Featured stories in this issue...
From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #953, Apr. 03, 2008
By Peter MontagueThe New York Times carried an important story in its science section this week. Two people have sued in federal district court in Honolulu, trying to stop a group of scientists in Europe from conducting a particle physics experiment that, they say, might create a black hole that could destroy the Earth and perhaps the entire universe.
The scientists have spent 14 years and $8 billion building the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland and naturally they're itching to give it a try. They want to smash protons into each other to see what will happen. They say it is "very unlikely" that they will create a black hole and even if they did, it very likely wouldn't eat the Earth, they say.
Just to be on the safe side, they set up a research team to examine the question. The research team didn't say exactly, "No problem." They said, "Very, very likely, no problem." Oddly, members of the research team are not being identified so we have an anonymous group of scientists assuring us that experiments conducted by their colleagues and friends (proton smashers are a small community, after all) will not destroy the Earth. On that basis, these scientist want the judge to give them a green light to smash lots of protons together, to see what they can learn.
These scientists need to look at it from the point of view of ordinary humans. It was 1980 when scientists first announced that 95% of the mass of the universe had gone missing and could not be accounted for. The part of the universe we can see and touch and smell is only 5% of the whole ball of wax, they said in 1980. From gravitational effects, which they could measure, they deduced that there had to be something huge out there making up an invisible 95% of the universe, but they could not detect the thing itself (only its gravitational effects) and they had no idea what "it" was. They named this missing stuff "dark matter" and they've spent the last 28 years trying to get their hands on some of it. So far, no luck.
So here's what it boils down to: scientists in search of the missing 95% of the universe want us to trust them to conduct an experiment that they and their friends say has only a very slight chance of destroying the Earth.
Really, this is not an altogether new problem -- though it is a thoroughly modern problem. In 1775, at the beginning of the industrial revolution, the people who invented the steam engine had almost no idea what thermodynamic forces they had harnessed. But they could see the effects and soon they were using these mysterious forces to move pistons and create all manner of useful machines from water pumps to locomotives. One thing was different -- even when these early machines exploded (which they often did) only a few people got killed. They weren't tinkering with the fate of all Creation, or even all of humankind.
Now things are different. Arguably, the difference began to unfold when the petrochemical industry got started in the 1870s. Those early chemists were experimenting with concoctions that would eventually escape and contaminate the entire planet, including all humans, with small amounts of dozens or hundreds of poorly-understood but potent chemical products and by-products. Now the whole planet is contaminated with biologically active industrial poisons and we've built several government bureaucracies, not to mention hundreds of university programs, plus a massive industrial research apparatus, to try to figure out what all these chemicals are doing to the ducks and the jelly fish and your sister. Really, we haven't a clue and it's likely to stay that way for centuries to come. Every time we learn something new, we discover that these biochemistry problems are far more complicated than we ever imagined. Each time our horizon of knowledge expands a tad, it opens up vast new vistas of ignorance.
After industrial chemistry, then came nuclear power, and suddenly everyone could see that humans held the future of the planet in their little trembling hands. When the first nuclear bomb exploded in the desert of southern New Mexico early in the morning June 16, 1945, Robert Oppenheimer -- the project director -- famously said, "I am become death, the destroyer of worlds." That summed it up nicely.
Now anyone who's willing to look can see that humans have grown into a force of geologic proportion -- a relentless, expanding presence that all the other creatures on planet Earth must fear and accommodate. Some geologists want to declare officially that the Cenozoic Era has ended and a new geological era has begun -- which they want to name the Anthropocene to signal that human behavior is now the dominant force on planet Earth.
