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Archive for the ‘Public Health’ Category

Emergency at Standing Rock, ND

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Public Health, Race, Uncategorized, War on November 27, 2016 at 12:44 am

This came to me from Ina Russell.

In case you may not have known: people are likely to start dying at Standing Rock– if they aren’t already:
The Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council released this statement: “The physicians and tribal healers with the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council call for the immediate cessation of use of water cannons on people who are outdoors in 28F ambient weather with no means of active rewarming in these conditions. As medical professionals, we are concerned for the real risk of loss of life due to severe hypothermia under these conditions.”
Not to mention continuous mass tear gas, rubber bullets, as well as stinger grenades and LRAND (Long Range Acoustic Device) for 3 hours
Law enforcement also shot down three media drones and targeted journalists with less lethal rounds.
National Lawyers Guild legal observers on the frontlines have confirmed that multiple people were unconscious and bleeding after being shot in the head with rubber bullets. One elder went into cardiac arrest at the frontlines but medics administered CPR and were able to resuscitate him. The camp’s medical staff and facilities are overwhelmed and the local community of Cannonball has opened their school gymnasium for emergency relief.
PLEASE CALL THE FOLLOWING AGENCIES NOW:
ND Office of the Governor: 701-328-2200.
Morton County Sheriff’s Department:
701-328-8118 & 701-667-3330.
ND National Guard: 701-333-2000
202 224.2043 call the senator of North Dakota
202-456-1111
Call often, please.
Please copy and paste; don’t click share. Then pass it on. Thank you.

EPA Proposes Shocking Thousand-Fold Increase in Radioactivity Allowed in Drinking Water

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Policy, Public Health, Radiation Standards, Uncategorized on November 20, 2016 at 10:29 am

Proposal would permit radiation exposures equivalent to 250 chest X-rays a year.

Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, the U.S. EPA quietly issued proposals to allow radioactive contamination in drinking water at concentrations vastly greater than allowed under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The new guidance would permit radiation exposures equivalent to 250 chest X-rays a year. Today, environmental groups called the proposal “shocking” and “egregious.”

The EPA proposed Protective Action Guides (PAGs) would allow the general population to drink water hundreds to thousands of times more radioactive than is now legal. For example, radioactive iodine-131 has a current limit of 3 pico-curies per liter (pCi/L), in water but the new guidance would allow 10,350 (pCi/L), 3,450 times higher. For strontium-90, which causes leukemia, the current limit is 8 pCi/L; the new proposed value is 7,400 pCi/L, a 925-fold increase.

“Clean Water is essential for health. Just like lead, radiation when ingested in small amounts is very hazardous to our health. It is inconceivable that EPA could now quietly propose allowing enormous increases in radioactive contamination with no action to protect the public, even if concentrations are a thousand times higher than under the Safe Drinking Water Act,” said Dr. Catherine Thomasson, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The Bush Administration in its last days unsuccessfully tried to put forward similar proposals, which the incoming Obama Administration pulled back. Now, in the waning months of the Obama Administration, EPA’s radiation office is trying again.

“These levels are even higher than those proposed by the Bush Administration—really unprecedented and shocking,” said Diane D’Arrigo, Nuclear Information and Resource Service.

The Bush Administration proposal for strontium 90 was 6,650 pCi/L; the new proposal is 7,400 pCi/L. For iodine-131, the Bush proposal was 8,490 pCi/L; the new proposal is 10,350 pCi/L. For cesium-137, the proposal was for 13,600 pCi/L; Obama “beats” Bush with a value of 16,570 pCi/L.

All radionuclides can cause cancer and other health and reproductive problems; there is no completely safe level. Strontium causes bone cancer and leukemia. Babies, children, and females are at even greater risk than adult males.

PAGs apply not just to emergencies such as “dirty bombs,” and Fukushima-type nuclear power meltdowns but also to any radiological release for which a protective action may be considered – even a radiopharmaceutical transport spill. The proposed drinking water PAG would apply not to the immediate phase after a release, but rather to the intermediate phase, after the release has been stabilized, and lasting up to several years thereafter.

Radiation doses (in rems) cannot be measured but are calculated based on some measurements and many assumptions. The current Safe Drinking Water Act limits are based on 4 millirems per year. The PAGs would allow 500 millirems per year for the general population. A single chest X-ray gives about 2 millirems. Because of the way EPA is changing the definition of dose, for many radionuclides, the allowable concentration would be thousands, tens of thousands, and even millions of times higher than set under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Internal EPA documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act [links below] show that the EPA itself concluded that the proposed concentrations “would exceed MCLs [Maximum Contaminant Limits of the Safe Drinking Water Act] by a factor of 100, 1000, and in two instances, 7 million.” The EPA internal analysis showed that for one radionuclide, “drinking a very small glass of water of approximately 4 ounces … would result in an exposure that corresponds to a lifetime of drinking … water … at the MCL level.”

“All of this is extraordinary, since EPA has recently accepted the National Academy of Sciences’ most current risk estimates for radiation, indicating radiation is considerably more dangerous per unit dose than previously believed,” said D’Arrigo. “Pushing allowable concentrations of radioactivity in drinking water up orders of magnitude above the longstanding Safe Drinking Water Act levels goes in exactly the opposite direction than the official radiation risk estimates go.”

“Under these proposals, people would be forced to get the radiation equivalent of a chest X-ray 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, for up to several years, with no medical benefit or informed consent, just from drinking water. This is immoral,” said D’Arrigo.

The public has 45 days from when it is published in the Federal Register to comment to the EPA on the PAG-Protective Action Guides.

“These proposed changes are a particularly egregious gift to the energy industry, which would essentially be given a free pass whenever nuclear or fracking waste enters our water supply,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch and author of the new book, Frackopoly. “The EPA under President Obama has also whitewashed the impact of fracking on drinking water. This is more of the same when it comes to his EPA’s pro-industry, hands-off regulation of toxic practices that can harm public health.”

The EPA Proposal

https://www.epa.gov/radiation/protective-action-guides-pags

We need Active Hope now more than ever!

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Public Health, Race, Uncategorized on November 15, 2016 at 11:30 am

Dear LeRoy,

I am still reeling from the realization that Donal Trump will be our next president, a man who is a climate denier, a racist, a bully, a liar, an abuser, and a narcissist. We are stepping into the most challenging of times.

As you wrestle with your responses to the impending changes, I would like to remind you of the power of The Work That Reconnects spiral and encourage you to take yourself through the four stages. This is a such a gift during these trying times. (Thank you, Joanna Macy!)

Gratitude: surround yourself with loved ones. celebrate the beauty around you. remind yourself of those things that fill you with joy.

Honor Your Pain: please, please, please take the time to feel your pain. create a sacred space, a safe container where you can touch your fear, your grief, your anger, your despair, your numbness. Cry, yell, scream, pound pillows, rant, speak softly through your tears, breathe in the silence. dance, sing. It is vital that you give yourself permission to FEEL, let the emotions move through you.

