Environment and ethics

Lundi, octobre 10th, 2011 @ 13:54 | Environnement

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(Pour retourner au texte en français, cliquer ici.)

This page is constantly evolving. If you find something is missing, do not hesitate to come back later. Better: drop us a line with your suggestions and/or recommended references.

General

See the Web sites of the international environmental organisations Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace International, Greenpeace UK and the World-Wide Fund for Nature, the eco-certification Web site, the very informative site Terre sacrée (in French, some pages translated into English), which also offers newsletters (also in French) on subscription, and the paper/electronic journals Actu-Environnement, terraeco, Novethic, l’âge de faire and Basta! (all in French). The American Web site The Story of Stuff is also well worth a visit.

The Aberrations of intensive farming

Under pressure to produce more for an ever-increasing population (and above all under pressure to make geater profits for the share-holders), the major agricultural operators resort to technology further and further removed from nature, such as the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, monoculture plantations, hydroponic culture, genetic manipulation and, no doubt now, nanotechnoly. Also, for the maximisation of profits, the working and living conditions of the workers are often deplorable.

The world’s gone bananas! (Article in French.)

A bunch of grapes with a bunch of pesticides! (Article in French.)

The producers of those fat but tasteless out-of-season strawberries pay no attention to any legislation. (Article in French.) For other strawberry articles (in English), read about the exploitation of Rumanians in Bavaria and Bulgarians in Britain.

The intensive production and processing of olives, too, causes major harm, in particular through its high water consumption for irrigation (in order to increase yield), in regions where water is already scarce, through its use of herbicides and, in the less regulated countries, through the discharge of untreated waste-water from the olive oil extraction mills. See pages 32 to 34 of this European Union report. For a more detailed report, see the article L’huile d’olive : un succès au goût amer (Olive oil: Success with a bitter taste) in the June 2011 issue of Terra Eco (article, in French) restricted to subscribers but consultable free of charge as part of a discovery offer).

A study conducted by INSERM (a French national institute for health and medical research) at the University of Rennes, having monitored pregnant women Brittany from 2002 to 2006, concluded that those who had been exposed to weak doses of atrazine, an endocrine-disrupting herbicide banned in 2003 but still very present in the French aquifers, ran a higher risk of having a baby that is underweight (+50%) and/or of reduced skull circumference (+70%). The association Générations futures has therefore requested that all pesticides confirmed as endocrine disruptors be withdrawn from the market.

Beware “mutated plants”, considered GM products by the European directives but for which labelling as GM is not obligatory. (Article in French.)

A researcher makes public some previously unreleased studies on GM products. (Article in French.)

As this page shows, intensive meat production also resorts to drastic measures in order to promote animal growth. The use of hormones, beta-blockers and many antibiotics has been banned in Europe but their inclusion in feed or injection is commonplace in the USA and other countries. Other products used include chemotherapeutics, enzymes, organic acids and their salts, and fish flour. (Does anyone remember the BSE epidemic caused by animal flour?)

If you consume cheap meat, you are contributing to an industry that causes large-scale habitat destruction, major pollution and massive suffering to animals, while consuming a good deal of energy. For detailed discussion of the issues and some informative short films see The Meatrix Web site (bearing in mind that Europe is spared some, but only some, of the horrors described).

Entering the name of one of these companies (Monsanto, Dow, Cargill, Dupont, Pioneer, Syngenta, Bayer) followed by “GMO” in Google throws up some enlightening information.

See our own article WHY WE EAT ORGANIC FOOD and my letter of May 2010 on the subject in the Annex at the bottom of this page.

Additives (in food)

If, like me a short time ago, you think that you buy and eat healthy food and therefore have nothing to fear from food additives, you could be in for some nasty surprises. And if you consume or give your children sugary and/or brightly coloured drinks, chewing gum, sweets, ice-creams, etc. or (worse) their sugar-free versions, you run serious risks for your health and peace of mind. If you would like to find out more, you could explore some of the links indicated below. Having bought a book (in French so not available in the UK, though a similar book in English has been published for many years: I am trying to track it down) and attended a conference given by its author in 2009, I learnt just how omnipresent certain additives are and how to detect and avoid them. This enabled me to rid myself of eczema at last, after thirty years! (My conversion to organic food had succeeded in curing the problem from time to time, but only the religious exclusion of monosodium glutamate from my diet – because even organic foods can contain this additive, particularly crisps, packaged soups and sauces and stock cubes – finally put an end to its sporadic reappearances.)

Printed publications of interest: The Hundred-Year Lie: how food and medicine are destroying your health, Randall Fitzgerald, Dutton, New York 2006; Excitotoxins: the taste that kills, Dr Russell L. Blaylock, Health Press, New Mexico 1997; H.J. Roberts: The aspartame disease: an ignored epidemic, Sunshine Sentinel Press, USA, 2001; They are what you feed them: how food can improve your child’s behaviour, learning and mood, Dr Alex Richardson, 2006.

Find out what aspartame is doing to you and what you need to do about it. Then, if you are shocked to learn that such a dangerous product could have been allowed to enter the market, see why aspartame poisoning is called the Rumsfeld disease in the USA. Aspartame is easier to avoid than monosodium glutamate but don’t think that you avoid it by steering clear of “sugar-free” products. It is essential to read lists of ingredients and avoid everything mentioning “aspartam”, “aspartame”, “aspartamine”, “E951” or “Contains a source of phenylaniline”. Pay particular attention to medicines and even some health supplements, as many contain aspartame, even those prescribed for children and/or for the very health problems that aspartame often provokes!

Do not be taken in: if you feel reassured by the assertions made by EUFIC (the European Food Information Council) on their Web site, including on aspartame and monosodium glutamate, read this page to see how EUFIC is financed and the list of their partners! Then, if you are curious, type one or two of these partners’ names, one by one, in Google, followed by the word “scandal”. This way, you will be able to form an idea of the morality of these multinationals and those who allow themselves to be convinced (you may substitute the verb of your choice here) by them!

For general information on food additives, see the following Web sites: the Food and Behaviour Research Web site (UK), www.hacsg.org.uk (UK), top 20 food additives to avoid (UK), Battling the MSG myth (USA), www.healthmad.com (USA), What is monosodium glutamate? (USA), Excitotoxins (USA), Limitations of food labelling(USA), www.additivealert.com (Australia), www.fedupwithfoodadditives.info (Australia), www.greens.org (New Zealand), www.gogreen.org (New Zealand), Marmite & MSG (UK).

See also Packaging below.

Biodiversity conservation – also see Destruction of habitats and biodiversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity.

