Featured stories in this issue…

Environmental Failure: A Case for a New Green Politics
The U.S. environmental movement is failing — by any measure, the
state of the earth has never been more dire. What’s needed is a new,
inclusive green politics that challenges basic assumptions about
consumerism and unlimited growth.
Environmental Threats To Healthy Aging
A far-reaching new report examines the arc of life, from conception
through death, and explores the role of environmental insults,
nutrition and social factors in diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular
disease, metabolic syndrome and more.
Turning Coal into Liquid Fuels Increases Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Researchers found that in realistic scenarios, the mass production
of automotive fuel from coal or natural gas would lead to the emission
of more climate-changing greenhouse gases than the current oil-based
Plastics Industry Behind FDA Research on Bisphenol a, Study Finds
A report by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), claiming
that bisphenol A is safe, was written largely by the plastics industry
and others with a financial stake in the controversial chemical.
Climate Change Is ‘Faster and More Extreme’ Than Feared
Climate change is happening much faster than the world’s best
scientists predicted and will wreak havoc unless action is taken on a
global scale, a new report warns.
Wealth Gap Creating a Social Time Bomb
A new report from United Nations Habitat finds that inequality in
many U.S. cities is among the highest in the world. Many are above an
internationally recognised acceptable “alert” line used to warn
Gap Between Rich, Poor Growing, OECD Finds
Inequality in growing within and between nations because economic
growth in recent decades has rewarded the rich far more than the poor,
says a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development (OECD).

From: Yale Environment 360
October 20, 2008


[Rachel’s introduction: The U.S. environmental movement is failing — by any measure, the state of the earth has never been more dire. What’s needed is a new, inclusive green politics that challenges basic assumptions about consumerism and unlimited growth.]

By James Gustave Speth

A specter is haunting American environmentalism — the specter of failure.

All of us who have been part of the environmental movement in the United States must now face up to a deeply troubling paradox: Our environmental organizations have grown in strength and sophistication, but the environment has continued to go downhill, to the point that the prospect of a ruined planet is now very real. How could this have happened?

Before addressing this question and what can be done to correct it, two points must be made. First, one shudders to think what the world would look like today without the efforts of environmental groups and their hard-won victories in recent decades.

However serious our environmental challenges, they would be much more so had not these people taken a stand in countless ways. And second, despite their limitations, the approaches of modern-day environmentalism remain essential: Right now, they are the tools readily at hand with which to address many pressing problems, including global warming and climate disruption. Despite the critique of American environmentalism that follows, these points remain valid.

Lost Ground

The need for appraisal would not be so urgent if environmental conditions were not so dire. The mounting threats point to an emerging environmental tragedy of unprecedented proportions.

Half the world’s tropical and temperate forests are now gone. The rate of deforestation in the tropics continues at about an acre a second, and has for decades. Half the planet’s wetlands are gone. An estimated 90 percent of the large predator fish are gone, and 75 percent of marine fisheries are now overfished or fished to capacity. Almost half of the corals are gone or are seriously threatened. Species are disappearing at rates about 1,000 times faster than normal. The planet has not seen such a spasm of extinction in 65 million years, since the dinosaurs disappeared. Desertification claims a Nebraska-sized area of productive capacity each year globally. Persistent toxic chemicals can now be found by the dozens in essentially each and every one of us.

The earth’s stratospheric ozone layer was severely depleted before its loss was discovered. Human activities have pushed atmospheric carbon dioxide up by more than a third and have started in earnest the most dangerous change of all — planetary warming and climate disruption. Everywhere, earth’s ice fields are melting. Industrial processes are fixing nitrogen, making it biologically active, at a rate equal to nature’s; one result is the development of hundreds of documented dead zones in the oceans due to overfertilization. Freshwater withdrawals are now over half of accessible runoff, and water shortages are multiplying here and abroad.

The United States, of course, is deeply complicit in these global trends, including our responsibility for about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide added thus far to the atmosphere. But even within the United States itself, four decades of environmental effort have not stemmed the tide of environmental decline. The country is losing 6,000 acres of open space every day, and 100,000 acres of wetlands every year. About a third of U.S. plant and animal species are threatened with extinction. Half of U.S. lakes and a third of its rivers still fail to meet the standards that by law should have been met by 1983. And we have done little to curb our wasteful energy habits or our huge population growth.

Here is one measure of the problem: All we have to do to destroy the planet’s climate and biota and leave a ruined world to our children and grandchildren is to keep doing exactly what we are doing today, with no growth in human population or the world economy. Just continue to generate greenhouse gases at current rates, just continue to impoverish ecosystems and release toxic chemicals at current rates, and the world in the latter part of this century won’t be fit to live in. But human activities are not holding at current levels — they are accelerating, dramatically.

The size of the world economy has more than quadrupled since 1960 and is projected to quadruple again by mid-century. It took all of human history to grow the $7 trillion world economy of 1950. We now grow by that amount in a decade.

