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Twenty-eight years ago William Catton, Jr., published Overshoot, subtitled “The ecological basis of revolutionary change.” This is a book you can read more than once and gain new understanding of our predicament each time.

Prepare for the Best

As the globalized economy spirals downward, opportunity opens up for local innovation — not new technical inventions, but new ways of organizing ourselves for living. This essay focuses on Philadelphia.

Link Between Chemical Exposure and Breast Cancer?

A review of 400 scientific studies shows that early-life exposure to common, every-day chemicals makes breast cancer more likely.

U.S. East and West Coasts Could Be Flooded

A new study in Science Magazine finds that global warming could raise ocean levels of North America and the Indian Ocean more than other places, perhaps flooding the U.S. East Coast and parts of California.

Hurdles (Not Financial Ones) Await Electric Grid Update

Energy experts say that simply building a “smart” electric grid is not enough, because that would make the cheap electricity that comes from burning coal available in more parts of the country. That could squeeze out generators that are more expensive but cleaner, like those running on natural gas or sunlight.

Why Sustainable Power Is Unsustainable

Many forms of renewable energy are dependent upon scarce metals like indium and platinum or on farmland, which is needed for food.

Fears Over ‘Scandal’ of Demolition Pollution

Gases released from foam insulation in old buildings are much more damaging than carbon dioxide, pound for pound.

From: Rachel’s Democracy & Health News #998 ……….[This story printer-friendly]
February 12, 2009


[Rachel’s introduction: Twenty-eight years ago William Catton, Jr., published Overshoot, subtitled “The ecological basis of revolutionary change.” This is a book you can read more than once and gain new understanding of our predicament each time.]

By Peter Montague

Why would anyone want to review a book published 28 years ago? Because many people still have not heard of it, much less read it, and so have missed one of the most important books of the 20th century.

On the first page of the book we read, “Today mankind is locked into stealing ravenously from the future. That is what this book is about.”

Actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

To understand what this book is about, you need the definition of “carrying capacity”:

“An environment’s carrying capacity for a given kind of creature (living a given way of life) is the maximum persistently feasible load — just short of the load that would damage that environment’s ability to support life of that kind.” [pg. 4]


“Carrying capacity can be expressed quantitatively as the number of us, living in a given manner, which a given environment can support indefinitely.” [pg. 4]

The main thread of the book is simple enough: for eons, humans lived within the planet’s given carrying capacity and our numbers remained relatively low. At the beginning of the industrial revolution in 1800 there were fewer than one billion humans worldwide. [pg. 18] Then two things happened, both of which increased the Earth’s carrying capacity for Europeans:

“The past four centuries of magnificent progress were made possible by two non-repeatable achievements: (a) discovery of a second hemisphere, and (b) development of ways to exploit the planet’s energy savings deposits, the fossil fuels [coal, oil, natural gas].” [pgs. 5-6]

These two events created what Catton calls “the age of exuberance” — a unique 400-year period in human history when Europeans (and, later, others) learned to see the future as one of limitless expansion. This perception of limitlessness “spawned new beliefs, new human relationships, and new behavior.” [pg. 24]

Personally, I believe the perception of limitlessness created a religion of growth — more widely accepted than any other single religion — that retains its hold on the human mind and spirit today. Believing that limitless expansion could go on forever, humans expanded their numbers rapidly. But by 1980, when Catton wrote Overshoot, it was dawning on some people that limitless expansion is not possible on a finite planet.

Role of Technology

Back to Catton’s story: When the New World hove into view, a new source of wealth became available for the taking (requiring only the extermination of indigenous people by guns and germs). With new wealth, Europeans (and eventually some others) gained more leisure time, which allowed the development of more technical ingenuity. [pg. 25]

Technical development then allowed Europeans to expand Earth’s carrying capacity (for Europeans and their lifestyle) by two basic methods:

First, by the “takeover method.” With technically superior weapons and tools, Europeans displaced the indigenous people who occupied the New World, and then they displaced much of the wildlife living there as well, converting forests to farms, for example. Somewhat later, Europeans displaced Polynesians, Australian Aborigines, and Africans. Today humans are displacing wildlife at an astonishing pace in what is being called the sixth great extinction of species. The takeover method continues today.

Technology allowed humans to accelerate the takeover method of expanding carrying capacity, but it also created a second way, the “drawdown method” in which non-renewable resources were drawn down for the benefit of the present generation.

The most important of these non-renewable resources were the fossil fuels hidden underground. Fossil fuels allowed us to substitute ancient sunlight for human muscle power, giving each of us (in the U.S.) the equivalent of 80 “energy slaves” to do our work for us. [pg. 43] That is the fundamental basis of our present prosperity.

In addition to fossil fuels, we drew down highly-concentrated mineral deposits — iron, copper, chromium, vanadium, titanium, phosphorus, and so on.

With new technologies producing more food and fewer infant deaths, the human population expanded rapidly. Global population doubled to one billion in the 200 years 1650-1850, then doubled again in only 80 years to reach 2 billion by 1930. The third doubling took only 45 years, reaching 4 billion in 1975. [pg. 18] Today global population stands at 6.7 billion and is doubling every 50 years or so. At this rate, population will hit 8 billion by 2030 and 11.5 billion by 2050 (if nothing changes). The world is adding a population the size of the U.S. today (300 million) about every 2.5 years.

The human population could grow at this rapid pace because we seemed able to expand Earth’s carrying capacity by relying on “ghost acreage” or “phantom carrying capacity.” Catton defines “phantom carrying capacity” as “either the illusory or the extremely precarious capacity of an environment to support a given life form or a given way of living. It can be quantitatively expressed as that portion of the population that cannot be permanently supported when temporarily available resources become unavailable.” [pgs. 44-45, emphasis added] By precarious capacity, Catton means things like farming capacity that requires specific conditions, which can be disrupted by drought, flood, swarms of locusts, reduced access to chemical fertilizers or large-scale machinery or bank credit or, in some cases, poorly-paid Mexican labor.

Phantom carrying capacity is created by “ghost acreage” of three kinds:

** fossil acreage from long ago (our fossil fuels are the residues of plant life that grew on fertile land long ago, storing sunlight in chemical form, which nature eventually turned into deposits of coal, oil and natural gas).

