|WIT's World Ecology Report - Vol. 05, No. 3 - The Digest of Critical Environmental Information (WIT, 1993, 12 pages)|
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Vol. V, No. 3
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Dr. Christine K. Durbak
Peter Frost Sprague
Michelle Alexander, Ph. D
Johanna von Alten Blaskowitz
Dr. Andriy O. Demydenko
Dr. M. R. Khawlie
Dr. Rashmi Mayur
Adelisa Almario Raymundo
Victor Sone del Monte
Electronic edition available on CompuServe, Econet and
History is at a turning point. The end of the cold war has brought a new climate for peace and cooperation; but this moment is unique in another, less promising way.
The fastest-ever growth in human numbers is compounded by widespread poverty and deprivation. The fastest-over growth in human consumption of resources is compounded by political and economic systems unaware of any limits to growth. Together, they present the most serious threat to local and global environments since the human species evolved. The possibility of ecological catastrophe is the nightmare of the 21st century.
POPULATION GROWTH: THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE
Unregulated population growth presents a terrifying picture. Consider, for example, the demographic data developed by the United Nations Population Fund in their 1992 report on the State of the World Population.
World population, which will reach 5.48 billion in mid-1992 and 6 billion by 1998, is growing faster than ever before: three people every second, more than 250,000 every day. At the beginning of the decade the annual addition was 93 million; by the end it will approach 100 million. At this rate the world will have almost a billion more people (roughly the population of China) by the year 2001. Approximately ninety-five percent of this population growth is occurring in the developing countries.
Average family size in developing countries has decreased: from 6.1 children per woman in the early 1960s to 3.9 today. Population growth rates in developing countries have also declined: from more than 2.5 percent a year in the early 1960s to just over 2.0 percent today. However, the absolute numbers being added continue to increase.
These increases will move forward like a wave into the next century; more than half the developing world's population in the year 2000 will be under 25.
The United Nations long-term projections of world population released in early 1992 have been revised upward. The medium variant or most likely projection for 2100 is now 11.2 billion. This is 1.0 billion or 10 percent larger than that predicted in the 1982 long-range projection.
The time it takes to add a billion people become shorter and shorter. It took a century (1830-1930) to go from 1 billion to 2 billion people, 30 years (1930-1960) for the third billion, 15 years (1060-1975) for the fourth, and 12 years to grow from 4 billion to 5 billion. Adding the next billion will take only about ten years.
Growth is not expected to stop altogether till the year 2200, when world population may stabilize at approximately 11.6 billion - over twice its present level. But if fertility declines more slowly, following the less optimistic high variant projection, the world might reach that level before the middle of the next century.
The population of developing countries has more than doubled in 35 years, increasing from 1.7 billion in 1950 to 4.1 billion in 1990. By 2000, it will grow to nearly 5 billion - out of an expected world total to 6.26 billion.
By contrast, the developed countries of Europe, including the former Soviet Union, North America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, have increased from 832 million in 1950 to 1.2 billion in 1992 - with 1.26 billion expected in the year 2000. By 2020-2025, the industrialized countries will account for only 3 percent of the annual population increase and will comprise less than a fifth of the world's population.
Continued rapid growth in developing countries has brought human numbers into collision with the resources required to sustain them and is among the may human-made threats to the global environment. Increasing numbers add to demands on land, air and water resources, making it more difficult to support growing numbers of people.
Increasing numbers and declining resources have contributed to increasing migration from rural to urban areas. By the year 2000 over 40 percent of Africa and Asia (excluding Japan) and 76 percent of Latin America will be urbanized.
THE UNITED NATIONS POPULATION FUND: COMMAND CENTER
While there are numerous public, private and non-governmental organizations involved in the fight to stabilize population growth the worldwide battle has, and is being led, by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Created in 1969 as a subsidiary organization of the United Nations General Assembly, UNFPA since 1987 has been directed by Dr. Nafis Sadik, whose intelligent and politically astute leadership has yielded an impressive array of accomplishments.
WIT recently interviewed Dr. Sadik, a physician by training, at UNFPA's headquarters in New York City. During a wide ranging interview, Dr. Sadik spoke to the scope of the population challenge; to the role of UNFPA; to the UNFPA's accomplishments; and, finally, to the initiatives that must be undertaken to regulate population growth and usher in a new period of sustainable growth.
UNFPA's MANDATE AND FUNDING
UNFPA's mandate was laid down by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations in 1973. UNFPA has four major objectives:
· to build the knowledge and the capacity to respond to needs in population and family planning;
· to promote awareness of population problems in both developed and developing countries and possible strategies to deal with those problems;
· to assist developing countries, at their request, in dealing with their population problems, in the forms and means best suited to the individual country's needs; and
· to play a leading role in the United Nations system in promoting population programmes and to coordinate projects supported by the Fund.
Given the enormity of its assignment, UNFPA is woefully underfinanced. This is, in part, the case because the UNFPA is supported by voluntary contributions, not by the United Nations regular budget. In 1991, UNFPA's income was $225 million, an increase of 5.9 percent over the previous year. UNFPA's income in 1992 is projected to reach $231.6 million. In 1991 there were 96 donors to UNFPA, most of them developing nations. The Fund's current major donors include Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, United Kingdom, Canada, Switzerland, Italy and Australia.