The escalating processes of climate disruption, biotic impoverishment, and toxification, which continue despite decades of warnings and earnest effort, constitute a severe indictment of the system of political economy in which we live and work. The pillars of today’s capitalism, as they are now constituted, work together to produce an economic and political reality that is highly destructive environmentally. An unquestioning society-wide commitment to economic growth at any cost;

All we have to do to destroy the planet’s climate and biota is to keep doing exactly what we are doing today.

powerful corporate interests whose overriding objective is to grow by generating profit (including profit from avoiding the environmental costs their companies create, amassing deep subsidies and benefits from government, and continued deployment of technologies originally designed with little or no regard for the environment); markets that systematically fail to recognize environmental costs unless corrected by government; government that is subservient to corporate interests and the growth imperative; rampant consumerism spurred by sophisticated advertising and marketing; economic activity now so large in scale that its impacts alter the fundamental biophysical operations of the planet — all combine to deliver an ever-growing world economy that is undermining the ability of the earth to sustain life.

Are Environmentalists To Blame?

In assigning responsibility for environmental failure, there are many places to lay blame: the rise of the modern, anti-government right in American politics; a negligent media; the deadening complexity of today’s environmental issues and programs, to mention the most notable. But a number of observers have placed much of the blame for failure on the leading environmental organizations themselves.

For example, Mark Dowie in his 1995 book Losing Ground notes that the national environmental organizations crafted an agenda and pursued a strategy based on the civil authority and good faith of the federal government. “Therein,” he believes, “lies the inherent weakness and vulnerability of the environmental movement. Civil authority and good faith regarding the environment have proven to be chimeras in Washington.” Dowie argues that the national environmental groups also “misread and underestimate[d] the fury of their antagonists.”

The mainstream environmental organizations were challenged again in 2004 in the now-famous The Death of Environmentalism. In it, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus write that America’s mainstream environmentalists are

Today’s environmentalism accepts compromises as part of the process. It takes what it can get.

not “articulating a vision of the future commensurate with the magnitude of the crisis. Instead they are promoting technical policy fixes like pollution controls and higher vehicle mileage standards — proposals that provide neither the popular inspiration nor the political alliances the community needs to deal with the problem.” Shellenberger and Nordhaus believe environmentalists don’t recognize that they are in a culture war — a war over core values and a vision for the future.

These criticisms and others stem from the fundamental decision of today’s environmentalism to work within the system. This core decision grew out of the successes of the environmental community in the 1970s, which seemed to confirm the correctness of that approach. Our failure to execute a dramatic mid-course correction when circumstances changed can be seen in hindsight as a major blunder.

Here is what I mean by working within the system. When today’s environmentalism recognizes a problem, it believes it can solve that problem by calling public attention to it, framing policy and program responses for government and industry, lobbying for those actions, and litigating for their enforcement. It believes in the efficacy of environmental advocacy and government action. It believes that good- faith compliance with the law will be the norm, and that corporations can be made to behave and will increasingly weave environmental objectives into their business strategies.

Today’s environmentalism tends to be pragmatic and incrementalist — its actions are aimed at solving problems and often doing so one at a time. It is more comfortable proposing innovative policy solutions than framing inspirational messages. These characteristics are closely allied to a tendency to deal with effects rather than underlying causes. Most of our major environmental laws and treaties, for example, address the resulting environmental ills much more than their causes. In the end, environmentalism accepts compromises as part of the process. It takes what it can get.

Today’s environmentalism also believes that problems can be solved at acceptable economic costs — and often with net economic benefit — without significant lifestyle changes or threats to economic growth. It will not hesitate to strike out at an environmentally damaging facility or development, but it sees itself, on balance, as a positive economic force.

Environmentalists see solutions coming largely from within the environmental sector. They may worry about the flaws in and corruption of our politics, for example, but that is not their professional concern. That’s what Common Cause or other groups do. Similarly, environmentalists know that the prices for many things need to be higher, and they are aware that environmentally honest prices would create a huge burden on the half of American families that just get by. But universal health care and other government action needed to address America’s gaping economic injustices are not seen as part of the environmental agenda.

Today’s environmentalism is also not focused strongly on political activity or organizing a grassroots movement. Electoral politics and mobilizing a green political movement have played second fiddle to lobbying, litigating, and working with government agencies and corporations.

A central precept, in short, is that the system can be made to work for the environment. In this frame of action, scant attention is paid to the corporate dominance of economic and political life, to transcending our growth fetish, to promoting major lifestyle changes and challenging the materialistic values that dominate our society, to addressing the constraints on environmental action stemming from America’s vast social insecurity and hobbled democracy, to framing a new American story, or to building a new environmental politics.

Not everything, of course, fits within these patterns. There have been exceptions from the start, and recent trends reflect a broadening in approaches. Greenpeace has certainly worked outside the system,

Organizations built to litigate and lobby are not necessarily the best ones to mobilize a grassroots movement.

the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club have had a sustained political presence, groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund have developed effective networks of activists around the country, the World Resources Institute has augmented its policy work with on-the-ground sustainable development projects, and environmental justice concerns and the emerging climate crisis have spurred the proliferation of grassroots efforts, student organizing, and community and state initiatives.

