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Saturday, August 23, 2003

White House Ordered EPA to Downplay Health Risk From Trade Centre Collapse

Another one from the I-told-you-so category...or was that the Your-fascist-government-is-lying-to-you-about-your-safety category?

Here's a page that takes the EPA to task for waiving its regulations as to toxic dust cleanup after the WTC collapse.


At the White House's direction, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave New Yorkers misleading assurances there was no health risk from the debris-laden air after the World Trade Center collapse, an internal inquiry revealed.

President George W. Bush's senior environmental adviser defended the White House involvement Friday, saying it was justified by national security.

The White House "convinced EPA to add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones" by having the National Security Council control EPA communications in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, said a report issued late Thursday by EPA Inspector General Nikki Tinsley.

"When EPA made a Sept. 18 announcement that the air was 'safe' to breathe, the agency did not have sufficient data and analyses to make the statement," the report said, adding the EPA had yet to adequately monitor air quality for contaminants such as PCBs, soot and dioxin.

In all, the EPA issued five news releases within 10 days of the attacks and four more by the end of 2001 reassuring the public about air quality. But it wasn't until June 2002 that the EPA determined air quality had returned to pre-Sept. 11 levels - well after respiratory ailments and other problems began to surface in hundreds of workers cleaning dusty offices and apartments.

The day after the attacks, former EPA deputy administrator Linda Fisher's chief of staff e-mailed senior EPA officials to say "all statements to the media should be cleared" first by the National Security Council, which is Bush's main forum for discussing national security and foreign policy matters with his senior aides and cabinet, the inspector general's report said.

Approval from the NSC, the report said, was arranged through the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which "influenced, through the collaboration process, the information that EPA communicated to the public through its early press releases when it convinced EPA to add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones."

For example, the inspector general found, EPA was persuaded to omit guidance for cleaning indoor spaces and tips on potential health effects from airborne dust containing asbestos, lead, glass fibres and concrete.

James Connaughton, chairman of the environmental council, which co-ordinates U.S. government environmental efforts, said the White House directed the EPA to add and delete information based on how it should be released publicly. He said the EPA did "an incredible job" with the World Trade Center cleanup.

"The White House was involved in making sure that we were getting the most accurate information that was real, on a wide range of activities. That included the NSC - this was a major terrorist incident," Connaughton said.

"In the back and forth during that very intense period of time," he added, "we were making decisions about where the information should be released, what the best way to communicate the information was, so that people could respond responsibly and so that people had a good relative sense of potential risk."

Posted by Richard
8/23/2003 01:37:34 PM | PermaLink

EPA Agrees to Clean Up Scenic Skies

Not that I'm against forcing industries to make sure that their polluted fall-out doesn't ruin great American vistas and park lands, but what is needed really is to make sure that the industries don't release haze emissions and other chemical pollutants onto poor and minority communities -- who take the brunt of the blow directly. Also, as this was a settlement, I would like to understand better what the EPA takes from this...settlement implying that the deal cut both directions.

Via: SF Gate

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency signed a court settlement Tuesday intended to clear the skies and improve the views in national parks and wilderness areas. The settlement with Environmental Defense, a national environmental group, places the EPA on a court-ordered schedule to curb by April 2005 haze-forming pollutants that threaten such national parks as Yosemite, Sequoia, Glacier, Big Bend, Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah, Big Bend and Acadia. The deal applies to 156 parks and wilderness areas in all.

Hundreds of industrial plants nationwide could be affected by the settlement, including cement plants, copper smelters and coal-fired power plants in the West that supply energy to California. The settlement must go through a public comment process and requires approval by a Washington, D.C., court before it takes effect.

Posted by Richard
8/23/2003 01:26:22 PM | PermaLink

World Trade Talks Hit Environment Snag

This is an old dispute related to the North/South question of whether socio-economic change or population change is the bigger threat to global ecology at the moment. Southern countries have recently argued that transnational corporations, organizations, and other federal bodies ruled by the advanced capitalist nations have self-interest at heart when they play up the neo-Malthusian line about overpopulation being the great problem of tomorrow. On the other hand, Northern developed nations have charged that Southern nations want their cake and to eat it too when they call for limits to Northern development, even as they ask for more trade and development access and refuse population checks.

Here, while the break is not purely North/South, the argument is over whether more developed nations are trying to use trade agreements and the issue of sustainability to create a greater advantage for themselves at the business table.

