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Saturday, July 19, 2003

"Rainforests of the Sea" Ravaged: Overfishing and Pollution Kill 80% of Coral on Caribbean Reefs

Via: UK Independent

It might look like a tropical paradise, but underneath the sparkling blue waves something truly grim is happening in the Caribbean. Four-fifths of the coral on Caribbean reefs has disappeared in the past 25 years in a phenomenal saga of destruction, British-based researchers reveal today. Human actions are almost certainly responsible for most of it. And the size of the loss, the first to be accurately quantified over a very wide area anywhere, has astonished even scientists who have been studying the global decline of coral.

Coral reefs are thought of as "the rainforests of the sea" because of their richness in wildlife, and the figure is equivalent in marine terms to saying that 80 per cent of the Amazon rainforest has disappeared. The rate of coral loss is higher than that of rainforest destruction, which, as The Independent reported two weeks ago, is accelerating rapidly in Brazil. There has been nothing like it in the past few thousand years according to the study, which is published in the journal Science.

Posted by Richard
7/19/2003 09:08:37 AM | PermaLink

Contamination in Canada Sounds Warning to UK

Via: Guardian UK

Under the vast bowl of a clear summer sky, cheery yellow splashes of canola light up the prairies for miles. The sight of it makes Reg Stow's heart sink. When Reg and his wife, Beverley, started farming as a young Canadian couple in the early 1960s, canola, as the local version of oilseed rape is known, was the crop they could count on. If the bottom dropped out of the price on the other crops they were growing on their 2,300 acres in the fertile farmlands of Manitoba, they always knew that canola would come through for them. No more.

The Stows resisted the introduction of genetically modified canola seven years ago, unlike their neighbours. But it started growing in their fields anyway, as the pollen was brought in by the wind from surrounding farms. There is no distinguishing their fields from those of their neighbours. Now Canada is awaiting the second wave of biotech with Monsanto, the creator of GM canola, working to put a GM version of wheat on the market. The Stows see it as a disaster in the making.

Posted by Richard
7/19/2003 09:08:09 AM | PermaLink

Big Brother Under the Bumper

Thanks to Steve Best for passing along via Infoshop

Ever get the sneaking suspicion you are being watched? Maybe you should look under your bumper. On Sunday, July 6, three Boulder residents discovered sophisticated Global Positioning System (GPS) devices attached to the bottom of their cars, apparently used by someone to track the whereabouts of their vehicles.

The devices contained no immediate clues as to who planted them or who used them to collect information, leaving the residents with troubling questions: Who would be willing to spend the time and energy to track them? And are we all being watched far more carefully than we might want to imagine?

Sunday morning surprise

New York native Mike Nicosia is passionate about protecting animals. He’s been this way ever since he learned of their plight six years ago.

"I was just appalled to see the way animals are treated for everything from fur farms to slaughter houses," he says. "I wanted to do more to help animals. Because animals don’t have a voice, I wanted to be a voice for them."

Nicosia became a vegan, participated in animal-rights protests and launched a Long Island chapter of The Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade.

"We have a no-nonsense approach to destroying the fur trade," says Nicosia of the organization. "That means protests, civil disobedience and outreach, as well as supporting the ALF."

ALF stands for the Animal Liberation Front, a controversial organization that combats animal abuse by releasing animals from testing laboratories and destroying the property of those they deem to be exploiting animals.

While Nicosia says he had no direct connections with the ALF, he publicly supported the organization’s tactics. That was when the surveillance began.

Nicosia says wiretaps were installed on his phone. He was photographed at protests. Plainclothes officers would follow him to his car. He also received death threats from people within the fur industry. One prominent fur community member was eventually issued a restraining order after repeatedly threatening Nicosia’s life.

Nicosia came to Boulder two and a half years ago to study psychology at Naropa University. Since arriving here, Nicosia has started a new student group: the Student Organization for Animal Rights. Nicosia says the group’s main focus is education about the benefits of a vegan lifestyle, not civil disobedience.

Nicosia stresses he still has no association with ALF and no ties to members of the organization, with the exception of his roommate–Rod Coronado.

Rod Coronado is well known in activist circles. A member of the Earth First! movement and former media spokesperson for the ALF, he has been a vigilant supporter of the animal rights and environmental movements for 20 years.

"I have always been an outspoken critic of America’s environmental policy and an open defender of actions to defend wilderness and the animals," says Coronado.

In 1994, Coronado was arrested for an arson attack at Michigan State University’s mink research facilities. After serving four years in prison and three years in suspended release, Coronado began traveling around the country talking about his previous actions and his political beliefs.

Over the past six months, Coronado and other activists have been involved in a campaign against the logging in northwest California, protesting in front of the homes of executives of the Houston-based Maxxam Corporation, which owns the lumber company responsible for the logging.

"We don’t destroy property; we don’t break the law in any way. We are just exercising our free speech rights," says Coronado. "Nevertheless, these people are very much affected, and it’s enough that they are very much aware of why we are there. We are holding them accountable for what they have been profiting from for years."

Federal surveillance is a routine part of Coronado’s life, and he says officials have been increasingly interested in his activities since he began visiting the homes of Maxxam executives. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t surprised on Sunday morning, July 6, when he was attaching a trailer hitch to his car and noticed something underneath his vehicle that wasn’t supposed to be there.

Nicosia says he was inside asleep that morning when Coronado discovered the large black devices attached behind the rear bumpers of his and his girlfriend’s cars on the driver’s side. When Nicosia woke up, Coronado showed him the strange tangles of wires and electronics. Nicosia immediately became curious if such a device had also been planted on his car.

It took just a moment to discover the answer.

Eyes in the sky

A GPS device is essentially a super-charged version of the standard compass; instead of just telling its user which way is north, a GPS device will determine its exact location on earth.

A GPS system operates by interacting with satellites orbiting the earth containing highly accurate atomic clocks. When activated, the GPS device will "look" at four of the satellites simultaneously. By comparing the different times it reads on each of the atomic clocks, the GPS device will calculate its distance from each satellite. Using this information, the GPS device can determine not only its location, but also the exact time it was at that location. Sensitive GPS devices can be accurate down to a nanosecond and within 15 to 20 meters.

