WHY CAN'T GOVERNMENT PREVENT GLOBAL WARMING?
By Mary Christina Wood
Editor's note: Mary Christina Wood is the Philip H. Knight Professor of Law and Morse Center for Law and Politics Resident Scholar (2006-07) at the University of Oregon School of Law, where she teaches natural resources law, federal Indian law, public lands law, wildlife law, hazardous waste law and property law. She is the founding director of the school's Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program. This is a transcript of her talk to Eugene City Club May 4, 2007.
Last month Time magazine issued a special edition on climate change in which it said, "Never mind what you've heard about global warming as a slow-motion emergency that would take decades to play out. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the crisis is upon us."
United Nations reports show rapid melting of the polar ice sheets, Antarctica, Greenland and glaciers throughout the world. The oceans are heating and rising. Coral reefs are bleaching and dying. Species are on exodus from their habitats towards the poles. As a result of global warming the world now faces crop losses, food shortages, flooding, coastal loss, wildfire, drought, pests, hurricanes, heat waves, disease and extinctions. An international climate team has warned countries to prepare for as many as 50 million human environmental refugees by 2010. Scientists explain that, due to the carbon already in the atmosphere, we are locked into a temperature rise of at least 2 degrees F. This alone will have impacts for generations to come, but if we continue business as usual, they predict Earth will warm as much as 10.4 degrees F, which will leave as many as 600 million people in the world facing starvation and 3.2 billion people suffering water shortages; it will convert the Amazon rainforest into savannah, and trigger the kind of mass extinction that hasn't occurred on Earth for 55 million years.
Global heating is leagues beyond what civilization has ever faced before.
I will give only brief background here. As you know, global heating is caused largely by heat-trapping gasses that we emit into our atmosphere. The more greenhouse gasses we put into the atmosphere, the hotter Earth gets. It's rather like putting a greenhouse roof around the entire Earth and locking it down. Carbon dioxide has climbed to levels unknown in the past 650,000 years, and we are still pumping it out at an annual increase of over 2 percent per year. The U.S. produces 25 percent of the world's carbon emissions. Carbon persists in the atmosphere up to a few centuries, so our emissions on this very day will have impacts far beyond our lifetimes. We can't turn this thermostat down. Scientists across the globe warn that we are nearing a dangerous "tipping point" that will set in motion irreversible dynamics through environmental feedback loops. After that tipping point, our subsequent carbon reductions, no matter how impressive, will not thwart long-term catastrophe. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said months ago, "This disaster is not set to happen in some science fiction future many years ahead, but in our lifetime. Unless we act now... these consequences, disastrous as they are, will be irreversible."
Let us consider the magnitude of the challenge we face.
First -- the scale of the threat. It's global. It affects every square inch of Earth.
Second, the intensity of the threat. Global warming threatens all of our basic survival mechanisms -- food, water, shelter, and health. British commentator Mark Lynas, author of High Tide, summarizes it this way: If we go on emitting greenhouse gases at anything like the current rate, most of the surface of the globe will be rendered uninhabitable within the lifetimes of most readers of this article.
Third -- the timeframe for response. Jim Hansen, the leading climate scientist for NASA states: "[W]e have at most 10 years -- not 10 years to decide upon action, but 10 years to alter fundamentally the trajectory of global greenhouse emissions." We have to reverse what is now still a climbing trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions and bring it down within 10 years at most, then reduce it 80 percent by 2050. You can think of these requirements as Nature's Mandate. The tipping point concept means that we are sitting on a ticking clock. If we fail to bring carbon down in the next decade, we effectively lock the doors of our heating greenhouse and throw out the keys, leaving ourselves and future generations trapped inside as disaster unfolds over the long term.
Fourth -- consider the scale of response needed to meet Nature's Mandate. Nearly every aspect of human daily living results in carbon emissions. Therefore, climate response must reach into virtually every sector of society: residential, commercial, industrial, transportation -- everything.
When we consider the scale, intensity, timeframe and kind of action needed, it is plain to see that we have never faced anything remotely like global warming before. Only a national response that is swift, focused and encompassing will be sufficient to confront this threat.
Let's reflect back to when citizens across this country rose in solidarity behind a clear national purpose. The attack on Pearl Harbor galvanized America in a way that we desperately need today. Almost overnight, the private business sector began retooling and overhauling production lines. The automobile industry scaled down car sales and channeled its workers and materials into the production of defense vehicles. The financial world sold war bonds. Communities planted victory gardens to grow food locally so that the commercial food supplies could be sent to the military. Consumers made do with the bare minimum. States lowered their speed limits to conserve gas.
Individuals took initiative without being asked. Men signed up for active duty. Women took their place in the work force. Volunteers entertained the troops.
Speakers Bureaus formed in cities across the country, drawing 100,000 volunteers. These Victory Speakers, as they were called, were key to mobilizing the nation quickly. They would give five-minute speeches at theaters, club meetings, town halls, schools -- any forum they could find -- to explain the nature of the threat and the need for citizen support. Victory Speakers were not chosen for their outstanding oratory skills, but rather were the "trusted and familiar voices" in the community -- the banker, carpenter, mother or school teacher.
People did not just sit by. This was a time in our nation's history when individuals, families, businesses, schools and neighborhoods were engaged together, tapping their resources, ingenuity and energy in concerted defense of the country they loved and the future they hoped to pass to their children.
