- Hazardous Chemicals in Synthetic Turf: Follow-up Analyses
- Some U.S. cities are replacing soil and grass with synthetic turf in parks, playgrounds and ball fields. Here two researchers report measuring toxic chemicals in sythetic turf at levels that exceed New York State's allowable standards for soil. This is a follow-up to an earlier study.
- Toxic Waste and Race: Report Confirms No Progress Made in 20 Years
- More than 9 million people live within three kilometers of one of 413 hazardous waste facilities nationwide. Where toxic facilities are clustered, people of color make up more than a two-thirds majority.
- Step It Up: Action This Saturday, April 14!
- This Saturday, April 14, 2007, will be the biggest day of citizen action on global warming anyone has ever seen. Your participation will make it count all the more. Join the movement for climate justice!
- GAO Says U.S. Put 'Unnecessarily at Risk' by Oil Decline
- A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) -- the research arm of the U.S. Congress -- says the nation has been put at risk because no one is planning for the arrival of "peak oil" -- the moment when half the oil in the ground has been pumped. After the peak oil moment passes, the price of oil will rise more or less steadily, causing price increases in everything made from, or transported by, oil -- which is just about everything we consider essential today.
- An Open Letter to the International Nanotechnology Community
- In 2005, Environmental Defense (ED) partnered with DuPont to promote a "responsible" risk asssessment of nanotechnology products. This week, representatives of global civil society issued a resounding "No!" to the ED-DuPont plan.
- Poor Countries Are Now Subsidizing Rich Countries
- Why do they hate us? One reason is because poor countries are now being forced to subsidize rich ones "at a skyrocketing rate." This is not very complicated: No justice, no peace.
From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #902, Apr. 12, 2007
HAZARDOUS CHEMICALS IN SYNTHETIC TURF: FOLLOW-UP
Across the country, communities and private sports facilities are installing the "new generation" synthetic turf. Compared to the old AstroTurf, the new synthetic turf is springier and feels more like natural grass. However, the new turf is being installed before there has been thorough research on its health risks.
We have been especially concerned about the possibility that the rubber granules that contribute to the new turf's resiliency contain toxic chemicals. The granules rest between the plastic grass fibers, but they also are common on the surface, so children and athletes come into frequent contact with them. In fact, many players have told us that the granules get into their shoes and wind up in their homes.
In the September 21, 2006 issue of Rachel's Democracy and Health News (#873
), we reported on our initial chemical analyses of rubber granules in the new synthetic turf in Manhattan's Riverside Park. Specifically, we wanted to see if the granules contained any of 15 polyclyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency priority pollutant list. The results revealed worrisome levels of six PAHs: benzo(a)anthracene, chrysene, benzo(b) fluoranthene, benzo(a)pyrene, benzo(k)fluoranthene, and dibenzo(a,h) anthracene. These PAHs were in concentrations that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) considers sufficiently dangerous to public health to require their removal from contaminated soil sites. Each PAH might well be carcinogenic to humans.
In the above study, the brand of synthetic turf was A-Turf. We need to know if PAHs are also present in other brands in other parks. In October 2006 and January 2007, we analyzed additional samples of rubber granules-two samples from the large playing fields in the Parade Grounds in Brooklyn and one sample from the small Sara D. Roosevelt Park in Manhattan. The manufacturer of these artificial fields was FieldTurf, the country's most popular brand (www.fieldturf.com
). The Parade Grounds fields were over three years old; the Roosevelt Park field was five months old. As in our earlier investigation, a Soxhlet apparatus with organic solvents was used to determine the maximum extractable amounts of the 15 PAHs.
Using the DEC's contaminated soil site standards as our benchmark, we found three PAHs to be at hazardous levels in at least one sample. The concentrations of these three PAHs are listed in Table 1.
