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Jan 242014

From The Associated Press
Huge buildings in a Chinese city have been stacked high with electric vehicles, ready for drivers to rent. The aim is to get more people thinking green when it comes to driving.

Dec 172013

Green Right Now Reports

PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, often bears the brunt of jokes over its public exposure stunts. The group is known for tossing red paint at people wearing furs and for mock “roastings” of humans to demonstrate why they (PETA members) have disavowed eating meat.

Angora Rabbit, PETA

An Angora rabbit, stripped of its fur. This rabbit will likely be returned to its cage to recover and regrow fur. It will be stripped again in about three months; several times during its lifetime.

But PETA needs no special stunt to explain the obviously cruel practices employed against many animals on behalf of humans. Take, for example, the pate issue.  Pate is produced by forcibly overfeeding ducks or geese to inflame their livers, creating a soft meat that can be spread on crackers at parties. Yeech!

The latest travesty being reported by PETA reminds us of the pate matter because it intrinsically requires suffering on the part of the enlisted animals. It’s easy to understand and needs no special PR campaign. In fact, it’s so cruel and needless, that we couldn’t bear to watch the video, which I won’t even post here, but you can see on YouTube — if you need convincing and can stomach watching rabbits, which normally don’t make a sound, scream loudly and painfully. (Seriously, we recommend not watching this video. Just show it to any friends who deny this is an issue).

The problem here involves the angora in that cuddly sweater you got for Christmas last year, or unwittingly purchased this year as a gift. Angora fur, adds a light, fluffy element to textiles used to make sweaters. But at what cost?

According to PETA, the angora rabbits that supply this prized fur are painfully plucked, down to their skin, every few months. They are returned to their cages where they may suffer shock. They recover, grow more fur, and the plucking process is repeated, again and again, every few months, throughout their lives. Is a sweater worth it?

This is happening mainly in factories in China, where most angora fur is sourced. It’s not publicized, obviously, and it’s certainly a valuable bit of commerce for China.

But sweaters, as you know, can be made of cotton and other fabrics that don’t require stripping a live animal of its natural, God-given, if you will, protection.

Many companies have sworn off angora (Calvin Klein and more, see below), according to PETA.

But GAP Inc. — owner of The Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy and Athleta – continues to use the ill-gotten material, which has resulted in a PETA campaign to try to stop GAP from hurting any more rabbits.

  • Yesterday PETA announced that some clothiers have said they’ll stop buying angora and have pulled it from their shelves after seeing the animals rights organization’s video of how the rabbits are treated.  “After discussions with PETA, PVH Corp.—the parent company of Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, IZOD, ARROW, Van Heusen, and other brands—has confirmed that it’s pulling from its shelves and banning any products made with angora. The announcement follows the release of video footage—shot by a PETA Asia investigator in China, the source of 90 percent of the world’s angora fur—that shows workers violently ripping the fur from the bodies of screaming rabbits who have been tied by all four legs and stretched across a board or even suspended in the air,”PETA reported.
  • Other companies — H&M, Topshop, and Esprit – have said they’ll stop producing angora products, but will still sell current stocks and have not decided on whether to ban angora.

Nov 232013

Green Right Now Reports

THE USDA has proposed a new certification that would distinguish meat from animals that have not been fed growth-enhancing drugs.

Meat in Store promo

A majority of mass-produced US beef is treated with beta agonists to enhance the growth of muscle meat. US regulators say residues in the meat are small. Proponents for animal welfare say the drugs cause disturbing effects in the animals. The question of human effects remains largely unanswered.

The new “Never Fed Beta Agonists” label would allow livestock producers to show that their animals had not been given the controversial drugs, which are used to speed the growth of the animals’ muscles  before slaughter and which have been found to cause accelerated heart rates and muscle tremors in the livestock.

The growth hormones have been banned for livestock use in several countries and the European Union for fear of their effects on human health. Studies have shown that the residues of these drugs can speed up the heart rates and blood pressure of humans consuming them, though few studies have been done.

Regulatory bodies in the US, and other countries that allow beta agonists in livestock production, consider the risk to be small if the residues in meat are kept to a minimum. In addition, they say animals excrete a lot of the medicine.

The debate will likely continue. The Center for Food Safety and the Animal Legal Defense Fund have jointly sued the US Food and Drug Administration to release records on the health effects of beta agonists. The groups want to see the basis for their being approved by the FDA and tried for more than a year to get the information before suing in October.

Meanwhile, the USDA hasn’t created its new label out of concern for American consumers anyway. It is creating the label so it can reopen foreign markets for American pork, beef and poultry.