The World-Wide Fund for Nature and African Wildlife Foundation Web site.

Le Monde, 31/10/02 (in French).

La conservation de la biodiversité; les “Ecorégions”, Courrier International, No. 484, pages 42-43 (article in French, reproduced from an original article in the Russian magazine Itogui).

Natura 2000: conservation projects across Europe. This Wikipedia article describes the system very well and gives some links. To find out more about projects in a given country, you just need to enter “Natura 2000” in the Google page of that country.

World-Wide Fund for Nature “Global 200” ecoregions.

The African Wildlife Foundation’s Limpopo heartlands ecoregion.

Sustainable management of central Africa’s tropical forests (in French, August 2003).

The Guild of Conservation Grade Producers, P.O. Box 8, Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, SG18 9NT, Angleterre.

Kokopelli – a French association for the conservation of seeds, especially those banned from commercialisation by European directive (in French).

Built-in obsolescence – see Obsolescence, built-in (or planned)

Cittaslow – see Local, alternative economies, “transition” towns and “Cittaslow”.

Climate change – see Global warming

Cosmetics

Just how safe and how beneficial are the myriads of cosmetic products available to the consumer? And how “ethical” are they? (Do they pollute? Do they have side-effects? Have they been tested on animals? Is their advertising honest?) Watch the “Story of Cosmetics” video on the Story of Stuff Web site. Then see the Web sites of the Natural Skincare Authority, the Environmental Working Group and the Campaign for safe cosmetics for a first idea further information.

In addition to genuine functional ingredients, cosmetic products also contain film-forming, foaming, wetting, emulsifying, moisturising, penetrating, anti-septic, anti-inflammatory, healing and/or sun-blocking agents, preservatives and/or anti-oxidants. Also the ingredients have various origins: animals, plants, minerals (including petroleum) and biotechnological synthesis. There have even been cases (hopefully now eradicated) of anti-ageing ingredients derived from the organs of Rio de Janeiro street children. The INCI database gives a full list of all cosmetic ingredients.

The most controversial ingredients are the preservatives, with parabens currently topping the list of those giving cause for concern. Cosmetics need to be microbiologically stable, that is, protected from bacterial, yeast and mould infections, once opened. The problem, however, is that products that kill micro-organisms can also damage skin or otherwise be harmful to health. Information on permitted preservatives can be found in Appendix VI of the European Cosmetics Directive. Manufacturers are responsible for the choice of preservatives used, including any already present in raw materials.

The use of formaldehyde (or methanal), a known carcinogen, is limited to 1000 ppm in oral hygiene products and 2000 ppm in other cosmetic products. However, chemicals which release formaldehyde under certain conditions, such as DMDM hydrantoin, are widely used. They are generally claimed to be safe, on the grounds that 3-60 ppm formaldehyde can occur naturally in certain vegetables, fruit and, due to the breakdown of trimethylamine oxide, in fish. However, experts do not all agree, particularly since concentrations of formaldehyde released are not known.

As for food additives, little research has been carried out into the “cocktail effect” of combinations of highly reactive ingredients present in formulations.

Destruction of habitats and biodiversity

United Nations Forum on Forests, Friends of the Earth, Amazonian deforestation (Web site in French).

Scientific American, 7 May 2001 – Government protection can’t save Indonesian forests.

Scientific American, 26 June 2001 – Amazon rainforest may reach point of no return within ten years.

Deforestation continues at an alarming rate (May 2005, in French).

Watch this series of videos (in French) made by Greenpeace on the destruction of the forest in the Congo (July 2010).

Disappearing bees

Silently, billions of bees are dying off and our entire food chain is in danger. Bees do not just make honey, they are a giant, humble workforce, pollinating 90% of the plants we grow. They are vital to life on Earth – every year pollinating plants and crops with an estimated $40 billion value, over one third of the food supply in many countries. Without immediate action to save bees, many of our favourite fruits, vegetables, and nuts could vanish from our shelves.

Recent years have seen a steep and disturbing global decline in bee populations – some bee species are already extinct and last week we learned that some US species are at just 4% of their previous numbers. The decline is probably due to a combination of factors including disease, habitat loss, parasites, invasive predators (e.g. hornets), and toxic chemicals. But, increasingly, independent research has produced strong evidence blaming neonicotinoid pesticides. France, Italy, Slovenia and even Germany, where the main manufacturer Bayer is based, have banned one of these bee-killers and bee populations are recovering in countries where all neonicotinoid pesticides have been banned. But Bayer, Syngenta and other multinational pesticide producers are lobbying hard to sabotage legislation that the European Commission is now (late May 2013) on the point of enacting. The need to act is URGENT. Please sign this petition (in French), addressed to the European Commission, which I translate into English as follows:

For a REAL ban on the use of the neonicotinoid pesticides that are killing our bees

Whereas you are on the point of adopting legislation concerning three neonicotinoids – clothinidin, thiametoxam and imidacloprid – seeking to ban them for two years, but only during a certain period of the year (from January to June for cereals, and during the flowering period for market gardening products);

Whereas more than fifty scientific studies, in France and across the world, have uncontestably demonstrated the responsibility of neonicotinoid pesticides for the dramatic decline in bee populations, which responsibility was confirmed by the European Food Safety Authority on 16th January last;

Whereas a partial ban of this kind will not solve the problem because, as studies have shown, residues of neonicotinoid pesticides can persist in the soil for up to three years, and thus affect following years’ cultivation even if the crops and vegetables concerned have not been treated. The pollen from these plants will contain neonicotinoid residues that will fatally poison the bees.

As a citizen who cares about my health, the food I eat and the natural environment that we will leave for future generations, I ask that you do not give in to pressure from the agrochemicals companies that are refusing the ban on the use of their products, and ban totally, all the year round, any use of clothianidin, thiametoxam or imidacloprid, chemicals that are responsible for the disappearance year-on-year, of millions of bees.

We need to make our voices heard to counter Bayer’s very strong influence on policy makers and scientists in both the US and the EU, where they fund the studies and sit on policy bodies. (Leaked documents showed that the US Environmental Protection Agency knew about a “major risk concern to non-target insects [honey bees]” from these pesticides but ignored it.) The real experts – the beekeepers – want these deadly pesticides prohibited.

We can no longer leave our delicate food chain in the hands of research run by the chemical companies and the regulators that are in their pockets. Banning these pesticides will move us closer to a world safe for ourselves and the other species we care about and depend on.

