Environment

Sustainable tourism: An idea whose time has come

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 28/10/2019 - 4:14pm in

Tags 

Environment

UniSA Media Release The past few years have seen a major schism emerge in attitudes to tourism. On one hand, the new wealth of a burgeoning global middle class and shrinking cost of high-quality tourist experiences have allowed an unprecedented number of people to travel, often resulting in enlightening and inspiring experiences. On the other…

The post Sustainable tourism: An idea whose time has come appeared first on The AIM Network.

Genuine Hope. Collective Action.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 28/10/2019 - 2:45am in

Hand holding a dandelion in its seed head stagePhoto by Aleksandr Ledogorov on Unsplash

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

Andre Gide

In the week when protests have erupted in countries around the world from South America to Asia, the Middle East and the UK are we beginning to see a real revolt against the prevailing economic ideology? One which has poisoned politics, allowed corrupt behaviour through the influence of global corporations, caused environmental devastation and totally unnecessary and degrading human suffering.

People may not name neoliberalism as the author of their deprivation, but the ascendency of market-driven ideology has left many living in penury, with its associated effects not just on individuals but on societies across the world. Whilst the few live lives of unimaginable luxury, they do so on the backs of those who have virtually become slaves to a rotten and decaying system. The Chicago Boys who experimented in Chile with such destructive consequences have much to answer for decades down the line, where today the country’s economic model has produced vast wealth but left many struggling to manage as this week’s protests there have shown – a situation that has been replicated on a global scale whilst the few continue to gobble up the world’s wealth and resources for themselves.

Can we dare to hope that in the face of rising discontent that those politicians, economists, institutions and even journalists who have brazenly promoted and given this cruel economic system legs will eventually be called to account?  Can we dare to believe that, as the events show in Chile, a million individuals acting collectively can prove a powerful force to be reckoned with?

And yet the UK headlines this week once again make for stark contrasts between those who have lost out and those who have gained through government policy decisions and spending and taxation policies.

Hundreds of people forced to live in caravans added to those eking out a miserable existence living under railway arches, in temporary accommodation or sofa surfing. Two thirds of single parents losing out under the universal credit system adding to those who have already suffered at its hand and fears that it will only add to soaring child poverty rates. Yet more schools opening community food fridges to tackle family hunger caused by in-work poverty and the scourge of low wages adding to the 2000 food banks already providing support across the country. A nurse pleading for help after having ‘nothing left’ after rent, childcare and travel costs and teachers living in sheds or cars and depending on food banks to eat.  Amazon warehouse staff exhausted and under pressure to perform, working 10-hour shifts, falling asleep on the toilet and being forced to join what are euphemistically known as ‘power hours’ to speed up productivity.

One of its staff called it modern slavery and another asked why are people being treated like this when Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world? In the same vein, when the boss of Deliveroo gets a 57% increase in pay and £8.3m in share options whilst those so-called ‘self-employed contractors’ at the firm work without a guaranteed minimum wage, holiday pay or sick pay and Argos staff get their annual Christmas bonus cut to just £5 by a boss on £3.9m it’s a wonder that people have accepted their servitude with so little protest, up until recently that is.

Are the chickens coming home to roost? And where will it lead us? With people crushed by the burden of debt, low wages and precarious employment, a consequence of government policies, many people find themselves hard pushed to protest as keeping heads above the water becomes the overriding priority in life.  Combine this with a democratic system which increasingly leaves citizens with no real voice, we shouldn’t be surprised that their fears and insecurities are now cynically being exploited by extreme right-wing politicians.

This is not confined to the UK or even the EU. There seems to be a huge chasm between the lived realities of people’s lives and politicians from across the world. Politicians blind to those realities or unwilling to engage with them, many of whom are still defending austerity as if there were no alternative then and would even cheerfully prescribe more of it now should they consider it necessary. The household budget analogy of the public finances persists and has a lot to answer for!

It begs the question whether, in the face of a global domino effect falling towards world recession as China’s economy slows and the US pursues its trade tariff policies, if the same inherent misunderstandings about how a modern monetary system works persist what the consequences could be? Even in the event of a temporary fiscal stimulus, failure to embrace that real understanding will leave future generations poorer in terms of life expectations on whichever continent they live, not to mention the salutary prospect of the destruction of our species on a planet no longer able to sustain us, all on the untruth that any action would be ultimately monetarily unaffordable.

As David Attenborough said this week ‘all these seven worlds are actually one and we are dependent on it for every mouthful we eat and every breath of air we take’. GIMMS has noted before that it is difficult to imagine anyone believing that money is so scarce that we can’t save ourselves, when the real challenges (which are less spoken about if at all) are the actual real resources that will allow a sustainable and just global transition to take place without exceeding the productive capacity of the planet and its citizens.