There's a point to all this history. It tells was that things are very different now from what they were in 1775 or even 1875. As Joe Guth explained it for us in Rachel's #846, during those early days of industrial pride, judges and legislators devised laws based on the following assumption:
Economic activity was presumed to be beneficial and if some people got hurt along the way, they would be compensated by the general improvement in well-being. People who ripped up the Earth, and caused ecological devastation in a thousand different ways, were creating wealth and well-being for all of humanity and so they got the benefit of the doubt. To bring them into court was nearly impossible and if you got them into court the burden was on you to show that they had been grossly negligent before they could be held liable for any damages. Our modern legal structure still operates on this basic assumption.
In other words, the law was -- and still is -- set up to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone who wanted to build giant steam engines or chemical factories or uranium processing plants or Large Hadron Colliders. To ask a judge to stop these activities goes against 100 years of law.
But that's exactly what needs to happen, which was Joe Guth's point in Rachel's #846. Circumstances have changed, so the law needs to change. Today, there is good reason to doubt whether expanded economic activity (of the traditional kind) is bringing net benefits to humanity. More coal plants? More nuclear power (with its inevitable camp-follower, the restless A-bomb)? There's good reason to think that more bulldozing and more waste dumping and more "development" are now doing more harm than good. (Of course there are many parts of the world that desperately need power plants, roads, and ports. But to accommodate that genuine need the overdeveloped parts of the planet need to cut back, in some cases pretty drastically -- like cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 80 to 90% in 30 years or so, a daunting challenge.)
It's pretty clear that during the Anthropocene Era many of Earth's natural limits have been surpassed -- the planet is becoming biologically impoverished as the oceans are fished out, the forests aren't able to grow back as fast as they're cut, fresh water is already in short supply and dwindling, humans are crowding out the other creatures, which are therefore going extinct, and it's getting hot in here. You can read about new signs of genuine planet-wide ecological distress in most any good newspaper most any day.
So the old conditions have completely changed. The planet is now being stressed beyond endurance by human activities. Much of our economy is now, arguably, anti-economic -- producing more bads than goods.
As Joe Guth told us in #846, "Containing the damage to the earth is the most important task facing humanity.... The law must be transformed so that the earth's limited assimilative capacity will operate as a real constraint on our economy. This transformation in the law can begin with common law judges, who are called on now, as they have been for centuries, to adjust the law to changing circumstances."
So, yes, perhaps the scientists in Europe should be asked to acknowledge that there is no amount of human knowledge worth risking the destruction of planet Earth. We humans have been playing God for at least 100 years now, and it's time we acknowledged that we're not very good at it.
And perhaps the same message should go out to the prideful technologists who want to fix global warming by rocketing mountains of sulfur dust or acres of aluminum needles into space to shade us from the sun, or who want to dump huge quantities of iron filings into the oceans to stimulate the growth of plankton that will eat carbon dioxide, or who want to bury a few trillion tons of liquefied carbon dioxide a mile below ground, hoping it will stay there forever. What else will those parasols in space or those extra plankton do? What if that liquid carbon dioxide starts leaking out in a hundred years? Do we really want to find out the hard way, by trial and error? Maybe it's time to face the fact that, in the Anthropocene Era, the most important characteristic that we humans can develop and foster is humility in the face of our vast and irremediable ignorance. We can't find 95% of the universe. So be it. A hundred years ago it didn't matter that we didn't know what we were doing. We were arrogant but puny.
Now we are still arrogant but we are no longer puny. If we don't change our ways, all of Creation will eventually be destroyed. It's not too late to change -- our habits of mind as well as our laws. Anyone willing to face facts knows we must.
From: Sierra Club
By Robert Cox, President, Sierra ClubThis note is in response to reports about the Sierra Club Board of Directors' vote to suspend the Florida Chapter volunteer Executive Committee for four years. What has not been clear in some reports is that the action is the result of requests from Sierra Club members in Florida, themselves, for national volunteers to investigate internal disputes. It comes after much dissatisfaction, anger and frustration at the Chapter level and a multi-year process at the state and national level to improve the situation before this action was taken.