Here is a selection of articles for further reading on the subject: Bee decline could be down to chemical cocktail interfering with brains ## Bee briefing ## $15 billion bee murder mystery deepens ## “Nicotine bees” population restored with neonicotinoids ban ## EPA memo reveals concern that pesticide causes bee deaths ## Beekeepers want government to pull pesticide ## Bees in freefall as study shows sharp US decline ## Pesticide industry involvement in EU risk assessment puts survival of bees at stake ## Vanishing of bees: details on EPA leaked documents.

Freedom (already eroded and under threat)

The article Blueprint for a screwed-up world, by Simon Retallack (commissioning editor of the Ecologist), New Statesman, vol. 16, no. 771, p. 22, 25 August 2003 described the alarming consequences for the Americas of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and warned of moves by European leaders (Blair, Lamy…) to promote implementation of a similar agreement on a worldwide scale at the World Trade Organisation summit in Cancun, Mexico, in September of that year. Frightening!

Threats to freedom of choice regarding health in the USA and elsewhere.

Legislation is not the only way of limiting freedom. Propaganda is a very effective way of ensuring that the majority of a given population will continue to ply to the wishes of the powerful few (generally major companies seeking to maximise profits). Leaving aside the issue of misleading advertising, it is particularly galling when public authorities, whose very raison d’être is to protect the public, are “persuaded” to participate in widespread misinformation, particularly when the consequences are far from harmless. Such is the case for example with amalgam fillings. Following approval by the FDA (them again?!), amalgam fillings are declared harmless by dentists around the world. But how can they be, when amalgams, by definition, contain mercury?

Did you know that Microsoft, a company that has already been successfully prosecuted for abuse of its monopoly, has quietly forgotten to include the drivers for many older printers and other accessories in its new Windows 7. So, if you replace your PC with a new one pre-equipped with Windows, or if you update the Windows in your existing PC (very inadvisable – see below), be aware that your faithful old printer, which has given you so much trouble-free service for so many years will have to be replaced at the same time. It seems to me that the printer suppliers are behind this scandalous strategy, because the Windows 7 drivers are absent from their Web sites too.

If you bought software for a PC, you would expect it to work on any PC that meets the conditions indicated on the product packaging, wouldn’t you? Well, if you buy Windows 7 to install on an old (e.g. 2006, really ancient!!), you risk a nasty surprise. Then on top of that, you will come up against a brick wall when you try to ask for your money back. The manufacturer of your computer won’t be interested because, after all, your PC is now no longer under guarantee. The shop where you made your purchase will tell you that they cannot refund a product that has been opened and is not defective (because, of course, it works on their test machines which are brand new). And Microsoft will refuse any reimbursement, referring you to the shop where you bought their product. You have been warned!!!

A new European Directive, a “Codex Alimentarius”, inspired by the pharmaceutical industry lobbies, is set to come into effect at the end of this year (2010), considerably limiting the substances authorised in the field of alternative medicines and food supplements. If this goes ahead, Fleurs de Bach, Schlüssler salts, and other remedies will lose their effectiveness, through lack of active ingredients, or they will disappear altogether, as new and extremely restrictive criteria drastically reduce the issuing of PMAs (product marketing authorisations). Natural remedies will thus give way to allopathic medicines, signifying the end of a branch of medicine, the companies producing these remedies and all the associated practitioners (naturopaths, phytotherapists, homeopaths, herbalists, etc. In Britain, the subject has been officially and publicly debated, with the professionals involved leading a nationwide campaign to stop the voting of the directive, but in France and Germany (along with Italy, the main countries behind this directive) the media have either not published this information or severely restricted publication. You can sign a petition on this Web site , but it is also important to write to your MEP.

Some good news: the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty brought into force a Charter of fundamental (EU) citizens’ rights. One of the 54 articles of this charter states that a petition signed by a million citizens can call on the European Commission to propose legislation.

Global warming

It is difficult today to deny that the planet is getting warmer and that man has played a role in the phenomenon. And yet lots of people do. For me personally, quite apart from the fact that anthropomorphic CO2emissions easily can be calculated (world oil consumption x carbon concentration in oil x 44/12 [M.W. ratio CO2:C] + hectares forest cleared x average carbon content per hectare x 44/12), and found non-negligible, it has been sufficient to read the successive predictions made by scientists and then see them come true.

First of all, at the beginning of the 1980s, at a time when all the talk was of acid rain and deforestation, and the term “global warming” had not yet been coined, I read an article in New Scientist forecasting a couple of decades of exceptional meteorological phenomena, with new records being set, before the world climate stabilised again, at a higher temperature .

Such events were not long in coming. In 1980, a major storm in the North Sea had already destroyed the Alexander Kielland platform, occupied at the time by Phillips oil workers. In January 1984, a big blizzard trapped thousands of vehicles in a ski resort and on the approach road to another in Scotland, while winds of up to 160 mph, a new record for Great Britain (excluding the remote islands), killed six people, including two SAS soldiers, one of them highly experienced, who were on a survival exercise on the Cairngorm plateau. In October 1987, severe gales swept across the South of England, uprooting thousands of trees, including six Sevenoaks’ seven oaks in Kent. The following winter, 1987-8, saw the “100-year wave”, used as the basis for the design of the North Sea oil rigs, occur no less than three times! With the vast damage in the North then the South of France, and in other countries too, caused by the storms of the 1999-2000 winter, another dramatic storm was quickly forgotten. One that hit Paris in the summer of 1999. In just a few minutes, it had released enough rain to flood several Metro stations – blowing the transformers installed there and cutting off the power to large parts of the city until temporary generators could be brought in. In Birmingham, in 2005, a tornado, an extremely rare phenomenon in Britain, tore the roofs off several houses, totally destroying them. Another phenomenon virtually unknown in my childhood (the 1960s & 1970s), is the appearance of large hailstones during storms. I have personally witnessed three of these storms, violent enough to damage vehicles, kill birds and strip the leaves off plants, two in the East of France in 1995 and 2004, and one in Zimbabwe in 1997. And that’s without mentioning the numerous exceptional hurricanes and typhoons outside Europe…

There have been abnormal droughts, as in central and southern Africa in 1992 or even in the Amazon basin – hardly believable – in 1995. Last year, 2010, a serious drought in Russia, caused the enormous fires in the country. In Australia and central Africa, the climate is steadily becoming dryer, and major fires are frequent in Australia. In China too, a marked drying of the climate has been observed across the country.

Then there have been major floods, like those in Zimbabwe and Mozambique in 1999, Pakistan in 2010 and Queensland, Australia in early 2011.

Then, it was predicted that, if the Chinese and Indian economies developed to attain a lifestyle that at the time was limited to the West and Japan, we would see a marked acceleration in global warming.

