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Saturday, August 09, 2003

IT Revolution's Dirty Secret: E-waste Exports

Via: Asia Times

Children as young as seven or eight handle hazardous chemicals in electronic trash heaps scattered throughout Asia that are being touted by more advanced countries as recycling success stories, according to probes by environmental groups. In one Chinese community alone, 100,000 people scavenge each day in a huge mound of computer circuit boards, extracting cathode ray tubes and burning plastic components that leak toxic acids and heavy metals into stagnant water systems.

Yet most of the redundant personal computers (PCs) and printers were sent there to be dismantled in legitimate export transactions that environmental watchdogs believe are being used as cop-outs by technology firms and their governments.

"Rather than having to face the [disposal] problem squarely, the United States and other rich economies that use most of the world's electronic products and generate most of the e-waste have made use of a convenient, and until now, hidden escape valve: exporting the e-waste crisis to the developing countries of Asia," Basel Action Network (BAN) and Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) reported in one study.

Posted by Richard
8/09/2003 03:37:37 PM | PermaLink

Friday, August 08, 2003

China Losing War With Advancing Deserts

Via: Earth Policy Institute

China is now at war. It is not invading armies that are claiming its territory, but expanding deserts. Old deserts are advancing and new ones are forming, like guerrilla forces striking unexpectedly, forcing Beijing to fight on several fronts. And worse, the growing deserts are gaining momentum, occupying an ever-larger piece of China's territory each year.

Desert expansion has accelerated with each successive decade since 1950. China's Environmental Protection Agency reports that the Gobi Desert expanded by 52,400 square kilometers (20,240 square miles) from 1994 to 1999, an area half the size of Pennsylvania. With the advancing Gobi now within 150 miles of Beijing, China's leaders are beginning to sense the gravity of the situation.

Overplowing and overgrazing are converging to create a dust bowl of historic dimensions. With little vegetation remaining in parts of northern and western China, the strong winds of late winter and early spring can remove literally millions of tons of topsoil in a single day—soil that can take centuries to replace.

For the outside world, it is these dust storms that draw attention to the deserts that are forming in China. On April 12, 2002, for instance, South Korea was engulfed by a huge dust storm from China that left people in Seoul literally gasping for breath. Schools were closed, airline flights were cancelled, and clinics were overrun with patients having difficulty breathing. Retail sales fell. Koreans have come to dread the arrival of what they now call "the fifth season"—the dust storms of late winter and early spring. Japan also suffers from dust storms originating in China. Although not as directly exposed as Koreans are, the Japanese complain about the dust and the brown rain that streaks their windshields and windows. [...]

Posted by Richard
8/08/2003 11:28:06 PM | PermaLink

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Now It Is Time: the MST and Grassroots Land Reform in Brazil

Via: Common Dreams

A new report based on a just-released book by the think tank Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy shows how, in a country burdened with oppressive poverty, the landless workers movement--Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem-Terra (MST)--rose from the poorest of the poor to form the most important grassroots organization in Brazil--and indeed in all of Latin America.

Saying "enough," to a history of landlessness and poverty, the MST, who have inspired articles in media from Time magazine to The Wall Street Journal, confronted persecution and assassination to take charge of their own destiny. By successfully occupying and farming idle land, the MST has forced the Brazilian government to award more than 20 million acres of agricultural land to over 350 thousand MST families since the movement's founding in 1984.

"By occupying the idle land of wealthy absentee landlords, the MST have carved out livelihoods and vastly improved the quality of education and health care available to their families," said Professor Angus Wright who with Professor Wendy Wolford wrote the report. "They have achieved these gains by successfully challenging the institutions and some of the most powerful people of Brazil, a nation of 175 million people and one of the world's ten largest economies."

According to the report, land grabbing by wealthy landholders has long stifled economic development and trapped millions in poverty. In response, Brazil enacted laws requiring that land "serve its social function" and the government promised redistribution to poor families. But these reforms were never enforced because of the tremendous power wealthy landholders held over the government.

"Faced with an intransigent government fencing for the landlords, the rural landless decided the best way to achieve land reform is to occupy the land," said Wright. "This forced the government to act on its 'social function' principle and hand over the land to the rural workers. Now significant agrarian reform has begun and is spreading throughout Brazil."

Through its work and its growth, the MST has seen its influence extend beyond the debate over land reform, gaining considerable political power and helping to elect the former labor leader Luis Inácio ("Lula") da Silva as President of Brazil. Yet the MST feel much work needs to be done, and see more equitable access to land as a first step toward a more just and egalitarian Brazilian society.