While Nicosia and Coronado are not GPS experts, they immediately assumed the devices found on their cars and Coronado’s girlfriend’s car were GPS systems, especially since one component was labeled GPS Antenna.

When Nicosia brought his device to GPS Solutions, a Boulder-based software developer of high-accuracy GPS technology, chief engineer Jim Johnson confirmed their suspicion.

"This is definitely a GPS board," says Johnson, referring to one of the components of the device.

According to Johnson, the devices in question contain four main components: a battery pack containing four lithium D cell batteries, a GPS antenna, a cellular antenna and a main component box. The component box contains a GPS receiver, a computer chip and a cellular modem. All the components were wired together and attached by powerful magnets to the cars’ undersides.

When attached to the car, the GPS antenna likely points downwards towards the ground, to pick up signals from GPS satellites that bounce off the road. This information is sent to the GPS receiver, which determines its location at least within 100 meters, says Johnson. This information can then be transmitted from the car to an outside source using the modem and cellular antenna, just like a normal cell phone call. The computer chip can be programmed to determine when the information is transmitted. It’s possible the information was sent out on a set schedule, or if the vehicles entered or left a specified area.

But where was the GPS information sent?

The answer is not readily available. One thing is for sure, however: The devices are not cheap.

"They are putting some money into it," says Johnson about the systems, which he estimates could cost about $2,000 each.

Coronado says he is going to auction his device on eBay and donate the proceeds to the animal-rights organization Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty.

Another enigma is who built these devices, which Johnson says were probably custom made. While the GPS antennas are labeled with serial numbers and the manufacturer name Trimble, one of the leading developers of GPS technology, other components in the device are not made by Trimble, says Johnson. Most of the components contain no labels at all, making them untraceable. When Trimble was contacted and asked if the antennas’ sales histories could be tracked using their serial numbers, the company spokesperson did not respond before press time.

Nicosia and Coronado believe the devices were likely placed on their cars while they were in Boulder during this past May, since this was the only period of time and place the cars were all at the same location. Coronado believes he is the main reason the devices were planted on their cars, because of his controversial history. He says the GPS device was likely planted on his girlfriend’s car because he often uses it.

Nicosia, who was both shocked and a little flattered his car was bugged, also believes he was targeted because he lives with Coronado.

"I think it’s just the ‘guilt by association.’ Me calling (Coronado), hanging out with him has made me a target," says Nicosia.

But the true explanation is probably not so simple. The car belonging to Nicosia’s and Coronado’s other roommate–who is not involved in animal rights–was not bugged. Whoever planted the devices had done some homework.

Who’s watching?

While he has no definitive proof, Coronado has several theories as to who was tracking the vehicles. The most obvious suspect, he says, is the FBI.

"I believe it was the federal authorities," says Coronado. "I think that the technology is beyond that of the private sector. The days of an FBI parked in a dark sedan in front of our house are over."

Coronado is no stranger to the FBI. Agents often show up at animal rights and environmental demonstrations he takes part in, says Coronado. Last year the FBI’s top domestic terrorism official told a congressional hearing that ALF was one of the most active domestic terrorist organizations, and that at least 26 FBI field offices around the country were dealing with ALF activities.

Coronado and many of his compatriots would not put it past the FBI to tamper with their belongings, even if it endangered activists in the process. In 1990, Earth First! Activist Judi Bari was nearly killed when a bomb equipped with a motion detector exploded underneath her seat. She was on her way to meet Coronado. While local FBI agents claimed that the bomb belonged to Bari, skeptics pointed out that the same FBI agents had recently used a strikingly similar bomb scenario in a "bomb schools" it had taught to area police officers. Last year a federal jury ruled that FBI agents and police officers framed Bari and a coworker for the attack that nearly killed them.

Another clue that might link the GPS systems to the FBI are three hand-written numbers discovered inside of the devices’ battery packs, a different number for each device. The numbers–141, 142 and 447–could be used for tracking purposes, says Coronado, and could suggest that the devices might be part of a much larger fleet of similar systems–a fleet that could only belong to a major organization.

FBI spokesperson Ann Atanasio could not explicitly say whether or not the FBI had a role in the matter.

"I cannot confirm or deny the existence of an investigation," says Atanasio, who also could not comment on FBI tracking techniques or its position on the ALF.

Coronado is not surprised that the FBI will not talk about that subject.

"That’s the FBI standard policy." he says. "They are not going to say, ‘Oh yeah, we’re the FBI. We do stuff like that.’" Coronado believes FBI’s refusal to investigate the matter only further suggests they are involved.

But Coronado is not certain the FBI was responsible, especially since the devices were far from inconspicuous.

"I kind of am surprised that the FBI would be stupid enough to think we would not find these things on our cars," he says.

Another suspect could be the Maxxam Corporation, which Coronado and his compatriots have been protesting. After all, says Coronado, since the company had enough money to recently sponsor a prominent ad campaign labeling Coronado an eco-terrorist, they should have enough money to electronically track Coronado’s whereabouts.

When contacted, Maxxam spokesperson Josh Reiss declined to respond to the allegations.

A third possibility, says Coronado, is the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition sponsored by restaurants, food companies and tobacco corporations that oppose "anti-consumer activists." The Center has been actively discouraging venues around the country from sponsoring Coronado’s seminars, calling him a domestic terrorist.

Mike Burita, communications director for Center for Consumer Freedom, says the organization does not partake in cloak and dagger techniques.

"The suggestion we put a GPS (device) on Rod Coronado’s car is ridiculous," he says. "We are not in the business of covert surveillance."

Could the activists have planted the devices themselves for media attention?

Nicosia says the idea is outrageous.

"It’s not like I–making minimum wage, struggling just to get by in Boulder–am going to throw together six or seven thousand dollars and fabricate a story," he says.

Coronado agrees.

"If I had a couple thousand bucks in my pocket, I’m going to use it to generate media attention by putting pressure on (lumber companies), not by planting something on my car," says Coronado. "Anybody who knows me knows that repression is not something I joke around about. I spent four years of my life in jail because of this shit. The last thing I am going to do is play with that with my friend’s life, the people I most love and trust."

So who is responsible for the GPS devices? In reality, it could be anybody who has several thousand dollars and knows how to use the Internet.

