Archive | Television

EnviroGLAS-Walking on Glass

You look through it, drink out of it, watch television with its reflection-glass is everywhere. The uses are almost endless. Glass has existed since the beginning of time, where natural intense heat created by volcanic eruptions, meteors and lightning strikes transformed certain rock into this shiny smooth material. The earliest glass (non-translucent) dates back to around 3000BC. It is thought that Egyptians accidentally came across the craft when calciferous sand found its way into kilns and formed a glass glaze on the ceramics fired inside.

Glass was mainly used for decorative purposes at first, but it has come a long way since then. Every home and office is going to contain glass in one form or another – lamps, televisions and mirrors are all nonfunctional without the material. With so many items made from glass, however, it makes one wonder what happens to these things when they are no longer useful? 7% of household waste is glass and not all of it gets recycled. In 2001, over 2.5 million tonnes of glass was land-filled. This is unfortunate, as glass can be recycled indefinitely – its simple structure is not damaged when reprocessed.

Certain eco-friendly companies have invested in excess glass, taking advantage of its beauty and various functionalities. EnviroGLAS converts glass destined to be land-filled into gorgeous flooring, kitchen slabs and even incorporates the glass into landscapes.

“It was in 2002 that a glut of old glass bottles, mirrors and windows became the source for this chic green twist to the classic flooring concept. Publicity in July about the Texas city of Plano’s overabundance of crushed recycled glass inspired the creative solution of combining the multi-colored crystals with epoxy resin to create recycled glass Terrazzo.” (http://www.enviroglasproducts.com/about.asp)

Walking on floors designed by EnviroGLAS is a mesmerizing process, as bits of mirrors and colorful glass shimmer underneath your feet. There are dozens of colors to choose from and interested buyers can customize the mixture of glass to suit their taste. These color combinations are endless.

One concern is that these glass floors are fragile. This is definitely not the case. The website explains that “EnviroTRAZ recycled glass [and porcelain Terrazzo] will last the lifetime of your building, and most terrazzo floors last at least 40 years without needing refinishing. DFW Airport, Parkland Hospital, Dallas Baptist University and the City of Dallas’ Hensley Field Operations Center are four of the latest North Texas community landmarks to install this environmentally friendly flooring.”

Another benefit is that the seamless quality of the finished product is easy to keep clean. There are no nooks and crannies for mold or mildew to grow while the inert properties of the glass provide excellent air quality.

With maintenance costs almost nonexistent and endless pattern and color options – who wouldn’t want to walk on glass?

Posted in Office, Television, Walking3 Comments

Democracy & Debate

Last week Bill Moyers interviewed FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps, and throughout the interview, Copps decried the consolidation that is occurring in media, and insisted that preserving debate is essential if we are to preserve democracy.

There are a lot of changes today – on the internet there are literally billions of new sources of media – not just extensions of every traditional media source already out there – print media, television and radio, but additional hundreds of millions of websites that are little more than personal diaries, additional millions of video clips on YouTube, and millions more that are venues for commercial endeavors. Where is the genuine media? How do you cut through the noise?

It’s no secret that traditional media is dying. The only place in-depth investigations and reporting ever were feasible were in newspapers. For over a century, newspapers held a special place in media – monopolies only barely encroached upon by radio and television. Supported by local merchants, classified ads, and subscription payments, local newspapers were highly profitable enterprises, and the journalists who they could afford to pay were able to spend months, even years, on investigative quests for truth. Back then, there were tens of thousands of people in the USA and elsewhere whose profession was based on in-depth investigative reporting, and nothing else. Not only was there debate, there was depth.

Those days are gone. Today only a handful of newspapers can still afford to employ such reporting staff. Consolidation of the retail advertisers, proliferation of free print material containing advertiser-sponsored content, the advent of cable TV, and now the internet, has shrunk the advertising base for newspapers at the same time as it has shrunk the audience for newspapers. And nothing has replaced them.

Laws to prevent consolidation of media ownership exist for good reason, but they are in conflict with an even greater imperative – without consolidation, media properties can’t survive financially. So what great debates are not being met? What information is not getting out?

For starters, the conventional wisdom of mainstream environmentalists. Here are three examples:

We should continue the debate as to whether or not anthropogenic CO2 emissions is actually the primary cause of runaway global warming. But if you scan today’s mainstream media, we must reduce CO2 emissions at any cost.

We should debate as to whether or not our energy and water supplies should be deliberately constricted and rationed, in order to reduce our “carbon footprint,” even though energy remains abundant in the world, and the cure may be worse than the disease.

We should debate as to whether or not we need to restrict nearly all development into the “footprint” of existing cities, which causes congestion, nurtures crime, and drives housing prices into the stratosphere. If you scan today’s mainstream media – open space at any cost is an article of faith. So we blithely destroy every suburb in America with ultra high-density “infill.” This “smart growth” is more than simply ridiculous, it is a hideous crime that is destroying our American way of life.

How debate on this unassailed conventional wisdom will ever be joined is the distressing question. Only here? On one, small website, indistinguishable in the noise from just another MySpace page? It is hard to imagine how that might matter or make a difference, but it is equally difficult to suggest the alternative. How will credibility and influence be acquired by new media, and will it be enough to restore debate – which in-turn is necessary to preserve a functioning, healthy democracy?

Posted in Causes, Energy, Journalists, Policy, Law, & Government, Retail, Television1 Comment

Building Green Homes

Green homes can use recycled steel for their beams, and also for a reflective metal rooftop that is lightweight and durable. Green homes can use bales of straw for the walls, a building material that is perfectly natural, abundant and cheap.

Straw House with Metal Roof
House with straw bale walls and a metal roof
Photo: BuildingGreenTV.com

Green homes can rest on a single finished concrete slab, efficently combining floor and foundation into one pour. The slab can be interlaced with tubes that channel solar heated water into the slab, warming it in winter.

In addition to providing solar-heated hot water and photovoltaic electricity, the entire roof can collect water from rain, filtering the runoff and storing it in cisterns.

There is an excellent television show called Building Green (http://www.buildinggreentv.com/) where the host introduces green building contractors and architects whose structures are as green as they come. A recent report on Building Green showed an entire roof covered in turf, with plants growing. What a fantastic way to filter rain, improve indoor energy efficiency, clean the air, and mitigate the urban heat island effect!

A goal of green buildings is to create a zero-impact building. A structure that has no net energy or water consumption, uses no toxic materials, and has no heat signature. According to statistics provided by the U.S. green building council (http://www.usgbc.org/), if the United States had 100% zero-impact buildings, they would save 40% of all national energy use, and 12% of all water use. Put another way, for every 10% gain in green building efficiency, the U.S. reduces energy consumption – from all sources – by 4%.

What is most interesting is perhaps the only remaining constraint on more green homes is the environmentalists themselves, whose activists have choked off suburban sprawl – translation: “affordable homes for you and me” – development on open land. Maybe now that the green home has arrived, environmentalists will step aside, and accept massive developments of low density green homes.