Generations later, how is this same country responding to the threat of climate crisis?
The reality today is that most Americans are too absorbed in their own routines to make time for global warming. We parents tend to be an especially busy group. We are so consumed with taking our children to soccer games and piano lessons that we don't think ahead to how our children will get food and water, and be safe from storms, disease, and all of the other life-threatening circumstances that planet's heating will bring them. By living out the American dream, we are essentially signing our own children up for a draft for their lifetimes. But this war will be the most frightening because it has no end in sight for even their descendants, and all of Nature's survival resources will be scarce. Unfortunately, it's no consolation that we are good, devoted parents who just aren't that interested in global warming. Nature won't recognize our children as conscientious objectors to climate crisis.
To be sure, there are some Americans who are engaged and responding with small changes in their lives. They ride the bus more often, they refuse to buy bottled water, they turn off lights. This brings them comfort, thinking the problem is on its way to being solved. These people are important models, but national defense cannot be put on the backs of a few good soldiers. Most concerned citizens are doing nothing to enlist the rest of society in climate defense. There are no Victory Speakers for climate crisis.
Small progress can give us a dangerous sense of security. Overall, our society is nowhere near decarbonizing. Climate defense entails carbon math. We lose this war for countless generations to come if we can't get our total planetary carbon levels down before the tipping point. Each day that passes, the window of opportunity to avert global catastrophe closes a little more.
Looking back, Hurricane Katrina was the Pearl Harbor of climate crisis. But in World War II, new agencies and commissions sprang up overnight to amass a national defense effort. One would think that every elected body and every agency in America would be convening task forces to achieve carbon lockdown within a decade. But aside from a small handful of officials, there is no leadership at the helm. There are plenty of hummers on the streets of America, but we have no national defense against global warming.
We simply cannot meet Nature's Carbon Mandate without leadership. Only government can provide both the regulation and the infrastructure necessary to bring carbon down within 10 years. We have thousands of agencies -- more than any other nation in the world. If every one of them made global warming a top priority, we might stand a chance of meeting Nature's Mandate head on. But government would have to start now. Tony Blair said to the world five months ago, "There is nothing more serious, more urgent, more demanding of leadership... in the global community."
Instead of defending our atmosphere, our government is driving this country towards runaway greenhouse gas emissions. County commissioners are approving trophy home subdivisions and destination resorts as if global warming didn't exist. State environmental agencies are approving air permits as if global warming didn't exist. The Forest Service is approving timber sales as if global warming didn't exist. And the electric power industry is racing to build more than 150 new coal-fired power plants across the U.S., banking on federal approval as if global warming didn't exist.
You might ask why, in the face of an unprecedented threat to the planet, does our American population just sit by and allow government to act as if the problem doesn't exist? Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert suggests that humans evolved to respond to immediate threats, like enemies coming over the hillside. Intelligent as we are, it's hard for us to take seriously any threat that is not immediate. In other words, we'd be better off being invaded by Martians. But I think there is even more to it than that. Global warming has been captured by the press and the public as an environmental issue. Americans are fundamentally confused about government's role towards our environment, and that confusion operates as a dead-weight against decisive action.
In the remaining time, I want to suggest why our modern environmental law inhibits a response to global warming. And then I will suggest how Americans could demand climate response through asserting their collective property rights.
Let me first explain how our atmosphere has been caught in a legal death spiral. Environmental law consists of hundreds of statutes and regulations passed since the 1970s to protect our natural resources. This is the body of law I have taught over the past 16 years. Had environmental law worked, we would not have this ecological crisis on our hands. The heart of the problem is this: While the purpose of every local, state and federal environmental law is to protect natural resources, nearly every law authorizes the agencies to permit the very pollution or damage that the statutes were designed to prevent. Of course, the permit systems were never intended to subvert the goals of environmental statutes. But most agencies today spend nearly all of their resources to permit, rather than prohibit, environmental destruction. Most officials are good, dedicated individuals, but as a group, they dread saying no to permits. Essentially, our agencies have taken the discretion in the law and have used it to destroy nature, including its atmosphere.
You can think of environmental law, with all of its statutes and regulations, as one big picture. The agencies have constructed a frame for that picture. The four sides of that frame are discretion, discretion, discretion and discretion -- to allow damage to our natural resources. All of environmental law is carried out through that frame. And so, though our statutes were passed to protect the air, water, farmland, wildlife and other resources, when the laws are carried out through the discretion frame, they are used as tools to openly legalize damage. That is why we have species extinctions, rivers running dry, dead zones in our oceans, and global warming.
Why would public servants whose salaries are funded by tax dollars use their discretion to allow destruction of resources? It is because the discretion frame never characterizes natural resources as quantified property assets. Instead, the environment is portrayed as a nebulous feature of our world. So when private parties come to agencies seeking permits to pollute or destroy resources, they almost always carry the day because their property rights are clear and tangible.
Our federal government uses this discretion frame to justify inaction in the face of climate crisis. Protecting our atmosphere is characterized as a political choice. EPA claims discretion to permit pollution by the oil, gas, coal, and automobile industries -- no matter that this legalized pollution will degrade the atmosphere so much that it will no longer support human civilization as we know it.
So how can the public engage government to immediately respond to global warming? The public has to find a new frame for viewing government's role towards Nature. As author George Lakoff says, "Reframing is changing the way the public sees the world. It is changing what counts as common sense." This new way of looking at government's role must engage all agencies and officials in climate defense as the supreme national priority.