This week saw a small glimmer of hope as the TUC published its report Lessons from a decade of failed austerity: Getting it right this time’. It rightly challenges the view pushed by many economists and governments across the world that austerity had been the right response to the Global Financial Crash and traces the economic consequences of such policies on the economies of OECD countries and the impacts on workers’ pay. It also contests the widely-held view that there was no alternative to cuts to public spending and that society ‘must simply learn to live with degraded conditions’ on account of the public and social infrastructure no longer being affordable.

It recognises that although austerity thinking is still prevalent in some quarters, a programme of expansionary fiscal policy will be vital to support aggregate demand to counter the effects of a predicted global recession and reverse the damage caused by almost 10 years of cuts to public spending. It recommends that ‘government should expand expenditure on public sector salaries and services, fast track increases in public infrastructure and use fiscal policy as part of a wider plan to deliver ‘sustainable growth’ including investing in the public services families rely on, the skills workers need for the future and a just transition to net-zero carbon emissions’.

Whilst one might want to know more about what it means by ‘sustainable growth’ in a finite resource world, overall the report is encouraging. Its acknowledgement that ‘austerity thinking is the logic of the household budget and omits the impact of government policy on the economy’ is very welcome. But then it spoils it somewhat by the suggestion that ‘on a macroeconomic view government spending strengthens the economy and can improve rather than damage the public finances’ and then goes on to say that ‘increased expenditure should be financed by borrowing rather than increased taxation.’

As people are hopefully now becoming aware, reference to improving or damaging the public finances fits into the tax or borrow narrative of how governments spend which is incorrect. It is also contradictory to the report’s earlier recognition that the logic of the household budget omits the impact of government policies on the economy. The latter is the only measure of the effectiveness of government spending and taxation policies, in other words, who gained and who lost out as a result, not how a government managed its public finances or whether it balanced the budget or achieved a surplus.

The question of how we pay for it is not answered by taxing the rich or borrowing from them. Indeed, as the economist Scott Fullwiler noted this week ‘it’s time for the left to recognise that raising tax rates on the rich a few % to match spending isn’t the same thing as a comprehensive policy to actually reduce inequality. In fact, taxing the rich to ‘pay for’ spending means you need them to stay absurdly rich.’

Only this week, Jeremy Corbyn in a Q&A session invited successful people ‘to be happy with their wealth, but also to share it a bit by paying their taxes, [….] so that our public services are there for them just as much as they’re there for everybody’

Most certainly one should have no objection to the rich paying their taxes for reasons of equity but the constant references to finding the magic money tree in the Cayman Islands or getting rich people to pay their taxes so that we can have public services smacks of Victorian altruism and gives rich people more significance in relation to how governments spend than relates to reality.

Paying for government programmes is achieved by the recognition of the sovereign currency-issuing powers of the government which can authorise its central bank to spend to deliver its political agenda and that applies whichever side of the political spectrum you are on. Labour will be onto a winner if and when the penny finally drops!

The report goes on to discuss the natural rate of unemployment and the theory of NAIRU which is an economic concept that proposes that there is a trade-off between unemployment and inflation. It suggests that when unemployment falls below a defined threshold, wage inflation then price inflation will be triggered.

In the words of Matthew Klein from the FT who is quoted in the report ‘in addition to being morally odious, the theory is empirically unsupportable’. The post-war full employment policies led by the governments of the day was followed by a complete change of tack which for decades has left working people as collateral damage in the service of employers who have been the sole beneficiaries. Whilst there may have been an increase in employment (notwithstanding the levels of underemployment contained within those figures) this has occurred alongside a decline in wages across advanced economies leading to subsequent declines in living standards. Working people have been the losers.

The report, however, suggests that on the evidence, the natural rate of unemployment must be a ‘moveable feast’ as policymakers have had to reassess the Natural Rate of Employment over time. Whilst it is not mentioned in the report it would seem that the next logical step must surely be towards examining the Job Guarantee as a more humane and macroeconomically sensible programme to create full employment and price stability without the associated societal ills caused by people being abandoned to the immorality of unemployment as a government choice. Enabling public sector work at a living wage which offers the dignity of employment and social inclusion must be an improvement, surely?

Let’s leave the final words to Mervyn King the former Governor of the Bank of England who said this week:

‘Another economic and financial crisis would be devastating to the legitimacy of a democratic market system. By sticking to the [..] orthodoxy of monetary policy and pretending we have made the banking system safe, we are sleepwalking towards that crisis. Following the Great Depression of the 1930s, there had been new thinking and intellectual change. No one can doubt that we are once more living through a period of political turmoil. But there has been no comparable questioning of the basic ideas underpinning economic policy. That needs to change’

Those of us who are working to promote a better understanding of how money works within a Modern Monetary Framework are already doing just that and the conversation is just beginning.

 

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The post Genuine Hope. Collective Action. appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

How Plastic Pollution Is Making Central American Communities Uninhabitable

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 27/10/2019 - 11:00pm in

Tags 

Environment, World

The fishermen stand thigh-deep in the muddy water as our boat pulls up to the shore, grass shushing against the hull. It is a still, cool morning and mist wicks off the river as the sun begins to rise above the trees. Down the beach, a white egret standing in the shallows takes flight in a burst of sound as the fishermen lift their net to reveal its glinting catch. Beside them, half-submerged, a plastic soda bottle noses purposefully past, toward the sea.