Posted in Buildings, Consumption, Electricity, Energy, Energy Efficiency, Homes & Buildings, Solar, Television5 Comments

The Radical Center

About a year ago, we published a story entitled “The Radical Center,” which reported on a group in New Mexico called the Quivira Coalition who are drawing together ranchers and environmentalists to work together. They are promoting the fact that underdrawing on a regenerating resource – such as forage on rangeland – will cause the sustainable output of that resource to increase each year. That is, by letting ecosystems recover, the amount of sustainable grazing that can eventually be permitted will become greater than the land previously endured when being overgrazed.

This isn’t the only example of a win-win that occurs when rationality prevails. “The Radical Center” is a perfect way to describe this approach, because it takes courage to move away from entrenched extremes and find common ground. Agreement is usually possible, when emotions are removed and competing positions are distilled to their most logical elements.

Philippe Cousteau, grandson of the great oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, and founder of the environmental group Earth Echo International, in a recent television interview said the following: “One of the worst things that ever happened to the environmental movement was that it became associated with leftist ideology.” We couldn’t agree more.

Radical centrist is just another word for moderate, problem solver, consensus builder – it is an ideology unto its own, or perhaps it is an anti-ideology. Whatever it is, the world could use more of it.

A related notion worth mentioning, in our attempt here to question environmentalist stereotypes, is the idea of severability. That is, there is not a monolithic environmentalist “party line.” No matter how fanatically one environmentalist may believe something to be urgently true, another environmentalist may completely disagree, yet both of them are environmentalists.

According to the notion of severability, you can be an environmentalist and question whether or not anthropogenic CO2 is the primary cause of global warming. You can be an environmentalist and believe that measured use of DDT would cause more good than harm in the world. You can be an environmentalist and believe that business and technology are just as responsible for solving environmental challenges as they are for creating them to begin with.

Environmentalism will advance faster in the world if these two factors – centrist approaches, and acceptance of diverse views on environmental issues – become commonplace, and are celebrated instead of fought.

Posted in Policy, Law, & Government, Science, Space, & Technology, Television0 Comments

Chemophobia

Shouldn’t the Dose Make the Poison?
Crop Duster
Are organics always less toxic than synthetics?

Editor’s Note: Why should a contrarian essay entitled “Chemophobia” be broadcast here? Because open debate is essential, and the author has many of his facts straight. The main point, toxicology’s foundation is dose equals poison, and this foundation is often ignored, is valid. Actuarial arguments, framed in actuarial terms, are not callous attempts to “use comparison to deprecate the risk,” they are essential to setting any rational strategy. A deadly poison that you would have to eat three barrels a day of for thirty years to have a 50% elevated risk of some disease, is not hazardous whatsoever if you merely eat three meals a week of it for thirty years.

If the risk of chemicals were put in perspective, Americans would have just gone in and cleaned up the superfund sites, instead of spending hundreds of billions in courtroom fees and salaries for bureaucrats, and done almost nothing. This should make anyone angry.

A distinguished chief scientist once told me his company was developing organic pesticides because that’s where it was easier to get public grants, the approvals were streamlined, and the marketing more effective. He asserted there are many extremely dangerous organic pesticides, that persist more and are far more toxic than available synthetic pesticides. Would DDT be safer and cheaper than current alternatives if it was properly applied? Dose definitely made the poison in the case of DDT, which was applied in doses 100 to 1,000 times higher than could have been effective.

Polemical, indignant, provocative, diametrically opposed points of view are difficult to take, but conventional wisdom should always be challenged. Are we making a mistake to not again use DDT? Wasn’t overuse, not toxicity, the issue with DDT? Isn’t it true that you shouldn’t apply the precautionary principle to everything? Exposing the absurdities that underlie anyone’s self-serving rhetoric helps us to distill what is valid. Are all GMOs really bad? What about vitamen A enriched rice that saved the eyesight of ten million children?

The dose makes the poison, not the label. Are we drowning in carcinogens, or are we just suffering from chemophobia? Read on for hard facts, and you decide. – Ed “Redwood” Ring

Paracelsus, a 16th century alchemist and physician, invented the science of toxicology.

Today, if you are a graduate student in toxicology at major university, you need answer only one question correctly during your final oral exam to get your PhD: The professor asks: what did Paracelsus have to say about potentially toxic chemicals? You answer, “umm, the dose makes the poison??” Huzzah! Here’s your PhD! “The dose makes the poison” means that of the thousands of various chemicals we ingest from breathing and eating, i.e. living, practically all of them are toxic if ingested at a high enough dose. For example, virtually all the various vitamins and minerals we need in order to survive can be toxic if taken in excess. But, excess may mean amounts far higher than one could possibly ingest on a daily basis during your lifetime, no matter how hard you tried.

America's War on Carcinogens Book Cover
American Council on
Science & Health

This brings us to the topic of chemical carcinogens. In 1958, Congress inserted the now infamous Delaney Clause into the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. It prohibited the presence in foods of any synthetic chemical (pesticide, food additive, etc.) in any amount if that chemical had been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals (1). Notice the law said synthetic chemical (more about that later). This law is still in effect (loosely, because even EPA regulators understand that zero is impossible), even though today’s analytical techniques enable chemists to detect any chemical of interest in food or water at levels a billion to a trillion times lower than was possible in 1958. Back then, if you put a gram of DDT into your backyard wading pool and sampled the water, you could detect the DDT using analytical techniques available at that time. Today, that same amount of DDT could be detected in a water sample from Lake Michigan!!

It was in 1959 that we had our first national cancer panic in the U.S. Traces of a synthetic herbicide that was a carcinogen in rodents were detected in cranberries, so nobody ate cranberries that Thanksgiving and the industry suffered mightily. This was OK with me because I never liked cranberries anyway. It was pointed out at the time that one would need to eat 15,000 pounds of cranberries every day of one’s life to match the dose rodents were given, but no one seemed to care. There have been many more such media and special interest group (including scientists who love grant money) inspired scares since then: dioxin everywhere, nitrites in bacon and sausage, alar in apples, cell phones causing brain cancer, etc. etc. When I was a kid in the 50s, sitting too close to those newly available “television sets” was widely believed to be a cancer risk because of exposure to the T.V. tube “rays”. Hey, cancer is scary, and very little was known at that time about the biochemical mechanisms involved in cancer etiology, and even less about how our immune system defends us against it.

So by 1959, the major tenet of toxicology, “the dose makes the poison,” was tossed out the window from 100 stories up, crushed like roadkill on the Jersey Turnpike.

After that, the man who got the carcinogen ball really rolling was the noted U.C. Berkeley chemist Bruce Ames. He invented a quick, easy, and cheap test (strangely, now called the “Ames test”) to determine if any chemical of interest can cause mutations in the DNA of bacteria in vitro. If mutations were observed, then that particular chemical was considered likely to be a carcinogen in lab animals (usually it is, but not always). Dr. Ames became a campaigner for environmental groups wanting to ban various pesticides and herbicides. Today, he has totally changed his position, but that’s another story for next time.

