There's a limit to how fast and far new technology can take us. Parallel to transcending our growth fetish, we must move beyond our consumerism and hyperventilating lifestyles. In the modern environmental era, there has been too little focus on consumption. This is slowly changing, but most mainstream environmentalists have not wanted to suggest that the positions they advocate would require serious personal changes. This reluctance to challenge consumption has been a big mistake, given the mounting environmental and social costs of American "affluenza," extravagance and wastefulness. The good news is that more and more people sense that there's a great misdirection of life's energy. In a survey 83 percent of Americans say society is not focused on the right priorities, 81 percent say America is too focused on shopping and spending, 88 percent say American society is too materialistic, 74 percent believe excessive materialism is causing harm to the environment. If these numbers are correct, there's a powerful base to build on. Psychological studies show that materialism is toxic to happiness and that more income and more possessions do not lead to a lasting sense of well-being or satisfaction with life. What make people happy are warm personal relationships and giving rather than getting. Many people are trying to fight back against consumerism and commercialization. They say, Confront consumption. Practice sufficiency. Create social environments where overconsumption is viewed as silly, wasteful, ostentatious. Create commercial-free zones. Buy local. Eat slow food. Simplify your life. Downshift. These prescriptions for change in the fundamental arrangements of capitalism are difficult, to put it mildly. What circumstances might make deep change plausible? A mounting sense of imminent crisis, wise leadership, the articulation of a new American narrative or story, as Bill Moyers has urged--all these would help. Most of all, we need a new politics and new social movement powerful enough to drive change. Environmentalists must join social progressives to address the crisis of inequality unraveling our social fabric and undermining democracy. It is a crisis of soaring executive pay, huge incomes and increasingly concentrated wealth for a small minority while poverty rates approach a thirty-year high, wages stagnate despite rising productivity, social mobility and opportunity decline, the number of people without health insurance soars, job insecurity increases, safety nets shrink and Americans have the longest working day of all the rich countries. In an America with such vast social insecurity, where half the families just get by, economic arguments, even misleading ones, trump environmental ones. Environmentalists must also join those seeking to reform politics and strengthen democracy. America's gaping social and economic inequality poses a grave threat to democracy. We are seeing 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 economic 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, lobbying regulation, nonpartisan Congressional redistricting and other reforms as a core of their agenda. Today's politics will never deliver environmental sustainability. My point of departure was the momentous environmental challenge we face. But today's environmental reality is linked powerfully with other realities, including growing social inequality and neglect and the erosion of democratic governance and popular control. So my conclusion is that we as citizens must mobilize our spiritual and political resources for transformative change on all three fronts. Our best hope for change is a fusion of those concerned about environmental sustainability, social justice and political democracy into one progressive force. One area where fusion is beginning is the conversation between environmental and social justice activists on solutions, including green-collar ones, to the climate change threat. That's encouraging, but it's a small part of what's needed. Mostly, everyone is still in his or her silo. A sustained dialogue is urgently needed among the three communities, to build a common agenda for action and a shared commitment to build a new social movement for change in America. We are all communities of a shared fate. We will rise or fall together. ============== James Gustave Speth, dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, is the author of The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing From Crisis to Sustainability (Yale). In 1970 he co-founded the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has become one of America's most well-endowed and high-profile environmental organizations. He worked in the White House under President Carter, chairing the Council on Environmental Quality; when Bill Clinton and Al Gore were elected in 1992, Speth was a senior adviser to their transition team. He spent the 1990s as the administrator of the United Nations Development Program, where he integrated environmental sustainability into the agency's poverty- fighting mission. Thus, this article -- his call for a radical departure from the movement's current strategy -- comes from the ultimate environmental insider. Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: 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 subject. Editor: Peter Montague - pe...@rachel.org :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
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