Which is just what we have seen these last few years. With the explosion in the Asian economies, especially those of China and India, the annual increase in carbon dioxide emissions was about 2.5% per year between 2000 and 2005, compared with less than 1% in the 1990s. At the same time, we constantly hear of effects of global warming accelerating, or happening earlier than predicted, particularly the retreating of glaciers worldwide and the melting of the Arctic ice (which could vanish totally in the next ten years).

Then it was predicted (see my letter of 2006 in the Annex below) that if the temperatures in the far North reached certain thresholds, this could trigger the liberation of vast quantities of methane from hydrated deposits beneath the subsea permafrost along the Arctic coasts.

This is what we have seen in recent years and the potential consequences are very worrying.

Then it was forecast that, with the dilution of the Atlantic by the melting Arctic ice, the Gulf Stream could slow down and even reverse, thus reducing or even eliminating its levelling effect on our summer and winter temperatures.

This is what we have seen ovber the last three years. I have lived in Paris since 1998, and prior to 2008 I had never seen snow on the ground last more than a day or two in the city. Then, in the winter of 2008-9, a layer of snow persisted for two weeks, and last year, too, we had snow lying around for quite a while. Until now, I have hestitated to stick my neck out, because two consecutive cold winters could happen by chance. But with the third hard winter that hit Europe in December 2010, I think we can ask the question: is the Gulf Stream already starting to slow down?

What of the next predictions, to check in the future? With the accelerating disappearance of the Arctic ice, there is already talk of its total disappearance within a decade. If this happens, it will add another accelerating factor to global warming, due to the loss of the albedo effect of the ice cap.

Here are the most important Web sites that deal with the subject:

The official Web site of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The Royal Society’s guide to climate-change controversies.

There are some serious arguments against anthropomorphic origins for present warming, such as the “broken hockey-stick” argument and the fact that ice core samples have shown CO2 concentration changes to lag behind, rather than precede, historical global temperature changes. See summaries on the Skeptical Science Web site, the blog from which it was derived, and www.beyondzeroemissions.org. The IPCC have largely ignored them, to their own discredit. I feel this is highly regrettable, as merely brushing aside arguments that displease them weakens their position and that of all who believe in their cause. It is to be hoped that, as the climatosceptics gain ground, which they will as long as this situation continues, the IPPC will be forced to remove its head from the sand and look for explanations for the data that do not match their own assertions. There must be explanations and it is the job of the scientists to find them.

See more on this subject below in the Annex: Letters submitted for publication.

GMOs – see The Aberrations of intensive farming

Greenhouse effect / Greenhouse gases / Greenhouse-gas emissions – see Global warming

International conferences concerning the environment

If you find yourself lost with the names and dates of all the environmental summits, conferences, conventions, protocols and international agreements, here is a list of past events to help you find your way. For future events, see the very complete lists given on the Environmental Expert.com Web site of the World Social Forums.

Under the patronage of the EC and various European industrial associations, Klaus M. Schwab, Professor of Economics at the University of Geneva, invited 444 Western European heads of companies to take part in the 1st European Management Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January 1971, to learn about the latest management practices in the United States. He subsequently set up the European Management Forum, a non-profit organisation based in Geneva, inviting European company bosses to Davos for an annual meeting every January. From this organisation, the World Economic Forumwas born in 1987.

G6 Summit, Rambouillet, France, November 1975, where the French President, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, asked the German, Italian, Japanese, American and British Heads of State to join him for discussions on the oil crisis.

G7 Summit, Puerto Rico, June 1976, where Canada joined what became the G7. Only the significant G7/G8 summits will be indicated below. For the others, see this summary of G7/G8 summits.

The European Management Forum was renamed World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 1987.

The Montreal Protocol, September 1987, was an accord, signed by 29 countries then ratified by 150 others (including the United States – see Nairobi Conference, below), on the progressive elimination of 96 substances causing damage to the ozone layer, according to a precise schedule. Well respected, until 2003.

United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), or Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro, 3-14 June 1992, where the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or FCCC) was voted by 154 nations and the European Community. It came into force on 21 March 1994. In 2004, it was ratified by 189 countries. The UNFCCC was the first attempt by the UN to determine the nature of climate change and seek to remedy it.

G7/G8 Summit, Naples, Italy, July 1994, where Russia was brought into the fold for the first time.

1st WTO Ministerial Conference, 1995.

Special G7/G8 Summit on nuclear safety, Moscow, Russia, April 1996.

OECD “Blue Sky” Forum, Paris, June 1996. (“Blue Sky” signifies creative reflection, with no limiting horizons, on the development of new indicators to meet the requirements of changes in policies and needs in the fields of science, technology and innovation.)

The Kyoto Protocol on the greenhouse effect was established in December 1997 by the representatives of the 180 member states of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climatic Change, proposed by the United Nations at the Rio Summit in 1992). It aimed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to 94.8% of levels recorded in 1990 by means of commitments that were legally enforceable under international law. The Kyoto Protocol fixed specific objectives for the industrialised nations, the principal greenhouse-gas emitters. The agreement covered the period 2008 to 2012, taking into account certified reductions achieved between 2000 and 2007. An individual maximum target, or “allocated quota”, was negotiated by each country. This was not based on objective criteria such as the population of the country concerned or the greenhouse-gas emissions associated with the activities of that population. The protocol, whose application was only finally decided at the Bonn Conference in July 2001, has been a constant source of disagreement between Europe and the United States which refused to ratify it. George Bush was a declared opponent of the principle despite the fact that his country was responsible for over a quarter of global greenhouse-gas emissions, while representing less than 5% of the world population. Russia having at last commited itself to the process, the Kyoto Protocol, which needed to be ratified by 55 countries altogether representing over 55% of greenhouse-gas emissions, came into force on 16 February 2005.

G8 Summit, Birmingham, United Kingdom, May 1998, where Russia became an official member of the G8.

The 3rd WTO Ministerial Conference, Seattle, December 1999, which had set out to tackle environnemental questions, among others, for the first time, ended up in what became known as Seattle Fiasco. Besides the usual divergences between Europe and the United States, the developing countries voiced a strong desire to be heard and not just directed, and public opinion backed them with strong presence and lively protests, repressed with tear gas and rubber bullets.

30th World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, January 2000, where the Secretary-General of the WHO, Gro Harlem Brundtland, announced the creation of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI).

World Water Forum, The Hague, Netherlands, March 2000.

1st World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, Brazil, held by the Altermondialistes, in parallel with the 31st World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, January 2001.

Bonn Conference, July 2001, where the decision was made on the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol.

2nd World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, Brazil, in parallel with the 32nd World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, February 2002.