While it is a serious step and was a very difficult decision, it was made after much thought and extensive review. The impressive work of Florida's 19 groups to protect the environment will continue unaffected by this action. The Sierra Club looks forward to healing this rift and is confident that the Sierra Club in Florida will come out of this situation a stronger organization.
Over the past year and a half, the national Sierra Club has been asked multiple times to intervene in Florida Chapter matters by members concerned that factionalism compromised the Chapter's ability to accomplish its conservation work. An internal audit and comment period confirmed that the problems created by rifts in he Chapter made it difficult for the Chapter to be governed effectively.
Some reports have either explicitly or implicitly connected the suspension decision to opposition to the Sierra Club's recently announced partnership with Clorox Greenworks products or other disagreements over national policies adopted by the volunteer Board of Directors. This is completely false and a spurious connection. In fact, the difficult and exhaustive process to address the dysfunction of the Florida Chapter began long before the partnership with Clorox was announced--to be clear, Sierra Club and Clorox did not even begin initial conversations until July of 2007, with internal review among committees occurring last fall and the public announcement this past January. The process to address conflict in the Florida Chapter that ultimately resulted in suspension began in at least 2006.
As with many tough decisions inside a large and democratic organization like the Sierra Club, there have been internal disagreements. But the measures taken in Florida, which were made after considerable review, deliberation and solicitation of input from members throughout the chapter, were taken because the rifts in the chapter made it difficult to effectively govern. Disagreements between some leaders in the chapter and the national board over Clorox played no role in the Board's decision.
On the issue of the Clorox partnership itself: The Green Works products and The Clorox Company were investigated by a broad number of volunteers and staff -- including the Toxics Committee, the Energy Committee, and the Environmental Quality Committee. The Corporate Relations Committee also vetted this and approved of the Green Works products and of The Clorox Company, but did not approve the cause- related marketing relationship that would generate revenue for the Club. The Executive Committee of the Board of Directors approved that program because the Board is the decision-making body on cause-related marketing programs such as this one.
This partnership -- our first cause-related marketing venture involving a widely-distributed consumer product -- was announced the week of January 14 as part of the 2008 launch of the Green Works line of five natural household cleaning products. The Green Works cleaning products are made from coconut-based cleaning agent and essential lemon oils; there is no phosphorus or bleach; they are biodegradable and 99% petrochemical-free; there is no animal testing and they are hypo-allergenic.
The Green Works line will make it easier and more affordable for millions of Americans to buy eco-friendly products and this a huge opportunity for the Sierra Club to influence the buying behavior of millions of people and give a giant kick-start to the market for safe, green, affordable household cleaning products. Up until now, a big stumbling block for families who want to live a greener lifestyle has been the high cost of "green" products and the fact that they are not always easy to find. Green Works' natural, environmentally-preferable cleaning products are priced at only 20-25 percent higher than conventional cleaning products, which is much lower than other natural cleaning brands, which can be priced 50-100 percent higher. Green Works products will also be easy to find in 24,000 mainstream stores in the United States and Canada.
To us, the fact that Green Works is the first new product that Clorox has launched in 20 years is a sign that major companies see the green market maturing and recognize it's possible to manufacture and sell products that will be good for business and for the planet. Industry has to be a part of the solution and the Sierra Club has the power to influence corporations to move in the right direction. We believe and hope that this will be a selling proposition that other companies will be quick to adopt.
The bottom line is that these products are environmentally safe, affordable, work well, will be available to millions of people, alter consumer behavior overall and support the good work of the Sierra Club. It is our chance to use the power of our brand to help people who want to do the right thing, to do the right thing. And that is a great opportunity for us. Individuals who want to learn more about the products and the Sierra Club's process for deciding on the partnership can read more at the Sierra Club website at: http://www.sierraclub.org/greenworks/
From: The Independent (London, U.K.)
The study, by Dr Vini Khurana, is the most devastating indictment yet published of the health risks.