SOURCE: Demographic and Health
UNITED STATES FUNDING FOR UNFPA
With the exception of the United States, all of UNFPA's major donors have continued to provide funds without interruption. Some have increased their contributions significantly. Others, caught in a global recession, have in recent years had to reduce funding to the Population Fund and other United Nations organizations.
The record of the United States is contradictory. Before 1986, the U.S. was UNFPA's largest donor, and contributed about 25 percent of UNFPA's yearly income. In 1986, and in all subsequent years to date, there has been no U.S. contribution to UNFPA, representing a loss of about $300 million.
Dr. Sadik is encouraged by the new, more enlightened attitude toward the global population crisis being shown by the new U.S. administration. In an address delivered in Washington, D.C. in January of this year, Dr. Sadik made the following comments.
"I am very happy that President Clinton has
promised to remove current restrictions to financial support for international
organizations, including the United Nations Population Fund, that address
A renewed American contribution to the international efforts to address population issues will send a signal to the world, that the United States, with its strong voice and its own bilateral programme, is prepared again to lead in helping the world meet the need for reproductive health and family planning.
The return of the United States to the international consensus for population programmes comes at a time of critical need for the 300 million couples who still are without access to family planning services. This is also a critical period for the future of the environment. World population, 5.5 billion today, will either double or triple over the next 100 years and will have a profound effect on our life support systems. The end number will depend greatly on what we do during the rest of this decade.
The return of the United States to the international consensus will also have great significance for the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development when the world's nations gather in Cairo to coordinate plans for future population growth.
We consider it a basic human right that all couples have access to family planning information and reproductive health services so that they can exercise free choice in planning their families. Fundamental also to the work of UNFPA is the advancement of women's health, women's equality and women's reproductive rights. Coercion does not and has never played a part in any UNFPA programme. The United States played a key role in establishing the Fund in 1969 and strongly supported its activities throughout the early years of the Fund in particular. Moreover, the United States was greatly responsible for laying the political groundwork for the international support that population policies and programmes enjoy among governments today.
During the past six years, the Fund has been encouraged by the warm support given to it by its friends in the American population community and especially by members of Congress who have stood by UNFPA. To them, to President Clinton, and to the members of the American public who continued to support us with individual donations and letters of encouragement, I would like to extend my deepest personal gratitude.
I pledge to President Clinton, to the Congress and to our many American supporters that UNFPA will do its best to live up to their confidence in us."
SOURCE: The Buffalo News,
THE GOOD NEWS
Dr. Sadik believes that there is perhaps more reason for optimism today than at any time in the past 30 years. For example, virtually all concerned parties have resolved to work together to help solve the world's numerous population problems. As a result, we can perhaps be encouraged that we will in fact take the critical additional measures needed during the 1990s in order to cur in half the current population growth rate in developing countries - from 2 percent to only 1 percent - by the year 2020, and by so doing, put the world on a realistic path to reach a stabilized population level of around 10 billion people by some time in the middle of the next century. For example:
· Today, approximately 400 million couples in developing countries are using some means of family planning. This represents a 10-fold increase over the estimated 40 million users in 1971, the year UNFPA first became fully operational. The increase in users has grown to 51 percent from 12-14 percent in 1971.
This steadily accelerating progress in providing couples with the information and means required to freely exercise their human right to determine the number and the spacing of their children has been made:
· in one short generation,
· at low cost, and
· with users and the governments of the developing countries - despite the worsening economic situation of the 1980s and the first two years of the 1990s.
Given the adverse circumstances prevailing in most developing countries, these are indeed remarkable achievements that have already helped to produce a world population that is well over 400 million smaller than it otherwise would have been. And if the present trend line of greater contraceptive users were to continue, the comparable reduction in population in developing countries by the year 2050 would total over three billion.
A growing majority of leaders and citizens alike in the north, south, east and west believe that the foremost challenges facing the world in the 1990s are mass poverty and environmental degradation, with population factors such as distribution, migration, unplanned urbanization and, most notably, excessive growth contributing considerably to each. Only action to achieve a sustainable balance between human populations, their wiser use of resources and sustainable development holds out the hope of reversing numerous highly worrisome trends.
SOURCE: Demographic and Health
If we are serious about reversing these trends, there arc a number of areas that require immediate action. These include:
· a change in development priorities towards the social sectors;
· a direct and all-out attack on poverty itself;
· a shift to cleaner technologies, energy efficiency and resource conservation by all countries, but especially by the richer quarter of the world's population;
· a decisive improvement in the status of girls and women; and
· the inclusion of population elements in development planning, along with better financed population programmes.
There have been many positive explicit policy statements and developments on population issues since the adoption of the Amsterdam Declaration 2 1/2 years ago by the International Forum on Population in the 21st Century that have set the stage for accelerated progress in the 1990s.
Among the most important are:
· The Programme of Action of the Second United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries;
· The Plan of Action of the World Summit for Children;
· General Assembly resolution 45/216 of 21 December 1990 entitled Population and Development;
· The policy statement for the 1990s of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and DAC's follow-up meetings and reports throughout 1990 and 1991, which highlight the imperative need to slow population growth in the many countries where it is too high to permit sustainable development;
· The report of the South Commission entitled The Challenge of the South, which includes numerous statements stressing that action to contain the rise in population cannot be postponed but must be taken now;
· The major increase in World Bank loans in population and related areas and increased interest in the population assistance area by the Asian Development Bank.