** trade acreage, which is productive land in other countries. Much of 18th and 19th century trade consisted of powerful nations (England, Holland, Belgium, France, and others) convincing weaker nations to use their land to produce goods for export to Europe at “reasonable” prices. Trade acreage provided the basis of 19th century colonial empires, and still provides the basis of much “free trade” today. Recently the New York Times carried a front-page story about lithium deposits in Bolivia that Japanese and U.S. car makers are lusting after for lithium-ion batteries for electric cars. Bolivia is resisting, but it seems likely that Japan and the U.S. will eventually end up with Bolivia’s lithium and very few Bolivians will end up with electric cars.

** Fish acreage. By developing technologies to vacuum the oceans, humans have used ocean ecosystems to expand Earth’s carrying capacity for humans.

The use of these three kinds of “phantom carrying capacity” has obscured from us the true nature of our situation: phantom carrying capacity is temporary.

** Fossil acreage is non-renewable, so it can only provide temporary expansion of carrying capacity.

** The same has proven true of much “trade acreage” — we extracted minerals from highly-concentrated deposits and dispersed them into the biosphere. Nature will not renew these deposits, at least not on a time-scale likely to help humans. So these minerals expanded the Earth’s carrying capacity for “modern humans,” but only temporarily.

** Fish acreage could be managed sustainably, but this has generally not been done. Humans are decimating marine fisheries, harvesting fish lower on the food chain each passing year, while acidifying the oceans, which is undermining the base of oceanic food webs. Thus, given the way humans have managed it, fish acreage can provide only temporary expansion of carrying capacity.

So phantom carrying capacity has fooled us into thinking that the Earth can support more of us than, in fact, it will support in the future.

This reflects one of the most important changes brought on by the “age of exuberance” — humans came to believe in the permanence of limitlessness. [pg. 25] Instead of seeing the last 400 years (and most especially the last 200 years) as a special time, created by events that would never be repeated, we began to see limitlessness as the norm. We thought our technology had allowed us to permanently expand the carrying capacity of planet Earth, which is not the case.

Technical advances turned out to be a double-edged sword. For a time, they increased the carrying capacity of the planet for humans. More food could be grown on less land, for example. But technical advances eventually began to impose their own requirements on the planet’s resources — expanding the area needed for waste disposal, for example, thus reducing the carrying capacity of the planet for modern people.

In other words, Catton says, technology initially increased the carrying capacity of the planet for Europeans but eventually the situation reversed and technology itself began to expand the foot print of each industrialized human, thus reducing the carrying capacity of the planet for industrialized humans. [pgs. 31, 59, 154, 245]

As the population of industrialized humans continues to grow, each of our “energy slaves” imposes its own requirements on the global ecosystem, including mining, processing, transport, and waste disposal. As Catton says, it would help us understand our situation better if we renamed ourselves from Homo sapiens to Homo colossus. [pg. 155] With our modern technologies, our individual footprint is colossal, and the more colossal it becomes, the fewer of us the planet can support. Meanwhile human population continues to grow.

Unfortunately, the limits of carrying capacity are not easy to see under the best of circumstances. They are also difficult to see because we have temporarily lifted some of them by our reliance on “phantom carrying capacity” — plus we have been blinded by our belief in the permanence of limitlessness and, as I see it, the religion of growth.

Finally, carrying capacity is not a fixed limit like a concrete wall; carrying capacity can be exceeded, at least for a time. A species can temporarily exceed the carrying capacity available to it — by overexploiting and thus degrading the environment (which reduces the carrying capacity available to future generations). [pgs. 138-139] Thus, exceeding available carrying capacity puts us into direct competition with future generations.

That is what we humans are doing today — living beyond our means, borrowing capacity from the future and using it up. We are depleting the base of available capital, not merely living off the interest. This means future generations will have less capital to work with. Soil that we degrade will not be available to our grandchildren for growing crops. Mineral deposits that we mine and disperse into the environment are no longer available for future manufacture. Acidified oceans will not produce the abundance of fish that our heirs could have otherwise expected.

In sum, by exceeding the carrying capacity of the planet for industrialized people, we have put ourselves into direct competition with future generations: it’s us or them. You will recall that this is what we were told on the first page of the book: “Today mankind is locked into stealing ravenously from the future. That is what this book is about.”

The second important fact about temporarily exceeding the carrying capacity of the planet is that it is temporary. If we humans exceed the human carrying capacity of the Earth, this sets into motion forces that will, in time, bring our numbers back into line with available carrying capacity. [pg. 5]

Exceeding available carrying capacity puts us into a condition that Catton calls “overshoot” (the title of the book), and it leads eventually to a “crash” — meaning a die-off. Denying the likelihood of such a crash will not prevent it from occurring, Catton believes. Instead, “[B]elieving crash can’t happen to us is one reason it will.” [pg. 213]

It seems clear that we are in overshoot — our human numbers, and our lifeways, have exceeded Earth’s carrying capacity. We are drawing down the future, using up resources faster than nature can replenish them. The Global Footprint Network estimates that, for all humans to live at the U.S. standard today would require 6 planet Earths to provide the acreage needed to supply raw materials and places to throw our discards. Therefore the “age of exuberance” — the age in which we developed expectations of a perpetually expansive life — is drawing to a close. Furthermore, the attitudes we developed during that age are obsolete, and are preventing the clear thinking needed now.

Today, 28 years after Catton published Overshoot, the evidence of overshoot is everywhere: global warming; the thinning ozone layer; marine fisheries depleted; oceans acidifying (damaging the base of oceanic food chains); humans crowding out other species, causing the sixth great extinction; tillable soils shrinking as deserts expand; forests disappearing; mountain snow pack and glaciers shrinking, jeopardizing fresh water supplies; global-warming-related multi-year drought afflicting large sections of the U.S., China, India, and Australia; human and wildlife reproduction disrupted by industrial poisons now measurable everywhere on earth; and so on. This list could be readily extended.

Where does that leave us? It leaves us facing the specter of die-off. The question is, how will humans manage that specter? The tendency will be for some to lay blame on others — scapegoats — even though no one group is responsible for our predicament. As Catton says, “the conversion of a marvelous carrying capacity surplus into a competition-aggravating and crash-inflicting deficit was a matter of fate.” [pg. 177] Fate is shaping history, he explains, when “what happens to us was intended by no one and was the summary outcome of innumerable small decisions about other matters by innumerable people.” [pg. 177]

“If, having overshot carrying capacity,” Catton says, “we cannot avoid crash, perhaps with ecological understanding of its real causes we can remain human in circumstances that could otherwise tempt us to turn beastly. Clear knowledge may forestall misplaced resentment, thus enabling us to refrain from inflicting futile and unpardonable suffering upon each other.” [pg. 216]

As Catton wrote in 1980, “The stakes have become phenomenally high: affluence, equity, democracy, humane tolerance, peaceful coexistence between nations, races, sects, sexes, parties, are all in jeopardy.” [pg. 262]

What could we do? Our top priority must be to preserve the biosphere, upon which we humans are entirely dependent. In my opinion, we must use all our science and ingenuity and heart and common sense to try to learn where the crucial limits are and then practice living within them.