See With New Eyes: we are being called to see our country, our issues, our challenges, ourselves, the root of such discontent in new ways. we are being challenged to show up in new and more powerful ways. Here are some readings that I am finding helpful to me in seeing with new eyes.

(from Charter for Compassion email)
the invitation has arrived
to step into our courage
and our full humanity

from this day forward
the harm can only unfold
and multiply and spread

with our silence
with our consent
with our participation

we will not be silent
we do not consent and
we will not participate
in legitimating violence, lies and division

the love that we are
the love that connects us all
the love that bends history
even in this dark moment
towards liberation

We are one
we are many and
we are one
it is time
dear friends
the revolution of love
must be completed

And it is only possible
if on this day
we commit our lives
to walking the hard road
because there is now only one way forward

adapted from work by Taj James, founder and Executive Director of the Movement Strategy Center

The Warrior of Light Sometimes Behaves Like Water

The Warrior of Light sometimes behaves like water,
flowing around the obstacles he encounters.

Occasionally, resistance might mean destruction,
and so he adapts to the circumstances.
He accepts, without complaint, that the stones in his path
hinder his way though the mountains.
Therein lies the strength of water.
It cannot be touched by a hammer or ripped to shreds by a knife.
The strongest sword in the world cannot scar its surface.
The river adapts itself to whatever route proves possible,
but the river never forgets its one objective; the sea.

So fragile at its source,
it gradually gathers the strength of the other rivers it encounters.
And, after a certain point, its power is absolute.

from The Warrior of Light by Paulo Coelho

A Letter to America from Leslie Knope regarding Donald Trump
Meeting The Times by Deena Metzger
Stop Shaming Trump Supporters by Rabbi Michael Lerner

Going Forth: you make a difference every day of your life. find the ways you are being called to bear witness to your truth for our world. find your next best step to show your love for yourself, each other, our brother/sister species, the world. speak up, stand up, show up.

You are not alone. We are not alone. These times are calling out the best in us. Let us also seek the best in others. Be the hope you wish to see in the world!

With deep gratitude and fierce love,
Kathleen Rude
GaiaWisdom
kathleen@gaiawisdom.org

Trump’s election and after

In Climate change, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Public Health, Race, War on November 14, 2016 at 3:55 am

The election of Trump on November 8 is the result of many years of

  • triumph of big money,
  • fostering poverty and then marginalizing the poor of all races and colors,
  • waging war to protect predatory industries,
  • systematically destroying the ecology on which we rely for our very being,
  • claiming to be special as we dominate others,
  • spending far more on the military than on need — education, housing, medical care, the infrastructure,
  • isolation and alienation from others, fostered by the mechanics of cell phones and social media, treating others but also ourselves like automatons rather than living, breathing  people.

The racism vividly expressed in this election is an expression of the racist heritage on which this country was built. Though the negativity toward Indians, Blacks, Hispanics and Muslims was visceral, it is not new.

Those who voted for Trump not only felt betrayed, they were betrayed. They expressed their anger as much as any approval of Trump. We must befriend them as much as they believe he did.

Let’s recruit others and work together to get money out of politics, to distribute wealth to all, to change priorities to need rather than greed, to replace war and militarism with care for the world in which we all live and on which we all depend.

Let us begin locally while also doing what we can beyond, in the state, the country, the globe.

The Election: Of Hate, Grief, and a New Story

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Public Health, Race, War on November 12, 2016 at 4:33 am

By Charles Eisenstein, Creative Commons, Posted on Nov 10, 2016

Normal is coming unhinged. For the last eight years it has been possible for most people (at least in the relatively privileged classes) to believe that society is sound, that the system, though creaky, basically works, and that the progressive deterioration of everything from ecology to economy is a temporary deviation from the evolutionary imperative of progress.

A Clinton Presidency would have offered four more years of that pretense. A woman President following a black President would have meant to many that things are getting better. It would have obscured the reality of continued neoliberal economics, imperial wars, and resource extraction behind a veil of faux-progressive feminism. Now that we have, in the words of my friend Kelly Brogan, rejected a wolf in sheep’s clothing in favor of a wolf in wolf’s clothing, that illusion will be impossible to maintain.

The wolf, Donald Trump (and I’m not sure he’d be offended by that moniker) will not provide the usual sugarcoating on the poison pills the policy elites have foisted on us for the last forty years. The prison-industrial complex, the endless wars, the surveillance state, the pipelines, the nuclear weapons expansion were easier for liberals to swallow when they came with a dose, albeit grudging, of LGBTQ rights under an African-American President.

I am willing to suspend my judgement of Trump and (very skeptically) hold the possibility that he will disrupt the elite policy consensus of free trade and military confrontation – major themes of his campaign. One might always hope for miracles. However, because he apparently lacks any robust political ideology of his own, it is more likely that he will fill his cabinet with neocon war hawks, Wall Street insiders, and corporate reavers, trampling the wellbeing of the working class whites who elected him while providing them their own sugar-coating of social conservatism.

The social and environmental horrors likely to be committed under President Trump are likely to incite massive civil disobedience and possibly disorder. For Clinton supporters, many of whom were halfhearted to begin with, the Trump administration could mark the end of their loyalty to our present institutions of government. For Trump supporters, the initial celebration will collide with gritty reality when Trump proves as unable or unwilling as his predecessors to challenge the entrenched systems that continually degrade their lives: global finance capital, the deep state, and their programming ideologies. Add to this the likelihood of a major economic crisis, and the public’s frayed loyalty to the existing system could snap.

We are entering a time of great uncertainty. Institutions so enduring as to seem identical to reality itself may lose their legitimacy and dissolve. It may seem that the world is falling apart. For many, that process started on election night, when Trump’s victory provoked incredulity, shock, even vertigo. “I can’t believe this is happening!”

At such moments, it is a normal response to find someone to blame, as if identifying fault could restore the lost normality, and to lash out in anger. Hate and blame are convenient ways of making meaning out of a bewildering situation. Anyone who disputes the blame narrative may receive more hostility than the opponents themselves, as in wartime when pacifists are more reviled than the enemy.

Racism and misogyny are devastatingly real in this country, but to blame bigotry and sexism for voters’ repudiation of the Establishment is to deny the validity of their deep sense of betrayal and alienation. The vast majority of Trump voters were expressing extreme dissatisfaction with the system in the way most readily available to them. (See here, here, here, here) Millions of Obama voters voted for Trump (six states who went for Obama twice switched to Trump). Did they suddenly become racists in the last four years? The blame-the-racists (the fools, the yokels…) narrative generates a clear demarcation between good (us) and evil (them), but it does violence to the truth. It also obscures an important root of racism – anger displaced away from an oppressive system and its elites and onto other victims of that system. Finally, it employs the same dehumanization of the other that is the essence of racism and the precondition for war. Such is the cost of preserving a dying story. That is one reason why paroxysms of violence so often accompany a culture-defining story’s demise.