It draws on growing evidence -- exclusively reported in the IoS in October -- that using handsets for 10 years or more can double the risk of brain cancer. Cancers take at least a decade to develop, invalidating official safety assurances based on earlier studies which included few, if any, people who had used the phones for that long.
Earlier this year, the French government warned against the use of mobile phones, especially by children. Germany also advises its people to minimise handset use, and the European Environment Agency has called for exposures to be reduced.
Professor Khurana -- a top neurosurgeon who has received 14 awards over the past 16 years, has published more than three dozen scientific papers -- reviewed more than 100 studies on the effects of mobile phones. He has put the results on a brain surgery website, and a paper based on the research is currently being peer-reviewed for publication in a scientific journal.
He admits that mobiles can save lives in emergencies, but concludes that "there is a significant and increasing body of evidence for a link between mobile phone usage and certain brain tumours". He believes this will be "definitively proven" in the next decade.
Noting that malignant brain tumours represent "a life-ending diagnosis", he adds: "We are currently experiencing a reactively unchecked and dangerous situation." He fears that "unless the industry and governments take immediate and decisive steps", the incidence of malignant brain tumours and associated death rate will be observed to rise globally within a decade from now, by which time it may be far too late to intervene medically.
"It is anticipated that this danger has far broader public health ramifications than asbestos and smoking," says Professor Khurana, who told the IoS his assessment is partly based on the fact that three billion people now use the phones worldwide, three times as many as smoke. Smoking kills some five million worldwide each year, and exposure to asbestos is responsible for as many deaths in Britain as road accidents.
Late last week, the Mobile Operators Association dismissed Khurana's study as "a selective discussion of scientific literature by one individual". It believes he "does not present a balanced analysis" of the published science, and "reaches opposite conclusions to the WHO and more than 30 other independent expert scientific reviews".
From: Science (pg. 1753)
By John BohannonVienna, Austria -- A recent workshop* on methane hydrates felt like a powwow of 19th century California gold prospectors, looking ahead to both riches and peril. Sizing up the prize, Arthur Johnson, a veteran geologist of the oil industry who is now an energy consultant based in Kenner, Louisiana, predicted that "within a decade or two, hydrates will grow to 10% to 15% of natural gas production," becoming a more than $200 billion industry. And the peril? "The worst-case scenario is that global warming triggers a decade-long release of hundreds of gigatons of methane, the equivalent of 10 times the current amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere," said David Archer, a climate modeler at the University of Chicago in Illinois. Although no current model predicts such an event, said Archer, "we'd be talking about mass extinction."
When methane molecules become locked in atomic cages of water called clathrates, they form icy chunks that ignite when lit. These solids form wherever methane encounters water at high pressure and low temperature. The necessary conditions reign in permafrost and in some sea-floor sediments, forming a "ring around the bathtub" on continental slopes. This exotic fuel was discovered by the Soviet petroleum industry more than 3 decades ago, but even a few years ago many doubted its commercial potential (Science, 13 February 2004, p. 946). After several successful pilot drilling studies and heavy research investment over the past 4 years, says Johnson, "the question now is not whether industry will exploit hydrates but how soon."
Considering the skyrocketing price of oil, the answer seems to be soon, says one of the workshop organizers, Nebojua Nakicenovic, an energy economist here at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) outside Vienna. "And yet hydrates are absent from most of the climate discussions," he says, "and virtually absent from the IPCC fourth assessment report," last year's 1000-page tome by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Science, 11 May 2007, p. 812). The goal of the IIASA workshop was to bring together researchers from all the different fields that touch hydrates--from chemistry and economics to climate impact--to get an "interdisciplinary perspective" on the uncertainties.
"It's clear that one of our biggest knowledge gaps is figuring out the distribution," says Michael Riedel, a marine geophysicist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. "We still don't know how much there is in the world, not even within an order of magnitude."