Since ecological limits are not always readily discernable (except by exceeding them and observing the damage in the rear-view mirror), we can adopt a precautionary approach and err on the side of caution, not assuming that our risk assessments and our cost-benefit analyses can provide reliable guidance. History shows us that they cannot.

We can stop insisting that material growth and rapid technical innovation are essential for human well-being. Yes, growth is needed in the third world — roads, power plants, water supplies and more — but the overdeveloped world needs to substantially reduce its footprint to make space for that needed growth. Our insistence on growth everywhere and on rapid technical innovation is what will finally destroying the planet as a place suitable for human habitation. Rapid innovation is, by definition, ill-considered innovation.

Back to Catton, who says we could “…insist on strict enforcement of ecosystem preservation policies prescribed by the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and many other pieces of protective legislation going back to the Antiquities Act of 1906 and beyond. (We would do this for the ultimate sake of our own species.) We would also do our best to stretch our remaining supplies of fossil acreage, instead of competing to hasten their consumption. We would painstakingly revise our cultural values to reduce resource appetites. We would foster non-consumptive modes of human enjoyment, and we would reckon our wealth in terms of environmental assets rather than in terms of the rate at which we plunder them.

“In sum, we would commit ourselves to becoming less colossal with all deliberate speed…

“Human self-restraint, practiced both individually and especially collectively, is our indispensable hope,” Catton says. [pg. 263]


“The paramount need of post-exuberant humanity is to remain human in the face of dehumanizing pressures.” [pg. 7]… “To keep from dehumanizing ourselves (and even gravitating toward genocide), we must stor demanding perpetual progress.” [pg. 9, emphasis added]

Finally, “In today’s world, it is imperative that all of us learn the following core principle:

“Human society is inextricably part of a global biotic community, and in that community human dominance has had and is having self- destructive consequences.” [pg. 10]

This is a book you can read more than once and gain new understanding each time. Is William Catton correct? Surely not on every single point he’s not. He wrote 28 years ago and new information has come to light. But is the basic thread of his argument correct? I can’t say it’s not. You can read Overshoot and decide for yourself.


From: City Paper (Philadelphia, Pa.) …………………[This story printer-friendly]
January 28, 2009


[Rachel’s introduction: As the globalized economy spirals downward, opportunity opens up for local innovation — not new technical inventions, but new ways of organizing ourselves for living. This essay focuses on Philadelphia.]

By Paul Glover

The Dark Season closes around Philadelphia. Wolves howl, “Tough times coming!” Young professionals with good jobs study budget cuts, watch stocks flail. Career bureaucrats are laid off; college students wonder who’s hiring. Old-timers remember when Philadelphia staggered through the terrible Depression years without jobs or dollars, while crime and hunger rose. Some districts here never escaped that Depression — they’re still choosing between heating and eating.

As usual, the future will be different. Philadelphia’s responses to global warming and market cooling, high fuel and food prices, health unsurance, mortgages, student debt and war will decide whether our future here becomes vastly better or vastly worse. Whether we’re the Next Great City or Next Great Medieval Village. Imagine Philadelphia with one-tenth the oil and natural gas.

But to hell with tragedy. Let’s quit dreading news. Take the Rocky road. There are Philadelphia solutions for every Philadelphia problem.

Imagine instead that, 20 years from now, Philadelphia’s green economy enables everyone to work a few hours creatively daily, then relax with family and friends to enjoy top-quality local, healthy food. To enjoy clean low-cost warm housing, clean and safe transport, high-quality handcrafted clothes and household goods. To enjoy creating and playing together, growing up and growing old in supportive neighborhoods where everyone is valuable. And to do this while replenishing rather than depleting the planet. Pretty wild, right?

Entirely realistic. Not a pipe dream. And more practical than cynical. The tools, skills and wealth exist.

Mayor Michael Nutter foresees we’ll become the “Greenest City in the United States.” So it’s common-sensible to ask, “What are the tools of such a future?” “What jobs will be created?” “Who has the money?” “Where are the leaders?” “How will Philadelphia look?” “What can we learn from other cities?”

Some of the proposals sketched here can be easily ridiculed, because they disturb comfortable work habits, ancient traditions and sacred hierarchies. Yet they open more doors than are closing. They help us get ready for the green economy, and get there first. Big changes are coming so we might as well enjoy the ride. You have good ideas, too — bring ’em on.

From “Yes We Can” to “Now We Do”

As President Barack Obama says, “Change comes not from the top down, but from the bottom up.” Philadelphia’s chronic miseries suggest that primary dependence on legislators, regulators, police, prisons, bankers and industry won’t save us. They’re essential partners, but the people who will best help us are us. As stocks and dollars decay, most new jobs will be created by neither Wall Street nor government. We and our friends and neighbors will start community enterprises; co- operatives for food, fuel, housing and health; build and install simple green technologies to dramatically cut household costs. Then we can have fun. Music, sex, breakfast. Music, sex, lunch. Music, sex, dinner.

Amid the worst daily news, thousands of Philadelphia organizations and businesses, block captains, landlords, homeowners and tenants are already setting the table for an urban feast. Many know they are part of a movement seldom noted by media; others work alone. Some take big bites of this future; others nibble. Several take large risks; others go slow. Rather than stare at gloom, they fix it. They see a future that works.

From Hope to Nonviolent Revolution

The trumpets and drums of Philadelphia’s green symphony are its boldest groups and businesses. They set the pace for rebuilding the entire city toward balance with nature. While all green actions are celebrated, here are some Philly “Best of Future” nominations. For more details, see greenjobsphilly.org/future.html.

FOOD: Grow it here

Challenges: Like an army camped far from its sources of supply, Philadelphia trucks food from hundreds and thousands of miles away, especially in winter. Costs of harvest, processing and distribution rise, raising prices. Fertile soils were scraped bare. Thousands are hungry here. Relax, though, we’re not riding a spoon to the mouth of doom. An urban food army is marching.