=================================================== Table 1. Concentrations of PAHs in Rubber Granules (ppm*) Sample Sample Sample DEC 1** 2** 3*** Contaminated Soil Limits Chrysene 1.96 1.34 0.06 1.0 Dibenzo(a,h)anthracene 0.71 0.52 1.43 0.33 Benzo(b)fluoranthene 1.08 0.58 0.20 1.0
* ppm = parts per million
** Parade Grounds in Brooklyn
*** Roosevelt Park in Manhattan
As we can see in Table 1, the PAH that exceeded the DEC's tolerable level in all three samples was dibenzo(a,h)anthracene. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) considers this PAH to be one of the most dangerous. Although more is known about PAH toxicity to nonhuman animals than to humans, the IARC lists dibenzo(a,h)anthracene as a probable human carcinogen. It lists chrysene and benzo(b)fluoranthene as possible human carcinogens.
In conclusion, the present study found fewer PAHs that were at hazardous levels, compared to the previous study. Even so, the presence of any hazardous PAH concentration is a cause for concern.
Additional evidence of elevated PAHs in rubber granules comes from a 2004 study in Norway. Analyzing other brands of synthetic turf, the investigators found several PAH concentrations that were above Norway's land use standards.
The next step is to study the bioavailability of PAHs -- that is, the likelihood that they can be absorbed into the bodies of children and athletes through pathways such as skin contact and ingestion. Thus far, the research on this topic is very limited,[4,5] and the major study was apparently industry-funded. Until much more research is conducted, a moratorium on new synthetic turf installations would be prudent.
 6 NYCRR Subpart 375-6, Remedial Program Soil Cleanup Objectives, Effective Dec.14, 2006. Department of Environmental Conservation, Tables 375-6.8 (a) and (b).
 International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risk to Humans, PAHs
, Vol. 95, 2006, p. 18.
 Norwegian Building Research Institute. Potential health and environmental effects linked to artificial turf systems
-- final report, 2004.
 Birkholz, D. A., K. L Belton, and T. L. Guldotti, Toxicological evaluation for the hazard assessment of tire crumb for use in public playgrounds. J. Air & Waste Manage. Assoc., Volume 53, July 2003.
 Nilsson, N. H., A. Fielberg, and K. Pommer. Emission and evaluation of health effects of PAHs and aromatic amines. Survey of Chemical Substances in Consumer Products, no.54. Danish Ministry of the Environment, 2005.
Note on authors' affiliations:
William Crain, Ph.D., is professor of psychology at The City College of New York and president of Citizens for a Green Riverside Park. Billcrain@aol.com
Junfeng (Jim) Zhang, Ph.D. is professor and acting chair, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, the School of Public Health, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and Rutgers University. Jjzhang@eohsi.rutgers.edu
Return to Table of Contents Read or make comments
From: University of Michigan
TOXIC WASTE AND RACE: REPORT CONFIRMS NO PROGRESS
MADE IN 20 YEARS
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Environmental injustice in people-of-color and poor communities is as much or more prevalent today than 20 years ago, say researchers commissioned to conduct a follow-up to the 1987 landmark study, "Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States."
The new report, "Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty, 1987-2007: Grassroots Struggles to Dismantle Environmental Racism in the United States," [3.5 Mbyte PDF
] shows that 20 years later, disproportionately large numbers of people of color still live in hazardous waste host communities, and that they are not equally protected by environmental laws.
"People of color across the United States have learned the hard way that waiting for government to respond to toxic contamination can be hazardous to their health and health of their communities," said Robert Bullard, director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University. Bullard was the principal investigator for the study.
The 160-page report, which was commissioned by the United Church of Christ and produced by scholars at Clark Atlanta University, the University of Michigan, the University of Montana and Dillard University, points to the dismal post-Katrina response in New Orleans as one poignant example of unequal treatment of minorities in hazardous waste emergencies. The findings also show that environmental laws don't protect communities of color any more than they did 20 years ago when the original report was commissioned.
Paul Mohai, professor of environmental justice at the University of Michigan's School of Natural Resources and Environment and a co-author of the report, described the results as dismaying. "You can see there has been a lot more attention to the issue of environmental justice but the progress has been very, very slow," Mohai said. "Why? As important as all those efforts are they haven't been well executed and I don't know if the political will is there."
