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Saturday, November 09, 2002

Wolf Plan Makes No Sense, Except to Wolf-Hunters

Casper, WY (AP) - A draft plan that would designate the gray wolf as a predator across most of Wyoming would also create "free fire zones" as wolf packs move between protective wilderness areas and national parks, environmentalists said.

Game and Fish commissioners approved dual classification last month as part of a wolf management plan, going against advice from state and federal officials who said the decision could threaten efforts to remove the animal from protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Under the plan, gray wolves would be designated trophy game animals in some forest and wilderness areas, and as predators in the rest of the state. As predators, they could be killed without restrictions.

The problem with that arrangement, conservation groups said, is the wilderness areas are not contingent with each other or with national parks, where the wolves cannot be shot.

Wolves traveling between the areas could be shot on sight, environmentalists say.

"That does create a free fire zone ... This won't stand up to federal standards for protecting the wolf," said Carl Schneeback, program associate with the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.

Suzanne Laverty, representative for the group Defenders of Wildlife, called dual classification a "death sentence."

"If they follow the elk migration routes in the winter for food, the wolves will move into areas where they can be shot as predators," she said.

Wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in 1995 and 1996. There are now 218 wolves within eight to 10 packs in the park and in six to eight packs outside it.

About 85 wolves travel in 19 packs in Montana and 260 wolves in 22 packs in Idaho.

All of the wolves in the three-state, Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are the product of the U.S. Department of the Interior's recovery program aimed at restoring populations of the gray wolf in the northern Rockies.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to remove the animal from the endangered species and hand over management to the states, but only if management plans are developed that keep the animal from becoming endangered again.

Idaho has approved its plan and Montana expects to sign off on its plan in coming months. Wyoming's draft plan will be presented to a legislative committee next week.

Tom Thorne, acting director of the Game and Fish Department, said he has talked about modifications to the plan with the state Department of Agriculture and Wyoming's new endangered species coordinator.

"We've discussed whether there might be a population threshold, and if the wolf population drops below that, there could be a limit" on hunting or killing, he said.

But Schneeback argued that would still restrict wolves from the freedom of movement they need to survive.

"The monitoring needed to administer a threshold would be hideously expensive," he said.

The Game and Fish Department has planned a series of public meetings this month to discuss the draft wolf plan. Public comment will end Dec. 12.

Donna Bettinger
U.S. Contact
Scandinavian Joint Action For Wolves

Posted by Richard
11/09/2002 07:48:18 AM | PermaLink

Friday, November 08, 2002

Dam The Chinese

This 15 year project was widely condemned by the international community and environmentalists within China proper (many of who were jailed or disappeared conveniently after the fact) as a terrible idea. All told it is expected to displace nearly 1.5 million people, driving farmers from the rich traditional wetlands of the Yangtze valley up to less agriculturally hospitable higher regions, and also greatly endanger some of China's rarest and most precious animal species. All for a few hundred thousand megawats of power that will be sent long distance to power Shanghai. The whole plan is so irrational and environmentally disasterous that many critics of the plan initially theorized that it reason was less about power the city, and more about empowering the Communist-state establishment -- a last ditch effort to prove once and for all the mighty transformative power still held by the state.

Considering the massive environmental problems already confronting the Chinese, and the growing food shortages that China will be facing shortly into the future, damning the Yangtze river will live on as one of the great mistakes ever undertaken by any modern nation. It is simply a travesty.
Three Gorges project plugs mighty Yangtze river

John Gittings in Shanghai
The Guardian

The natural flow of the Yangtze river was brought to a halt yesterday as engineers at the Three Gorges dam, under construction in central China, closed a crucial section.

A diversion canal, which had allowed the river to flow freely around the dam as it was being constructed, was finally blocked.

The water will now pass through sluice holes until next year when more work will have been completed and a reservoir upstream begins to fill.

The damming ceremony was watched by the senior Chinese leader Li Peng on the eve of the 16th Communist party congress which starts in Beijing tomorrow.

Mr Li pushed through the controversial project in the clampdown following the 1989 Tiananmen square massacre - in which he played a dubious role.

He is now expected to retire from high office in the coming months alongside President Jiang Zemin. The official press has loyally hailed the dam as a triumph for the party's leadership.

Engineers seized the chance to plug the final 15-metre gap in the diversion canal when the Yangtze's water flow slackened to less than 10,000 cubic metres a second. Raising the level of the 250-mile reservoir, which extends upstream as far as the city of Chongqing, will begin next July.

