Friday, December 22, 2006

Asbestos fears are justified, say government theorists

The naturally-occurring asbestos has been there throughout the California area concerned ever since the area was settled so we should be seeing lots of asbestos-related disease in the area by now. How strange that there has not been a single report of that! A most interesting natural experiment in showing how asbestos problems have been vastly over-hyped

The U.S. Geological Survey on Tuesday confirmed a federal environmental agency's findings of a particularly dangerous kind of asbestos on playgrounds in El Dorado Hills. USGS experts in mineral identification reached the conclusion after closely examining the playgrounds' study samples of tiny particles that the mining industry asserted were not asbestos.

The investigation found that most of those particles did not conform to the traditional commercial definition of asbestos, as the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association had argued. The microscopic bits of minerals nonetheless were within scientists' widely accepted range of sizes, shapes and chemical compositions counted as "asbestos" for health studies, USGS scientists said. "We don't equate the commercial definition of asbestos with toxicity," said Gregory Meeker, a mineralogist with the USGS Denver office who led the investigation. "It has not been health based. It's been for the guy who wants to mine a deposit and make a profit at it."

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials who conducted the October 2004 study of El Dorado Hills' Community Park and nearby schoolyards said the Geological Survey's findings affirmed its pioneering exposure studies of naturally occurring asbestos in El Dorado Hills and elsewhere in the country. "The survey's study refutes assertions made by the R.J. Lee report and supports our findings and conclusions," said Dan Meer, who supervised the playgrounds' sampling by the EPA's San Francisco regional office.

Spokesman for the industry lobby could not be reached for comment late Tuesday. But the consultant who conducted the review of the EPA sampling had maintained that the environmental agency did not follow proper standards for identifying asbestos particles in air samples. "It is too bad that they chose to ignore a very detailed analysis that we had provided to EPA and USGS," Rich Lee, president of R.J. Lee Group of Pittsburgh, said in July. The EPA study found that children and adults in El Dorado Hills can significantly raise their exposure to breathable asbestos particles simply from the dust kicked up riding a bicycle or playing basketball on outdoor courts.

The main public health concern related to such exposures is mesothelioma, an inoperable and almost always fatal cancer of the membranes lining the chest and other body cavities, asbestos health experts say. Short exposure -- months, not years -- can be enough to instigate the disease, though it typically takes 30 or more years to take hold.

The EPA strapped personal air monitors on agency technicians who mimicked children's activities at the park and on sports fields at Silva Valley Elementary, Jackson Elementary and Rolling Hills Middle schools.

About 1,000 of the El Dorado Hills' 31,000 residents packed the Community Park's gymnasium to learn more from federal scientists. Findings prompted the Community Services District to blacktop the New York Creek trail running through the park and increase irrigation on sports fields to cut dust. The schools also adopted dust controls. At the same, the superintendent of El Dorado County schools was widely circulating copies of the Stone, Sand & Gravel Association's critique discrediting the EPA study. Superintendent Vicki Barber stopped short of endorsing the industry view. But she said it reinforced doubts that she and other local officials harbored over the reliability of EPA asbestos testing. Barber declined to comment Tuesday, saying she had not yet read the full USGS report.

County Supervisor Helen Baumann, who represents El Dorado Hills, called the Geological Survey's study a "a fair analysis" and left her confident that the county is "doing everything we need to do to protect public health." The USGS, the scientific arm of the Interior Department, launched the $100,000 investigation at the request of the EPA, which wanted an independent examination of the industry critique. Last April, the USGS team collected dozens of samples of rock, soil and settled dust in the areas where the environmental agency had conducted its asbestos exposure assessment. USGS mineralogists also analyzed samples the EPA had collected using a number of sophisticated tests to determine the chemistry, mineral composition and form of the asbestos structures detected. The USGS investigators said asbestos health experts, not the mining industry or mineralogists, need to take the lead in redefining asbestos from a health perspective. "Ultimately, it is the health community that must determine what particle types are significant with respect to asbestos-related diseases," the report said



Washington is likely to stay out of the U.N. Kyoto Protocol for curbing greenhouse gases beyond 2012 even with a shift in power to Democrats from Republicans, a former top U.S. trade and economics official said. Stuart Eizenstat, lead negotiator for former U.S. President Bill Clinton on the Kyoto Protocol for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, said changes were afoot at state and business level but the mere mention of Kyoto was a red rag and would remain so. "In the United States there is growing interest and growing concern but no chance of joining Kyoto," he told Reuters by telephone. "The word is radioactive."

Clinton, a Democrat, did not present Kyoto to the Republican dominated Senate in 1998 knowing it would be defeated. Clinton's Republican successor President Bush turned his back on the treaty -- the only legally binding global accord on climate change -- arguing that it would be economic suicide to sign up to Kyoto while allowing major developing nations like China and India to be exempt. Kyoto obliges 35 developed nations to cut greenhouse gases by at least 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12. Governments are now wrangling over how to extend the protocol beyond 2012.