Another crucial gap is the flux of methane, which drives hydrate formation over time. The largest amounts of methane hydrates are thought to reside in sub-sea-floor sediments. In a newly built sea- floor-monitoring network called NEPTUNE off the western coast of Canada, Riedel is part of a team studying methane-spewing vents to get a handle on their flow rate and marine chemistry. Where the conditions are just right, methane hydrates form caps over pockets of such gas.
These not only are sweet spots for those who want to tap hydrates for energy but also represent a major worry for climate modelers.
"If the sea floor warms up by a few degrees Celsius, the most vulnerable hydrates will melt, and then you're going to get a massive release of methane," says Euan Nisbet, a marine geologist at Royal Holloway, University of London. That warming and release is expected to take centuries or even millennia even in the most extreme climate scenarios. Riedel says the methane bubbles from seafloor vents are sponged up by the ocean water. But if a methane release were large and shallow enough, it would reach the atmosphere, says Archer. What is unclear is whether the climate system has methane-driven positive feedback mechanisms that could lead to abrupt climate change.
Johnson threw cold water on the scenario of a massive release of submarine hydrate-trapped methane to the atmosphere. Most hydrate deposits found so far "are as deep as a kilometer below the sea floor," he says, "and they aren't going anywhere." Walter Oechel, an ecologist and carbon-cycle expert at San Diego State University in California, doesn't find the "doom-and-gloom scenarios" very likely either. "The real story for me is hydrates as yet another chronic contributor to greenhouse gas emissions," he says.
Others considered methane hydrates part of a greenhouse gas solution.
A plan proposed by Vladimir Yakushev, a geologist at Gazprom, the world's largest natural gas corporation, based in Moscow, involves simultaneously extracting methane and methane hydrates while pumping liquefied carbon dioxide into the underground spaces left behind.
Researchers also discussed the idea of using hydrates for electricity generation or even manufacturing on the spot. "We have to try to make it carbon-neutral if we're serious about climate change," says Nisbet.
The overarching question of whether methane hydrates should play a major role in climate change debate was up for grabs. Considering the workshop discussions, "the methane hydrate issue is one risk that shouldn't drive policy considerations at the moment," concludes Brian O'Neill, an IPCC author and climate modeler at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. "There are bigger fish to fry." But Neil Hamilton, director of the International Arctic Programme for the World Wildlife Fund, based in Oslo, Norway, says, "It's absolutely shocking that hydrates have gotten so little attention." The risk of a massive methane release, however unlikely, "is reason enough for very serious concern," he says. More meetings like these are clearly needed.
* "Vulnerability and Opportunity of Methane Hydrates Workshop," IIASA, 13-14 March 2008.
Copyright 2008 American Association for the Advancement of Science
From: James Hansen
By James HansenThe Hon Kevin Rudd, MP Prime Minister of Australia Australian Parliament Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 2600
Dear Prime Minister,
Your leadership is needed on a matter concerning coal-fired power plants and carbon dioxide emission rates in your country, a matter with ramifications for life on our planet, including all species. Prospects for today's children, and especially the world's poor, hinge upon our success in stabilizing climate.
For the sake of identification, I am a United States citizen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Adjunct Professor at the Columbia University Earth Institute. I am a member of our National Academy of Sciences, have testified before our Senate and House of Representatives on many occasions, have advised our Vice President and Cabinet members on climate change and its relation to energy requirements, and have received numerous awards including the World Wildlife Fund's Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Medal from Prince Philip.
I write, however, as a private citizen, a resident of Kintnersville, Pennsylvania, USA. I was assisted in composing this letter by colleagues, including Australians, Americans, and Europeans, who commented upon a draft letter. Because of the urgency of the matter, I have not collected signatures, but your advisors will verify the authenticity of the science discussion.
I recognize that for years you have been a strong supporter of aggressive forward-looking actions to mitigate dangerous climate change. Also, since your election as Prime Minister of Australia, your government has been active in pressing the international community to take appropriate actions. We are now at a point that bold leadership is needed, leadership that could change the course of human history.
