Around the World
Local News from All Over
Sweden Ranked "Greenest"
Switzerland - The Swiss-based World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the Canadian International Development Research Center's joint-report, "The Well-being of Nations," placed Sweden at the top of 180 countries graded on the basis of wealth, human services, public education, political freedom, peace, conservation and environmental quality. Sweden was followed by Finland, Norway, Iceland and Austria. Germany ranked 13th and Japan 24th. The US came in a distant 27th, behind Belize, Guyana, Uruguay, Surinam, Peru and the Dominican Republic.
The Kids Are Not All Right
Belgium - Researchers at the University of Liége believe that they have solved the mystery of "precocious puberty" that has caused immigrant girls from India and Colombia to start developing breasts at the age of eight and to begin menstruating at 10. It turns out that 75 percent of the children tested had high levels of DDE in their blood. DDE, a derivative of the insecticide DDT, mimics the effect of the sexual hormone estrogen. While DDT has been banned in the US and Europe for decades, it is still used in many developing countries - including India and Colombia.
Another Nuclear Near-Miss
UK - A nuclear disaster was narrowly avoided last September when 24 radioactive fuel rods fell from a crane and crashed onto the concrete floor of the Chapelcross nuclear reactor complex near Annan. Chapelcross, which is run by the state-owned British Nuclear Fuels, hosts four 50-MW reactors and a secret plant that produces tritium for Trident missiles. The local press reported that the accident risked "the death of workers at the plant and the release of a radioactive cloud which would have contaminated the entire region." Nuclear engineer John Large called the accident "a cock-up that was potentially very serious indeed because of the risk of a fire." The fuel rods, which were being moved to a "cooling pond" for storage, had to be bathed in liquid CO2 to keep them from overheating. Despite the danger, the mishap was not publicized. Two months earlier a "grab-release" mechanism failed during another defuelling operation. In 1999, Chappelcross racked up four pollution incidents. In May 1967, the plant suffered a partial meltdown in a reactor fire that sent a radioactive cloud over the countryside.
The Med Goes Whale-Friendly
Italy - Italy, France and Monaco have approved the creation of an 84,000-square km (32,400-square mile) whale sanctuary in the Mediterranean - the first such treaty in the northern hemisphere to include international waters. Creation of the reserve caps a 10-year campaign by the World Wide Fund for Nature and other groups to protect the 2,000 whales and 45,000 striped dolphins that summer in the Mediterranean. Driftnet fishing will be banned from an area twice the size of Switzerland.
WTO Hoaxer Applauded
Finland - Last August, Hank Hardy Unruh took the stage at the "Textiles of the Future" conference in Tampere and railed against Mahatma Gandhi and Abe Lincoln. The 150 delegates, believing the speaker to be an official representative of the World Trade Organization, applauded as Unruh called Gandhi's "self sufficiently" movement a case of "misguided" protectionism and criticized Lincoln's opposition to slavery as "criminal interference with the trade freedom of the South." Unruh concluded that the Civil War was "just a big waste of money" since the advent of modern sweatshops had proved the historic inevitability of slavery. To the cheers of the audience, Unruh ripped off his business suit to reveal a golden leotard adorned with a three-foot-long inflatable phallus. The phallus, Unruh explained, contained a powerful electronic device that could be used "to monitor distant, impoverished workforces and to administer shocks to encourage productivity - assuring that no 'Gandhi-type situation' develop again." Andy Bichlbaum, the ringleader of the Yes Men, the group that staged the hoax, commented: "If a group of Ph.Ds cheers at such crudely crazy things just because it's the WTO saying them, what else can the WTO get away with?" [This and other anti-WTO hoaxes can be viewed on the Yes Men website: www.theyesmen.org.]
Roddick Rocks the Shop
UK - Body Shop Founder Anita Roddick once said that she would sooner "slit her wrists" than become part of corporate Britain. Body Shop stockholders must have been ready to hand Roddick a razor after she strode to the podium at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and declared "The Body Shop is now really a dysfunctional coffin." Roddick complained that her dream of "ethical capitalism" had begun to fade after the company went public. The drive to earn stockholder dividends has killed the company's spirit and blunted its celebrated "political edge." Roddick stated that she was particularly chagrined when she asked "every shop to challenge the World Trade Organization" and found, to her dismay, that "they won't do that."