Texas Long Horn Cow PROMO

One way to avoid growth hormones in meat is to buy grass-fed beef from a producer you know.

In February this year, Russia banned beef and pork imports from the US because of residues from the beta agonist ractopamine in  US meat. Russian officials said they would accept only pork and beef that was verified free of ractopamine and similar drugs.

Ractopamine, which is marketed as Paylean for pigs, Optaflexx for cattle and Topmax for turkeys.

Food Safety News reports that the new label “Never Fed Beta Agonists” could reopen markets in several countries where concerns about the human effects of these growth-enhancing drugs have led to restrictions on US meat, including China and Taiwan.

The Russian beef market alone was worth $300 million to US livestock producers in 2012.

Pork producers are torn, according to news reports, because it has become difficult serving a bifurcated world market in which some countries accept the growth hormones and some won’t.

A former official of the Pork Producers Council told Businessweek that feeding pigs the growth enhancer saves about $5 per hog in production costs. “I have no problem with bringing someone the product they want,” he says, “and the pork industry doesn’t either—as long as they pay for it.”

As for cattle,  the drugs in question are given to about 70 to 80 percent of U.S. herds and have had visible and harmful effects on cows fed them, according to Food Safety News:

“Merck Animal Health pulled Zilmax off the market in August of this year in order to audit its use. Merck officials denied that there were any safety issues associated with Zilmax, but a video showing cattle having trouble walking after being fed beta-agonist drugs raised concerns after it was presented that same month at an industry conference in Denver by JBS USA, a major U.S. meat packer.”


Nov 132013

by Adam Welz

As home to more than 80 percent of Africa’s rhinos, South Africa has attracted the intense and unwelcome attention of poachers, who, through their illegal hunts, send the animal’s horns into a soaring international black market that supplies users concentrated in China and Vietnam.

Rhinos in Uganda - Wikimedia.org

Rhinos in Uganda (Photo: Wikimedia.org.)

Rhino horn has played a minor role in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, mainly as a fever reducer. Today, although all rhino species are red-listed and international trade in rhino horn is banned, rhino horn is still consumed in China. In recent years it’s become fashionable among rich Vietnamese urbanites as well, who employ it as a hangover cure, a nonpsychoactive club drug or merely as a sign of wealth, according to journalists and illegal wildlife trade researchers.

This increased demand has driven retail prices over the $50,000 per kilogram mark, say conservationists. An adult southern white rhino can easily carry five kilograms of horn, a cool quarter million dollars’ worth of hard keratin growing on its face. That astronomical value is spurring on an increasingly sophisticated, cash-flush smuggling network that recruits African “triggermen” to kill rhinos across the country.

Between 1990 and 2007, South Africa lost 13 or so rhinos to poaching each year. In 2008 it lost 83, and every year since has seen a massive increase. An unprecedented 668 were poached in 2012.
Basket of rhino horns

Rhino horns fetch premium prices in Asian markets for traditional medicine and other uses, spurring deadly illegal trade. Photo © Maurice Joseph / Alamy.

Rhino poaching carries serious penalties in South Africa, and millions have been spent to protect the animals. Companies of soldiers with aerial support have even been placed in the Kruger National Park, a poaching hot spot. Triggermen often die in shootouts with authorities, but the payoffs are so great they keep coming. This year’s South African rhino poaching tally has just passed 550.

South Africa and the world are under pressure to do more, fast, to save these iconic beasts. Most conservationists advocate even stronger — and very expensive — law-enforcement measures. However, vocal rhino owners and influential wildlife economists have recently been joined by high-ranking South African government figures in calling for the current rhino conservation paradigm to be radically reconstructed. Instead of fighting the horn trade, they say, rhino custodians should join it.

A Better Idea?

The best way to support rhino conservation, the pro-traders argue, is for the horn trade to be legalized so African rhino custodians, private and public, can finance the animals’ continued protection and conservation. A legal trade may even reduce the demand for illegal horn and would bring transparency to the market, making it easier to study and control. Regularly and reliably supplying legal horn to Asian buyers, proponents say, would disincentivize speculators who can drive rapid, unpredictable surges in poaching.

Rhino horn can be painlessly harvested by tranquilizing an animal and carefully sawing off the horn above the delicate base of tissue from which it grows. The process takes about 20 minutes and the horn regrows at about 0.8 kilograms per year, allowing multiple harvests in a rhino’s lifetime. If horn trade were legal, custodians could sustainably harvest and sell horns from living animals, naturally deceased rhinos and horn stockpiles, earning money to underwrite conservation, pro-traders say.