A huge clean-up is under way to prevent the reservoir from being filled with rubbish and effluent.

Project officials admitted that they were working to a very tight schedule with no room for delay.

The clean-up is described as arduous work and includes the removal of burial grounds as well as industrial waste.

Last month, work on an essential waste-water treatment plant at Chongqing was delayed by angry residents who said they had not been properly compensated for losing their land.

Work on the dam began in 1993 and will be completed in 2009.

More than 646,000 people have been moved from their homes so far, 140,000 of them to other Chinese provinces.

Thirteen new towns have been built to house the evicted families and industries, and more than 500 miles of new roads have been laid.

The Yangtze river has already been dammed once at the Gezhouba dam - completed in 1981 about 12 miles downstream.

Posted by Richard
11/08/2002 10:32:27 AM | PermaLink

Thursday, November 07, 2002

US says EU Stance on Environment Threatens WTO Talks

I read something like this and I'm led to believe that either the US administration is so mean-spirited and corrupt that they don't give a damn about any of the agreements or findings that come out of international summits and committees or, rather, they are akin to the type of student who just never will learn no matter how many different ways you attempt to approach him/her with the material...forever and ever 2+2=5.

In this case, its as if all the hoopla from the summer meant nothing at all -- billions upon billions of dollars wasted in the attempt to have the united nations of the Earth educate the US about sustainable industry practice in the developing world and global corporate responsibility. 2+2=5.

Of course, the entire time it was people like Robert Zoellick who worked feverishly to undermine any and all agreements and proposals that would limit US market domination and or freedom. The idea being that global groups like the UN or other national interests are simply using environmental language to block US power, so as to grab a larger share of the pot for themselves.

No doubt this does go on and this strategy of geopolitics is equally unhelpful as regards planetary society in general. However, at some point people must drop their manner of doing business as a mode of competing interests and market-share modelling, and come to the table with real concern for one another. What events like the Johannesburg summit could teach, if nothing else, is that there must be a fundamental relationship to that which serves as the foundation for all this development and market madness -- and that everyone has an equal share in caring for and protecting that foundation.

The EU may not be completely genuine in their desire to protect the Earth, but at least their language moves in the right direction. The US speaks like a bully, and a dumb one at that. 2+2=5. It's proponents laugh at critics like myself, who couldn't possibly know better -- if the answer is so wrong why has it put so much steak on our table, they say.

Yes, but it also puts guns in your hands, say I.
New York — U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick Wednesday warned the European Union that its desire to link international environmental agreements to the rules for free trade threatened progress in world trade negotiations.

"If Europe keeps pushing things in the environmental area that look threatening to the developing world, we're not going to be able to move forward on this thing," Zoellick told the Council on Foreign Relations. His comments came during a joint question-and-answer session with E.U. Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy.

Lamy told the foreign policy audience that the E.U. was pushing for language to clarify how multilateral environmental agreements interact with World Trade Organization rules. "We Europeans feel these two things should be on the same footing," Lamy said. "If it were only a European view, I would say environment should trump trade rules, but since we live on the same planet, I would say they have to be on the same footing."

Developing countries are generally wary of any attempt by rich countries to insert environmental issues into trade agreements. They fear the measures could be used by the developed countries as an excuse to block their products.

Despite Zoellick's concern about the E.U. position, the Bush administration also faces some pressure at home to include both labor and environmental concerns in trade agreements.

Meanwhile, Zoellick said the United States would present ''an aggressive proposal'' later this year for reducing trade barriers for nonagricultural goods.

Many developing countries that want increased access to the U.S. textile market are keenly waiting to see what the United States will propose in that area.

WTO members launched a new round of world trade talks a year ago this month in Doha, Qatar, with the goal of finishing by January 2005.

After their remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations, Lamy and Zoellick met privately to discuss progress in the round and a long list of bilateral trade disputes.

Lamy will visit Chicago on Thursday and Friday for the annual meeting of the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialouge. The group is comprised of leading businesses from both Europe and the United States.

Posted by Richard
11/07/2002 08:39:28 AM | PermaLink

Chem, Bio Weapons Experts Urge History Lessons

Washington, DC (ENS) - Preparation for a biological or chemical attack has become a higher priority for virtually every government over the past year, but there is concern the United States and others are forgetting history as they try to plan for the possibility.