Next Steps: Philadelphia has 40,000 vacant lots. Their best use is now for growing fruits, berries and veggies. Same with many of our 700 abandoned factories: These are prime sites for vertical and roof farms, hydroponics, aquaculture, mushrooms. Plant the parks, too. Greenhouses extend seasons. Land breathes again when abandoned parking lots are depaved. Edible landscaping blooms meals. Edible community centers process neighborhood yields. Fallen leaves stay in neighborhoods to become new soil. Feeding kitchen scraps to worms (vermiculture) builds the food of food.

Local Heroes: Mill Creek Urban Farm, Greensgrow, Weaver’s Way Co-Op Farm, City Harvest, Youth 4 Good, Philadelphia Orchard Project, Neighborhood Gardens Association, Philadelphia Urban Farm Network, Farm to City, edible landscapers, Philadelphia School and Community IPM Partnership, Henry George School, Philadelphia’s greenhouses, Community Supported Agriculture.

World Champions: Beijing grows all its vegetables within 60 miles. TerraCycle manufactures organic soil. Guerrilla Gardeners throw seed bombs.

Sites: cityfarmer.org, urbanagriculture-news.com, spinfarming.com.

Books: Food Not Lawns, The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book, The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping. Keywords: depaving, urban land reform, solar envelope zoning.

Big picture: Philadelphia can become a giant orchard and year- round garden, housing and reliably feeding more people than live here today.

FUEL: Who lights your fire?

Challenges: Within 20 years Philadelphia businesses, homes and agencies that waste energy will close. Philadelphia Gas Works CEO Thomas Knudson recently declared that natural gas is a “transitional fuel” beyond which this city must evolve. The price of coal tripled last year. PECO rates will leap within two years. Electric shut-offs rise. So we’ll rebuild Philadelphia rather than fade.

Next Steps: Establish independent neighborhood utilities with wind, passive solar and micro-geothermal. Employ thousands to build and install these. Employ multitudes more to manufacture and install insulation made with newsprint and fly ash (a residue of coal combustion). We’ll get free winter warmth from 500,000 solar windowbox heaters. District heating and cogeneration reduce fuel need. Municipal utilities reduce grid costs. Tree shade reduces cooling costs: Plant a million.

Local Heroes: Energy Coordinating Agency, Bio-Neighbors Sustainable Homes, Roofscapes, Philadelphia Green, Philly Tree People, Urban Tree Connection, green contractors. Harold Finegan’s gym needs no fossil fuel for heating and cooling.

World Champions: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Rocky Mountain Institute, Sacramento Municipal Utility District. Book: Toolbox for Sustainable City Living: A Do-It Ourselves Guide.

Big picture: Philadelphia can function even better with one- tenth the fossil fuel. Our lives will be more secure.

HOUSING: Stand your ground

Challenges: Absentee ownership and unemployment discourage repair and foster blight. Gentrification, foreclosure and taxes pressure humble homes. More middle class become homeless daily. Whether rowhouse or condo, homes won’t be affordable unless massively insulated. And hey, river wards, both ocean and sewage, are rising.

Next Steps: Renters become homeowners through right-of-first- refusal (landlords offer sale first to renters) and sweat equity credits (renters swap community work for houses). Enforce law requiring absentee owners to have local agents. Shift to Land Value Taxation, which places tax burden on land rather than homes. Equitable development is a legal movement that prevents gentrification through restraints and incentives. Enforce the Community Reinvestment Act, which requires lending in low-income neighborhoods (not sub-prime) and prohibits racial lending. Cease evictions based on dishonest loans. Evict shady lenders. As heating bills rise we’ll move underground, because deep dirt is the best insulation. Not just elites to bunkers (Bill Gates lives inside a hillside), but all of us into pleasant, sunlit ecolonies. Big solar windows catch winter heat. Amend building codes for green innovation.

Local Heroes: Hundreds of local organizations fight for and finance affordable neighborhoods. Women’s Opportunity Resource Center, Women’s Community Revitalization Project, Philadelphia Housing Task Force, Community Land Trust Corp., Project H.O.M.E., People’s Emergency Center, African-American Business & Residents Association, Henry George School, Habitat for Humanity, Green Roof Philadelphia, Ray of Hope Project, churches. Major underground buildings in Philadelphia include Franklin Court Museum, Wilma Theater, Penn Center shops.

World Champions: Germany requires R70 insulation — three times tighter than the typical U.S. home — in new buildings. National Community Reinvestment Coalition, United for a Fair Economy, Earthships, Boston City Life/Vida Urbana, Equitable Development Toolkit, Shelterforce. Book: The Earth-Sheltered House: An Architect’s Sketchbook.

Big picture: Everyone living in Philadelphia in 50 years will be living in earth shelters. Green means we’ll all be comfortable. No behind left chill.

HEALTH CARE: Healthy rebellion

Challenges: Corporate insurers raise costs, limit choices, resist paying. They block reform legislation. Premiums rise beyond the reach of millions. ‘ Taxes rise to cover city employee benefits and indigent care. Thousands of Philadelphians are stuck in jobs they dislike, to keep insurance. Philadelphia’s 140,000 uninsured avoid care and die earlier, or go bankrupt paying more. Medicaid’s waiting list grows. Hospitals close; free clinics lose staff. Toxic air and chemicals, junk food and lack of exercise cause much disease. Grassroots action will heal city and citizens.

Next Steps: While pushing for universal health care (less bureaucracy, lower cost, free choice), gaps can be filled by genuinely nonprofit regional self-financing systems. Fraternal benefit societies and member-owned co-op health plans create independent safety nets and preventive care clinics. Medical centers can barter, accept Philadelphia MediCash.

Local Heroes: Thousands of holistic and allopathic healers, Health Care for All Philadelphia, Catholic Worker Free Clinic, Esperanza Health Center, Congreso de Latinos Unidos, Planned Parenthood, Philadelphia Urban Solutions, Philadelphia Community Acupuncture, Philadelphia FIGHT, Philadelphia Health Care Center, PhilaHealthia, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Shriners Hospital for Children. Dozens more at phillyhealthinfo.org.

World Champions: Mutual Health Organizations, Ugandan Health Cooperative, Ithaca Health Alliance, Dr. Patch Adams, Healthcare-NOW!, Book: Health Democracy.

Big picture: When sickness is big business, free healing requires insurrection.

MONEY: Give yourselves credit

Challenges: Extreme capitalism and extreme socialism trample humanity. Lack of cash and credit kills businesses, jobs and homes. Some folks still have lots of money, but most of us have less. Dollar power dwindles because dollars are backed by less than nothing: rusting industry and $10 trillion debt. So we’ll print real money — neighborhood currencies — backed by real people.

