Over the past year, vast ozone holes have appeared over areas of Russia and England. Russian government spokesperson Anatoly Yaklovolev said two holes stretched across great expanses of the Russian northwest in March, causing UV radiation levels well above normal.
Dr. Joe Farman, of the British Antarctic Survey, said "the ozone loss could well accelerate," with serious implications for human health, the world environment, and the food chain.
-Ozone Action; The Independent, UK
Business and World Climate
Some American businesses are starting to take practical steps to deal with what they now regard as a potential bottom line threat -- global climate change.
The insurance industry in particular has grown increasingly concerned about the costs they incur as a result of major hurricanes, flooding and other disasters. While it's impossible to directly link particular storms with global warming, the insurance industry does look for trends, and key figures in the industry are expressing concern about the directions of those trends.
Insurers figure rates based on the law of averages. When hurricanes or droughts increase in frequency -- so do rates. Some areas considered particularly prone to wildfire and flooding have become virtually uninsurable.
The insurance industry is not alone in its concern. A few US companies are anticipating financial repercussions of climate change and of the policies they believe will be adopted to deal with it. Monsanto Company, the chemical and biotech conglomerate, has begun measuring CO2 emissions. Mobil Corp. is considering doing likewise. Dow Chemical has established a goal of reducing toxic emissions by 2 percent per year for each product manufactured.
Insurance companies and their insurers - the RE-insurers - are taking the lead, however. In Europe, and now also in the US, they are calling on governments to reduce permitted emissions of climate-altering greenhouse gases.
Washington Post and World Watch
About 500 people from 137 countries gathered at an international conference February 2-4 in Washington, DC, with an ambitious goal: to bring microcredit to 100 million of the world's poorest families by the year 2005. While the Summit made important strides, it became clear that reaching 100 million poor women (and some men) with small loans might be more than could be accomplished by 2005.
The estimated $21.6 billion cost is one of the barriers. Said Ayala Sherbow from the Summit office, "People realized that the capacity doesn't exist yet to reach the summit's goals. It forced a lot of re-examination as to why the world's richest institutions aren't reaching the world's poorest clients."
Still some bold commitments were made that promise to increase access by the poor to the financing they need to get a start in a small business:
* The International Fund for Agricultural Development committed to allocate up to 30 percent of its loan portfolio -- or about $125 million a year - to promote financial services to the poorest.
* ACCION - a network of microfinance institutions throughout Latin America -- pledged to increase the $1 billion they have lent in the first 5 years by $11 billion between now and 20005.
* Monsanto Company will host a meeting June 1 and 2, 1997, in St. Louis for NGOs and corporations from around the world to explore how the business community can contribute to the growth of micro-finance institutions serving the very poor.
The Summit was organized by RESULTS Educational Foundation. Tel: 202/543-9340
A group of about 1,000 chefs has formed to find ways to reduce the vast distances food travels from field to table.
Chefs Collaborative 2000, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is encouraging like-minded chefs nationwide to buy produce close to home and to design menus around seasonally fresh foods.
Why? Using local ingredients supports family farms and avoids the environmental impacts of long-distance transport. And buying local allows the chefs to serve customers the freshest of foods, according to the collaborative.
Chefs Collaborative 2000, Tel: 617/621-3000 - The American News Service
Life Without Gift wrap
Imagine encountering a TV commercial in which an animated pig belches and grunts at you, then you're treated to a display of a garbage-infested shoreline while the announcer informs you that Americans are by far the most voracious consumers in the world, and YOU are one of them.
Not surprisingly, the three major networks balked at airing this 30-second "uncommercial" Adbusters was promoting as part of its observance of Buy Nothing Day this past November 29. NBC's Richard Gitter simply explained, "We don't want the business." CNN, however, did air the uncommercial on its Headline News program.
This was the fifth annual orgy of non-spending sponsored by Adbusters and other groups that raise consciousness about the issues of consumerism.