To read the report, please click here.

Posted by Richard
8/07/2003 05:09:26 PM | PermaLink

Miracle Dog Survives Gas Chamber

Stories such as this are interesting -- and thank god this dog wasn't re-gassed. Still, assuming that the dog was not being gassed for pleasure or for some other mal-intent, but rather for utilitarian reasons that city ordinances demand the extermination of stray or otherwise unwanted animals, his survival of the gassing in no way affected Quentin's relationship to the law. He was not being killed because he was unliked, but rather because he was unclaimed. Therefore, emerging from the gas chamber -- the supervisor's wish: somebody claim him, at which point someone was produced who would do just that. It is sad, however, that it takes the suppossed "divine intervention" to force our deeper instincts into effect and find a way around the law. Quentin is no doubt deserving of a home, but so was the dog who went in just before him and the one after him too -- in fact, Quentin's success story makes their's particularly tragic. If the supervisor could not gas Quentin, how was she able to gather herself so as to gas the next victim?

Via: CNN

'It's a miracle or divine intervention'

Cast into a city gas chamber to be euthanized with other unwanted or unclaimed dogs, it appeared the roughly year-old Basenji mix had simply run out of luck -- and time.

But this canine had other ideas.

When the death chamber's door swung open Monday, the dog now dubbed Quentin -- for California's forbidding San Quentin State Prison -- stood very much alive, his tail and tongue wagging.

Animal-control supervisor Rosemary Ficken had never seen such a survivor, and she didn't have the nerve to slam the door shut again.

This 30-pound animal, she believed, beat the odds and should live on.

"She told me, 'Please, take him. I don't have the heart to put him back in there and re-gas him,"' said Randy Grim, founder and head of Stray Rescue of St. Louis, the charitable shelter that took in the dog before taking the animal's story public.

Quentin's ordeal was played and replayed Wednesday on local TV stations, drawing people looking to adopt him.

"To me, it's a miracle or divine intervention," Grim said. "I can't help but think he's here to serve a higher purpose. This case blew me away. This is amazing."

On Wednesday, Quentin was a little malnourished but "in very good condition," Grim said. He was being checked for heartworm and other maladies by a veterinarian.

"You can tell he's really digging it," Grim said. "He has a bed, love, food and water."

Posted by Richard
8/07/2003 04:14:44 PM | PermaLink

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Toxic Algae Suspected in Whale Death

Via: Nature

A deadly alga is the leading suspect in the mass death of humpback whales around 150 miles off Cape Cod, say marine experts.

Carcass sightings suggest that at least 12 whales, mostly humpbacks, have died in the Georges Bank area, making it one of the worst known mass fatalities. "It's really quite disturbing," says whale biologist Phillip Clapham of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

A red tide of the toxic algae Alexandrium fundyense is the most likely culprit. The algae's poison, saxitoxin, killed 14 whales in the same area in 1987. Saxitoxin can accumulate in mackerel which whales eat .

Unusual currents or weather may have carried the algae to Georges Bank from the coast of Maine and Massachusetts, where they bloom each summer. The algal toxin also poisons people when it gets into mussels and clams.

Investigators are currently analysing the whales' blood, urine and skin for traces of the poison - results are expected later this week. Only one of the dead whales has obvious wounds from fishing tackle or ships.

There is a slim chance that the animals died after acoustic damage caused by navy sonar, says Michael Moore of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, who is involved in the investigation. Until a fresher carcass than the ones already found is towed in and dissected, "we can't rule in or out those events", he says.

Mass whale die-offs - at least those discovered - are rare. But blooms of other harmful algae routinely kill dolphins, sea lions and otters off the southern Californian coast and elsewhere.

Right turn?

The alarm was first raised on 3 July, when researchers found three dead humpbacks in Georges Bay during a routine aerial survey. The normal head-count is one whale every few weeks. "It was enough to make us concerned," says Clapham.

The region's humpback population is thriving and will probably survive the losses. But the deaths raise fears that the endangered Northern Atlantic right whale population - just 320 animals - might also be affected. These mammals feed in the Gulf of Maine during summer.

Right whales might escape acute poison buildups because they eat plankton rather than fish. "There is no indication they've been affected so far," says Jerry Conway, marine mammal adviser to the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Posted by Richard
8/06/2003 09:36:53 AM | PermaLink

Alaska Warming May Herald Global Shifts

UN Wire

A group of scientists will deliver the findings of a study on polar climate change to government officials from eight Arctic countries at a conference in Iceland this week, along with warnings that signs of global warming in Alaska could herald future trends farther south, Knight Ridder reported yesterday. "If you want to see what will be happening in the rest of the world 25 years from now, just look at what's happening in the Arctic," said Robert Corell, head researcher for the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment Team.