A quick Internet Google search using the words "GPS car tracking" produces thousands of websites selling these types of devices. A Trimble GPS magnetic-mount antenna similar to the ones found by Coronado and Nicosia was being sold this week on eBay with a starting price of $25.95.

"I could buy one of these things today," says GPS Solutions engineer Johnson about the tracking device. "In this town, probably 25 percent of people could easily do it."

A world without privacy

"GPS is used for an amazingly large number of things, much more than it was originally (designed) for," says Johnson.

GPS technology was first unveiled in 1982 as a military tool. Back then a GPS receiver cost about $200,000 and weighed 150 pounds. There were only six GPS satellites, meaning that there was only a small window of time each day that there were enough satellites in range for an accurate GPS reading.

Today GPS receivers weigh only a few ounces–small enough to be installed inside cell phones–and are surprisingly inexpensive. Johnson says one of the cheapest components in the GPS devices found in Boulder is the receiver. Now there are 24 satellites in the sky dedicated to GPS tracking. And GPS systems are popping up everywhere

"It can be used for anything you can think of to track moving objects," says Johnson. Companies and organizations like GPS Solutions use the technology to monitor the motion of the earth’s crust and atmospheric pressure and temperature, among other things. GPS systems are used to locate vehicles ranging from police cars to taxis to forklifts in factories. One Boulder-based company, Intuicom, has installed GPS devices on Boulder buses and tracks their location around the city on their website: And the potential for saving human lives is endless, from locating lost hikers to predicting tsunamis.

But along with its potential benefits, the rise of GPS also means new questions about privacy and surveillance in society.

"Certainly there are ethical issues," says Johnson about GPS technology. "The downside of GPS is it is a military weapon, and there are privacy issues down the line."

For example, says Johnson, what if Nicosia had driven his car to Denver International Airport without knowing about the device behind his bumper? And what if airport security had noticed the suspicious electronics and wires?

But Johnson says the problem lies not with the technology, but with how it is used.

"This is not the only way you can be tracked," says Johnson. "The problem isn’t so much that there is GPS. The problem is that there are people that want to stretch the limits of your basic freedoms, whether they do it by staking you out and following you or do it with a piece of equipment. That issue is always there."

Betty Ball, a Boulder activist who works at the locally based Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, agrees that technologies like GPS can be beneficial. But the discovery of these devices on local residents’ cars suggest a sinister concept to Ball–that the U.S. government’s long-term policy of keeping tabs on controversial groups has reached a new technological horizon. And Ball isn’t sure anyone will be safe.

"Who knows how widespread it is," she says. "These (GPS devices) we know about were found by pretty well-known activists who have quite a history of activism and resistance. But you never really know what (the authorities) are going to go after and who they really consider a key person they need to keep track of and follow."

Ball believes this type of high-tech surveillance has become common thanks to the same national climate of fear and oppression that led to the passage of the Patriot Act, the post-Sept. 11 federal legislation which gave authorities sweeping new powers to combat terrorism–even at the expense of citizens’ rights, some critics say.

"My impression is that our government knows they are going too far," says Ball. "They are implementing laws and policies going against the will of the people to the degree they are going to get massive resistance, and that is why they came up with the Patriot Act, and this means of GPS surveillance, and surveillance of our computers and websites and e-mail and all that kind of stuff. It’s all part and parcel of the same thing, that the government knows they are going to encounter massive resistance, so they are taking every opportunity right now to create the controls to control us."

The only option, says Ball, is to fight tooth and nail to protect U.S. civil liberties from being eroded by new legislation and new technologies.

"(The government) is trying to scare us–they are using these intimidation tactics to scare people. And we can’t afford to let that happen," says Ball. "The more people that get involved, the more people who resist this kind of thing, the better off we are going to be."

If someone was trying to scare Nicosia into submission, they were not successful. While Nicosia is still doesn’t like the idea of some shadowy individual monitoring him, it has not caused Nicosia to curtail his involvement in the animal-rights movement.

"It’s made me more determined and vigilant," he says. "I’m going to go out there and work even harder for the animals now."

Posted by Richard
7/19/2003 08:44:36 AM | PermaLink

Environmentalists Buy Island off Belize's Coast to Create Whale Shark Reserve

In a related story, this article at the Washington Times promotes the shark tank at the National Aquarium. While its not clear that the tank is doing much benefit for the sharks, the article (from the right-wing Times!) gets down to the nitty gritty of the human problems facing sharks (in comparison, scroll down to the "Tanking It" article from the UrbanTulsa Weekly: 100,000,000 killed each year for food, fins, and hate; with over 11,000 dying every hour. And we wonder why they occasionally bite?

Via: ENN

Two environmental groups have teamed up to purchase most of a 5-acre (2-hectare) island off Belize's southern coast and manage the surrounding water as a protected area for whale sharks, the world's biggest fish species.

Washington-based Conservation International came up with most of the US$300,000 price for the project on Little Water Caye Island, while Belize's nonprofit Friends of Nature has hired rangers and will manage the reserve.

As part of the May 24 agreement, the government of Belize has signed a commitment to declare a protected area in waters surrounding Little Water Caye, the largest known meeting spot for whale sharks.

Posted by Richard
7/19/2003 07:38:35 AM | PermaLink

Friday, July 18, 2003

EPA Offers Online Compliance Tools for Colleges and Universities

Via: Capitol Reports

U.S. EPA's New England Office has announced the availability of two on-line tools to help colleges and universities across the country come into compliance with environmental laws and improve their environmental performance.

The web sites – a ‘virtual' environmental campus and a collection of successful case studies – provide practical information on environmental requirements, specific steps for achieving compliance, improving environmental performance and the potential resulting savings for colleges, universities, high schools and other educational institutions working with hazardous chemicals in their various departments.

"College campuses can have a big effect on the environment, from maintenance departments to art and lab supplies," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office, which spearheaded the effort to develop the two sites. "These two sites are a great tool for anyone who wants to see their campus a little greener, a little cleaner, and in many cases a little cheaper."

The first website is a Virtual Environmental Campus developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The web site uses an engaging, intuitive format to highlight potential environmental issues at nine campus areas, and provides compliance information and good management practices on numerous issues. Areas covered include arts/theater areas, cafeterias, dormitories, drains/sewers, grounds/vehicles, labs, medical area, power plant and waste storage. 

