Today, many issues – labor rights, environmental protection, food safety – are tied up in trade deals like the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. (See YES! #3) Opponents of these trade deals are worried that President Clinton will try to hammer the MAI through using Fast Track; Clinton has asked Congress for Fast Track authority for approving trade agreements.
Under Fast Track, Congress would have to agree (before seeing any text and before negotiations begin) to vote on a trade pact with a minimum of debate. Congress must also hold an up or down vote only, with no amendments. This limits its authority and ability to shape issues surrounding trade agreements. Fast Track procedures result in Congress delegating much of its authority to thoroughly review or amend trade deals to the Executive Branch.
Says Chantell Taylor of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, “The MAI would give corporations the legal power to sue governments directly for monetary compensation. It limits what governments can do to regulate corporate behavior and accountability. And it binds all member countries for 20 years. This is not an issue to be forced through Congress using Fast Track.”
Anti-MAI coalitions did celebrate an unexpected victory in the House on October 8th. By a vote of 356 to 64, the House passed an amendment to force the US Trade Representative's office to notify Congress and local and state governments whenever national, state, and local laws are challenged by foreign countries before the World Trade Organization, or “when new trade negotiations are entered into that could result in the repeals or modification of pertinent existing laws.” Rep. Robert Ney (R-OH) called the amendment “the people's right to know.”
To let your member of Congress know how you feel, call toll free: 888/723-5246. For further information, check out the Public Citizen web site at www.citizen.org, or call Chantell Taylor at 202/546-4996
Plagued by financial problems and declining membership, the environmental group Greenpeace has made massive cutbacks in its US offices.
The organization is best known for its gutsy, no-holds-barred tactics that included high-profile protests against nuclear weapons and whaling from behind the banner of the Greenpeace flagship, Rainbow Warrior.
Greenpeace plans to adopt a more grassroots approach, lobbying for change instead of launching ships. The US division will reduce its staff from 400 to 65 employees, cut its budget from $29 million to $21 million, and end its door-to-door canvassing program. The group, which once embraced many diverse environmental causes – from endangered dolphins and old-growth forests to genetically altered food and toxic waste – will narrow its focus to just a handful of issues, primarily global climate change and logging.
– Tracy Rysavy
In the wake of lawsuits and debates over smoking's ill effects, several health organizations have banded together to coordinate an anti-tobacco ad campaign that uses humorous satire to unmask the harsh realities of smoking. In New York, the Coalition for a Smoke-Free City posted advertisements for “Virginia Slimes” on the rooftops of the city's yellow cabs. Another taxicab sign for “Cancer Country” depicts a ghastly gray skull smoking a cigarette in the Marlboro Man's trademark cowboy hat.
In a Taco Bell in Grand Junction, Colorado, an ailing Joe Chemo (replacing the ubiquitous “Joe Camel” mascot for Camel cigarettes) greeted customers from the drive-thru windows for two weeks last April. Joe Chemo has been spotted on posters and t-shirts, and will soon appear on billboards across the US and Canada.
Said a teacher in Vancouver who put a Joe Chemo poster on the walls of his classroom, “This is the first anti-smoking ad that my students have described as ‘cool.'”–Adbusters
To include Joe Chemo in your public health campaign, call campaign manager Allan MacDonald at 604/736-9401
Going Hog Wild
Using new confinement techniques, corporate hog operations now have up to 20,000 animals on one farm – causing serious pollution and health problems as well as running traditional hog farmers out of business. One operation outside Unionville, Missouri, has 80,000 hogs. The odor from the farm can be smelled two to five miles away.
These Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) dwarf the typical hog farm of 500 animals. To get rid of the waste, some of the CAFOs have built lagoons, one of which holds more than 30 million gallons of effluent. There have been reports that some lagoons are leaking into local groundwater and rivers.
– The Progressive Review
In Bhutan, herders know they must alternate the grazing of their yak and cattle between northern and southern pastures when a special local shrub flowers. All over the world, people use locally developed “grassroots indicators” to glean better insights into their environments. Long dismissed as the unscientific stuff of folk tales, such ancient indicators are gaining recognition because of the special validity of measures derived and field-tested over generations.
In the Dutch town of Rijn-mond, environmental monitoring specialists are experimenting with a more modern form of grassroots indicator. Citizens are asked to call central hotline number if they see, hear, or smell any evidence of air pollution. The results are being compared with more conventional data and could provide the basis for a more public approach to monitoring the environment.