1st European Social Forum, Florence, Italy, March 2002.

World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg, South Africa, August-September 2002, where Russia agreed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

3rd World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, Brazil, in parallel with the 33rd World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, January 2003.

Water Forum of Kyoto (and Osaka, Shiga), Japan, March 2003.

5th WTO Ministerial Conference, Cancun, Mexico, September 2003.

Conference on Global Climate Change, Moscow, 29 September – 3 October 2003, where Poutine went back on the commitment, made in Johannesburg in 2002, regarding the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.

2nd European Social Forum, Paris, November 2003.

1st World Sustainable Development Forum, Paris, France, November 2003.

Nairobi Conference, November 2003, which failed to reach agreement on the use of methyl bromide, a pesticide that destroys the ozone layer and was due to be withdrawn by 2005 in the developed countries and by 2015 elsewhere, under the Montreal Protocol (see above). The decision was put back to March 2004. The United States asked not only to retain the use of the product, but even to be allowed an increase in usage of up to 30% by 2007.

4th World Social Forum, Mumbai, India, in parallel with the 34th World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, January 2004.

March of the “Untouchables” (140 million in India).

BirdLife International, Durban, March 2004 (350 delegates from more than 100 countries).

1st Social Forum of the Americas, Quito, Equador, July 2004.

3rd European Social Forum, London, November 2004.

2nd World Sustainable Development Forum, Paris, 27-29 November 2004.

5th Forum social mondial, Porto Alegre, Brazil, in parallel with the 35th World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, January 2005, where a consultative committe was set up to take part in defining the G8 programme, headed by UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, for fighting climate change. At the annual G8 summit, this committee, made up of 24 heads of multinationals, called on governments to establish long-term policies involving all the major greenhouse-gas emitters.

Mediterranean Social Forum, 2005.

3rd World Sustainable Development Forum, Paris, 1-3 December 2005.

6th World Social Forum, Caracas, Venezuela and Bamako, Mali, in parallel with the 36th World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, January 2006, then in Karachi, Pakistan in March 2006.

“Blue Sky II” forum, hosted by Statistics Canada, OECD, U.S. National Science Foundation and Industry Canada, Ottawa, September 2006.

7th World Social Forum, Nairobi, Kenya, in parallel with the 37th World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, January 2007.

8th World Social Forum, in parallel with the 38th World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, January 2008, where the Japanese Prime Minister, Yasuo Fukuda, unveiled a funding scheme of 10 billion USD over five years to help developing countries fight climate change.

9th World Social Forum, Bélem, Brazil, January-February 2009, in parallel with the 39th World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, where, at the request of the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, a new WEF working group, made up of heads of companies, economists and other experts, provided advice to the United Nations climate debate.

G20 Summit, London, 2009

Copenhagen Summit on climate change, December 2009.

Klimaforum 09, December 2009.

10th World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, Brazil, in parallel with the 40th World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, January 2010.

USA Social Forum, Detroit, June 2010.

UN Climate Change Conference, COP16/CMP6 (16th Conference of the Parties, 6th Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol), Cancun, Mexico, 29 November – 10 December 2010.

Klimaforum 10, Cancun and elsewhere, December 2010, to monitor the climate change conference, COP16, and present an alternative vision.

11th World Social Forum, Dakar, Senegal, February 2011, just after the 41st World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, January 2011.

United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC), COP17/CMP7 (17th Conference of the Parties, 7th Conference Of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol), Durban, South Africa, 28 November – 11 December 2011.

12th World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, Brazil, in parallel with the 42nd World Economic Forum , Davos, Switzerland, January 2012.

United Nations Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC), COP18/CMP8 (18th Conference of the Parties, 8th Conference Of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol), Doha, Qatar, 26 November – 7 December 2012.

13th World Social Forum, Tunis, Tunisia, March 2013, just after the 43rd World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, January 2013.

Irradiation of food

In April 2011, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a report that, though admitting possible relevance for man of neurological problems observed in cats that had consumed irradiated food, concluded that this technology bore no microbiological risk. The Collectif français contre l’irradition des aliments (French movement opposed to the irradiation of food) has requested the banning of this practice based on the principle of precaution, or, at the very least, serious and independent research into the long-term effects of the consumption of irradiated food.

Local, alternative economies, “transition” towns and “Cittaslow”

In 2006, the Cornish town of Totnes, population 8,000, became the first “transition town”. The concept, was developed by Rob Hopkins, following his experience as a teacher of permaculture in Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland, and consists in creating a local mini-economy, with ecological constructions, communal gardens, fruit tree planting, cyclist groups and even the issuing of a local currency. During his time in Kinsale, Rob Hopkins had discovered Gregory Green’s film The end of Suburbia and followed a conference given by Colin J. Campbell, a geologist and the founder of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO). He thus saw an urgent need to prepare the way for the the “transition” from the oil economy to a new way of life without oil, in the meantime also providing some protection against the other problems of the general economy, banking and other crises.

Today, about 700 towns, suburbs or villages across the world have followed suit, including about 20 in France

The idea of issuing local, alternative and ethical currencies is starting to catch on in some larger towns too, such as the French cities of Grenoble, Lille, Rennes and Toulouse. In Bavaria, in southern Germany, the idea has also been very successful.

If you find the pace of life too fast and would like to slow down, now is the moment to discover the Cittaslow concept. This movement, born in Italy, awards its “Cittaslow” label to towns that meet certain criteria of quality of life, in particular a calmer style of life. Italy has nearly fifty of these towns, and Britain nearly ten.

Nanotechnology

Follow this link to gain an insight into the next great controversy that is soon going to break worldwide, nanotechnology. (Article in French.)

This article, published on the same Web site under the title:“Les nanoparticules pire que l’amiante” (Nanoparticles Worse than Asbestos) goes a little further (article in French).

Here is a selection of articles on the subject: Scientific American (December 2008), Australian Broadcasting Corporation News (November 2009), The Sydney Morning Herald (November 2009), AOL News (July 2010), AlterNet (September 2010), Le Monde (March 2010) (article in French).

Obsolescence, built-in (or planned)

The issue of built-in obsolescence is neatly summed up in the Story of Stuff (12 minutes and 45 seconds into the video).

Organic farming and organic food

European Web site to increase awareness of organic farming among EU consumers.

See also our own article “WHY WE EAT ORGANIC FOOD” and the copy in the Annex at the bottom of this page of a letter published in The Chemical Engineer in June 2010.

