Friday, June 27, 2003

Yet more on the conquest of nature: destruction of Amazon rainforest intensifies

Perhaps only on the BBC -- not Fox, CNN, much less Tweedledum and Tweedledummer --
does one find headline news that "New satellite information from Brazil has
revealed a sharp increase in the rate of destruction of the Amazonian rainforest."

"The information shows the speed of deforestation increased by 40% between
2001 and 2002 to reach its highest rate since 1995. Figures from the National
Institute for Space Research (INPE) show more than 25,000 square kilometres
of forest were cleared in a year - mainly for farming.

Environmentalists have expressed alarm at the development which represents
a sharp reversal of a trend in which destruction had been slowing.

'The rate of deforestation should be falling, instead the opposite is happening,'
said Mario Monzoni, a project co-ordinator for Friends of the Earth in Brazil."

Thursday, June 26, 2003

The conquest of nature (again): Superweeds foil GM crop plans

One widely heralded feature of genetically modified crops is that they
can be designed to be herbicide resistant. Farmers can spray poisons
with impunity, killing the "weeds," while the desired crops survive.
Thus, Monsanto's "Roundup ready" GM plants survive a good spraying of
Roundup, the company's pungent weed killer. Alas, recent research
indicates that the weeds are still on job, evolving in ways that make them
"Roundup ready" too!

A story from The Independent reports the findings of a researcher in the U.S.

"The paper, by Professor Bob Hartzler of the Department of Agronomy at
Iowa State University, reveals that in the past seven years, up to five weed
species have been found with resistance to the herbicide glyphosate, best
known by the Monsanto trade name Roundup. The resistance has come
about not through gene transfer from GM herbicide-tolerant crops, as some
have feared, but through natural evolution.

Glyphosate is a "broad spectrum" herbicide, meaning that, originally, it killed
everything, including crops. GM crops were developed to be tolerant of the
herbicide, so it could be applied throughout the growing season.

Two GM crops proposed for commercial growth in Britain, fodder beet and sugar
beet, are glyphosate-tolerant. But weeds have been found in Australia, Chile,
Malaysia and California and other areas of the US, that glyphosate cannot kill.

.... Pete Riley, Friends of the Earth's GM campaigner, said: "Companies like Monsanto
have spun GM crops and their weedkillers as having less impact on the
environment, but the fact of resistant weeds undoubtedly means more weedkillers,
and means the impact on the environment will be greater.

'These discoveries remove a central plank from the whole argument for GM crops.'"

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Orwellian Newspeak on climate change

A report on the state of the environment that the Environmental Protection Agency
will release soon shows evidence of the Orwellian Newspeak that characterizes so
many Bush administration pronouncements. According to the New York Times, the
original E.P.A. draft of the report's section on global climate began with the words,
"Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment

That seems admirably clear and sensible.

After Bush's people did their linguistic massage, however, the section now reads,
"The complexity of the Earth system and the interconnections among its components
make it a scientific challenge to document change, diagnose its causes, and develop
useful projections of how natural variability and human actions may affect the global
environment in the future."

If one of my students gave me a paper with such babble, I'd recommend an emergency
visit to the campus Writing Center.

Evidently, the EPA report deletes any mention of the likelihood that pollution from
automobiles and industrial production contributes to climate change. Perhaps its
time to demand an immediate ceasefire in the Bushies undeclared war
on the English language.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

San Francisco affirms the precautionary principle

Here is some very good news. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently
adopted "the precautionary principle" as the basis for all of its environmental
management policies. While the principle exists in many forms, the basic idea
is that society takes precautionary action on matters involving risky technology before
there is scientific certainty of cause and effect.

The principle has been affirmed in the Rio Declaration (1992) and the World Charter
for Nature (1982). The step taken by the S.F. supervisors is important because it
seeks to realize the idea within the practical, every day policies employed by a major U.S.

The current issue of Rachel's Environment and Health News has the
full story.

"The long political road to the June 17 vote began when San Francisco mayor
Willie Brown hired Jared Blumenfeld to head the city's Department of the Environment.[1]
Under Blumenfeld's guidance, San Francisco government spent more than 2 years
studying and debating how to integrate the precautionary principle into city- and county-wide policy.
It was Blumenfeld who corraled the political resources to put precaution on the agenda in San Francisco.

But the dream of a city guided by the precautionary principle originated with a breast cancer
activist -- Joan Reinhardt Reiss of the Breast Cancer Fund (San Francisco). At least three years
ago, she phoned Carolyn Raffensperger of the Science and Environmental Health
Network (Ames, Iowa), the leading proponent of precautionary thinking in the U.S. Reiss also
contacted attorney Sanford Lewis (Waverly, Mass.), who drafted preliminary language for an
ordinance. Seeds were planted."

