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Earth Island Journal; San Francisco; Summer 1999; Ron Sullivan;
Start Page: 8
Myanmar out of Massachusetts A Massachusetts state boycott of businesses
that deal with military-ruled Myanmar (Burma) has drawn eight US states, the
US Congress, the US Justice Department, corporate Lobbyists, Japan, the
European Union, and the World Trade Organization into the controversy about
individual states' power to enact selective purchasing policies. The
National Foreign Trade Council won a suit against the Law in 1998, but
Massachusetts has appealed to the First US Circuit Court of Appeals in
Boston. Oral arguments are scheduled for May 1999.
The case has united unlikely allies: human rights advocates, "states'
rights" advocates, House Democrats including Minority Leader Richard
Gephardt (D-MO), other US states, and people who just mistrust globalization
moves and the World Trade Organization on one side; and multinational
corporations, the EU, the WTO, Japan, and possibly the US Justice Department
(which may file a brief against the Massachusetts sanctions as an
infringement on US power to conduct foreign policy) on the other. The
international unpopularity of Myanmar's current repressive regime has made
the case an embarrassment to the EU, as its own parliament advocates a
tougher stance against Myanmar. This unpopularity may also keep the White
House from pursuing the case on constitutional grounds.
Oil be seeing you Mike R. Bowlin, Chairman and CEO of oil and gas giant
ARCO, told the Cambridge Energy Research Associates' 18th annual executive
conference that the worLd is entering "the last days of the Age of OiL" and
that "Global demand for clean energy - naturaL gas, renewables, electricity,
and new energy technologies - will grow faster than overall demand for
energy, including oiL and coal." He urged his audience, industry leaders
all, to "Embrace the future and recognize the growing demand for a wide
array of fuels." What he was talking about, mostly, was using natural gas -
cleanerburning but still a nonrenewable fossil fuel, with its attendant
environmental costs - instead of other petroleum products. He also mentioned
ARCO's introduction of "cLeaner-burning" gasoline in California. There was a
nod to real alternative fuels: "The challenge is not merely to survive
today's low prices, but to plan for a future in which hydrocarbons are just
one of a wide variety of fuels that will build the global economy of the
What's yours is mined Gold mining has caused enough destruction in western
Ghana to bring out whoLe communities in protest, and changes in mining
companies' policies and practices are making things worse. One South African
company wants to change its operation in Prestea to an open-pit mine, for
exampLe, Losing Local jobs and increasing land scarring and cyanide
pollution. Residents say that mining operations, which have swaLlowed whole
communities, have not compensated them enough for the Loss of their homes
and land. GoLd mining has earned some 3.6 billion dollars for Ghana since
1983, but only about 10 percent of that is returned to the places where
mining is done. Young people have taken to the streets and blockaded roads
against mining operations.
Ghanaian government officiaLs acknowledge environmental problems with
mining, especially with recent open-pit mines, despite guidelines in place
to minimize impacts. But, they say, small-scale illegal miners cause more
harm, and should be banned or regulated, and mined-out areas converted to
alternative economic activities as well as environmentally rehabilitated.
Green egged Hundreds of nuclear workers at the Cogema nuclear waste
reprocessing plant in Normandy showered Greens leader Daniel CohnBendit with
rotten eggs and dirt cLods in January. NucLear workers feeL threatened by
the Greens' platform for the EU ParLiamentary elections, which promises an
end to reLiance on nuclear power. Cohn-Bendit told the angry crowd that it
would take 20 years to cLose the plant even if the Greens managed to do so.
Frank Mr. Yen makes his Mark Japan's "Mr. Yen," vice-minister of finance
Eisuke Sakakibara, warned against "market fundamentaLism" and called for
government controLs to keep currencies stable and prevent premature
withdrawal of speculative investments. In arguing for more control over
capital flow between nations and some common international rules, he said,
"The financial system we have today is inherentLy unstabLe." He also warned
of a world financial collapse.
Haiti see you go Haiti is nearly deforested after years of internal wars,
neglect, poverty, and official misconduct, and parts of the country are now
deserts. During the Duvalier years, troops cut down forests and orchards to
deprive guerrillas of food and hiding pLaces. Now the culprit is poverty,
which drives desperate people to cut trees for charcoal, the country's
most-used fuel. Haiti's annual per capita income is about $260, the Lowest
in the Western Hemisphere. With only 1.5 percent of its forests remaining,
Haiti Loses 36 milLion tons of soil to erosion yearly, and some informed
observers think that parts of the country wilL never recover, no matter what
actions are taken. Denuded hillsides wash away in rainstorms, with
disastrous results; hurricanes and tropical storms kill hundreds with
mudslides and flooding; some places stay under water for months after a big
storm, as the village of Mapou did after both Hurricane Georges and tropical
The government has just completed an environmental action plan, and says
it's determined to salvage and protect what's left of the forests, but the
environmental ministry has no director - the country has been without even a
prime minister for over a year - and gets only onequarter of one percent of
the nationaL budget.
The Dominican Republic, Haiti's neighbor on the isLand of Hispaniola, has
banned charcoal cooking and subsidizes gas as cooking fuel.
Polysyllabic peril Scientists at Lund University Hospital in Sweden call
exposure to isocyanates a more serious health hazard than previously
acknowledged. Isocyanates are found in polyurethane products such as foam
"rubber," varnish, adhesives, caulks, and paints.