The dissolution of the old order that is now officially in progress is going to intensify. That presents a tremendous opportunity and danger, because when normal falls apart the ensuing vacuum draws in formerly unthinkable ideas from the margins. Unthinkable ideas range from rounding up the Muslims in concentration camps, to dismantling the military-industrial complex and closing down overseas military bases. They range from nationwide stop-and-frisk to replacing criminal punishment with restorative justice. Anything becomes possible with the collapse of dominant institutions. When the animating force behind these new ideas is hate or fear, all manner of fascistic and totalitarian nightmares can ensue, whether enacted by existing powers or those that arise in revolution against them.

That is why, as we enter a period of intensifying disorder, it is important to introduce a different kind of force to animate the structures that might appear after the old ones crumble. I would call it love if it weren’t for the risk of triggering your New Age bullshit detector, and besides, how does one practically bring love into the world in the realm of politics? So let’s start with empathy. Politically, empathy is akin to solidarity, born of the understanding that we are all in this together. In what together? For starters, we are in the uncertainty together.

We are exiting an old story that explained to us the way of the world and our place in it. Some may cling to it all the more desperately as it dissolves, looking perhaps to Donald Trump to restore it, but their savior has not the power to bring back the dead. Neither would Clinton have been able to preserve America as we’d known it for too much longer. We as a society are entering a space between stories, in which everything that had seemed so real, true, right, and permanent comes into doubt. For a while, segments of society have remained insulated from this breakdown (whether by fortune, talent, or privilege), living in a bubble as the containing economic and ecological systems deteriorate. But not for much longer. Not even the elites are immune to this doubt. They grasp at straws of past glories and obsolete strategies; they create perfunctory and unconvincing shibboleths (Putin!), wandering aimlessly from “doctrine” to “doctrine” – and they have no idea what to do. Their haplessness and half-heartedness was plain to see in this election, their disbelief in their own propaganda, their cynicism. When even the custodians of the story no longer believe the story, you know its days are numbered. It is a shell with no engine, running on habit and momentum.

We are entering a space between stories. After various retrograde versions of a new story rise and fall and we enter a period of true unknowing, an authentic next story will emerge. What would it take for it to embody love, compassion, and interbeing? I see its lineaments in those marginal structures and practices that we call holistic, alternative, regenerative, and restorative. All of them source from empathy, the result of the compassionate inquiry: What is it like to be you?

It is time now to bring this question and the empathy it arouses into our political discourse as a new animating force. If you are appalled at the election outcome and feel the call of hate, perhaps try asking yourself, “What is it like to be a Trump supporter?” Ask it not with a patronizing condescension, but for real, looking underneath the caricature of misogynist and bigot to find the real person.

Even if the person you face IS a misogynist or bigot, ask, “Is this who they are, really?” Ask what confluence of circumstances, social, economic, and biographical, may have brought them there. You may still not know how to engage them, but at least you will not be on the warpath automatically. We hate what we fear, and we fear what we do not know. So let’s stop making our opponents invisible behind a caricature of evil.

We’ve got to stop acting out hate. I see no less of it in the liberal media than I do in the right-wing. It is just better disguised, hiding beneath pseudo-psychological epithets and dehumanizing ideological labels. Exercising it, we create more of it. What is beneath the hate? My acupuncturist Sarah Fields wrote to me, “Hate is just a bodyguard for grief. When people lose the hate, they are forced to deal with the pain beneath.”

I think the pain beneath is fundamentally the same pain that animates misogyny and racism – hate in a different form. Please stop thinking you are better than these people! We are all victims of the same world-dominating machine, suffering different mutations of the same wound of separation. Something hurts in there. We live in a civilization that has robbed nearly all of us of deep community, intimate connection with nature, unconditional love, freedom to explore the kingdom of childhood, and so much more. The acute trauma endured by the incarcerated, the abused, the raped, the trafficked, the starved, the murdered, and the dispossessed does not exempt the perpetrators. They feel it in mirror image, adding damage to their souls atop the damage that compels them to violence. Thus it is that suicide is the leading cause of death in the U.S. military. Thus it is that addiction is rampant among the police. Thus it is that depression is epidemic in the upper middle class. We are all in this together.

Something hurts in there. Can you feel it? We are all in this together. One earth, one tribe, one people.

We have entertained teachings like these long enough in our spiritual retreats, meditations, and prayers. Can we take them now into the political world and create an eye of compassion inside the political hate vortex? It is time to do it, time to up our game. It is time to stop feeding hate. Next time you post on line, check your words to see if they smuggle in some form of hate: dehumanization, snark, belittling, derision.., some invitation to us versus them. Notice how it feels kind of good to do that, like getting a fix. And notice what hurts underneath, and how it doesn’t feel good, not really. Maybe it is time to stop.

This does not mean to withdraw from political conversation, but to rewrite its vocabulary. It is to speak hard truths with love. It is to offer acute political analysis that doesn’t carry the implicit message of “Aren’t those people horrible?” Such analysis is rare. Usually, those evangelizing compassion do not write about politics, and sometimes they veer into passivity. We need to confront an unjust, ecocidal system. Each time we do we will receive an invitation to give in to the dark side and hate “the deplorables.” We must not shy away from those confrontations. Instead, we can engage them empowered by the inner mantra that my friend Pancho Ramos-Stierle uses in confrontations with his jailers: “Brother, your soul is too beautiful to be doing this work.” If we can stare hate in the face and never waver from that knowledge, we will access inexhaustible tools of creative engagement, and hold a compelling invitation to the haters to fulfill their beauty.

 

Ted Glick: I’m Voting for Hillary Clinton

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Peace, Public Health, Race, War on November 2, 2016 at 9:46 pm

I haven’t voted for a Democrat (or Republican) for President in 40
years, but I’m going to a week from now. I’m voting for Hillary.

I’ve written in the past how people in the battleground states, where
the vote looks to be close, should consider doing so, let their
conscience be their guide. New Jersey, where I live, is not such a
state; the latest poll, two weeks ago, had her ahead by 11 points. But
I’ve come to the conclusion that taking this (for me) unprecedented
step is most consistent with what I believe is the most important
thing about this election.

The most important thing is defeating Trump. Period. Full stop. I
believe this, first of all, because he is such a total, dangerous jerk
as a human being, someone who should never be anywhere close to
becoming President, which he unfortunately now is. He is a
pathological liar, in Bernie Sanders’ words, a racist, a sexual
predator, misogynist, narcissistic, and more.

As someone who has made the deepening climate crisis my primary work
for the last 13 years, I know that he is a huge threat to the planet
and all its life forms. He would do all in his power to move the US
and the world backwards with our energy policy. He has made it clear
he would try to revive a struggling coal industry and accelerate oil
and gas, especially fracked gas, production. He would reject the Paris
climate agreement. He would weaken the already-weakened EPA. Although
I am certain that the climate movement would step up and fight him
every step of the way, we would mainly be on the defensive in those
battles. Far from moving forward toward the renewable energy/energy
efficient/love the earth future we must get to as soon as possible, he
would make it very difficult to just stay where we are now.