By the mid 1960s, rodents bred to be cancer prone (GMO rats and mice) became commercially available for carcinogen testing (it is very difficult to induce cancer in normal rats and mice).

Here’s how testing a chemical is done, then and now:

1) Do the Ames test on some pesticide, food additive, preservative, or whatever and find it to be mutagenic. This means the bacteria’s DNA in a gene is altered in some way or other.

2) Determine what is called the “maximum tolerated dose” (mtd) of this mutagenic chemical in your rats or mice. The mtd is the amount of the chemical that almost kills the rodents in a single dose. It is also a dose that, depending on the particular chemical, can be thousands to millions of times higher than a human could ever eat in a lifetime. Next, feed the rodents just 10% less than that dose daily for their entire lifetime, usually between one and two years. If you really care if your research might be relevant to reality (and if you have enough grant money because these tests are very expensive), you can also include groups of animals fed only the mtd and rarely even the mtd. Oops, I forgot to mention, if the test chemical is so noxious that the rodents won’t eat their food, use gavage, i.e., inject the chemical into their gut every day. This technique obviously mimics human exposure to pesticides, right?

3) After a year or two, sacrifice the animals and count up all the various tumors they might have in various organs. Most of the rodents in the control group, fed a normal diet, will have various tumors anyway because they have been bred to be cancer prone. So, if the test group of rodents fed some noxious chemical at the highest dose has an average of, say, four tumors per animal in a particular organ, and the control group has an average of only 1 tumor per animal, then the chemical being tested increases cancer incidence by 400% !!. Call the media!

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U.S. Food & Drug
Administration

Next, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will classify this test chemical as a possible human carcinogen, as if rodents were nothing more than miniature humans, and establish acceptable levels of the chemical in foods using a HUGE margin of safety factor based on a very faulty mathematical model. Sometimes a test chemical will induce cancer in male rats but not in females, or visa versa. It doesn’t matter. Even if the test chemical caused cancer at the maximum tolerated dose (mtd), but did NOT result in ANY excess cancer at HALF the mtd (remember, the dose makes the poison?), the chemical will still be classified as a possible human carcinogen subject to government regulation. Remember, maximum tolerated dose is defined as an amount which will almost kill you with ONE exposure! Now, various “consumer safety groups” and professional fear mongers will launch scare attacks in all the “we love to report this kind of stuff” news media. The EPA will decide what levels are acceptable in the air, water, soil, etc., based on politics more than science, and the FDA will decide acceptable levels in foods based on politics and their faulty mathematical model.

Now let’s consider known human carcinogens. There are very few of these, but I will give you an example of how they came to be known, and it’s not because of rodent testing. About 60 years ago, a huge experiment was started in which millions of human volunteers, at their own expense, were exposed to really high daily doses of a suspected carcinogen over a period of at least 25 years. At the end of the test period, their cancer rates were compared to the rates found in a group of millions of people not exposed to that suspected carcinogen. It turns out that the exposure group had lung cancer incidence at least 10-15 times higher than the non-smoking group! Other types of cancers were also significantly increased. Oops, I forgot to say it was cigarette smoke that was the suspected carcinogen! Obviously, such controlled experiments using some chemical cannot be ethically conducted on humans in a laboratory setting. Because rodents go crazy if forced to breathe noxious stuff like cigarette smoke, it has never been shown that rats can get cancer from breathing it. So we have a situation where we know cigarette smoking causes cancer in humans, but we can’t be sure it does so in rats. Is there some irony here?

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The “Junk Science” Website
attacks environmentalist groupthink

There are only a few dozen known human carcinogens, and it takes long term exposure to them to increase cancer risks. Unarguable statistics (NOT rodent testing) have shown that the coal tar chimney sweeps are exposed to daily can cause cancer of the scrotum. If inhaled over a long period, asbestos fibers increase risk of lung cancer and lung disease. Ditto for uranium miners who inhaled lots of silica dust and radon down in the uranium mines in the 1950s and 60s. Mustard gas can cause cancer in doughboys (WW I) and Saddam victims, if the dose doesn’t kill them first. But the absolutely most dangerous, for sure, human carcinogen of all is something that each and every one of us is exposed to almost every day of our lives (unless you live in Seattle anytime or San Francisco in the summer). It’s called sunlight. You want some type of skin cancer? Hang out in the sun as much as possible all your life, don’t use sun block, and look really tanned and beautiful.

But let’s put this stuff in perspective. Asbestos fibers and silica dust need to be inhaled often over a period of many years to increase cancer risk. Asbestos sitting in your attic as a fire retardant insulation is no danger to anyone unless you insist on stirring it up and breathing it every day. Silica is sand, so are you afraid to go to the beach? You don’t inhale sand, but if you’re drilling down in a mine and stir up lots of silica dust and inhale it, you definitely increase lung cancer risk over the years. Even though long time smokers have a risk for lung cancer 10-15 times higher than non-smokers, 85 to 90% of those smokers never get lung cancer, although they may not be able to climb a flight of stairs without panting. And consider sunlight (the ultra violet portion of it). If the EPA could regulate our exposure to UV light using the same criteria it does for all the various pesticides and food preservatives that are carcinogens in rodents, we would all be mandated, like vampires, to stay indoors during daylight hours. We could not go out in daylight without using 200 power sun block, while wearing head to toe clothing and big floppy (government approved) hats! Hawaii would be off limits to humans! I’m not making this up, folks! So the next time you visit the tanning parlor or lie out on the beach, be absolutely sure to avoid eating any snacks containing those evil preservatives!

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Technological Risk
by H.W. Lewis

You are still not convinced that the hundred-fifty or so chemicals found to be carcinogenic in rodents really shouldn’t be all that worrisome for us humans at levels of exposure that are related to real life?

Remember in paragraph two above how Congress mandated, with the Delaney clause (1958), that amounts of synthetic chemicals in foods must be zero if they caused cancer in rodents? It was not known then that virtually all the carcinogens in our environmental are natural, and that many (probably all) of the foods we eat contain thousands of different chemicals, some of which are rodent carcinogens. Apples, bananas, basil, cabbage, citrus fruits, mushrooms, turnips, and so many more foods we eat all contain chemicals that cause cancer at huge lifelong doses in laboratory rodents. Broccoli, for example, is known to be protective against cancer in humans when eaten at realistic levels over your lifetime, probably because it contains high levels of various natural antioxidants. It also contains at least four different possible human carcinogens based on the wonderful rodent testing I described above. If you ate 10 or 20 pounds of broccoli every day of your life, you just might increase your risk of some cancer or other. At an American Chemical Society meeting, where I chaired a Symposium (and gave a great talk myself, of course debunking the whole rat model), I had lunch with two FDA guys. As we ate our carcinogen loaded broccoli, I asked them “what if broccoli were a new food that no one had ever eaten before and you guys had to review it for approval as a food additive?” They admitted that it could not be approved under the present FDA rules for food use! I’m not making this up, as Dave Barry would say.