Carbon Storage in Tree Trunks
UK - With the support of pop stars Stella McCartney, Atomic Kitten, the Pet Shop Boys and other British celebrities, Forest Futures has become, in the words of Green Futures magazine, "a veritable Heineken of the green movement." People are drawn to Forest Futures [www.futureforests.com] by the group's promise to "plant trees to offset your carbon emissions, making you a carbon-neutral citizen or corporation" [Solutions, Winter 2001-2]. But critics warn that simply planting trees won't solve the global warming problem - especially if multinational logging firms continue clearcutting the world's remaining forests. Mike Mason, who used to head a similar campaign called the Carbon Storage Trust, observes that absorbing the UK's carbon emissions would require planting trees over "an area the size of Devon and Cornwall every year." Offsetting the world's CO2 emissions would require planting enough new trees to cover Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. And the solution would only be temporary since, when the trees die, they will release much of the stored carbon back into the atmosphere. Mason now heads a new group called Climate Care [www.co2.org], which is promoting the use of renewable energy.
Tourism's a Draining Experience
Spain - Water tables are falling worldwide and one of the biggest drains is tourism. A tourist visiting Spain soaks up 880 liters (232.5 gallons) a day, more than three times the amount used by a local resident. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the water needed to sustain 100 tourists for 55 days could grow enough rice to feed 100 local villagers for 15 years. The Mediterranean tourist town of Benidorm now has to import water through a 300-mile pipeline from Madrid just to keep its 30,000 swimming pools filled. In the Caribbean, hundreds of thousands of residents watch their taps run dry as water is diverted to supply hotels during the tourist season. An 18-hole golf course built in the tropics requires as much water as a town of 10,000. "Tourists in Africa will be having a shower and will see a local woman with a pot of water on her head and they are not making the connection," says Tricia Barnett, director of Tourism Concern [Stapleton House, 277-281 Holloway Road, London N7 8HN, UK, www.tourismconcern.org.uk]. "Sometimes you'll see a village with a single tap, when each hotel has taps and showers in every room." Tourism Concern is the publisher of Being There, "the world's only travel magazine dedicated to ethical and fair-trade travel."
Renewables Sprout in Brussels
Belgium - The European Parliament has approved a law requiring member nations to double the amount of renewable energy produced in the European Union by 2020. Even the German chemical industry association, VCI, has called on the US to abide by the Kyoto Protocol to cut greenhouse gases. (George Bush rejected the treaty in 2000.) VCI contends that it makes economic sense to adopt more efficient energy technologies.
Gulag for Scientists
Russia - Dr. Yuri Bandazhevsky discovered the hard way that it isn't safe to investigate radiological contamination. Bandazhevsky, the director of the Gomel Medical Institute in Belarus, reported finding high levels of Cesium-137 contamination left over from the 1986 explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear powerplant. After he published studies linking the contamination to heart and nervous-system problems in children, Bandazhevsky was arrested and charged with bribery.
Witnesses who testified against him subsequently claimed that they had been forced to lie. When the judge trying the case refused to convict Bandazhevsky, the case was transferred to a military court, which has no appeals process. According to the Nuclear Information and Resource Service [www.nirs.org], the prosecutor "literally disappeared - no public entities have heard from him since."
On June 18, 2001, despite his ill health, Bandazhevsky was sentenced to eight years in a prison work camp. He is allowed only three annual visits from his wife and is banned from conducting scientific research for five years.
Two days after Bandazhevsky was sentenced, Alexander Nicolaievich Devoino, one of Bandazhevsy's colleagues, was found unconscious outside the door of his home, covered in blood. While working at the Institute Belrad, Devoino had conducted more than 300,000 independent measurements of Cesium-137 contamination in food. The Institute's study of 120,000 children found radiation levels that were eight to 10 times higher than those reported by the Ministry of Health.
Friends claimed that Devoino was the victim of an attempted assassination. They reported that he had been attacked from behind with "American fists" (the local term for "brass knuckles"). Doctors who treated Devoino for severe head injuries described the assault as a "professional" attack. [Follow the story on www.bandazhevsky.da.ru]
Taking a Back Seat to Europe
Sweden - Portland, Oregon is celebrated as an eco-friendly town, with six percent of commuters using mass transit, but this pales to insignificance compared with European cities. In Stockholm, 70 percent of peak hour trips are on public transit. In Berlin, the figure is 40 percent (with a goal of 80 percent) and in Copenhagen, 34 percent of commuters ride bicycles. "European transit development has evolved from a rigorous planning process, precisely what is lacking in most American models," notes Jim Motavalli in his new book, Beyond Gridlock (Sierra Club Books). "In the US, the auto industry and its close friend, the highway lobby, are in the driver's seat."