Bullard, Mohai and colleagues Robin Saha, assistant professor of environmental studies at University of Montana, and Beverly Wright, founding director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University and a Hurricane Katrina survivor, are jointly releasing the full report. An executive summary of the report was released in February at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
"The cleanup and reconstruction efforts in New Orleans have been shamefully sluggish and patchy, and the environmental injustice may be compounded by rebuilding on poisoned ground," Wright said.
The report is the first known national study to use a new method of data analysis that better locates people in relation to hazardous waste sites, and uses 2000 census data to show that the racial disparities are much greater than previously reported.
"We think this study and the findings in it, as well as the case studies that show the human side to the national statistics, make a really strong case for environmental injustice to be on the policy agenda of Congress," Saha said. "It's clear the policies we are trying aren't working and that something else needs to be done."
More than nine million people are estimated to live in host neighborhoods within three kilometers of one of 413 hazardous waste facilities nationwide. The study found that the proportion of people of color in host neighborhoods is almost twice that of the proportion of those living in non-host neighborhoods. Where facilities are clustered, people of color make up over a two-thirds majority (69 percent).
Ninety percent of states with facilities have disproportionately high percentages of people of color living in host neighborhoods. States with the 10 largest differences in people-of-color percentages between host neighborhoods and non-host areas include.
-- Michigan (66 vs. 19 percent)
-- Nevada (79 vs. 33 percent)
-- Kentucky (51 vs. 10 percent)
-- Illinois (68 vs. 31 percent)
-- Alabama (66 vs. 31 percent)
-- Tennessee (54 vs. 20 percent)
-- Washington (53 vs. 20 percent)
-- Kansas (47 vs. 16 percent)
-- Arkansas (52 vs. 21 percent)
-- California (81 vs. 51 percent)
Differences in these percentages range from 30 percent (California) to 47 percent (Michigan). Host neighborhoods are typically economically depressed, with poverty rates 1.5 times that of non-host communities.
The report analyzed the percentages of all people of color in host communities by EPA region and every region with commercial hazardous waste facilities had a disproportionate number of minorities in host neighborhoods. The study also looked at 80 selected metropolitan areas.
In addition to analyzing the total percentage of people of color in host communities, the report analyzes the percentages of Hispanic/Latino, African American, and Asian/Pacific Islander separately. For example in Michigan, which had the largest disparity in the proportion of people of color living in host neighborhoods, the majority of those minorities affected were African American.
The report also gives more than three dozen recommendations for action at the Congressional, state and local levels to help remedy the disparities. It also makes recommendations for nongovernmental agencies and industry.
The report includes testimonials on the progress of the environmental justice movement by some of its founders and key leaders. There are also two detailed case studies, one on post-Katrina New Orleans, and the other on toxic contamination of an African American community in Dickson, Tenn. Finally, the report includes a timeline of milestones in the environmental justice movement that Bullard solicited from environmental justice leaders around the country.
For more information:
Robert Bullard, Clark Atlanta University; (404) 880-6920, firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Mohai, University of Michigan; (734) 763-4598, email@example.com
Robin Saha, University of Montana; (406) 243-6285, firstname.lastname@example.org
Beverly Wright, Dillard University; (504) 782-8989, email@example.com
Clark Atlanta University: www.ejrc.cau.edu
University of Michigan: www.snre.umich.edu
University of Montana: www.umt.edu
Dillard University: www.dillard.edu
United Church of Christ: www.ucc.org
Contact: Paul Mohai, (734) 763-4598, firstname.lastname@example.org
; Laura Lessnau, (734) 764-7260, email@example.com
EDITORS: For a chart, visit: http://www.snre.umich.edu/news/newsdocs/Mohai%20chart0407.gif
Return to Table of Contents Read or make comments
From: The Nation
STEP IT UP: ACTION THIS SATURDAY, APRIL 14!