As I step onto shore, I notice more bits of plastic lying among the reeds, half-buried in the mud, as well as stained scraps of cloth, bits of packing foam, a single cracked plastic sandal. Just beyond, Guatemala’s Motagua River pours into the Caribbean, carrying with it a daily freight of trash washed out of overcrowded city dumps and unofficial landfills hundreds of miles upstream.

Worldwide, an estimated 80 percent of ocean plastic comes from land as “mismanaged waste.” Indeed, in Guatemala, there are almost no properly managed landfills and virtually no public water treatment plants. The result is a noxious chowder of sewage, industrial and agricultural runoff, and an ever-replenished flotilla of plastic trash, churning out from the river mouth toward the massive Mesoamerican reef, which has long supported rich biodiversity and fishing communities from Cancún to Nicaragua. Now, the beaches here and in neighboring Honduras are regularly buried in artificial tidewrack of toothbrushes, makeup containers, old syringes and bottles of IV fluid, action figures, streamers of plastic film, and foil chip bags.

Hendrik, a young employee of the country’s department of protected areas, gave me and a few colleagues a tour in late 2018. For the last year, workers employed by the environmental ministry had been cleaning this stretch of beach, carting wheelbarrow loads of trash away, but even still the sand is mosaicked with colorful bits of plastic. “It’s a constant effort,” Hendrik said. However much trash they take away, the river always brings more to replace it.

One of the “bio-fences” set up by MARN - the Ministry of Environment - collects floating trash, preventing it from flowing out to the Caribbean, in the town of El Quetzalito in Izabal, Guatemala on October 1, 2018. Trash is usually collected several times a day and brought into an adjacent warehouse to be separated by material.

In El Quetzalito, locals are charged with maintaining the government’s recently installed “bio-fences,” which act as superficial barriers to stop floating trash from reaching the mouth of the river as it empties into the Caribbean.

Photo: Celia Talbot Tobin

The town of El Quetzalito sits at the end of a dirt road that jounces through endless plantation rows of banana and palm trees, just a few miles from Guatemala’s border with Honduras. Just beyond the houses that stand on the bank of the Motagua, the river takes a right turn and dead-ends into the Caribbean in a muddy plume of sediment and debris.

Though this small community, home to only about 305 people, lies nearly 200 miles from the busy, exhaust-choked capital, the city’s trash floats past and washes up onto the beaches every day. In 2016, footage of a massive landslide of garbage in the overfilled Guatemala City dump reportedly killed three trash-pickers and briefly drew international attention to the untenable conditions there. But with overburdened or nonexistent infrastructure throughout Guatemala, the rainy season regularly washes large quantities of trash out of many such dumps and into the rivers every year.

With few, if any, properly contained landfills in Guatemala, the rainy season regularly washes large quantities of trash out of dumps and into the rivers.

“It’s something that’s been happening for a while now,” said Marco Dubón, who goes by Marquito. Growing up, he doesn’t remember a time when the river wasn’t full of trash. In recent years, however, it’s gotten much worse.

In 2017, threatened with a lawsuit from Honduras over its polluted beaches, Guatemala’s environmental minister introduced a device he dubbed the “bio-fence.” Made of empty plastic bottles roped together with plastic netting, the floating boom juts from shore into the main current of the river at an angle, funneling trash aside before it makes it to the sea.

The bio-fence was installed near El Quetzalito, and a small group of residents, overseen by Marquito, was employed to remove the trash caught by the boom. They would also work to clean the beach just beyond town and hopefully make a dent in the overall pollution.

One Monday in September 2018, when we visit, there is a raft of plastic bottles and floating sticks caught in the crook of the bio-fence. The surface looks solid, but it undulates against the hull of the boat tied beside the bank. There is not too much trash coming down the river at the moment, Marquito explained, but it will come back with the rains. “When it’s full, you can practically walk on it,” he said.

For now, the workers focus on the beach instead, a quick boat ride downriver. It is early, but the sun is already heavy. A bonfire of sodden wood and unidentifiable debris sends billows of steam and acrid smoke down the beach, but most of what the workers gather goes into large sacks to be carried back to town, to the recycling center. There, clean glass and plastic will be sorted apart, and everything else compacted down into fuel for the incinerator ovens of a cement company.

The workers get about 2,800 quetzales per month, a little less than $400. The work isn’t pleasant, but it is steadier than fishing. Carlos René Ortega said that he prefers working on the beach to cleaning out the bio-fence or sorting trash in the heat of the stuffy, tin-roofed recycling center. On the beach, there’s a breeze around noon. And when they work at the bio-fence, they have to wade into the water to remove the trash. “We take turns,” he explained, “but after three or four hours, we come out itching.”