The second web tool is a catalog of best management practice case studies included as part of EPA New England's college and university assistance web site. The catalog was designed to enhance EPA's existing guide for implementing an Environmental Management System (EMS) in a university setting. The case studies highlight successful strategies colleges and universities have used to make environmental improvements and may be a useful tool for those who may need practical information to convince administration, faculty or staff to move a project forward. The catalog also answers such basic questions as "How do I get started?" and "What are the potential cost savings?" 

Posted by Richard
7/18/2003 11:15:23 AM | PermaLink

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Public Comment Period Begins on Proposals for Roadless Rule  

The comment period ends Aug. 14 -- there is only a short window of opportunity to mobilize mass resistance to opening the Alaskan wilderness to roads: and hence, oil, logging, and other mining operations. Take a moment and follow the link below which will direct you to info about how to send your comment in. Thanks.

Via: Juneau Empire

The U.S. Forest Service is taking comment on proposed rules that would exempt the Tongass and Chugach National Forests from the roadless rule. Last month, the state and the U.S. Forest Service reached an out-of-court settlement that temporarily exempted the Tongass from the Clinton-era rule, which prohibits timber harvesting and road-building within about 58 million acres of the 192-million-acre national forest system. About 9.6 million acres of Southeast Alaska's 16.8-million-acre Tongass have been designated roadless.

Posted by Richard
7/17/2003 10:15:04 AM | PermaLink

WORLD DEMONSTRATION DAY: Protesting Korean Dog Consumption

Animal Rightists need to be careful about imposing cultural norms unconsciously on other traditions. However, in situations where there is a documented history of significant animal abuse AND the case has not been made that alteration to the tradition in question would jeopardize other important cultural aspects surrounding that tradition, I believe that activists can legitimately raise questions and demand change. Still, it should be remembered that the best way to affect change in differing cultural traditions is through dialogue and working with the culture from within. Top-down, imposed change -- even coming from the grassroots -- runs the risk of being charged with cultural imperialism and elitism. This, obviously, should be avoided for any number of reasons...

Via: Korea Animal Protection Society

Demonstrations are planned for: Argentina (Buenos Aries), Australia (Sydney), Canada (Toronto), England (London), Italy (Rome), Korea, the Netherlands (the Hague), New Zealand (ChristChurch), Puerto Rico, Sweden (Stockholm), and the United States (Florida, Hawaii, Las Vegas, and New York).

A Message from Kyenan Kum,
Bok Days are the hottest days of the year in Korea. They are also the days in which the greatest number of dogs are consumed. Some Koreans believe that eating dog-meat stew will alleviate the summer heat, in addition to increasing a man's sexual prowess. While this season spans 30 days, only three days are designated Bok Days; this year they fall on July 16th, (the beginning of the season) July 26th, and August 15th.

We need as many people to support these demonstrations against dog-eating as we can get! Each year over 2.6 million dogs and hundreds of thousands of cats are tortured and killed for human consumption. Korean dog eaters believe that the more a dog suffers, the more tender and sexually potent the meat. Korea's 1991 Animal Protection Law makes it illegal to harm or abuse dogs, cats and all other animals, and yet the Korean government does nothing to stop these atrocities. With our show of international force, we will lobby the Korean government for stronger, enforceable animal protection laws that will protect companion animals from being eaten.

If you are curious about how our demonstrations operate, please see our website for examples. You can also download flyers for the demonstrations from the same page.

Please join us on July 16th for our annual Bok Days protests! All demos start at noon, unless otherwise noted. Contact IAKA or the organizer in your area for more information:

As always, please contact IAKA with any questions, comments, suggestions, ideas, or concerns.

Thank you and let's make some noise for the cats and dogs of Korea!

Posted by Richard
7/17/2003 08:09:05 AM | PermaLink

Beware the Life Cycle of 'Recycled'

Gives a new meaning to "Made in Taiwan."

Via: CS Monitor

I have recycled my trash with an almost religious fervor for many years. Every scrap of paper and every used container go into recycling bins. And to close the loop, I look for products made with recycled materials. But when my recycled toilet paper is made in Canada (using wastepaper from who knows where) and transported a long way to my California supermarket, I'm not sure if I've done any good. At what point are the benefits of recycling offset by the environmental costs of long-distance transport?

This situation recurs in some form with almost every purchase that I make. I try to buy organically produced food as a form of economic pressure to remove pesticides and other drugs from the food system. But I recently noticed that my organic kiwi fruit comes all the way from New Zealand, flown in on jets that burn fossil fuel and contribute to global warming. My favorite brand of laundry detergent is made without petroleum-based cleaners, but it is packaged in a petroleum-based plastic bottle and shipped more than 3,000 miles to a store near me.

As consumers, we're overwhelmed by far too many brands, but we rarely have sufficient information to make the right environmental choices.

We might think it would be better for the environment if we switched to more energy-efficient refrigerators, light bulbs, or cars. But this, too, poses a problem. From extraction of raw materials to manufacturing, packaging, and shipping, existing appliances and cars represent energy already spent - carbon dioxide and other pollutants already discharged into the air and water. These environmental costs must be "amortized" over the life of a product. When does it make sense to discard older machines and buy newer, more efficient ones?

The crux of the problem is that most of us are not aware of the origins and history of the products we buy. As Rebecca Solnit observed in a recent essay in Orion magazine, we no longer know the stories behind modern-day objects because of the remote and intricate processes used to create them.

This "silence" of industrial-age foods and manufactured goods must be broken so that ordinary consumers can make informed choices. Besides the "organic" label, manufacturers often voluntarily disclose other things about how they made a product, such as "no animal ingredients," "not tested on animals," "printed on recycled paper," and "made with recycled plastic."

These little bits of information about a product's history often make for better purchasing decisions.

But uncertainties about the relative environmental impacts of alternative choices can be truly reduced only by accounting for all the materials and energy used and waste generated during the entire life cycle of every product. Even a modest approximation of such a "life-cycle assessment," printed in simple terms on a product's label or indicated next to the price tag on a supermarket shelf, would give consumers the means to make a real difference with their everyday purchases.

