Tag Archives: future

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.

 

‘Dear Humanity, We Have A Systems Problem’

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Reprinted from Common Dreams – Originally Published Thursday, April 02, 2015

‘Dear Humanity, We Have a Systems Problem’:  New Project Aims to Promote Deep Solutions, Radical Transformation

‘It’s time to talk about alternatives,’ says team of thinkers behind the Next System Project

“It’s time to talk about what’s next.”

“It is time for Americans to think boldly about … what it will take to move our country to a very different place, one where outcomes that are truly sustainable, equitable, and democratic are commonplace.”

Those are the words of academic and author Gar Alperovitz, founder of the Democracy Collaborative, who—alongside veteran environmentalist Gus Speth—this week launched a new initiative called the “Next Systems Project” which seeks to address the interrelated threats of financial inequality, planetary climate disruption, and money-saturated democracies by advocating for deep, heretofore radical transformations of the current systems that govern the world’s economies, energy systems, and political institutions.

As part of the launch, the Next Systems Project produced this video which features prominent progressive figures such as actor and activist Danny Glover, economist Juliet Schor, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben, labor rights activist Sarita Gupta, and others:

According to the project’s website, the effort is a response to a tangible and widespread “hunger for a new way forward” capable of addressing various social problems by injecting “the central idea of system change” into the public discourse. The goal of the project—described as an ambitious multi-year initiative—would be to formulate, refine, and publicize “comprehensive alternative political-economic system models” that would, in practice, prove that achieving “superior social, economic and ecological outcomes” is not just desirable, but possible.

“By defining issues systemically,” the project organizers explain, “we believe we can begin to move the political conversation beyond current limits with the aim of catalyzing a substantive debate about the need for a radically different system and how we might go about its construction. Despite the scale of the difficulties, a cautious and paradoxical optimism is warranted. There are real alternatives. Arising from the unforgiving logic of dead ends, the steadily building array of promising new proposals and alternative institutions and experiments, together with an explosion of ideas and new activism, offer a powerful basis for hope.”

The mission statement of the project—articulated in a short document titled It’s Time to Face the Depth of the Systemic Crisis We Confront (pdf)—has been endorsed by an impressive list of more than 350 contemporary journalists, activists, academics, and thought leaders from various disciplines who all agree  the current political and economic system is serving the interests of “corporate profits, the growth of GDP, and the projection of national power” while ignoring the needs and wellbeing of people, communities, ecosystems and the planet as a whole.

The statement addresses the dire crisis that now confronts humanity, but also marks the important element of optimism which undergirds the project. It reads, in part:

“The good news is that the inability of traditional politics and policies to address fundamental challenges has fueled an extraordinary amount of experimentation in communities across the United States—and around the world. It has also generated an increasing number of sophisticated and thoughtful proposals for transformative change. Together these developments suggest that it is possible to build a new and better America beyond the failed systems of the past and present. […]

It is time for Americans to think boldly about what is required to deal with the systemic difficulties facing the United States. It is time to explore genuine alternatives and new models—’the next system.’ It is time to debate what it will take to move our country to a very different place, one where outcomes that are truly sustainable, equitable, and democratic are commonplace.”

As part of the official launch, the team behind the project published a kick-off report—titled The New System Project: New Political-Economic Possibilities for the 21st Century (pdf)—which lays out the problems and the proposed set of solutions in more detail. Key goals of the project, as listed in the report, include:

  • To crack through the national media silence and to radically shift the national dialogue about the future away from narrow debates about policies that do not alter any significant decaying trend to awareness that what must be changed is the nature of the political-economic system itself.
  • To stimulate national debate about how best to conceive different possible models of a radically different system based on genuine democracy, equality, ecological sustainability, a peaceful global foreign policy, and a thorough-going culture of cooperative community based on non-violence and respect for differences of race, gender, and sexual preference.
  • To give publicity to the many “next system” models and approaches now being developed and refined in many parts of the nation and around the world.
  • To engage committed academics, on the one hand, and activist organizers and thinkers, on the other, in an ongoing process of close collaborative work and common development in furtherance of such work.
  • To help develop concrete “elements” that will likely be required to deal with the structural reorganization of any next system design— and, at the same time, to invest in and work with others to help nurture a rising generation of young scholars who can carry the work forward over the coming decades.

Next month, as part of the project’s public engagement strategy, key members and supporters—including Alperovitz and Speth—will participate in an online webinar in order to expand the conversation about these ideas with people across the country.

According to Alperovitz and Speth, bringing people together around these ideas is one of the key aspects of the new project. As they note in an essay published on Common Dreams, “If we can roll up our sleeves and get organized and serious about really tackling the system question, about building a new system of political economy, there are grounds for optimism that deep and far-reaching change is possible.”

