Category Archives: Interviews

Invasive Species – The Key to Ecosystem Recovery?

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Invasive species are a touchy subject for many environmental advocates, especially those working to protect biodiversity, endangered species and wild ecosystems. But what if they’re wrong about them and are ignoring invasive species to the detriment of their larger goals?

the new wild fred pearceThis idea lies at the heart of ‘The New Wild: Why Invasive Species Will Be Nature’s Salvation,’ the latest book from British journalist and author Fred Pearce. Provocative and engaging, it uses on-the-ground evidence to challenge many long held beliefs regarding alien and invasive species and provides a detailed history of the origins and progression of many dominant ecological ideas. These include that nature is pristine and perfectible, only native species are ‘good’ and ecosystems evolve to a balanced state.

But as Pearce writes, the nature of nature is to be highly dynamic, adaptable and open; perfection by definition would mean the end of change. He considers the ‘myth of the pristine’ to be “…some dangerous mythology about how nature works,” and that the demonization of non-native species says far more about humans and our collective fears of change than any traits or behaviors of the new species.

While most environmentalists have long thought that alien species serve no positive purpose in their adopted locations, in most instances they actually increase biodiversity, provide habitat, help remediate human caused pollution and generally get along with flora and fauna already there. As Christian Kull of Monash University notes, most landscapes are ‘melting pots’ and making any hard distinctions about what belongs where long have been meaningless.

ascension cloud forest
Ascension Island Cloud Forest, 90% non-native. Photo credit: http://www.ascension-island.gov.ac, used without permission.

Pearce utilizes many terms coined by various scientists and researchers in the book to elaborate on his points: ecological fitting, biotic resistance, extinction debt and punctuated equilibrium being just a few. He additionally writes about several locations where alien species have had profound impacts, almost entirely positive, including Ascension Island, Hawai’i, Australia, San Francisco Bay, the Florida Everglades, Surtsey and Puerto Rico.

Significant world events have occurred due to the presence of alien species. On the positive side, here in North America we wouldn’t have earthworms or European honeybees unless they were brought here. During the 19th century, ‘acclimatization societies,’ formed in the U.S. and elsewhere to introduce plants and animals from (usually) European landscapes.

Also in the late 19th century, Africa was forever altered by an Asian microbe, brought by the cattle of Italian soldiers, that causes rinderpest. This cattle virus infected a wide variety of cloven-hoofed animals across Africa and led to significant die offs. As Pearce writes, “Herders had no livestock, and farmers had no oxen to pull their plows or drive the waterwheels that irrigated their fields.” People starved decimating many cultures, including the Masai (Kenya), Tutsi (Rwanda), Soga (Uganda), Nama and Herero (SW Africa) and Fulani (Nigeria); most never fully recovered. The outbreak “depopulated and impoverished Africa on a scale” that greatly exceeded the effects of the slave trade. Drought occurred simultaneously in some areas and with few grazers around, the tsetse fly, an endemic insect, flourished in the overgrown bush. Taken together this enabled the final colonization of Africa in the late 1800s / early 1900s.

 

The Bombing of Earth First!

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Judi Bari's bombed car.On May 24, 1990 a bomb ripped through the car of Earth First! organizer Judi Bari as she and Darryl Cherney were driving through Oakland, CA. They were on their way to a rally in support of Redwood Summer, a campaign they were organizing to halt the logging of California’s old growth redwoods.

Ten years later, I produced a 5-hour radio special all about the bombing, FBI COINTELPRO activities targeting Earth First! organizers and many aspects of the civil rights lawsuit Judi and Darryl filed (spoiler alert: and won) against the FBI and others.

This 2-minute excerpt from the show features Judi providing a quick synopsis of the bomb plot. I will post the entire special, in segments, shortly.

Dafna Tachover update on Israeli Wi-Fi Court Case

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Symbol for no wifi.As I promised a couple of weeks ago, here is the full interview I did with Israeli attorney Dafna Tachover following her appearance in February before the Israeli Supreme Court. She was there to argue that a conditional injunction issued by the Court in 2014 regarding her petition to remove wi-fi from schools in Israel be made permanent. This interview doesn’t go into earlier aspects of the case, but one we did last year, does.

