Flotsam & Jetsam
Berkeley Endorses Space Preservation Treaty, Humans and Whales Join Forces in Ocean Rescue, Woods Hole Goes Solar, Chirac Backs Fat-Cat Tax, US Plant to Produce 300-foot-long Solar Sheets, Tumucumaque: Brazil’s Gift to the World, & more...
October 3, 2002

Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) listens as Berkeley City Councilmember Donna Spring reads city resolution in support of the Space Preservation Act. Credit: Gar Smith / The-Edge
Berkeley Endorses Space Preservation Treaty
USA — Berkeley, California is known as “the city with its own foreign policy” because its activist and visionary city council frequently issues resolutions that raise matters of national and international concern. In September, Berkeley went beyond the realm of internationalism and ventured boldly where no city council had gone before — into the political depths of outer space

On September 10, the council endorsed Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich’s (D-OH) Space Preservation Act (HR 3616) which, along with its companion Space Preservation Treaty, would impose a “permanent ban on all space-based weapons.” (Environmentalists have faulted the bill for encouraging the development of space for commercial gain.)

On September 14, Kucinich was as the keynote speaker at the Third Annual Redwood Sequoia Conference hosted by Berkeley’s Universalist Unitarian Fellowship. His address received a rousing reception — and several standing ovations — from thousands who jammed the University of California’s Wheeler Hall.

Kucinich condemned the Bush administration’s rush to war and expressed “amazement” that, a year after the 9-11 attacks, there still had been no independent investigation of the intelligence failures that permitted the attacks. Kucinich called such an investigation essential and added, “let the chips fall where they may.”

The Berkeley City Council also passed a second resolution on September 10 that condemned the US PATRIOT Act as an attack on civil liberties and the US Constitution.

Humans and Whales Join Forces in Ocean Rescue
AUSTRALIA — In early September, ships off New South Wales (NSW) reported spotting a humpback whale trapped inside a straightjacket of shark nets. Despite the animal’s valiant struggles, it was clear that the whale was lethally snared. At one point, the animal appeared dead.

The Daily Telegraph initially reported that the whale had blundered into the shark nets off the Gold Coast’s Palm Beach in an attempt to avoid the US nuclear submarine La Jolla which was “undergoing secret operations in the area.” The US denied the allegation.

Australian divers began a rescue effort ten miles offshore. Throughout the ordeal, the humpback was surrounded by family members — two adults and a juvenile.

The Daily Telegraph reported that “those who free-dived around the animal have all acknowledged that the whale’s three companions could quite easily have killed the human helpers” but they seemed to understand that “the men were on their side.” At one point in the rescue drama, “the other whales pushed the stricken mammal’s head above water to make it easier for the divers to cut through the mess of net.”

After an unprecedented combined effort of human divers and humpbacks, the massive creature was liberated. The Telegraph reports that “the freed whale was dubbed ‘Enduro’ because of its protracted plight and is now believed to be well on its way home to the chilly waters around Antarctica.”

Woods Hole Goes Solar
USA — The world-famed Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts is going solar. Woods Hole is installing a 26.4 kW Northern Power Systems [www.northernpower.com] photovoltaic array to provide free solar electricity for a new sustainable research facility being designed by McDonough & Partners.

The facility will be “totally green-powered,” generating 37,000 kWh of renewable electricity a year. The buildings will also employ a geothermal heat-pump.

These self-sufficient energy systems, combined with energy-saving building construction, should reduce energy demands by 84 percent. That would mean the buildings would produce more energy than they use. The project was part of the $14.6 million Green Buildings Initiative funded by Massachusetts’s $150 million Renewable Energy Trust.

Chirac Backs Fat-Cat Tax
SOUTH AFRICA — Progressive delegates to the World Summit on Sustainable Development called for addressing “global economic apartheid” by imposing a global tax on international currency trades — the so-called “Tobin Tax” (named after US Nobel Prize-winning economist James Tobin who first proposed the levy in the 1970s).