"Lessons are still being ignored," said Jane's Information Group's nuclear, biological and chemical analyst John Eldridge. "We need to be more honest and open about the lessons learned from real events."

Eldridge spoke Tuesday at the Jane's Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) 2002 Conference in Washington, DC. Organized by the London based military publisher Jane’s Information Group, the two day event featured speakers from the private and public sectors, discussing issues of preparing for potential radiological, biological or chemical attacks.

The United States and others would be wise to have a closer look at the lessons of the sarin gas attacks in Japan in 1994 and 1995, said Anthony Tu, Colorado State University professor emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Tu advised the Japanese government in the wake of the sarin gas attacks, which were carried out by the Aum Shinrikyo cult.

The first attack came in Matsumoto City on June 27, 1994 and left seven people dead with some 500 injured. This compares with the attack on the Tokyo subway on March 26, 1995 that killed 12 people and injured some 4,000 others.

The contrast, Tu said, is stark because an attack in a subway would be expected to cause a higher rate of fatalities because it is a "closed-air system." The gas used in Matsumoto City had little impurity, but the sarin released in the Tokyo subway was only "20 percent pure," Tu explained.

The Japanese were ill prepared to handle the attacks, with their police lacking the proper equipment. They did not learn from the first attack, Tu said, and kept their discoveries from that incident secret from the public. Rescue and hospital personnel were also inadequately trained for the events, with simple things such as decontaminating patients prior to treatment often overlooked.

Now more than seven years after the attacks, there has been "tremendous progress in defense against chemical weapons and biological weapons since the Tokyo attacks," Tu said. But the Japanese, he added, did not become serious about obtaining new equipment or preparing for such attacks until after the anthrax attacks in the United States late last year.

It is also hard to gauge what the United States may have learned from the Japanese experience, Eldridge said. Much of the material on the American response to the anthrax attacks, which killed five people, remains classified as the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) continues its search for those responsible. But other agencies are beginning to share information on the cleanup of anthrax from the U.S. Senate Hart office building, where two letters containing anthrax were received in October 2001.

Major Tony Intrepido of the U.S. Army's Preventive Health and Medicine Division told conference attendees that the initial response to what became the "100 day anthrax war" was chaotic. The effort involved a slew of different agencies, all working within a crime scene investigation led by the FBI.

The cleanup of the Hart Senate Office Building was a unique venture, Intrepido said, because of the political pressure to get senators and staffers back to work as quickly as possible. The Centers for Disease Control could not say what level of measurable anthrax was safe, despite believing that some level could probably be deemed safe.

"We had no track record with anthrax," Intrepido said.

Thirty buildings, spanning some nine million square feet had to be analyzed and potentially decontaminated. The anthrax delivered in letters to Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, both Democrats, was very pure and it easily re-aerosolized.

A peer review by 20 organizations determined the use of chlorine dioxide was the best means of cleaning the building. The Hart building, which houses the offices of 50 of the 100 senators and their staffs, was returned to service January 22, just a day before the scheduled start of the 2002 congressional session.

"Resources were stretched at all times," said Richard Rupert, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on-scene coordinator for the cleanup effort. "We could not have handled two like this at the same time."

Rupert cited the need for a core group of personnel from multiple agencies as well as overall improved means of communications among agencies as two key recommendations for improving the ability to respond to this kind of an attack.

Improving coordination within the U.S. federal government to respond to terrorist attacks is one reason advanced to justify the proposed Department of Homeland Security, but questions remain about how this new agency might take shape.

According to Steven Caldwell, assistant director of the Defense Capabilities and Management Team in the U.S. General Accounting Office, the theory behind the department is for create a "federally led response for crisis management."

'There is much unclear in the proposal, Caldwell said, including how the federal reorganization might "affect the roles of various federal, state and local authorities."

"But at least in the short run, the Department of Homeland Security will cause confusion," Caldwell told the conference. "There is a lot in limbo."