Celebrations extended worldwide - including to Manchester, England, where silver-suited "aliens" apprised earthlings of their unbridled consumption of Earth's limited resources, and to Sweden, where "Buy Nothing Day" is simply called Kopvagrardagen - Swedish for "common sense." Non-consumers of all ages everywhere took part in a holiday celebrating life without gift wrap.
The next Buy Nothing Day will fall on November 28, 1997. Contact Adbusters for ideas and updates at 250/736-9401; web: http://www.adbusters.org.
National TV Turnoff Week
On April 24-30 television sets across America will go dead for a seven-day blackout - at least, if TV-free America has anything to say about it. The occasion is formally dubbed National TV Turnoff Week, when families, schools, libraries and community organizations join in a coordinated effort to educate America about the pleasures of spending leisure time away from the tube.
TV-free America is a non-profit organization that encourages Americans to dramatically reduce the amount of time they spend watching television.
Last year, more than 25,000 schools participated, and 3 million people decided to kick the habit - at least for a week. This will be the third annual week-long sabbatical, this year endorsed by 44 national organizations.
TV-Free America 202/887-0436, HopeDance
Rainforest Logging Shutdown in BC
The British Columbia logging company MacMillan Bloedel announced January 8 that it is shutting down its logging operations in Clayoquot Sound, a prized stretch of rainforest acreage in the Pacific Northwest, for this calendar year and part of next. The front-end actions that triggered the pullout were a well-publicized series of on-site confrontations between loggers and activists over a four-year period, coupled with strongly worded recommendations from a government appointed science panel that decried the impact of the clearcutting on ecosystems and on sacred native land.
The activism extended far beyond the BC rainforests, to the corporate world of urban America. A powerful US-based coalition, the Clayoquot Sound Rainforest Coalition, lobbied MacMillan Bloedel customers to discourage their purchase of MB products.
By tapping the public dismay over the clear-cutting of old-growth rainforest, the group was able o get the attention of some of MB's biggest customers, like Pacific Bell, a large west-coast communications company that uses rainforest pulp in its telephone books. The Coalition - comprised of Greenpeace, the National Resource Defense Council, Pacific Environment & Resources Center, and Rainforest Action Network - lobbied shareholders, top management and employees. Although PacBell did commission a trial run of non-wood fiber, the phone company still uses MB rainforest pulp in its phone books.
However, the point was not lost on MB or PacBell. The efforts of the coalition will serve as a model for future strategies. This summer, an area about 10 times the size of Clayoquot - about 12 million acres ranging north of Vancouver's mainland coast up to Alaska - will likely be the setting of a new round of confrontations, involving a number of logging companies and environmental groups.
The Clayoquot Sound Rainforest Coalition 415/398-4404
In Latin America
Environmentalist Bernardo Reyes and his students were on a tour of a polluted river south of Santiago, Chile when the group chanced upon an unexpected sight along the bank of the Rio Mapocho. An elephant from a travelling circus lay dead, having come to the river to slake its thirst.
The death of the elephant galvanized the public to deal with a problem they had been coping with for years - a river so badly polluted that children as well as animals had been getting sick, and in some cases have even died from drinking the water.
The toxicity of the Rio Mapocho was well known, as was its main polluter, a paper processing plant. But the elephant's death spurred a rigorous analysis of the area's water, and led to further testing of the indigenous flora and fauna. The studies have resulted in a pilot indicator project in which local citizens are becoming adept at reading and reporting on the environmental signs around them, and using that information to help sustain and improve their quality of life. Three other local indicator projects are also underway in Chile.
Meanwhile, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Brazil, and Bolivia are pioneering an indicators framework designed by the United Nations. The UN approach addresses 134 indicators including social, economic, agricultural, environmental, and educational issues, to help designate problem areas and create local blueprints for sustainability.
As to the goals of the indicator projects in Latin America, one community leader makes this simple summation: "To eat, to eat in peace, and to eat happily."
Indicators Update; files from Bernardo Reyes
Profits Through Ethics
Businesses are finding that ethical behavior helps companies attract and keep consumers and investors, and inspires loyalty in their employees.
