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Germany Looks to the Sky

 

The Social Democrats – Germany's ruling party governing in coalition with the environmentalist Green Party – has been in power for just four months, but it has already created waves.

 

The Social Democrats (SPD) promised during the fall election campaign to move Germany away from both nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. In particular, the SPD said it would work toward a policy that would preclude the first use of nuclear missiles. Under such a policy, nuclear weapons are to be used only in retaliation for a nuclear attack. To that end, SPD chancellor Gerhard Schroder proposed last November that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) renounce a 50-year-old doctrine that allows it to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict.

 

German foreign minister Joschka Fischer – who in the 1980s led demonstrations against the United States' policy of locating nuclear warheads on US military bases in Germany – pointed out that the end of the Cold War has changed Europe's security needs. Moreover, government officials are concerned that more countries will join the club of nuclear powers.

 

“These are highly sensitive issues,” a senior German official stated. “But if the nuclear states don't move towards more disarmament, then the incentive for those states on the brink of going nuclear [to remain non-nuclear] is extremely low.”

 

The US and NATO have always reserved the right to first use of nuclear weapons, believing that the threat of a massive nuclear strike is a powerful deterrent to conventional attacks.

 

The US, Britain, and France, NATO's three nuclear powers, have made it clear that the German position will not affect NATO strategy. German government spokesperson Uwe-Karsten Heye said last December that the debate would continue in NATO committees, but “in the end there will be a joint NATO decision.”

 

The German initiative comes as part of a NATO discussion on devising a new strategic concept for the alliance prior to its 50th anniversary next year. A NATO summit meeting is scheduled in Washington in April 1999.

 

The Social Democrats and the Greens are working to reduce the presence of nuclear energy as well as nuclear weapons. The government has allocated $530 million for its 100,000 Solar Roof Program, which aims to promote production and use of photovoltaic cells.

 

“Working for renewable energies means working for the survival of human civilization,” said Social Democrat environment spokesperson Dr. Hermann Scheer. “The next four decades will be the most decisive epoch in human civilization. If we succeed in replacing nuclear and fossil fuels with renewable energies, we will have clean, safe energy forever.”

 

The German government has also taken steps to improve the market for renewable energy and plans to offer investment subsidies and tax deductions for those who purchase photovoltaics.

 

– Tracy Rysavy


Hydrogen Buses

Canada's Ballard Power Systems and German automaker Daimler-Benz AG are teaming up to mass-produce zero-pollution hydrogen-powered buses, beginning in 2004. The two companies believe that the buses could be the solution to Canada's smog problem. In Ontario, smog from gas- and diesel-powered vehicles kills 1,800 people a year, according to the Ontario Medical Association. Ballard Power has signed a deal with Iceland to produce and export the hydrogen to fuel the buses.

– Earth Island Journal

Earth Island Journal, 300 Broadway, No. 28, San Francisco, CA 94133-3312; 415/788-3666.


Animal Plaintiffs

In Japan, animals are now being allowed to bring suits to court. So far, a number of animal plaintiffs have sued developers and officials for habitat destruction. In 1995, the endangered Amani rabbit (with the pro bono aid of sympathetic lawyers) sued to block development of two golf courses. Lawyers for a family of bean geese sued to block a freeway near Tokyo that threatened winter feeding grounds, and a coalition of invertebrates has teamed up with some foxes to mount a legal challenge to the destruction of their shared habitat.

– Earth Island Journal

Earth Island Journal, 300 Broadway, No. 28, San Francisco, CA 94133-3312; 415/788-3666.


FEMA & Red Cross Call for Y2K Preparedness

The American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are urging preparedness for disruptions the Year 2000 (Y2K) computer bug might bring.

The Y2K problem began years ago when computer programmers opted to save space by using a two-digit numerical system, rather than the standard four-digit notation, to indicate the year – “99” was used instead of “1999,” for example. Governments and businesses are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on Y2K fixes, but many believe that some critical computer systems and some of the embedded chips found in everything from elevators to nuclear plants could be disrupted when they read “00” as “1900” rather than “2000.”

In efforts to prevent panic and confusion, the American Red Cross recently published a “Community Disaster Education” brochure, which includes a checklist of what people can do to prepare themselves for Y2K related disasters. The brochure lists electric power grids, manufacturing industries, traffic signals, credit card networks, telephone systems, and automatic teller machines as potential trouble spots come January 1, 2000.

“We don't think Y2K is going to be a major, disaster-type scenario. But we do think there could be spot problems in local communities, and people should be prepared,” Red Cross spokesperson Michael Fulwider told the American News Service.

The Red Cross checklist includes standard emergency readiness measures, such as stocking disaster supplies (nonperishable foods, water, medications, etc.), acquiring extra cash to have on hand, and having plenty of blankets and clothes to keep warm. In addition, it calls for people to check with manufacturers on the likelihood of Y2K affecting any electronic equipment in which an “embedded chip” may control its operation.