And there are so many others issues: immigrant rights, police
brutality, pro-the-1% economic policy, decimating health care,
opposing minimum wage increases, using the Justice Department to go
after social movements and, let us not forget, appointing at least one
and maybe one-two more Supreme Court judges “like Antonin Scalia,” as
he has pledged.

I’m a Green Party member. I actually spent an afternoon two days ago
doing phone calling for a local member who is running for school board
in a nearby town. I’ve been a leader of a local GP group in northern
NJ for literally 16 years. I ran for the US Senate as a Green Party
candidate in 2002. I helped get Jill Stein on the ballot in NJ and
worked for her in 2012. For the past 20 years, going back to Ralph
Nader’s 1996 campaign for President, I’ve been actively involved—1996,
2000 and 2004—in GP Presidential campaigns or, in 2008 and 2012,
supportive of them.

However, after the 2000 Nader/LaDuke campaign, I started putting
forward a “safe states strategy.” Because of the electoral system we
have, the Green Party Presidential campaign should focus its campaign
in the non-battleground states. In the battleground states it should
say loud and clear that people should vote their conscience,
acknowledge the validity of voting for a lesser evil Democrat when the
alternative is much worse.

These ideas have gone nowhere. Instead the Jill Stein campaign has
made no distinctions between states. Up until maybe a month ago she
was saying that she had a chance of winning the Presidency. She is now
at 2% of the vote in the realclearpolitics.com average of major polls,
and she has been there or close for a month. She has taken the very
problematic position that Clinton and Trump are “equally terrible.”
She publicly twitter-attacked the 3,000-person People’s Summit led by
National Nurses United in June as “lapdogs for the duopoly.”

I thought about writing in Bernie. What was built as a result of his
Presidential campaign is, in general, the kind of organized mass
movement that we desperately need. However, given that there’s no
organized Bernie write-in campaign—Bernie would be against it—and
given that I have major problems with the strategy of the candidate of
the party I’ve worked hard locally to build for 16 years, I’m voting
for Hillary on November 8th. And then, if she wins, on November 9th,
I’ll start figuring out with other sisters and brothers how we create
the kind of issue-oriented people’s movement that she has no choice
but to take very seriously for the next four years.

Ted Glick has been a progressive activist and organizer since 1968.
For the last 13 years his primary focus of political work has been the
climate crisis. Past writings and other information can be found at
http://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on twitter at
http://twitter.com/jtglick.

The Fatal Expense of American Imperialism

In Climate change, Cost, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Public Health, War on November 1, 2016 at 9:56 pm

byJeffrey D. Sachs
http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/10/31/fatal-expense-american-imperialism

The single most important issue in allocating national resources is war versus peace, or as macroeconomists put it, “guns versus butter.” The United States is getting this choice profoundly wrong, squandering vast sums and undermining national security. In economic and geopolitical terms, America suffers from what Yale historian Paul Kennedy calls “imperial overreach.” If our next president remains trapped in expensive Middle East wars, the budgetary costs alone could derail any hopes for solving our vast domestic problems.
It may seem tendentious to call America an empire, but the term fits certain realities of US power and how it’s used. An empire is a group of territories under a single power. Nineteenth-century Britain was obviously an empire when it ruled India, Egypt, and dozens of other colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. The United States directly rules only a handful of conquered islands (Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands), but it stations troops and has used force to influence who governs in dozens of other sovereign countries. That grip on power beyond America’s own shores is now weakening.

The scale of US military operations is remarkable. The US Department of Defense has (as of a 2010 inventory) 4,999 military facilities, of which 4,249 are in the United States; 88 are in overseas US territories; and 662 are in 36 foreign countries and foreign territories, in all regions of the world. Not counted in this list are the secret facilities of the US intelligence agencies. The cost of running these military operations and the wars they support is extraordinary, around $900 billion per year, or 5 percent of US national income, when one adds the budgets of the Pentagon, the intelligence agencies, homeland security, nuclear weapons programs in the Department of Energy, and veterans benefits. The $900 billion in annual spending is roughly one-quarter of all federal government outlays.

The United States has a long history of using covert and overt means to overthrow governments deemed to be unfriendly to US interests, following the classic imperial strategy of rule through locally imposed friendly regimes. In a powerful study of Latin America between 1898 and 1994, for example, historian John Coatsworth counts 41 cases of “successful” US-led regime change, for an average rate of one government overthrow by the United States every 28 months for a century. And note: Coatsworth’s count does not include the failed attempts, such as the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba

This tradition of US-led regime change has been part and parcel of US foreign policy in other parts of the world, including Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Wars of regime change are costly to the United States, and often devastating to the countries involved. Two major studies have measured the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. One, by my Columbia colleague Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard scholar Linda Bilmes, arrived at the cost of $3 trillion as of 2008. A more recent study, by the Cost of War Project at Brown University, puts the price tag at $4.7 trillion through 2016. Over a 15-year period, the $4.7 trillion amounts to roughly $300 billion per year, and is more than the combined total outlays from 2001 to 2016 for the federal departments of education, energy, labor, interior, and transportation, and the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

It is nearly a truism that US wars of regime change have rarely served America’s security needs. Even when the wars succeed in overthrowing a government, as in the case of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and Moammar Khadafy in Libya, the result is rarely a stable government, and is more often a civil war. A “successful” regime change often lights a long fuse leading to a future explosion, such as the 1953 overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected government and installation of the autocratic Shah of Iran, which was followed by the Iranian Revolution of 1979. In many other cases, such as the US attempts (with Saudi Arabia and Turkey) to overthrow Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, the result is a bloodbath and military standoff rather than an overthrow of the government.

WHAT IS THE DEEP motivation for these profligate wars and for the far-flung military bases that support them?

From 1950 to 1990, the superficial answer would have been the Cold War. Yet America’s imperial behavior overseas predates the Cold War by half a century (back to the Spanish-American War, in 1898) and has outlasted it by another quarter century. America’s overseas imperial adventures began after the Civil War and the final conquests of the Native American nations. At that point, US political and business leaders sought to join the European empires — especially Britain, France, Russia, and the newly emergent Germany — in overseas conquests. In short order, America grabbed the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Panama, and Hawaii, and joined the European imperial powers in knocking on the doors of China.

As of the 1890s, the United States was by far the world’s largest economy, but until World War II, it took a back seat to the British Empire in global naval power, imperial reach, and geopolitical dominance. The British were the unrivaled masters of regime change — for example, in carving up the corpse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Yet the exhaustion from two world wars and the Great Depression ended the British and French empires after World War II and thrust the United States and Russia into the forefront as the two main global empires. The Cold War had begun.