Overpopulation

It is quite astounding to observe that if one types “Overpopulation” in Google, more pages come up arguing that there is no problem than the reverse, in spite of the efforts of Paul Ehrlich and Stephen Hawking. Yet the simplest logic can demonstrate that if the world population continues expanding (at whatever rate), sooner or later demand will outstrip resources. And observation shows that it is going to be sooner rather than later. Look at the number of edible fish species that are in danger of imminent exhaustion of supply if no action is taken. Look at the fact that the demand for land and timber has resulted in half of the world’s virgin forests disappearing since the 1970s – which means that I have a fair chance of seeing the end of all virgin forests in my lifetime. Don’t they keep telling us we’re getting short of landfill space too? And what was that percentage again, for the portion of the world population without access to sufficient drinking water NOW?

There is an urgent need to change attitudes to population and reproduction. Population growth statistics show clearly that restraint, financial hardship and even the ravages of wars and AIDS are not effective in compensating for high birth rates. Most European countries are overpopulated, and yet incentives are offered in the form of child benefit, tax reductions, prioritisation in housing applications, etc. for the production of a large family. In the world’s poorer countries, where children are seen as security for old age, families of eight to ten children are the norm. And even where there is awareness of the overpopulation problem, contraceptive measures are often unpopular and the preachings of the Vatican do not help at all.

There is an important lesson to be learnt in the story of the decimation of the elephant population in the Tsavo National Park in Kenya during the 1970-71 drought. Conservationists, led by British naturalist Richard Leakey, refused any cull of the elephants, despite mounting evidence that the severring of their migration routes and their consequent overpopulation in the park were causing severe defoliation. The New York diarist and part-time African adventurer and photographer, Peter Beard vehemently contested this view, predicting total decimation of the elephant population as a result of over-grazing. Unfortunately the conservationists swayed public opinion in their favour and the elephant population was indeed totally wiped out. Beard photographed hundreds of elephants tracing circles on the ground in their agonising circular walk of death. Regrettably, the vast majority of these photographs were lost in a fire before he was able to repatriate them for an exhibition in New York.

For general information on overpopulation and related issues see these Web sites: www.overpopulation.org and www.overpopulationawareness.org. The latter displays the current world population, second by second, based on published statistics for population and population growth rate (currently [20/09/2011] 2.37 people per second).

Packaging

See this Web site for detailed information on the harmful effects of plastics on our health.

If you can manage a bit of French, watch this programme from the Franco-German television channel Arte on the harmful effects for our health of packaging.

Pesticides – see The Aberrations of intensive farming and Pollution

Planned obsolescence – see Obsolescence, built-in (or planned)

Pollution

To learn more about marine pollution, see the following Web sites: http://seawifs.gsfc.nasa.gov, the article on Wikipedia and www.grida.no.

For information more specifically on the horror of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, see these Web sites: www.greenpeace.org, the article on Wikipedia and www.algalita.org and have a look at these videos: The plastic vortex and World’s biggest garbage dump.

For information on everyday pollution in our immediate environment (home, office, streets, etc.), see these Web sites: Wikipedia article on light pollution, National Geographic article on light pollution, Atlas of light pollution, What is noise pollution? and Noise Pollution Clearing House.

Recycling

Pro-Recyclage (in French).

Click here and here and here to see where you can recycle glass (bottles, sheet or windows), paper (including books, cards, magazines, Yellow Pages, stamps) and cardboard (sheet, cartons, boxes), metals (aerosol cans, food/drink cans, tin foil), plastic (bags, bottles, yoghurt pots, CDs), masonry, soil, oil, paint, clothes, shoes, carpet, matresses, electronic/computing goods and household equipment and more…

For further information on the recycling of plastics, see the plastics page of the www.wasteonline.org.uk Web site.

Click here, or telephone 0800.091.0696, to recycle ink and toner cartridges and mobile phones in the UK.

Waste electrical and electronic equipment, or WEEE (including computers): electronic waste is hard to recycle and problematic in terms of toxicity and pollution, but solutions are being developed. WasteCare have 11 depots in the UK for the collection and processing of WEEE. The recyclable PC (made in France but incorporating electronic components manufactured in Asia) has become a reality, but it is not yet available to the general public.

Responsible consumption

The Responsible consumption Web site.

Given the influence of the major industrial groups in every field, with governments yielding to their lobbying power, it is virtually impossible today for the average person to engage in a political combat against the aberrations all around us (deforestation, pollution, wastage, overexploitation, empoisonnement, etc.) Even petitions signed by hundreds of thousands of people, headed by scientists of authority, have very little effect. Hats off to certain courageous individuals (in France: José Bové, Nicolas Hulot, founder of the Fondation pour la Nature et l’Homme (Foundation for Nature and Mankind) and now an active ecologist politician, Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Marie-Monique Robin, for example) who succeed in doing so! But most of us have neither the time nor the energy required for the assault course that faces all who seek to be heard.

However, we still have one very powerful weapon: our wallets. It is vital that each one of us pay very close attention to every single purchase, in order to avoid putting one penny or cent into the pockets of those who are guilty of all this destruction. But this has become a huge challenge today. You need to read every product label with a magnifying glass, find out which products are poisoning us or causing major harm to the planet, know which fish are overexploited, keep up to date with modern developments in agriculture and animal-rearing, know which companies belong to which groups, know who to believe when some cry “Scandal!” and others declare that all is well…

Here are a few suggestions to help you on your way:

Avoid all disposable products and think ecology whenever you make a purchase: Does this product, contain toxic materials (a question that is all the more important if you make your purchases outside the EU, which has put in place significant protective measures in this field)? Does this electronic product have indicator lamps that remain permanently lit, thus consuming electricity even when the equipment is “switched off”? Will this product be recyclable, once its useful life has come to an end? What waste accumulation or damage to the environment arises from production of this article?

Transition towns, transition economies – see Local, alternative economies, “transition” towns and “Cittaslow”

So what can we do?

Buy and consume “Organic” and “Fair trade” as far as possible (but note that “Fair Trade” does not mean “Organic”), preferring local produce, in order to reduce the associated transport costs. Read in minute detail the lists of ingredients of all food purchased (after having consulted the Web sites – and, if you read French, Corinne Gouguet’s book – cited above, to know how to interpret them), in order to avoid any ingestion of aspartame, monosodium glutamate and other additives that cause serious health problems. (The same goes for medicines and even for organic products.)

Eat less meat (how about once a week, like most people in the world?), preferring organic meat from animals and poultry that have been raised out of doors, without hormonal or antibiotic treatment, and not fed on soya intensively farmed on land stolen from the Amazon rainforest or from peasant farmers. Avoid endangered species of fish (sole, Mediterranean tuna, etc.), preferring herring or mackerel, and reduce intake. If consuming farmed fish, prefer organic sources that minimise pollution and again avoid the use of GM-soya-based feeds.