These favorable developments notwithstanding, far less progress has been made over the course of the past two years in the important area of substantially increasing population assistance to developing countries, particularly the poorest, as called for in the International Development Strategy (IDS), the DAC policy statement for the 1990s and the Amsterdam Declaration.
During the 1970s, population assistance averaged 2 cents per dollar of Official Development Assistance (ODA); during the 1980s it averaged only 1.22 cents per dollar. Today, only three countries (Norway, the United States and Finland) provide more than 2 cents per ODA dollar to finance population activities, despite the highly encouraging policy statements by DAC that its members stand ready to help developing countries fund and implement effective population strategies as a matter of priority.
If we want the population portion of the IDS effectively implemented, and as a consequence to greatly improve the prospects of making major progress in reducing poverty and stemming environmental degradation, the UNFPA proposes that all developed donor countries pledge their best efforts to steadily increase the proportion of the ODA going to finance population activities so that it reaches four percent of their ODA in the year 2000. In this regard, we should note the example of Norway, which throughout the 1980s extended more than four percent of its ODA to population and related activities.
It is clear that Dr. Sadik believes the time is now if we are to stabilize population growth and preserve our habitat. The numbers, the growth trends and their implications for our quality of life are indeed worrisome. The challenges are daunting. Dr. Sadik, however, is well qualified temperamentally to press the cause... a motivation reflected in her comment, "I never give up." This commitment and optimism is reflected in some of her recent writings where she noted, "if we are indeed prepared to work actively to solve the world's population challenges and to provide the necessary funding, the Fourth United Nations Development Decade can help pave the way to a bright new millennium." In the meantime the world continues to be held in the balance.
SOURCES: The State of World Population,
1992. UNFPA; UNFPA 1991 Report.
It was not, officials hastened to say, another Chernobyl. But radiation leaks from an exploding uranium tank at the Tomsk-7 chemical plant in western Siberia did constitute the most serious nuclear accident since the 1986 Ukrainian reactor fire that spewed deadly radiation over Russia, Belarus and much of Western Europe, killing hundreds. Minor pollution and no casualties were reported at Tomsk-7, which lies 1,800 miles east of Moscow and produced, until recently, lethal plutonium for nuclear weapons. Environmental groups, which claim that the Tomsk incident was more serious than reported and blame it on slack safety standards, are calling for Russia to stop producing plutonium altogether. President Boris Yeltsin has called instead for unspecified stronger controls and the inspection of all nuclear facilities.
Breaking up a nuclear superpower is hard to do. Russian and American scientists think they have a way to Russia's plutonium to good use, by jointly building a $1.5 billion reactor to produce electricity. The device would be partly fueled from Moscow's huge stockpile of scrapped nuclear warheads. But some officers at a Moscow air-defense unit came up with their own way to enhance disarmament: they are stealing gold and platinum from the circuit boards of missiles and selling it. A captain and two junior sergeants netted $28,000 worth of precious metals before being arrested.
SOURCE: Time, April 19,
BUILDING NEW CHERNOBYLS
The Russian government has approved a massive program of nuclear power plant construction, ending a moratorium inspired by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster that sent radioactivity spewing across Europe, according to documents and interviews.
The ambitious building plan, which would add at least 30 new nuclear power stations and double the nation's nuclear energy capacity by 2010, is likely to heighten alarm in Europe, already concerned about safety standards in the former Soviet Union's atomic industry. The plan was approved without publicity at a December 24th cabinet meeting despite objections from President Boris Yeltsin's ecology adviser, Alexei Yablokov, who called it, "unacceptable from the legal, ecological, economic, and political points of view "
The program is designed to guarantee energy supplies as Russia's oil industry falters and its economy becomes ever more dependent on revenue from oil and gas exports. Critics said it also reflects the resurgence of the atomic industry, powerful and well funded in Soviet days, and the weakness of Russia's fledgling environmental movement. At least one of the plants would be a design similar to the one at Chernobyl that exploded in 1986, bringing death and illness to thousands of Ukrainians and Belarussians. Yevgeny Reshetnikov, deputy minister for atomic energy, said in a January 11th interview that the design has been improved to prevent a similar accident, but Western experts contend that the inherent dangers of a Chernobyl-type plant cannot be eliminated.
Russia's ability to implement the building program may be limited by the disastrous state of its finances. But approval of the new program, signed into law December 28th as one of Prime Minister Victor Chemorayrdin's first official acts, reflects Yeltsin's efforts to overcome seven years of popular opposition to nuclear power.
Environmental groups and here and in the West argue that political instability, antiquated systems and economic hardship make another nuclear catastrophe probable. Western officials have emphasized the need to spend billions of dollars to close some nuclear plants in Russia and bring others to minimally acceptable safety levels, but little action has resulted so far.
Reshetnikov, the deputy minister in charge of new plant construction, rejected criticism of his industry, saying Russian power stations are as safe as those in the West. The deputy minister, a veteran of the Soviet atomic industry, shrugged off the possibility that Russia's decision to spend billions on atomic energy might discourage Western countries from delivering promised aid to improve the safety of existing plants. Reshetnikov complained that, in any case, Europe and the United States have given little beyond promises, documents and site visits.