The economic underpinning of America’s global reach was unprecedented. As of 1950, US output constituted a remarkable 27 percent of global output, with the Soviet Union roughly a third of that, around 10 percent. The Cold War fed two fundamental ideas that would shape American foreign policy till now. The first was that the United States was in a struggle for survival against the Soviet empire. The second was that every country, no matter how remote, was a battlefield in that global war. While the United States and the Soviet Union would avoid a direct confrontation, they flexed their muscles in hot wars around the world that served as proxies for the superpower competition.

Over the course of nearly a half century, Cuba, Congo, Ghana, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Iran, Namibia, Mozambique, Chile, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and even tiny Granada, among many others, were interpreted by US strategists as battlegrounds with the Soviet empire. Often, far more prosaic interests were involved. Private companies like United Fruit International and ITT convinced friends in high places (most famously the Dulles brothers, Secretary of State John Foster and CIA director Allen) that land reforms or threatened expropriations of corporate assets were dire threats to US interests, and therefore in need of US-led regime change. Oil interests in the Middle East were another repeated cause of war, as had been the case for the British Empire from the 1920s.

These wars destabilized and impoverished the countries involved rather than settling the politics in America’s favor. The wars of regime change were, with few exceptions, a litany of foreign policy failure. They were also extraordinarily costly for the United States itself. The Vietnam War was of course the greatest of the debacles, so expensive, so bloody, and so controversial that it crowded out Lyndon Johnson’s other, far more important and promising war, the War on Poverty, in the United States.

The end of the Cold War, in 1991, should have been the occasion for a fundamental reorientation of US guns-versus-butter policies. The occasion offered the United States and the world a “peace dividend,” the opportunity to reorient the world and US economy from war footing to sustainable development. Indeed, the Rio Earth Summit, in 1992, established sustainable development as the centerpiece of global cooperation, or so it seemed.

Alas, the blinders and arrogance of American imperial thinking prevented the United States from settling down to a new era of peace. As the Cold War was ending, the United States was beginning a new era of wars, this time in the Middle East. The United States would sweep away the Soviet-backed regimes in the Middle East and establish unrivalled US political dominance. Or at least that was the plan.

THE QUARTER CENTURY since 1991 has therefore been marked by a perpetual US war in the Middle East, one that has destabilized the region, massively diverted resources away from civilian needs toward the military, and helped to create mass budget deficits and the buildup of public debt. The imperial thinking has led to wars of regime change in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Syria, across four presidencies: George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. The same thinking has induced the United States to expand NATO to Russia’s borders, despite the fact that NATO’s supposed purpose was to defend against an adversary — the Soviet Union — that no longer exists. Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev has emphasized that eastward NATO expansion “was certainly a violation of the spirit of those declarations and assurances that we were given in 1990,” regarding the future of East-West security.

There is a major economic difference, however, between now and 1991, much less 1950. At the start of the Cold War, in 1950, the United States produced around 27 percent of world output. As of 1991, when the Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz dreams of US dominance were taking shape, the United States accounted for around 22 percent of world production. By now, according to IMF estimates, the US share is 16 percent, while China has surpassed the United States, at around 18 percent. By 2021, according to projections by the International Monetary Fund, the United States will produce roughly 15 percent of global output compared with China’s 20 percent. The United States is incurring massive public debt and cutting back on urgent public investments at home in order to sustain a dysfunctional, militarized, and costly foreign policy.

Thus comes a fundamental choice. The United States can vainly continue the neoconservative project of unipolar dominance, even as the recent failures in the Middle East and America’s declining economic preeminence guarantee the ultimate failure of this imperial vision. If, as some neoconservatives support, the United States now engages in an arms race with China, we are bound to come up short in a decade or two, if not sooner. The costly wars in the Middle East — even if continued much less enlarged in a Hillary Clinton presidency — could easily end any realistic hopes for a new era of scaled-up federal investments in education, workforce training, infrastructure, science and technology, and the environment.

The far smarter approach will be to maintain America’s defensive capabilities but end its imperial pretensions. This, in practice, means cutting back on the far-flung network of military bases, ending wars of regime change, avoiding a new arms race (especially in next-generation nuclear weapons), and engaging China, India, Russia, and other regional powers in stepped-up diplomacy through the United Nations, especially through shared actions on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including climate change, disease control, and global education.

Many American conservatives will sneer at the very thought that the United States’ room for maneuver should be limited in the slightest by the UN. But think how much better off the United States would be today had it heeded the UN Security Council’s wise opposition to the wars of regime change in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. Many conservatives will point to Vladimir Putin’s actions in Crimea as proof that diplomacy with Russia is useless, without recognizing that it was NATO’s expansion to the Baltics and its 2008 invitation to Ukraine to join NATO, that was a primary trigger of Putin’s response.

In the end, the Soviet Union bankrupted itself through costly foreign adventures such as the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan and its vast over-investment in the military. Today the United States has similarly over-invested in the military, and could follow a similar path to decline if it continues the wars in the Middle East and invites an arms race with China. It’s time to abandon the reveries, burdens, and self-deceptions of empire and to invest in sustainable development at home and in partnership with the rest of the world.

© 2016 Boston Globe
Jeffrey D. Sachs is the Director of The Earth Institute, Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University. He is Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals, having held the same position under former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He is Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. He is co-founder and Chief Strategist of Millennium Promise Alliance, and is director of the Millennium Villages Project. A recent survey by The Economist Magazine ranked Professor Sachs as among the world’s three most influential living economists of the past decade. Sachs is the author, most recently, of “The Age of Sustainable Development,” 2015 with Ban Ki-moon.

Doubts About the Promised Bounty of Genetically Modified Crops

In Climate change, Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Public Health on October 31, 2016 at 6:55 am

By Danny Hakim, New York Times, October 29, 2016

LONDON — The controversy over genetically modified crops has long focused on largely unsubstantiated fears that they are unsafe to eat.

But an extensive examination by The New York Times indicates that the debate has missed a more basic problem — genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides.

The promise of genetic modification was twofold: By making crops immune to the effects of weedkillers and inherently resistant to many pests, they would grow so robustly that they would become indispensable to feeding the world’s growing population, while also requiring fewer applications of sprayed pesticides.

Twenty years ago, Europe largely rejected genetic modification at the same time the United States and Canada were embracing it. Comparing results on the two continents, using independent data as well as academic and industry research, shows how the technology has fallen short of the promise.
An analysis by The Times using United Nations data showed that the United States and Canada have gained no discernible advantage in yields — food per acre — when measured against Western Europe, a region with comparably modernized agricultural producers like France and Germany. Also, a recent National Academy of Sciences report found that “there was little evidence” that the introduction of genetically modified crops in the United States had led to yield gains beyond those seen in conventional crops.

 

At the same time, herbicide use has increased in the United States, even as major crops like corn, soybeans and cotton have been converted to modified varieties. And the United States has fallen behind Europe’s biggest producer, France, in reducing the overall use of pesticides, which includes both herbicides and insecticides.