But organizations that were built to litigate and lobby for environmental causes or to do sophisticated policy studies are not necessarily the best ones to mobilize a grassroots movement or build a force for electoral politics or motivate the public with social marketing campaigns. These things need to be done, and to get them done it may be necessary to launch new organizations and initiatives with special strengths in these areas.

The methods and style of today’s environmentalism are not wrongheaded, just far, far too restricted as an overall approach. The problem has been the absence of a huge, complementary investment of time, energy, and money in other, deeper approaches to change. And here, the leading environmental organizations must be faulted for not doing nearly enough to ensure these investments were made.

America has run a 40-year experiment on whether this mainstream environmentalism can succeed, and the results are now in. The full burden of managing accumulating environmental threats has fallen to the environmental community, both those in government and outside. But that burden is too great. The system of modern capitalism as it operates today will continue to grow in size and complexity and will generate ever-larger environmental consequences, outstripping efforts to cope with them. Indeed, the system will seek to undermine those efforts and constrain them within narrow limits. Working only within the system will, in the end, not succeed — what is needed is transformative change in the system itself.

A New Environmental Politics

Environmental protection requires a new politics.

This new politics must, first of all, ensure that environmental concern and advocacy extend to the full range of relevant issues. The environmental agenda should expand to embrace a profound challenge to consumerism and commercialism and the lifestyles they offer, a healthy skepticism of growthmania and a redefinition of what society should be striving to grow, a challenge to corporate dominance and a redefinition of the corporation and its goals, a commitment to deep change in both the functioning and the reach of the market, and a powerful assault on the anthropocentric and contempocentric values that currently dominate.

Environmentalists must also join with social progressives in addressing the crisis of inequality now unraveling America’s social fabric and undermining its democracy. It is a crisis of soaring executive pay, huge incomes, and increasingly concentrated wealth for a small minority, occurring simultaneously with poverty near a 30-year high, stagnant wages despite rising productivity, declining social mobility and opportunity, record levels of people without health insurance, failing schools, increased job insecurity, swelling jails, shrinking safety nets, and the longest work hours among the rich countries. In an America with such vast social insecurity, economic arguments, even misleading ones, will routinely trump environmental goals.

Similarly, environmentalists must join with those seeking to reform politics and strengthen democracy. What we are seeing in the United States is the emergence of a vicious circle: Income disparities shift political access and influence to wealthy constituencies and large businesses, which further imperils the potential of the democratic process to act to correct the growing income disparities. Corporations have been the principal economic actors for a long time; now they are the principal political actors as well. Neither environment nor society fares well under corporatocracy. Environmentalists need to embrace public financing of elections, regulation of lobbying, nonpartisan Congressional redistricting, and other political reform measures as core to their agenda. Today’s politics will never deliver environmental sustainability.

The current financial crisis and, at this writing, the response to it, reveal a system of political economy that is profoundly committed to profits and growth and profoundly indifferent to people and society. This system is at least as indifferent to its impacts on nature. Left uncorrected, it is inherently ruthless and rapacious, and it is up to citizens, acting mainly through government, to inject values of fairness and sustainability into the system. But this effort commonly fails because progressive politics are too enfeebled and Washington is increasingly in the hands of powerful corporate interests and concentrations of great wealth. The best hope for real change in America is a fusion of those concerned about environment, social justice, and strong democracy into one powerful progressive force.

The new environmentalism must work with this progressive coalition to build a mighty force in electoral politics. This will require major efforts at grassroots organizing; strengthening groups working at the state and community levels; and developing motivational messages and appeals — indeed, writing a new American story, as Bill Moyers has urged. Our environmental discourse has thus far been dominated by lawyers, scientists, and economists. Now, we need to hear a lot more from the poets, preachers, philosophers, and psychologists.

Above all, the new environmental politics must be broadly inclusive, reaching out to embrace union members and working families, minorities and people of color, religious organizations, the women’s movement, and other communities of complementary interest and shared fate. It is unfortunate but true that stronger alliances are still needed to overcome the “silo effect” that separates the environmental community from those working on domestic political reforms, a progressive social agenda, human rights, international peace, consumer issues, world health and population concerns, and world poverty and underdevelopment.

The final watchword of the new environmental politics must be, “Build the movement.” We have had movements against slavery and many have participated in movements for civil rights and against apartheid and the Vietnam War. Environmentalists are often said to be part of “the environmental movement.” We need a real one — networked together, protesting, demanding action and accountability from governments and corporations, and taking steps as consumers and communities to realize sustainability and social justice in everyday life.

Can one see the beginnings of a new social movement in America? Perhaps I am letting my hopes get the better of me, but I think we can. Its green side is visible, I think, in the surge of campus organizing and student mobilization occurring today, much of it coordinated by the student-led Energy Action Coalition and by Power Vote.

If there is a model within American memory of what must be done, it is the civil rights revolution of the 1960s.