On July 3 of this year South Africa’s minister of environmental affairs, Edna Molewa, told the media that “South Africa cannot continue to be held hostage by the syndicates slaughtering our rhinos. We do have the ability to make this scarce resource available without impacting on the species, through the implementation of a regulated trade system.” Her government will seek to legalize the rhino horn trade at the next top-level meeting of the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in 2016, she said.

Some private game ranchers are already intensively breeding rhino and harvesting their horns in anticipation of legal sales.An official in Molewa’s department said the government has accumulated a horn stockpile of 16,437 kilograms — more than 16 metric tons — that could benefit conservation, having a potential value of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Some private game ranchers are already intensively breeding rhino and harvesting their horns in anticipation of legal sales. John Hume, a well-known industry figure, now has more than 900 southern white rhinos on his property and more than two tons of stored horn. “The best way to ensure the rhino’s future is to make live rhino as economically valuable as possible,” he says.

Market Models

The South African government has yet to determine the structure for the market it seeks to establish, but economists and private rhino owners have proposed at least two possible models.

One model, laid out in most detail by economist Michael ’t Sas-Rolfes, would involve selling certified, marked, whole horns at open auction and promoting them to Asian consumers over illegal horns. ’t Sas-Rolfes’ primary intention is not to maximize profits to horn producers, but to give producers a fair return while keeping prices as low as possible to put a damper on illegal trade.


A rhino poached for its horn.

Another model, articulated by Michael Eustace, an investment analyst, envisages a central selling organization for rhino horn similar to that developed by diamond company De Beers. De Beers holds a large diamond stockpile from which it carefully releases different sizes and grades of stones at fixed prices to maximize profit, occasionally selling large volumes cheaply to destabilize competitors. Because a CSO is essentially a monopoly, it would have to be operated by governments, which are exempt from anti-monopoly laws.
Dehorned white rhinos on rhino farm

Horns can be harvested from live rhinos with no permanent harm, producing a valuable resource that some propose could provide funds to support conservation if trade were legalized. Photo © Ann and Steve Toon / Alamy.

Eustace sees a rhino CSO holding regular sales of certified horn at a central location to preapproved buyers at a price determined by market analysts. The CSO would seek to maximize the price in order to achieve high profits for rhino custodians and to constrain demand; Eustace says the high price of rhino horn limits the pool of customers because relatively few people are rich enough buy it. “I don’t think you can afford to lower the price, because you can’t satisfy demand [i.e., produce enough legal horn for a larger pool of buyers] at a lower price,” he says.

Both models would require governments on both the production and the consumption end of things to strengthen enforcement efforts against illegal trade to raise the criminals’ cost of doing business. And both assume significant investment in rhino protection, which would be funded by proceeds from the trade, to be necessary for the indefinite future. (There are early indications that the South African government favors a CSO-type model, perhaps housed within the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.)


Some conservation groups are skeptical. Jo Shaw, WWF-South Africa’s rhino expert, says that the group
“remains unconvinced that the legal international trade in rhino horn is a feasible approachMany others are outright hostile to legal trade, saying there are too many uncertainties involved. for rhino conservation at this time.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has supported conservation in Africa for decades, is staying out of the debate, simply noting that it “will evaluate any proposal submitted according to the public process we’ve established for CITES proposals.”

Many others are outright hostile to legal trade, saying there are too many uncertainties involved. “If you put it on the market, you’re saying it’s OK,” says Allison Thomson, a South African rhino conservation advocate. Making rhino horn socially acceptable is extremely risky because it might stimulate massive new demand that legal traders could never satisfy, she says.

A legal trade would also provide cover for the illegal trade, says Mary Rice of the Environmental Investigation Agency, a London-based organization that has investigated the illegal wildlife business for decades. One needs to look no further than the elephant ivory trade to see how this happens, she says.

The international trade in elephant ivory was banned in 1989, but CITES has allowed two one-off sales of ivory stockpiles since then. The sales, which were agreed upon in 1997 and 2008, allowed southern African countries with CITES-approved elephant management policies to auction their stockpiles — the product of culling operations and natural deaths — to Asian countries with CITES-approved regulation systems. The sales were intended to reward countries that managed elephants well and, by flooding Asian markets, depress the price of illegal ivory.