– Developing Ideas
Smog & Violence
Pollution causes people to commit violent crimes – homicide, aggravated assault, sexual assault, and robbery – according to new research by Roger D. Masters and co-workers at Dartmouth College.
Some US counties only have 100 violent crimes per 100,000 people per year, while in other counties, violent crime rates are 30 times as high. Masters says that this discrepancy is caused in part by pollution levels.
Masters has developed what he calls “the neurotoxicity hypothesis of violent crime,” which states that toxic pollutants – specifically lead and manganese – cause learning disabilities, an increase in aggressive behavior, and, most importantly, loss of control over impulsive behavior. These traits combine with poverty, social stress, alcohol and drug abuse, and other social factors to exacerbate an individual's tendency to commit violent crimes.
After controlling for all the conventional measures of social deterioration (poverty, school dropouts, alcohol, etc.), Masters found that counties having high measures of lead and maganese, have rates of violent crime three times the national average.
In other words, environmental pollution has a strong effect on violent crimes, completely independent of any of the standard predictors of such crimes.
Neurotoxicity is only one of many factors contributing to violence, but Masters believes it may be especially important in explaining why violent crime rates differ so widely between geographic areas and by ethnic group. “The presence of pollution is as big a factor as poverty,” he says. When our brain chemistry is altered by exposure to toxins, Masters believes we lose the natural restraint that holds our violent urges in check.
– Rachel's Environment & Health Weekly
A program which began in 1994 as part of the industrial arts curriculum at New York's Intermediate School 218 has now branched out into five different locations throughout New York City. Recycle-A-Bicycle (RAB) collects discarded bikes and teaches disadvantaged children how to refurbish and repair them. The bicycles are then sold or rented to customers in the RAB shops. Besides the obvious recycling benefits, the students learn valuable mechanical skills, self-discipline, and an awareness of the benefits of cycling.
In 1996, RAB workshops educated 452 young people, collected and processed approximately 800 bicycles, and thereby prevented 14 tons of bicycle parts from entering the waste stream.
RAB also runs a Saturday Earn-A-Bike program, in which young people exchange 24 hours of work in the bike shop for the bike of their choice, which they select with great ceremony. And if the bicycles break down again, current RAB students and graduates are encouraged to return to the shop to fix them, again trading work hours for bike parts.
The bike project has formed a partnership with the Green Guerrillas, a group dedicated to urban gardening. The students construct wheelbarrows out of spare bicycle parts and frames while they learn the joys of gardening in New York City.
Says RAB co-founder Karen Overton, “These kids are our future, and we hope we're giving them the means to embrace and respect that future.”
–Transportation Alternatives Tools for Life, a book on how to start your own Recycle-A-Bicycle program is now available, and the first 2,000 copies are free! Send $3 for shipping to: Transportation Alternatives – Recycle-A-Bicycle, 115 W. 30th, Suite 1207, New York, NY 10001 Tel 212/260-7055 www.recycleabicycle.org/
The normally innocuous conversation opener, “How's the weather?” has taken on a whole new twist thanks to the El Niño effect. Tropical marlin are being reeled in by Pacific Northwest fishermen and severe droughts are plaguing Australia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Hundreds of seabirds are dying in Alaska, a phenomenon attributed in part to ocean temperatures averaging 10°F higher than normal.
Since the 1970s, El Niño patterns have increased in frequency and severity, and the 1997-98 El Niño is predicted to be the most tempermental yet.
Although many scientists are balking at the idea, Dr. Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research feels that El Niño's heightened appearances, coupled with an abnormally prolonged event from the beginning of 1990 to mid- 1995, are indicators of a larger shift in climate. In fact, Trenberth says that the chances of the severe 1990-95 El Niño being caused by “natural variablilty” alone are 1 in 2000.
Global warming could be the other part of the equation, exacerbating El Niño's already bad attitude. Trenberth and other scientists say that climate models show that changes in El Niño are associated with global warming.
– Tracy Rysavy
In the Spring of 1992, Greenpeace International and German refrigerator manufacturer DKK Scharfenstein began researching the use of propane and butane natural gases as refrigerants. Their findings resulted in the birth of a new technology called Greenfreeze – the world's first ozone- and climate-safe refrigerator technology. Greenfreeze uses the hydrocarbons propane, isobutane, and cyclopentane as replacements for ozone-depleting CFCs, HFCs, and HCFCs. According to Greenpeace spokesperson John Maté, these hydrocarbon gases are completely ozone-friendly and have minimal global warming impact.