French President Jacques Chirac countered that if the world is to raise the $100 billion needed to address global poverty, the reforms should not be limited to taxing international financial transactions. Jacques’ “Chirac Tax” would also include taxes on airplane tickets, carbon dioxide emissions, and health products sold in rich nations.

Chrétien Takes Flak for Criticizing the West’s ‘Arrogance’
CANADA — Prime Minister Jean Chrétien astonished many in the Bush White House when he declared during a CBC-TV talk show that the US had to accept some responsibility for the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Speaking with bracing candor, Chrétien told his TV audience: “[T]he Western world is getting too rich in relation to the poor world and necessarily will be looked upon as being arrogant and self-satisfied, greedy and with no limits. The 11th of September is an occasion for me to realize it even more.

“You cannot exercise your powers to the point of humiliation of others,” Chrétien continued. “That is what the Western world — not only the Americans, the Western world — has to realize. Because they are human beings, too. There are long-term consequences.”

US Plant to Produce 300-foot-long Solar Sheets
USA— In June, United Solar System [www.uni-solar.com] opened a 30-MW solar cell manufacturing plant in Auburn Hills, Michigan that houses the world’s largest thin-film solar cell manufacturing machine. The Auburn Hills plant will boost US solar production by 20 percent and lower the cost of photovoltaic roofing tiles to the point that a “solar power” roof will pay for itself in just five years.

A 300-foot-long “roll-to-roll” device produces massive sheets of photovoltaic material — nearly 20 miles of PV material a week. PV roofing shingles can reduce the cost of providing electricity to the average home by as much as 42 percent.

Homeowners who cannot obtain insurance for homes covered with flammable cedar shakes can now satisfy their insurance companies (and tick off their local utility companies at the same time) by installing fire-proof “Smart Roofing Systems” that generate 10 kW per day.

The Auburn Hills plant, which is five-times as efficient as previous plants, will produce 30,000 kW of PV material a year — enough to power a city of 15,000 people. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) praised the new facility for demonstrating Michigan’s “increasing role as a world center for new, environmentally friendly technologies that can significantly reduce the nation’s reliance on oil and fossil fuels.”

The Earth Experiences ‘Warming Pains’
EARTH — Scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland have been using satellites to determine just what shape the world is in. That shape has generally been “pear-shaped,” with the planet showing a pronounced bulge about its midsection.

Over the past 20 years, as rising global temperatures have caused the polar ice caps to melt, the loss of these massive continents of polar ice has allowed the planet to move toward a more spherical shape. A change of this scale within a period of two decades is unprecedented.

In 1998, however, something even more unprecedented occurred. NASA satellites recorded the startling fact that the Earth’s middle was, once more, starting to expand. “Something is different, so it begs the question: ‘What’s going on?’,” says NASA’s Christopher Cox. The August 2 Science reports that scientists, as yet, have no explanation for this extraordinary development.

Tumucumaque: Brazil’s Gift to the World
BRAZIL — George W. Bush was afraid to show his face at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg but Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso not only showed up — he brought a big present with him. Cardoso used the WSSD as the occasion for pulling the wraps off the world’s largest rainforest national park — a 9.4-million-acre portion of the Amazon along the French Guyana border.

The Tumucumaque Mountain National Park is home to harpy eagles, jaguars and 12 percent of the Amazon’s known primates. The preservation of Tumucumaque, Cardoso stated, assures that “plants and animals that may be endangered elsewhere will continue to thrive in our forests forever.”

Conservation International (CI), which provided advice leading to the park’s creation, saluted Brazil for “its long-term vision, dedication and leadership on conserving its precious biodiversity.” CI President Russell Mittermeier proclaimed “since Tumucumaque is one of the greatest unexplored places on Earth, we can only imagine what undiscovered mysteries will one day be found in the park.”