To start with, manufacturers and food producers should disclose the average amount of energy (renewable and nonrenewable) spent in creating and delivering a product, including energy used to produce its ingredients or components. This estimate should include all the processing and transportation - from extraction of materials to finished goods - as well as energy needed for recycling or disposal at the end of the product's life.

A second useful figure would be the quantity of materials, such as paper, plastic, glass, and metal, used in manufacturing a product and which of them are recyclable.

A final figure would be an estimate of the average distance traveled by the product, similar to the average energy consumed. Smaller energy and materials figures would indicate greater resource efficiency, and smaller distance figures would reflect greater local content in a product.

It isn't unthinkable for forward-looking manufacturers and retailers to jointly provide - and consumers to expect and demand - these numbers and additional explanation. While this may add marginally to the cost of a product, it would be no more complicated than the nutrition information printed on food products.

Before the industrial age, a product's history was usually known because of the proximity of producer and consumer. Now, in the age of globalization, when most products come from unknown farms and factories, imprinting a product's history on its label would be a way to restore some integrity to the product and its purchaser.

Posted by Richard
7/17/2003 07:38:41 AM | PermaLink

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Fast Food Faces up to Changing Tastes

I'm not as confident that fast food is as progressive as this BBC writer. To my mind, "fast food" is something that should probably be done away with as a cultural norm in an ecological age -- the whole idea behind food being fast involves an alienated and isolated consumerist life driven by major urban economies. This is not progressive from the standpoint of the BK Veggie amounts to giving the cancer patient a hair piece, as far as I'm concerned.

And yet, as this article points out -- the demographics are changing...the youth once again are smarter than their parents and one can only hope that they will increasingly take up the call towards veganism, putting the necessary education behind it to realize that getting vegan is a life-process with an ever-increasing obligation to try to change (not just one's food choice) but the entire system of production that offered animal-based cruelty as normative to begin with.

Vegans of the world unite!

Via: BBC

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a rather snide article about vegetarians.

The drift of it was: "There's a lot of it about these days and isn't that odd? Young people today really do have some very strange habits".

Now, those weren't the exact words the august journal used but they do convey the tenor of the piece.

But the paper did quote some interesting figures: the number of American teenagers not eating meat doubled last year.

The proportion is still small, but it is growing and vegetarianism has become very "cool" indeed.

Many young people go beyond eschewing meat (the opposite of chewing it) to eschew dairy products too.

As the WSJ reported incredulously of these vegans, "Out of respect for the bees, some won't even touch honey".

The harrumphing Journal blames that old favourite for this decline in the American way, the lyrics of pop songs: "A number of bands actively promote vegetarianism to their audiences. (Sample lyric: 'Clams have feelings too')."

In truth, the Journal may be on to something, despite its Old Dame scorn at "what-do-these-youngsters-get-up-to-these-days".

Posted by Richard
7/16/2003 09:52:18 AM | PermaLink

Science Wrestles with Monkey Business

This is a very informative article, with links to a statistics on the matter and related stories from over the past year or two. It sets the scene nicely for what is going on in the UK. Again, the major problem with the thinking behind such animal experimentation is the way it handles the boundary between human/primate. On the one hand, it justifies the experiment by saying that the similarities are so many -- "Chimps share 99% of our genetic material..." -- that one can be reasonably assured that what works on (or kills) a monkey, will likely do the same to a citizen with rights. But, on the other hand, having made the connection between primate and human, it is immediately denied when the question is asked -- "Why do we test on these beings if we would not test on human subjects accordingly?" The answer runs to the tune of: these are animals, animals don't have rights, we can't let feelings about animals stand in the way of advancing science, it is for the good of humanity.

Of course, humanity are animals too -- just animals with rights, and a certain penchant for destroying and killing overall that makes for a particularly grim planetary history. Its also been adequately demonstrated that most of the animal experimentation that goes on, goes on quite needlessly...there are either other means of testing that don't involve the torture of animals, or the tests themselves in no way impact the lives of humanity and its good.

All this, ultimately, is secondary to the central issue at hand of why certain animals are enough like humans to justify testing on them, but not enough like them to deserve respect and the right to life. The industry and governments fudge this or avoid it altogether. Academia (outside the Humanities) is one of the primary institutions for such research and so they do the same. On the other hand, a wide scope of academics -- mainly Humanities-related -- have all looked at this issue over the last few decades and have resoundingly found that the logic is fucked. Animals are being done a grave disservice and its not for your benefit (and even if it were, its not clear that such testing is legitimate).

Via: BBC

The number of primates used in medical research in the UK is set to rise significantly in the coming years. The pharmaceutical industry has acknowledged as much - and the animal rights lobby is convinced of it. As science seeks to tackle the neurological diseases afflicting a 'greying population', it will need a steady supply of monkeys on which to test the safety and effectiveness of its next-generation pills.

Posted by Richard
7/16/2003 09:27:31 AM | PermaLink

China Growth Aims Environmentally Impossible - UN

Toepfer is correct that China, simply because of the sheer size of its population, represents a (if not "the") major problem over the next couple decades. While one cannot lose track of the various political and economic blocs that exist outside the US and China on the world stage -- the EU, Latin America, Australia, and Africa -- the next 30 years of US and Chinese consumption and production will serve as a sort of benchmark for whether the 21st century will meet the ecological challange or trash and betray it (and hence the planet as well).

Via: Reuters

China's ambitious economic growth plans are environmentally unachievable because the world does not have enough resources to allow its 1.3 billion people to become Western-style consumers, a U.N. official said on Wednesday. Klaus Toepfer, head of the U.N. Environment Program, said China's aim of quadrupling its economy by 2020 can only occur if developed nations radically change their consumption habits to free up scarce resources for the world's poor."

Posted by Richard
7/16/2003 08:47:23 AM | PermaLink

Monday, July 14, 2003

Hard Drive Across the West

In a related story of Dell's lack of ethics, my wife bought a new system from them half a year ago b/c of the large rebates they were dangling on new systems. Something like 6 phone calls later, the story keeps changing (she keeps supplying her address and information and while the promise is made that this time it will be delivered, when she calls the next month, the info is again not updated and no one has any record) and no rebate is on the way. Yesterday, she called and for the first time got a rep who admitted that he knew of this problem as being a company-wide issue, which he said arose b/c many people not qualified for the rebate had put in for it and Dell apparently had no way of sorting efficiently through who deserved and who did not. Thus, everything was simply stalled. I told her to stop calling and issue a note from a lawyer threatening class action -- anyone else having this problem and interested?