Year-round average temperatures in Alaska have risen 5 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1960s. Last year was the warmest in Alaska's history. The International Panel on Climate Change predicts that the globe will warm by 2.5-10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. Meanwhile, Alaska's permafrost — land that remains frozen year-round — is softening and its glaciers are melting. University of Alaska scientists have estimated that glacial melt adds 13.2 trillion gallons of water to the ocean every year. . . Warming has also been tied to falling herring and salmon populations, and wildlife migration and habitat patterns have shifted, according to scientists.

Posted by Richard
8/06/2003 09:24:37 AM | PermaLink

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Timber Cutting Supporters Aim to Fell DA

From: Kevin Wehr

Well, it had to happen somewhere. 

The fallout from the CA recall of Gov. Gray Davis has begun.  Humbolt County is on the coast, near the Oregon border--in timber country.  the (democrat) District Attorney, Paul Gallegos (elected last year over the 20 year incumbant), is being recalled (largely by republicans).  The reasons are two fold: 1) because he filed a lawsuit against the local timber industry giant Pacific Lumber (who owns most of the county and controls the jobs for most everything around) for withholding data from the state and feds that cutting down timber could lead to flooding and mudslides (subsequent such slides destroyed houses); and 2) because he raised the acceptable limit for medical marijuana growers from 1 pound or ten plants to three pounds or 99 plants (Humbolt County, along with Shasta and Trinity Counties are known as the emerald triangle for their marijuana production).  Recall backers also claim that he is "soft on crime" but in fact the DA has filed 23% more violent felony charges than this time last year (one presumes that crime has not climbed 23%, but has fallen like it has in the rest of the nation).

For more, click here.

Posted by Richard
8/05/2003 01:55:31 PM | PermaLink

Monday, August 04, 2003

Vatican Hails GM Food as a Saviour

I think they must have a hunch that down the road they will be able to genetically-modify their priests to remove the genes that make them en masse rape and molest young boys and girls the world over...

Via: Times Online

The Vatican stunned opponents of genetically modified foods yesterday by declaring that they held the answer to world starvation and malnutrition. Until the statement, the Vatican had been neutral in the confrontation between the European Union and the United States over GM food. Archbishop Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said that the Vatican was preparing an official report on biotechnology, to be published next month, which would come down in favour of genetic modification. The document will coincide with a debate on GM by EU farm ministers.

Posted by Richard
8/04/2003 07:00:51 AM | PermaLink

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Global Strife Swells Exxon's Coffers

Via: Guardian UK

Exxon Mobil, the largest publicly quoted oil company, yesterday reported a 58% increase in profits to $4.2bn (£2.6bn) during the second quarter, on the back of soaring energy prices.

The sharp growth continued a trend seen in the past two quarters at Exxon Mobil and was recorded in the face of turbulent conditions, including a national strike in Venezuela and disruptions in North Sea and west African operations.

Revenues were 13% higher than a year ago at $57.2bn.

The war in Iraq and subsequent difficulties in getting oil production back up to pre-war levels, as well as civil unrest in Nigeria and the Venezuelan situation have kept prices high. The company said earnings had improved across all parts of the business, even though production was flat.

Analysts have warned though that the ride might be coming to an end with many of the conditions that created the spike in prices now resolved.

Oil prices rose slightly yesterday after Opec members in Vienna agreed to keep oil production quotas unchanged. Brent crude was up 25 cents at $28.75 a barrel, still some distance from the near $40 a barrel in the run-up to the war.

Second quarter production of crude oil by Exxon fell modestly to 2.48m barrels a day, compared with 2.5m a year earlier. Natural gas production was slightly higher.

Exxon has been described as the oil major environmentalists love to hate, for what they see as its poor record.

Lobby group StopEsso criticised the latest profits. "This month we have seen even more scientific evidence of climate change, weird weather and fires in France. Yet Exxon Mobil is still making huge profits from causing it," a spokeswoman said.

Exxon had warned that a decline in air travel related to the Sars outbreak would hit downstream profits. But the recovery in air travel resulted in a threefold improvement in earnings at the division to $1.15bn.

Posted by Richard
8/03/2003 09:11:55 PM | PermaLink