It’s visible also in the increasing activism of religious organizations, including many evangelical groups under the banner of Creation Care, and in the rapid proliferation of community-based environmental initiatives. It’s there in the joining together of organized labor, environmental groups, and progressive businesses in the Apollo Alliance and there in the Sierra Club’s collaboration with the United Steelworkers, the largest industrial union in the United States. It’s visible too in the outpouring of effort to build on Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, and in the grassroots organizing of 1Sky and others around climate change. It is visible in the green consumer movement and in the consumer support for the efforts of the Rainforest Action Network to green the policies of the major U.S. banks. It’s there in the increasing number of teach-ins, demonstrations, marches, and protests, including the 1,400 events across the United States in 2007 inspired by Bill McKibben’s “Step It Up!” campaign to stop global warming. It is there in the constituency-building work of minority environmental leaders and in the efforts of groups like Green for All to link social and environmental goals. It’s just beginning, but it’s there, and it will grow.

The welcome news is that the environmental community writ large is moving in some of these directions. Local and state environmental groups have grown in strength and number. There is more political engagement through the League of Conservation Voters and a few other groups, and more work to reach out to voters with overtly political messages. The major national organizations have strengthened their links to local and state groups and established activist networks to support their lobbying activities. Still, there is a long, long way to go to build a new and vital environmental politics in America.

American politics today is failing not only the environment but also the American people and the world. As Richard Falk reminds us, only an unremitting struggle will drive the changes that can sustain people and nature. If there is a model within American memory for what must be done, it is the civil rights revolution of the 1960s. It had grievances, it knew what was causing them, and it also knew that the existing order had no legitimacy and that, acting together, people could redress those grievances. It was confrontational and disobedient, but it was nonviolent. It had a dream. And it had Martin Luther King Jr.

It is amazing what can be accomplished if citizens are ready to march, in the footsteps of Dr. King. It is again time to give the world a sense of hope.


James Gustave “Gus” Speth is the dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University. His most recent (and important) book is The Bridge at the Edge of the World (Yale University Press, 2008).

Copyright 2008 Yale University


From: Earth Times ………………………………….[This story printer-friendly]
October 23, 2008


[Rachel’s introduction: A far-reaching new report examines the arc of life, from conception through death, and explores the role of environmental insults, nutrition and social factors in diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and more.]

Environmental factors are key drivers in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, according to the authors of a new report, “Environmental Threats to Healthy Aging,” released today.

Importantly, the report demonstrates that the risks for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s can be dramatically reduced.

It offers the most comprehensive review of the currently available research on the lifetime influences of environmental factors on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, two of the most common degenerative diseases of the brain. These influences include common dietary patterns, toxic chemical exposures, inadequate exercise, socio-economic stress and other factors. These influences can begin in the womb and continue throughout life, setting the stage for the later development of neurodegenerative as well as other chronic diseases.

In addition, the report describes the substantial emerging evidence that, collectively, these environmental factors alter biochemical pathways at the cellular and subcellular levels. These alterations fuel Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, as well as other chronic illnesses referred to in the report as the “Western disease cluster” — diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. Each of these diseases in turn increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This collection of diseases is being driven by dramatic alterations over the past 50 to 100 years in the U.S. food supply, an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, and exposure to toxic chemicals.

The full report, “Environmental Threats to Healthy Aging”, is published jointly by Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Science and Environmental Health Network and is available online at: http://www.agehealthy.org/.

The report authors provide recommendations so that individuals, families, communities, and societies can take action at all levels and move towards healthy living and healthy aging. This is especially important because the population over the age of 65, which is highly vulnerable to chronic disease, is expected to nearly double in the U.S. by 2030 — from about 38 million to over 71 million. With that increase will come a dramatic escalation of chronic diseases unless steps are taken now to reduce the risks. Among these recommendations are:

— Increase sustainable, diversified and local alternatives to industrial farming — to improve the nutritional value of food, cut down on harmful content, ensure access to healthy food, and lessen serious damage to the environment;

— Regulatory reforms of chemical policy that help prevent hazardous toxic exposures from air, water, food, and other consumer products; business policy changes that give preference to purchasing and using products made of safer chemicals;

— Health care policy changes that increase the focus on disease prevention and ensure equitable and accessible health care for all; and,

— An energy policy that reduces toxic emissions, promotes conservation and efficiency, curtails dependence on fossil fuels, and encourages more physical activity.

In addition to these societal recommendations, the report contains recommendations for actions for healthy living and healthy aging that individuals can take to reduce the risks for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other diseases of the Western disease cluster. These include specific recommendations relating to:

— Eating healthy and nutritious food, and avoiding common hazards in the typical modern diet;

— Staying active physically and mentally;

— Avoiding harmful toxicants and pollutants; and,

— Being socially engaged with family, friends and community.

Copyright 2008 PR Newswire. Copyright 2008 www.earthtimes.org, The Earth Times


From: Science News Magazine ………………………….[This story printer-friendly]
October 20, 2008


[Rachel’s introduction: Researchers found that in realistic scenarios, the mass production of automotive fuel from coal or natural gas would lead to the emission of more climate-changing greenhouse gases than the current oil-based economy.]

By Davide Castelvecchi

If the United States tried to achieve independence from foreign oil by making gasoline from vast reserves of domestic coal, the country would probably end up increasing its carbon emissions, a new study concludes.