Plants have evolved defense mechanisms against attack by various bug, animal, and bacteria predators. They include, “natural” toxic chemicals and pesticides. For example, there are many mushrooms you do NOT want to eat. I know what some of you are thinking, because I’ve been through this with various friends and enemies who all refuse to listen to anything that goes against their green religion. You think that these “natural” chemicals in our foods are safe because us humans have developed an immunity, over hundreds of thousands of years, to these natural chemical toxins and carcinogens, but not to the relatively new synthetic food additives, herbicides and pesticides. That argument is unequivocally, without any doubt, completely wrong. “Artificial” food additives (preservatives) are chemically very similar to natural antioxidants and bioflavonoids found in vegetables, and everyone knows these chemicals are good for you. I know this because I am a brilliant biochemist who helped elucidate just how us humans metabolize chemicals that in the 1970s and 80′s we called “xenobiotics”, i.e., chemicals imbibed from eating, drinking, and breathing that are not native to our bodies.

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Junk Science Judo
by Steven J. Milloy

In the 1960s, very little was known about how all those thousands of xenobiotic chemicals we absorb into our bodies after we eat were metabolized. Now we know exactly how it’s done. All the foods we eat are broken down in the digestive tract into constituent chemicals that are then absorbed from the small intestine and dumped into our wondrous liver (of all our organs, only the brain is more wondrous). If our liver thinks we can use these chemicals (e.g., amino acids from proteins, sugars from starches, vitamins, etc.) they go into the bloodstream and travel to whatever part of the body that needs them. The thousands of other chemicals that our liver doesn’t think we need, such as drugs, all the chemicals responsible for the flavor and odors of foods, are subject to enzymatic activity that makes those chemicals ready to be eliminated from the bloodstream through the kidneys into the urine. If you feed a rodent or a human any chemical, “natural” or “artificial”, those chemicals will be metabolized in the same way. You can detect the metabolites in the urine, and that’s that.

We will finish this essay with two examples of carcinogen BS. They will either leave you thinking that I am a right wing extremist moron because you yourself are a left wing extremist moron, or your possession of normal common sense will convince you that I am absolutely right and you were really misinformed all your life about these matters:

Benzo-a-pyrene: This chemical is a potent carcinogen in rats. It is created in meats during roasting and grilling in the very tasty browned exterior of the meat. If you like BBQ and roasted meats of all kinds, you will ingest lots of rat carcinogen BaP over your lifetime (often sitting in the carcinogenic sunlight at an outdoor BBQ without any sunblock lotion). Should you never eat roasted meats ever again? Here is how research I did in the late 1970s helped make me feel the way I do today about all these so called carcinogens in the whole food supply and environment.

If you conduct an experiment in which rats are daily fed a diet containing BaP at levels talked about above, then cancer rates in those rats will be higher than a comparable group of rats fed a normal rat diet. But here’s the rub, unknown to biochemists in the 1960′s, a family of remarkable enzymes in the liver of the rodent, and in this case rat livers and human livers are similar, will chemically alter the BaP so that it is easily excreted from the bloodstream into the urine and out it goes harmlessly. One big problem for the poor lab rats, however, is that there is WAY too much of this altered BaP to be excreted all at once. So it then circulates around in the blood and goes through their liver a second time. It is chemically changed again, some goes out harmlessly, but we still have overload. This means un-excreted stuff goes through the liver a third time, and is chemically changed again, and then a fourth (still harmless) time! None of this would happen in a lifetime of you eating your beloved BBQ at extremely lower levels. Once and out is the story for BaP in our livers in real life exposure! But finally, for the overdosed rat, the fifth time through it’s overtaxed liver, a VERY potent carcinogen is created that can react with DNA and initiate the cancer process by mutating a susceptible gene in some organ or other. It you want to know, it is a diol epoxide (us chemists have to use some jargon sometime to sound intelligent. So, does common sense say anything about “the dose makes the poison”?

Finally, consider dioxin, the poster chemical of environmental contamination. The EPA once called dioxin the most potent carcinogen ever! It gained fame after the Viet Nam war because it was a contaminant in the herbicide “agent orange” widely sprayed for defoliation. Since then, there have been zillions of claims from veterans of that war (which I didn’t like at all, and I even marched against it as a good Berkeley hippie!) that exposure to it caused veterans to have increased risk of various diseases, including cancer. Subsequent studies have found no correlation with dioxin exposure and any disease, but many special interest groups still believe it is total environmental evil. What we didn’t know then, but know now, is that dioxin is a natural, ubiquitous chemical in the environment. Every time wood is burned in your fireplace, every time there is a forest fire, dioxin is created and spreads all over the place. If I specifically look for dioxin in virtually any food we eat, using today’s analytical techniques, I will find some. And it will be there at higher levels than the EPA considers safe. This is a really big “so what”, because the levels the EPA thinks is safe for humans are about a gazillion times lower than the level that might actually be dangerous, except to male rats. Remember, those EPA “safe” levels are based on rodent studies, and include a huge margin of safety.

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Here is real life example: In 1976, a catastrophic explosion occurred in a chemical plant in Seveso, Italy. Literally tons of noxious chemicals, including huge amounts of dioxin, were spewed into the air, only to settle into the soil and people’s bodies. Those workers who didn’t get killed by the explosion, but were heavily doused with dioxin, developed a severe form of acne that lasted for several weeks or months and then healed. That’s it! This is when various environmentalists were saying that a gram of dioxin could kill millions of people! Twenty-five years later, according to the most recent review of cancer mortality among Seveso residents, there have been no significant increases in overall cancers in the general population. In fact, it looks like dioxin protects against breast cancer in women. That is probably just a statistical fluke, but who knows when you are dealing with statistics? Ask Viktor Yushchenko, the new leader of Ukraine, how toxic dioxin is. Before the recent democratic elections in his country, his enemies tried to poison him by giving him a huge dose of dioxin. They believed the “conventional wisdom” of the world’s “green” groups that dioxin is really, really toxic. They could easily have killed him with traditional poisons such as arsenic, cyanide, ricin (a truly potent “natural” poison from castor beans) or whatever. Instead, they gave him a really bad case of acne from which he will recover, not need to worry about any future cancer, and be able to lead his nation on to greatness. There will be a part two of this carcinogen discussion in the future. Just keep visiting Ecoworld!

About the Author: Edward Wheeler, Ph.D, is a very old biochemist, who actually conducted pioneering cancer/nutrition research in the 1970′s and ’80′s for the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. He authored some really, really good research papers in journals such as “Cancer research” and others. So he really, really knows what he’s talking about!!! Wheeler’s earlier essays from the “Monsters in the Closet” series are

Bring Back DDT?, and
GMOs, Salvation or Monsters?

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Posted in Animals, Carcinogens, Causes, Chemicals, Coal, Other, Policy, Law, & Government, Smoking, Television2 Comments

GMOs – Salvation or Monstrosity?