The Socio-Ecological Union, Russia's largest environmental organization, said that all Chernobyl-style plants should be shut down immediately and that Russia should turn to gas-fired co-generation plants rather than building new reactors.
SOURCE: Fred Hiatt, Washington Post, January
· Global fish production from most marine resources and many inland waters has reached or exceeded the level of maximum sustainable yield the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently reported. In many high sea areas, inadequate management and overfishing are recognized as major problems and are a direct cause of fishery resources degradation.
The need to control and reduce fishing fleets operating on the high seas is now being internationally admitted because excessive fishing is endangering all fishery resources. "Fishery's policies must recognize and address the links between poverty, equity and environmental degradation," FAO Director-General Edouard Saouma said.
SOURCE: United Nations Department of Public
Information, March 16, 1993.
· According to statistics prepared by the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia (United Kingdom), the globally averaged surface temperature in 1990 was 0.39 degrees Celsius higher than the mean for the 30-year period 1951-1980, making it the warmest year on record.
SOURCE: World Climate News, January,
· The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has released a survey on forest resources between 1981 and 1990. The survey found that a total of 154 million hectares of tropical forest have been destroyed. The FAO survey estimated that 1756 million hectares of tropical forest existed in 1990. However, in the same year, 15.4 million hectares were destroyed in contrast with 11.4 hectares in 1980.
According to this survey, deforestation increased the most in Asia. The FAO suggests that the cause of increasing deforestation, for the most part, can be attributed to expanded population growth and rural poverty which together produced need for more timber for housing and fuel.
SOURCE: United Nations Press Release, March
· An environmental toxicologist with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Marjorie Kaplan, has completed a study on the health risks associated with indoor fuel oil spills. Ms. Kaplan's study, the findings of which were reported in the American Journal of Public Health suggest that vapors from small basement fuel oil spills (involving as little as 21 gallons of fuel oil) pose neurological and reproductive risks to a buildings' residents. Some 15 percent of U.S. residential structures - almost 12 million households - depend on fuel oil for heat.
SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health,
· Between 1975-1989, military conflicts in Lebanon destroyed the habitat of 400,000 people.
SOURCE: WIT Chapter,
· A recent profile of United States waste disposal, published by Garbage Magazine, provides insight into America's pattern of wasteful consumption. For example, in 1988 American drivers disposed of 247 million used tires. Annually, Americans also dispose of more than two billion razors and razor blades. Only 13 percent of Americans' wastestream is recycled. Exceptions to this sorry situation include cities with aggressive recycling programs like Seattle, Washington and Islip, New York where more than 30 percent of the wastestream is recycled annually.
SOURCE: Washington Spectator, Garbage
· The production of steel from raw ore consumes vast amounts of energy and is a major source of pollution and environmental degradation. In the mid-eighties, steel making consumed 15 percent of all commercial energy in Japan and the Soviet Union, more than 9 percent of all energy used in Brazil, and some 6 percent of world energy use.
SOURCE: Vital Signs 1992, Worldwatch
· India is typical of many developing countries where environmental degradation is accelerating driven by rapid economic growth and by an unsupportable and rapidly growing population. The following summarizes a number of India's major environmental problems.
Air Pollution - Sulphur dioxide levels in nine of the ten major cities exceed national standards. Levels of particulates are also higher in many urban areas than they are in comparable areas of Europe and North America. Contributors to air pollution include power stations, industrial factories, automobiles and the fuels - including coal, dung and trash - burned for domestic energy needs.
Water Pollution - India's rivers and streams suffer from very high levels of pollution. Untreated sewage and other non-industrial wastes are the major cause, accounting for four times as much pollution as industrial effluents. Of 3,119 Indian towns and cities, only 209 have partial sewage treatment. A consequence of such pollution is high levels of waterborne disease, which account for two-thirds of all illnesses.
Soil Degradation - India's soil resources are endangered. Soils covering 20 percent of the country arc at least partially degraded as a result of overgrazing, deforestation and improper irrigation practices. Overcultivation has depleted some soils of nutrients. Use of marginal lands is widespread because of dire need.
Water Shortages - India as a whole has abundant water resources, but some regions, particularly in the northeast, are arid and lack adequate water to grow crops. Occasional failures of the monsoon rains also can lead to water shortages and crop failures. Irrigation accounts for 9.3 percent of water use in India, although industrial uses are growing. A recent study by the Indian Institute of Technology predicts a state of nationwide water inadequacy by the turn of the century.
SOURCE: Tomorrow, Number 2,
· World Without End, a comprehensive volume on environmental economics in developing countries has Just been published by the World Bank This study, authored by environmental economists at the University College London, conclusively documents that environmental damage robs developing countries of precious income Damage from deforestation, soil erosion, pollution and water mismanagement can combine to cut a country's gross national product by 5 percent or more as is shown in the following chart.
Estimates of Environmental Damage in Select Countries
Burkina Faso, 1980
Crop, livestock and fuelwood losses from land degradation
Costa Rica, 1989
Effects of deforestation on the supply of fuelwood and crop output
Pollution damage (air, water, soil pollution, loss of
Hungary, late 1980s
Pollution damage (mainly air pollution)
Soil erosion and deforestation
Land burning and erosion
Lost crop production from soil erosion.