Under the aegis of the President's Council on the Year 2000 Conversion, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been working with local emergency management services to raise awareness, increase individual and community preparedness. In February and March, FEMA plans to conduct “Y2K Consequence Management” workshops around the country to identify critical issues, assess vulnerabilities, review contingency plans, and consider helpful steps communities can take to deal with or prevent possible Y2K repercussions.

On its Web site (www.fema.gov), FEMA calls for government agencies, public utilities, businesses, and individuals to “consider disruption of computer-based systems a serious risk.” (See pages 49-51 for a Y2K checklist for you and your community.)

– Mark Overbay


Kindness Goes Global

In March of 1963, Seiji Kaya delivered his farewell address as president of the University of Tokyo. Kaya instructed the students “to be brave in practicing ‘small kindness,' thereby creating a wave of kindness that will someday wash over all of Japanese society.”

Those words marked the beginning of Japan's Small Kindness Movement, which continues today with over 400,000 active members. The Japanese Small Kindness organization encourages random acts of courtesy by recognizing the Japanese citizens who perform them.

According to The Christian Science Monitor, when Yoko Suzuki witnessed a taxi driver pulling over to the side of the road to clear some garbage bags that were obstructing traffic, she nominated the driver for a small kindness award. The driver received a pin and a certificate.

In the US, Will Glennon and a group of friends penned a book in 1992 filled with ideas for small courtesies. Random Acts of Kindness sold nearly 1 million copies worldwide, and, as a result, the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation was formed. Volunteers in Australia, the UK, Canada, China, Italy, and Sweden have started their own groups to promote small kindnesses.

– Tracy Rysavy

Contact the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, 800/685-9595; Web: www.actsofkindness.org


Clinton's New Agenda

President Clinton and Vice President Gore recently unveiled two environmental initiatives aimed at curbing suburban sprawl and preserving vulnerable forests, grasslands, beaches, and marine sanctuaries.

The Livability Agenda, which was announced on January 11, “will provide communities with new tools and resources to preserve green space, ease traffic congestion, and pursue regional ‘smart growth' strategies,” according to a White House statement.

Included in the initiative are plans to expand use of alternative transportation, encourage citizen involvement in local planning, and create suburban parks, greenways, and other open space.

A day after the Livability Agenda was unveiled, the Clinton administration proposed a “land legacy initiative,” which earmarks over $1 billion for land preservation.

The initiative calls for putting thousands of acres of land under federal protection – including New England forest areas, sections within and near the Mojave Desert, land in the Florida Everglades, and areas along the Lewis and Clark Trail.

The proposal also calls for $588 million to go to states for buying land or working with private parties to create conservation easements or private land trusts, White House officials said.

– Tracy Rysavy


The Return of Star Wars

The Clinton Administration plans to spend an extra $6.6 billion – on top of the $3.9 billion already budgeted – to resurrect the missile defense system known during the Reagan era as “Star Wars” to counteract the threat of missile attack by “rogue states.”

The US has asked Russia to amend the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the former Soviet Union, which limits both sides' ability to deploy anti-missile systems. Russia says it will not carry out arms cuts unless the treaty is observed, according to Reuters.

Unlike Star Wars, which was to be built in space, the National Missile Defense system will be land-based, with a network of radar stations and missile launchers designed to defend the US from attack.

If Russia doesn't agree to the amendment, Secretary of Defense William Cohen says the US will observe a clause that allows it to pull out of the treaty.

Cohen says the US has performed environmental surveys for potential missile sites in Alaska and North Dakota.

– Tracy Rysavy


China's Green Taxes

Suffering from the effects of widespread environmental degradation, China has revamped its tax system with the aim of stopping further deterioration by 2015 and showing substantial ecological improvements by 2030.

The pollution levy system (PLS), China's emissions tax and pollution control funding system, was first established in 1979. Since China still suffers from ever-increasing levels of water and air pollution, deforestation, erosion, desertification, and endangered species, the National People's Congress decided to strengthen its PLS program in 1998.

The new PLS system provides pollution-reduction incentives at all stages of production and consumption. Each pollutant is rated according to its harmfulness and assigned a pollution-equivalent index value, to be taxed at a uniform rate. An average suite of pollutants will be taxed at four times the current rate. The higher rate structure will be phased in over three years, with richer regions paying a higher rate than less developed areas.

Funds raised by the tax will support environmental administration and investment in pollution control.

Three metro areas in China implemented the program last July. These areas will undergo an intense evaluation, and if all goes well, the new PLS system will be in place for all of China in 2000.

– Michael Marion, Future Survey

Excerpted from a review in Future Survey (301/656-8274) of “Environmental Taxes: China's Bold Initiative,” an article by Robert A. Bohm, et al. in the September 1998 issue of Environment. To order this issue, call 800/365-9753.