Use natural or organic perfumes and cosmetics and avoid in particular cosmetic products, including perfumes and sun-protection products, containing chemicals that are toxic or harmful to the environment.

Cut down as far as possible the use of chemical products – insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, cleaning products, washing-up liquid, washing powders, shampoo – and use ecological brands (Ecover, Sonett, Etamine du Lys, …). Prefer clothes that can be washed to those that require dry-cleaning with the use of unecological chlorinated solvents. Buy recycled paper, and use both sides.

Cut down as far as possible the use of the car, especially for short journeys and/or as the sole occupant. Explore public transport, car-sharing and vehicle downsizing possibilities.

Travel by air as little as possible. Prefer holidays nearer home and travel by train whenever possible. In your working life, replace distant meetings by conference calls or virtual Internet meetings as far as possible.

Cut down as far as possible on energy consumption generally: (i) avoid electric heating (which involves major energy losses at the generation stage) (ii) lower the central heating thermostat or switch off the heating altogether whenever possible with the aid of warmer clothing (iii) improve home insulation (iv) prefer (short) showers to baths (v) prefer mechanical clothes drying (wringing by hand or spin-drying) followed by line-drying to drying by heat (ironing or tumble-drying) (vi) use a good old-fashioned flame-heated kettle rather than an electric one and avoid boiling more water than necessary (store excess boiled water in a vacuum flask for re-use later – but re-oxygenate by pouring from a height when making tea, as storage at temperature reduces the water’s dissolved oxygen content) (vii) prefer a gas solid plate hob (to avoid those power-plant losses) but an electric oven (to avoid heat losses associated with the evacuation of the products of gas combustion) (viii) turn down the heat beneath a simmering dish (because the temperature remains the same whether the water boils gently or furiously) (ix) avoid purchasing electrical goods that consume energy even when not in use (x) use low-energy lamps, preferably of the LED type, which, unlike fluorocompact lamps, do not contain mercury (xi) switch off lights and other electrical appliances when not in use (xii) prefer stairs to lifts and escalators.

If possible, switch to renewable energy providers. Here are some useful Web sites: Good Energy Co., Ecotricity or Green Electricity Marketplace for the UK, the North American Green Purchasing Initiative’s Web site for the USA and Canada, the Green Power, Green Energy Watch and Green Electricity Watch Web sites for Australia, the Econation and Meridian Energy Web sites for New Zealand, or the Agama Energy Web site and this page on The Good News Web site for South Africa) and/or install solar or wind power sources.

Avoid disposable products, upgrade or repair before replacing, and recycle as much as possible (when acquiring as well as when throwing out), buy in bulk whenever possible, avoid or at least re-use plastic bags, avoid buying bottled water and products with packaging that is excessive, non-degradable and/or hard to recycle and compost organic waste – even indoors. (Enter “indoor composting” on Google).

Take a few measures to stop junk mail and all the paper wastage it involves.

Opt out of conventional investment in the stock markets, preferring ethical investment options. Check that the ethics concerned include sustainable technology with no risk to the environment and respect of human rights and dignity. If participating in an employer’s save-as-you-earn scheme, explore the options and select the one that gives you the most visibility regarding where the investment is ultimately placed. If not satisfied, opt out.

Spread the word! Talk to your family, friends and colleagues. Write to newspapers. Contribute to blogs on the web.

Annex: Letters submitted for publication

Letter to The Chemical Engineer (tce), 26 March 1998, published April 1998:

It is easy to denounce experts as “doom-mongers crying wolf” (tce 12 March 1998) from the comfort of a first-world country, far from the environmental front line.

I cannot check my facts but believe Mr Rhodes’ “experts” were predicting the consequences if both sides’ oil wells were set on fire in the Gulf War, and they subsequently proved inextinguishable, whereas the Iraqi oil wells were spared and fire-fighting experts quickly controlled the Kuwait fires.

On the “real threat” of “global warming and other atmospheric changes”, books by recent polar explorers describe major problems with early thaws and serious u.v. radiation. Geographical magazines have discussed climatic perturbations around the world due to the reversal of El Nino, and melting Alpine ice fields threatening the valleys below. French and Italian mountain villages half-submerged in unprecedented floods, due to rapid Alpine thaws caused by unseasonal rain (snow in previous winters), have made international news, as have alarming and still rising pollution counts in cities worldwide.

Let me cite more “hard evidence”, from the 1992 southern African drought: S.Africa, a net food exporter, begging for food aid; slaughter or starvation of hundreds of thousands of cattle and loss of entire sugar cane crops in Zimbabwe; major wildlife and tree losses as large areas in several countries turned to semi-desert, daily borehole queues hundreds of metres long, tens of thousands of shigella and cholera deaths in Malawi (alone) when the rains finally came.

Even in the UK, recall the 1980’s, when the North Sea experienced three times in one winter the once-in-100-years wave conditions rig designers allow for, with Piper Alpha among the casualties*; when four students and two SAS soldiers died in one day on the Cairngorms in record 160 mph winds; when gales felled vast numbers of trees across southern England, including six of Sevenoaks’ seven oaks.

[* Writing from rural Zimbabwe, with no Internet to check my facts, I referred to the wrong platform here: the Piper Alpha platform was destroyed by an explosion. It was the Alexander Kielland platform that was destroyed by rough weather, and even that was in 1980, before the year of the three big storms, which did not in fact cause any major disaster.]

Alarmist ecologists are not prophets of doom, but advisers of caution. We ignore the warnings, denounce their authors and throw caution to the wind at high risk, in terms of the stakes even if the odds are sometimes lower than claimed. They are not the only experts to ring warning bells: two years ago, tce published a disturbing report on ex-Eastern-block nuclear power plants, presumably compiled by chemical engineers. Were they “crying wolf”? Days after reading the article, I met someone who had been evacuated from her Romanian holiday due to an incident at a Bulgarian power station it featured.

Letter to The Chemical Engineer (tce), October 2004, published November 2004:

A committed ecologist, I am grateful for pertinent information provided by two recent tce articles.

From Greenhouse – the sceptics strike back (tce June 2004), I learned of the broken hockey-stick argument against the IPPC global warming model. Mention of the Mediaeval Warm Period and 19th-century Little Ice Age struck a chord, as I recall learning with amazement at school of Napoleon’s cavalry capturing the Dutch fleet trapped in the frozen Texel estuary.

While hoping ecologist politicians will also accept this well founded argument, as entrenched positions undermine credibility, I would caution using it to reject the Kyoto protocol for two reasons.