Costs of deforestation.
On site soil erosion and losses
Some pollution damage.
Soil degradation, deforestation, water pollution, other erosion
1981 - Air pollution control
1985 - Water pollution control
Note Although the estimates use
different techniques, relate to different years and vary in the quality of the
underlying research, they suggest some broad interpretations In the industrial
world total gross environmental damage may be around 2.4 percent of the gross
national product, in Eastern European countries, 5.10 percent, and in the poor
developing nations, 10 percent and above.
World Without End is priced at $39.95 and available through the World Bank, Office of the Publisher, Marketing Unit, Room T-8054, Washington, D.C. 20433 USA
SOURCE: World Bank New, March 25,
· In 1992, the ozone depletion over Antarctica started earlier, covered a greater area and reached record low absolute values. A rapid depletion of the ozone layer usually starts in early September when sunlight begins to reach the polar region, triggering chemical reactions on the surfaces of aerosol and polar stratospheric clouds causing chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to destroy ozone in the stratosphere.
SOURCE: World Climate News, January,
· Half a century after the world's nuclear industries began accumulating radioactive waste, not a single one of the more than 25 countries producing nuclear power has found a safe, permanent way to dispose of it. Nuclear waste remains dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years - meaning that in producing it, today's governments assume responsibility for the fate of thousands of future generations. Despite the needed short-term focus on the radioactive waste at nuclear weapons facilities, it is civilian nuclear power that has produced roughly 95 percent of the radioactivity emanating from waste in the world. In 1990, the world's 424 commercial nuclear reactors created some 9,500 tons of irradiated fuel, bringing the total accumulations of used fuel to 84,000 tons - twice as much as in 1985 as shown in the chart below. The United States houses a quarter of this, with a radioactivity of more than 20 billion curies.
SOURCE: Vital Signs, The Trends That Are
Shaping Our Future, Worldwatch Institute.
SOURCE: Worldwatch, Pacific Northwest
· In 1991, the world's harvested area of grain shrank from 695 million hectares to 693 million, a drop of 0.3 percent as shown in the chart below.
This drop, combined with the addition of 92 million people to the earth's population, led to a reduction of 2.0 percent in grain area per person, adding to a decline that has been under way since mid-century as reflected in the chart below.
SOURCE: Vital Signs, The Trends That Are
Shaping Our Future, Worldwatch Institute.
· The National Wildlife Federation is trying to head off a rule change being considered by EPA that would exempt Alaska's wetlands from key protections of the Clean Water Act. Oil companies anxious to drill on Alaska's North Slope want to weaken rules that now require developers to avoid destroying wetlands when there are reasonable alternatives and to compensate for wetlands loss through restoration or other means.
The impact of such a rule change would be enormous because some 70 percent of the nation's wetlands are found in Alaska. The state also is a terminus for all four of the major waterfowl flyways in North America.
SOURCE: National Wildlife, October/November,
There are two key issues relating to food safety facing us today. This article will focus on these two issues which have moved to the forefront of consumer concerns recently: the genetic manipulation of food and food irradiation.
First, genetic manipulation of foods is not a new issue. In fact, it has existed since Mendel developed and applied his scientific genetic principles to the improvement of the pea. Today, there are several techniques used to manipulate genes, from the classic breeding and selection, to newer molecular approaches such as recombinant DNA and gene splicing. Genetic manipulation includes the transfer of certain genes from wild species to cultivated varieties of similar plants, or between members of different species. Among the marketed crops that have been improved so far are tomatoes, potatoes, corn, oats, sugarbeets, rice and wheat. A report from the National Research Council concluded that these techniques "should be at least as safe as traditional plant breeding methods," but there is a caveat "...a variable number of genes can be transferred (but) predicting the precise number of traits that have been transferred is difficult, and we cannot always predict the phenotypic expression that will result." The report adds, "crops modified by molecular and cellular methods should pose risks no different from those modified by classical genetic methods for similar traits."
We are all familiar with some genetically engineered products, for example, the nectarines (a mutant peach), and tangelos (a genetic hybrid of tangerine and grapefruit). We are also familiar with canola oil, which is manipulated from rapeseed to yield increased levels of unsaturated fatty acids. Genetic engineering is presently focusing on using recombinant DNA (gene-splicing) to develop foods that are resistant to weather extremes such as frost and drought as well as insects and pathogens. The method has also been used to control glycoalkaloid solanine, a natural toxic substance present at toxic levels in potatoes, to enhance ellagic acid (an anticarcinogen) in strawberries.
These are valuable advances, meant to improve food quality and safety. However, concerns develop over potential abuse or misuse of the technology, for instance, when the allergenicity of a food product is not known and can be transferred to another previously non-allergenic product; or when an animal gene is introduced into a plant. The FDA is well aware of these concerns, however, the FDA states that, "the burden of proof lies with the plant developer." In the mind of the public a question arises, when commercial considerations are at stake, can the developer always be trusted? This statement becomes a more serious public concern when the FDA adds "foods derived from new plant varieties are not routinely subjected to extensive scientific tests for safety... although there are exceptions."
Although genetic engineering of foods has been a relatively safe practice so far, it behooves consumers to become informed and remain alert.