Writer Bryan Christy, who recently investigated the ivory business for National Geographic, says that a 2002 Chinese report to CITES attributed a surge in ivory smuggling to the 1997 Japan sale. Consumer demand rose in the wake of the legal sales, boosting the black market ivory business. He also says Chinese and Japanese dealers colluded to game the 2008 auctions in order to lower prices, shortchanging the selling countries.

“A legal market … makes it virtually impossible for enforcement people to determine what is and isn’t legal. It makes their job very, very difficult.” — Mary RiceTo top it all, China pooled its legally bought ivory within a version of a central selling organization from which it sells limited quantities at above-black-market prices to Chinese ivory carvers, thus keeping the retail price high and maintaining the incentive to poach. A recent EIA investigation found that as much as 90 percent of the ivory in the Chinese market came from illegal sources, and data show that elephant poaching has increased dramatically across Africa since 2009.

“A legal market provides a laundering mechanism for illegal ivory,” says Rice. “It makes it virtually impossible for enforcement people to determine what is and isn’t legal. It makes their job very, very difficult.”

But ‘t Sas-Rolfes argues that the CITES-sanctioned ivory auctions should not be used to predict the outcomes of a regulated, sustained market for rhino horn. One-off sales are a bad idea because they provide no predictability to the market, he says. And, unlike rhino horn, elephant ivory sales are inherently problematic because ivory can’t practically be harvested from a living elephant, and natural deaths are too few to satisfy Asian demand for “white gold.”

Altering Attitudes

Taking another tack, a small group of activists suggests the trade debate is moot. They argue that Asian consumers can be persuaded not to buy rhino horn in much the same way they’ve been encouraged to turn against shark fin, which is used in expensive soup by Chinese communities worldwide.

If a campaign to reduce demand for rhino horn is as successful as the shark fin campaign, it might be a crucial part of the struggle to save Africa’s rhinos.The California-based group WildAid started researching the shark fin trade in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan in 1998, then put together high-profile, celebrity-endorsed campaigns against it. By 2002, says WildAid executive director Peter Knights, shark fin use was falling in these territories, and consumption had shifted to an increasingly wealthy mainland China.

WildAid refocused its efforts there. In the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, it launched a new campaign that emphasized the cruelty of finning and included appearances by basketball superstar Yao Ming.

Numerous conservation and animal welfare groups now campaign against shark fin both inside China and around the world. They’ve pushed hotel chains and airlines to quit serving and transporting shark fin. Last year the Chinese government announced a ban on shark fin soup at official banquets. Hong Kong, the hub of much of China’s shark fin distribution, announced that imports dropped 70 percent from 2011 to 2012.

“The cruelty message really reached people,” says Iris Ho, wildlife campaigns manager of Humane Society International, which is involved in the campaign against shark fin use. “But when it was followed by a conservation message, that magnified the impact.” Ho says that catching the attention of consumers with dramatic media and then giving them more detailed information face to face had a lasting effect.

Knights is strongly against legalizing the rhino horn trade because he fears putting legal horn on the market
might promote it to a user base far larger than a legal trade could supply, further intensifying poaching pressure. “We can’t have more than a million consumers of rhino horn currently,” he says, “but if you legalize it you could have a hundred million in China alone.” It could also confuse consumers who have seen messages that strongly discourage rhino horn use, damaging the prospects of demand-reduction efforts such as WildAid’s.
Jackie Chan with rhino

International film star Jackie Chan and Spike, a rhino orphaned by poachers, star in a soon-to-be-released WildAid public service announcement aimed at deterring consumers in China and Vietnam from buying products made from rhino horn. Photo by Vern Evans Photography for WildAid.

Media campaigns are cheap compared to on-the-ground anti-poaching actions, says Knights. His group has made anti-rhino-horn videos featuring Asian megastars such as Jackie Chan and Li Bingbing, which they plan to roll out across the region. China is not a monolithic entity, he says, but a place where “everything’s changing, so it’s a great time to have societal attitudinal change. You’re not fighting the wave, you’re going with it.”

Many conservationists downplay demand-reduction campaigns, claiming they do not change things fast enough and are too uncertain to stem the current poaching crisis. But, if a campaign to reduce demand for rhino horn is as successful as the shark fin campaign, it might be a crucial part of the struggle to save Africa’s rhinos.

Whatever’s being done now to conserve rhinos is clearly not working. At the current rate, South Africa will lose between 900 and 1,000 rhinos to poaching this year — and if trends hold, poaching losses will outstrip new rhino births by 2016. It will take cool heads and a willingness to put aside many assumptions in order to craft a successful rescue strategy.