“Ten years ago, it was amazing to fish here,” Izak Dubón said, pausing to plant his spade in the sand. “You would find some big fish, you would actually make money.” Izak, 20, is tall and slender, with a surprisingly deep voice behind the aqua-blue kerchief he has tied over his mouth and nose. He used to go fishing with his dad, but now feels he has no other choice than to work for the environmental ministry. “This is a great country,” he said. “If we didn’t have all this contamination, we would have tourism.”

In the afternoon, we take the boat across the river mouth to the beach opposite. Here, no one has removed any of the trash that is now piled up into dunes so deep you cannot see the sand. A TV lies half-buried in the refuse. At the far end of the beach, the stiff-legged carcass of a cow rolls at the edge of the surface, bloated and shining, a vulture hunched over it.

Marquito, standing among the piles of plastic and driftwood, is unreadable. Quietly, as if to himself, he said, “There is work here for years.”

Tobin09Intercept_Large-1571951701

Guatemala’s only official landfill, located in the country’s busy capital of 3 million people, is the largest in Central America.

Photo: Celia Talbot Tobin

Since the first synthetic plastic appeared in 1907, we’ve made 8.3 billion tons of the stuff, 5 billion of which is still sloshing around the world, no longer in use but not going away anytime soon. Worldwide, countries with developing economies like Guatemala account for the main source of ocean plastic. Although high-income countries like the U.S. consume at a higher rate — and therefore throw away much more plastic per capita — less developed nations often lack infrastructure for proper recycling or disposal of waste, meaning that much more of their trash ends up in the ocean.

In 2017, researchers found that 90 percent of the marine plastic washed out of just 10 rivers, including the Yangtze, the Nile, and the Ganges. These are the waterways of some of the most heavily populated areas of the world, and they carry huge amounts of plastic trash as a result. Like the Motagua, they may have minimal infrastructure for water treatment or waste disposal. Altogether, between 5 and 12 million tons of plastic flow from land into the sea every year.

With the river too contaminated to use for drinking water or irrigation, communities along the river are caught in a tightening vise of scarcity and pollution.

The cost of such heavily polluted rivers is high on land too.

“When you look at the map, Guatemala should have an abundance of water,” Gerardo Paiz explained in his office at the nonprofit Madre Selva — literally, Mother Forest — where he works as an activist and spokesperson. He gestured to a lush-looking topographical map of the country as he explained what all that jungle and mountain landscape hides. The Motagua runs about 300 miles, crossing most of the Central American isthmus, but, according to Paiz, almost all of the contamination occurs about a third of the way along its length, where it joins with tributaries carrying sewage, industrial runoff, and trash from Guatemala City.

Trash collects in an inlet in the neighboring bay of Puerto Barrios, Izabal, Guatemala, where  fishing makes up a critical  part of the economy on Saturday, September 29th, 2018.

Trash piles up in an inlet outside Puerto Barrios, Guatemala.

Photo: Celia Talbot Tobin

There are no public water treatment plants in the country, Paiz said. The few wastewater plants that do exist are expensive and difficult to maintain, and many are no longer operating. In recent years, several internationally funded projects to build new wastewater infrastructure have been put on hold, possibly a result of Guatemala’s scandal-plagued government. In the meantime, untreated sewage and debris flow unimpeded into the river.

For the downstream states of El Progreso and Zacapa, water is becoming a bigger problem. These states lie along Guatemala’s “dry corridor,” an agricultural region that has been hard hit by climate change and drought in the past decade. With the river too contaminated to use for drinking water or irrigation, communities along the river are caught in a tightening vise of scarcity and pollution. These environmental problems, compounded by violence, corruption, and poverty, are among the factors driving more than 116,808 Guatemalans to try and cross the U.S. border in fiscal year 2018.

As for plastic, it’s not hard to follow the problem back to its source.

“The plastic industry is aggressively moving to increase production,” said Judith Enck, a former regional U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator and public policy professor at Bennington College. A 2016 report predicted that plastic production would double in the next 20 years. Enck pointed out that despite recent bad press around plastics in the U.S., petrochemical companies are still making plans for new plants to turn byproducts from fracking into plastic. “They’re just marching right ahead with literally dozens of new plants in the United States.”

“Big companies are putting out all these products that they know have no chance of being recycled. And they are selling them in places with not a lot of access to landfills.”

This gives companies a strong incentive to sell more plastic in the developing world, where growing economies have provided new markets for cheap and disposable plastic products. At a market in Puerto Barrios, a small city about 40 minutes from El Quetzalito, stand after stand displayed cheap, plastic-wrapped soccer jerseys and novelty T-shirts, baseball caps made of foam and plastic mesh, neon-colored toys, cheap sandals and shoes, and more.