Firstly, as retarding of their exhaustion cannot continue indefinitely, fossil fuels must be conserved. Nuclear fission cannot replace fossil fuels because uranium supplies would only last ten years [“Nuclear power?”, letters, tce Sept.].

Secondly, as reported at a UNESCO scientific conference in Paris in May, the world’s oceans currently absorb half the CO2 generated by mankind, with serious implications for marine life: acidification of surface layers, shortage of carbonates for shell and skeleton formation, and oxygen depletion.

More recently (tce Sept.), GM crops: not all sugar and spice provided long-awaited answers. Though firmly opposed to genetically modified organisms for fear of a stranglehold on world food production by a few multinationals (on this subject, see also Blueprint for a screwed-up world, Simon Retallack, New Statesman, vol. 16, 771, p. 22) and of blanket herbicide use, I have been sceptical of ecologists’ claims regarding potential dangers to human health from GM foods. No concrete arguments were ever advanced. Here, at last, some have been given.

Letter to The Chemical Engineer (tce), January 2006, published March 2006:

Mr David Free’s favourite argument (most recently tce 772) on climatic change is that only 25% of greenhouse gas emissions are man-made, so efforts to reduce them are misdirected. How this (quantified) information is obtained or arrived at is not stated, though it is suggested that a significant portion of the “natural” CO2 generation comes from forest fires and savannah burning.

Most forest fires are initiated, mostly intentionally, by man and savannah burning is a human activity. Both undoubtedly contribute significantly to CO2 emissions (as well as deforestation and habitat destruction) so Mr Free is right to call for their inclusion in greenhouse-gas campaigns. However, describing them as “natural” is grossly misleading.

Switching such burning to “man-made” emissions will greatly increase Mr Free’s 25% figure, making other emissions cuts measures not so irrelevant after all. Besides, even if man’s addition to greenhouse-gas generation is small (and 25% is not!), the fact is that, unless Nature can increase consumption correspondingly (not at all helped by forest/savannah disappearance), temperatures will rise.

It is possible that current global warming is not entirely attributable to man’s activities (see the “broken hockey-stick” argument, outlined in tce June 2004) but, given the proportions it is beginning to take (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4318538.stm and http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4344310.stm ), mankind’s contribution cannot be brushed aside.

A recent theory which is superceding the meteorite (as a sole cause) hypothesis for the disappearance of the dinosaurs, now shown to have been far less sudden than previously thought, is that rising sea temperatures triggered massive releases of sub-sea deposits of methane (25 times greater greenhouse effect than CO2), causing dramatic and sustained global warming. If man-induced ocean warming triggers such methane releases again, as some scientists fear, we’ll really start to sweat!

Letter to The Chemical Engineer (tce), 22 May 2010, published in June 2010:

I am disturbed to read in the March issue (no. 825) of tce some of the ideas put forward in the article “Food for thought”, and to note that 65% of voters on the I.Chem.E. Web site felt that GM crops should help ensure sustainable world food supplies.

I strongly recommend a (French) video documentary on the dubious ethics of a US-based company highly active in this field, made by the French journalist Marie-Monique Robin, which may be purchased online on the Web site of French TV channel Arte. (“Marie-Monique Robin” on Google will give the URL.)

A member of Greenpeace, I have often been disappointed in the organisation’s arguments againt GM products: not because they were wrong, but because they were not backed up by hard facts. However, an excellent source of such hard facts was provided by no less a source than… tce! See “GM crops: not all sugar and spice?” by John Shave F.I.Chem.E. and Gundula Azeez, tce September 2004, pp. 22-3.

Anyone considering supporting GM products (by voting online, writing letters or articles, owning shares in GM-active companies or buying GM products) should first consult these sources. They might also be interested in my own modest contribution to the debate at: http://nickrose.free.fr/?p=11

I would just add here that the US company in question is beginning to encounter major problems. At least two Indian states have banned the company from their soil, following hundreds of suicides by GM cotton farmers bankrupted by soaring pesticide costs. And, rather close to home for comfort, some American farmers are suing the company following the appearance of pesticide-resistant weeds that rendered their GM cereals unharvestable. So, sorry Tom Sheldon, but your assertion that “one potential benefit of GM is the reduced use of synthetic pesticides” carries no weight with me.

Letter to The Chemical Engineer (tce), 22 November 2010, not published:

Having been impressed by Trevor Kletz’s writings on safety, I am disappointed in his writings on global warming. If his mocking of those who “know” in his first contribution was merely irritating, his second letter, in the November tce (no. 833) was misleading.

The analogy of the greenhouse should not be taken too far: while the role of the glass of a greenhouse is limited to differential transmission of infra-red radiation of different wavelengths, in the atmosphere absorption by the greenhouse gasses themselves does indeed seem to play a role. (The action of greenhouse gases was first propounded in 1824 by Joseph Fourrier and demonstrated in 1858 by John Tyndall.)

That water vapour contributes more to the atmosphere’s overall greenhouse effect than CO2 is also correct, though nowhere do I find figures anywhere near 95% for water vapour, 5% for CO2. (Wikipedia’s article on greenhouse gases cites a maximum contribution for water vapour of 70%, with CO2 contributing between 9 and 26%.)

However, this is irrelevant to the current global warming debate, because what gives us cause for concern today is not the atmosphere’s overall greenhouse effect – actually essential for our survival, for without it Earth’s surface temperatures would not accommodate most present life forms – but changes in this effect, caused by the increase in the concentration of certain greenhouse gases, most notably, in terms of additional greenhouse effect, CO2. (Incidentally, virtually all combustion that generates CO2 generates water vapour in greater amounts.)

Turning to the source of the atmospheric CO2, again we are not interested in the overall concentration, but in its recent increases. Whether Prof. Kletz’s 3-4% figure for man’s contribution is related to the overall concentration or the increase is unclear, as he merely states “most of the CO2”. However, let me cite another global-warming theory detractor. In tce no. 772, David Free cited a figure of 25% (also unsubstantiated) for man-made greenhouse gas emissions, adding that far greater “natural” contributions came from forest fires. In my response (tce Jan. 2006), I pointed out that most forest fires were man-made, significantly modifying his man-made:“natural” ratio.

Finally, I find the statement that most atmospheric CO2 “is said to come from the oceans and animals” quite outrageous. Said by whom? One of the alarming consequences of present-day anthropomorphic CO2 emissions is that most of the CO2 is not ending up in the atmosphere at all but in the oceans, causing increased acidity levels worldwide that pose a threat to coral colonies and other marine life (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_acidification). The oceans are absorbing CO2, not emitting it. For the moment…

 

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