Researchers found that in realistic scenarios, the mass production of fuel from coal or natural gas would lead to the emission of more climate-changing greenhouse gases than the current oil-based economy. But even in the most optimistic scenarios, which assumed that breakthroughs in technology could be achieved, coal and gas would not help reduce emissions from transportation, the researchers report in the Oct. 15 Environmental Science & Technology.

“In terms of greenhouse gases, this was dead on arrival, so to speak,” says study coauthor Michael Griffin, an environmental engineer at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and coauthor of the new study.

The authors have done a “remarkable job in developing robust life cycle analysis tools,” comments chemical engineer Blake Simmons of Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, Calif. The results show that converting coal or gas “might not be the panacea to our current challenges associated with transportation fuels, especially in terms of negative environmental impact,” Simmons adds.

Both coal and natural gas can be turned into syngas, a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Engineers have known for almost a century how to turn syngas into liquids similar to gasoline or diesel fuel — a process Nazi Germany used during World War II to keep its economy going while it was unable to import oil.

Turning coal into syngas and then into liquid fuels could in principle enable the United States to free itself from its dependence on foreign oil, at least as far as transportation fuels are concerned, says study coauthor Paulina Jaramillo. But it would come at a cost, the authors estimated.

The researchers used data from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and the engineering company Bechtel Corp. to calculate the emissions generated during the production, transportation and consumption of different fuels — the impact of each type of fuel from cradle to grave. This included, for example, estimates of methane — a greenhouse gas — seeping out of coal mines; the energy required to dig out and transport coal; the energy that would go wasted in industrial-scale coal-to-fuel conversion; and the efficiency of internal-combustion engines running on different liquid fuels.

Greenhouse gas emissions could, in some scenarios, almost double if natural gas or domestic coal were to replace foreign oil, the researchers found. But even if all potential ways of reducing emissions were implemented — for example, capturing carbon dioxide that’s a byproduct of syngas conversion — the alternative fuels would not help stem climate change. “This is certainly not a greenhouse-gas reduction technology, no matter what you do,” says Griffin.

Citations & references

Jaramillo, P., W. Michael Griffin and H. S. Matthews 2008. Comparative Analysis of the Production Costs and Life-Cycle GHG Emissions of FT Liquid Fuels from Coal and Natural Gas. Environmental Science & Technology 42 (Oct. 15): 7559.


From: Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisc.) …………….[This story printer-friendly]
October 22, 2008


[Rachel’s introduction: A report by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), claiming that bisphenol A is safe, was written largely by the plastics industry and others with a financial stake in the controversial chemical.]

By Susanne Rust and Meg Kissinger srust@journalsentinel.com

A government report claiming that bisphenol A is safe was written largely by the plastics industry and others with a financial stake in the controversial chemical, the Journal Sentinel found.

Although the Food and Drug Administration will not reveal who prepared its draft, the agency’s own documents show that the work was done primarily by those with the most to gain by downplaying concerns about the safety of the chemical.

That includes Stephen Hentges, executive director of the American Chemistry Council’s group on bisphenol A, who commissioned a review of all studies of the neurotoxicity of bisphenol A and submitted it to the FDA. The FDA then used that report as the foundation for its evaluation of the chemical on neural and behavioral development. The American Chemistry Council is a trade group representing chemical manufacturers.

The FDA’s draft, released in August, found no cause for worry about bisphenol A, which is found in thousands of household products, including baby bottles, infant formula containers and the lining of aluminum cans.

That finding is at odds with the conclusions of the FDA’s own advisers from the National Toxicology Program. The NTP announced in September that the chemical is of some concern for effects on the development of the prostate gland and brain, and for behavioral effects in fetuses, infants and children. The NTP also found some concern for the neurodevelopment of young children, infants and fetuses.

Last week, the government of Canada declared that bisphenol A is a toxin and is banning its use in baby bottles and other products used by children.

The FDA draft finding no harm is under review by a subcommittee, which will decide if the conclusions need to be amended. That assessment is expected to be released any day and will be presented Oct. 31 in Washington


Sidebar: Bisphenol A Timeline

April 14: FDA convenes a task force on the safety of bisphenol A.

Aug. 15: The task force releases its draft saying that bisphenol A is safe.

Sept. 3: The National Toxicology Program releases its report finding some concern for the chemical’s effects on children, infants and fetuses.

Sept. 16: An FDA subcommittee meets to consider whether to amend the task force draft.

Oct. 15: A congressional committee launches an investigation of possible conflicts of interest after the Journal Sentinel reveals a $5 million donation to the subcommittee chairman’s science center by an advocate for bisphenol A.

Oct. 18: Canada declares bisphenol A toxic and announces a move to ban the sale, import and advertising of baby bottles and other children’s products containing the chemical.


The Journal Sentinel reported earlier this month that subcommittee chairman Martin Philbert is founder and co-director of an institute that received $5 million from a retired medical supply manufacturer who said he considered bisphenol A “perfectly safe.” The donor, Charles Gelman, told the newspaper that he has expressed his views to Philbert in several conversations.