[This article was first posted at the environmental website Ensia, August 7, 2013. Welz also writes at NatureUpBlog]

Nov 112013

It took a long time for giant panda Zhang Xiang to take her first tentative steps to freedom. Released into the wild in China, the female was surrounded by keepers dressed in specially scented panda costumes to avoid scaring her. Reuters reports.

Oct 292013

What does the “good life” entail? Clearly, at one level, it is about growth, rising incomes for the population as a whole, and correspondingly higher living standards. But “living standards” are not simply a question of dollars and cents. In China, the country’s quantum leap in growth has long been associated with a corresponding degradation of the environment.

But there are growth opportunities inherent in this environmental crisis as well. Eliminating the collateral damage associated with environmental degradation can contribute to growth and vastly enhance the life quality of China’s citizens. Building a new kind of “green economy” is one of the most effective ways that China can augment the quality of life of everyone, as well as showing how the state’s resources can yet again be mobilized for broader public purposes (as opposed to corruption and narrow crony capitalism).

In this video, the Institute of New Economic Thinking presents panelists Haifeng Huang, Michael Lepech, Tom Miller and Ying Kong discussing the challenges and opportunities at a recent conference in Shenzhen, China.

Oct 112013

The Economist reports that in the past half-century, China has lost half its rivers. Today, much water is wasted or polluted, and China is turning to gargantuan engineering projects to solve its crisis.

Sep 052013
Solar panels on Walmart in Calif.

Solar panels on a Walmart in Calif.

Green Right Now Reports

A study of China’s solar markets has produced findings that should hearten those who hope to see the solar industry take off in the U.S.

The findings — that production scale, not labor costs — have produced China’s price and volume advantage in the PV market, suggest that solar prices could improve in the U.S. with indirect government subsidies enabling the industry to access capital.

In other words, China hasn’t produced cheaper PV solar panels by underpaying workers and lavishing the industry with direct government hand outs, as is widely believed, but by scaling up the industry, according to the report by MIT and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

This means it could be easier to achieve the same in the U.S., according to Assessing the Drivers of Regional Trends in Solar Photovoltaic Manufacturing.  The report, funded by the Department of Energy and  peer-reviewed, is published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.

According to a DOE statement on the study:

 The authors also found that technology innovation and global supply-chain development could enable increased manufacturing scale around the world, resulting in broader, subsidy-free PV deployment and the potential for manufacturing price parity in most regions. Their analysis indicates that further innovations in crystalline silicon solar cell technology may spur new investment, significantly enhancing access to capital for manufacturers in most regions and enabling scale-up, thus equalizing PV prices from manufacturers in the United States and China.

To put that in English: U.S.-made PV panels could become more affordable and competitive on the world market — and in the U.S. — with available financing for solar parts and technological development. Cheap labor doesn’t have to be in the equation.

DOE reports that the study concluded:

Excluding shipping costs, the team estimated that China-based manufacturers have a 23% MSP advantage over U.S.-based manufacturers today, taking into account differences in the manufacturing costs of modules, wafers, and cells within each country. Scale and supply-chain advantages account for the majority of a Chinese factory’s MSP advantage. These advantages, which are not unique to China, could be replicated by U.S.-based manufacturers if comparable scale can be achieved.

Mar 202013

Andrew Winston

For anyone who doesn’t want to reduce carbon emissions, China seems like a great scapegoat. The defenders of the status quo argue that U.S. companies will be at a disadvantage if we tax carbon or invest in clean energy because “China’s not doing anything.”
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio recently offered up a perfect example of this idea: “There are other countries that are polluting in the atmosphere much greater than we are — China, India, all these countries that are still growing. They’re not going to stop doing what they’re doing.” And New York Times op-ed writer Joe Nocera used the China Defense last week in his latest pro-fossil-fuels piece: “the Chinese are far more concerned with economic growth than climate change.”

But there are three little problems with this logic:

1) It’s not true.

China recently demolished this fallacy when leaders announced they would implement a carbon tax. And when the new Premier spoke on Sunday, he belied Nocera’s assertion with a speech that, in the Times words, “laid out a vision of a more equitable society in which environmental protection trumps unbridled growth.” These policy shifts are a very big deal for all 7 billion of us sharing the climate. And it’s just the latest in a series of Chinese commitments, which include the following:

  • July 2010: 5 trillion yuan, or $800 billion, alternative energy plan over 10 years (this is like the part of the U.S. stimulus plan that funded clean tech, but times 10).
  • August 2012: $372 billion to cut pollution and energy use.
  • August 2012: 40% increase in solar target (21 gigawatts by 2015).