One large and growing source of plastic waste is packaging, especially laminated foil packets that are frequently used for food and other single-use products like soap or shampoo. These are popular in emerging economies like Central America and Asia, Enck pointed out, because it might be affordable for people to buy small quantities of a product instead of a whole bottle. But these materials, made up of specialized plastics and foils laminated together, are rarely recyclable.

“Big companies are putting out all these products that they know have no chance of being recycled,” Enck said. “And they are selling them in places with not a lot of access to landfills.”

In other words, with business as usual today, companies design and produce nonbiodegradable, nonrecyclable materials that will be used once and then discarded to flow directly to the ocean.

Tobin11Intercept_Large-1571951805

On Sept. 26, 2018, workers separate types of paper in a recollection facility in Guatemala City, where materials are separated and organized before being shipped out to be recycled.

Photo: Celia Talbot Tobin

“How do we solve plastic pollution at the boardroom instead of the beaches?” was the question posed by Luisa Santiago, Latin America lead for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative. Recycling is not the answer, she said. Only 9 percent of plastics produced today are ever recycled, and most of that material can only be recycled once before it, too, heads to a landfill or dump.

“We understand that dealing with waste is part of the problem, but plastic pollution really needs to be solved upstream,” Santiago said. That means working with governments and industry to come up with better solutions to the problems that single-use plastics are meant to solve. Santiago’s organization issued an analysis in 2016 that found that $80 billion to $120 billion disappears from the economy every year in the form of single-use plastic packaging that is never recycled.

By making an economic argument against plastic, and toward a more circular economy, Santiago’s organization hopes to compel industry to change in a systematic way, instead of relying on consumers to try to make individual choices within a flawed system. “We need to redesign the system, and the consumer will be automatically shifted to that system — just as the consumer was shifted to a single-use system a couple decades ago,” she pointed out.

The keystone of the New Plastics Economy plan is a pledge to eliminate “unnecessary plastics” by 2025. Achieving this, Santiago believes, requires working with companies like Coca-Cola and Nestle, even if that approach makes it harder to take a stance against the industry’s pure profit motives. “We don’t believe in banning plastic,” Santiago told me.

plastics-1571953840

Private waste recollection facilities for the country exist only in the capital. Here, recyclable materials such as plastic soda bottles, paper, and thin plastic grocery bags are separated by type, color, and weight, then compressed.

Photos: Celia Talbot Tobin

Judith Enck disagrees. “Bag bans do reduce plastic pollution,” she said. Since Enck stepped down from the EPA in 2017, she has started a project called Beyond Plastics, aiming to get communities to eliminate plastic pollution at a grassroots level. According to her, where bag bans are implemented, along with restricting Styrofoam and making plastic straws available only on request, they can be quite effective — an approach she calls “the plastics trifecta.” “They’re low-hanging fruit,” Enck pointed out. “And there are easy alternatives.”

The problem is that these types of policies are not yet widespread. By her count, less than 10 percent of municipalities in the U.S. have passed any kind of anti-plastic legislation. In the developing world, however, plastic-free policies are spreading. In 2002, Bangladesh became one of the first countries to ban the disposable bags outright, and by this year, according to National Geographic, 34 African countries had bans on their books.

The Guatemalan government announced a ban on single-use plastic and Styrofoam starting in 2021.

In Guatemala, too, plastic is increasingly seen as a problem. In late 2016, the town of San Pedro La Laguna made headlines by banning plastic bags and packaging. Residents are replacing them with reusable alternatives. In September of this year, the Guatemalan government announced a ban on single-use plastic and Styrofoam starting in 2021. The intervening two years should give vendors time to find compostable or reusable alternatives.

And if policy has been slow to catch up to the problem, the conversation around plastic is changing quickly. People in El Quetzalito told us that they were more aware of pollution than they used to be. Many of them said they tried to reduce their own waste. Miguel López, a middle-aged man with a tanned, somber face beneath a bright teal baseball cap, told us that he felt he was a part of something good.

“It’s important to do this,” he said, as he straightened from his rake to push his teal hat back on his head. The job, though hard and at times unpleasant, had a purpose. Squinting out at the water, he told us, simply, “For tomorrow, we need clean beaches.”

Reporting for this story was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation, as part of the Adelante Latin America Reporting Initiative.

The post How Plastic Pollution Is Making Central American Communities Uninhabitable appeared first on The Intercept.

The United States of Addiction

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 27/10/2019 - 2:06am in

It might seem that we haven’t made much headway on addiction since the American Revolution. How are things looking going forward?

Our Response to the Next Crisis Must Tackle Consumerism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 26/10/2019 - 6:57pm in

Ideas for taking on consumerism.

Dire Climate Change Warning in Report for Pentagon: US Military Could Collapse in 20 Years; Lack of Water, Domestic Disasters, Disease, Mass Migrations as Threats to Operations

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/10/2019 - 5:42pm in

Even the US military is not well prepared for Jackpot-level climage-change-induced disasters that look all too probable in the next 20 years.