Philbert at first denied ever having been contacted by Gelman about bisphenol A. He now says that he is aware of Gelman’s views but is not influenced by them. Congressional inquiry

A congressional committee launched an investigation into the connection, citing the newspaper report.

Those same congressional investigators are now looking into other possible conflicts of interest. They are scrutinizing the role that ICF, a consulting firm whose clients include the American Chemistry Council and the American Petroleum Institute, had in preparing the FDA draft.

Neither ICF nor the FDA would say what role the consulting firm had in the agency’s review of the chemical. But the newspaper found reports issued to the FDA by the consulting firm from 2000 to 2007. Those reports included reviews of government and industry studies on the effects of bisphenol A on animal health.

The task force used ICF’s reviews in its draft.

ICF spokesman Douglas Beck declined to comment on his company’s involvement in the study of bisphenol A..

FDA spokesman Michael Herndon is referring all questions about the draft to congressional investigators.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce and its subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation has asked FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach to appear for an interview by committee staff to explain the agency’s decision-making relating to bisphenol A.

“Specifically, why industry-funded studies provide the basis of your regulatory decisions and why the totality of the science around the chemical continues to be ignored by your science-based agency,” the committee letter said.

Investigators want transcripts of all communication between ICF and the FDA by Wednesday. Poring over evidence

The newspaper reviewed the body of evidence that the task force considered. It found memos with entire sections blacked out, reviews commissioned by the American Plastics Council, an arm of the American Chemistry Council, and reviews completed by consulting firms with clients who havefinancial interests in the sale of bisphenol A.

Many of these reviews of individual studies are at odds with the NTP’s reviews of the same studies.

For example, one study funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense looked at the effects of bisphenol A on prostate development in rats.

The FDA called it “severely limited,” in contrast to the NTP’s review, which labeled it of “high utility.”

Another government-funded study, which also looked at the effects of the chemical on the prostate, again was considered of “high utility” by the NTP for its evaluation, and it was deemed “very limited” by the FDA.

Much of the science that the task force considered was 20 years old or older, including a study commissioned in 1976.

The older studies are not as sensitive as modern tests. They used high doses of the chemical and did not consider the unique effects on the endocrine system.

Bisphenol A was developed in 1891 as a synthetic estrogen.

It came into widespread use in the 1950s when scientists realized it could be used to make polycarbonate plastic and some epoxy resins to line food and beverage cans.

The chemical is used in a host of products from dental sealants and eyeglasses to CDs and water bottles. Bisphenol A has been detected in the urine of 93% of Americans tested.

Sales of the chemical reached $6 billion worldwide in 2007.

Last year, the Journal Sentinel reviewed 258 research papers on bisphenol A and found that a large majority showed the chemical was harmful to lab animals. Those that didn’t find harm overwhelmingly were paid for by the chemical industry. The newspaper also found that the government was basing its safety recommendations for bisphenol A on outdated studies performed more than two decades ago.

Columbia University professor David Rosner, who researches the relationship of industry and government regulators of toxic substances, has compared the controversy over bisphenol A to tobacco and asbestos.

“It makes sense that we have a process that is not tainted by corruption,” he said. “This looks tainted.”

A plastics industry spokeswoman defended the role of Hentges and others in shaping the FDA’s task force draft. Hentges was out of the country on Wednesday and not available for comment.

Tiffany Harrington, spokeswoman for the American Chemistry Council, said Hentges was acting appropriately in his capacity as an advocate for the plastics industry.

“We are a stakeholder just like anyone else,” Harrington said. “It’s part of the process.”

Copyright 2005-2007, Journal Sentinel Inc.


From: Telegraph (London, U.K.) ………………………[This story printer-friendly]
October 20, 2008


[Rachel’s introduction: Climate change is happening much faster than the world’s best scientists predicted and will wreak havoc unless action is taken on a global scale, a new report warns.]

By Paul Eccleston

‘Extreme weather events’ such as the hot summer of 2003, which caused an extra 35,000 deaths across southern Europe from heat stress and poor air quality, will happen more frequently.

Britain and the North Sea area will be hit more often by violent cyclones and the predicted rise in sea level will double to more than a metre, putting vast coastal areas at risk from flooding.

The bleak report from WWF — formerly the World Wildlife Fund — also predicts crops failures and the collapse of eco systems on both land and sea.

And it calls on the EU to set an example to the rest of the world by agreeing a package of challenging targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions to tackle the consequences of climate change and to keep any increase in global temperatures below 2C.

The agency says that the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — a study of global warming by 4,000 scientists from more than 150 countries which alerted the world to the possible consequences of global warming — is now out of date.

WWF’s report, Climate Change: Faster, stronger, sooner, has updated all the scientific data and concluded that global warming is accelerating far beyond the IPCC’s forecasts.

As an example it says the first ‘tipping point’ may have already been reached in the Arctic, where sea ice is disappearing up to 30 years ahead of IPCC predictions and may be gone completely within five years – something that hasn’t occurred for a million years.

It could result in rapid and abrupt climate change rather than the gradual changes forecast by the IPCC.

The findings include:

* Global sea level rise could more than double from the IPCC’s estimate of 0.59m by the end of the century.