I have read and commend the Interim Report of Professor Ross Garnaut, submitted to your government. The conclusion that net carbon emissions must be cut to a fraction of current emissions must be stunning and sobering to policy-makers. Yet the science is unambiguous: if we burn most of the fossil fuels, releasing the CO2 to the air, we will assuredly destroy much of the fabric of life on the planet. Achievement of required near-zero net emissions by mid-century implies a track with substantial cuts of emissions by 2020. Aggressive near- term fostering of energy efficiency and climate friendly technologies is an imperative for mitigation of the looming climate crisis and optimization of the economic pathway to the eventual clean-energy world.
Global climate is near critical tipping points that could lead to loss of all summer sea ice in the Arctic with detrimental effects on wildlife, initiation of ice sheet disintegration in West Antarctica and Greenland with progressive, unstoppable global sea level rise, shifting of climatic zones with extermination of many animal and plant species, reduction of freshwater supplies for hundreds of millions of people, and a more intense hydrologic cycle with stronger droughts and forest fires, but also heavier rains and floods, and stronger storms driven by latent heat, including tropical storms, tornados and thunderstorms.
Feasible actions now could still point the world onto a course that minimizes climate change. Coal clearly emerges as central to the climate problem from the facts summarized in the attached Fossil Fuel Facts. Coal caused fully half of the fossil fuel increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air today, and on the long run coal has the potential to be an even greater source of CO2. Due to the dominant role of coal, solution to global warming must include phase- out of coal except for uses where the CO2 is captured and sequestered. Failing that, we cannot avoid large climate change, because a substantial fraction of the emitted CO2 will stay in the air more than 1000 years.
Yet there are plans for continuing mining of coal, export of coal, and construction of new coal-fired power plants around the world, including in Australia, plants that would have a lifetime of half a century or more. Your leadership in halting these plans could seed a transition that is needed to solve the global warming problem.
Choices among alternative energy sources -- renewable energies, energy efficiency, nuclear power, fossil fuels with carbon capture -- these are local matters. But decision to phase out coal use unless the CO2 is captured is a global imperative, if we are to preserve the wonders of nature, our coastlines, and our social and economic well being.
Although coal is the dominant issue, there are many important subsidiary ramifications, including the need for rapid transition from oil-fired energy utilities, industrial facilities and transport systems, to clean (solar, hydrogen, gas, wind, geothermal, hot rocks, tide) energy sources, as well as removal of barriers to increased energy efficiency.
If the West makes a firm commitment to this course, discussion with developing countries can be prompt. Given the potential of technology assistance, realization of adverse impacts of climate change, and leverage and increasing interdependence from global trade, success in cooperation of developed and developing worlds is feasible.
The western world has contributed most to fossil fuel CO2 in the air today, on a per capita basis.
This is not an attempt to cast blame. It only recognizes the reality of the early industrial development in these countries, and points to a responsibility to lead in finding a solution to global warming.
A firm choice to halt building of coal-fired power plants that do not capture CO2 would be a major step toward solution of the global warming problem. Australia has strong interest in solving the climate problem. Citizens in the United States are stepping up to block one coal plant after another, and major changes can be anticipated after the upcoming national election.
If Australia halted construction of coal-fired power plants that do not capture and sequester the CO2, it could be a tipping point for the world. There is still time to find that tipping point, but just barely. I hope that you will give these considerations your attention in setting your national policies. You have the potential to influence the future of the planet.
Prime Minister Rudd, we cannot avert our eyes from the basic fossil fuel facts, or the consequences for life on our planet of ignoring these fossil fuel facts. If we continue to build coal-fired power plants without carbon capture, we will lock in future climate disasters associated with passing climate tipping points. We must solve the coal problem now.
For your information, I plan to send a similar letter to the Australian States Premiers.