Is China still growing and emitting more carbon? Of course. Is it planning to build another 363 coal plants? Yes. So the world is not black and white. But even with lots of coal and oil investment, there’s no way you can say China is doing nothing on clean tech.

Beijing pollution, iStock_000005196938XSmall-thumb

Pollution in Beijing. (Photo: iStock)

2) Science doesn’t care.

The math and physics of climate change are getting clearer by the day. As those tree-huggers at McKinsey and PwC UK have calculated, we need to decarbonize at a rapid rate — about 5 percent less carbon per dollar of GDP every year until 2050. This has to happen no matter who goes “first,” and is basically the argument put forth by Grist writer David Roberts recently. We have to try, no matter what anyone else is doing. And, by the way, the impacts of doing nothing will keep growing — Hurricane Sandy and the ongoing drought in the Midwest are just the beginning. The costs of inaction are rising, which brings me to…

3) We should want to go clean anyway.

One of Sen. Rubio’s other comments, the most common specious argument against acting on climate change, was that restricting carbon would “devastate” the economy. This is, to borrow a phrase, malarkey.

Even putting aside the literally trillions available through energy efficiency, there’s a vast upside from creating new industries. According to the bank HSBC, the clean economy will be a multi-trillion dollar market soon. After all, we’re reinventing the world’s largest industries: energy, transportation, and buildings. Most other major economies get this and are investing heavily in the clean economy. But no country has gone as fast as China, which has grown its share of solar manufacturing to 50% in avery short time (with nearly as impressive a performance in wind).

I could keep going with counterarguments — like shouldn’t we lead because we’re, well, leaders? But even if science doesn’t care and the whole “China isn’t doing it” argument is a lie, I’m partial to number 3: We make money doing it and it’s good for us. That’s enough for me.

(Andrew Winston is a green blogger, focusing on businesses. The majority of this post first appeared at Harvard Business Online.)

Feb 062013

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Fluoride has been controversial for longer than many of us have been alive. Back in the 1940s and 50s, when scientists introduced the idea of adding fluoride to our water systems to strengthen Americans’ teeth, people fought the effort.

Fluorosis 2

Mottling of the teeth signals that you’ve gotten too much fluoride. Studies suggest fluoride causes a host of other effects that you cannot see.

At the time, the opposition didn’t have much science on their side. They opposed the introduction of fluoride into the water systems of American towns and cities as a violation of citizens’ rights, an action with unknown outcomes and no way to opt out. They lost this battle and in the course of decades of back-and-forth became branded as wild-eyed fanatics for their fierce opposition to something health officials portrayed as sensible and harmless.

The pro-fluoride forces who mobilized city after city to “fluoridate” water sounded reasonable. They wore white coats and argued that dental health was worth it and kids would be better off. There was no real downside, they said.

But history has shown that these public health advocates had only flimsy science on their side. They were acting mainly upon the observation and a few studies showing that people who drank water in areas with naturally occurring fluoridation (from the geology) had stronger teeth. (And they overlooked the areas where the natural fluoride was really high, and kids had mottled brown teeth.)


Fluoride promised big smiles.

They were right about this much: Fluoride strengthens tooth enamel. This concept eventually reached its fullest expression with the addition of fluoride to toothpaste and mouth rinses, which come into direct contact with teeth and harden tooth enamel. The American Dental Association, by the way, is a big proponent of topical fluoride. The Centers for Disease Control endorses both topical fluoride applications and fluoridation.

It’s all  good, right?

Not at all. Today science tells us that even though controlled topical applications of fluoride provide benefits, ingesting fluoride is needless at best, and most likely quite reckless.

Fluoride damages bones and cognition

Studies have shown that high fluoride levels in our bodies may be negatively impacting bones (which even the EPA concedes, though it sounds rather blaise on the matter) and worse, fluoride at high levels affects the cognitive abilities of children.

Notably,studies of Chinese children found that those drinking naturally occurring higher levels of fluoride suffered significant cognitive deficits. One recent one, chronicled the actual drop in IQ points associated with higher fluoride levels. China isn’t waiting for more proof. It doesn’t fluoridate its water.

We here in the US may, in fact, have never needed to drink fluoride. Yet we continue to pay to put it in our water systems because it once promised a health benefit; a benefit we now receive through fluoride applications, toothpaste and rinses. (And even these come with hazards, particularly when small kids eat their toothpaste instead of brushing with it.)