To my mind, the average person should take away three things from this:
1) Less developed countries do need to accept limits and implement sound strategies towards blocking ecological destruction of the bioregions which they contain,
2) Advanced capitalist countries certainly are using moral issues like protecting and conserving the global environment (as well as other universal issues like human rights) to gain bargaining and power advanatages,
3) Proof of this is that despite the central importance of an issue like planetary ecological renewal, the issue itself has not even emerged in the WTO debate of the Doha round until half the negotiations have already taken place. This lets us know that it is being used strategically and that moral questions are not the real concern of the WTO, but rather capital profits, trade accumulations, and future market growth.

Via: Reuters

Diplomats racing to shape a plan to clinch a new world trade pact by the end of next year ran into trouble Saturday over how far it should be linked to global agreements on protecting the environment...

The latest problem, although seemingly procedural, masks wider disagreement on the environment between a group of mainly rich countries led by the European Union (News - Websites), and emerging economies like Malaysia, India, Egypt and China.

Poorer countries fear the big powers are aiming for tough rules on environmental standards in industry and agriculture to provide a WTO-sanctioned excuse to keep out cheap imports.

Saturday's impasse was over whether officials from bodies overseeing implementation of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) should have a permanent presence at special WTO sessions discussing links between trade and the environment.

The 15-nation EU -- whose backers include the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, Switzerland, Norway and Chile -- wants MEA officials, and others from inter-governmental environmental bodies, to have a standing invitation.

The emerging economy group argues that this would in effect give MEA officials observer status -- and a strong influence -- in the WTO, a development they have until now resisted.

Environmental issues have until now been on the backburner in the Doha Round, launched in the Qatari capital at the end of 2001 and due to wrap up with a new global trade accord by January 1, 2005.

But they played a key role in the collapse in 1999 of efforts to get a new round started.

Posted by Richard
8/23/2003 12:43:55 PM | PermaLink

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Gone for a Couple...

Sadly, I received notice that my grandfather passed away today and so I will be leaving town tomorrow morning due to this, with an expected return later in the week. If I can find Internet availability where I am staying, and the time, I will try to continue blogging from the road. Otherwise, please take the opportunity to visit some blog links in the Vegan Blogroll that you haven't been visiting and look through the archives -- which remain timely and important even if they didn't happen within the hour...

Posted by Richard
8/17/2003 09:12:32 PM | PermaLink

Our Fellow Creatures Have Feelings - So We Should Give Them Rights Too

A statement for animal rights from noted progressive Jeremy Rifkin, however he does little here beyond summarize statements made more in depth by Steven Wise in his recent book.

Via: Common Dreams

While much of the talk in big science this past year has centred on new breakthroughs in biotechnology, nanotechnology, computers and more esoteric questions such as the age of our universe, a quieter story has been unfolding behind the scenes in laboratories around the world - one whose impact on human perception and our understanding of the world is likely to be even more profound. And, strangely, the companies sponsoring the research are McDonald's, Burger King, KFC and other fast food purveyors.

Pressured by animal rights activists and by growing public support for the humane treatment of animals, these companies have financed research into, among other things, the emotional, mental and behavioural states of our fellow creatures. What the researchers are finding is unsettling. It appears that many of our fellow creatures are more like us than we had ever imagined. They feel pain, suffer, experience stress, affection, excitement - and even love.

Studies on pigs' social behaviour at Purdue University in the US, for example, have found that they crave affection and are easily depressed if isolated or denied playtime with each other. The lack of mental and physical stimuli can result in deterioration of health and increased incidence of diseases. The EU has taken such studies to heart and has outlawed the use of isolating pig stalls by 2012, and mandated their replacement with open-air stalls. In Germany, the government is encouraging pig farmers to give each pig 20 seconds of human contact every day and to provide them with two or three toys to prevent them fighting.

The pig study only scratches the surface of what is going on in the field of research into animal emotions and cognitive abilities. Researchers were stunned recently by the publication of an article in the prestigious journal Science reporting on the conceptual abilities of New Caledonian crows. In controlled experiments, scientists at Oxford University reported that two birds named Betty and Abel were given a choice between using two tools, one a straight wire, the other a hooked wire, to snag a piece of meat from inside a tube. Both chose the hooked wire. But then, unexpectedly, Abel, the more dominant male, stole Betty's hook, leaving her only with a straight wire. Unphased, Betty used her beak to wedge the wire in a crack and then bent it with her beak to produce a hook, like the one stolen from her. She then snagged the food from inside the tube. Researchers repeated the experiment 10 more times giving her straight wires, and she fashioned a hook out of the wire nine times, demonstrating a sophisticated ability to create tools.