Meanwhile, I believe Dell has started a recycling buy-back program for something like $47, no? In this respect, read on below. What a company! Setting records for being the least progressive in the industry...

Via: Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition

Truck is picking up obsolete Dell electronics wastes from Seattle for delivery to CEO Michael Dell at upcoming Dell Computers shareholder meeting in Austin, Texas on July 18th. This is first stop on seven-city tour.
Speakers will show that Dell has avoided sharing responsibility for its products when they become hazardous electronics waste; instead Dell has embarked on a misleading pr campaign. (Under prodding from the Computer TakeBack Campaign, which includes BAN and WCRC, Dell has abandoned its use of a controversial taxpayer subsidized prison labor program).


Discarded consumer electronics are the fastest growing component of municipal garbage, and contain toxics like brominated fire retardants, lead, mercury, cadmium and other heavy metals. Some officials estimate that if all the 3.15 million estimated outmoded computer terminals are thrown out this year, another 1.2 billion pounds of lead would end up in local garbage dumps.

Local governments are struggling to deal with this new waste crisis, yet the electronics industry has yet to join any programs that require them to take responsibility for their products. Very little of this electronics waste (termed e-waste) is recycled, due to the difficulty of separating valuable metals from low-value parts.

Of the slim portion that is recovered for recycling (less than 10% of all the e-waste tossed away each year), much has been shipped overseas. A report last year shocked the public by revealing that this offshore e-waste dumping is responsible for severe environmental and health problems in the Guangdong Province on mainland China.

Dell Corporation sought to avoid the bad press received by other electronics manufacturer and announced their own voluntary "recycling program." Instead of setting up meaningful programs helping citizens and local governments, Dell organized one-time only collection efforts. In addition, one of the groups who investigated dumping in China, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, compared Dell's taxpayer subsidized prison based program with a private recycling program used by HP.

The report showed Dell's recycling program used some of the same low tech approaches as mainland China. Dell's use of taxpayer-subsidized prison labor undercut private sector investment and jobs in better run, less dangerous recycling facilities. Stung, by accusations of running a high-tech chain gang, Dell last week dropped the prison program.

Recycling and environmental activists in seven western cities (Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Denver, Los Angeles, Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin) are working with the national Computer Take Back campaign to collect Dell waste electronics as part of upcoming actions at Dell's upcoming July 17th Austin annual share holder's meeting. "We'll deliver Dell e-waste as a message from those communities directly to Michael Dell," said Ted Smith of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, leader of the Campaign. "We don't think that all the citizens of Seattle should pay for cleaning up his hazardous waste problems. We want Dell to move beyond public relations and accept responsibility, cradle-to-grave, for the products they sell." According to a report on Dell's web site the company recycled less than 200,000 computers last year (or roughly 7 million pounds compared to rival HP's total of almost 50 million pounds recycled during the same period.)

See related stories: "2 PC Makers Given Credit and Blame in Recycling," NY Times, June 27, 2003,

"Dell to Stop Using Prison Workers," NY Times, July 4, 2003

Posted by Richard
7/14/2003 10:10:29 PM | PermaLink

The Party's Over: When We Turn Up the Lights, Nature Goes a Little Haywire

Via: Discover

On March 31, 1880, the good people of Wabash, Indiana (population 320), launched a technological revolution. Atop the town's courthouse dome, they mounted two crossarms with a 3,000-candlepower carbon-arc bulb at both ends of each. They then fired up a threshing-machine steam engine to generate electricity, and at 8 p.m. sharp, flipped a switch. Sparks showered, and Wabash became the first electrically lit city in the world. "The strange, weird light, exceeded in power only by the sun, rendered the square as light as midday," one witness reported. "Men fell on their knees, groans were uttered at the sight, and many were dumb with amazement. We contemplated the new wonder of science as lightning brought down from the heavens."

A century and a quarter later, electric light turns night into day around the globe. In the first world atlas of artificial night-sky brightness, released in 2001 by the Italian astronomer Pierantonio Cinzano and based on high-resolution satellite data, the heavily developed urban corridors of Japan, Western Europe, and the United States blaze like amusement parks. We flood the heavens with so much artificial light that nearly two-thirds of the world's people can no longer see the Milky Way. On a clear, dark night far from light-polluted skies, roughly 2,500 celestial points of light can be discerned by the naked eye. For people living in the suburbs of New York, that number dwindles to 250; residents of Manhattan are lucky to see 15. Moreover, as the stars fade from view, a growing body of research suggests that excessive exposure to artificial night light can alter basic biological rhythms in animals, change predator-prey relationships, and even trigger deadly hormonal imbalances in humans. [...]

Posted by Richard
7/14/2003 08:56:15 AM | PermaLink

Aborigines Protest Seizure of Land for Radioactive Dump

Australia's version of the Hanford or Yucca Mountain situation...

Via: ENS

Australian Minister for Finance and Administration Senator Nick Minchin and his Parliamentary Secretary Peter Slipper MP have announced that they will "compulsorily acquire" an area in the South Australian desert claimed by Aborigines for the construction and operation of the National Low Level Radioactive Waste Repository.

The 6.3 square kilometer (2.43 square mile) area consists of a site known as Site 40a near Woomera and an access corridor from the Olympic Dam-Pimba Road.

“Today’s decision by Mr. Slipper to acquire Site 40a is the culmination of an exhaustive 11 year process to identify the safest site in Australia for the storage of the nation’s low level radioactive waste,” Senator Minchin said. As parliamentary secretary to Senator Minchin, Slipper has responsibility for land acquisitions.

But Aboriginal women protested the acquisition on behalf of their organization Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta. "Listen to us," they wrote in a letter to federal officials. "We women have the rights of this land. We protect it. We will write a letter to the Queen to help us. Tell her to come over to Australia. [Prime Minister John] Howard won't listen to us."