Sea Turtles vs. the WTO

The US has formally accepted a ruling by the World Trade Organization (WTO) that its restrictions on imported shrimp – enacted to protect endangered sea turtles – violate free trade.

India, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Thailand challenged the US law last fall, which prohibits the import of shrimp from countries that do not require vessels to equip their nets with Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) comparable to those used by US shrimpers. The WTO agreed with the four countries that the US rule was “arbitrary and unjustifiable discrimination,” and an appellate board upheld the decision.

Environmentalists say that the failure to equip nets with TEDs causes the death of 150,000 turtles per year worldwide.

Significantly, the WTO appeals body left a loophole for environmental restrictions, stating that while the US rules had been enacted improperly, it recognized the right of members to adopt conservation laws.

– Tracy Rysavy


Local Control in Russia

As the Russian economy faces collapse, some local governments are taking over privatized businesses that had once been state-owned enterprises.

In an interview with The Multinational Monitor, Boris Kagarlitsky, a prominent Russian scholar and labor activist, said that people in Russia see public ownership of banks, oil companies, railways and airlines, and other goods and services as one of the keys to weathering the crisis.

“Failing private enterprises are now being renationalized ... by local governments,” says Kagarlitsky. “In many cases, enterprises which failed under private management are now being renationalized and restarted and are working properly.”

Kagarlitsky predicts that “a more diversified and decentralized public sector” will emerge that “will be more connected to community and provincial economies than the old, centralized private sector.”

– Tracy Rysavy


Canada Bans rBGH

The Canadian Health Ministry has refused to approve the sale of bovine growth hormone, or rBGH.

The decision, announced on January 15th, comes just three months before the end of a temporary European Union ban on rBGH. The hormone, which is injected into cows to stimulate milk production, was approved in the US in 1993 and has been used in Brazil and Mexico since 1988.

Two independent committees of Canadian scientists found that rBGH poses a risk to cows, but not to humans.

Monsanto, the US-based multinational that manufactures rBGH, immediately announced it would appeal the decision.

– Mark Bourrie, Inter Press Service


Violence in Nigeria

Over New Year's weekend, Nigerian troops fired on peaceful demonstrators, largely youths from the Ijaw ethnic nation, who were calling for Shell, Chevron, and other oil transnationals to turn off their gas flares and leave the Niger Delta. (See Indigenous Voices, pp. 21-22 for more on this controversy.)

Over 500 Ijaw youths marched through the streets of Yenagoa and other major cities in the area on December 30th to support their demand that the oil companies leave the delta. Life expectancy and per capita income is very low amid the delta's severely polluted land, water, and air; and oil revenues do not benefit the local economy.

By New Year's Day, the Nigerian government had declared a state of martial law. The government deployed thousands of troops, two warships, and helicopter gunships against the civilians. The troops killed 26 people and wounded or incarcerated several more.

Pacifica Radio found that Chevron, Shell, and others had cooperated with the government crackdown. Shell, for example, brought 26 troops armed with machine guns and bombs to its gas plant in Komo Creek. Chevron severed all communications with human rights groups just days before the violence occurred.

– Kent Communications


Ending Corporate Rule

The City of Arcata, California, has passed a ballot measure aiming to spark discussions on corporate rule in local communities.

Measure F, passed by a vote of 60 to 40 percent, asks the Arcata City Council to co-sponsor two major town hall meetings on the topic, “Can we have democracy when large corporations wield so much power and wealth under law?”

The measure also mandates that the council “establish policies and programs that ensure democratic control over corporations conducting business within Arcata, in whatever ways are necessary to ensure the health and well-being of the community and the environment.”

“The citizens of Arcata have left no doubt that they consider the power of large corporations in our society and in our community to be a very significant issue,” says Paul Cienfuegos of Citizens Concerned About Corporations (CCAC).

– Shannon Service

CCAC, c/o Democracy Unlimited, PO Box 27, Arcata, CA 95518; www.dubc.org.


Wildlife Co-ops

Private property rights are often a stumbling block to wildlife habitat protection, but a new “wildlife cooperatives” movement is showing how property owners can manage their lands with wildlife in mind.

One such cooperative in Vermont – which counts economist John Kenneth Galbraith as one of its members – provides native black bears, songbirds, and fishers (a species of weasel) with 7,000 acres of protected habitat. Members schedule timber cutting and hayfield mowing to simulate sporadic natural disturbances such as storms and fire.

Vermont is at the forefront of the wildlife co-op movement, and the idea is catching on across the US. As Vermont forester George Weir told Audubon magazine, “What we're seeing here is the beginning of sustainable community forestry.”

– Earth Island Journal

Vermont Coverts, PO Box 83, Craftsbury Common, VT 05827.

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