I commend to you the following Australian climate, paleoclimate and Earth scientists to provide further elaboration of the science reported in my attached paper (Hansen et al., 2008):
Professor Barry Brook, Professor of climate change, University of Adelaide
Dr Andrew Glikson, Australian National University
Professor Janette Lindesay, Australian National University
Dr Graeme Pearman, Monash University
Dr Barrie Pittock, CSIRO
Dr Michael Raupach, CSIRO
Professor Will Steffen, Australian National University
James E. Hansen Kintnersville, Pennsylvania United States of America
From: The Guardian (Manchester, U.K.)
By Alok Jha, science correspondentScientists have found further evidence of a link between Parkinson's disease and long-term exposure to pesticides.
A study of more than 300 people with the neurological disease -- which can affect movements such as walking, talking and writing -- found that sufferers were more than twice as likely to report heavy exposure to pesticides over their lifetime as family members without the disease.
Previous studies have pointed to a possible link between pesticide exposure and Parkinson's and public authorities are trying to work out whether these risks should be classed as significant. A £906,000 project to study the links launched in 2006 by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, for example, is due to report this summer.
Variations in several genes have been identified that contribute to the disease, but these defects are rare and only account for a small proportion of the incidence of the disease, which afflicts around 120,000 people in the UK. The majority of cases are thought to be a result of an interaction between genes and the environment.
The new research, led by American scientists, looked at the lifetime pesticide exposure of 319 Parkinson's patients and more than 200 of their relatives without the disease. The results, published today in the journal BMC Neurology, showed that people with Parkinson's were 1.6 times as likely to report an exposure to pesticides in their lifetimes compared with the controls.
In addition, people with the Parkinson's were 2.4 times as likely as people without the disease to report heavy exposure to pesticides, classed as more than 215 days over a lifetime.
The strongest associations were between people with Parkinson's who had been exposed to herbicide and insecticide chemicals such as organochlorides and organophosphates. No links were found between Parkinson's disease and drinking well-water or living or working on a farm, two commonly used proxies for pesticide exposures.
"In this dataset, these tended to be people who used a lot of pesticides in their homes and in their hobbies," said William Scott of the University of Miami, who took part in the study. "There were not many people who routinely used pesticides for their occupation."
Though the evidence is growing, the researchers said that there was not enough biological evidence yet to conclude that Parkinson's was definitely caused by pesticide exposure. The biological mechanism linking the two is still unknown. The researchers added that future genetic studies of Parkinson's could consider the influence of pesticides, because exposure to these chemicals may trigger the disease in genetically predisposed people.
Kieran Breen, director of research at the Parkinson's Disease Society (PDS), said: "The association between pesticides and Parkinson's has been recognised for some time, and this study supports this link and strengthens the fact that pesticides play a key role."
The PDS has carried out a survey of more than 10,000 people with Parkinson's and preliminary results show that 9% had long-term pesticide or herbicide exposure, which is defined as exposure for more than a year.
"Of the 3,000 carers surveyed, most of whom were family members, less than 2% had had similar exposure," said Breen. "This demonstates that pesticides may be contributing to nerve cell death in some people with Parkinson's, but is unlikely to be the only cause."
Symptoms of the disease first tend to appear when a patient is older than 50, and can include tremors and muscle rigidity. The Parkinson's Disease Society estimates that around 10,000 new diagnoses of the disease are made ever year in the UK.
Copyright Guardian News and Media Limited 2008
By Peter BarnesIt's 1999. To reduce the risk of global warming, the United States and other industrial nations have agreed to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 10 percent in the coming decade.
To make these cuts efficiently, the United Stares has set up a system of marketable permits for carbon emissions. Every unit of oil, coal and natural gas sold in the United States must have an emission permit attached to it, and the total number of permits will decline over time.
Who receives these permits? What, if anything, do they pay for them? And, most important, if they pay, who gets the money?