Editor’s Note: Tell us what you really think, Dr. Wheeler! This scathing, one-sided opinion piece, which could air on any number of American right-wing talk radio shows where environmentalists are routinely derided as “whackos,” nonetheless raises interesting points. To develop policies governing production of food, energy, water, based on the “precautionary principle” may sometimes be an unaffordable luxury.

Wheeler can’t refute the premise of anti-GMO activists, that “the bar for risk has been raised to the threshold of possible extinction itself” but he is correct that proving a negative – this GMO will never hurt anything – is impossible and the consequence of unfliching adherence to the precautionary principle dooms any further GMO development, and many other promising new technologies. The challenges GMO innovations help solve; hunger, disease, scarcity, pollution, poverty, are also grave threats to humanity – which is worse?

To say GMOs pose no danger at all is an overstatement. But environmentalism cannot become an absolute authority, the ethic that trumps everything. The sanctity of the earth must be balanced by the needs of humanity. Alarmist, black-and-white arguments against GMOs will ring as hollow in the ears of skeptics as might Wheeler’s testimony here. With GMOs, the truth of their efficacy or danger is situational or unknown. Moreover it is crucial that activists distinguish between the economic issues associated with GMOs; globalization and trends towards corporate consolidation of agriculture, and the health and environmental issues surrounding GMOs. These issues are correlated, but are problematic for completely different reasons. They should be separate debates.

Genetically modified organisms according to Wheeler can in some cases enable more commercial crop diversity. For example, currently there are only a handful of hybrid varieties of corn and soybeans that comprise a significant portion of world output. There is nuance to genetic science. Is it all bad? Probably not. Are there dangers? Of course. What of rice that’s been genetically engineered to contain vitamin A, an innovation that has prevented literally millions of children from going blind? Should we never have done this? Are there always preferable alternatives to genetically modified crops?

Media iconoclast H.L. Mencken, around 1925, wrote that “the whole aim of politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”. Well, the hubbub about GMO is less about the science than it is about politics. A GMO is an organism whose genome has been altered by the techniques of genetic engineering so that its DNA contains one or more genes not normally found there.

Humans have been genetically engineering their food crops for, oh, maybe 10,000 years. Suppose you’re a subsistence farmer in 3000 B.C. and it’s a year of drought. You try to gather enough of your crop to feed your family, and you save the seed from the most robust (drought resistant) plants for next years planting. After some years, you have engineered a drought resistant strain of wheat or millet or whatever. Later we learned to cross-pollinate our food crops with wild cousins or some mutant weed having properties we wanted, such as resistance to insects or to fungus. We’ve done the same with all of our domestic animals. We’ve been messing around with genes FOREVER, even when we had no idea that there was such a thing as a gene! The bottom line is: NOTHING we eat is “natural”!

So what is the difference between traditional selective breeding of crop plants and most modern biotech manipulation? Easy answer: the traditional way is much less exact and lots slower. And because it is less exact, there is a greater chance for some unknown rogue gene to express itself. So why are so many people afraid of biotech crops? The reasons the fear mongers like Greenpeace put forth are that genetic modifications of plants may produce crops containing unknown toxins and allergens (aren’t many of us allergic to lots and lots of “natural pollens,” so what’s a few more— take your antihistamines!). Or perhaps a gene such as the one that makes corn resistant to the corn borer bug will jump into wild cousins and kill bugs (hopefully, mosquitoes). We could even have super frankenweeds appear (as if we don’t have lots of those already, like crabgrass). The fact is that after more than 20 years of research and development; 86% of soy, 46% of corn, and 76% of cotton crops grown in the U.S. are bio-engineered crops. And to quote a recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “The bugs are fine, super weeds are science fiction, and no one is breaking out in hives”.

The answer to my arguments that the anti-GMO people put forth is something they invented that they call the “precautionary principle”. Anti-every new technology “activists such as Jemery Rifkin state it thusly: “because the stakes are so high, we have to weigh even the most dramatic benefits against the prospects of even more destructive consequences. The old Enlightenment science is too primitive to address a world where the bar for risk has been raised to the threshold of possible extinction itself.” So to these folks, scientific evidence doesn’t matter, science itself is irrelevant. If you really don’t believe in science, I suggest you go out on the roof of a tall building and jump off while flapping your arms. Maybe Newton was wrong and you will float around instead of falling to your unanticipated death. Only one’s religious belief that new technologies could kill us all should be considered. By this “principle”, stone-age activists and “tribal interest” groups would have seen to it that the wheel, fire, stone axes, and riding horses would be banned. Later, we would have banned electricity, railroad trains, automobiles, antibiotics (penicillin can kill those allergic to it), indoor plumbing (you could drown), television (in the 50s, it was thought by pre-greenpeace groups that rays from TV tubes could cause cancer), cell phones (more cancer) and chocolate lattes.

In the real world today, people are starving in Africa because government won’t allow them to eat genetically modified corn meal. I guess it’s better to be dead now than to have to worry about turning into a mutant later! It is true that at least in Mexico, some GM corn genes have spread to some wild corn cousins. So now you have some wild corn that is resistant to the corn borer bug; so what? Where is the danger to anything? What if scientists inserted an anti-freeze gene from an Artic flounder into an orange tree that could make the orange tree frost resistant, no polluting smudge pots needed. The orange tree could maybe even grow in Montana where there are no wild cousins to spread any “mutant” genes to? You may be worried about mercury levels in fish, but you know that fish oils are really good for your cardiovascular system. Why not insert a salmon gene into soy so that soybean oil could be rich in fish oils? A great potential health benefit without any danger; unless you think you might grow fins or gills by eating such a GMO. Hey, you could become a much better swimmer!

A recent study (conducted by folks with an anti-GMO agenda, perhaps?) showed that fields of organically grown crops had far, far more bees and butterflies buzzing and fluttering around than herbicide resistant GMO crop fields did. Of course, the American media jumped all over that study with the message that GMO crops kill bees and butterflies and probably every other bug there is (again, hopefully mosquitoes). DUH! If you were a smart bee or butterfly, would you want to hang out in a GMO field of herbicide resistant corn or soy? “Gosh darn, say the bugs, there are no flowering weeds around here thanks to all that Roundup stuff, maybe I should try out that organic farm over there across the road that has lots and lots of flowering weeds for my dining pleasure”! In other words, upon reflection, such a “study” means nothing except that it is trying to advance an anti-GMO political agenda.

In the late 1960″ and early 70′s, after world famous fear monger Paul Ehrlich had predicted that virtually everybody on earth would starve to death by 1980, Norman Borlaugh won a Nobel Peace Prize for developing (by traditional breeding techniques) monocultures of VERY high yielding wheat and rice (compared to what was being grown at the time) that now are grown everywhere in the world. This “green revolution” is the reason India and China now can feed themselves; and which is why there are about 2.5 billion people alive now than there would have been, whether you like it or not. However, these now ubiquitous crops absolutely need a gazillion tons of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and lots and lots of water every crop year. This is the stuff you are all eating now. Because they are essentially monocultures, some mutant strain of wheat rust could come along some year and wipe out most of the world’s wheat crop. This is a legitimate doomsday concern, as opposed to the not at all legitimate concerns about modern GMO. Wouldn’t you rather have some alternative crop options available? Ones that have been engineered to not need a gazillion tons of pesticides and chemical fertilizers??