By J.R. Pegg

Posted by Richard
11/07/2002 08:20:35 AM | PermaLink

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

UN Declares 6 November International Day for Preventing Exploitation of Environment in Time of War

Well, with the media now irresponsibily whipping up public frenzy for war big-time with the democratic bow-out during yesterday's election, on every channel I heard some obscene pundit excitedly announcing that "the American public has now unanimously given President Bush the mandate for war that he has requested and stands behind him!" However, this is a blatant fallacy in reasoning -- beyond an outright lie. For polls taken yesterday morning continued to show that public support for the war stands at about 50%, no higher or lower than when Bush first announced Gulf War II six months ago. Further, the idea that electing a republican is at least an indirect vote for war (while probably true in this day and age), does not mean that electing a democrat meant a vote for peace. In fact, one of the major criticisms of Democrats post 9/11 is that the party never really developed any form of real peace position at all and that it stood for war every bit as much as its counter-party. Indeed, on the related issue of homeland security, Democrats took even a stronger line and criticized Bush and co. for not doing enough! They wanted more militarization, more security, more policing! So the idea that Bush now has a mandate for war is a completely misguided conclusion on the part of the mass media, and the fact that they trumpeted this propaganda 10x as much as the fact that SEC Chair Harvey Pitt was quietly retired amidst the hubbub simply goes to show (yet again) that the media are not in the business of information, but rather, dis-information. Hook, line, and sinker they are propagandists for the powerful elites in times of war.

That said, UNEP has announced that today is an international day for remembering that the military is the #1 polluter of the Earth and the #1 threat to sustainable existence and a healthy life here. Cheers UNEP for providing the counter-propaganda that American Democrats can't even find it in their skulls to imagine!
The International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict will be observed for the first time on 6 November 2002.

Though mankind has always counted its war casualties in terms of dead and wounded soldiers and civilians, destroyed cities and livelihoods, the environment has often remained the unpublicized victim of war.

Environmental damage includes polluted air, water and land; unregulated plunder of natural resources by belligerents; and the negative impact of mass population movements on water, biodiversity and other ecosystems services. In many cases, the effects are only reversible in the long term.

United Nations Member States saw the need to monitor and assess damage to the environment following armed conflict and in 1999, requested the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and its sister agency, UN-Habitat,to establish the UNEP/Habitat Balkans Task Force to collect information and analyse the consequences for the environment and human settlements of military actions in the Balkans region.

Since then UNEP has participated in a number of monitoring and assessment missions and projects, among them:

* Phase 2 of environmental clean-up feasibility studies at four sites in Serbia (Pancevo, Kragujevac, Novi Sad and Bor) (February 2000); * A UNEP team visited Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to assess the environmental damage caused by the Kosovo conflict and the institutional capacity of the two Governments to address environmental problems (September 2000); * Environmental impact of refugees in Guinea (600,000 refugees fleeing into the area from conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia) (November 1999); * Dispatch of a mission to Afghanistan to pinpoint those areas where environmental degradation occurred and to determine the need for a more in-depth assessment; and * In February 2002, the UNEP Governing Council requested the organization to carry out a desk study on the Palestinian territories. The study will identify the priorities for short and long-term environmental rehabilitation; consider opportunities to use environmental protection for peace-building and will propose urgent actions to strengthen the capacity of the institutional structures for environmental management and protection.

Some of the environmental consequences identified by UNEP missions include:

* Pollution and other collateral damage to the environment - oil spills, chemical leaks due to bombing of factories, oil refineries and storage facilities; * Deliberate acts of environmental sabotage - draining of Mesopotamian wetlands; torching of Kuwaiti oilfields and the widespread use of defoliants; * Destruction of habitats (gorilla population of Kahuzi Biega destroyed in the course of the unregulated extraction of coltan); and * Ruin of arable land by landmines, unexploded munitions and other debris of war.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director, said: "War and conflict exact a terrible toll in terms of human lives, in terms of human misery and human dignity. They can also cause short-term and long-term damage to water supplies, the land, the air and precious habitats as a result of pollution and the use of weapons. Natural resources, such as forests, can be severely depleted by armies and warring factions. People and communities, displaced by conflicts, trigger environmental damage through no fault of their own."

"We have the Geneva Conventions, which are aimed at safeguarding the rights of prisoners of war and civilians. But we also need safeguards for the environment during times of war and in the aftermath of conflict. Unless the Earth's life support systems are given priority, then the chances of returning stability and prosperity to a country scarred and damaged by war will prove elusive, aggravating the already difficult work of peace-keepers, and aid and humanitarian agencies that are called in to repair damaged communities long after the combatants have gone", he added.

The course for the future must be charted with a deeper respect for the environment. Member States must take stock of the guidelines drawn up to protect all victims of war. It is vital that maps be prepared and kept to facilitate clean-up activities when former belligerents come to the table to talk peace. The innocent should not be made to suffer long after the weapons of war have been silenced.