Reframing environmental law does not mean throwing out our environmental statutes. Those statutes give us a tremendous bureaucracy that we can steer back on course. They simply have to be infused with clear principles. The reframing I suggest draws on Supreme Court jurisprudence that has been around since the beginning of this country. It characterizes all of the resources essential to human survival -- including the waters, wildlife, and air -- as being packaged together in a legal endowment which I call Nature's Trust. Our imperiled atmosphere is one of the assets in that trust. A trust is a fundamental type of ownership whereby one manages property for the benefit of another. Long ago, the Supreme Court said that government, as the only enduring institution with control over human actions, is a trustee of Nature's resources. In other words, government holds this great natural trust for all generations of citizens. We all hold a common property interest in Nature's Trust.
With every trust there is a core duty of protection. The trustee must defend the trust against injury. When we call upon government to safeguard our atmosphere, we are invoking principles that are engrained in government itself. Back in 1892, our Supreme Court said: "The state can no more abdicate its trust over property in which the whole people are interested... than it can abdicate its police powers in the administration of government." The Nature's Trust concept is so basic to governance that it is found in many other countries today. For example, 13 years ago, the Philippines Supreme Court invoked the trust to halt logging the last of the ancient rainforest there, saying, "[E]very generation has a responsibility to the next to preserve that... harmony [of Nature]... [These principles] are assumed to exist from the inception of humankind." In contrast to the discretion frame, the trust frame forces government to protect Nature's Endowment as property for future generations to inherit. Failure to protect natural inheritance amounts to generational theft.
We can all take the very same set of environmental laws, and without changing a word of them, reframe the government's discretion to destroy Nature into an obligation to protect Nature. But this principle works in reverse as well. We can pass any new law we want, and no matter what it says, if it is pressed through the discretion frame, the government will continue to impoverish natural resources until our society can no longer sustain itself.
The trust frame can be a coalescing force to confront climate crisis, in three ways. First, it may generate a national feeling of entitlement towards Nature. The discretion frame gives no hint of environmental loss. Because air and other natural resources are not defined assets, we never imagine that they could be all spent down, all used up. We seem unbothered even when our government leads us into global environmental catastrophe. But when we portray nature as a trust rather than an ill-defined commons, we vest citizens with expectations of enduring property rights to a defined, bounded asset. We start thinking, "Hey, that's my air, even if I share it with others." Pollution of that air becomes an infringement on American property. Government is obligated to defend that property. The failure to mount a national climate defense becomes as absurd a proposition as the idea of government sitting idle during an attack on American soil.
Second, by defining Nature in familiar property terms, the trust frame reconciles private property rights with environmental protection. The discretion frame doesn't do this. It portrays environmental resources as nebulous features of the world we live in. Private property rights carry the day in our agencies simply because they draw upon a language of property that is so deeply embedded in our national culture. To confront any environmental crisis today, including global warming, we have to be clear on how public resources and private property rights fit together in the scheme of things. The trust frame is itself a property concept, so rather than pitting environment against property rights, you are fitting Nature into the system of property rights. The Nature's Trust frame is not anti-property rights. To the contrary, it affirms our collective property rights in assets, like the atmosphere, that support humanity. In securing our public property, the trust also anchors our entire system of private property rights. All private property depends on Nature's infrastructure. When that infrastructure collapses, it causes natural disasters that make property boundaries irrelevant. Remember, private property deeds didn't account for anything in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And they won't account for anything along coastlines inundated by rising sea levels.
Third, the trust frame positions all nations of the world in a logical relationship towards Nature. The atmosphere is shared as property among sovereign nations of the Earth. They are sovereign co-tenant trustees of that atmosphere. They are all bound by the same duties that organize, for example, the relationship of family members who share ownership of a cabin as co-tenants. Property law has always imposed a responsibility on co-tenants to not degrade the common asset. This one concept lends definition to international climate responsibilities.
Let me conclude. Global heating dwarfs any threat we have known in the history of Humankind. Giving our government political discretion to allow further damage to our atmosphere puts the future of this nation and the rest of the world in grave danger. If Americans take the lead to reframe our government's purpose as a trust duty to safeguard the commonly held atmosphere, we may soon find every other nation in the world engaged with us, not against us, in a massive, urgent defense effort to secure the systems of life on Earth for all generations to come.
COMMON CHEMICALS ARE LINKED TO BREAST CANCER
By Marla Cone
More than 200 chemicals -- many found in urban air and everyday consumer products -- cause breast cancer in animal tests, according to a compilation of scientific reports published today.
Writing in a publication of the American Cancer Society, researchers concluded that reducing exposure to the compounds could prevent many women from developing the disease.
The research team from five institutions analyzed a growing body of evidence linking environmental contaminants to breast cancer, the leading killer of U.S. women in their late 30s to early 50s.
Experts say that family history and genes are responsible for a small percentage of breast cancer cases but that environmental or lifestyle factors such as diet are probably involved in the vast majority.
"Overall, exposure to mammary gland carcinogens is widespread," the researchers wrote in a special supplement to the journal Cancer. "These compounds are widely detected in human tissues and in environments, such as homes, where women spend time."
The scientists said data were too incomplete to estimate how many breast cancer cases might be linked to chemical exposures.