* Natural carbon sinks, such as forests and oceans, are losing their ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere faster than expected.

* Rising temperatures have already led to a major reduction in food crops resulting in losses of 40m tonnes of grain per year.

* Marine ecosystems in the North and Baltic Sea are being exposed to the warmest temperatures measured since records began.

* The number and intensity of extreme cyclones over the UK and North Sea are projected to increase, leading to increased wind speeds and storm-related losses over Western and Central Europe.

The report was issued to coincide with a meeting of EU Environment Ministers today to discuss new laws aimed at tackling climate change. Some countries, including Italy and Poland, have already rejected proposals for higher cuts in emissions claiming they are unaffordable and unrealistic when many countries are facing recession.

The UK is the only country so far to commit to a legally binding 80 per cent cut in emissions by 2050 which the Government claims can be achieved by a switch to renewable energy sources — such as wind and wave — combined with a new generation of nuclear power stations.

In the report WWF urges the EU to commit to a reduction target of at least 30 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 without relying on offsetting overseas and to provide financial support so developing countries can cut their own emissions and prepare for unavoidable impacts of climate change.

WWF-UK’s Head of Climate Change, Dr. Keith Allott, said: “Climate change is a major challenge to the future of mankind and the environment, and this sobering overview highlights just how critical it is that EU environment ministers, who are meeting today to discuss EU legislation to tackle climate change, commit to a strong climate and energy package, in order to ensure a low carbon future.

“If the European Union wants to be seen as leader at UN talks in Copenhagen next year, and to help secure a strong global deal to tackle climate change after 2012, then it must stop shirking its responsibilities and commit to real emissions cuts within Europe.”

The report has been endorsed by Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, the newly elected Vice Chair of the IPCC, who said: “It is clear that climate change is already having a greater impact than most scientists had anticipated, so it’s vital that international mitigation and adaptation responses become swifter and more ambitious.”


From: The Guardian (Manchester, U.K.) ………………..[This story printer-friendly]
October 23, 2008


[Rachel’s introduction: A new report from United Nations Habitat finds that inequality in many U.S. cities is among the highest in the world. Many are above an internationally recognised acceptable “alert” line used to warn governments.]

By John Vidal, environment editor

Growing inequality in US cities could lead to widespread social unrest and increased mortality, says a new United Nations report on the urban environment.

In a survey of 120 major cities, New York was found to be the ninth most unequal in the world and Atlanta, New Orleans, Washington, and Miami had similar inequality levels to those of Nairobi, Kenya Abidjan and Ivory Coast. Many were above an internationally recognised acceptable “alert” line used to warn governments.

“High levels of inequality can lead to negative social, economic and political consequences that have a destabilising effect on societies,” said the report. “[They] create social and political fractures that can develop into social unrest and insecurity.”

According to the annual State of the World’s cities report from UN- Habitat, race is one of the most important factors determining levels of inequality in the US and Canada.

“In western New York state nearly 40% of the black, Hispanic and mixed-race households earned less than $15,000 compared with 15% of white households. The life expectancy of African-Americans in the US is about the same as that of people living in China and some states of India, despite the fact that the US is far richer than the other two countries,” it said.

Disparities of wealth were measured on the “Gini co-efficient”, an internationally recognised measure usually only applied to the wealth of countries. The higher the level, the more wealth is concentrated in the hands of fewer people.

“It is clear that social tension comes from inequality. The trickle down theory [that wealth starts with the rich] has not delivered. Inequality is not good for anybody,” said Anna Tibaijuka, head of UN- Habitat, in London yesterday.

The report found that India was becoming more unequal as a direct result of economic liberalisation and globalisation, and that the most unequal cities were in South Africa and Namibia and Latin America. “The cumulative effect of unequal distribution [of wealth] has been a deep and lasting division between rich and poor. Trade liberalisation did not bring about the expected benefits.”

The report suggested that Beijing was now the most egalitarian city in the world, just ahead of cities such as Jakarta in Indonesia and Dire Dawa in Ethiopia.

In Europe, which was generally more egalitarian than other continents, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Slovenia were classed as the most equal countries with Greece, the UK and Spain among the least. “Disparities are particularly significant in the cities of eastern Europe, larger Spanish cities and in the north of England,” it said.

It documents the seemingly unstoppable move of people away from rural to urban areas. This year it is believed that the number of people living in urban areas exceeded those in the countryside for the first time ever, but the report says there is no sign of the trend slowing.

“The dramatic transition between rural and urban communities is not over. Urbanisation levels will rise dramatically in the next 40 years to reach 70% by 2050,” it predicts.

The most dramatic urbanisation has been taking place in China, with many millions of people moving from the countryside to cities. The report says 49 new cities have been built in the past 18 years. The rapid transition to an urban society has brought great wealth but also many negative results.

“China has attained some of the deepest disparities in the world with urban incomes three times those in rural areas. Inequalities are growing, with disproportionate rewards for the most skilled workers … and serious problems for the unemployed and informal workers.”