Bush is entering the last two years of his administration, but is not expected to change course on the environment. Mid-term elections last month gave Democrats control of Congress by a tiny margin, reawakening speculation of a shift toward accepting Kyoto-style caps. But for Eizenstat, a former U.S. deputy treasury secretary and under secretary of commerce for international trade, the numbers simply do not add up because it needs a two-thirds majority to get laws through -- and that looks unlikely given most Republicans' ideological hatred of Kyoto. "With the changeover in Congress we really do have the potential for greater interest but not really legislation. It hasn't changed the dynamic," he added.

And that is despite the introduction in California by Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of tough climate laws, and a carbon emissions trading deal between seven other states. "California has a formal Kyoto-type emissions law. It is very important to see what they do on emissions trading," Eizenstat said. "The whole history of environmental laws is that they start in California and head east."

There is a chance the Senate might agree a less strict goal. It has voted down calls to set mandatory caps on emissions at 2000 levels -- an easier target than Kyoto. But backers of that bill say they will try again in 2007. However, a law passed in 1997 barred the U.S. from making international commitments on carbon emission cuts unless developing countries did likewise -- and that, according to Eizenstat, cuts across party lines. "It would be very difficult to get the U.S. into some sort of Kyoto commitment without China," he said. "Unless China undergoes a metamorphosis you would have real difficulty."

Talks to extend Kyoto have made little headway -- due partly to U.S. meddling and partly to uncertainty over the intentions of China, which builds one coal-fired power plant a week. Most scientists agree that temperatures will rise by between two and six degrees Celsius this century due mainly to carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels for power and transport, putting millions of lives at risk from floods and famines. Former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern said in October that urgent action on global warming was vital, and that delay would multiply the cost 20 times.

Eizenstat said one possibility was that the United States would at some stage be forced by the spreading patchwork of business and state actions to bring in federal emissions laws. But the key would be extending that to the international level, and the hatred of Kyoto made that less than likely.

Reuters, 19 December 2006


For billions of people around the world, these are the best of times to be alive. From Beijing to Bratislava, more of us are living longer, healthier and more comfortable lives than at any time in history; fewer of us are suffering from poverty, hunger or illiteracy. Pestilence, famine, death and even war, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, are in retreat, thanks to the liberating forces of capitalism and technology.

If you believe that such apparently outlandish claims cannot possibly be true, think again. In a book which will trigger intense controversy when it is published later this month, the acclaimed American economist Indur Goklany, former US delegate to the United Nations' intergovernmental panel on climate change, demonstrates that on every objective measure of the human condition - be it life expectancy, food availability, access to clean water, infant mortality, literacy rates or child labour - well-being and quality of life are improving around the world.

A remarkable compendium of inform-ation at odds with the present fashionable pessimism, Goklany's The Improving State of the World, published by the Cato Institute, reveals that, contrary to popular belief, it is the poorest who are enjoying the most dramatic rise in living standards. Refuting a central premise of the modern green movement, it also demonstrates that as countries become richer, they also become cleaner, healthier and more environmentally conscious.

Needless to say, Goklany has already been accused of naive Panglossianism by the doom and gloom merchants, to whom all must always be for the worst in the worst of all possible worlds. This is deeply unfair to Goklany: like the rest of us, he is concerned at the shameful deprivation, disease and misery that continue to affect hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa, North Korea and all the rest of the world's horror spots. But he argues convincingly that to recognise their horrific plight should not prevent us from also acknowledging our progress in liberating even larger numbers of people from extreme poverty.

We should be especially proud of the fact that humanity has never been better fed: the daily food intake in poor countries has increased by 38 per cent since the 1960s to 2,666 calories per person per day on average. The population of those countries has soared by 83 per cent during that time, so this is a stupendous achievement which puts the final nail in the coffin of Malthusianism.

Together with a 75 per cent decline in global food prices in real terms in the second half of the 20th century, caused by improved agricultural productivity and freer trade, fewer people than ever before are going hungry. The rate of chronic undernourishment in poor countries has halved to 17 per cent, compared with a little over a third 45 years ago. In wealthy countries, the cost of essential foods has collapsed, with the price of flour, bacon and potatoes relative to incomes dropping by between 82 and 92 per cent over the past century; similar trends are now visible in developing countries too.

There is still a long way to go; but never before in human history have so many people been liberated from extreme poverty so quickly. The number of people subsisting on $1 a day has declined from 16 per cent of the world population in the late 1970s to 6 per cent today, while those living on $2 a day dropped from 39 per cent to 18 per cent. In 1820, 84 per cent of the world's population lived in absolute poverty; today this is down to about a fifth.