Next Steps: Mutual enterprise systems (neither Wall Street nor Red Square) celebrate the spirit of regional enterprise when it serves community and nature. They applaud innovations — public and private and personal — that meet real needs. Local trading credits based on local land, skills, time and tools refresh the economy. Poverty is lack of networks more than lack of dollars, and Philadelphia has thousands of networks — business, professional, technical, fraternal, neighborhood, church, union, electoral, senior, youth, racial, sexual, athletic, hobby, family, friends. Woven together they’re a powerful base of regional trust, trade and wealth. Take your pick of neighborhood and sector currencies. Cities may not issue them but may accept them for taxes.

Local Heroes: Philadelphia’s 83 credit unions, Valley Green Bank, e3bank, Equal Dollars, barter exchanges and gift economy, Philadelphia Regional and Independent Stock Exchange, Philadelphia Fund for Ecological Living (PhilaFEL).

World Champions: Ithaca HOURS, Berkshares, LETS, Time Banking, National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, Permaculture Credit Union, Grameen Bank microlending, Kiva, Robin Hood Ventures.

Big picture: Dollars control people; local currency connects people.

WATER: Go with the low flow

Challenges: Millions are spent to sanitize polluted river water and pump it to homes. Then we poop into it. Storm drains carry sewage and garbage back to rivers. Sewage treatment does not remove all pharmaceuticals. Old chemical tanks poison groundwater. Sinkholes undermine houses. Bottled-water scam drains local economy. Climate change brings frequent flood and/or drought. But new technologies will protect our liquid assets.

Next Steps: Amend code to permit filtered graywater yard use, and waterless compost toilets. Install watersaving devices. Collect rainwater in rooftop tanks, barrels and swales. Plant xeriscapes. Depave driveways and abandoned parking lots. Start Progressive Street Reclamation, converting least-used streets and alleys to playgrounds and gardens.

Local Heroes: Philadelphia Water Department taxes pavement, rewards depaving, distributes rain barrels. Friends of the Wissahickon installs coopost toilets in the park. These convert turds into clean, sweet-smelling garden soil.

World Champions: Swedes collect urine from apartment houses, store it six months, then use as fertilizer (EcoSanRes). Mexicans collect urine from city hall and schools to fertilize fields (TepozEco). Zimbabweans plant fruit trees atop privy muck (ArborLoo). Book: The Humanure Handbook.

Big picture: Clean water is becoming more valuable than gold. Nobody shits on gold.

TRANSPORT: Be here now

Challenges: Philadelphia’s rail system was ripped out for cars, which clog streets and slow emergency response. Cars smash, kill, maim. They inhale paychecks and taxes, exhale rotten air. They compel war for oil. We’ll become stronger and sexier as pedaling bipeds.

Next Steps: To risk your life for your country, ride a bike. Hop on the bus. Revive street rail with ultralight passenger cars. Restore regional freight routes. Raise transit funds with local gasoline tax. Make pathways for bicycles, rollerblades, skateboards, Segways, scooters and wheelchairs. Restore canals. Zone for mixed use, to reduce travel needs. Live near your work. Employ multitudes making mosaic sidewalks. Convert paving to playgrounds.

Local Heroes: PhillyCarShare, Bike Share Philadelphia, Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, Neighborhood Bike Works and Bike Church, Critical Mass bike rides, bike shops, Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers, Pennsylvania Transit Coalition, PenTrans. Even SEPTA: Trains are clunky and late, but they’re there.

World Champions: Carfree Cities conferences, carfree.com, World Naked Bike Ride, Urban Ecology.

Big picture: The first cities rebuilt for proximity rather than speed will win this race.

JOBS: The full employment economy

Challenges: Philadelphia has lost 400,000 manufacturing jobs in 50 years. Now we import stuff once made here. Today, millions of American jobs depend on servicing bad things rather than good things. Car crashes are 8 percent of the GDP. How many jobs would end if criminals went on strike? What jobs would be lost if people ate healthy fresh food and exercised? What if we were content with what we owned?’ We’ll advance from jobs managing damage to jobs creating a beautiful city worthy of beautiful children.

Next Steps: All skills can rotate greenward. Philadelphia needs at least 100,000 green-collar jobs to rebuild, retrofit, plant, harvest, manufacture and repair the homes and tools of the future. Arts and healing arts are green jobs, too.

Local Heroes: Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia, American Cities Foundation, Penn Future, Ray of Hope Project. Green Jobs Philly, Neighborhood Environmental Action Team, Green Labor Administration, several City Council members.

World Champions: Blue Green Alliance (enviros and unions united), Green for All, Apollo Alliance, D.C. Greenworks, Sustainable South Bronx.

Big picture: We’ll develop new definitions of career, success; build green safety nets.

BUSINESS & INDUSTRY: Luxuriate in the Necessities

Challenges: America has been outstanding at pouring concrete, going fast and throwing things away. But high costs of raw materials, manufacture and trucking are causing consumers to quit consuming for the sake of consumption. Our Next Great Economy will sell more of durable value. We’ll all have enough.

Next Steps: Regional manufacture will resume as transport costs grow. Top niches will be basics: housing, energy, clothing, housewares. Orchards and gardens and food processing. Holistic healing will grow. Likewise, handcrafts. Everything energy-efficient.

Local Heroes: Sustainable Business Network, Buy Local Philly, White Dog Cafe, Provenance Architecturals, Re-Store, flea markets, farmers markets, materials exchanges, repair shops, recycling.

World Champions: Socially Responsible Investing. Magazines: Green Business Journal, Adbusters. Site: storyofstuff.org.

Big picture: Smart money invests to raise all boats.

GOVERNMENT: The land is the law of the land

Challenges: Many bureaucrats trained in obsolete systems resist change, defend their turf. City’s health insurers and pensions drag city down.

Next Steps: Government welcomes grassroots innovators by passing laws facilitating greening of economy and neighborhoods: urban land reform, urban agriculture, sanitation and water codes, building codes. When urgent change is resisted, citizens underthrow the government.

Local Heroes: Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, PWD, streets guys who dig on rainy nights.

World Champions: City of Curitiba, Brazil, encourages experimentation and welcomes mistakes. Magazines: Governing, Planners Network.

Big picture: Good government takes risks, makes change easy. “Make no little plans.” — Daniel Burnham.