But because the disease is so common and the chemicals so widespread, "the public health impacts of reducing exposures would be profound even if the true relative risks are modest," they wrote. "If even a small percentage is due to preventable environmental factors, modifying these factors would spare thousands of women."
The three reports and a commentary were compiled by researchers from the Silent Spring Institute, a women's environmental health organization in Newton, Mass.; Harvard's Medical School and School of Public Health in Boston; the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y.; and USC's Keck School of Medicine. Silent Spring Institute Executive Director Julia Brody led the team.
In response to the findings, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a breast cancer prevention group that funded the work, pledged an additional $5 million for developing research tools to root out environmental causes.
Reviewing hundreds of existing studies and databases, the team produced what it called "the most comprehensive compilation to date of chemicals identified as mammary carcinogens." No new chemical testing was conducted for the reports.
The researchers named 216 chemicals that induce breast tumors in animals. Of those, people are highly exposed to 97, including industrial solvents, pesticides, dyes, gasoline and diesel exhaust compounds, cosmetics ingredients, hormones, pharmaceuticals, radiation, and a chemical in chlorinated drinking water.
"Almost all of the chemicals were mutagenic, and most caused tumors in multiple organs and species; these characteristics are generally thought to indicate likely carcinogenicity in humans, even at lower exposure levels," they reported.
For many of the compounds, the federal government has not used animal breast cancer data when conducting human risk assessments, which are the first step toward regulating chemicals or in setting occupational standards to protect workers. Companies are not required to screen women who work with the chemicals for breast cancer.
"Regulators have not paid much attention to potential mammary carcinogens," the researchers wrote.
Toxicologists say that other mammals, such as rats and mice, often develop the same tumors as humans do, and that animal tests are efficient means of testing the effects of chemicals. Environmental regulators, however, often want conclusive human data before taking action.
Animal studies generally use high doses of a substance to simulate a lifetime of exposure, and then the results are extrapolated to the lower levels that people are exposed to.
Ana Soto, a Tufts University professor of cell biology who specializes in cellular origins of cancer and effects of hormone-disrupting contaminants, said there probably was a link between breast cancer and exposures to chemicals in the environment, particularly early in life.
"I cannot say I'm convinced, but what I can say is that it's a very likely, very plausible hypothesis," said Soto, who did not participate in the new research. "More and more, cancer looks like an environmental disease."
Twenty-nine of the chemicals are produced in volumes exceeding 1 million pounds annually in the United States.
Seventy-three are present in consumer products or are food contaminants -- 1,4-dioxane in shampoos, for example, or acrylamide in French fries. Thirty-five are common air pollutants, 25 are in workplaces where at least 5,000 women are employed, and 10 are food additives, according to the reports.
There are probably many more than 216, the research team said, because only about 1,000 of the 80,000 chemicals registered for use in the United States have been tested on animals to see whether they induce cancerous tumors or mutate DNA. Such tests cost $2 million each.
Because epidemiological studies are difficult to conduct and full of uncertainties, human data are "still relatively sparse," the researchers wrote. Only 152 studies worldwide have examined whether women exposed to contaminants are more likely to have breast cancer -- compared with nearly 1,500 that have explored the links between diet and the disease -- and most of the 216 carcinogens were not included.
"Despite this large remaining gap, research in the last five years has strengthened the human evidence that environmental pollutants play a role in breast cancer risk," the researchers wrote. They said the existing studies suggested "substantial public health impact."
Human evidence is particularly strong for PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls -- compounds widely used in the 1940s to late 1970s that still contaminate fish and other foods -- and for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, found in diesel and gasoline exhaust.
Solvents in dry cleaning, aircraft maintenance and other jobs also may increase breast cancer risk.
Some of the chemicals named as breast carcinogens already are regulated to protect public health, but some, particularly those in consumer products, are not.
The scientists conducted the review hoping to lay the groundwork for new human studies, as well as to persuade regulators to use existing animal data to strengthen regulations and require more testing of chemicals.
"Animal models are the primary means of understanding and anticipating effects of chemicals in humans," they wrote. "All known human carcinogens... are also carcinogenic in animals."
Emerging evidence suggests that the roots of breast cancer are in infancy or the womb. More animal and human research should focus on such early exposure, said Patricia Hunt, a Washington State University School of Molecular Biosciences professor.
But Hunt and Soto urged society not to wait for scientific proof to reduce exposure to the chemicals.
"When you look at their list of chemicals, we are exposed to all of it," Soto said. "We know humans are exposed to mixtures, and studying mixtures is very difficult. We will never have the whole picture, and it will take many, many years to collect epidemiological evidence, so we should take some preventive measures now."
Although virtually all women are exposed to the chemicals, some may be more susceptible because of differing metabolism or ability to repair DNA.
Breast cancer is probably triggered by an interaction of multiple environmental and genetic factors.
Experts have long suspected diet plays a role. But the new research found "no association that is consistent, strong and statistically significant" for any particular foods raising or reducing breast cancer risk. There is substantial evidence, however, that regularly consuming alcohol, being obese and being sedentary increase risk.
About 178,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year in the United States.
The reports are at http://www.silentspring.org/sciencereview .