Food irradiation is a newer technology which has been used extensively to sterilize medical instruments and supplies. It consists of exposing foods to gamma rays from cobalt 60 or cesium 137 (a waste product of nuclear weapon manufacture). Gamma rays and x-rays are part of an electromagnetic spectrum that includes, in addition to ionizing radiation, the non-ionizing radio and TV waves, microwaves, visible light, infrared and ultraviolet radiation. While microwaves excite atoms and cause them to bounce wildly, x-rays and gamma rays can break chemical bonds in living cells. This fracturing of the bonds can release unstable oxygen- and hydrogen-containing molecules known as free radicals. These unstable molecules rush into new configurations like people at a square dance; most end up with their original partners but a few will form different couples.
There are 38 commercial irradiation facilities in the United States. The process consists of the food being transported on a conveyor belt through a sealed room with concrete walls 6-9 feet thick. The process takes up to 45 minutes for foodstuff depending on density and water content, and the dose of irradiation used. Though food is irradiated, it does not become radioactive, the gamma rays just pass through like x-rays at the airport safety checkpoints.
The advantages of this process are that irradiation kills insects and pathogens like salmonella by damaging the genetic material or molecules within the creature's cells. Fifty percent of chickens in the United States are infected with salmonella; and there are 6.5 million cases of food-borne illness resulting in 7,000 deaths per year.
In this respect, irradiation is a lifesaver. Another positive may be the diminished dependence on agricultural chemicals such as pesticides and fumigants applied in the field.
Also, according to D. Olson (food scientist at Iowa State University) "when enough chemical bonds are broken, the organism loses its ability to grow and reproduce." This is useful to slow the sprouting of potatoes and the ripening of strawberries.
On the negative side, irradiation reduces nutrients by 10-15 percent; this is comparable to other processes. It causes less destruction of carbohydrates, protein, fats and minerals, and less than pasteurization for Vitamin D, riboflavin and niacin. However, Vitamins A, C, E and K lose 25 percent of their potency. This leaves us with two questions: Vitamins A, C and E are anti-oxidants which have been found to have immune boosting capabilities and therefore, cancer preventive potential. What are the repercussions of this vitamin loss? The other question is, if irradiation decreases nutrient content by 25 percent for these vitamins, and cooking will destroy another 10-15 percent, will we be getting the amount of nutrients we really need or will we have to compensate?
In conclusion, the World Health Organization, as a member of the Committee on the Wholesomeness of Irradiated Food, declared that the process caused no toxicologic hazard and adopted the recommendation to irradiate food with doses up to ten kilorays in 1983 for the prevention of five major food-borne diseases: salmonellosis, toxoplasmosis, campilo bacteriosis, trichinosis and beef-tapeworm.
Though presently relatively safe and effective, provided strict guidelines are followed, food-irradiation needs to be studied further for potential long-term effects.
SOURCES: The Harvard Letter,
August, 1992; FDA Consumer Report, November,
1990; Child Health Alert, April
The problems of pollution and environmental degradation have engaged the minds of policymakers all over the world for many decades. In June last year, at The Earth Summit, the world community established the relationship between economic development and environmental pollution that has consequently led to the concept of sustainable development.
Although there is no clear definition for sustainable development, this concept is generally believed to have three interrelated objectives:
· to maintain environment integrity;
· to maintain human integrity;
· to maintain economic efficiency.
Pollution is an inevitable product of growth and development. Problems of environmental degradation arising out of the process of development is increasingly evident all over the world. The process of increasing agricultural productivity, the construction of dams, irrigation systems, and ongoing industrialization all result in the increased release of pollutants which react with the environment in any number of destructive ways. These byproducts of development are likely to increase in importance as the level and rate of development expands.
The problem is that the environmental spoilage associated with development is a gradual and uneven process, in part attributable to the fact that below the threshold environmental pollution can be absorbed on a continuing basis, but beyond it, environmental damage becomes highly apparent. This arises because of the possibility of divergence between the economic and biological effect of pollution. The latter effect is the extent to which pollutants generate biological changes in organisms in the receiving environment; the former exists only if an external cost is present. The possibility of divergence arises because individuals may be unaware of the biological effects, that is, the stock of pollutants can accumulate unperceived to particular threshold densities. The resulting environmental damage stems from the stock of pollutants built up and the flow of pollutants.
Development should only be concerned with flow, which should be subject to some form of control. However, unless the flow is drastically reduced or eliminated altogether, depending upon the speed and manner with which the receiving environment degrades the pollutants, the stock of pollutants will increase through time, shifting the cost of pollution forward to future generations.
As we think about creating a sustainable future we would do well to think of sustainable development as a dynamic process designed to meet today's needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It requires societies to meet human needs by increasing productive potential and by ensuring equitable economic, social and political opportunities for all. Sustainable development does not endanger the atmosphere, water, soil and ecosystems that support life on earth. It is a process of change in which resource use, economic policies, technological development, population growth, and institutional structures are in harmony and enhance current and future potential for human progress.
To achieve sustainable development, a society must employ a variety of economic and political measures and achieve a careful balance between free market mechanisms and judicious public management to prevent excessive or damaging use of natural resources. Successful sustainable development must also include a thorough understanding of cultural values and natural resource management systems that have proven successful in the past.