PUBLIC SAFETY: Just be sure to let that happen again

Challenges: Whenever people are hungry, cold or fearful due to unemployment, crime rises. Isolated resentment becomes street protest or riot. Racism flares. Taxpayers cannot hire enough police to escape chaos. Public safety is secured by creating safety nets for food, fuel, housing and health care.

Next Steps: Jobs fight crime. Decriminalize marijuana locally. Hire ex-offenders. Neighborhood watch instead of neighborhood watch TV.

Local Heroes: Block captains, Men United for a Better Philadelphia, Ray of Hope Project, City Harvest, People Against Recidivism.

World Champions: Time Dollar Youth Court, Rainbow Police. Book: Defensible Space.

Big picture: People who are respected, loved and secure do not kill.

EDUCATION: Keep it real

Challenges: Curriculums are less relevant to getting jobs or fixing society. Forty-five percent of Philadelphia high-schoolers drop out. Students are graded like eggs.

Next Steps: Respectfully teaching skills of neighborhood management will make learning fun. Teach creativity rather than consumerism.

Local Heroes: Thousands of dedicated teachers, Neighborhood Enterprise Schoolteachers, magnet schools, Waldorf School. Newspaper: The Notebook.

World Champions: Paolo Freire; free university education in Europe.

Big picture: Loving learning is the first lesson.

CULTURE: Life gets highest ratings

Challenges: Media that’s cynical about grassroots power features crime and celebrities.

Next Steps: Empower average people to make music, art, dance, theater. Revive street-corner singing. Bring back vaudeville. Parachute clowns into parks.

Local Heroes: Mural Arts Program, Raices Culturales Latinoamericanas, Spiral Q Puppet Theater, 373 groups listed at philaculture.org. Locally made homecrafts. Philadelphia’s 2,800 murals feature children, heroes, nature.

World Champions: El Sistema (Venezuela) makes barrio kids into maestros.

Big picture: Everyone is a creative genius. Good culture releases that power and beauty.


Whether you’re a student, job seeker, employee or retiree, there are thousands of ways to connect to Philadelphia’s green movement. You’re the one we’ve been waiting for. Check the ever-growing list of local green-jobs Web sites (start with greenjobsphilly.org/future.html). Visit local green businesses and groups. Time to bring those murals to life.


Paul Glover teaches metropolitan ecology and green jobs at Temple University. He is founder of the Philadelphia Orchard Project (POP), Ithaca HOURS local currency, Citizen Planners of Los Angeles and other groups. He is the author of Green Jobs Philly, Health Democracy and Hometown Money. More information at paulglover.org.


From: 10connects.com (Tampa, Fla.) ……………………[This story printer-friendly]
February 5, 2009


[Rachel’s introduction: A review of 400 scientific studies shows that early-life exposure to common, every-day chemicals makes breast cancer more likely.]

By Heather VanNest

St. Petersburg, Florida — Exposure to chemicals in everyday products may increase your breast cancer risk.

A new report suggests chemicals found in everything from pesticides to plastics to personal care products mimic estrogen or alter hormones.

Some controversial chemicals include phthalates and bisphenol A.

Click here to learn how to lower exposure to bisphenol A and phthalates.

Researchers looked at 400 epidemiological and experimental studies.

They say exposure to common chemicals found in some baby & water bottles, canned food liners may be linked to breast cancer later in life.

“The picture of breast cancer causation that emerges is complex,” said Jeanne Rizzo, R.N., president of the Breast Cancer Fund, the organization that presented the articles.

“While there is no single smoking gun, the trends that emerge lead us to stop asking IF there is a link between breast cancer and synthetic chemicals, and to instead ask how to act to reduce our exposure, given the strong and compelling evidence we now have.”

The Breast Cancer Fund is a non-profit, consumer advocacy group that works to identify and eliminate environmental causes of breast cancer.

The scientific review is published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health.

“Early-life exposures to endocrine disruptors like phthalates and BPA — particularly during fetal development and childhood, but also continuing through first childbirth and breastfeeding — are closely linked to later-life breast cancer risk,” said Janet Gray, Ph.D., lead author of the scientific review article. “These compounds have yet to be classified as carcinogens, even though recent studies show an explicit health risk.”

Copyright 2009 10connects.com


From: New Scientist ………………………………..[This story printer-friendly]
February 5, 2009


[Rachel’s introduction: A new study in Science Magazine finds that global warming could raise ocean levels of North America and the Indian Ocean more than other places, perhaps flooding the U.S. East Coast and parts of California.]

By David Robson

Rather than spreading out evenly across all the oceans, water from melted Antarctic ice sheets will gather around North America and the Indian Ocean. That’s bad news for the US East Coast, which could bear the brunt of one of these oceanic bulges.

Many previous models of the rising sea levels due to climate change assumed that water from melted ice sheets and glaciers would simply run into the oceans and fill them uniformly. These models predict a 5- metre rise [16.4 feet] in sea levels if the West Antarctic ice sheet melts, but fail to acknowledge three important factors.

First, Jerry Mitrovica and colleagues from the University of Toronto in Canada considered the gravitational attraction of the Antarctic ice sheets on the surrounding water, which pulls it towards the South Pole. As the ice sheet melts, this bulge of water dissipates into surrounding oceans along with the meltwater. So while the sea level near Antarctica will fall, sea levels away from the South Pole will rise.

Once the ice melts, the release of pressure could also cause the Antarctic continent to rise by 100 metres. And as the weight of the ice pressing down on the continental shelf is released, the rock will spring back, displacing seawater that will also spread across the oceans.

Redistributing this mass of water could even change the axis of the Earth’s spin. The team estimates that the South Pole will shift by 500 metres towards the west of Antarctica, and the North Pole will shift in the opposite direction. Since the spin of the Earth creates bulges of oceanic water in the regions between the equator and the poles, these bulges will also shift slightly with the changing axis.

Washington awash

The upshot is that the North American continent and the Indian Ocean will experience the greatest changes in sea level — adding 1 or 2 metres to the current estimates. Washington DC sits squarely in this area, meaning it could face a 6.3-metre sea level rise in total. California will also be in the target zone.

“Policy-makers must realise that the effects could be greater or smaller in different areas,” says team member Natalya Gomez. The team have so far only considered one ice sheet, so the effects of other ice sheets across the world could also have a similar impact, she says.

However, these models assume that all the West Antarctic sea ice will melt, but Peter Convey from the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge points out this may not necessarily be the case. “It would be dangerously easy to get people to focus on the 6-metre figure, but it just might not happen like that,” he says.