Don't Bogart that Reef
UK - Coral reefs are found in 101 countries and territories, but they occupy less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the world's ocean territory. According to the United Nations Environment Programme's World Atlas of Coral Reefs [www.unep.org; www.icran.org], these "rainforests of the oceans" comprise only 284,300 square km (110,938 square miles), an area about half the size of France. Coral reefs support an estimated 2 million marine plants and animals, including one-fourth of all marine fish species. "Coral reefs are under assault," says UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer. "They are overfished, bombed and poisoned. They are smothered by sediment, and choked by algae growing on nutrient-rich sewage and fertilizer runoff. They are damaged by irresponsible tourism and being severely stressed by the warming of the world's oceans. Each of these pressures is bad enough in itself, but together, the cocktail is proving lethal."
Bush to Reefs: "Drop Dead"
Scotland - Glasgow University Marine Biologist Rupert Ormand warns that the world's coral reefs cannot survive the onslaught of global warming triggered by the burning of fossil fuels. "It is hard to avoid the conclusion that most coral in most areas will be lost," Ormond told the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The intricate reefs could be reduced to crumbling, bleached ruins by 2050. Even if the US and other greenhouse polluters stopped burning fossil fuels immediately, it would be 50 years before ocean temperatures would cool. By that time, the coral reefs could be dead and the ocean's ecology severely disrupted. Without the protection of the reefs, coastal cities will be more vulnerable to extreme weather events. Ormand offered only one positive note: In a warmer world, coral reefs might be able to re-establish themselves in the cooler waters of the North Atlantic and Mediterranean seas.
Green Bombs Set for Future?
UK - NATO could one day be firing "green bombs'' that will still kill people but won't release toxic chemical byproducts. Munich University Chemistry Professor Thomas Klaptoke claims that a proper mix of explosive ingredients will "produce nothing but hot air." Reuters reports that the technology can be "scaled down for handguns, making them safer for soldiers and police officers who risk lead poisoning from hours of indoor target practice."
Chairman Murdock Strikes a Deal
China - News Corp. media mogul Rupert Murdock has finally attained his long-sought goal of extending his communications empire to China. Murdoch's Star TV has been granted permission to transmit to cable viewers in "a restricted area in Guangdong province." China asked only one thing in return: that Murdoch ensure that a China Central Television channel be widely available in the US. To accommodate China's rulers, Murdoch removed the BBC from the Star network after the BBC broadcast documentaries critical of the Chinese government. Star TV's pitch was doubtless enhanced when Murdoch's son, James, openly criticized the Falun Gong, an outlawed religious movement that has been brutally suppressed by Beijing.
Agent Orange Victims
Vietnam - During the Vietnam War, the Pentagon sprayed 19 million gallons of Agent Orange herbicide over 3.6 million acres of Vietnam (not to mention Laos and Cambodia). The spraying of the dioxin-laced defoliant went on for nine years. Now, 27 years later, one million Vietnamese (including 100,000 children) suffer from chemically induced deformities and disease. A quarter century after the conflict ended, 25 percent of the dioxin released by the spraying is still detectable in soil, fish, animals and human tissues. Diseases linked to Agent Orange include: soft tissue sarcoma, Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, spina bifida, prostate cancer, multiple myeloma, porphyria and diabetes. Last September, after six years of negotiations, the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences reached an agreement to provide aid to Vietnamese health researchers. Noting that people are still being poisoned, University of Texas Researcher Dr. Arnold Schecter told the Raleigh News & Observer, "We need to move quickly. In America, this would be a public-health emergency."
Buy a Frame, Doom an Ape
Indonesia - Powerful syndicates are illegally cutting ramin trees in Kalimantan's Tanjung Puting National Park to feed the global demand for blinds, picture frames and moldings. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Telapak Indonesia report that the trees are shipped through Malaysia and Singapore to mask their illegal origin. The US imported approximately $330 million of stolen rainforest timber in 2000. The forests being destroyed by loggers are also home to 80 percent of the world's surviving orangutans. "Malaysia's role in this business is tantamount to state-sanctioned theft of a neighbor's natural resources," EIA Director Dave Curry declared. "Indonesia's forests can't survive this onslaught any longer. Serious action must be taken to stop illegal logging now."
Oil in a Day's Work
India - The Kerala University womens' college has replaced coke machines with stalls selling ilaneer (coconut water). The move was undertaken to boost local agriculture and give the boot to globalization. Meanwhile, the Express News Service reports, coconuts have come to the aid of auto-rickshaw owners who can no longer afford to run their vehicles on costly 2T oil. Auto-rickshaw owners in Malappuram were the first to discover that their vehicles run farther when coconut oil is added to the fuel tank. Coconut oil costs half as much as 2T oil, provides better engine lubrication and appears to increase mileage.