Of course, the best way to guarantee the promise of this park would be to insure that human curiosity does not unduly intrude on the pristine wildness of Tumucumaque.

A pre-emptive target? The people of Iraq need peace and security. The Bush-Cheney plan to “go it alone” threatens peace and security on a global level. Credit: United Nations
Sustainable Development in the Middle East Requires Peace
LEBANON — War and militarism are some of the biggest obstacles to sustainable development in the Arab world, according to a study by the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. The UPI reported that “wars and other types of armed conflict had a destructive impact on the Arab region and its chances for sustainable development.” The report noted “huge losses in human beings, revenues, health and infrastructure along with a dangerous collapse of education, skills and prosperity in contrast with increased military spending and debt accumulations.”

The most critical goals facing the Middle East, the UPI reports, are “establishing peace and security, limiting poverty, slowing population growth, improving education and developing production sectors.”

And Family Planning Couldn’t Hurt
MIDDLE EAST — According to the Popline newsletter [www.populationinstitute.org], the population of the countries of the Middle East is expected to double — to 649 million — by mid-century. Despite a scarcity of water and the difficulty of farming in semi-arid lands, the countries of the Middle East enjoy low infant-mortality rates and “some of the highest population growth rates in the world.”

Since 1960, the region’s population has more than tripled, soaring from 106 million to 319 million. “The largest increase was in Iran, which grew by almost 45 million people.”

According to Popline, the warning about the growing population of Middle East came in part from information compiled by the CIA.

FAO Predicts ‘More Food in the Future’
ITALY — The UN Food and Agriculture Organization studied 32 crop and livestock commodities in some 140 countries and came to a surprisingly positive prediction: there will be enough food to feed everyone on Earth by 2030 and many of those people will be better fed.

According to World Agriculture: Towards 2015/2030, the world should see a slowing in the rate of forest clearing for agriculture and less desperation surrounding the availability of fresh water supplies, which are now in decline.

There is only one thing that could lead to such an improved forecast. The FAO’s conclusions are based on the prediction that the world’s population growth will continue to decline. Even with decreased growth of the human population, the pressure on water and natural resources “will continue to increase, but at a slower pace than in the past.” Jelle Bruinsma, editor of the report, argues that “because growth in agricultural demand and production will continue to slow down, as population growth slows down… an ever-increasing part of the population [will be] better fed.”

The FAO report sees world population rising from 6 billion today to 8.3 billion by 2030. The UN expects the current world birthrate (2.8 children per woman) to drop to 2.15 by 2050.

Good News, Bad News
USA — During the 1970s and 1980s, women in the US gave birth to (on average) fewer than two children, which, the World Population News Service (WPNS) reports, would guarantee a declining population since “2.1 is considered the population’s replacement level.”

Reviewing the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control, however, WPNS reports with alarm that “American women are having more children now than at any time within the last 30 years.” While conservatives might hail this as a return to “family values,” the CDC notes that approximately one-third of these births were to unmarried women. The reversal, which was tabulated at the end of 2000, was attributed to the economic boom of the Clinton years.

Typically, when the economy sours, the birthrates decline. That being the case, George W. Bush’s economic performance should guarantee one of the lowest US birth rates since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Genetic Engineering Could Produce ‘Superweeds’
USA — Researchers at Ohio State University (OSU) have issued a warning that vindicates the refusal of several African nations to allow the introduction of US genetically modified corn into their nations in the guise of “food aid.”

The OSU scientists discovered that a toxic transgene introduced into sunflowers could be easily transmitted to wild sunflowers by pollen carried by the wind or insects.

“Many genetically modified cultivated crops could potentially crossbreed with weeds,” stated OSU’s Allison Snow. “Weeds are already hardy plants. The addition of transgenes could just make them tougher.”

The introduction of man-made genes would have unpredictable consequences in nature, the report warned. Scientists agree that there is only one consequence of such an intentional “genetic spill” that is predictable — the results of such genetic calamity would be uncontrollable.

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