For more information, please contact: Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel.: +254-2-623084, Mobile: +254-632755 or e-mail:

Note to Editors: By resolution 56/4, the United Nations General Assembly, on 5 November 2001, declared 6 November each year, as the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict.

The findings of the UNEP-Habitat Balkans Task Force (BTF) are contained in the 1999 report "The Kosovo Conflict - Consequences for the Environment and Human Settlements". In 1999, the BTF focused its work on five areas. To this end, four field missions were carried out between July and September - Environmental consequences of the conflict on industrial sites; on the Danube River; on biodiversity in protected areas; and for human settlements and the environment in Kosovo.

The BTF was renamed the Balkans Unit. It is now a permanent part of UNEP's Division for Environmental Policy Implementation and is presently known as the Post-Conflict Assessment Unit, having a global mandate. Mor information can be obtained at

The full report, "Environmental Impact of Refugees in Guinea", is available on the web at
For more information, contact:
Jim Sniffen
Information Officer
United Nations Environment Programme
Web site:

Posted by Richard
11/06/2002 08:11:40 AM | PermaLink

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Vote Green

Today's the day -- I see Green everywhere, and beyond them Democrats: shielding us from a Bush administration D.C. hegemony!

Please remember the trends towards pork-barrel politics this election cycle -- just b/c a measure announces a problem and proposes to throw $50 million at it doesn't meant that it is anything more than money into the hands of favored contractors and political supporters. Any ballot issue that seems to want to tackle numerous problems in the name of "more roads" or "saving schools" should be be given a second look over and thought about carefully...

Have fun pretending we live in a democracy and watch out for those hanging chads!

Posted by Richard
11/05/2002 08:12:44 AM | PermaLink

Monday, November 04, 2002

Nuclear Blast Mapper

Blast Mapper: Map a Blast

Would you survive a nuclear blast? Nuclear Blast Mapper will show you how terribly destructive thermonuclear weapons are.

Posted by Richard
11/04/2002 03:23:42 PM | PermaLink

Discussion of Yucca Mountain, Nuclear Waste Muted in Campaigns

Las Vegas (AP) - Yucca Mountain and nuclear waste transportation have been largely overshadowed by other environmental concerns on the campaign trail, but political analysts said some groups are still hoping to spotlight the issue in the run-up to Tuesday's general election.

Western Democrats had hoped to highlight their opposition to the planned federal radioactive waste repository in Nevada, but Yucca Mountain has been mentioned only infrequently after the Senate voted in July to finalize the plan, analysts said.

"You saw (nuclear waste) play a lot before the (Senate) vote, and then it disappeared," said Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report. "People just figured it wasn't that topical anymore."

Duffy said environmental groups in some states through which the waste would be shipped to Nevada have focused instead on more immediate issues, including clean air and water. Yucca Mountain could open at 2010 at the earliest.

The League of Conservation Voters tried and failed to present Yucca Mountain as a key issue in the election, said spokesman Dan Vicuna.

"For the most part it hasn't worked very well as a wedge issue," Vicuna told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "We made our arguments but they didn't resonate the way we would have liked."

The Energy Department wants to entomb 77,000 tons of the nation's highest-level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles from Las Vegas.

Dump opponents see potential danger as the radioactive cargo moves past cities, over bridges and through tunnels on its way to Nevada. But the Bush administration and other supporters of the site said waste has been transported for years without radiation releases.

Because the route waste would take to Yucca Mountain has not yet been finalized, "it's become a non-issue with the voting public," said Mitch Singer of the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Nuclear waste has surfaced as an immediate concern in one House race for a newly redrawn Minnesota district that includes a power plant running out of waste storage space. Republican John Kline criticized Bill Luther, D-Minn., for voting against Yucca Mountain.

A Minneapolis newspaper listed nuclear waste storage as the most divisive environmental issue among the candidates for Minnesota governor. Democrat Roger Moe and Ken Pentel of the Green Party oppose adding storage at the Prairie Island nuclear power plant.

Republican Tim Pawlenty and Tim Penny of the Independence Party favor allowing more nuclear waste to be produced and stored in the state until it can be moved to Nevada or to a possible temporary storage site in Utah.

Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal

Posted by Richard
11/04/2002 10:56:16 AM | PermaLink

Bay Area Groups Take on Heavyweight Staples in Fight to Save Old Growth Forests

In their fight to protect ancient forests around the world, Bay Area environmentalists are on a roll. In the past three years, they have played major roles in campaigns that saved a vast swath of British Columbia rain forest and persuaded home- improvement giants Home Depot Inc. and Lowe's Companies Inc. to forswear the use of most old-growth lumber. Now, San Francisco groups ForestEthics and Rainforest Action Network are squaring off against the largest U.S. office-supply company in a fight that could change the paper used in countless offices in the Bay Area and around the country. (11/03/02) San Francisco Chronicle

Posted by Richard
11/04/2002 09:42:28 AM | PermaLink

Klamath Findings Fail to Get Into Print

The Bush administration withheld reports that concluded buying out farms in the Klamath Basin and leaving their irrigation water in the Klamath River would create a thriving downstream fishery and expanded recreation with a value that far exceeds that of the farms, a co-author of the reports said Friday. (11/04/02) Oregonian

Posted by Richard
11/04/2002 09:41:18 AM | PermaLink

Hogs on Wheels, A Book Review of High and Mighty: SUVs -- The World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way

SUVs -- The World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way.
By Keith Bradsher.
Illustrated. 468 pp. New York:
PublicAffairs. $28.

Cars and the car business infect some people's blood, which is why that agglomeration of machinery and brains and money we call Detroit functions as a state of mind as much as an industry, not unlike the Elks or the Masons in its binding rituals and traditions and argot, shared by a loyal clan of initiates usually in it for life. As an initiate myself in an earlier incarnation I have gloried in it all, in the fevered pace, the zealotry, the camaraderie, even the macho culture and even the city of Detroit, that ramshackle Athens of the biggest, toughest, most exciting industry in the land.

But Detroit is so exasperating to love. It's a self-isolated world, a kindly way of saying its worldview matches that of any West Virginia hollow for insularity. The lodge is a fortress, wary of outsiders, i.e., non-initiates, if not hostile to them, and unreceptive to their automotive concerns (or, in the argot, meddling). A ''not invented here'' pathology has over and over stalled adoption of big European-bred technological advances -- disc brakes, the air bag, antilock braking -- for years. Such is the arrogance of Detroit's economic power that its leaders often seem to see the nation's interests less as parallel than rival to their own, one reason why their sense of social responsibility would do a 19th-century coal baron proud. Only after Ralph Nader's one-man crusade shamed them into it, back in 1965, did the Big Three get halfway serious about safety. If it's not a matter of putting its bottom line ahead of the common good, the industry has yet to state a principled reason for undercutting every jot and tittle of clean-air and fuel conservation regulation. The well-wisher's heart sinks.

Now, in ''High and Mighty,'' Keith Bradsher, a New York Times correspondent who was Detroit bureau chief from 1996 to 2001, devotes 468 indignant, statistic-rich pages to what he believes is a case of all the car industry's least lovable qualities stuffed into one wretched package: the sport utility vehicle.

His opening salvo started this reflex loyalist cranking up the drawbridge. That outsider's cluelessness again: he calls the early-50's Kaiser Henry J an aluminum car -- it wasn't -- and describes Ford's 1966 winning Le Mans racer as a ''modified Mustang'' -- hilariously wrong -- and sprinkles in dubious insights like ''a big chunk of the automakers' ad money has gone toward ads that subtly or blatantly undermine people's confidence in cars.'' Tell that to the Buick or Cadillac copywriter slaving away on the next frantic push to move the metal. But then we get into the meat of the issue, and damned if Bradsher doesn't make a point. In fact a fusillade of points, wounding enough to get his book banned in Michigan.

It isn't so much that the average S.U.V. is underengineered, inept, unsafe, polluting, fuel-guzzling and sociopathically aggressive, he laments, as that it's so knowingly, cynically, avoidably so. Call it planned mediocrity. It's hugely profitable, enough to warrant grimly relentless efforts, via legal and other channels, to ensure that every do-gooder attempt to ameliorate the dire consequences is crushed like a bug.

The S.U.V. is, after all, the biggest windfall ever to land in American carmakers' laps: cheap to make, close to crack cocaine in profitability, the darling of the zeitgeist now eclipsing Detroit's own passenger cars in sales (4.7 million in 2001 alone). All the more pity, the author laments, that it's such a hunk of junk. The average S.U.V. certainly cocks a snook at our entrenched belief in the ever-upward Darwinian ascent of automotive progress. It reverses progress, Bradsher says. The ''utility vehicle'' part of its designation bespeaks the rough-and-tumble life, justifying such rough-and-tumble mechanicals as an antediluvian body-on-frame chassis design, lifted intact -- along with myriad other key components -- from that humble industrial tumbrel, the pickup truck. This saves hundreds of millions in new tooling but results in a top-heavy boxcar unstable in anything but a straight line, overpowered and underbraked, its high seating position imbuing drivers with a false sense of omnipotence that contributes to a disproportionately high accident and death toll.