Greta Thunberg and Andrew Bolt: two sides of the same coin

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/10/2019 - 10:50am in

Tags 

Environment

The first technique is the complete rejection of the idea that their opponents might have anything meaningful to say.

Coca-Cola é a maior produtora de lixo plástico do mundo, aponta auditoria internacional

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/10/2019 - 4:24am in

Pelo segundo ano consecutivo, a Coca-Cola foi apontada como a marca mais poluidora por uma auditoria internacional sobre lixo plástico, conduzida pelo movimento Break Free From Plastic (“Liberte-se do Plástico”). A gigante do ramo de refrigerantes foi responsável pela produção de mais lixo plástico que o total dos três poluidores que aparecem logo abaixo no ranking.

Em setembro, no dia determinado para a realização da limpeza que serviu de base para a auditoria, mais de 72 mil voluntários se espalharam por praias, remaram em cursos d’água e caminharam pelas ruas ao redor de suas casas e escritórios, coletando garrafas, copos, embalagens, sacolas e fragmentos de plástico. Depois de fazer uma seleção nas pilhas de lixo, eles verificaram que o plástico coletado podia ser classificado em 50 tipos diferentes, e correspondia a cerca de 8 mil marcas. A Coca-Cola foi responsável por 11.732 unidades de lixo plástico, encontradas em 37 países de quatro continentes. Depois da Coca, os maiores causadores de poluição por plástico, segundo a auditoria, foram Nestlé, PepsiCo, Mondelez International – a empresa por trás de marcas de guloseimas como Oreo, Ritz, Nabisco e Nutter Butter – e Unilever. Mais da metade do plástico coletado estava deteriorado a ponto de não ser mais possível distinguir quem o teria produzido.

A Coca foi a principal fonte de plástico na África e na Europa e a segunda maior na Ásia e na América do Sul. Na América do Norte, a empresa responsável pelo maior volume do plástico encontrado durante a limpeza foi a Nestlé, seguida pela Solo Cup Company (uma subsidiária da companhia Dart Container) e pela Starbucks. A Coca-Cola ficou em 5º lugar entre as empresas produtoras de lixo plástico na América do Norte.

A multinacional respondeu às perguntas sobre a auditoria com uma declaração por e-mail: “Cada uma de nossas embalagens que chega aos oceanos – ou a qualquer lugar a que não pertença – é inaceitável para nós. Por meio de parcerias, estamos trabalhando para lidar com essa questão global crítica, tanto para ajudar a restringir o volume de resíduos plásticos que chegam aos oceanos, quanto para ajuda a limpar a poluição já existente.”

A declaração da Coca-Cola dizia ainda: “Estamos investindo de forma local em todos os mercados para aumentar a taxa de recuperação de nossas latas e garrafas, e anunciamos recentemente a criação, com apoio da indústria, de uma organização no Vietnã para recuperação de embalagens, bem como o investimento de US$ 19 milhões, pelos engarrafadores, para a construção de instalações de reciclagem de nível alimentício nas Filipinas. Estamos também investindo para acelerar o desenvolvimento de inovações fundamentais que nos ajudarão a reduzir o volume de lixo, incluindo novas tecnologias aprimoradas de reciclagem que permitem reciclar plástico PET de baixa qualidade – um material que hoje é incinerado ou levado para os aterros sanitários – e obter novamente material de embalagem de alta qualidade.”

A duvidosa honraria recebida pela Coca-Cola, de figurar por dois anos seguidos como a maior responsável global pela produção de resíduos plásticos, vai de encontro à imagem de liderança ambiental cuidadosamente construída pela empresa. No começo do mês de outubro, a Coca apresentou uma garrafa feita de plástico retirado do mar e reciclado e, no ano passado, se comprometeu a coletar e reciclar “o equivalente a cada lata ou garrafa vendida por ela no mundo.”

Juntamente com o imenso rastro de lixo deixado pela empresa, porém, outros indícios comprometem a imagem ecológica da Coca-Cola. Áudios vazados, obtidos há pouco tempo pelo Intercept, mostraram como organizações patrocinadas pela Coca sabotam a regulação sobre as garrafas plásticas. Enquanto isso, ambientalistas europeus, alinhados aos ativistas que conduziram a auditoria global da marca, declaram que a empresa tem interferido em seus esforços para combater a poluição por plásticos.

Centenas de cidades recentemente aceitaram o compromisso de se tornarem “lixo zero”. “Criamos um plano diretor muito detalhado, com uma visão de conjunto sobre as medidas que um município precisa tomar para reduzir sua produção de resíduos”, explica Alexandra Aubertin, fundadora da organização Zero Waste Montenegro (Montenegro Lixo Zero) e membro do conselho da Zero Waste Europe (Europa Lixo Zero). “Olhamos para tudo que já foi feito em uma cidade, mas também observamos, num âmbito local, como as coisas podem ser reutilizadas.” O movimento lixo zero se baseia numa hierarquia que coloca a redução e a conservação do plástico e de outros materiais num nível acima da reciclagem, e enfatiza a redução, na origem, do lixo produzido.