According to the Cone/Roper Report on cause-related marketing trends, released in January, 76 percent of consumers said they'd likely switch to brands associated with a good cause, if price and quality are equal. This is up from the 66 percent reported in 1993.
In other findings, 60 percent of companies with employee ownership found it improved productivity, according to a study by the ESOP association. A related study by the US General Accounting Office showed a 52 percent productivity increase after a switch to employee ownership, when employees have an active voice in management.
Corporate leaders are getting the message. Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management recently surveyed executives at Fortune 1000 companies and found that 52 percent of executives strongly agree that a corporate leader's responsibility is to the greatest good, whether it applies to the local economy or the world environment.
However, the same study found that only 35 percent of MBA students agree with their elders.
Top Trends '97
According to the Trends Research Institute, 1997 marks a critical turning point: Americans are no longer depending on once-trusted institutions to serve their needs. Noted in the Institute's quarterly report, Americans are coming to view many of the country's socio-economic and political structures as corrupt or obsolete.
But Americans are doing more than turning away from the Institutions fo the past. They are also creating a new era of rich intellectual, artistic, philosophical, humanitarian, and scientific achievement, TRI believes. Other trends:
* A New urban revival will begin in the US that respects community integrity and is driven by escapees from suburbia and by new immigrants. Urban gardening will be among its most visible manifestations.
* The first wave of baby boomers, glimpsing mortality, will emphasize preventative health measures and lifestyles over material wealth.
* The "cocooning" trend will quickly end, propelled by young activist adults, nature-loving youngsters, and a new wave of immigrants.
* Strikes and protests world-wide will dramatically increase against perceived unjust and exploitive corporate and government policies.
* Interactive education will revolutionize schooling.
* Doctor-assisted and self-administered suicide will become commonplace.
* America will take on an increasingly Latin flavor as Hispanic culture wends its way into the mainstream.
The Trends Journal
In Millen, Georgia, members of Jewish, Methodist, and Baptist faiths hold hands, hugging and singing as they break ground for a new Baptist church. In Green County, Alabama, a Quaker work camp brings volunteers from across the nation to reconstruct two churches. Over $20 million in assistance has been raised by numerous coalitions and associations nationwide to make the hands-on work possible.
These activities are in response to a widespread epidemic of church burnings over the last two years. More than 138 African-American churches have burned under suspicious circumstances since the beginning of 1995, according to the National Church Arson Task Force. Nearly 140 suspects have been arrested in those arsons, with 48 convictions.
"It's remarkable that the intent of these hate crimes was to drive people apart, but instead it has had very much the opposite effect," said Joe Hamilton, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based United Methodist Volunteers in Mission.
The American News Service
Letter from Rio
The Rio-Plus-Five Forum, held in Rio de Janeiro on March 13-19, was an attempt on a global scale to operationalize sustainable development goals adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit.
The forum, which was organized by the Earth Council, had mixed results. The problems associated with organizing dialogues between different sectors at times were almost insurmountable, and there was a noticeable lack of representation from business and philanthropy.
Attendees, who mainly represented nongovernmental organizations, agreed that few nations were addressing the issues of inequity and environmental degradation that are threatening systemic collapse.
"Over all, we haven't made the fundamental change of course promised in [the original] Rio," said Maurice Strong, longtime UN official and secretary of the 1992 Earth Summit. "Five years later, the challenge is even greater."
However, many workshops and plenaries did demonstrate that there is growing leadership at all levels and sectors committed to taking on the practical issues of moving toward sustainability.
The success of the conference is best assessed not by reading conference documents, but by noting the connections and one-on-one commitments to joint action made by conference participants. These inter-local actions, occurring directly between communities, overcome he barriers of national borders, and differing political systems and cultural traditions. Joint work is moving ahead on everything from watershed restoration, to initiating full-cost pricing mechanisms, to incorporating gender issues into urban planning.
These activities will move ahead regardless of whether the United Nations - often beset by traditional political polarization - pays any attention to reports from Rio-Plus-Five.
Sharon Patton, Chair, Citizens Network for Sustainable Development
Conference Documents can be found at the Rio-Plus ten website: -http://www.rio-plus-10.org/