Although the large manufacturers – Electrolux, Whirlpool, Bosch-Siemens, and Liebherr – now produce hydrocarbon refrigerators for the European market, this technology has not yet made it to America. Most refrigerators now being manufactured in the United States use HFCs and HCFCs which, while safer for the environment than CFCs, are still ozone-depleting gases. Global manufacturers question whether Greenfreeze is compatible with the large size and automatic defrost features of American refrigerators.
In the four years since its development, Greenfreeze has become the dominant refrigeration technology in northwestern Europe, comprising 100 percent of the German market, where it has been illegal to trade in refrigerators containing CFCs since 1995.
Greenfreeze has also spread to other continents. One of the largest refrigeration companies in China is set to convert its production lines to Greenfreeze, as are companies in Argentina, Turkey, and Russia. There are over 12 million hydrocarbon refrigerators in the world today, and Greenpeace estimates that by the year 2000, almost four times that many will be built in Europe alone.
Sustainable San Francisco
The Health, Family, and Environment Center of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has unanimously endorsed a Sustainability Plan to guide policy-making decisions of all city commissions and departments. Mayor Willie Brown supports the proposal and the board is likely to pass the package.
Air quality, solid waste, biodiversity, food, and agriculture are among the plan's major topics. The transportation section proposes creating 10 auto-free zones over the next four years, increasing the city's parking tax, raising gas taxes and bridge tolls, and introducing higher “road congestion” tolls at rush hour.
While municipal environmental plans are relatively common in Europe, they are rare in the US. San Francisco is now one of only a handful of US cities with such plans, joining Santa Monica and Chattanooga.
When Corporations Rule the Web
US corporations have found a new way to combat anti-industry legislation – company-generated letter-writing campaigns. New computer technologies now enable companies not only to e-mail sample letters to thousands of their employees with the push of a button, but also to monitor how the employees respond.
A crop of new computer programs are allowing businesses to create databases of former and current employees together with their phone numbers, e-mail addresses, zip codes, and matching state and federal districts. With this information, corporations can identify each worker's state and federal legislators and voter precinct.
When integrated with “campaign management software,” CEOs can keep a record of each employee's political lobbying on behalf of the company. Net Action, a program being marketed by Gnossos Software, enables businesses to broadcast company-drafted letters to all employees via e-mail and to route the responses to the workers' respective legislators. Net Action also generates a full list of employees who respond to the mailing.
Pharmaceutical giant Merck and Co. has used the web to mobilize the “Merck Action Network,” a group of 8,800 employees and retirees. Participants receive quarterly updates and periodic “Action Alerts.” Merck recently generated 800 individual telephone calls to Congress lobbying for swifter approval of pharmaceutical drugs and gathered 80,000 names in a petition drive for the same cause.
Scientists at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center say that the cup of coffee you drink in the morning could be causing the gradual disappearance of North American songbirds.
Orioles, hummingbirds, warblers, and other familiar avian species have traditionally spent their winters in trees that shade the coffee plantations of South and Central America.
In the 1970s, the US Agency for International Development spent $81 million encouraging growers to yank out existing coffee bushes and the trees above them and replant three to four times as many coffee plants. The original intent was to stop the spread of a plant disease believed to thrive in the shade.
Although the disease never turned out to be a threat, many growers are still cutting down the overhanging
trees and converting their land to more densely planted “sun plantations” to keep pace with high demand. The scientists see a link between the falling US populations of migratory birds and the disappearance of the shade trees that provided their food and shelter. About one-third of the North American wood-thrush population has vanished since 1966, and the Baltimore oriole's numbers have been cut by one-fifth in the past decade.
Studies in the past have found as many as 150 bird species in traditional, shaded coffee plantations, but that number has been reduced by half in the sun fields of Guatemala. Sun plantations in other countries have been reported as being almost devoid of birds.
There are no labels for shade-grown coffees right now, says Ted Lingle, executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, but most Central American gourmet coffees still come from shade-grown plantations, and organic coffee is almost always shade-grown. Shade-grown coffees taste better than the sun plantation coffees that are used in grocery store mass-market brands.
Jeanne McKay, a spokeswoman for Starbucks, a large specialty coffee chain based in Seattle, said the company knows of no reliable source for shade-grown coffee. Although Starbucks has signed a pledge of environmental responsibility, it declines to sell organic coffee.
“We don't want to confuse our customers with too many choices,” said McKay. “We are very concerned about the land in coffee-producing countries, but our first concern has to be coffee quality.”
–The Seattle Times
For more information, contact American Friends of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, 121 Sixth Ave, New York, NY 10013, phone 212/226-9246