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No Fields Found.

Operation Paperclip – Bringing Nazi War Criminals to the U.S.

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Operation Paperclip (née Overcast) was a military intelligence plan, launched by the Office of Strategic Services, late in World War 2 to capture Nazi scientists and bring them to the United States. As Allied troops made their way toward Germany, led by the U.S., they began to seek out Nazi scientists. They wanted the scientists to help them identify weapons and other equipment which the U.S. would bring home for research and development. While the search was underway, some key people concurrently had the same revelation about the project.

Germany had put all of its resources for over a decade into the war, enabling its scientists to achieve unparalleled advances in aeronautics, especially rocketry, and the development of chemical and biological weaponry. Many of these advancements involved not only slave labor at concentration camps, but using the prisoners for human experimentation, practices which directly led to the creation of the Nüremberg Principles, which legally define war crimes. Now the U.S. military wanted all that expertise for its own purposes and was willing to do almost anything to get it.

Germany surrendered early in 1945, but the U.S. was already planning for its next war, possibly a “total war” with the Soviet Union. This fear, along with defeating Japan in the Pacific, were the key factors driving the pursuit of the German scientists. It was thought that German weapons could help end the Pacific war, but this ended up being irrelevant as the atomic bombs forced Japan’s hand in early August, 1945. The Soviet Union remained the sole reason for Operation Paperclip thereafter.

No one has written a more authoritative and exhaustive history of these events than Annie Jacobsen. Her book, Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists to America, incorporates information from U.S. and German archives and scores of books, government reports, articles and first-hand interviews and correspondence, to present a highly detailed look at how fears of the next war overshadowed atrocities committed in the one that just ended. Nazi scientists connected to human medical experiments and slavery at concentration camps, as well as horrific chemical and biological weapons research were welcomed warmly by the United States, where they inspired additional infamous ‘research.’

In our conversation, we discuss in great detail the origins of the program, some of the key people involved on both sides, some of the results from bringing the Nazis to the U.S. and what is still to be discovered about this shameful part of U.S. (and German) history.

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Update on Israel Wi-Fi Supreme Court Case

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no wifiThis a very brief teaser of a much bigger update to happen soon.

For over three years, Israeli attorney Dafna Tachover has been suing the state of Israel to remove Wi-Fi from Israeli schools due to health concerns and children suffering from electromagnetic hypersensitivity. She’s used a special petition that goes straight to the Supreme Court, which has seemed receptive to her arguments thus far, granting a preliminary (but not intermediate) injunction.

On February 11th at a ‘final’ hearing, the Court was unhappy to learn that the government lied, asserting that the Ministry of Education’s position on Wi-Fi in schools was in compliance with recommendations from the both the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Environmental Protection. So the Court immediately demanded affidavits from both ministries by February 26th, at which point Dafna will have 15 days to respond.

A final decision could arrive in March. If in favor of the plaintiffs, it would be a groundbreaking legal case and possibly a valid precedent that could be cited elsewhere. This short clip summarizes the key part of the February 11 hearing. It is part of a much longer interview I aim to post soon. You can also listen to a lot of background on this case from an interview we did (Dafna joins in at 27:30) in May 2014.

Author of new French radiofrequency protection law speaks

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On January 29th, French lawmaker Laurence Abeille (Europe Ecologie-Greens) made history when her law regulating public exposure to radiofrequency radiation was adopted. The law (2) “on sobriety, transparency, information and consultation for exposure to electromagnetic waves” is the first such law in France and Ms. Abeille thinks the first in Europe at a national level.

The bill bans all wireless devices in “spaces dedicated to the care, resting and activities of children under 3 years,” primarily nurseries and daycare centers. In primary schools, wi-fi will be off by default and turned on only when no alternative is available. Within the next year, the national government will produce a report about people suffering from electromagnetic hypersensitivity and microwave ‘hot spots’ will need to have their levels reduced.

Laurence Abeille
     Laurence Abeille

Although significantly watered down from her original version filed two years ago, Ms. Abeille feels this is a very important first step to protecting the people of France, and especially children, from uncertain but potentially serious health effects from constant microwave exposure. We have a detailed discussion about the law, the struggle to get it passed, her plans to make sure it is properly implemented and how she wants to continue working on this issue.