By Peter Rothberg
A new global warming report
issued on April 5 by the United Nations paints a near-apocalyptic vision of Earth's future: hundreds of millions of people short of water, extreme food shortages in Africa, billions of people in Asia at risk from flooding; millions of species sentenced to extinction; rampant disease.
Despite its grim vision, the report
was quickly criticized by many scientists surveyed
by the Los Angeles Times, who said its findings were watered down by governments seeking to deflect calls for immediate action. Even in diluted form, the report paints a bleak picture, noting that the early signs of warming are already apparent.
The report is the second of four scheduled to be issued this year by the UN, which assembled more than 2,500 scientists worldwide to give their best predictions of the consequences of a few degrees' increase in global temperature. The 1,572-page document was endorsed by officials from more than 120 countries, including the United States. The first report, released in February, said global warming was irreversible but could be moderated by large-scale societal changes.
On Saturday, April 14, at more than 1,300 simultaneous events
coast to coast, Americans of different hues and views will call for such large- scale changes by imploring Congress to enact immediate cuts in carbon emissions and pledge an 80 percent reduction by 2050.
The true expression of a viral grassroots movement, organized online through word of mouth, email outreach and the Internet community, Step it Up!
is the largest day of citizen action focusing on global warming in our nation's history and the largest environmental protest of any kind since Earth Day 1970
Conceived by writer Bill McKibben
and six recent graduates of Middlebury College, the initiative has been embraced by environmental organizations, religious networks
, campus groups and individuals from virtually all walks of life. The Sierra Club, the National Resources Defense Council and the National Wildlife Federation have all committed real efforts to organizing Step It Up! rallies. Student groups
have been particularly enthusiastic, led by Energy Action, the PIRGs and the Campus Climate Challenge
campaign, which has thrown its organizational weight and energy behind Step It Up!, as well as the evangelical student movement, which has also embraced the cause.
As McKibben writes in an open letter on the Step It Up! website
, "The enormous participation in today's movement is a wake-up call to legislators from across the country. Their constituents are urgently demanding that America get on the path towards reducing carbon emissions before it is too late."
Along with lots of marches, rallies and concerts, some of the activities this Saturday will creatively highlight the dangers and losses of a rapidly warming earth. There'll be ski mountaineers in Wyoming descending the shrinking Dinwoody Glacier; hikers ascending Oregon's threatened Mt. Hood; scuba divers underwater photographing the endangered coral reefs off Key West; rock climbers hanging banners from Seneca Rocks in West Virginia; gardeners planting native trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers in the Shartel median at 33rd Street and Shartel Avenue in Oklahoma City; demonstrators painting a blue line through downtown Seattle to illustrate how far the rising seas could penetrate; activists on the levees in New Orleans' Ninth Ward and Vermonters hauling sap from a maple sugar tree that is producing much earlier than it ever has before.
Join your voice to this growing chorus of people determined to save their planet. Find an April 14 event near you
and help spread the word
Return to Table of Contents Read or make comments
From: The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, PA) (pg. A10)
GAO SAYS U.S. PUT 'UNNECESSARILY AT
RISK' BY OIL DECLINE
The nation has been put "unnecessarily at risk," according to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The reason: failure of federal agencies to have a "coordinated or well-defined strategy either to reduce uncertainty about the timing of a peak [in oil production] or to mitigate its consequences."
Peak oil is the point at which the production of "conventional" oil reaches the highest level it will ever achieve. After that, it will decline at a fairly rapid rate [and as supply dwindles, prices will tend to rise].
In the absence of alternative fuels, peak oil poses enormous consequences for our way of life, which is heavily dependent on petroleum to move people and goods.
Sidebar: GAO Testifies Before Congress on Peak Oil
The author of the GAO report testified before Congress February 28, 2007. Read the lengthy and informative statement of Jim Wells, Director, Natural Resources and Environment, Government Accountability Office (GAO), here
There is little public awareness of the phenomenon of peak oil and the gravity of its conse quences, potentially making it the sleeper issue of all time. There are, to be sure, any number of supposedly well- informed experts who portray peak-oil believers as alarmist. But as the GAO report
points out, the consensus, even among informed skeptics, is that peak oil will occur sometime before 2040.