OK, you still insist that “organic” crops are so very safe and superior, and you don’t care that they are also far more expensive than “regular” crops. Here is only one example of many I could give that show the opposite about “safety”. In England, 6 tested brands of organically grown corn meal were recently recalled after they were found to contain dangerous levels (more than 20 times the safety limit) of fumonisin, a very potent natural carcinogen produced by a fungus. It is interesting (check this out, greenies) that there has been no testing of organically grown corn meal in the U.S. The reason for the high level of fumoniusin is that chewing insects break the outer coating of the corn kernel (even in corn sprayed with conventional pesticides), allowing free entry to mold spores. GMO corn, however, kills the chewing bugs immediately, so that no mold spores get in. The U.S. Agricultural Research Service (for whom I used to work) found that fumonisin levels were about 40 times lower in GMO corn than non-GMO corn sprayed with the usual pesticides.

Finally, are those of you who are against biotech crops also against biotech drugs? If you had cancer, would you refuse treatment? If you are a diabetic out marching against GMO, do you realize that for the past 20 years your daily dose of insulin is produced from a bacteria or yeast genetically modified to produce human insulin? I have not heard any protests about this fact.

Edward Wheeler, Ph.D in chemistry from U.C. Berkeley (long ago during hippie times), is a noted biochemist who has had extensive experience in food chemistry, cancer research, and toxicology. He has authored numerous articles in refereed scientific journals on those subjects, and holds 12 U.S. patents in the areas of reduced calorie foods and lower calorie “natural fats”.

Posted in Animals, Drought, Electricity, Engineering, Fish, Nature & Ecosystems, Other, Policies & Solutions, Science, Space, & Technology, Television2 Comments

Juliette Beck & Global Exchange: An Interview on Free Trade, Capitalism, & Global Integration

Interview of Juliette Beck by Ed “Redwood” Ring

The cold war is over. Capitalism has won. The brave new world of free trade and global integration is upon us. What does this mean? Who benefits? Who loses?

Technological advances and globalization have given rise to new ethical issues of staggering complexity. How can democracy be extended to international trade? Do multinational corporations currently exercise inordinate and undemocratic influence to manage international trade? Is the World Trade Organization just a puppet of multi-national corporations? At what point do the answers to these questions become obvious, and are they? If so, at what point is the time-honored American tradition of non-violent civil disobedience an acceptable option?

The issue of globalization moved to the forefront of international news coverage in 1999, when in Seattle nearly 50,000 protesters succeeded in literally bringing to a standstill the first meeting of the World Trade Organization ever to be held on U.S. soil. The sheer number of the protesters, along with their stunning success in paralysing a city and captivating television news audiences around the world, did not happen by accident. Long prior to these demonstrations, preparations were afoot throughout the world, particularly on the west coast, and perhaps more than anywhere, from a coalition of activist organizations based in San Francisco.

Global Exchange is headquartered on the third floor of an older building in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District. Since 1988 this non-profit has worked to get their message of economic, social, political and environmental justice out to citizens around the world. They have engaged in traditional public education campaigns as well as actions that are somewhat more, shall we say, creative. To get ready for demonstrations against the World Trade Organization’s planned meeting in 11-99 in Seattle, Global Exchange hired a young University of California, Berkeley graduate named Juliette Beck. For over a year she worked with a disparate coalition of activist groups, and she has been annointed, possibly inaccurately, as one of the principal architects of the protests.

For her efforts Juliette Beck has become, at the ripe old age of 27, an international celebrity. She has had a feature about her in the New Yorker as well as the London Times, she has been interviewed by Charlie Rose and others, and when it came time for EcoWorld find an authority on the issue of globalization, we were fortunate enough to schedule an interview. When we called Beck she commented that December would probably be a good time for us to meet, since she didn’t plan on shutting down any international organizations that month.

We met with Juliette Beck on a mild, cloudy afternoon where the sun didn’t break through until it was setting on the horizon. Their office suite was broken up into several large rooms that were all warm and comfortable, with a multicultural group of mostly young people who seemed to be working hard and enjoying themselves. All the furniture was mismatched and all the workspaces were highly individualized. Posters with Global Exchange campaign messages hung on the walls along with art. Mobiles hung from the ceilings. The place quietly hummed with activity. Just outside the windows, swarms of pigeons wheeled through the air to settle on the nearby powerlines or onto the roof of the Raley’s market across the street.

Juliette Beck is a confident, engaging, knowledgeable and passionate advocate of the issues she represents. Like many we have met in the environmental movement, she appeared to have the serenity of someone who derives immense personal fulfillment from their work. Here is what she said:

How did you begin working at Global Exchange?

I came in to help organize the World Trade Organization campaign because for the first time the Geneva based World Trade Organization was meeting in Seattle in the U.S. and President Clinton was hoping to use this as an opportunity to launch a “millenium round” of trade talks. The backlash against corporate managed trade has been growing both in the U.S. and worldwide.

What were you doing before you came here?

At UC Berkeley I studied an interdisciplinary approach to the global problems and it broadened my eyes to the way that institutions based in the U.S. have major impact in the lives of people all around the world. It didn’t seem like it was very responsible the way that the World Bank and multinational institutions were carrying out their policies was very much in head-on collision with the limits of the natural ecosystems. It was obvious that this was going to become one of the pressing issues of my day and age and my lifetime. Unsustainable usage of resources are causing extinction rates that might not have occurred since meteorites hit the earth. These are the issues that started to preoccupy me back at UC Berkeley.

I didn’t know what to do till I discovered a group called “50 Years is Enough” which was formed on the fifty-year anniversary of the World Bank and the IMF about 5-6 years ago. They are part of a network along with Global Exchange and The Rainforest Action Network among the founding organizations, they are headquartered in Washington DC but I worked with the Bay Area Chapter. One of our first campaigns was about sweatshops. Clothes are a great window into the global economy, getting consumers to think about who makes their clothes. Are people who make their clothes being treated fairly? Some of the most heinous human rights abuse occurs in factories where our clothes are coming from.

How do human rights and environmental issues connect?

Even though my heart and passion is about preserving the environment for future generations, I realize you have to be able to speak to people and get people to change their practices and take action in order to stop the disruption that’s happening on a global scale. It’s important to be educating U.S. consumers on how to change the way that the people are normally taught to get their needs met. We are trying to promote a vision of global justice. Its not just about donating money to poor people in the global south to get life-saving medicines or a new well for their community, but also to promote awareness here in the U.S..