Researchers name 216 chemicals that cause breast cancer in animal tests. Here are some of the most widespread:
Chemical Source (and use)
1,4-dioxane (Detergents, shampoos, soaps)
1,3-butadiene (Common air pollutant; found in vehicle exhaust)
Acrylamide (Fried foods)
Benzene (Common air pollutant; found in vehicle exhaust)
Perfluorooctanoic acid (Used in manufacture of Teflon)
Styrene (Used in manufacture of plastics; found in carpets, adhesives, hobby supplies and other consumer products)
Vinyl chloride (Used almost exclusively by the plastics industry to make vinyl)
1,1-dichloroethane (Industrial solvent; also found in some consumer products such as paint removers)
Toluene diisocyanate (Used in foam cushions, furnishings, bedding)
Methylene chloride (Used in furniture polish, fabric cleaners, wood sealants and many other consumer products)
PAHs (Diesel and gasoline exhaust)
PCBs (Electrical transformers; banned but still in environment)
Atrazine (Widely used herbicide, particularly for corn)
Source: Silent Spring Institute
Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times
From: Nuclear Information and Resource Service
RADIOACTIVE WASTES FROM A-BOMBS ARE BEING DUMPED IN CITY LANDFILLS
By Diane D'Arrigo, Mary Olson, Cindy Folkers, Dr. Marvin Resnikoff
Takoma Park, Md. -- Radioactive materials are being released from nuclear weapons facilities to regular landfills and could get into commercial recycling streams, finds a new report released today by Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS).
The report: Out of Control -- On Purpose: DOE's Dispersal of Radioactive Waste into Landfills and Consumer Products -- was commissioned to track if and how the Department of Energy (DOE) releases some of the radioactive wastes from nuclear bomb production.
The report authors, led by Diane D'Arrigo, NIRS' Radioactive Waste Project Director, researched seven sites and the DOE national headquarters. The seven sites were: Oak Ridge TN, Rocky Flats CO, Los Alamos NM, Mound and Fernald OH, West Valley NY, and Paducah KY.
"People around regular trash landfills will be shocked to learn that radioactive contamination from nuclear weapons production is ending up there, either directly released by DOE or via brokers and processors," D'Arrigo said. "Just as ominous, the DOE allows and encourages sale and donation of some radioactively contaminated materials."
The report tracked the laws, guidance and technical justifications that DOE uses to rationalize allowing radioactive scrap, concrete, equipment, asphalt, plastic, wood, chemicals, soil, and more out to landfills, commercial businesses and recreation areas, recycling and reuse in places unprepared to handle radioactivity. Applauding DOE's ban on recycling of radioactive metal from nuclear weapons, the report cautions there are loopholes and it is again threatened.
"DOE is ignoring public opposition to unnecessary exposures and releasing radioactivity even though the U.S. Congress revoked such release policies," said Mary Olson, director of the NIRS Southeast office and a co-author of the report. "DOE is using its own internal guidance to allow radioactive weapons wastes out of control, claiming the doses to people will be 'acceptable' even though they are not enforced or tracked."
Under the current system, the DOE and other nuclear waste generators release materials directly, sell them at auction or through exchanges or send their waste to processors who can then release it from radioactive controls to landfills, to recyclers or for reuse.
The report found that the State of Tennessee is a leader in licensing processors that can release radioactive materials for the nuclear waste generators.
"Tennessee is serving as a funnel to bring in nuclear weapons and power waste from around the country to disperse into the landfills and recycling without public knowledge," D'Arrigo said.
The waste is processed by state-licensed companies and in some cases "redefined" as "special" then released to regular landfills. This free release also opens up the potential for the materials to enter the recycling stream to make everyday household and personal items or to be used to build roads, schools, and playgrounds.
"As long as DOE and other nuclear waste generators can slip their contamination out -letting it get Out of Control -- On Purpose -- there is really no limit to the amount of additional radiation exposure members of the public could receive," D'Arrigo concluded. "Only an informed, outraged public can force DOE and agreeable states to shift the goal from dispersal to isolation of radioactive waste."
The report authors and contributors include:
Diane D'Arrigo, NIRS' Radioactive Waste Project Director Mary Olson, Director, NIRS Southeast Office Cindy Folkers, NIRS, Health and Environment Project Dr. Marvin Resnikoff, Radioactive Waste Management Associates, NYC
MAINSTREAM ECONOMISTS NOW SAY GLOBALIZATION IS HARMING THE U.S.
By William Greider
The church of global free trade, which rules American politics with infallible pretensions, may have finally met its Martin Luther. An unlikely dissenter has come forward with a revised understanding of globalization that argues for thorough reformation. This man knows the global trading system from the inside because he is a respected veteran of multinational business. His ideas contain an explosive message: that what established authorities teach Americans about global trade is simply wrong--disastrously wrong for the United States.
Martin Luther was a rebellious priest challenging the dictates of a corrupt church hierarchy. Ralph Gomory, on the other hand, is a gentle-spoken technologist, trained as a mathematician and largely apolitical. He does not set out to overthrow the establishment but to correct its deeper fallacies. For many years Gomory was a senior vice president at IBM. He helped manage IBM's expanding global presence as jobs and high-tech production were being dispersed around the world.
The experience still haunts him. He decided, in retirement, that he would dig deeper into the contradictions. Now president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, he knew something was missing in the "pure trade theory" taught by economists. If free trade is a win-win proposition, Gomory asked himself, then why did America keep losing?