Fighting Dams with Flashlights
India - The Gujarat government is trying to force villages to abandon farmlands doomed to be flooded by the Narmada dam. When the villagers refused to leave, the government switched off their electricity. The village children who work in the fields all day can only pursue an education at night. With the high cost of kerosene for lanterns, the loss of electric light was devastating. But the kids have been fighting back by building pedal-powered generators for their homes. Fifteen minutes of pedaling produces an hour of light for studying. But it takes money to build the generators. The Rainforest Information Centre, AID Australia and AID/WATCH are raising funds for a revolving loan fund to pay for pedal generators. Flowtrack, an Australian alternative technology firm, is providing LED flashlights that produce more than 30 hours of light on a single charge of a rechargeable 9-volt battery. Donations from the US, UK and Australia are tax-deductible. Contact RIC [PO Box 368 Lismore, NSW 2480, Australia, www.forests.org/ric, firstname.lastname@example.org].
Villagers Save "Mother Forest"
India - By 1987, the Dhani Forest in southwest Orissa State had been nearly destroyed by logging and cattle grazing, but the elders of five local villages along the Bay of Bengal decided to join forces to save the "Mother Forest." More than 1,200 villagers met and agreed to new rules banning woodcutting, grazing and logging. Certain areas were declared "non-harvesting zones" and were patrolled by volunteers. Today much of the dying forest has been reborn, with once-stripped slopes replaced by 250 species of plants and trees. As the forest returned, so did the wildlife - boar, wild buffalo, deer, fox, wolf, porcupine, jackal, parrots, hornbills, pigeons, woodpeckers and doves. The sustainable harvesting of forest herbs and bamboo has given the villagers new financial security. "Remarkably, all this was achieved without any expert help from the state forest authorities," marvels BBC Wildlife. The World Resources Institute [http://www.wri.org] calls the Dhani Forest a "840-hectare classroom." Today, more than 400,000 hectares in Orissa state are being sustainably managed by 10,000 villagers.
Renewable Energy Windfalls
Japan - The power and steel company NKK reports that orders for windpower plants increased by more than 350 percent in 2001, representing a combined output of nearly 49 MW. Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry predicts these nonpolluting plants will be producing 3,000 MW of free electricity by 2010. By mid-2001, NKK had received orders totaling nearly 67 MW of wind power.
Add This to the Bill of Rights
India - Last August, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that the right to food was a legitimate human right under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the right to life. With millions of Indians facing starvation, the government was preparing to dump several million tons of unsold food grains into the sea. The Hindu reported that the court "maintained that it was the primary responsibility of the Central and State Governments to ensure that the food grains overflowing in [government] facilities reached the many starving people" and that "no person should be deprived of food merely because he had no money."
The Not-So-Fertile Crescent
Iraq - After the end of the Gulf War, Iraq's Saddam Hussein called for a massive construction project to destroy the culture of the rebellious Marsh Arab society by draining the marshlands of southern Iraq. This vast engineering project devastated a critical flyway for 40 species of migrating waterfowl. Comparing satellite images from 1992 and 2000, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports that nearly 90 percent of the Mesopotamian marshlands - an area also known as the Fertile Crescent - has vanished in less than a decade. UNEP has called the destruction a "major ecological disaster, comparable to the drying up of the Aral Sea and the deforestation of the Amazon." Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey are being urged to agree to a recovery plan to increase water flow through the heavily dammed Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and to re-flood the drained marshlands.
New Ozone-Eating Chemicals
Nairobi - Last September, as the Antarctic ozone hole over the South Pole expanded to expose more than 17 million square miles (about the size of North America) the UN Environment Programme [www.unep.org] issued some good news and some bad news. The good news was that programs to phase out ozone-damaging chemicals under the Montreal Protocol are on schedule and would allow the ozone layer to recover by 2050. The bad news was the discovery that four new man-made chemicals, which are not covered by the 1987 treaty, could pose a new threat to the ozone shield. The compounds are hexachlorobutadiene (a solvent used to make vinyl chloride), n-propyl bromide (a solvent that is used in pharmaceutical production), 6-bromo-2-methoxyl-napthalene (used to make the fumigant, methyl bromide) and halon-1202 (used in fire extinguishers). UNEP has called for "immediate scientific assessments of these new chemicals" and for a ban on their use if they are shown to have "real ozone-depleting potential."