Most exposure to isocyanates occurs during manufacture of these items and of
products that use them, such as printed circuit boards, optical cable,
mattresses, auto parts, insulation, appliances, flooring, or anything
treated with polyurethane. Exposure can cause asthma, loss of Lung capacity,
lung irritation (coughs, pain, shortness of breath), eye irritation, and
skin problems resembling eczema.
Got elk? A Utah hunter, his wife, and aLlies have filed legaL demands that
the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) more aggressively monitor and controL
transmissibLe spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). TSEs incLude Bovine
Spongiform EncephaLopathy (mad cow disease), scrapie in sheep, Chronic
Wasting Disease (CWD) in eLk and deer, and, in humans, Creutzfeld-Jakob
Disease (CJD) and the "new variant" CJD (nvCJD) that has struck down 33
young peopLe in Great Britain. The hunter, 30-year-old R. Douglas McEwan,
and his wife Tracie McEwan fear he got the disease from exposure to deer and
elk he hunted.
In Britain, nvCJD has been condusively linked to eating contaminated beef,
and cattle feeding practices that spread BSE restricted. These include
feeding processed offal and blood products to cattle, pigs, and sheep; this
still happens in the US. The Legal petition wouLd bar feeding Livestock
blood and bLood products, geLatin, and pork byproducts, and would increase
CDC's watch over TSEs, especialLy in humans.
The CDC counters that its TSE surveilance is already quite thorough which
the activists concede - and that it catches 86 percent of the CJD cases in
the US. A CDC spokesperson said McEwan's case had no connection to exposure
to elk, deer, or beef, but did not say how that conclusion had been reached.
Cram every mountain Tourists in the Himalayas have Left a mountain of trash
- some 66 tons over the last 45 years - and more serious problems like water
pollution, deforestation, and soil erosion and compaction. Population growth
and exploitation of forests for Lumber and firewood, cutting them for
grazing and cultivation, and burning groves and grassLands have amplified
the effects of all this trampling. The local flora and fauna have changed
more in the last few decades than in the previous several centuries.
According to Sir Edmund Hillary, "The impact of aLL these people has been
substantial. The Himalayan environment has suffered severely."
Aside from food and oxygen containers, shredded tents, tools, and garbage,
cLimbers have left behind the corpses of their less-fortunate fellows;
carrying a body back down the mountain can be costly and dangerous.
Everest's South Col route has accumulated the most trash - and human
corpses, as it's the path of the most deaths. Attempts at cleanup have been
hindered by cost and inexperience.
Terminator Two The latest twist on Terminator Technology - by which
gene-engineered seeds produce only sterile plants, eliminating the
possibility of seed-saving by farmers - is under development by biotech
companies: seeds that will develop productive, but also sterile, crop plants
only when they're dosed with proprietary pesticides or fertilizers.
Monsanto's latest Terminator seeds won't germinate without being exposed to
a particular additive, and AstraZanaca has plans to market seeds for plants
that will need regular, repeated exposure to proprietary chemicaLs to avert
Seed sterility technology is being offered as a remedy for genetic
pollution, since the plants can't cross-fertilize. The catch is the
speculative risk that sterility could be spread through Terminator pollen.
Terminator technology is also used to protect patented seed from
unauthorized reproduction. A number of organizations worldwide are calling
for a ban on it, because it forces farmers into "economic serfdom," and
stops them from saving and selecting seeds that do best in their particular
conditions. Pat Mooney of Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI)
has caLled this "a disaster for global food security."
The obvious solution is for farmers not to buy Terminator, but it's seldom
that simple. Farmers generally survive on credit, and seed companies have
been known to extend credit only to farmers who agree to plant proprietary
seed. Banks and governments often follow suit. See
RAFI's web site at <www.rafi.org> for more scandalous details.
Wasn't the future wonderful
A Worldwatch Institute report predicts environmental disaster, of course,
but also sees avoiding that disaster as an unprecedented investment
opportunity. There is hope in existing recycLing, alternative-energy, and
sustainable industry programs.
The dire predictions in the report destabiLized economies, deforestation,
loss of water supplies, accelerated climate change - are given weight by
1998's record increase in gLobaL temperature and record Losses from storms
and floods, which displaced some 300 million people. There is hope in a
slightly sLowing population growth rate, greatly increased power from sun
and wind, and great potential for such alternative power sources and
By way of footnote, the report mentions predictions by past futurists that
were right about widespread electricity use and the telephone, but said that
pollution would fade away, and missed widespread contraception, nuclear
power and weapons, and (no surprise) the Internet.
The sunny side of surgery Two Israeli physicists have designed a system of
parabolic mirrors and optical fibers they hope can replace surgicaL lasers
in treating skin tumors, wounds, and arterial blockage. Their system uses
existing technology, feeds sunlight into an operating room via 330 feet of
fiber, and is recommended for areas with pLenty of sunshine, New Scientist
CITES approves ivory sate The Standing Committee of the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species approved a onetime sale of
specified ivory stockpiles from Namibia, Zimbabwe, and perhaps Botswana, to
Japan, under strict conditions that include use of the proceeds for elephant
conservation. There is a great deal of controversy over the strategy, which
is meant to support conservation efforts, improve local cooperation in
these, and help curb poaching. Part of the debate concerns whether legal
ivory saLes will improve or worsen the poaching situation. No elephants
would be killed for the sale; all ivory would be from old stock. - RS