The explanations he has developed sound like pure heresy to devout free traders. But oddly enough, Gomory's analysis is a good fit with what many ordinary workers and uncredentialed critics (myself included) have been arguing for some years. An important difference is that Gomory's critique is thoroughly grounded in the orthodox terms and logic of conventional economics. That makes it much harder to dismiss. Given his career at IBM, nobody is going to call Ralph Gomory a "protectionist."
He did not nail his "theses" to the door of the Harvard economics department. Instead, he wrote a slender book--Global Trade and Conflicting National Interests--in collaboration with respected economist William Baumol, former president of the American Economic Association. Published seven years ago, the book languished in academic obscurity and until recently was ignored by Washington policy circles.
I asked Gomory if his former colleagues from the corporate world quarrel with his provocative message. "Most of them have never heard it," he said. "It's a pretty new message." He has discussed his reform ideas with some CEOs, "who said, Well, maybe we could do that. Others couldn't have disagreed more strongly."
Now Gomory is attempting to re-educate the politicians in Congress. He has gained greater visibility lately because he has been joined by a group of similarly concerned corporate executives called the Horizon Project. Its leader, Leo Hindery, former CEO of the largest US cable company and a player in Democratic politics, shares Gomory's foreboding about the destructive impact of globalization on American prosperity. Huge losses are ahead--10 million jobs or more--and Hindery fears time is running out on reform.
"We want to be a counter to the Hamilton Project," Hindery explains. "They have a sense of stasis that is more benign than I have. I don't think this is all going to work out." The Hamilton policy group was launched last year by former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin to make sure the laissez-faire trade doctrine known as Rubinomics continues to dominate the Democratic Party. "We're never going to have the status of Bob Rubin," Hindery concedes. "But we're not chopped liver either. We have respectable business careers. You can't tell Ralph Gomory that he is 'smoke and mirrors,' because he wrote the book."
Gomory's critique has great political potential because it provides what the opponents of corporate-led globalization have generally lacked: a comprehensive intellectual platform for arguing that the US approach to globalization must be transformed to defend the national interest. Still, it will take politicians of courage to embrace his ideas and act on them. Gomory's political solutions are as heretical as his economic analysis.
At IBM back in the 1980s, Gomory watched in awe as Japan and other Asian nations captured high-tech industrial sectors in which US companies held commanding advantage. IBM invented the disk drive, then dropped out of the disk-drive business, unable to compete profitably. Gomory marveled at Singapore, a tiny city-state, as it lured American manufacturers with low-wage labor, capital subsidies and tax breaks. The US companies turned Singapore into a global center for semiconductor production.
"It was an unforgettable transformation," Gomory remembers. "And it was pretty frightening.
"The offer that many Asian countries will give to American companies is essentially this: 'Come over here and enhance our GDP. If you are here our people will be building disk drives, for example, instead of something less productive. In return, we'll help you with the investment, with taxes, maybe even with wages. We'll make sure you make a profit.' This works for both sides: the American company gets profits, the host country gets GDP. However, there is another effect beyond the benefits for those two parties--high-value-added jobs leave the U.S."
China and India, he observes, are now doing this on a large scale. Microsoft and Google opened rival research centers in Beijing. Intel announced a new, $2.5 billion semiconductor plant that will make it one of China's largest foreign investors. China's industrial transformation is no longer about making shirts and shoes, as some free-trade cheerleaders still seem to believe. It is about capturing the most advanced processes and products.
The multinationals' overseas deployment of capital and technology, Gomory explains, is the core of how some very poor developing nations are able to ratchet up their technological prowess, take over advanced industrial sectors and rapidly expand their share in global trade--all with the help of US companies and finance, as they roam the world in search of better returns.
The Gomory-Baumol book describes this as "a divergence of interests" between multinational firms and their home country. "This overseas investment decision may then prove to be very good for that multinational firm," they write. "But there remains the question: Is the decision good for its own country?" In many cases, yes. If the firm is locating low-skilled industrial production in a very poor country, Americans get cheaper goods, trade expands for both sides and the result is "mutual gain." But the trading partners enter a "zone of conflict" if the poor nation develops greater capabilities and assumes the production of more advanced goods. Then, the authors explain, "the newly developing partner becomes harmful to the more industrialized country." The firm's self-interested success "can constitute an actual loss of national income for the company's home country."
American multinationals, as principal actors in this transfer of wealth-generating productive capacity, are distinctively free to make the decisions for themselves without interference from government. They want profit and future consumer markets. Their home country wants to maintain a highly productive high-wage economy. Without recognizing it, the two are pulling in opposite directions--the "divergence of interests" most US politicians ignore, evidently believing church doctrine over visible reality.
The Gomory-Baumol book explains the dynamics with charts and equations for economists to study. For the rest of us, it is easier to follow Gomory's personal explanation of changing fortunes among trading nations. "What made America much wealthier than the Asian nations in the first place?" Gomory asks. "We invested alongside our workers. Our workers dug ditches with backhoes. The workers in underdeveloped countries dug ditches with shovels. We had great big plants with a few people in them, which is the same thing. We knew how, through technology and investment, to make our workers highly productive. It wasn't that they went to better schools, then or now, and I don't know how much schooling it takes to run a backhoe.