In addition, the fluoride that’s dumped into city water systems is often hydrofluorosilic acid, an unrefined byproduct of the fertilizer industry.

Fluoride comes from phosphate processing plants like this one.

Fluoride comes from phosphate processing plants like this one.

Unbelievable, but true. We’re literally drinking a waste product, solving a problem for the manufacturer who otherwise would have to find another way to safely dispose of it.

So there. I’m a nutcase. I think this is crazy. If you have even an inkling that you agree,  read this article by the Fluoride Action Network and do some independent research. Here’s one place to start, the Waterloo (Canada) Watch website, which has an excellent page on the fertilizer-to-fluoride process.

Many Americans have come to the conclusion that this is…well, messed up. Hundreds of US cities have voted to stop fluoridation. Most European cities never had it, or have stopped. Austin and Portland have groups fighting to stop fluoridation. The Portland City Council recently voted to add fluoride after years of holding out. They’re trending in the wrong direction.

Austin is experiencing a strange clash of ideas over fluoride. The University of Texas mega-campus in the heart of Austin has elected to filter fluoride out, meanwhile, the Austin City Council has shown little interest in stopping fluoridation. Fluoride Free Austin reports that they’ll continue to push the issue, and they’ve posted a funny blog about what council members have told them to help explain why it’s taking so long.

fluorosis, National Health and Nutrition survey 1999-2000

Here’s a chart showing the fluorosis evident in 30 percent of Americans, ages 6 -  39. This Health and Nutrition survey helped persuade HHS we were overdosing on fluoride.

There’s another problem that’s arisen with fluoride about which the public is not well informed.

Awash in fluoride

With fluoridated water being used to irrigate some crops, fluoride is concentrating in certain foods that bind easily with it. It’s turning up in fruit juices that are made with fluoridated water and in the bones of livestock that’s been raised on fluoridated water (because the fluoride ends up in the bones; another Chinese study found increased hip fractures among human populations with higher fluoride levels). It concentrates naturally in tea and a few other foods.

This means the average consumer may be getting far more fluoride than she or he ever bargained for, via food, packaged beverages, tap, bottled water and dental products. And the proof is in the rising incidence of fluorosis in young people.

An alarming jump in fluorosis, the mottling of teeth that signals an overdose of fluoride, prompted the US Health and Human Services Department (HHS) to lower the safe threshold for fluoride from 1.2 milligrams per liter to .07 milligrams per liter in 2011.

So HHS is concerned about the rising level of fluoride all around. The Centers for Disease Control, not so much. They maintain that water fluoridation is still “beneficial for reducing and controlling tooth decay and promoting oral health in children and adults”. In case we don’t brush our toofies — the same hygiene rationale used in the 1950s to promote fluoridation — the CDC’s got our back, or at least a firm grip on 50-year-old arguments.

If you brush your teeth and don’t want to drink excess fluoride, you can take a few steps to reduce your exposure. The Fluoride Action Network has put together 7 Ways to Avoid Fluoride in Foods and Drinks, which we’ve reprinted.

Copyright © 2013 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Oct 122012

The Lorax: Yes, I am the Lorax who speaks for the trees, which you seem to be chopping as fast as you please.

From Green Right Now Reports

Disney, recognizing its heavy paper footprint as the world’s largest publisher of children’s books and magazines, has announced

The Lorax would greatly appreciate Disney's new paper policy.

it will be changing its paper policies to try to stop the degradation of rainforests in Southeast Asia.

The change comes as a victory for indigenous Indonesians, rainforest wildlife and the atmosphere, which are all being harmed by the vociferous consumption of rainforests from logging across Indonesia.

Rainforest Action Network (RAN), which called Disney out two years ago for having tropical wood fibers in the pages of its storybooks, reports that the entertainment company’s new policy will have a huge impact as it switches to sustainably sourced and recycled paper.

“Disney’s policy makes clear that rainforests are more valuable left standing than pulped for paper,” RAN announced on its website.

“This policy adds Disney to a growing list of companies that are turning away from deforestation in their supply chains and sending strong signals to APP (Asia Paper & Pulp), APRIL (Asia Pacific Resources International Limited) and others in the pulp and paper industry that they must institute major reforms that protect forests and address social conflict and human rights violations.

The unsustainable destruction of these rainforests, which are often burned or clear cut, has made Indonesia the world’s third

...so would Mowgli and Shere Khan from Disney's Jungle Book

largest contributor to greenhouse gases, after the two leading national economies, China and the U.S.. Rainforest loss in this tropical region is not only contributing to climate change, it is stripping the globe of habitat for a Jungle Book of endangered species, such as the tiger and the intelligent and peaceful orangutan.