Em outubro do ano passado, os ativistas do lixo zero perceberam que havia surgido um outro movimento com o mesmo nome, mas com objetivos bem diferentes. O novo movimento lixo zero não tinha, como eles, uma abordagem abrangente da redução de lixo, e parecia pensado para “confundir as pessoas quanto à hierarquia do lixo zero”, declarou Aubertin. Eles “diziam às pessoas que a reciclagem é a solução. Mas não é essa a ideia da hierarquia de lixo zero.”

Aubertin ficou consternada ao descobrir que a nova mensagem enfraquecida “lixo zero” estava sendo veiculada, na realidade, pelo maior poluidor mundial no ramo de plásticos: a Coca-Cola. Ela ouviu falar da campanha pela primeira vez por intermédio de um de seus colegas gregos, quando a empresa anunciou um plano para transformar “”Tessalônica, a segunda maior cidade da Grécia, na primeira do país com potencial para ser um município lixo zero.”

Na sequência, em março, a Coca anunciou o patrocínio a outra iniciativa “lixo zero” no país da própria Aubertin, na cidade de Budva. De acordo com o anúncio no site sérvio da Coca-Cola, a empresa está patrocinando uma organização sem fins lucrativos de Montenegro, cujo nome pode ser traduzido como “ONG Eco Centro de Budva”, “com o objetivo de torná-la a primeira cidade do litoral do mar Adriático sem produção de lixo”. Os recursos estão sendo usados para criar um “centro interativo”, onde os visitantes poderão aprender mais sobre ecologia, e para financiar um programa chamado “Capture the Clean Wave” (Capture a Onda Limpa), que irá “contribuir para a coleta de resíduos de embalagens em mais de 40 praias da Riviera de Budva.”

O dinheiro também está sendo empregado para financiar a conscientização porta-a-porta sobre a reciclagem e para instalar cestos de coleta de garrafas PET, segundo a Zero Waste Montenegro, que considera a iniciativa financiada pela Coca-Cola lamentavelmente inadequada.

“Mesmo que fosse possível coletar todas as garrafas PET comercializadas em Budva”, escreveu a organização em seu site, “isso seria apenas uma pequena parte do lixo produzido na cidade a cada ano. Budva não se tornaria uma Cidade Lixo Zero.”

Tradução: Deborah Leão

The post Coca-Cola é a maior produtora de lixo plástico do mundo, aponta auditoria internacional appeared first on The Intercept.

Top U.S. Toxicologist Was Barred From Saying PFAS Cause Disease in Humans. She’s Saying It Now.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/10/2019 - 3:01am in

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The widespread environmental contaminants known as PFAS cause multiple health problems in people, according to Linda Birnbaum, who retired as director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program earlier this month.

The statement may come as little surprise to those following the medical literature on the industrial chemicals that have been used to make nonstick coatings, firefighting foam, and host of other products. Thousands of scholarly articles have linked the chemicals to at least 800 health effects. Some of the health problems found in humans — including elevated cholesterol levels, liver dysfunction, weight gain, reproductive problems and kidney cancer — have been shown to increase along with the levels of the chemicals in blood. Extensive research also shows that children with higher levels of PFAS have weakened immune responses.

Yet while she was leading the NIEHS, a division of the National Institutes of Health, whose mission is “to discover how the environment affects people, in order to promote healthier lives,” Birnbaum was not allowed to use the word “cause” when referring to the health effects from PFAS or other chemicals.

“I was banned from doing it,” said Birnbaum. “I had to use ‘association’ all the time. If I was talking about human data or impacts on people, I had to always say there was an association with a laundry list of effects.” Birnbaum said this restriction “was coming from the office of the deputy director. His job hinged on controlling me.” Birnbaum also said that the Trump administration has recently begun coordinating its messaging on PFAS.

Association, the coincidence of a chemical exposure and disease, and causation, in which a health problem happens as the result of the exposure, are different. Because many factors, including chance and genetics and exposures to other substances, can influence the development of disease, the term “cause” is used rarely and cautiously in the field of environmental health.

But Birnbaum, who has studied PFAS compounds for decades, believes the global contaminants have cleared that high bar. “In my mind, PFAS cause health effects because you have the same kind of effects reported in multiple studies in multiple populations,” she said in a phone interview. Birnbaum pointed in particular to longitudinal studies, which follow populations’ exposures and health over time. “You have longitudinal studies showing the same effects in multiple populations done by multiple investigators and you have animal models showing the same impact,” said Birnbaum. In addition, she pointed to studies that show the mechanism through which PFAS chemicals cause harm in people.

“That is pretty good evidence that PFAS or certain PFAS can cause health effects in people. It is not as strong for every effect, but there are quite a number of effects where they’re strong enough to say ‘caused,’” Birnbaum said. She pointed in particular to the relationship between the chemicals and immune response, kidney cancer, and cholesterol in humans, saying, “That data is very clear.”