Depending upon the relation between production and pollution, and upon citizen's preferences, sustainable development offers us many choices:
· we may abstain from producing as much as we otherwise would to reduce pollution;
· we may devote resources that will produce goods to create products that combat pollution;
· we may step up the production of ordinary goods to the degree that they compensate for the growth of pollution;
· we may produce different products that compensate for the growth of pollution.
Sustainable development can offer us a wide spectrum of choices, but most importantly it offers us the chance to create the harmony between environmental integrity, human integrity, and economic efficiency... the three essential components for achieving a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren.
Dr. Faris Ammarin, Advisor, Economic and
Environmental Affairs, Jordan Mission to the United
· The Lebanese Parliament recently approved the establishment of the Ministry of Environment. This makes Lebanon the fifth Arab country, after Jordan, Yemen, Syria and Tunisia, that is beginning to focus on environmental degradation.
SOURCE: WIT Chapter,
· The Russian Supreme Court ruled against Svetlaya, a South Korean logging joing venture, which has been accused of destroying pristine native Siberian forests and infringing on the land of indigenous peoples. The decision will protect the hunting grounds of the Udegei people and the forests along the Bikin River, the home of the Ussurian tiger.
SOURCE: WIT Chapter,
· Fusion, the process that creates the heat of the sun and the explosion of a hydrogen bomb, involves the combining of two atomic nuclei, usually of heavy forms of hydrogen known as deuterium. The process usually requires temperatures of millions of degrees, so that taming fusion for energy production is expected to take decades and cost billions of dollars.
But cold fusion researchers think they have created fusion, or perhaps some other unknown reaction that produces a lot of energy, at room temperature by sending an electric current into palladium and platinum electrodes that are immersed in a jar of heavy water, which is rich in the deuterium. If this is true, it could lead to development of a virtually unlimited supply of inexpensive energy.
While the United States Department of Energy is not supporting cold fusion research, Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry recently decided to spend up to three billion yen, or $25 million, over the next four years on what it calls new hydrogen energy. About 15 Japanese companies are expected to take part in the effort and to contribute additional money.
SOURCE: New York Times, November 17,
· Perhaps the most important outcome of The Earth Summit was the creation of the Commission on Sustainable Development which will work under the direction of its newly appointed chairman, H.E. Ambassador Razali Ismail of Malaysia. Other Commission members include Rodney Williams (Antigua and Barbuda); Hamadi Khouini (Tunisia); Bedrich Moldan (Czech Republic); and Arthur Campeau (Canada) who will serve as Vice-Chairmen.
The 53-member Commission was established by the Economic and Social Council on February 12 on the recommendation of the General Assembly as a follow-up to the UNCED Conference (The Earth Summit). It is charged with monitoring the progress in the implementation, by governments and by the international community, of Agenda 21, the program of action adopted at The Earth Summit.
The Commission's program of work will focus nine thematic areas, as suggested by the Secretary-General. These thematic areas include:
I. Critical elements of sustainability, including chapters which address combating poverty, changing consumption, and population and development;
II. Financial resources and mechanisms;
III. Education, science and technology, including matters related to the management of biotechnology, transfer of environmentally sound technology and capacity-building;
IV. Decision-making structures encompassing both national as well as international institutional arrangements;
V. Roles of major groups, including the nine chapters of Agenda 21 which address the role of the different partners in the quest for sustainable development, such as women, indigenous people, non-governmental organizations, and business and industry;
VI. Health and human settlements addressing, among others are environmentally sound management of solid wastes and sewage-related issues;
VII. Land, forests and biodiversity, under which drought and desertification, mountain development and sustainable agriculture would be considered;
VIII. Atmosphere, oceans and freshwater, including protection of oceans and seas and their living resources, and management and use of water resources; and
IX. Toxic chemical and hazardous wastes, including prevention of illegal international traffic in those wastes as well as safe environmentally sound management of radioactive wastes.
SOURCE: United Nations Press Release, February 24, 1993.
· In the United States in 1990 more than 29 million tons of wastepaper were recovered for recycling, a 36 percent recovery rate. The paper industry's goal is to reach a 40 percent rate by 1995.
SOURCE: BioCycle, November,
· Dutch environmental organizations are protesting chlorine production at various levels. Thousands of chlorous compounds, PVC (polyvinyl chloride), CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), dioxins, pesticides and herbicides, have been developed and many of these end up in the environment. The campaign against PVC as a packaging material, called Packed in PVC Means Packed in Poision became a celebrated initiative. Several firms stopped using PVC packaging material within a few days. A year later, 80 percent of products are being distributed in more ecologically sound packaging.
SOURCE: WIT Chapter, The
· From an all-time high of 144 million tons in 1989, world fertilizer use fell to 136 million tons in 1991, a drop of 6 percent. The principal reason for the change is the diminishing response of crop yields to the application of additional fertilizer in many countries, including some in the Third World.
SOURCES: FAO, USDA, World Fertilizer
· On a recent trip exploring the coral reefs off the coasts of Caribbean countries, Dr Christine Durbak (3rd row center) with a group of European WIT members, found many coral beds dead or dying from the untreated sewage dumped off the coast lines. St. John's Island in the U.S. Virgins, however, due to its vast holding of protected land, was just as magnificent as when Dr. Durbak first observed the coral beds 20 years ago.