Jonathan Gregory from the University of Reading in the UK, who is part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, however, thinks the work should be helpful once this has been reliably evaluated.

Journal reference: Science: DOI: 10.1126/science.1166510

Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.


From: New York Times ……………………………….[This story printer-friendly]
February 7, 2009


[Rachel’s introduction: Energy experts say that simply building a “smart” electric grid is not enough, because that would make the cheap electricity that comes from burning coal available in more parts of the country. That could squeeze out generators that are more expensive but cleaner, like those running on natural gas or sunlight.]

By Matthew L. Wald

Washington — Environmentalists dream of a bigger and “smarter” electric grid that could move vast amounts of clean electricity from windswept plains and sunny deserts to distant cities.

Such a grid, they argue, could help utilities match demand with supply on the hottest afternoons, allow customers to decide when to run their appliances and decrease the risk of blackouts, like the one that paralyzed much of the East in 2003.

The Obama administration has vowed to make the grid smarter and tougher, allocating $11 billion in grants and loan guarantees to the task in the economic stimulus package passed by the House last week.

But it will take a lot more than money to transform the grid from a form that served well in the last century, when electricity was produced mostly near the point of consumption, and when the imperative was meeting demand, no matter how high it grew.

Opposition to power lines from landowners and neighbors, local officials or environmental groups, especially in rural areas, makes expansion difficult — even when the money for it is available. And some experts argue that in the absence of a broader national effort to encourage cleaner fuels, even the smartest grid will do little to reduce consumption of fuels that contribute to climate change.

In fact, energy experts say that simply building a better grid is not enough, because that would make the cheap electricity that comes from burning coal available in more parts of the country. That could squeeze out generators that are more expensive but cleaner, like those running on natural gas. The solution is to put a price on emissions from dirtier fuels and incorporate that into the price of electricity, or find some other way to limit power generation from coal, these experts say.

The stimulus bill passed by the House includes $6.5 billion in credit to federal agencies for building power lines, presumably in remote areas where renewable energy sources are best placed, and $2 billion in loan guarantees to companies for power lines and renewable energy projects. The bill also includes $4.4 billion for the installation of smart meters — which, administration officials say, in combination with other investments in a smart grid, would cut energy use by 2 percent to 4 percent — and $100 million to train workers to maintain the grid.

About 527,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines stretch across the United States, most installed many decades ago.

Everyone agrees that more lines are needed. But some industry experts argue that the problem of making the grid greener goes well beyond upgrading and expanding the existing power lines. The grid, they say, was set up primarily to draw energy from nearby plants and to provide a steady flow of electricity to customers. It was not intended to incorporate power from remote sources like solar panels and windmills, whose output fluctuates with weather conditions — variability that demands a far more flexible operation.

The experts say that the grid must therefore be designed to moderate demand at times when there is less wind or sun available — for example, by allowing businesses or residential customers to volunteer to let the local utility turn down air-conditioners in office buildings or houses, when hourly prices rise.

An even more significant problem is that utilities increasingly face opposition to expansion and must fight for years for permits.

Jose M. Delgado, president and chief executive of the American Transmission Company, which operates in four Midwestern states, said his firm’s last major project, a line of about 220 miles from Duluth, Minn., to Wausau, Wis., took two years to build but eight years before that to win the permits. The federal Interior Department took a year to approve the line crossing a wild river and required a $5 million contribution to a national park, but the one-year delay raised costs by an additional $12 million, for a total of $440 million, Mr. Delgado said.

Loan guarantees will not help this problem, he said. “We have had wonderful access to the private bond market,” he added.

The International Transmission Company, a Michigan company, is trying to build a 26-mile line that, had it been in place, would have prevented the great Eastern blackout of 2003, said Joseph L. Welch, president and chief executive. The State of Michigan has approved it, but a homeowner is challenging it in court, Mr. Welch said.

“We burn up three years on a line that will take two months to build,” he said.

But, he added, “We absolutely have no problem — underscore, no problem — financing our transmission grid.”

Other companies said the same, although a few said the loan guarantees in the House bill would be helpful.

As power lines lengthen, the number of approvals they require increases, the complications of dividing the costs become greater and the difference among national interests and local interests becomes starker, said Dan W. Reicher, a former assistant secretary of energy who was a member of President Obama’s transition team.

Policy makers have looked at various models to resolve the conflicting interests in power-line disputes. In the 1930s, the federal government assumed sole responsibility for approving natural gas pipelines, and as a result, gas moves freely from wells in the Gulf Coast states to other areas of the country, with much of it used to make electricity. Gas pipelines are somewhat less objectionable, though, because they are buried.

Another model is the one used to build the Interstate Highway System, with the states using their powers of eminent domain in a system that was centrally planned with state input. But highways were more attractive to many states than power lines would be, electricity officials say, especially if the lines are simply crossing a state without adding much local benefit. A third possibility is a national commission that would present a master plan for thousands of miles of new transmission lines that Congress could approve for the whole country in spite of local objections for individual pieces.

Congress tried to solve the problem in 2005 with a law that gave the Energy Department authority to intervene if states did not approve new lines deemed to be in the national interest, but that has not worked well, said Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Energy Committee. It was criticized as an assault on the traditional control by the states of land-use decisions.

The electric industry is at least planning to better integrate different parts of the grid so that if power is needed in Baltimore it can be imported from Chicago. A group of technical experts, mostly from the Midwest, have been meeting for months to map out new lines, in an effort that industry veterans say is unprecedented in its breadth. But the group’s aim is simply a map of what such a system would look like; it will not seek permission for such lines, or try to finance them or actually build them. The group is scheduled to make an announcement next week.

“We’ve got a real political confrontation that’s going to take place,” said Glenn L. English Jr., chief executive of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, who had served as a congressman from Oklahoma for 20 years. “It basically comes down to the question of prioritization. What’s more important to you? Do you truly want to maximize the use of renewable energy?”


From: New Scientist ………………………………..[This story printer-friendly]
February 6, 2009


[Rachel’s introduction: Many forms of renewable energy are dependent upon scarce metals like indium and platinum or on farmland, which is needed for food.]

By Colin Barras

Renewable energy needs to become a lot more renewable — a theme that emerged at the Financial Times Energy Conference in London this week.

Although scientists are agreed that we must cut carbon emissions from transport and electricity generation to prevent the globe’s climate becoming hotter, and more unpredictable, the most advanced “renewable” technologies are too often based upon non-renewable resources, attendees heard.

Supratik Guha of IBM told the conference that sales of silicon solar cells are booming, with 2008 being the first year that the silicon wafers for solar cells outstripped those used for microelectronic devices.