There are a few knowledgeable experts who believe peak oil already has been reached globally.
The endless calls by politicians for "energy independence" are perhaps the most striking example of how little this issue is understood by the people in charge.
Former oil men George W. Bush and Dick Cheney cannot be among those in the dark on this, though they clearly have chosen not to make it an issue for reasons we may not find out until they publish their memoirs. By then, they may have a lot of explaining to do.
Everyone in the industry knows that the United States cannot drill itself to energy independence. There simply is not enough oil left in the ground.
U.S. domestic oil production peaked in 1970. Not even the subsequent pumping of oil from the large North Slope fields of Alaska was sufficient to bring U.S. production back to where it had been.
Production in most oil producers outside the Middle East also has peaked, including Norway, Great Britain, Mexico and Indonesia.
Complicating the picture is that much of the remaining oil is in countries at high risk of political volatility. In addition, these countries' oil reserve calculations are not transparent or independently verified, and may not be as much as claimed. That may be particularly true for Saudi Arabia, which ostensibly presides over the world's largest oil reserves.
Major oil-producer Kuwait recently dramatically revised downward its remaining oil reserves.
For a variety of reasons, alternative fuels may not be sufficiently available to make up for any drop in petroleum. That's particularly true, the GAO report notes, if peak oil occurs in the next decade or so.
Alternative fuels currently provide only the equivalent of 1 percent of petroleum consumption in the U.S. and are projected to displace only 4 percent of petroleum by 2015. That's why the push for conservation and pumped up investment in alternative energy is so urgent. A transition away from oil can't be accomplished overnight.
U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., one of the few individuals in Congress who has been sounding the alarm on peak oil, called the GAO report "a clarion call for leadership at the highest level of our country to avert an energy crisis unlike any the world has ever before experienced and one that we know could happen at any time."
But is anyone listening?
Copyright 2007 The Patriot-News Co.
Return to Table of Contents Read or make comments
From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #902
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE INTERNATIONAL NANOTECHNOLOGY
To All Interested Parties:
We, the undersigned, submit this open letter to the international nanotechnology community at large. We are a coalition of public interest, non-profit and labor organizations that actively work on nanotechnology issues, including workplace safety, consumer health, environmental welfare, and broader societal impacts.
DuPont Chemical Company (DuPont) and Environmental Defense (ED) jointly have proposed
a voluntary "risk assessment" framework for nanotechnology. These groups intend to circulate their proposed framework both in the U.S. and abroad for consideration and/or adoption by various relevant oversight organizations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
We reject outright the proposed voluntary framework as fundamentally flawed. We strongly object to any process in which broad public participation in government oversight of nanotech policy is usurped by industry and its allies. We made the decision not to engage in this process out of well-grounded concerns that our participation -- even our skeptical participation -- would be used to legitimize the proposed framework as a starting point or ending point for discussing nanotechnology policy, oversight and risk analysis. The history of other voluntary regulation proposals is bleak; voluntary regulations have often been used to delay or weaken rigorous regulation and should be seen as a tactic to delay needed regulation and forestall public involvement.
Nanotechnology's rapid commercialization requires focused environmental, health and safety research, meaningful and open discussion of broader societal impacts, and urgent oversight action. Unfortunately, the DuPont-ED proposal is, at best, a public relations campaign that detracts from urgent worldwide oversight priorities for nanotechnology; at worst, the initiative could result in highly reckless policy and a precedent of abdicating policy decisions to industry by those entrusted with protecting our people, communities, and land. We strongly urge all who have an interest in nanotechnology's future to reject this proposed framework. Respect for adequate worker safety, people's health, and environmental protection demands nothing less.