Then there is the story of Alex the African grey parrot, who was able to master tasks previously thought to be the preserve of human beings. Alex can identify more than 40 objects and seven colours, and can add and separate objects into categories.

Equally impressive is Koko, a gorilla who was taught sign language, has mastered more than 1,000 signs and understands several thousand English words. On human IQ tests, she scores between 70 and 95, putting her in the slow learner - but not retarded - category.

Tool-making and developing language skills are just two of the many attributes we thought were exclusive to our species. Self-awareness is another. Philosophers and animal behaviourists have long argued that other animals are not capable of self-awareness because they lack a sense of individualism. Not so, according to a spate of new studies. At the Washington National Zoo, orangutans given mirrors explore parts of their bodies they can't see otherwise, showing a sense of self. An orangutan named Chantek at the Atlanta Zoo used a mirror to groom his teeth and adjust his sunglasses, says his trainer.

When it comes to the ultimate test of what distinguishes humans from the other creatures, scientists have long believed that mourning for the dead represents the real divide. Other animals have no sense of their mortality and are unable to comprehend the concept of their own death. But animals, it appears, experience grief. Elephants will often stand next to their dead kin for days, in silence, occasionally touching their bodies with their trunks. Kenyan biologist Joyce Poole, who has studied African elephants for 25 years, says that elephant behaviour towards their dead "leaves me with little doubt that they experience deep emotion and have some understanding of death."

We also know that virtually all animals play, especially when young. Anyone who has ever observed the antics of puppies, kittens or bear cubs cannot help but notice the similarities in the way they play and our own children. Recent studies in the brain chemistry of rats show that when they play, their brains release large amounts of dopamine, a neurochemical associated with pleasure and excitement in human beings.

Noting the striking similarities in brain anatomy and chemistry of humans and other animals, Steven Siviy, a behavioural scientist at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, asks a question increasingly on the minds of other researchers: "If you believe in evolution by natural selection, how can you believe that feelings suddenly appeared, out of the blue, with human beings?"

The new findings of researchers are a far cry from the conceptions espoused by orthodox science. Until very recently, scientists were still advancing the idea that most creatures behaved by sheer instinct, and that what appeared to be learned behaviour was merely genetically wired activity. Now we know that geese have to teach their goslings their migration routes. In fact, we are finding out that learning is passed on from parent to offspring far more often than not and that most animals engage in learned experience brought on by continued experimentation and trial-and-error problem-solving.

So what does all of this portend for the way we treat our fellow creatures? What about the thousands of animals subjected each year to painful laboratory experiments? Or the millions of domestic animals raised under inhumane conditions and destined for slaughter and human consumption. Should we ban leg-hold traps and discourage the sale and purchase of fur coats? And what about killing animals for sport? Fox hunting in England, bull-fighting in Spain, cock-fighting in Mexico? What about entertainment? Should lions be caged in zoos, should elephants be made to perform in circuses?

These questions are beginning to be raised in courtrooms and in legislation around the world. Today, Harvard and 25 other law schools in the US have introduced law courses on animal rights, and an increasing number of cases representing the rights of animals are entering the court system. Germany recently became the first government in the world to guarantee animal rights in its constitution.

The human journey is, at its core, about the extension of empathy to broader and more inclusive domains. At first, the empathy extended only to kin and tribe. Eventually it was extended to people of like-minded values - a common religion, nationality or ideology. In the 19th century, the first humane societies were established, extending the empathy to include our fellow creatures.

Today, millions of people, under the banner of the animal rights movement, are continuing to deepen and to expand human concern for, and empathy toward, our fellow creatures. The current studies into animals' emotions, cognition and behaviour open up a new phase in the human journey, allowing us to both expand and deepen our empathy - this time, to include the broader community of creatures who live alongside us.

Jeremy Rifkin is the author of Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture (Plume, 1992), and The Biotech Century (Victor Gollancz, 1998). He is also the president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington DC.

Posted by Richard
8/17/2003 11:55:36 AM | PermaLink