Here is part of the Board of Supervisors declaration.


The following shall constitute the City and County of San Francisco's Precautionary Principle policy.
All officers, boards, commissions, and departments of the City and County shall implement the
Precautionary Principle in conducting the City and County's affairs:

The Precautionary Principle requires a thorough exploration and a careful analysis of a wide range
of alternatives. Using the best available science, the Precautionary Principle requires the selection
of the alternative that presents the least potential threat to human health and the City's natural
systems. Public participation and an open and transparent decision making process are critical
to finding and selecting alternatives.

Where threats of serious or irreversible damage to people or nature exist, lack of full scientific
certainty about cause and effect shall not be viewed as sufficient reason for the City to postpone
measures to prevent the degradation of the environment or protect the health of its citizens. Any
gaps in scientific data uncovered by the examination of alternatives will provide a guidepost for
future research, but will not prevent protective action being taken by the City. As new scientific
data become available, the City will review its decisions and make adjustments when warranted."

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Bush's delusions of empire

Eric Hobsbawm writes of the Bush administration's vision of empire
in light of earlier episodes of imperialism.

"The British empire had a British, not a universal, purpose, although
naturally its propagandists also found more altruistic motives. So the
abolition of the slave trade was used to justify British naval power,
as human rights today are often used to justify US military power. On
the other hand the US, like revolutionary France and revolutionary
Russia, is a great power based on a universalist revolution - and therefore
on the belief that the rest of the world should follow its example, or
even that it should help liberate the rest of the world. Few things are
more dangerous than empires pursuing their own interest in the belief
that they are doing humanity a favour.

The cold war turned the US into the hegemon of the western world.
However, this was as the head of an alliance. In a way, Europe then
recognised the logic of a US world empire, whereas today the US government
is reacting to the fact that the US empire and its goals are no longer
genuinely accepted. In fact the present US policy is more unpopular than
the policy of any other US government has ever been, and probably than
that of any other great power has ever been."

Hobsbawm's piece, orginally published in Le Monde, can be found in
The Guardian version here.

Monday, June 09, 2003

The Open Society and its new enemies

George Soros, financial wizard and philanthropist, has written a fierce
but thoughtful critique of Bush administration policies and those who
fashion them.

“A dominant faction within the Bush administration believes that
international relations are relations of power. Because we are unquestionably
the most powerful, they claim, we have earned the right to impose our will
on the rest of the world.

This position is enshrined in the Bush doctrine that was first enunciated
in the president's speech at West Point in June 2002 and then incorporated
in the National Security Strategy last September.

The Bush doctrine is built on two pillars: First, the United States will do everything
in its power to maintain its unquestioned military supremacy, and second, the
United States arrogates the right to preemptive action. Taken together, these two
pillars support two classes of sovereignty: the sovereignty of the United States,
which takes precedence over international treaties and obligations, and the sovereignty
of all other states, which is subject to the Bush doctrine. This is reminiscent of
George Orwell's "Animal Farm": All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.”

Soros follows the thinking of philosopher Karl R. Popper in advocating the ideals of
an “open society.” Now he sees the open society threatened by the nation that was
once its best hope.

Soros' essay originally appeared in The American Prospect.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

Big Brother -- candid photo

Close-up from hearings of the House Judiciary Committee
on the Patriot Act and other measures enacted after the 9/11 attacks.

Homeland security: Are we there yet?

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Tax "cuts" and the redistribution of wealth

Over the past half century the trend has been to transfer wealth from
lower and middle socio-economic layer to those in the upper strata.
Here are a couple of stories about the redistributive effects of the Bush
tax "cuts," one from Newsday on property tax hikes in New York,
another from The Seattle Times on the child tax credit that excludes
poor families.

"Tax Hikes All Over Map"

"Republicans forced to defend tax cut that skips some poor families"

For general information on how the U.S. increasingly resembles
a banana republic with vast disparities of wealth, the data is here

The interesting question, of course, is how the great mass of people
who are hurt by such policies remain passive as their standard of
living declines and the quality of life in their communities hits the skids.

Is the corporate/state propaganda machine that strong? Yes, for now.

Is the drug of war and flag waving patriotism enough to deflect people
from consulting their self-interest? Evidently.

Will any political leaders step forward who are brave enough to call
attention to this vast, ongoing swindle? We’ll see.