"The situation today is that the companies have discovered that using modern technology they can do all that overseas and pay less for labor and then import product and services back into the United States. So what we're doing now is competing shovel to shovel. The people in many countries are being equipped with as good a shovel or backhoe as our people have. Very often we are helping them make the transition. We're making it person-to-person competition, which it never was before and which we cannot win. Because their people will be paid a third, a quarter of what our people are paid. And it's unreasonable to think you can educate our people so well that they can produce four times as much in the United States."
As this shift of productive assets progresses, the downward pressure on US wages will thus continue and intensify. Free-trade believers insist US workers can defend themselves by getting better educated, but Gomory suggests these believers simply don't understand the economics. "Better education can only help," he explains. "The question is where do you put your technology and knowledge and investment? These other countries understand that. They have understood the following divergence: What countries want and what companies want are different."
The implication is this: If nothing changes in how globalization currently works, Americans will be increasingly exposed to downward pressure on incomes and living standards. "Yes," says Gomory. "There are many ways to look at it, all of which reach the same conclusion."
I ask Gomory what he would say to those who believe this is a just outcome: Americans become less rich, others in the world become less poor. That might be "a reasonable personal choice," he agrees. "But that isn't what the people in this country are being told. No one has said to us: 'You're probably a little too rich and these other folks are a little too poor. Why don't we even it out?' Instead, what we usually hear is: 'It's going to be good for everyone. In the long run we're going to get richer with globalization.'"
Gomory and Baumol are elaborating a fundamental point sure to make many economists (and political leaders) sputter and choke. Contrary to dogma, the losses from trade are not confined to the "localized pain" felt by displaced workers who lose jobs and wages. In time, the accumulating loss of a country's productive base can injure the broader national interest--that is, everyone's economic well-being.
"Our objective," Baumol told a policy conference last summer, "is to show how outsourcing can indeed reduce the share of benefits of trade, not only for those who lose their jobs and suffer a direct reduction in wages but can wind up making the average American worse off than he or she would have been."
The conventional win-win assurances, they explain, are facile generalizations that ignore the complexity of the trading system--the myriad differences in country-to-country relationships and the vast realm of government actions and policy interventions designed to shape the outcomes. "Many of our 'dismal science' colleagues speak unguardedly as though they believe free trade cannot fail, no matter what," Baumol said.
Some nations, in other words, do indeed become "losers." Gomory fears the United States is now one of them--starting to go downhill. When he and Baumol wrote their book, they figured US trade relations with China and India produced "mutual gain" for both ends. The United States got cheaper goods, China and India got jobs and a start at industrialization. But the rapid improvements in those two nations during the past decade, Gomory thinks, are putting the United States in the bind where their gain becomes our loss.
Essentially, the terms of trade have changed as more and more value-added production has shifted from the United States to its poorer trading partners. America, he explains, becomes increasingly dependent, buying from abroad more and more of what its citizens consume and producing relatively less at home. US incomes stagnate as the high-wage jobs disappear and US exports become a smaller share of the world total.
The persistent offshoring of domestic production is leading to a perverse consequence: The United States finds itself paying more for imports. The production that originally moved offshore to get low-wage labor and cheaper goods is now claiming a larger and larger share of national income, as the growing trade deficits literally subtract from US domestic growth. "All the stuff you were already importing from them becomes more expensive," Gomory explains. "That's why you can start going downhill--because you pay more for what you were previously getting." Put another way, one hour of US work no longer buys as many hours of Chinese work as it once did. China can suppress its domestic wages to keep selling more of its stuff, but that does not alter the fundamental imbalance in productive strength.
The US predicament is vividly reflected in the nation's swollen trade deficits, now running at nearly 7 percent of GDP every year. The country consumes more than it produces. It borrows heavily from trading partners, led by China, to pay for its "excess" consumption. This allows America to dodge--temporarily--a reckoning with its weakened condition, that is, falling living standards. But that will eventually occur, when Americans are compelled to reduce their consumption and pay off the overdue bills. Postponement will deepen the ultimate injury because, meanwhile, the trading partners will gain greater industrial capabilities, while US productive strength weakens further.
Americans can choose to blame China or disloyal multinationals, but the problem is grounded in US politics. The solution can be found only in Washington. China and other developing nations are pursuing national self-interest and doing what the system allows. In a way, so are the US multinationals. "I want to stress it's a system problem," Gomory says. "The directors are doing the job they're sworn to do. It's a system that says the companies have to have a sole focus on maximizing profit."
Gomory's proposed solution would change two big things (and many lesser ones). First, the US government must intervene unilaterally to cap the nation's swollen trade deficit and force it to shrink until balanced trade is achieved with our trading partners. The mechanics for doing this are allowed under WTO rules, though the emergency action has never been invoked by a wealthy nation, much less the global system's putative leader. Capping US trade deficits would have wrenching consequences at home and abroad but could force other nations to consider reforms in how the trading system now functions. That could include international rights for workers, which Gomory favors.
Second, government must impose national policy direction on the behavior of US multinationals, directly influencing their investment decisions. Gomory thinks this can be done most effectively through the tax code. A reformed corporate income tax would penalize those firms that keep moving high-wage jobs and value-added production offshore while rewarding those that are investing in redeveloping the home country's economy.
US companies are not only free of national supervision but actively encouraged to offshore production by government policy and tax breaks. Other advanced economies have sophisticated national industrial policies, plus political and cultural pressures, that guide and discipline their multinationals, forcing them to adhere more closely to the national interest.