"Government say 'fair and just compensation," the women wrote. "We don't want money. We weren't born with money. We want life - land for the kids. They just put that word, money, in. Trying to buy us. We want the life. Kids life, our life. That's white man's money."

But Senator Minchin said Australia needs a national low-level nuclear waste repository right now. "Australia’s low level waste is currently stored under ad hoc arrangements in hospitals, universities, industry and government stores in facilities which are not suitable for the long-term management of this material," he said. "It is in the interests of public security and safety that this waste is safely disposed of in the national repository."

But the Aboriginal women say the repository is not in their best interest, nor in the best interests of their culture. "Not your land even if you say you own it. Even if you buy it. It's women's place," they wrote to federal officials.

"It's dreamtime from long time history. We keep the story. The land holds the story, not you, spirits are still there. Stop mucking around with women's business."

"You're digging a hole in the dreamtime," the women wrote. "If you dig this hole in the manta (the earth) and fill it with the poison, make the dump, something will happen. There will be anger. If you don't listen you will be sorry. We talking and talking, go round and round same words. We're trying to help everyone. We talking straight – don't go there, it's dangerous."

Posted by Richard
7/14/2003 08:48:39 AM | PermaLink

Animal Emotions

This article documents the changes happening in the scientific community as regards the conception of animals as beings with a battery of emotional capability. In this domain, emotion necessitates complex brain function and is seen as a higher order ability on the part of a species -- but note that the conceptual apparatus is not up for study here, but rather thinks back to how women were studied over the last two centuries as emotion-based creatures. While the article ends on (considering that this is about the scientific community) a more progressive note, notice how tortured and laborious the scientists are to prove something that is actually a no-brainer. Notice also how all this torture arises out of a paradigm of practice that has been linked to the domination of animals and nature historically, and here is being used rather unproblematically as a series of devices that can liberate it.


“I’m sure there’s still a bunch of old curmudgeons thinking that everything is stimulus and response,” says Lisa Parr, who studies chimpanzee empathy at Emory. But, Parr adds, most of her colleagues think the rise of animal-emotion studies is “fantastic and long overdue.” And it may proceed faster than the “curmudgeons” think. Technology will play a role—brain-scanning helmets that strap on to animals’ heads may be available in just a few years. And, of course, unlike human subjects, animals can be cloned. “We can bring them up in different environments,” says Gosling, rhapsodizing about future projects modeled on human identical-twin studies. Soon, he says, we’ll have answers to questions that animal lovers have been asking for years. And we’ll have some newer questions, too: is it fair to keep emotional beings cooped up in kennels, cages and small backyards? If rats and rabbits feel, how can we justify experimenting on them? Research on farm animals is just starting—what will it mean for our eating habits? And can our pets really love us back? The last of those, at least, is already solved. The answer, no matter whom you ask, is yes.

Posted by Richard
7/14/2003 08:24:34 AM | PermaLink

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Environmental Rights – The Time Has Come


Several years ago a friend explained why he decided to uproot his family from their Tel Aviv apartment. "When my daughter was at nose-level with bus exhaust pipes, we decided it was time to leave." If the truth be known, my wife and I took our family on a similar journey to suburbia when our younger daughter was the same age or, rather, height.

Thinking of our families' health and well-being, we probably did the right thing. But for many Israelis, fleeing pollution isn't an option. Instead, they stay put and very often suffer the consequences.

According to a recently published survey of air pollution health hazards, an estimated 28,000 schoolchildren (ages 7-14) in the Tel Aviv area suffer from asthma and other respiratory ailments as a result of small-particle pollution – a highly invasive pollutant emitted by Israel's poorly maintained and rapidly growing fleet of diesel buses, cars and trucks.

Particulate pollution in Israel's cities isn't just a health hindrance; it's a killer. In greater Tel Aviv, some 620 people over age 30 are estimated to die each year from exposure to this pernicious form of pollution. That's 8 percent of overall mortality in this age group. Many thousands more endure debilitating lung and cardiovascular ailments caused by the dirty air they breathe.

By way of comparison, traffic accidents in Israel took 325 lives during 2002, a rate decried as among the highest in the world. Millions are spent on traffic safety campaigns and hundreds of millions are invested in road infrastructure. Terror victims last year numbered 360, an individual and collective toll that we all are painfully attuned to. Though it’s hard to tally the vast funds spent fighting terror, its standing as a top national priority is undisputed. Air pollution, by contrast, hardly merits attention despite its devastating impacts.

Just how bad is Tel Aviv’s air pollution? The European Union sponsored a study examining air pollution levels in a broad sample of European cities, which (continental confusion notwithstanding) included Tel Aviv. According to the study, particulate pollution was higher in Tel Aviv than in any other city except Krakow, Poland, notorious for its heavy, antiquated steel industry and its reliance on dirty, high-sulfur coal for home heating.

Also worrying is the water Israelis get when they open their taps. Over a third of the wells in the central region, surrounding Tel Aviv, have been closed over the past 25 years because of dangerous pollution levels. And conditions have hardly improved: a just-released survey conducted in the same region by the Israel Water Commission found 82% of the tested wells to be contaminated by organic chemicals – some at up to 5,000 times the permissible levels.

To be sure, health-endangering pollution is not the exclusive domain of urban Israel. In the Negev desert south of Beer Sheva, Bedouin tribes are exposed to an alarming array of hazardous air pollutants – byproducts of minimally regulated factories at the massive Ramat Hovav Industrial Zone. The Israel Union for Environmental Defense – a grantee of NIF's Green Environment Fund – has just filed criminal charges against Dead Sea Bromine, the zone’s largest air polluter whose emissions have often reached tens of thousands of times the levels authorized by Israel's Environment Ministry.

Why does a citizen advocacy group, rather than the Environment Ministry, find itself in court against such an egregious environmental offender? Sadly, the Environment Ministry is notoriously weak-willed and under-funded. Too often, it is regarded by ambitious politicians as a way station enroute to more prestigious ministries. And stepping on the toes of big polluters is seldom seen as the surest path to political advancement.

Today's Environment Minister, Prof. Yehudit Naot, defies this general rule. A biologist and chemist, she actually sought the Ministry! Perhaps this will signal a change in the Ministry's commitment to protecting the public's right to a safe environment, but the verdict is still out.