This picture is not unlikely and these questions are pressing, as global warming emerges as one of the hottest issues of the end of the 20th century. At stake are literally trillions of dollars in permit costs. And underlying it all is a question of profound importance for the 2lst century: Who will own the sky?
Until now, people have battled over land, water, oil and other valuable materials. But there has always been enough sky. That was before the sky became a waste dump for industrial economies. Now it is clear that Chicken Little had it almost right: the sky isn't falling, but it is filling. The gaseous bubble we inhabit can absorb only so much ozone-eating chlorine, acid-brewing sulfur and heat-reflecting carbon dioxide. There is already a permit system for sulfur emissions, and now there is an ever more urgent need to limit carbon emissions.
When the heads of state of the seven largest industrial nations meet, they plan to discuss ways to reduce the risk of global warming. So far, they have agreed to set legally binding targets for carbon dioxide emission reductions. The many nations that will gather this December at the climate-change negotiations in Kyoto, Japan, must still decide what those targets will be, and how those levels will be enforced.
Without yet suggesting specific targets. the United States has proposed an ingenious system to encourage good behavior. Each industrial nation would have its target for carbon dioxide emissions expressed in the form of internationally tradeable emission permits. Countries that reduce emissions below their targets could sell their surplus permits and earn money, or bank them for future years. Countries that exceed their targets can purchase unused permits, if available, from other countries.
What all this means from a historical perspective is that the era of free sky is over. In the future, there will be an economy of sky. Property rights will be established, prices will be charged, and money will change hands. Lots of money.
DRI/McGraw-Hill, an economic consulting firm, estimates that if the United States stabilizes carbon dioxide emissions at the 1990 level, permits to emit carbon into the sky will cost some $230 billion in 2010. That is the extra money Americans will pay that year when the demand to burn fossil fuels meets the limited quantity of carbon emission permits then available. If emission ceilings are set below the 1990 level, as most climate scientists say they must be, those permits will be worth even more.
This brings us back to who gets the permits, how much they pay for them and where the money goes -- questions that Congress must eventually answer. Energy companies have staked a claim to carbon emission permits based on the historically free use of the sky. But if their claim is granted. the higher prices that they will charge Americans will flow almost entirely to those few corporations, in a giveaway of sky rivaled only by the giveaway of land to railroads in the 19th century. (Publisher's note -- the 1996 giveaway of $110 billion in airwave rights to broadcast station owners also rivals this. Corporate welfare schemes grow larger and larger.)
There are at least two alternatives. One is to have the Federal Government auction off carbon emission permits and pocket the proceeds, much as it does with some bits of the broadcast spectrum.
The second alternative is inspired by the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, which says that what is not explicitly granted to the Federal Government belongs directly to the people.
In this alternative, it is the people, not Uncle Sam, who would own America's share of the global sky. Instead of flowing into the United States Treasury, revenue from periodic auctions of carbon emission permits would flow into a trust fund whose beneficiaries are all current and future citizens. The trust fund would pay dividends to each of these citizen-owners, maybe in cash, but more prudently as matching contributions to restricted individual savings accounts. With such accounts, all Americans could build up savings for higher education, job training, a first home purchase, self-employment and retirement.
The concept here is simple, yet bold: if we must pay to use the sky, we should do so in a way that shifts money from consumption to savings and increases the opportunity for all citizens to achieve the American dream.
Rachel's Democracy & Health News (formerly Rachel's Environment & Health News) highlights the connections between issues that are often considered separately or not at all. The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining because those who make the important decisions aren't the ones who bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the rise of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among workers and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy, intolerance, and racial injustice that allow us to be divided and therefore ruled by the few. In a democracy, there are no more fundamental questions than, "Who gets to decide?" And, "How do the few control the many, and what might be done about it?" As you come across stories that might help people connect the dots, please Email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rachel's Democracy & Health News is published as often as necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject. Editors: Peter Montague - email@example.com Tim Montague - firstname.lastname@example.org
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