United Against Privatization
Burkina Faso - Union workers poured into the streets of Ouagadougou last August to protest government plans to privatize 13 public companies. "We've seen the consequences of the first privatizations, which brought about sorrow, misery and death," said union member Issobie Soulama. Since 1991, Burkina Faso has received $16 million from the sale of state companies. The unions counter that more than 4,000 workers have lost their jobs.
Destroying Nature to Pay Debts
Ecuador - The proposed $1.1 billion, 500-mile Oleoducto de Crudos Presados (OCP) oil pipeline will double the number of wells in the Ecuadorian Amazon and impact the Yasuni and Cuyabeno National Parks. Last August, a peaceful sit-in at the OCP office in Quito was broken up by company security guards who destroyed news cameras and assaulted nine women environmentalists. A journalist from El Universo was dragged to a locked room and beaten by OCP employees. Amazon oil drilling is opposed by Acción Ecológica and Oilwatch International, which note that armed rebels bombed Ecuador's pipelines at least five times in 2001. Last May, the existing pipeline ruptured in a landslide, releasing 7,000 barrels of oil - the system's 14th major spill since 1998. Two US firms, Kerr-McGee and Occidental Petroleum, are members of the OCP consortium. The German bank WestLB, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are funding the pipeline. Why is Ecuador willing to risk the survival of the Amazon forest for temporary oil wealth? The World Bank explains that the project is the "cornerstone" of an economic plan aimed at alleviating Ecuador's burgeoning external debt to repay loans to foreign banks.
Another World Is Possible
Brazil - Last August, 279 representatives of civil society organizations from 39 countries met to begin preparations for the second meeting of the World Social Forum and the convergence of the International Encounter of Social Movements in Porto Alegre. The meetings are intended to build the international alliance of social movements as an alternative to neoliberal globalization. One of the first goals of the new world social alliance is to demand that the proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas be put to a vote of the people in the affected countries [www.movimientos.org].
Goldman Winners Freed
Mexico - On November 8, President Vicente Fox released Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera, two campesino leaders tortured and jailed for two years after blockading Boise Cascade logging operations in the forests of the Sierra de Petalán. Fox, who promised to root our corruption in government, had wanted to use the judicial process to release the environmental activists. Instead, Fox decided to act unilaterally after the murder of the campesinos' lawyer, 37-year-old Digna Ochoa. Friends suspect that Ochoa's execution was carried out by death squads in the service of powerful landowners.
Fox Saves the Turtles
Mexico - The Spanish hotel chain Sol Melia's plan to build a posh hotel on Xcacel Beach has been sunk by local activists who complained that the project would make the beach "off-limits" to local residents and disrupt nearby turtle nesting habitat on the pristine Caribbean beach. After a series of public meetings, Mexican authorities ruled that the project was not environmentally sound and pulled Sol Melia's permit. "This is a watershed moment for the consideration of environmental impact in Mexico," opposition leader Araceli Dominguez told the Associated Press. "In past years, such projects were quietly approved by officials - or construction simply started without permits." Referring to the new administration of President Vicente Fox, Dominguez observed that "there has been a change in this country. We can have confidence in our authorities again."
US Smokescreen in China?
With 300 million male and 20 million female smokers, China now accounts for one-third of the world's consumption of tobacco. The World Health Organization estimates that, of the 10 million people worldwide who will die from smoking-related diseases, two million will be Chinese. In some cities, nearly 60 percent of high school boys and 22 percent of girls are addicted to tobacco.
Chinese attorney Tong Lihua wants to sue tobacco companies for selling cigarettes to children, but foreign tobacco companies are not the only ones making a killing off cigarette sales. China's government-run tobacco companies raked in $12.8 billion in nicotine-stained revenue in 2000.
The Chinese Academy of Preventative Medicine reports that most Chinese smokers have no idea that smoking can cause heart and lung disease. China, unlike the US, does not require health warnings on cigarettes. US tobacco companies doing business abroad do not include health warnings on their packages.
A Citizens' Health Research Group (CHRG) [Public Citizen, 1600 20th St., NW, Washington, DC 20009, www.citzen.org] survey of 45 countries found that 42 percent "either had no warning requirement or had only a very general health warning." Labels in developing countries tend to be smaller, harder to read and placed somewhere other than on the front of the pack. Vietnam and Romania do not require health warnings and 14 other developing countries - Argentina, China, Croatia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Senegal, Turkey and Ukraine - lacked meaningful warning labels. Among developed nations, only Israel and Japan do not require health warnings on cigarettes.