Neither of Gomory's fundamental policy reforms--balancing trade or imposing discipline on US multinationals--can work without the other. Both have to be done more or less at once. If the government taxed US multinational behavior without also capping imports, the firms would just head out the door. "That won't work," Gomory explains, "because you will say to the companies, 'This is how we're going to measure you.' And the corporations will say, 'Oh, no, you're not. I'm going overseas. I'm going to make my product over there and I'll send it back into the United States.' But if you insist on balanced trade, then the amount that's shipped in has to equal the amount that's shipped out by companies. If no companies do that, then nothing can be shipped in either. If you balance trade, you are going to develop internal companies that work the way you want." Public investment in new technologies and industries, I would add, may not achieve much either, if there is no guarantee that the companies will locate their new production in the United States.
Essentially, Gomory proposes to alter the profit incentives of US multinationals. If the government adds rules of behavior and enforces them through the tax code, companies will be compelled to seek profit in a different way--by adhering to the national interest and terms set by the US government. Other nations do this in various ways. Only the United States imagines the national interest doesn't require it.
In recent months Gomory and Leo Hindery of the Horizon Project have been calling on Congress with these big ideas and getting respectful audiences. The two met with some thirty Democratic senators and Congressional staffers from both parties. Senator Byron Dorgan, with co-sponsors like Sherrod Brown, Russell Feingold and even Hillary Clinton, has introduced several bills to confront the trade deficits.
Gomory's concept for multinational taxation is a tougher sell amid Washington lobbyists because it goes right to the bottom line of major US corporations. On the other hand, this proposal has stronger intuitive appeal for citizens, who reasonably ask why multinationals are allowed to undercut the national interest when they enjoy all the benefits of being "American" companies.
Hindery's group is advocating Congressional action to arrange a "national summit" on trade, where all these questions can be thrashed out. The political system has never really had an honest, open debate on globalization in the past thirty years. The dogmatic church of free trade--"free trade good, no trade bad"--wouldn't allow it. As more politicians grasp the meaning of Gomory's analysis, they should start demanding equal time for the heretics.
Gomory's vision of reformation actually goes beyond the trading system and America's economic deterioration. He wants to re-create an understanding of the corporation's obligations to society, the social perspective that flourished for a time in the last century but is now nearly extinct. The old idea was that the corporation is a trust, not only for shareholders but for the benefit of the country, the employees and the people who use the product. "That attitude was the attitude I grew up on in IBM," Gomory explains. "That's the way we thought--good for the country, good for the people, good for the shareholders--and I hope we will get back to it.... We should measure corporations by their impact on all their constituencies.
"So in my utopian dream, we decide what we want from the corporations and that's how they make a profit--by doing those things. Failing that, I would settle for the general realization of this divergence and let people argue it out."
Some older CEOs and board members at least listen to him sympathetically. "They have grandchildren," he says. "They wonder too what's going to happen to our grandchildren. You can't get a vote around the corporate board table about, Is this good for the grandchildren? But you can talk to them and they'll worry about it and say, Well, maybe we need to do something."
U.S. INFRASTRUCTURE: AN ECONOMIC DISASTER WAITING TO HAPPEN
By J. Mijin Cha
A major new report released this week by the Urban Land Institute and Ernst & Young revealed shocking statistics on the state of transit infrastructure in the U.S., including:
* 83 percent of the nation's transportation infrasturcture is not capable of meeting the nation's needs over the next 10 years.
* 97 percent of roads, bridges and tunnels, and 88 percent of transit/rail systems will require at least moderate improvement.
* Chicago alone needs $6 billion to bring its subways into good repair. Rehabilitation of the Tappan Zee Bridge north of New York City will cost as much as $14.5 billion.
* There is a $1.6 trillion deficit in needed infrastructure spending through 2010 for repairs and maintanence.
A Threat to Economic Growth
Beyond the inconvenience of longer commute times due to poor upkeep of roads and transit systems, these numbers signal real economic trouble. The loss in time and productivity will slow economic growth, drive job losses, and result in the U.S. becoming less economically competitive globally.
Around the world, our economic competitors are investing heavily in infrastructure to strengthen their economies, yet the U.S is spending less than 1 percent of its GDP on infrastructure. Contrast that with India, which spends 3.5 percent on infrastructure, or China, which spends 9 percent of its gross domestic product on infrastructure in its quest for economic growth.
The U.S. infrastructure neglect is not limited just to transit. In order to comply with safe drinking water regulations, the U.S. must spend ten times its current budget for replacing aging systems. The power grids are also a mess and poor transmission networks are resulting in loss of electricity and extremely inefficient power delivery.
The False Promise of Privatization
The report emphasizes that the recent hype around privatization of public assets like roads won't solve the problem-- and could make it worse. Another new report released this week, also highlights how states have been wasting taxpayer money by outsourcing and experimenting with other forms of privatization that have just added to costs.
There is simply no way around it -- the current level of infrastructure investment cannot sustain current economic activity, let alone allow our states to grow competitively in the global economy. Any further delay investing in infrastructure will only result in much greater physical repair costs and even greater costs from job losses.
The first step is facing up to the need for new revenue. The reality is that the gas tax, when adjusted to inflation, is half of what it was in the 1960s. Road tolls aren't paying enough for overall infrastructure upkeep and other revenues are not making up the slack. New revenues need to be combined with better planning to reduce road congestion and promote more efficient public transit.
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