One measure, contained in data from the United States Geological Survey, shows the stark difference in the use of pesticides. Since genetically modified crops were introduced in the United States two decades ago for crops like corn, cotton and soybeans, the use of toxins that kill insects and fungi has fallen by a third, but the spraying of herbicides, which are used in much higher volumes, has risen by 21 percent.

By contrast, in France, use of insecticides and fungicides has fallen by a far greater percentage — 65 percent — and herbicide use has decreased as well, by 36 percent.

Profound differences over genetic engineering have split Americans and Europeans for decades. Although American protesters as far back as 1987 pulled up prototype potato plants, European anger at the idea of fooling with nature has been far more sustained. In the last few years, the March Against Monsanto has drawn thousands of protesters in cities like Paris and Basel, Switzerland, and opposition to G.M. foods is a foundation of the Green political movement. Still, Europeans eat those foods when they buy imports from the United States and elsewhere.

Fears about the harmful effects of eating G.M. foods have proved to be largely without scientific basis. The potential harm from pesticides, however, has drawn researchers’ attention. Pesticides are toxic by design — weaponized versions, like sarin, were developed in Nazi Germany — and have been linked to developmental delays and cancer.

“These chemicals are largely unknown,” said David Bellinger, a professor at the Harvard University School of Public Health, whose research has attributed the loss of nearly 17 million I.Q. points among American children 5 years old and under to one class of insecticides. “We do natural experiments on a population,” he said, referring to exposure to chemicals in agriculture, “and wait until it shows up as bad.”

The industry is winning on both ends — because the same companies make and sell both the genetically modified plants and the poisons. Driven by these sales, the combined market capitalizations of Monsanto, the largest seed company, and Syngenta, the Swiss pesticide giant, have grown more than sixfold in the last decade and a half. The two companies are separately involved in merger agreements that would lift their new combined values to more than $100 billion each.

When presented with the findings, Robert T. Fraley, the chief technology officer at Monsanto, said The Times had cherry-picked its data to reflect poorly on the industry. “Every farmer is a smart businessperson, and a farmer is not going to pay for a technology if they don’t think it provides a major benefit,” he said. “Biotech tools have clearly driven yield increases enormously.”

Genetically modified crops can sometimes be effective. Monsanto and others often cite the work of Matin Qaim, a researcher at Georg-August-University of Göttingen, Germany, including a meta-analysis of studies that he helped write finding significant yield gains from genetically modified crops. But in an interview and emails, Dr. Qaim said he saw significant effects mostly from insect-resistant varieties in the developing world, particularly in India.

“Currently available G.M. crops would not lead to major yield gains in Europe,” he said. And regarding herbicide-resistant crops in general: “I don’t consider this to be the miracle type of technology that we couldn’t live without.”

A Vow to Curb Chemicals

First came the Flavr Savr tomato in 1994, which was supposed to stay fresh longer. The next year it was a small number of bug-resistant russet potatoes. And by 1996, major genetically modified crops were being planted in the United States.

Monsanto, the most prominent champion of these new genetic traits, pitched them as a way to curb the use of its pesticides. “We’re certainly not encouraging farmers to use more chemicals,” a company executive told The Los Angeles Times in 1994. The next year, in a news release, the company said that its new gene for seeds, named Roundup Ready, “can reduce overall herbicide use.”

Originally, the two main types of genetically modified crops were either resistant to herbicides, allowing crops to be sprayed with weedkillers, or resistant to some insects.

Figures from the United States Department of Agriculture show herbicide use skyrocketing in soybeans, a leading G.M. crop, growing by two and a half times in the last two decades, at a time when planted acreage of the crop grew by less than a third. Use in corn was trending downward even before the introduction of G.M. crops, but then nearly doubled from 2002 to 2010, before leveling off. Weed resistance problems in such crops have pushed overall usage up.

To some, this outcome was predictable. The whole point of engineering bug-resistant plants “was to reduce insecticide use, and it did,” said Joseph Kovach, a retired Ohio State University researcher who studied the environmental risks of pesticides. But the goal of herbicide-resistant seeds was to “sell more product,” he said — more herbicide.

Farmers with crops overcome by weeds, or a particular pest or disease, can understandably be G.M. evangelists. “It’s silly bordering on ridiculous to turn our backs on a technology that has so much to offer,” said Duane Grant, the chairman of the Amalgamated Sugar Company, a cooperative of more than 750 sugar beet farmers in the Northwest.

He says crops resistant to Roundup, Monsanto’s most popular weedkiller, saved his cooperative.

But weeds are becoming resistant to Roundup around the world — creating an opening for the industry to sell more seeds and more pesticides. The latest seeds have been engineered for resistance to two weedkillers, with resistance to as many as five planned. That will also make it easier for farmers battling resistant weeds to spray a widening array of poisons sold by the same companies.

Growing resistance to Roundup is also reviving old, and contentious, chemicals. One is 2,4-D, an ingredient in Agent Orange, the infamous Vietnam War defoliant. Its potential risks have long divided scientists and have alarmed advocacy groups.

Another is dicamba. In Louisiana, Monsanto is spending nearly $1 billion to begin production of the chemical there. And even though Monsanto’s version is not yet approved for use, the company is already selling seeds that are resistant to it — leading to reports that some farmers are damaging neighbors’ crops by illegally spraying older versions of the toxin.

Two farmers, 4,000 miles apart, recently showed a visitor their corn seeds. The farmers, Bo Stone and Arnaud Rousseau, are sixth-generation tillers of the land. Both use seeds made by DuPont, the giant chemical company that is merging with Dow Chemical.

To the naked eye, the seeds looked identical. Inside, the differences are profound.

In Rowland, N.C., near the South Carolina border, Mr. Stone’s seeds brim with genetically modified traits. They contain Roundup Ready, a Monsanto-made trait resistant to Roundup, as well as a gene made by Bayer that makes crops impervious to a second herbicide. A trait called Herculex I was developed by Dow and Pioneer, now part of DuPont, and attacks the guts of insect larvae. So does YieldGard, made by Monsanto.

Another big difference: the price tag. Mr. Rousseau’s seeds cost about $85 for a 50,000-seed bag. Mr. Stone spends roughly $153 for the same amount of biotech seeds.

For farmers, doing without genetically modified crops is not a simple choice. Genetic traits are not sold à la carte.

Mr. Stone, 45, has a master’s degree in agriculture and listens to Prime Country radio in his Ford pickup. He has a test field where he tries out new seeds, looking for characteristics that he particularly values — like plants that stand well, without support.

“I’m choosing on yield capabilities and plant characteristics more than I am on G.M.O. traits” like bug and poison resistance, he said, underscoring a crucial point: Yield is still driven by breeding plants to bring out desirable traits, as it has been for thousands of years.

That said, Mr. Stone values genetic modifications to reduce his insecticide use (though he would welcome help with stink bugs, a troublesome pest for many farmers). And Roundup resistance in pigweed has emerged as a problem.

“No G.M. trait for us is a silver bullet,” he said.

By contrast, at Mr. Rousseau’s farm in Trocy-en-Multien, a village outside Paris, his corn has none of this engineering because the European Union bans most crops like these.