We incorporate both the environment and human rights into an alternative economic model that contrasts with the corporate model in our fair trade coffee campaign. This grew out of an effort in Europe to bring together producers, small farmers, who grow coffee in the tropical areas in the world with the go-between people who distribute and the purchasers and the consumers. When you bring all those groups together to sit around the table and say “what would be a fair price” you make sure that built into the trading process is a fair price so that the bottom line isn’t just making money for the middleman but guaranteeing a fair price for the people that grow the coffee.

Small farmers have to be organized into a cooperative that’s supporting one another in their community. They will have a guaranteed fixed price so that regardless of how the people on Wall Street are betting on the price they will be paid a fair amount. They will get credit, which is very important because the coffee producing families only get one payment per year.

What about the coffee plants that have now been developed that tolerate full sun instead of growing as understory crops?

It’s been a disaster. Coffee is an understory crop and these new strains have contributed to the destruction of the rainforest. They take these products that are developed in laboratories and plots in the U.S. by Navartis and Monsanto and other corporations and they are engineered to grow faster and have a higher yield but they aren’t sustainable, they require higher chemical inputs. These new high yield varieties are sold and marketed to developing countries, and the World Bank gives loans to buy these products and its been disastrous.

Do you think all genetically engineered food is bad?

I’ve been very alarmed at some of the studies that have been coming out showing that corn pollen from genetically engineered corn made the larvae of Monarchs unable to reproduce.

What about genetically engineered rice that contains vitamin A? Wouldn’t planting this rice prevent severe malnutrition, especially in Southeast Asia?

Its very tempting to look for a quick fix, but any nutritionist will tell you that the key to good nutrition is a balanced diet. There’s a lot of ethical problems with genetic engineering. There is a new term called bio-piracy. A Texas based company has shifted around a few strands of DNA and they are claiming ownership of a strain of rice that has existed in India for thousands of years. Chiapas has declared itself a bio-piracy free zone.

Can these organizations be reformed?

Yes, for example, they’ve got literacy projects in Turkey. I was emailed by someone on the ground there who said look at all the things we’re doing to improve literacy. The changes that have been made have been in response to popular uprisings by local communities who say they want more openness, transparency, participation by local communities; the World Bank has made small progress on all of these things. But countries now have huge foreign debts that they have to make interest payments on, and how do you generate hard currency? You turn your forests into cash and you turn your fisheries into cash.

Centralized development projects have turned these countries into exporters of one or two commodities, while at the same time the global commodity prices in all these raw materials have just plummeted.

The current World Bank ideology is growth uber alles, free market expansion, do what’s good for the multi-national corporation and somehow that’s supposed to benefit these countries, thou shalt attract foreign investors. We believe there should definitely be international institutions that should be involved in setting rules for the global economy but they have to incorporate different world views. The one that is being cooked up now at the University of Chicago and the London School is a very limited economic paradigm.

So to date they really haven’t made any significant progress towards reform?

If you’re a country that is already cash strapped you have to make very inhumane decisions, sometimes a country is paying five times as much for debt service as they are for health care. Countries in Africa have been forced to reject loans to deal with the AIDS epidemic because of the payments. The World Bank is reacting to mass protests in these countries to accepting new loans. This has been an extraordinary year for raising the issues we’re talking about, the World Bank is getting pressure from the outside, from inside Congress, from the right, from the left, from all spectrums.

Who is the anti-globalist coalition? Who was in Seattle? Who were they?

The call that went out for Seattle was that this trade affects everyone on the planet, we’re all affected, we should all be there and be represented. Form a group of people, a group of 15-20 people and create your message. Create your single sound bite that you want to deliver about what’s wrong with the WTO, the issue that your particularly passionate about. And people came with the most amazing creativity, I can’t even begin to fathom, what people came to express. It resulted in a very good picture of the widespread impacts of world trade, everything from people dressed up in turtle costumes to indigenous rights groups to people from faith-based organizations who formed prayer circles. There were hip-hop youth that came and did rap in the streets to demonstrate against the corporatization of culture.

Is this a culture war as much as an economic war?

There was an affinity group there that had a beautiful banner that said “life is not a commodity” and for me that pretty much summed up what was happening with the WTO who is really trumping other aspects of life, their spirituality, their education; there’s lots of spheres of our life that should not be commodified and turned into a vehicle for making profit and yet that’s exactly what the WTO is facilitating.

The general consensus in the mainstream of top political circles is that capitalism has won. The ideological struggle between capitalism and communism is over and capitalism has won. Whether or not that is true, do you think there is subtlety to the idea of capitalism? Are their kinds of capitalism that can exist in a way that is positive for these other values?

We all have our ideals about how we’d like to live but I’m more concerned about the present and the fact that we live in a capitalist and highly globalized society and how are we going to transition this system. Yes, capitalism has won, the cold war has ended, and there are very few examples of socialism left. How do we transition this to a more people-centered and environmentally centered system?

How many people were in Seattle?

There were 50,000 people, the labor unions alone mobilized 23,000 people. In SF there is the International Longshoreman’s Warehouse Union. I went and spoke at labor union halls for the ILWU everywhere from the Port of Stockton to San Francisco to San Diego to Los Angeles. They shut down the whole western coast during the WTO meetings in Seattle; they had a work stoppage from Vancouver to San Diego.

What’s the biggest problem the labor unions have with the WTO?

They’ve been really heavily hit by the de-industrialization of the United States. There’s such a huge trade surplus now, the trade is coming in and it’s not going out and the workers are paid by what they lift.

What were you doing during the Seattle demonstrations?

My main concern was how the corporate media was going to frame what was happening. I wanted to make sure that there we had really good spokespeople and that our communications were as professional as possible and that our press releases were going out in a timely way. We had a desk inside of the independent media center covering the WTO meetings; I worked with the Direct Action Network media team. We also had a number of meetings to organize the action beforehand – the action to shut the meetings down – of course when the people started getting arrested we had ongoing vigils and the response to the martial law that went out.

How did you coordinate your efforts?

We were a pretty high-tech group. Lots of cell phones. When I was in Seattle on the morning of November 30th, I went into the convention center where we were accredited by the WTO along with other NGOs, many of which are industry associations, so we actually had had a press conference on that morning inside the WTO’s hotel about how we intended to shut down the WTO.

Later on November 30th when the tear gas was flying and all hell was breaking loose in the streets I went into the main convention center and realized it was totally empty except for a few hundred people that had gotten there, so I thought, for these few hundred people who are here let’s invite them to have a dialogue. They are always (WTO) telling us “don’t go out and protest in the streets, be good, talk to us around the table,” so here we were. Three of us walked up to the podium at the front of the hall and said “We’re from Global Exchange and we’re here to have a dialogue about the way that human rights and the environment and labor standards are being undermined by the WTO’s rules.”

They didn’t like that too much and they grabbed us and as they threw us out we started screaming “where’s the democracy, where’s the freedom of speech?”

You guys were also at the WTO meeting in Washington DC in April and again over the summer at the conventions. Those weren’t quite as disrupted, is that because they were ready for you?