· A diversified task force of population experts have collaborated to identify the nature of successful populations policies and programmes. Their findings are published in Population Policies and Programmes: Lessons Learned from Two Decades of Experience. Edited by Dr. Nafis Sadik, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, this book is must reading for anyone interested in the kind of programmes that have been successful in limiting population growth rates. This 464-page book sells for $50 U.S. and is available through the New York University Press, Order Department, 70 Washington Square, New York, NY 10012 USA.
· Cambodia has perhaps as many as 10 million landmines waiting to explode or be defused which has greatly reduced land than can safely be farmed. For our readers interested in learning about the activities of groups involved in the international landmines campaigns and for those who seek information about the devastation caused by small, long-lasting plastic landmines, a newsletter is now available. The newsletter, called Landmines Update, is available through the Landmines Campaign of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, 2001 S Street N.W., Suite 740, Washington, DC 2009. Contact Jody Williams.
"At home, we must reject the false choice between jobs and environmental protection. Today you can't have a healthy economy without a healthy environment, and you don't have to sacrifice economic growth."
President Bill Clinton
· A recently published book, A Fierce Green Fire, by Philip Shabecoff (Hill & Wang, 1993), the history of the American environmental movement and fills in a significant gap in our understanding of the current, dynamic interest and activity about environmental issues in the United States. The author treats three major stages of the environmental movement beginning with the Conservation Movement of the nineteenth century. In his preface, Shabecoff disclaims the book as a work of historical scholarship and regards it as a journalistic account of a powerful developing social force. The focus of this book is America and one chapter is given to international environmentalism.
· Vital Signs: The Trends That Are Shaping Our Future concisely presents the good news, the bad news, and some surprises about the health of our planet and civilization. The Worldwatch Institute's award-winning researchers have culled information from around the globe to come up 36 key indicators that best track change in our environmental, economic and social health. Vital Signs analyzes each indicator - whether on food or forests, nuclear warheads or infant mortality - in text and easy-to-read graphs.
Vital Signs is an invaluable guide for public policymakers and environmentally concerned citizens everywhere who wish to become environmentally literate.
Copies at $10.95 US are available through W.W. Norton, 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110 USA.
· The United Nations Population Fund (220 East 42nd Street, New York, NY 10017 USA) publishes an excellent monthly magazine, Populi, which reports on population issues. Published in English, French and Spanish, Populi is available free of charge to interested parties.
WIT SPEAKERS BUREAU
WIT has expert speakers who can address your company, club or organization on various aspects of the environment. Call or write the WIT office for information or reservations.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
WIT is a non profit international, non governmental organization,
recognized by the United Nations dedicated to the promotion of environmental
literacy among opinion leaders and concerned citizens around the world. You can
help us in our important work with donations of time and
World Information Transfer's (WIT) raison d'être is to promote environmental literacy. While WIT did not originate this term, the organization has defined it in a concrete and operative manner. As literacy connotes facility in reading and writing, the addition of the adjective environmental indicates a fundamental ability to write and read about issues relating to ecology. This ability rests on knowledge of global and local concerns.
How then does this differ from familiarity with any subject area? WIT regards environmental literacy as a set of skills, undergirding an examination of other topics relating to ecological understanding. These skills include those abilities commonly associated with literacy plus the ability to raise questions about the environmental connection between the particular topic and a general or local ecological concept and the ability to identify genuine environmental problems. WIT considers ecology not so much as an independent topic in and of itself and set off from other realms of knowledge by specialists, but rather as connecting glue that is necessary for areas of study to be fully understood. From our point of definition, it would be impossible to study any topic without incorporating an environmental component.
SOURCE: The State of the World Population
This brings us to another way of differentiating environmental literacy from subject matter knowledge. Literacy requires skills acquisition and once obtained the individual may remain ignorant of particular information but has adopted the abilities needed to acquire the unknown knowledge.
It can be argued that environmental literacy is really a point of view. Developing the ability to read and write about environmental issues may likely lead one to our point of view, but that is not necessarily a result of becoming environmentally literate. Acquisition of these skills may also lead an individual to a neutral stance where objective questions are raised, for example, of computer models that predict global warming. The possibility exists also that a person gaining facility in environmental literacy may become a critic of environmentalism altogether.
WIT's goal is to provide the opportunities for individuals to gain the ability to read and write about the environment. Our starting assumptions are that the earth's ecological balance has degraded to the point that the human species is under threat and secondly that knowledge is power. We know that as more people gain these skills our assumptions will probably be challenged and we welcome argument rooted in the skills we try to promote.
WIT provides the opportunities for the acquisition of environmental literacy in four ways: our newsletter, our annual conference on health and environment, our speaker's bureau, and our Centers for Environmental Sustainability Studies.
It is important to recognize that although we would like to change thought and behavior in support of redressing global environmental degradation, this is not our primary goal Rather, our primary goal is the promotion of environmental literacy. We believe, that as more and more people around the globe develop such literacy, the possibility for productive dialogue which leads to constructive action is greatly enhanced.
World Information Transfer, Inc.
444 Park Avenue South, Suite 1202
New York, NY 10016
Telephone: (212) 686-1996
Fax: (212) 686-2172
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed its the only thing that ever has."
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