Rachel's News #983

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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
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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

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

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

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."[1]

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

Principle 6: Embedded entropy and complexity must be viewed as an
investment when making design choices on recycle, reuse, or beneficial

Principle 7: Targeted durability, not immortality, should be a design

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

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.


[1] Matthew L. Wald, "Agency To Pursue 2 Plans to Shrink Plutonium
Supply," New York Times December 10, 1996, pg. 1.

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From: New York Times, Oct. 24, 2008
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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

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

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

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

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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From: Newsweek Magazine, Oct. 30, 2008
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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

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

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

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

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

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

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From: Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 27, 2008
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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

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

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

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

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

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

"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.

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From: KTAR.com (Phoenix, Ariz.), Oct. 24, 2008
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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

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

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

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From: The Guardian (Manchester, U.K.), Oct. 29, 2008
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** 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

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

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.

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From: The Nation, Oct. 6, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


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

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.

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

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

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

  As you come across stories that might help people connect the dots,
  please Email them to us at d...@rachel.org.
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