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Go Back: Home > Earth Island Journal > Issues > Autumn 2001

Ebb and Flow

Cultured Vultures

India – Comparing the achievement to the explosion of India’s first nuclear bomb, scientists at the Guru Ghasidas University announced that they had introduced genetically modified material from a green pigeon into a whitebacked vulture. According to New Indian Express, the bird has some undesirable traits: "It has short legs and walks funny [and]... the plumage has a green tinge." Bangalore Institute researchers quickly followed up by proposing to insert chameleon genes into elephants, to render them "less vulnerable to poaching."

Your Simecs or Your Life

Italy – Giancinto Auriti, a retired law professor, believes that the debt-based economy promoted by Italy’s banks have devalued the lire by 50 percent. Acting on his beliefs, Auriti devised a new currency for his hometown of Guardiagrele. The "Simec" (from the Italian acronym for Econometric Symbol of Inducted Value) has twice the value of the lire. Simecs were an immediate hit. In one month, 2.5 billion Simecs were being used by businesses throughout Guardiagrele. Fearing that the Simec rebellion might threaten Italy’s banking establishment, the government sent 100 guardsmen into the town to seize the new bills. A court subsequently ruled that Auriti had not broken any law and ordered the Simecs returned.

Greens Ready to Uproot Bush

Australia – The first international conference of Green Party politicians drew 800 delegates from 70 countries. The conference swiftly announced plans for a worldwide boycott of US oil companies in response to George W. Bush’s decision to turn his back on the Kyoto treaty on climate change. Under the treaty, the US (the world’s leading air-polluter), would have to reduce its emissions of global warming greenhouse gases. "The world’s got a pretty simple choice here," said Australian Senator Bob Brown. "It’s between [George W.] Bush and our grandchildren."

Toxic Tots and Stauffer’s Spin

US – The American Lung Association reports that 4.3 million US kids suffer from asthma and the National Cancer Institute reports a 65 percent jump in testicular cancer in 15 to 19-year-old boys. The Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) believes one contributing factor is that cash-strapped school districts frequently build new facilities on former dump sites or near chemical plants. In a related story, The Tampa Tribune reports that a "scathing" federal study accused the Stauffer Chemical Company of exposing 2,500 children at Florida’s Gulfside Elementary School to dangerous levels of arsenic, asbestos, beryllium, and radium-244. Responding to the charge that the company spilled toxics into the community, a Stauffer official replied, "There is no health concern." The official’s name? Brian Spiller.

Would You Like Pillow Mints with That?

Switzerland – The Golden Arches are now sprouting up over a chain of European "McDonald’s Hotels," thanks to maverick multimillionaire Urs Hammer, CEO of McDonald’s Swiss operations. The familiar yellow and red color scheme dominates the decor of the first three "McHotels." The beds feature Golden Arches headboards. The 221-room facility near the Zurich airport boasts six conference rooms but, as John Crace of London’s The Guardian observes, "whether businessmen and women reckon that staying in a hotel – whose primary symbol is an annoying oversized clown – will send the right message to their clients, must be open to question." Another downside, Crace notes, is the hotel restaurant: "You guessed it – a McDonald’s."

Save an Ecozombie

US – On Earth Day, Greenwich University ecopsychologist Michael J. Cohen announced the start of "Ecozombie Rehabilitation Year." According to Cohen, "ecozombies" are people who "needlessly suffer because they have become nature-disconnected... and don’t know it." In his book, Reconnecting With Nature, Cohen observes that people who have become "environmentally desensitized... relate irresponsibly to the ecosystem and human life." The cure is simple. Drag the ecozombie outside to experience a sensory reunion with nature. As Cohen notes, "Self-improvement, education and healing have always been more successful when they include contact with nature."

The Towering Infernals

US – There are more than 111 million cellphone users in the US (7.3 million are used in Los Angeles alone) and, over the past five years, the number of cellphone antennas has quadrupled. With more than 95,000 cellphone antennas already installed in LA, the growing demand is making it hard for companies to find enough untapped rooftops. Fearing protests from residents who want to avoid exposure to celltower radiation, companies typically refuse to reveal where their antennas are hidden. Recently, jittery congregations have forced their churches to abandon antennas stashed in steeples and hidden behind crosses. The beleaguered industry recently hit upon a solution that is pure Hollywood. New antennas now are being hidden inside flagpoles, fake boulders and phony trees. Keep your eyes peeled: The next palm tree you see might be an antenna in disguise.

IBF to UNEP: Get Out and Pedal

Belgium – "We must radically rethink our approach to road transportation," UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Klaus Toepfer declared in March. Speaking at the start of the "Clean Energy World Tour 2001," an event that introduced BMW’s new fleet of clean hydrogen-powered vehicles, Toepfer called for increased fuel efficiency and insisted that "hydrogen and biofuels can be part of the solution." The International Bike Fund (IBF) [http://www.ibike.org] says Toepfer’s approach isn’t radical enough. "According to UNEP, sustainable transport equals more cars," IBF stated. "The irony... is that UNEP was an early contributor to sprawl... and its staff operates a large and identifiable fleet of gas-guzzling SUVs."

No Fuel Like an Old Fuel

US – US automakers are being forced to play catch-up to European and Asian carmakers who are starting to mass-produce hybrid and fuel cell-powered vehicles. General Motors intends to introduce a fuel cell-powered Chevrolet S10 pickup within the year and plans to be the first US carmaker to put one million fuel cell powered cars on the road. One small hitch: Unlike other fuel cells, GM’s models won’t be running on clean, plentiful hydrogen fuel – they are being designed to run on... gasoline!

Atlas Coughed

US – The followers of capitalist guru Ayn "Atlas Shrugged" Rand, have taken aim at Earth Day for subverting "industrial society, human progress, and human life." As the Randians see it, "Automobiles power industrial civilization. Without them there would be little commerce, freedom or human life as we know it... Oil is the very lifeblood of modern civilization." This stated, the Randians argue that Texas multinationals have a "moral case" to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Regulating the appetite of Big Oil constitutes "an immoral attack on human life." [Ayn Rand Institute, 4640 Admiralty Way, No. 406, Marina del Rey, CA 90292, (310) 306-9232, http://www.aynrand.org]

   

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