Disney ran afoul of RAN when the non-profit watchdog group discovered tropical wood fibers in the company’s storybooks being manufactured in China, which frequently sources paper from Indonesia. RAN cited Disney and the others among the top ten children’s publishers for failing to have a responsible plan for paper sourcing. It pushed the publishers to change to more sustainable practices, which would help assure a healthy planet for the youngsters their businesses target.

Eight publishers agreed in 2010 to eliminate Indonesian paper fiber from their supply chain, but Disney and Harper Collins did not commit.

RAN followed up with protests at Disney Studios, and thereafter negotiated with the company to change its paper policies.

Disney’s new guidelines aim to minimize the consumption of paper and eliminate paper products from irresponsibly harvested fiber, including that from designated “High Conservation Value Areas”. (Translation: It will try not to interfere with the intricate circle of life in areas that are biologically sensitive.)

Simultaneously, Disney will maximize the use of paper sourced from Forest Stewardship Council-certified operations, the company reported.

In addition, Disney has promised to work with RAN and similar groups to identify areas where forest management is lacking and the deforestation risk is high.

The  impact these changes could have, if Disney proceeds with rigor, is enormous. The changes will apply to operations at factories in more than 100 countries, including 10,000 in China alone, RAN reports.

“Because of Disney’s vast reach and the diversity of paper products it uses, Disney’s policy has the potential to influence the way paper is produced worldwide,” the NGO said.

So to its repertory of conservation commitments and environmental flicks (remember earth and Chimpanzee?), Disney can add a new chapter, of which the Lorax could proclaim: “We speak for the trees! Let them grow! Let them grow!”

Dec 082011

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

This fall Obama Administration critics became epically riled about the failure of Solyndra, a Silicon Valley solar start up that sucked up a horrific pile of cash, including $535 million in government-backed loans, only to gasp and die in the summer of 2011.

Suntech crew at the famous Birdsnest performance hall in Beijing.

No one thinks this was a good thing. But while naysayers in the US obsess over this one company, and dither on climate change (all of the Republican presidential candidates say they doubt the threat) the world moves on.

Last night in Durban, South Africa, China’s Suntech, the largest maker of solar modules in the world, took home the coveted Gigaton Prize.

This 10-year-old Chinese company won the award because it has plastered the planet with solar panels, from the US to Africa, bringing solar power even to remote off-the-grid places.

In October, Suntech passed a benchmark of having installed 5 gigawatts of solar power in its 10-year existence.

That’s roughly enough wattage to power about 3.75 million average American homes (and way more in less energy-intensive locations.)

It’s five times more solar power than the amount installed in all of California, the leader in the US for solar installations.

No other solar maker anywhere on earth has reached as far and fast as Suntech.

It seems fair to say this is one more piece of evidence that China, while it has a lot of pollution problems, is bringing forward a barrel of pollution solutions.

China supports its solar industry with billions in government loans as well as preferential land policies.

By comparison, the US Congress cannot settle on a clean energy program, and reconsiders tax incentives for renewable power every few years, forcing these industries into feast and famine cycles.

White House support has been better. The president champions green energy in speeches, but follow-through has been sporadic. The Obama Administration has won important new vehicle mileage standards, but when it comes to energy production, it has tried to be a friend to all — oil, nuclear power, natural gas, solar, wind — at the risk of being no friend at all to new energy innovators.

Workers at a Suntech factory in Arizona.

This dilution of priorities has so far failed to outline a clear green power plan for the US.

The bottomline: Support for renewables teeters in Washington, while it grows stronger in China.

And its not just a matter of who leads in solar manufacturing, a race that China has already won, albeit with potential debt problems that look eerily familiar.

It’s about who will benefit from solar power. Right now the US leads China in installed solar capacity (with just under 3 gigawatts), but China could surge past that with a reported state goal of reaching 10 gigawatts of installed solar power by 2015.

Putting solar on the ground, or on the roof, provides consumers with a long-term path to energy security and stable pricing because solar power, unlike coal or even oil, won’t run out in our lifetimes.

It’s telling that no US companies managed to snare any of the 2011 Gigaton awards given out jointly by Sir Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room, The Gigaton Throwdown and the World Climate Summit.

Last year, though, Oregon-based Nike won a 2010 Gigaton award for its sustainability practices.

US elected officials wondering how to shift to a new energy paradigm should take a clue from the athletic shoe maker.

Just do it!

Copyright © 2011 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network