“The door is closed,” says Mr. Rousseau, 42, who is vice president of one of France’s many agricultural unions. His 840-acre farm was a site of World War I carnage in the Battle of the Marne.

As with Mr. Stone, Mr. Rousseau’s yields have been increasing, though they go up and down depending on the year. Farm technology has also been transformative. “My grandfather had horses and cattle for cropping,” Mr. Rousseau said. “I’ve got tractors with motors.”

He wants access to the same technologies as his competitors across the Atlantic, and thinks G.M. crops could save time and money.

“Seen from Europe, when you speak with American farmers or Canadian farmers, we’ve got the feeling that it’s easier,” Mr. Rousseau said. “Maybe it’s not right. I don’t know, but it’s our feeling.”

Feeding the World
With the world’s population expected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, Monsanto has long held out its products as a way “to help meet the food demands of these added billions,” as it said in a 1995 statement. That remains an industry mantra.

“It’s absolutely key that we keep innovating,” said Kurt Boudonck, who manages Bayer’s sprawling North Carolina greenhouses. “With the current production practices, we are not going to be able to feed that amount of people.”

But a broad yield advantage has not emerged. The Times looked at regional data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, comparing main genetically modified crops in the United States and Canada with varieties grown in Western Europe, a grouping used by the agency that comprises seven nations, including the two largest agricultural producers, France and Germany.

For rapeseed, a variant of which is used to produce canola oil, The Times compared Western Europe with Canada, the largest producer, over three decades, including a period well before the introduction of genetically modified crops.

Despite rejecting genetically modified crops, Western Europe maintained a lead over Canada in yields. While that is partly because different varieties are grown in the two regions, the trend lines in the relative yields have not shifted in Canada’s favor since the introduction of G.M. crops, the data shows.

For corn, The Times compared the United States with Western Europe. Over three decades, the trend lines between the two barely deviate. And sugar beets, a major source of sugar, have shown stronger yield growth recently in Western Europe than the United States, despite the dominance of genetically modified varieties over the last decade.

Jack Heinemann, a professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, did a pioneering 2013 study comparing trans-Atlantic yield trends, using United Nations data. Western Europe, he said, “hasn’t been penalized in any way for not making genetic engineering one of its biotechnology choices.”

Biotech executives suggested making narrower comparisons. Dr. Fraley of Monsanto highlighted data comparing yield growth in Nebraska and France, while an official at Bayer suggested Ohio and France. These comparisons can be favorable to the industry, while comparing other individual American states can be unfavorable.

Michael Owen, a weed scientist at Iowa State University, said that while the industry had long said G.M.O.s would “save the world,” they still “haven’t found the mythical yield gene.”

Few New Markets

Battered by falling crop prices and consumer resistance that has made it hard to win over new markets, the agrochemical industry has been swept by buyouts. Bayer recently announced a deal to acquire Monsanto. And the state-owned China National Chemical Corporation has received American regulatory approval to acquire Syngenta, though Syngenta later warned the takeover could be delayed by scrutiny from European authorities.

The deals are aimed at creating giants even more adept at selling both seeds and chemicals. Already, a new generation of seeds is coming to market or in development. And they have grand titles. There is the Bayer Balance GT Soybean Performance System. Monsanto’s Genuity SmartStax RIB Complete corn. Dow’s PhytoGen with Enlist and WideStrike 3 Insect Protection.

In industry jargon, they are “stacked” with many different genetically modified traits. And there are more to come. Monsanto has said that the corn seed of 2025 will have 14 traits and allow farmers to spray five different kinds of herbicide.

Newer genetically modified crops claim to do many things, such as protecting against crop diseases and making food more nutritious. Some may be effective, some not. To the industry, shifting crucial crops like corn, soybeans, cotton and rapeseed almost entirely to genetically modified varieties in many parts of the world fulfills a genuine need. To critics, it is a marketing opportunity.

“G.M.O. acceptance is exceptionally low in Europe,” said Liam Condon, the head of Bayer’s crop science division, in an interview the day the Monsanto deal was announced. He added: “But there are many geographies around the world where the need is much higher and where G.M.O. is accepted. We will go where the market and the customers demand our technology.”

 

Climate Change Linked to Giant Spike in Forest Fires

In Environment, Human rights, Public Health on October 13, 2016 at 9:57 am

Takepart, October 12, 2016

By David Kirby

Researchers find that the number of acres burned has doubled as temperatures have risen, destroying wildlife habitat and harming human health.
It’s not your imagination: Wildfires are spreading, and climate change is to blame.

A new study has found that climate change from human activity nearly doubled the area burned by forest fires over the past three decades in the Western United States.

“We estimate that human-caused climate change contributed to an additional 4.2 million hectares of forest fire area during 1984–2015,” the authors wrote in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That’s 16,200 square miles, roughly the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined.

Increased forest fires have ripple effects that include destruction of wildlife habitat, respiratory illnesses in humans from smoke, rising carbon dioxide emissions, soil erosion, and more public spending on firefighting.

Research has linked climate change to the jump forest fires, but the new study is the first to quantify that relation, said coauthor Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Average temperatures in Western U.S. forests have risen by about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970 and are expected to keep climbing. Rising temperatures increase the dryness of brush, according to the study, which in turn increases the risk of forest fires. Other factors include natural fire suppression measures that allow for excess fuel growth, human settlement, and natural climate variability.

The researchers found that between 2000 and 2015, climate change caused 75 percent more forested area to experience high fire-season fuel aridity and an average of nine additional days per year of high fire potential.

“We were surprised by what a strong relationship there was between the dryness of the climate, which is affected by temperatures, and the area of Western forest that was burned,” Williams said.

“Even though there are a lot of things that affect fire, this one variable, the dryness of the environment, accounts for almost all of the changes in forest fire area over the last 32 years,” he added.

Tinderbox conditions are not the only climate change factor affecting forest fires. Reduced snowpack, for example, could be affecting soil moisture, and rising temperatures might increase lightning strikes, igniting more fires.

Other factors not included in the study were vegetation growth possibly caused by rising carbon dioxide levels, vegetation killed by drought, and millions of dead trees as a result of infestation by beetles that flourish in warmer weather.

As temperatures rise, the situation will grow more dire.

“The growing influence [of human-caused climate change] on fuel aridity is projected to increasingly promote wildfire potential across Western U.S. forests in the coming decades and pose threats to ecosystems, the carbon budget, human health, and fire suppression budgets,” the study said.

How bad will things get? Forest fires will burn hotter and longer—until there are no more large swaths of forest to burn, Williams said. Until then, “it seems like as long as the Earth keeps warming, at least for the next couple of decades, we’re going to continue to see big increases in fire.”

There is some cause for hope.

“Warming is going to continue happening no matter what, and that means that increased forest fire areas in the Western U.S. are going to continue happening no matter what,” Williams said. “But if we do manage to adhere to the Paris agreement [on greenhouse gas emissions] and the globe does start emitting less CO2 into the atmosphere, then the relative effects will be reduced.”