Birnbaum has been targeted by the chemical industry and politicians beholden to it on several occasions during her nearly 40-year career as a federal scientist, which included 19 years at the Environmental Protection Agency. In 2012, Republicans on the House Science Committee went after Birnbaum for writing that endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the environment were responsible for “a staggering increase in several diseases.”

She also faced backlash after the National Toxicology Program conducted screenings of formulations containing glyphosate, the main active ingredient in Monsanto’s popular weedkiller Roundup. “There were huge attacks on the institute and on me personally related to glyphosate,” said Birnbaum, whose office was flooded with FOIA requests that she said came from law firms. “I had to hire four to six people to work on the FOIA issue. We were up to having about 140 to 150 backlogged FOIA requests. You couldn’t deal with them quickly enough.”

Her run-in with Republicans on the House Science Committee last year may have had the most severe consequences. Reps. Andy Biggs and Lamar Smith accused Birnbaum of lobbying based on an editorial in the journal PLOS Biology. In it, Birnbaum wrote that “U.S. policy has not accounted for evidence that chemicals in widespread use can cause cancer and other chronic diseases, damage reproductive systems, and harm developing brains at low levels of exposure once believed to be harmless.” She called for more research on the risks posed by chemicals and noted that “closing the gap between evidence and policy will require that engaged citizens — both scientists and non-scientists — work to ensure that our government officials pass health-protective policies based on the best available scientific evidence.”

After that, “everything was scrutinized that I did. Everything I did required clearance. Even in my lab,” said Birnbaum. “All of a sudden, everything had to go up at least to building 1,” she said, referring to the Bethesda building that serves as the administrative center for the National Institutes of Health. Birnbaum was also denied a salary increase after the incident and became aware that her job was at stake. “I was told that they were trying to fire to me.”

At the same time, PFAS compounds were becoming the focus of intense scrutiny from both state regulatory agencies and Congress. As contamination from the chemicals was being discovered around the country, it became clear that both the companies that made and used the PFAS compounds and the military, which used firefighting foam that contained them, could face billions of dollars of liability.

Proving a causal connection between the chemicals and disease will be central to holding them accountable. In litigation over PFOA contamination in West Virginia, DuPont’s lawyers were forbidden from questioning the causal relationship between exposure to the chemical and six different diseases, including testicular cancer and kidney cancer. The company has paid out over $1 billion in that case and subsequently spun off its division that makes PFAS compounds to a new company, Chemours.

Despite the voluminous research on the health effects of the chemicals, 3M, the company that first developed both PFOA and PFOS and sold PFOA to DuPont for many years, still argues that the compounds do not cause health problems. In her testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform in September, Denise Rutherford, 3M’s senior vice president of corporate affairs, said that “the weight of scientific evidence has not established that PFOS, PFOA, or other PFAS cause adverse human health effects.” The company also requested that The Intercept remove the word “cause” in a recent article about PFAS. That request was denied.

Even though she knew she was being closely watched, Birnbaum felt it was important to continue to make her institute’s science public. At a meeting this summer, she reported on the results of rat studies done by the National Toxicology Program that linked exposure of very low doses of PFOA to pancreatic cancer. Birnbaum said that, based on that data, a safe dose of the chemical would be about .1 parts-per-trillion, 700 times lower than the EPA’s safety threshold, as The Intercept reported at the time.

The gulf between the threshold suggested by the new cancer data and the actual number published by the EPA pointed to a schism between the federal agencies — and reveals the inadequacy of the government response to the threats posed by the chemicals. Along with the delay of a report on PFAS by the Agencies for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which also proposed lower safety thresholds than those set by the EPA, Birnbaum’s public discussion of the alarming rat study may be part of the reason that the White House’s Office of Management and Budget began holding regular meetings of federal agencies working on PFAS in recent months. According to Birnbaum, two groups of federal scientists have been gathering to coordinate the government’s science, policy, and messaging around PFAS. The White House office did not respond to inquiries about the group.

For her part, Birnbaum is now enjoying being able to speak about science free of the constraints that came with her job, which had worsened in recent years. By the end, “I couldn’t even give a welcome at a meeting without approval,” she said. Asked what she would have done differently had she not been under such intense pressure, Birnbaum responded that “I would have used the word ‘cause.’”

The post Top U.S. Toxicologist Was Barred From Saying PFAS Cause Disease in Humans. She’s Saying It Now. appeared first on The Intercept.

Newcastle first NSW council to switch to 100 per cent renewables

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/10/2019 - 4:09pm in

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Media Release Australia’s Climate Council has hailed the City of Newcastle for becoming the first local government in NSW to make the switch to 100 per cent renewable electricity. Newcastle, Australia’s seventh largest city, awarded a 10-year power purchase agreement (PPA) to energy retailer Flow Power this week to meet all its operational needs from…

The post Newcastle first NSW council to switch to 100 per cent renewables appeared first on The AIM Network.

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