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French Lawmaker on Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity – “Really Terrifying…It Could Happen To You.”

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Last Thursday, France adopted a novel law regulating public exposure to radiofrequency radiation. Drafted by Laurence Abeille (Europe Ecologie-Greens), the law is the first in France to use a precautionary approach regarding health risks from wireless technologies and to address sufferers of electromagnetic hypersensitivity.

Major provisions include a ban on all wireless devices in “spaces dedicated to the care, resting and activities of children under 3 years,” primarily nurseries and daycare centers. Use of wi-fi will still be allowed in primary schools, but only when no alternative is available and it must be disabled when not in use.

This morning I conducted a lengthy interview with Ms. Abeillle about the law. I’ll post far more of it soon, but wanted to quickly share her remarks about what it was like to meet people who suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity.

____________________

from Le Monde (French original, English below)

by Pierre Le Hir, Le Monde, Jan 29, 2015

Two years in the works, the law governing public exposure to electromagnetic fields generated by wireless technology (base stations, mobile phones, tablets …) was adopted by the Members of the National Assembly [MNAs], Thursday, January 29 in late morning, when time was set aside in favor of the Greens. It was voted by the whole majority, while the UDI Party abstained – except Bertrand Pancher (Meuse) who voted in favor – and the UMP voted against it, seeing it as a barrier to the development of digital industries.

This law – the first in France to establish a precautionary approach addressing the potential health risks of radio frequencies – is the result of a real obstacle course, during which its initial ambitions were seriously downgraded. The Bill, filed in January 2013 by the MNA for Val-de-Marne Laurence Abeille (Europe Ecologie-Greens) had been referred to committee by the Socialists, before returning to the National Assembly in January 2014, under a watered-down form, and then to be adopted in first reading by the Senate in June 2014, in an even planed release.

Despite these successive setbacks, the environmental group decided to submit the Bill to a vote as is to prevent his return to the Senate where it would have suffered new delays and probably additional knife strokes. Its adoption is thus final and welcomes Mrs Abeille, “the application decrees will be able to be taken without further delay “.

NOT LOWERING THE LIMITS

Finally, the “Law on sobriety, transparency, information and consultation for exposure to electromagnetic waves” appears as a compromise between the supporters of a stricter supervision of the sector and wireless phone operators, opposed to any regulatory obstacle. “This present text does not fully address all the issues, recognizes the Green MNA. However, it is an essential first step.

The major novelty is the introduction into French law of a principle of “sobriety” of public exposure to electromagnetic fields. As virtuous as it is, this principle, however, remains vague and non-binding. It is thus no longer question of lowering the exposure limits in force, which depending on the frequencies involved, are between 41 and 61 volts per meter (V/m), while the original Bill was aimed to scale them back to “as low as reasonably possible” or 0.6 V/m.

HOT SPOTS

The National Frequency Agency (AFNR) will nevertheless make every year a national census of “atypical points” or “places where the level of public exposure substantially exceeds that generally observed at the national scale”. Operators will have to remedy them within six months, “subject to technical feasibility”.

The average exposure in France is now about 1 V/m, but a study of the Operations Committee on mobile waves (Copic), covering sixteen municipal representative of the French territory and published in 2013, reported some exposure peaks “up to 10 V/m at maximum transmitter power”, even if the levels remained below 0.7 V/m in 90% of cases. The AFNR considers up to now as atypical places where exposure exceeds 6 V/m.

In matters of transparency, the installation of antennas will now be subject to prior notice to mayors and presidents of inter-municipal bodies. And these may in turn – but are not required – to organize a consultation with residents. In addition, a campaign of “awareness and information on the responsible and rational use of mobile devices” will be conducted.

WI-FI PROHIBITED IN DAYCARE CENTERS

A section of the Act is devoted to the protection of babies. Wireless devices will be banned in “the spaces dedicated to the care, resting and activities of children under 3 years”, that is to say, nurseries and daycare centers. However, contrary to the initial desire of environmentalists, Wi-Fi will remain permitted in primary schools. It will however have to be disabled outside “digital educational activities”.