Oh yes, they had definitely studied us. The Philadelphia police and the Los Angeles police departments all had representatives in Washington DC to observe our strategy. I’m sure they were spying on us. What they did in Philadelphia right away was they came in and stole all of our art. One of the ways we were going to get a very creative message was through giant puppets and by creating a festival atmosphere. We wanted to blockade the streets with giant puppets; it’s hard to arrest a giant puppet. They came into the warehouse where the things were being made and just shredded everything. They put it all through a giant wood-chipper.

How do you keep turnout high on an issue like this? It’s not exactly like the Vietnam War years where people were being drafted and sent to Vietnam. It’s a little more cerebral, a little less tangible. How do you sustain this?

Well that’s really what our challenge is right now. There are people who have had their lives transformed by being part of a mass action, being with ten, twenty, thirty thousand people who passionately believe there can be a better world. Now we’re trying to figure out how to bring that back into their communities, their work, their professional lives. I doubt a lot of the people who were on the streets of Seattle can become a corporate lawyer; things have changed because of how they’ve been impacted. Things are going to happen through a groundswell of grassroots activity, talking to people who weren’t on the streets and explaining why we were there. Lots of public education, lots of campaigns, targeting corporations who often are headquartered in a particular city. We have our campaign against Gap sweatshops. Gap operates factories as part of a subcontracting regime in over forty countries worldwide. In Cambodia we are fighting for a living wage of about 60 dollars a month; they’re currently paid about 40 dollars a month.

How does that compare to wages for other jobs in Cambodia?

That’s a good question, but it’s not a subsistence wage.

What about the people in these countries? What are you doing in terms of working directly with local groups around the world?

The cross-border organizing is one of the foremost parts of our strategy, building global-local links. Often the head of the World Bank or the WTO or Clinton will say “you people in the U.S. are standing in the way of development when in fact it’s workers in this country and workers in another country where Ford Motors has relocated to that are the target. So now there are efforts to build global unions, to organize across borders. The work that I’ve been doing here in the wake of Seattle is looking at the next major international corporate managed trade negotiations; where the corporations are coming together, where they are in their coalitions. Right now it’s to negotiate the free trade area of the Americas, NAFTA expansion to all 34 countries in the Americas except for Cuba. This is the same flawed process of corporations sitting behind closed doors and meeting rooms that are laying out their agenda and there’s no democratic process. We don’t even have access to copies of the text.

Why can’t the U.S. be a force pulling countries in the right direction in these meetings, instead of taking advantage of the fact that they don’t have our environmental standards and labor rights?

That’s what’s behind the corporate accountability campaigns and codes of conduct we’re encouraging U.S. corporations to adopt. Many companies, for example, have committed to a set of business principles for corporations doing business in China. We’ve gotten Levis, Intel and other companies to sign to this.

Is there momentum with these code-of-contact campaigns? Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

I see shifts and changes being made in a lot of areas. The fact that socially responsible investment is the fastest growing sector of investments is really promising and shows that people are responding to the ways their consciousness is being raised with actual changes in the way they want to buy things and invest things. We’re seeing a lot of resolutions showing up in public company shareholder meetings addressing everything from the use of their rainforest products in construction to issues of income inequality.

In the U.S., whenever a union tries to organize, there is a threat to move the company overseas or bust the union. There is a much more conscious effort on the part of corporations to keep working standards low and to keep wages low. That’s why wages have stagnated to 1970′s levels. The threat of moving overseas has given corporations power over their work forces and compelled unions to accept lowering wages even in this time of a booming economy.

Are there opportunities coming up for your group to get the kind of exposure that you got in Seattle?

At the heart of these issues is democracy. This year we started to look very closely at the nature of democracy in the U.S. and we realized we are very far from having a true democracy. Corporations and their campaign finance contributions are calling the shots. There is no such thing as one person one vote, the electoral college gets in the way of that along with corporate influence in the election process. So we are launching a campaign to create true democracy, to democratize the political system of the U.S., to demand proportional representation, clean money reforms, easier voting and voting rights…

You mean going to a parliamentary system?

Right, it would not be winner-take-all. Most western democracies are parliamentary.

Wouldn’t that be a big shift for the United States?

We have to start somewhere. We hope that we have the attention now of the American public to also be questioning the archaic system and to overhaul the political system. For this December 18th we have put out a call for actions to occur in all the state capitols in the country when the electors go to cast their votes. The action theme will be to “create democracy now,” to “clean it, fix it, build it.” This is a theme we chose because we need to clean up our corrupt system and fix things like the Electoral College and build a true democracy and give people power and real representation.

There is an energy right now sweeping like a wave across the country of people thinking globally and acting locally like never before. There is a very complete, holistic view of what needs to be done. It’s not an either-or, where corporations are compelled to pay a living wage, but who cares what they do to the environment. People are really thinking about how to integrate social and environmental responsibility and that’s what’s different from even a decade ago. A movement’s occurring in the U.S. where the legacy of the environmental movement is now joining up with social justice advocates and forming new, more powerful coalitions. This is the wave of the future, people who want to form a socially just and environmentally sustainable system.

What kind of big project would you do if you had more resources and could really do something on a grand scale? What would you do?

That’s ambitious. Debt cancellation is probably the biggest impediment to sustainable and equitable development for people living in the global south. It hits me at a very visceral level. It’s a very immoral and usurious relationship that’s been created because of the way World Bank and IMF have loaned their money. When it comes to creating global equality it’s getting the boot off the developing country’s neck.

How do you deal with the plutocracy in these developing countries who are co-opted by multinationals?

You have to promote real democracy and empower people in different sectors, women and others, to have a voice. There are projects like micro-credit as opposed to a highly centralized development project. It’s happening right now, in Argentina there’s a mass revolt happening as we speak. It’s a global movement. There’s a new wave of awareness and resistance in the last few years. It’s a global movement that has its roots in peasant movements, anti-colonial movements, women’s rights movements, labor struggles. The growth of independent media centers has been a really important step to get accurate information to people instead of the corporate-filtered advertising barrage most people are reacting to. It’s really hard for us with limited resources to compete with the snazzy-groovy-sexy advertising campaigns of multi-national corporations.

Where can we go to buy clothes that aren’t made in sweatshops?

The problems with the sweatshops are systemic; they’re throughout the garment industry. If you really wanted to reform the whole garment industry you’d have to start with the way the cotton is produced. For every pound of cotton produced there is a third of a pound of chemicals. There needs to be a market for organic cotton. There would have to be a campaign that brought together organic cotton growers with unions and workers that are turning it into a textile, and then the mills that pay living wages to the workers that create the actual garments.

It would be nice to identify the good guys, and if you could drive people into the companies that are doing the right things, that might be a way to induce the other ones to follow suit.

Definitely, and some areas are easier than others. We’ve had some good progress with coffee. We demanded Starbucks sell fair-trade coffee, and they have started to do this.

How do you get these values into the mainstream?

That’s the challenge. There are studies showing that over 50 million people in the U.S. share these same values. They want to see systemic change, they don’t want to be wasting the earth’s precious resources, and they want to buy products that are from companies that are socially and environmentally responsible.

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