Urban growth rates are highest in the developing world, which absorbs an average 5 million new urban residents a month and is responsible for 95% of world urban growth. The report predicts that Asian cities will grow the most in the next 40 years and could have 63% of the world urban population by 2050.

Tokyo is expected to remain the world’s largest mega city, with 36.4m people by 2025. But Mexico City, New York, and Sao Paulo could give way in the league table to Mumbai, Delhi and Dhaka. Kinshasa and Lagos are the two African cities expected to grow the most, with each adding more than 6 million people by 2025.

Rather than countryside to city movement, which has marked rapid population growth in the last 40 years, the UN expects more people to move from city to city.

Capital cities in particular are attracting much more of countries’ investments and are growing fast. Some are becoming home to nearly half a country’s population.

But the report also identified what it believes is the emergence of a new urban trend, with many cities now shrinking in size. The populations of 46 countries, including Germany, Italy, Japan and most former soviet states, are expected to be smaller in 2050 than they are now, and in the past 30 years, says the report, more cities in the developed world have shrunk than grown.

It found that 49 cities in the UK, including Liverpool and other old industrial centres in the north of England, and 100 in Russia reduced in size between 1990 and 2000, mainly because of unemployment. In the US 39 cities are smaller now than they were 10 years ago.

The reasons for the decline of cities was mostly economic, but the report says that the environment is now an important factor.

Air quality and pollution from mines, power plants and oil exploration have been responsible for population losses in India, Mexico and Africa, it says. “Cities tend to struggle most with health-threatening environmental issues, such as the lack of safe water, sanitation and waste.”

Copyright Guardian News and Media Limited 2008


From: Agence France Presse ………………………….[This story printer-friendly]
October 21, 2008


[Rachel’s introduction: Inequality in growing within and between nations because economic growth in recent decades has rewarded the rich far more than the poor, says a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).]

BERLIN (AFP) — The gap between rich and poor has grown in most developed countries over the past 20 years, leading to an increase in child poverty, an organisation of 30 leading economies said in a report Tuesday.

“The gap between rich and poor has grown in more than three-quarters of OECD countries over the past two decades,” said the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an influential policy forum for 30 top world economies.

Economic growth of recent decades had benefitted the rich more than the poor, it said in the report entitled “Growing Unequal: Income distribution and poverty in OECD countries.”

Across the OECD countries, the average income of the richest 10 percent of people was, on average, “nearly nine times that of the poorest 10 percent.”

Canada, Germany, Norway and the United States were most affected by the widening gap between rich and poor, while Greece, Mexico and Britain had seen a shrinking gap, the study found.

The danger of poverty was greatest in countries with the widest wage gap and lowest social mobility, it said.

And the risk of poverty has moved away from older people and towards children and young adults.

“Those around retirement age have seen the biggest increases in incomes over the past 20 years, and pensioner poverty had fallen in many countries. In contrast, child poverty had increased,” the study said.

Children and young adults are now 25 percent more likely to be poor than the population as a whole.

“Child poverty has increased and is now above average for the population as a whole,” the OECD stated.

“This is despite mounting evidence that child wellbeing is a key determinant of how well someone will do as an adult — how much they will earn, how healthy they will be, and so on.

“The increase in child poverty deserves more policy attention than it is currently receiving in many countries. More attention is needed to issues of child development to ensure that no child is left behind.”

Presenting the report at a news conference in Berlin, one of the study’s co-authors, Michael Foerster, said child poverty had risen in countries such as Germany, the Czech Republic, Canada and New Zealand.

But child poverty was lower in countries where a large percentage of women worked, Foerster said.

Britain had succeeded in reducing child poverty over the past five years.

In the report, OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria warned of the dangers posed by inequality and the need for governments to tackle it.

“Growing inequality is divisive. It polarises societies, it divides regions within countries, and it carves up the world between rich and poor,” he said.

“Greater income inequality stifles upward mobility between generations, making it harder for talented and hard-working people to get the rewards they deserve. Ignoring increasing inequality is not an option.”

Single-parent households were three times as likely to be poor than the population average, the OECD said.

“And yet OECD countries spend three times more on family policies than they did 20 years ago.”

In developed countries, governments had been taxing more and spending more on social benefits to offset the trend towards more inequality. Without this spending, it said, the rise in inequality would have been even more rapid.

But new ways of tackling this issue needed to be found, Gurria said.

“Trying to patch the gaps in income distribution solely through more social spending is like treating the symptoms instead of the disease,” Gurria said.

“The largest part of the increase in inequality comes from changes in the labour markets. This is where governments must act. Low-skilled workers are having ever-greater problems in finding jobs. Increasing employment is the best way of reducing poverty,” he said.

Copyright 2008 AFP


Rachel’s Democracy & Health News highlights the connections between issues that are often considered separately or not at all.

The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining because those who make the important decisions aren’t the ones who bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the rise of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among workers and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy, intolerance, and racial injustice that allow us to be divided and therefore ruled by the few.

In a democracy, there are no more fundamental questions than, “Who gets to decide?” And, “How DO the few control the many, and what might be done about it?”

Rachel’s Democracy and Health News is published as often as necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject.

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