Meanwhile, much of the job of watchdogging Israel's environment falls to a young, yet energetic and committed environmental movement. The right to a livable environment has its place on the international human rights agenda, yet has been sidelined by Israeli officialdom.

Defending environmental rights often means demanding information from recalcitrant government agencies. Israel's recently enacted Freedom of Information Act offers a powerful tool for overcoming a decades-long legacy of government secrecy.

Information is power, but only if applied. That's where strong and persistent citizen advocacy has a vital role to play. The Israel Union for Environmental Defense’s suit against Dead Sea Bromine is one example: it was based on data collected and reluctantly released by the Environment Ministry. Timely data on water quality has also been made available via public demands under the Freedom of Information Act. Effective use of this data has empowered citizen groups to demand remediation of contaminated water supplies.

The need for vigorous citizen environmental advocacy in Israel reaches north and south, rich and poor, Jew and Arab. Outmoded transport fleets, under-regulated power plants and polluting factories are a menace to public health in Tel Aviv, Haifa and other cities along Israel's Mediterranean coast. Fetid streams of raw sewage endanger the health of children in unrecognized Bedouin settlements in the Negev. And open asbestos dumps, as well as dust from rogue rock quarries, makes life miserable for Arab villagers in the Galilee.

By Philip Warburg

Posted by Richard
7/13/2003 11:52:27 AM | PermaLink

Indian Point Reactor: Billions of Dying Fish

Via: The Journal News

The use of Hudson River water to cool generators at three major power plants is degrading the river's ecosystem by killing billions of fish and plants each year and pouring tremendous amounts of hot water into the tidal estuary, according to a new state environmental analysis.

The analysis, prepared by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, found that existing systems used to keep aquatic life out of the plants' huge cooling systems are effective at removing large fish and debris, but "do very little" to stop smaller fish and plant life from being sucked into the plants and baked to death during the power generation process.

For five species of fish American shad, bay anchovy, river herring, striped bass and white perch data provided to the state by the three plants found that more than 2 billion were sucked into the cooling systems and at least 1.45 billion died in the heated water. The state concluded that nearly all the fish that survived the actual cooling process died shortly after being pumped back into the river.

While the power plants' greatest harm is to the small aquatic life sucked inside the systems, the state concluded that hot water discarded by the three plants had a greater impact than previously believed ? affecting the entire river at the discharge site rather than a narrow column of water and may lead to the wholesale disappearance of some species.

"Rainbow smelt may be disappearing from some reaches of the Hudson because of thermal discharges from electric generating stations," the report said. "Such a trend, if continued, could impact other species."

Officials from the plants disputed the state's conclusions and said their operations were not harming the river to the degree found in the report.

The analysis is a critical part of the controversial discharge-permit proceedings under way for the nuclear power plants at Indian Point in Buchanan, the Bowline Point Steam Electric Generating Station in West Haverstraw and the Roseton Generating Station in Newburgh. All three sites are required to have state permits in order to discharge their heated water into the river, but the process has been the subject of a decade of litigation. The plants could be forced to cease using the river as their primary cooling source and switch to alternative cooling methods, which energy officials say would be economically prohibitive.

The plants' effect on the river is due to the enormous volumes of water they use. Indian Point, Roseton and Bowline are the first-, sixth- and seventh-largest users of water in the state, respectively, taking in 1.69 trillion gallons annually. That is twice the volume of water in the entire 153-mile estuary from the Battery in Manhattan to Troy, and 3.5 times the amount of water used annually by 9 million residents in New York City, Westchester and Putnam counties. The plants return a total of 220 trillion BTUs of waste heat to the river, an amount equal to the heat generated by the daily detonation of a 15-kiloton nuclear bomb ? the type that leveled Hiroshima ? approximately every two hours. [Please. If the article was about a coal or natural gas plant once-through cooling, would an exposive analogy be used? - JH]

"This is an outrage. It's like having a giant Cuisinart for the river," said David Gordon of the environmental group Riverkeeper. "This is the last major industrial impact on the river which has gone unabated since the imposition of the Clean Water Act. They're just killing everything in it."

The plants' discharge permits expired in 1987, but the state DEC has allowed them to continue operating while it studies the effect of their cooling operations on the river's environment. In June 2002, in response to a lawsuit filed by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, D-Greenburgh, and the environmental groups Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson, state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Keegan ordered the DEC to complete the evaluation process and issue a decision on the permit applications by Nov. 14.

"The study proves Indian Point is a mass murderer of the Hudson River," Brodsky said. "It is disgraceful that we had to go to court to force this to closure. It affects the economy of the Hudson Valley. It affects the ability of people to enjoy the river and it is another way that Indian Point is an economic millstone around the neck of the community."

A spokesman for Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which owns Indian Point, said the Hudson River ecosystem was healthy despite the huge losses.

"We have been studying the river for 25 years and spent 50 million dollars studying fish populations in the river," spokesman Jim Steets said, "and we have seen no impact from our operation on the Hudson River fish populations. The Hudson River is one of the richest bodies of water in the North Atlantic. It's teeming with fish. So the impact, based on our studies, is negligible."

Louis Friscoe, a Bowline spokesman, said the plant has been developing more effective screening systems to keep small aquatic life out of the cooling pool and its current operations have had little negative effect on the
river. "The fish populations have come back," Friscoe said. "The striped bass populations have increased and you even have sport fishing that you haven't had in the last 15 to 20 years."

The three plants use a system called "once through" cooling in which water is drained directly from the river, pumped through heat exchangers to cool the superheated steam used to turn giant electric generating turbines, then pumped back into the river at temperatures up to 35 degrees higher than the river's temperature.

The state report rejected the contention by the three plants that the death of billions of baby plant and animal organisms caused by the nuclear plants was no different from normal factors that prevent a majority of eggs and seeds from reaching adulthood.

"The plants are taking tons of living material from the food chain," said Warren Reiss of Scenic Hudson, "and returning tons of decaying material to the ecosystem. What should have grown up to be an adult or become food for a number of organisms so they could grow up is no longer in the food pyramid."

Posted by Richard
7/13/2003 08:25:45 AM | PermaLink