But let's hear it for high-level legal chicanery and runaway hypocrisy. With the connivance of its willing handmaidens and cronies in Washington and elsewhere -- including the ostensibly upright United Automobile Workers -- the S.U.V. is officially classified as a ''light truck,'' a baldfaced whopper meant specifically to duck the far more stringent rules governing passenger car design, equipment and performance. If the S.U.V. isn't a passenger vehicle I'm Isambard Kingdom Brunel, but pretending it's not allows carmakers to deny said passengers innumerable benefits and thereby pocket even bigger bucks. Shades of ''Bleak House.''

Meanwhile, the sections of ''High and Mighty'' detailing Detroit's seamy maneuverings to subvert, water down or simply bury legislation that dares seek more than minimal gains in fuel mileage and clean air standards are depressing reading. Worse yet, Bradsher says, it isn't as if all this cheesiness were in support of a noble cause. All it supports is a mass fantasy: that the S.U.V. liberates its driver to go thundering through fen and bog in a 4-by-4 Thoreauvian cabin on wheels, when in fact only a ridiculously tiny number will ever leave the familiar blacktop of suburbia, and the most popular versions incongruously swathe their occupants in posh that mocks every notion of the active outdoor life. In brief, it's too high a price for this country to pay -- in environmental damage, in precious oil squandered, in flouting state-of-the-art vehicle safety standards -- for a legion of affluent Walter Mittys to release their inner Paul Bunyans.

Alas, even Bradsher doubtless knows that his polemic will not change a thing. The carmakers are addicted to the easy profits of S.U.V.'s, their legislative flunkies get big campaign donations and political support, the bureaucrats get a bully off their backs and the U.A.W. can brag about high employment in all those humming S.U.V. mills while looking the other way. As for a consumer revolt, don't hold your breath. Self-indulgence verging on antisocial behavior is called freedom of choice, the very thing that separates America from the Axis of Evil.

Poor Detroit. A hundred years on, the only way it can find to make money is by turning out vehicles nudging the lowest common denominator of competence. It makes an old car guy sorry he ever read this sobering, infuriating, necessary book.

By Bruce McCall, NY Times



Unsafe at any speed
The author of "High and Mighty" explains why SUVs are not just gas-guzzling pollution machines, they're dangerous to drive.
By Suzy Hansen

There are lots of reasons to hate SUVs. They're gas guzzlers, they're expensive, their size is utterly pointless and excessive in most suburban and urban terrain. Still, most SUV owners cling to one important justification for their purchase: SUVs are safe. SUVs do feel safer than cars. You're sitting up high and you can see more of the road. Presumably, you can anticipate accidents better or see a toddler run out into the street sooner. SUVs have four-wheel drive, which most people (erroneously) believe helps on slick roads during rain or snowstorms. Most important, SUVs are big. They have strong, bulky fronts that are sure to protect you in a head-on collision. They're the biggest things around (though with the release of the new Hummer, those Cherokees sure do look small), so concerned parents buy one for the family and insist that a teenager's first car be an SUV, too. Most people don't need all that space for running errands around town, and $60,000 is a big chunk of change, but, they rationalize, the SUV's well-padded mass is necessary to protect their family from the other nuts on the road. It might come as a surprise to many Americans that, for the most part, this notion of the SUV's superior safety is a myth. In fact, Keith Bradsher, former Detroit bureau chief of the New York Times, has written a new book called "High and Mighty: SUVs, the World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way." In his exhaustive history of the sport utility vehicle, Bradsher passionately argues that SUVs pose considerable danger to American drivers. Not only are the vehicles more prone to deadly rollovers, but there's the added problem that SUV consumers typically don't care what their trucks might do to another driver in an accident, a lack of concern that the auto industry has successfully exploited in its marketing campaigns.

Posted by Richard
11/04/2002 09:38:47 AM | PermaLink

Sunday, November 03, 2002

World's Plants Under Pressure

Almost half of all plant species may soon face extinction, according to new research by botanists in the United States.

Posted by Richard
11/03/2002 11:08:43 AM | PermaLink