A Dozen Reasons Why the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge Should remain Closed to the Public

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on October 1, 2016 at 1:05 am

Prepared by LeRoy Moore, PhD, Rocky Mountain Peace & Justice Center, September 2016

After completion of the Superfund cleanup of the 6,500-acre site of the defunct Rocky Flats nuclear bomb plant, about three-fourths of the site (roughly 7 square miles) was removed from the Superfund list of most contaminated sites and transferred from the Department of Energy (DOE) to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to operate as a Wildlife Refuge. DOE retained 1,309 acres (about 2 square miles) of more contaminated land that remains on the Superfund list and is surrounded by the Refuge.

  1. Long-term danger of plutonium Plutonium 239, the contaminant of principal concern at Rocky Flats, has a half-life of 24,110 years. It remains dangerously radioactive for more than a quarter-million years. Any quantity left in the environment poses an essentially permanent danger.
  2. Plutonium’s lethal quality The alpha radiation emitted by plutonium cannot penetrate skin. But tiny particles inhaled or taken into the body through an open wound will lodge somewhere in the body. For as long as it resides in the body – typically for the rest of one’s life – it bombards surrounding cells with radiation. The result may be cancer, a compromised immune system or genetic harm passed on to future generations.
  3. Hazardous in very small amounts Plutonium particles of 10 microns or smaller can be inhaled. One micron is 1/millionth of a meter (a meter is 39.37 inches, slightly longer than a yard). For further comparison, the average diameter of a human hair is about 50 microns. Meteorologist W. Gale Biggs found that airborne particles at Rocky Flats “are probably smaller than 0.01 microns.” Researchers at Columbia University demonstrated that a single plutonium particle induces mutations in mammal cells. Cells receiving very low doses were more likely to be damaged than destroyed. Replication of these damaged cells constitutes genetic harm that can become cancer, and more such harm per unit dose occurs at very low doses than would occur with higher doses.
  4. Extent of contamination at Rocky Flats unknown Fires, accidents, routine operations, and random dumping during production years released plutonium particles to the environment. The prevailing wind heads east and southeast, but it blows in all directions some of the time. Hence, plutonium was scattered across the whole of the nearly 10 square-mile site. No one knows the full extent of the contamination because this was not determined. The methods used to locate plutonium could have missed hot spots.
  5. The difference between the cleanup the public sought and what it got In 1995 the single most widely supported cleanup recommendation from the public called for eventual cleanup to average background radiation levels from global fallout, with initial cleanup to go as far in this direction as current technology allows while the site becomes a research lab for development of technology to do better. Neither happened. Instead, the cleanup finally agreed to by DOE, EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) in 2003 allowed in the top 3 feet of soil a quantity of plutonium up to 1,250 times average background levels, with much more allowed in soil at a depth of 3 to 6 feet and no limit on the quantity of plutonium allowed in soil below 6 feet.
  6. Dollars and date, not public health, drove the cleanup DOE and its contractor, Kaiser-Hill, made a secret deal with Congress to cleanup and close Rocky Flats by a fixed date for a fixed sum. Tailoring the cleanup to fit these limits, they rejected appeals from some in the public willing to seek more funds for a more thorough cleanup. Of the $7 billion allotted to close the site by December 2006, no more than $473 million (about 7%) could be spent on actual remediation of the environment. Kaiser-Hill received $560 million for its work.
  7. Local people rejected both the cleanup and recreation at the wildlife refuge Of the individuals and organizations that commented on the final Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement adopted in June 2003, 85.6% rejected the plan as inadequate, due mainly to the plutonium being left behind. 81% of those who commented on FWS plans to open the wildlife refuge to public recreation opposed the idea. These comments are part of the public record.
  8. Plutonium not stable in the environment EPA and CDPHE claim that there is no pathway by which plutonium left in soil at Rocky Flats can reach human subjects. This is refuted by a 1996 study in which ecologist Shawn Smallwood shows that 18 species of burrowing animals present at Rocky Flats dig down to as much as 16 feet, constantly redistributing soil and its contents. In a wholly random way they bring buried plutonium to the surface where tiny particles can be transported near and far by the wind common at the site and made available to be internalized by unwitting humans. In any given year burrowing animals disturb 10 to 12% of surface soil on the site. Though this study was done in 1996, EPA and CDPHE ignored it when in 2003 they approved the final cleanup plan for Rocky Flats.
  9. The cleanup does not protect the most vulnerable, especially children The “risk-based cleanup” at Rocky Flats was calculated to protect a wildlife refuge worker, that is, a physically active adult in good health. The cleanup was not designed to protect the very young, the very old, the infirm. FWS expects children to visit the wildlife refuge. The human child, without question, is the most vulnerable to plutonium exposure of all creatures, because a child is likely to stir up dust, to eat dirt, to breathe in gasps, or to scrape a knee or elbow, all ways of taking plutonium into the body. Once internalized, the material integrates with the child’s tissue development and wreaks havoc within the child’s body for the duration of her or his life. Playing with plutonium is a dangerous proposition.
  10. EPA and CDPHE mislead the public when they say Rocky Flats is “safe” The National Academy of Sciences report on Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation (2006) affirms that exposure to any level of ionizing radiation is potentially harmful. In 2004 British researchers concluded that cancer risk from exposure to very low doses of plutonium may be ten or more times more dangerous than allowed by existing official standards for permissible exposure.
  11. EPA and CDPHE oppose informed consent for visitors to the wildlife refuge State Representative Wes McKinley was foreman of the grand jury that spent nearly 3 years reviewing evidence of alleged environmental lawbreaking at Rocky Flats collected by the FBI in its 1989 raid on the plant. 65 cartons of documents from this investigation remain sealed in the Denver federal courthouse; they were never examined by EPA and CDPHE, regulators of the Rocky Flats cleanup. McKinley is under court order not to reveal what he learned about conditions at Rocky Flats, but he objects to opening the wildlife refuge to the public. His efforts to get informed consent regarding risk at the refuge for potential refuge visitors were opposed by the very agencies that made no effort to determine whether the 65 cartons in the federal courthouse contain data pertinent to the Rocky Flats cleanup.
  12. Genetic effects of plutonium exposure are poorly understood In a 2000 study Diethard Tautz said genetic effects of radiation exposure on a given species of wildlife may not show up until generations later when harm is irreversible. Ecologist Shawn Smallwood found that no study of genetic effects on wildlife has been done at Rocky Flats or any other DOE site. Any harm to wildlife at Rocky Flats will not be confined to the bounds of the site. Deer from the site have been shown to have plutonium in their bodies. Nobel Prize winner Hermann Muller, writing about humans in 1964, reached a conclusion very similar to that of Tautz, namely, that the effect of radiation exposure may not be apparent for several generations.

For documentation and more information, see Plutonium and People Don’t Mix at http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org/leroy-moore