But although silicon is the most abundant element in the Earth’s crust after oxygen, it makes relatively inefficient cells that struggle to compete with electricity generated from fossil fuels. And the most advanced solar-cell technologies rely on much rarer materials than silicon.

Rare metal

The efficiency of solar cells is measured as a percentage of light energy they convert to electricity. Silicon solar cells finally reached 25% in late December. But multi-junction solar cells can achieve efficiencies greater than 40%.

Although touted as the future of solar power, those and most other multiple-junction cells owe their performance to the rare metal indium, which is far from abundant. There are fewer than 10 indium- containing minerals, and none present in significant deposits — in total the metal accounts for a paltry 0.25 parts per million of the Earth’s crust.

Most of the rare and expensive element is used to manufacture LCD screens, an industry that has driven indium prices to $1000 per kilogram in recent years. Estimates that did not factor in an explosion in indium-containing solar panels reckon we have only a 10 year supply of it left.

If power from the Sun is to become a major source of electricity, solar panels would have to cover huge areas, making an alternative to indium essential.

Precious platinum

The dream of the hydrogen economy faces similar challenges, said Paul Adcock of UK firm Intelligent Energy.

A cheap way to generate hydrogen has so far proved elusive. New approaches, such as using bacterial enzymes to “split” water, have a long way to go before they are commercially viable.

So far, fuel cells are still the most effective way to turn the gas into electricity. But these mostly rely on expensive platinum to catalyse the reaction.

The trouble is, platinum makes indium appear super-abundant. It is present in the Earth’s crust at just 0.003 parts per billion and is priced in $ per gram, not per kilogram. Estimates say that, if the 500 million vehicles in use today were fitted with fuel cells, all the world’s platinum would be exhausted within 15 years.

Unfortunately platinum-free fuel cells are still a long way from the test track. A nickel-catalysed fuel cell developed at Wuhan University, China, has a maximum output only around 10% of that a platinum catalyst can offer.

A new approach announced yesterday demonstrates that carbon nanotubes could be more effective, as well as cheaper, than platinum. But again it will be many years before platinum-free fuel cells become a commercial prospect.

Fuel vs food?

Biofuels, like ethanol fermented from maize, are the most infamous examples of the doubtful sustainability of supposedly renewable forms of energy. This time the non-renewable resource at risk is the world’s arable land, Ausilio Bauen of Imperial College London said at the meeting.

Again, there are potential solutions, but none that are ready for market. Biofuels from cellulose or even lignin can be derived from inedible plant material and wood rather than food crops. Algae, grown in outdoor tanks, continues to attract attention, and extracting biofuel from marine algae or seaweed could sidestep land use issues altogether.

Renewable energy technologies remain the great hope for the future, and are guaranteed research funds in the short term. But unless a second generation of sustainable energy ideas based on truly sustainable resources is established, the renewable light could be in danger of dimming.

See related article: Top 7 alternative energies listed.


From: Sunday Herald (Glasgow, Scotland) ……………….[This story printer-friendly]
February 11, 2009


[Rachel’s introduction: Gases released from foam insulation in old buildings are much more damaging than carbon dioxide, pound for pound.]

By Rob Edwards, Environment Editor

Pollution from the demolition of old buildings could blow a gaping hole in government attempts to tackle global warming, experts have warned.

Ministers have been accused of “a scandal and a cover-up” for failing to devise a strategy for dealing with the huge amount of hazardous chemicals contained in old insulation foam.

If the chemicals escape into the environment when buildings are knocked down they act as powerful greenhouse gases to disrupt the climate. They will also eat away at the ozone layer that protects the earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation.

Most insulation foam used in building panels before 2004 contained chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). The use of these compounds is being phased out because they are known to damage the ozone layer.

The relatively small amounts used to cool old fridges are being collected and destroyed. But there are no plans for dealing with the much larger quantities contained in building panels.

A memo last month from the UK government to the European Scrutiny Committee in Westminster revealed that there could be a “bank” of 100,000 tonnes of ozone-depleting substances in UK buildings. Their global warming potential was equivalent, the memo said, to 340 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

This is equal to almost two-thirds of all the carbon dioxide emissions from the whole of the UK in 2007. Emissions from old buildings are expected to rise significantly after 2010 and peak between 2030 and 2040 as increasing numbers of structures are demolished.

Peter Jones, an expert environmental consultant, pointed out that some of the ozone-depleting chemicals had a global warming potential 13,000 times greater than carbon dioxide — and that the amounts contained in building insulation were 18 times higher than in fridges.

“The government has successfully addressed the fridge mountain’ but seems to be doing next to nothing to prevent the release of much larger amounts of the same damaging substances,” he said. “I think this is a scandal and a cover-up.”

He pointed out that ozone-depleting substances were not included in government targets to cut the pollution that is changing the climate.

Building insulation containing the chemicals should be treated as hazardous waste, he said.

But this often didn’t happen, he alleged, because demolition operations were not adequately monitored by the Scottish Environment Protect Agency (Sepa) or other agencies. “No-one is taking responsibility,” he said.

Sepa accepted there was “no concerted effort” to recover ozone- depleting substances from building foam. The agency also agreed that building panels containing such materials should be defined as hazardous waste.

The European Union was proposing that ozone-depleting substances should be removed from building foams “where technically and economically feasible”, said a Sepa spokeswoman. Further consultations should help clarify what this means.

In 2007, Sepa prevented the disposal of insulation panels from the demolition of the Chunghwa Picture Tubes factory on the Eurocentral business park in Lanarkshire.

“Sepa would remind all contractors that waste from any planned demolition activities must be disposed of legally,” stressed the agency’s spokeswoman.

The Scottish government agreed that ozone-depleting substances were not included in its climate change targets. They were controlled instead by the Montreal Protocol, and resulting UK regulations.

The government was working with other agencies “to assess methods for recovery or disposal of materials containing ozone-depleting substances from buildings that are being demolished”, a spokesman said.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in London insisted that it was taking the issue “very seriously”. It had commissioned its own research to assess the potential impacts.

But environmental groups argued that Scotland’s buildings were hiding a “potentially target-busting” source of greenhouse gases.

“If we are to deliver on the Scottish climate change bill we cannot afford to ignore these harmful gases,” said Dr Sam Gardner, from WWF Scotland.


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.

Peter Montague – Tim Montague

Environmental Research Foundation
P.O. Box 160, New Brunswick, N.J. 08903