Let the conversation begin.

News Story – The Economics of Happiness

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econhappyI spent this past weekend at The Economics of Happiness conference, recording talks, meeting some amazing people, and conducting and setting up future interviews. While it’s a huge challenge to condense many hours of content into a few minutes, I feel like this news story I produced for KBOO, provides a reasonable summation of the event. I have almost 10 hours of audio to produce and will begin loading it here soon, so check back regularly.

Here’s the intro read by the news anchor prior to playing my piece:

Portland hosted the fourth ‘Economics of Happiness’ conference this past weekend. Inspired by a film of the same name, both of which were produced by the International Society for Ecology and Culture, the conference shared many key aspects of global economic re-localization efforts. Andrew Geller was there and filed this report.

GMO Apples? Bite Me.

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granny smith applesThe apple has joined the long list of genetically engineered foods approved by the US Department of Agriculture. Last Friday, the USDA declared that the Arctic Apple, in Golden Delicious and Granny varieties, “doesn’t pose any harm to other plants or pests.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says they aren’t required to approve it, but will conduct a ‘voluntary review.’ There hasn’t been (and won’t be) any safety testing regarding human health.

Created by Okanogan Specialty Fruit, these apples won’t brown after being cut or bruised. Seemingly geared toward restaurants and institutional purchasers, this apple will give consumers no visible indication that it should no longer be eaten due to age. Imagine being served apples slices that were cut several weeks ago.

Using technology called RNA interference, these apples have extra copies of certain naturally occurring genes. These extra genes turn off the chemical compound that causes oxidation which is why apples turn brown. Unfortunately, that same chemical compound enables the apple tree to fend off pests, which means these apples will likely require heavier pesticide applications to remain viable. Some advancement huh?

According to a recent analysis of recent USDA data by the Pesticide Action Network, apples tested positive for 42 pesticides. They also top the Environmental Working Group’s list of (non-organic) foods most heavily contaminated with pesticide residues.

This new apple, like much of its GMO predecessors solves nothing regarding real food security, nutrition or safety issues and exists primarily to serve business interests, according to Katherine Paul, who works with the Organic Consumers Alliance. She wrote this piece on the issue last week. The apples are expected to be available in 2017.

Want to avoid GMOs? Use these resources and buy organic.

Author of new French radiofrequency protection law speaks

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IF

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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EPA Sued Over Nanotechnology Pesticides

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The Center for Food Safety (CFS), in conjunction with several other groups, filed a lawsuit last week against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the agency’s failure to regulate new nanomaterial pesticides. The lawsuit results from several years of EPA inaction on a 2008 legal petition demanding that they regulate these pesticides.  George Kimbrell, a senior attorney with CFS said “Six years ago we provided EPA a legal and scientific blue print to address to regulate these novel materials under its pesticide authority. The agency’s unlawful and irresponsible delay ends now.”

Nanotechnology involves manipulating materials at the atomic and molecular level. Nanomaterials are so small that they cannot be seen with an ordinary microscope — a strand of human hair is 50,000 to 80,000 nanometers wide. Beyond being really really small, nanomaterials often behave differently because of their size, in ways that are unpredictable compared to the same material/s produced at a larger scale.

These unknown properties increase the potential for biological interaction and toxicity. If nanomaterials enter the blood stream, they can move freely through all organs and tissues. As Jaydee Hason, CFS senior policy analyst puts it, “Nanomaterials are novel technologies that pose unique risks unlike anything we’ve seen before.”

Nano-silver is the most common nanomaterial in consumer products, often used for its antimicrobial properties. However, since they are intended to kill bacteria, the products qualify as pesticides , which the EPA recognizes. In their petition six years ago, CFS identified 260 nano-silver consumer products, a number that is now over 400. While a definitive number is hard to find since there are no labeling requirements for nano-scale products, The Project on Emerging Nanotechnology says there over 1600 consumer products using nanotechnology.

According to the EPA, “silver nanoparticles have been incorporated into many consumer products…dietary supplements, laundry detergents, body soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, disinfectant sprays, kitchen utensils, clothing and children’s toys.”  This despite a lack of knowledge regarding “release of silver nanoparticles” from these products, how and where they may travel once loose, and an inadequate understanding of “the physico-chemical properties of nanoscale silver [regarding] transport, transformation, exposure, and bioavailability of this element.”

CFS is representing itself, its sister nonprofit, the International Center for Technology Assessment, as well as, Beyond Pesticides, the Center for Environmental Health, Clean Production Action, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in the lawsuit.