Famine and declining life expectancy are problems now limited to the small number of countries unfortunate enough to continue to suffer from horrendous misgovernment by kleptocratic elites or which persist in rejecting capitalism and globalisation. There is only one way to ensure that the most deprived in the poorest countries are fed and clothed: their governments must embrace the market economy, strong property rights, sound money, free trade and technological progress. That is the only road to higher economic growth; and increased wealth is the prerequisite to better living standards.

To see how far we have come, consider that anyone born in Britain during the Middle Ages would have been exceptionally lucky to live to see their 30th birthday. The average person could expect to live only to the age of 22, before succumbing to disease, injury or famine. By 1800, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, life expectancy in Britain had climbed to 36 years, then the highest ever seen but less than the life expectancy enjoyed today in even the most war-torn and deprived countries. By the 1950s the average Briton could expect to live to the age of 69; today this has increased to almost 78 years.

Life expectancy in poorer countries has improved even faster. In China it has surged from 41 years in the 1950s to 71 years today; in India it is up from 39 years to 63 years, almost doubling the average lifespan of 2 billion people. In 1900 average life expectancy around the world was a mere 31 years; today it is 67 years and rising.

Just as remarkably, the gap between poor and rich countries has been shrinking fast. By the early 1950s a child born in a wealthy country such as Britain could expect to live 25 years longer than a child born in a poor country such as Algeria; today accidents of birth matter far less. The gap has closed to 12.2 years, thanks to diffusion and transfer of public health practices and medical advances pioneered in the West.

We are not only living longer; we are also living healthier lives, in poor as well as in rich countries. Disability rates in the leading developed countries have declined strikingly and the onset of chronic diseases has been significantly delayed during the course of the past century - by nine years for heart disease (despite increased obesity), by 11 years for respiratory disease (despite smoking) and by nearly eight years for cancer.

All of these and other improvements to well-being have come despite a hundredfold increase in the use of man-made chemicals, demolishing the oft-repeated but obstinately incorrect claim that pollution, urbanisation and modernity have made life more dangerous. In truth, before industrialisation, at least 200 out of every 1,000 children died before reaching their first birthday. Infant mortality globally is now down to 57 per 1,000, thanks to huge strides made in nutrition, hygiene and medical care in the developing world.

Children are not only much more likely to survive infancy; they are also far more likely to spend their childhood in school. Child labour, while still all too prevalent, has been in steady decline for years. In 1960 a quarter of all children aged ten to 14 were in work, a share which has fallen to a tenth today. Partly as a result, the global illiteracy rate has declined from 46 per cent in 1970 to about 18 per cent today.

There are many other ways in which life has improved across the developing world. Compared with 20 years ago, people are generally more free to choose their rulers and express their views; more likely to live under the rule of law and less likely to be deprived of their life, liberty or property through the whim of a ruler. Social and professional mobility is less circumscribed by accidents of birth and location. Fewer people are toiling 18 hours a day in mines; more are working in offices and able to afford holidays.

When Charles Dickens depicted the industrial town as hell on earth in The Old Curiosity Shop, he was chronicling the dark phase of economic development which some parts of China and India are undergoing today. But the forces that eventually lifted Britain from that Stygian gloom had already been set in motion, as they have in emerging economies today. Remarkably, there is mounting evidence that as countries become richer, they eventually also become greener, cleaner and healthier.

Increased productivity and better technology have allowed us to conserve energy resources, cut emissions of noxious substances such as lead and sulphur dioxide, provide cleaner drinking water and ensure better quality air. London's great smog of December 1952, which killed 4,000 people, is now a mere historical footnote, as is the Great Stink of 1858, when the Thames was so filthy and polluted that Parliament had to be evacuated.

The widespread view that Western societies are squandering natural resources on an unprecedented scale doesn't stand up to scrutiny. A ton of coal produces 12 times more electricity in modern power stations than a century ago. Energy intensity in the rich countries has been falling by 1.3 per cent a year for the past century and a half. This year the demand for oil from rich countries will actually fall, despite buoyant economic growth. Because one acre of agricultural land produces so much more food today than it did even a decade ago, Western countries have been able to cut back on the amount of space devoted to agriculture. Forests are growing again, replacing fields.

To the doom merchants, however, none of this really matters. Emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are on the rise globally which, they claim, will trigger devastating global warming and a catastrophic relapse in living standards. But Goklany begs to differ. Climate change might exacerbate existing problems, such as malaria, coastal flooding and habitat loss, he acknowledges, but this doesn't justify the heavy-handed interventionism called for in Sir Nicholas Stern's recent report.

In fact, equally rigorous modelling using different assumptions suggests that, for the next 80 years at least, the benefits of faster economic growth in further improving quality of life across the developing world will outweigh any cost of global warming. Some reductions in carbon emissions may eventually be needed, Goklany says, but in most cases it would be cheaper to adapt to higher temperatures than to try to stop them.