The information in the warnings is sometimes minimal. The strongest warnings are found in Norway and South Africa. US warning labels are weaker than labels in France, Canada, Australia and Thailand.
"On moral grounds alone," the CHRG report concluded, "there is no justification for providing one group of consumers with one set of scientific information, while denying similar information... to others."
What You Can Do Write the US Surgeon General and Congress to demand that US tobacco firms be required to attach prominent warning labels to tobacco products sold anywhere in the world.
New Zealand (Aotearoa) - Last September, a crowd of 10,000 marched down the main street of Auckland to Aotea Square in a bitter cold downpour to protest genetic engineering (GE). Outfitted with banners, costumes and hundreds of colorful umbrellas, the marchers called for making New Zealand a GE-Free country. It was the largest protest march in 20 years.
"There was chanting and music ranging from drums, to bagpipes, to DJs with rock music," reports Meriel Watts, director of New Zealand's Soil and Health Association (SHA). "The mood was positive and happy - we will win this struggle for our rights, our food, our environment."
While most activists insisted on no commercial releases of GE products and no field trials, indigenous Maori activists held to an even firmer line, arguing for an end to GE experiments in the labs, since GE research constitutes "tampering with life" and is spiritually and culturally unacceptable.
With an election approaching and the government's coalition partner, the Alliance Party, openly opposed to commercial releases of GE crops, Prime Minister Helen Clarke will find it hard to do anything but place a moratorium on such releases.
Meanwhile, people have registered their farms and homes as "GE Free" and are campaigning to have entire towns and regions declared GE-Free. Film and TV stars such as Sam Neill and Lucy ("Xena the Warrior Princess") Lawless have taken strong public stands against GE. There has been a dramatic increase in support for organic farming and thousands of citizens have joined SHA's call for Aotearoa to be "totally organic" by 2020.
Bush to Restart Nuke Testing?
US - The Bush administration has ordered nuclear engineers at California's Lawrence Livermore Laboratory to devise a process for restarting nuclear tests in as little as three months. Livermore Lab Director Bruce Tarter told the press this analysis was "a non-provocative activity." "So is selling matches, but not to a pyromaniac," replied Citizen's Watch, the newsletter of a Livermore-based watchdog group [www.igc.org/tvc].
US - Sunshine is a good study aid, according to a study by the Heschong Mahone Group (HMG), an energy consulting firm. HMG compared the performance of students in three US school districts and discovered that students in schools filled with natural sunlight scored 9 to 13 percent higher on math and reading tests than students in classes that were artificially lit. HMG also found that stores with skylights averaged sales that were 40 percent higher than their less-enlightened competitors.
Hush Kits Don't Work
US - The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) now requires fitting new commercial aircraft weighing 75,000 pounds or more with "hush-kits" - the common name for sound-deadening equipment - to reduce engine noise during takeoff and landing. The Airports Council International-North America (ACI) [1775 K Street, NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20006, (202) 293-8500] reports that these retrofitted jetliners are not significantly quieter. ACI found that people living around airports couldn't tell the new planes from the old. Because aircraft have operating lives of 20 or more years, it can take decades for airline fleets to catch up to the latest and quietest technology.
The Wall Sheet Urinal
US - Call it a new low in advertising. The Phillips Beverage Co. has placed ads for Revelstoke, their new rye whiskey, directly on the rubber mats that adorn the bottoms of urinals in local pubs. Revelstoke is just one of the intrusive ads targeted on the BadAds website [www.badads.org]. Other BadAds have been found lurking at the bottom of golf holes and inserted as digital advertising in video games. Even taxi drivers have been recruited to don hats with advertisers' logos while delivering promotional speeches to trapped passengers. If you think that "ad creep" has gone too far, BadAds provides links to advertisers' online feedback forms. BadAds co-founder W. Eric Martin explains that he created the website to "fight intrusive advertising at its source."
A Scavenger Hunt for Terrorists!
US - A Mark-15 hydrogen bomb, 100 times more powerful than the weapon dropped on Hiroshima, lies buried in the mud six miles off the Georgia coast. Jettisoned by a damaged B-47 on February 5, 1958, the bomb's exact whereabouts remains unknown. The Air Force claims that the bomb poses no danger, but when a salvage company offered to recover the weapon for $23 million, the Air Force replied that it was too dangerous to be touched. Another hydrogen bomb was lost near Florence, South Carolina in April 1958.