Finally, the often-dramatic situation of people suffering from electro-hypersensitivity receives the first consideration. The government will have to submit a report to Parliament on this issue within a year.

‘Anti-wave’ associations also prefer to consider the glass half full rather than half empty. “This act, which is the first dedicated to the issue of electromagnetic waves and their impact on the environment and health, marks a first step in the legal recognition of the need to regulate the development of mobile phone communications and all wireless applications, ” says the association for the regulation of mobile phone base stations (Priartem). In its view, “this first legislative effort must be an encouragement to go further in protecting people “.

CALLS FOR CAUTION

This act arrives in a context of accelerated development of sources of electromagnetic fields, in particular with the deployment of very high-speed 4G mobile communications. As of January 1st 2015, ANFR indicates the number of 4G base station sites authorized in France was, for all operators, 18,699 – compared to 12,525 a year earlier – and 15,424 are in service.

If there is no scientific consensus around the potential health risks from radiofrequencies, many studies and opinions have called for caution. In 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified them as “possibly carcinogenic”. And in 2013, the National Agency Health Safety of Food, Environment and Labor (ANSES) recommended to “limit exposure of the population to radio-frequencies – especially from mobile phones – especially for children and heavy users “. It also called for “controlling the overall exposure from base stations”.

Europe Backs Away from Protecting the Electrohypersensitive

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sign warning nonionizing radiationThe European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is an advisory body, comprised of several bureaus and sections, designed to assist policy making at the European Parliament, Council and Commission.

Last year, its Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society section (TEN) started a process to create an opinion regarding how to alleviate the problems people who suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) face in daily life.  Discussion included how the EU currently handles the problem, why they should be more proactive and how.

In December 2014, the TEN Rapporteur, Bernardo Hernandez Barteller, produced a series of draft opinions which resulted in this finalized draft. Among many points, the final draft acknowledged that microwave radiation seemed causally linked to the symptoms experienced by electrohypersensitive people and that when away from these fields, people stopped suffering. The British research and advocacy group Powerwatch has produced a useful summary of the draft opinion.

Numerous EHS advocacy groups from across Europe joined forces and submitted a letter expressing their concerns about the issue and support for a strong opinion. It seemed like the draft would go to a plenary session of the full EESC for a vote on January 21, 2015. However, a counter-opinion written by EESC member Richard Adams, appeared and rapidly changed everything.

Adams’ counter-opinion took an extremely different approach to the issue of electrohypersensitivity, failing to address basic questions regarding the social and economic impacts imposed on EHS sufferers. It instead focused on how global and national health agencies refute linkage between exposure to microwave radiation and the wide variety of symptoms experienced by the electrohypersensitive. The counter-opinion does not dismiss the existence of the condition or the suffering of electrohypersensitive people, but suggests that instead of looking at avoiding microwave radiation, they should instead engage in talking therapy, specifically cognitive behavioral therapy, implying that these people really just have psychological problems. This widely outraged those who suffer from the condition, those who advocate on their behalf and scientists who feel that their work has demonstrated a strong link between exposure to microwaves and EHS.

At the final plenary session on January 21, both the Rapporteur’s opinion and Adams’ counter-opinion were introduced and then there was an opportunity for EESC members to speak. After roughly an hour of discussion, the vote was called. The counter-opinion was voted on first, however when this  was first mentioned early in the plenary, there seemed to be a tone of surprise in the voice of the official who announced this would happen. Listen for yourself and decide.

Just prior to the vote, an EESC member protested what he felt was a procedural error in that Mr. Adams was allowed to speak following the Rapporteur which is not supposed to happen. I am currently looking through the EESC rules and procedures and attempting to talk with those officials to try and determine if any irregularities did occur in the process. When I learn more, I will post it above.

The counter-opinion was approved 136-110 with 19 members abstaining which meant that the original opinion from the Rapporteur was simply dismissed without any vote.

I interviewed Richard Adams about a week after the vote to try and learn more about why he drafted his counter-opinion, why it focused almost exclusively on issues other than economic and social ones, what is his awareness of the literature regarding electrohypersensitivity and exposure to microwave radiation and what his counter-opinion would do to alleviate the daily problems that EHS people must face.

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