Our best bet, therefore, is to allow technology, trade and the global economy to continue growing unimpeded. Such is Goklany's plea: if the present rate of improvement continues, he argues, we could soon be living in a world where 'hunger and malnutrition have been virtually banished; where malaria, TB, Aids and other infectious and parasitic diseases are distant memories; and where humanity meets its needs while ceding land and water back to the rest of nature ... even in sub-Saharan Africa infant mortality could be as low as it is today in the United States, and life expectancies as high'.

Hope has become a commodity in short supply in the West. Even though more progress will always be required, our victories over famine and extreme poverty during the past two centuries are civilisation's greatest achievement. It is time we took a well-deserved break from worrying about terrorism, rising crime, social dislocation and all our other problems to celebrate what we have actually got right.

The Spectator, December 2006

For more on Goklanys' new book see details on the CATO website here

Beware the ecosexual

I'm not sure whether to blame it on the Stern report on climate change or Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, but being green has never been more fashionable nor annoying. The competitiveness by some to be an eco-warrior is so out of control that it now extends to the world of dating and the birth of the "ecosexual". Good looks, a sense of humour, education and high income count for zilch these days if you don't eat organic, wear organic and recycle. To get lucky, you have to think globally and act locally in your day-to-day living.

But while being ecosmart may "turn on" the ecosexual, don't presume that slipping between the allergy-free sheets with one will mean happy ever after with loads of children. Oh no, because if you truly live by the Three Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle) you should also belong to the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, a group of people dedicated to phasing out the human race in the interest of the health of the Earth. I kid you not. They exist and their slogan is "May We Live Long and Die Out" (apologies for not knowing the Latin translation). To think I have been congratulating myself for separating my rubbish.

The movement's American founder Les Knight, who had a vasectomy in the 1970s when he was 25, believes humans are inherently dangerous to the planet and inevitably create an unsustainable situation. "As long as there's one breeding couple, we're in danger of being right back here again," he says. How's that for logic?

But while VHEM and its members may be the extreme fallout of global warming, there are plenty of ecofriendly people bordering on the obsessive. As one friend recently lamented after a blind date from hell: "Give me a man who loves a beer and a steak any day." She went out (once) with Mr Blind Date after mutual friends sold him as Mr Long-Term. But her summary of him the morning after was very different to the guy they had talked up the week before. His first mistake was mentioning his ex-wife within the first five minutes - then referring to her about another 10 times over the course of the evening: Always a turn-off. His second was the revelation he was a non-drinking vegan. Carnivores, it seems, are a dying breed. But the third cross against his name, and which seemed to be the clincher, was the fact he lived in a cave for a year after his divorce - something about getting back to nature.

Meanwhile, a colleague told me last week of a friend who broke up with her boyfriend when she discovered he didn't recycle his newspapers. She felt she couldn't continue to see a man who didn't realise we all have a responsibility to the environment. Another has a mate who was dumped by a farmer because of the drought. How can you compete with an act of God, she asked. A raindance perhaps? In hindsight the stresses of "the drought" may have been a furphy, given it's now worse than ever and the farmer has found himself a Russian "friend" he met over the internet.

The true ecosexual is a frightening evolving breed who mainly resides in the city and not surprisingly uses the internet to meet like-minded "sexy-conservationists". In the US, there are sites for vegans wanting more than just to exchange tofu recipes such as Earth Wise Singles, which promises to help "green-living and environmentally responsible adults" meet their "soulmate". There's also Green Passions, which is particularly popular on the West Coast, where it seems being green is an obsessive trend like aerobics was in the '80s.

It also doesn't take long to come across horror testimonials from people who claim to have been led up the organic garden path by fake ecosexuals. San Francisco designer Rachel Pearson, 33, who owns a successful line of children's clothing made from organic cotton writes: "For a while I was happily dating a film producer from Los Angeles who I thought was definitely on my eco-wavelength. But one morning we went out for breakfast and he ordered an all-meat meal and doused his coffee with several packets of Equal. "I was dumbstruck. I think I ate my entire meal in silence. Pork plus NutraSweet? That was definitely our last date."

Another, a stockbroker-turned-acupuncturist, revealed his dark secret of dating a woman who once admitted to eating half a chocolate cake for dinner. "Not exactly a mindful way to eat," he wrote, before warning others "that's a red-flag". While it's good to know that there are people out there doing their bit to try and stop the melting polar ice-caps, it's disheartening to discover that perhaps love can't conquer all. That if you eat meat, or occasionally wear nylon, or buy takeaway in plastic disposable containers, you are destined for a loveless life. I do however, take solace in the fact that groups such as the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement really are a dying breed



Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is generally to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

Global warming has taken the place of Communism as an absurdity that "liberals" will defend to the death regardless of the evidence showing its folly. Evidence never has mattered to real Leftists

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