Ban the Bomber
US - At the same time the Bush White House was threatening to abrogate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to build a costly and unproven Missile Defense Shield (MDS) to defend the US from foreign rocket attacks, it was working on a new weapon that would be impervious to the MDS. The Pentagon's "Space Bomber" (based on a concept that Austrian rocket scientist Eugen Sanger first proposed to Adolf Hitler in the 1930s) would travel 15 times the speed of sound and drop bombs from an elevation of 60 miles. At that altitude, the Los Angeles Times observed, the bombs wouldn't even need explosives since they would "crash through concrete bunkers and into underground missile silos like meteorites through speed and weight alone." The sub-orbital bomber would fly too fast and too low to be intercepted by an MDS system and would be able to take off and bomb targets on the other side of the planet within 45 minutes. Deployment of the Space Bomber would permit the US to abandon foreign military bases that are facing growing risks of terrorist attack. The ability to bomb a target anywhere on Earth within minutes could tempt a president to take action without taking time to ponder the long-term consequences. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has stated that the Space Bomber "would be valuable for conducting rapid global strikes." Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) has called the proposal "the single dumbest thing I've heard from this administration."
Banquet or Banditry?
US - Free-trade policies, with their focus on shareholder profits, are promoting the spread of poverty-wage jobs, increasing the rich-poor gap and destroying the ability of developing nations to feed themselves. The Global Banquet, a two-part documentary produced by Maryknoll World Productions [www.maryknoll.org] drives this message home by showing how "a handful of multinational corporations have come to dominate our food system, driving small family farmers... out of existence." In 1996, the UN World Food Summit proclaimed that it was "intolerable that more than 800 million people... do not have enough food to meet their basic nutritional needs." The summit announced plans to cut the number of hungry in half by 2015 by promoting "trade liberalization." By January 2001, the UN's World Food Program reported, the number of people plagued by hunger had grown to 830 million. "Markets are not the first nor the last word in human development," Food First Co-director Anuradha Mittal explains in the film. "Many essentials for human development are provided outside the market, but these are being destroyed and squeezed by the pressures of global competition. When the market dominates social and political outcomes, the rewards of globalization spread unequally." [Food First, 390 60th St., Oakland, CA 94618, (510) 654-4400, www.foodfirst.org]
San Onofre's Motto: "Whoops!"
US - The pipes at California's aging San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station suffer from embrittlement and rust. The electrical wiring is suspect and has failed explosively twice in 2001. On February 6, 2001, an explosion and fire caused one plant's turbine to lose all lubrication and spin to a stop, causing a four-month outage. On June 1, an 80,000-pound crane fell 40 feet from a gantry. On June 6, plant workers spilled 20 gallons of carcinogenic hydrazine. On June 24, a transformer explosion in the switchyard threw glass shards onto a nearby street, railway and highway. As one former San Onofre worker described it, these transformer explosions are like a "tornado in a razor blade factory."
Why We Need the ABM Treaty
US - The US and Russia have more than 2,000 strategic nuclear warheads (with the explosive force of 100,000 Hiroshima bombs) on hair-trigger release. For the Bush administration's proposed Missile Defense Shield to work, the system must be automatically launched by computers. Could an automated system launch an attack by mistake? "There are always false warnings," says the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation [www.wagingpeace.org]. Three times in the past 20 years, the US and the former Soviet Union came within minutes of launching their nuclear missiles. In 1979, a US soldier accidentally activated a training tape that indicated a massive Soviet attack was underway. In 1983, a Soviet satellite mistakenly reported the launch of a US missile. In 1995, Russia almost authorized a missile strike after Norway launched a research rocket to study the northern lights. In each case, there was enough time for human intervention to identify the errors. Under "Star Wars II," the planet's future would be entrusted to a battery of silicon chips. Queen Noor al Hussein of Jordan summed it up well when she remarked: "The sheer folly of trying to defend a nation by destroying all life on the planet must be apparent to anyone capable of rational thought."
DOE's $32 Billion Boondoggle
US - The Department of Energy (DOE) is wasting billions of desperately needed federal dollars building the ill-fated National Ignition Facility (NIF) in Livermore, California. The NIF mega-laser was promoted as a means to keep nuclear weapons engineers employed by toying with "virtual" nuclear testing. NIF's initial cost of $1.1 billion has risen to $3.5 billion and a study by the watchdog group Tri-Valley CARES (TVC) has uncovered another "$1.5 billion in hidden costs." TVC's report, Soaring Cost, Shrinking Performance, was written by Robert Civiak, who served 10 years as the DOE's nuclear programs examiner for the US Office of Management and Budget. Civiak's analysis concludes that the NIF, if completed, will cost $32 billion - six times DOE's original estimate. Even then, TVC notes, the NIF might not work, owing to "several serious technical problems, which DOE has yet to resolve despite years of effort." [The complete report is available from TVC, 2582 Old First St., Livermore, CA 94550, (925) 443-7148, www.igc.org/tvc.]
Kill a Car: Go to Jail
US - Jeffrey "Free" Luers was so concerned about the visible death throes of planet Earth that he decided to do something radical. One dark night in 2000, he slipped into the lot at Romania Chevrolet in Eugene, Oregon, and set fire to a fleet of sport utility vehicles. Luers freely admitted to torching the gas guzzlers, but told the court that he had taken care to ensure that no one would be injured in his SUV-roast. "Forty-thousand species go extinct each year, yet we continue to pollute and exploit the natural world," Luers told the judge. "All I ask is that you believe that my actions... stem from the love I have in my heart." Luers was sentenced to a prison term of 22 years. As the Czech-based CarBusters magazine notes [http://www.carbusters.ecn.cz], "22 years is longer than many murderers and rapists receive." The sentence is being appealed. Meanwhile, "Free" has been placed in solitary confinement after being attacked by other inmates. [Legal Defense Committee, FCLDC, PO Box 50263, Eugene, OR 97404, www.efn.org/~eugpeace/freecritter].
US - It took the map publisher DeLorme two years of work, but the company has made it into the Guinness Book of World Records by building "Eartha," the world's largest rotating globe. The 41-foot-tall miniature Earth (assembled from 792 map sections supported by 6,000 pieces of aluminum) tilts at 23.5 degrees and completes one full rotation every minute. Eartha is housed in a large showcase building at DeLorme's headquarters in Yarmouth, Maine. [Eartha Education Alliance, (207) 846-7000, ext. 2388. www.delorme.com]
DEA Outlaws Hemp Foods
US - On October 9, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) published a notice in the Federal Register that would make it illegal to produce or consume "any food or beverage... or dietary supplement" containing hemp grain. The DEA published the notice as an "interpretive rule" to avoid the requirement for public comment. The DEA argues that hemp grain has always been illegal and poses a threat to "public health and safety." "For the first time in US history, the federal government is outlawing a whole class of food products," says Boulder Hemp Company co-founder Kathleen Chippi. Consumers and hemp food firms have been ordered to destroy all hemp food products by February 6, 2002. The Colorado Hemp Initiative Project [PO Box 729, Nederland, CO 80466, (303) 448-5640, www.levellers.org/cohip] notes that health food experts have hailed hemp as "the most nutritionally complete seed on the planet for human consumption." In addition, "hemp food has been produced and safely consumed in the US since the founding of the country and has been used worldwide for over 10,000 years without any adverse health effects." Hemp paper, fiber and rope is exempt from the ban, but the DEA reportedly hopes to extend the ban to hemp lotions, soaps, shampoos and lip balms.
Run, Henry, Run
Former secretary of state and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger is a wanted man. Courts in Argentina, France and Chile want Kissinger to testify about his role in human rights violations around the world. On May 31, 2001, a French court tried to obtain Kissinger's testimony on Operation Condor (a joint campaign by several military dictatorships to murder dissidents across Latin America). When Kissinger fled France, the story was front page news in Europe but received almost no mention in the US. Kissinger initiated the secret bombing of Cambodia and Laos; supported fascist military coups in Chile, Argentina and Greece; and allegedly gave the "green light" for the Indonesian Army's invasion of East Timor. "As the mountain of irrefutable evidence against him grows, Kissinger should not be able to go anywhere without being confronted by demands that he be brought to justice," claims Tahnee Stair of the International Action Center [39 W. 14th St., No. 206, New York, NY 10011, www.iacenter.org]. Kissinger's alleged crimes were the subject of a scathing investigation by 60 Minutes and a two-part series by Christopher Hitchens in Harper's magazine - now available as a book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger (Verso 2001). When Kissinger addressed the National Press Club (NPC) to promote his book, Does America Need a Foreign Policy?, every written question from the audience asking for comments on these issues was ignored. NPC moderator Richard Koonce later admitted: "There was a definite sensitivity to that. He... preferred to avoid that." Russell Mokhiber, editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter [www.essential.org/monitor] asks: "How can it be ethical to agree secretly with an author beforehand not to ask a certain set of questions?" Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting [FAIR, (212) 633-6700, www.fair.org] puts it more bitingly: "If a former secretary of state receiving a summons about his knowledge of murder, torture and disappearances is not news, then what is?" PBS' Charlie Rose, CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Fox News' Paula Zahn also failed to ask Kissinger about his apparent flight from justice.