American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations Beyond Pesticides Brazilian Research Network in Nanotechnology, Society and Environment Center for Environmental Health Center for Food Safety Corporate Watch Edmonds Institute Environmental Research Foundation ETC Group Friends of the Earth Australia Friends of the Earth Europe Friends of the Earth United States Greenpeace Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy International Center for Technology Assessment International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations Natural Resources Defense Council Sciencecorps Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition Third World Network United Steelworkers of America
Return to Table of Contents Read or make comments
From: The New York Times Magazine (pg. 16)
POOR COUNTRIES ARE NOW SUBSIDIZING RICH COUNTRIES
By Tina Rosenberg
For the last 10 years, people in China have been sending me money. I also get money from countries in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa -- really, from every poor country. I'm not the only one who's so lucky. Everyone in a wealthy nation has become the beneficiary of the generous subsidies that poorer countries bestow upon rich ones. Here in the United States, this welfare program in reverse allows our government to spend wildly without runaway inflation, keeps many American businesses afloat and even provides medical care in parts of the country where doctors are scarce.
Economic theory holds that money should flow downhill. The North, as rich countries are informally known, should want to sink its capital into the South -- the developing world, which some statisticians define as all countries but the 29 wealthiest. According to this model, money both does well and does good: investors get a higher return than they could get in their own mature economies, and poor countries get the capital they need to get richer. Increasing the transfer of capital from rich nations to poorer ones is often listed as one justification for economic globalization.
Historically, the global balance sheet has favored poor countries. But with the advent of globalized markets, capital began to move in the other direction, and the South now exports capital to the North, at a skyrocketing rate. According to the United Nations, in 2006 the net transfer of capital from poorer countries to rich ones was $784 billion, up from $229 billion in 2002. (In 1997, the balance was even.) Even the poorest countries, like those in sub-Saharan Africa, are now money exporters.
How did this great reversal take place? Why did globalization begin to redistribute wealth upward? The answer, in large part, has to do with global finance. All countries hold hard-currency reserves to cover their foreign debts or to use in case of a natural or a financial disaster. For the past 50 years, rich countries have steadily held reserves equivalent to about three months' worth of their total imports. As money circulates more and more quickly in a globalized economy, however, many countries have felt the need to add to their reserves, mainly to head off investor panic, which can strike even well-managed economies. Since 1990, the world's nonrich nations have increased their reserves, on average, from around three months' worth of imports to more than eight months' worth -- or the equivalent of about 30 percent of their G.D.P. China and other countries maintain those reserves mainly in the form of supersecure U.S. Treasury bills; whenever they buy T-bills, they are in effect lending the United States money. This allows the U.S. to keep interest rates low and Washington to run up huge deficits with no apparent penalty.
But the cost to poorer countries is very high. The benefit of T-bills, of course, is that they are virtually risk-free and thus help assure investors and achieve stability. But the problem is that T-bills earn low returns. All the money spent on T-bills -- a very substantial sum -- could be earning far better returns invested elsewhere, or could be used to pay teachers and build highways at home, activities that bring returns of a different type. Dani Rodrik, an economist at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, estimates conservatively that maintaining reserves in excess of the three-month standard costs poor countries 1 percent of their economies annually -- some $110 billion every year. Joseph Stiglitz, the Columbia University economist, says he thinks the real cost could be double that.
In his recent book, "Making Globalization Work," Stiglitz proposes a solution. Adapting an old idea of John Maynard Keynes, he proposes a sort of insurance pool that would provide hard currency to countries going through times of crisis. Money actually changes hands only if a country needs the reserve, and the recipient must repay what it has used.
No one planned the rapid swelling of reserves. Other South-to-North subsidies, by contrast, have been built into the rules of globalization by international agreements. Consider the World Trade Organization's requirements that all member countries respect patents and copyrights -- patents on medicines and industrial and other products; copyrights on, say, music and movies. As poorer countries enter the W.T.O., they must agree to pay royalties on such goods -- and a result is a net obligation of more than $40 billion annually that poorer countries owe to American and European corporations.
There are good reasons for countries to respect intellectual property, but doing so is also an overwhelming burden on the poorest people in poorer countries. After all, the single largest beneficiary of the intellectual-property system is the pharmaceutical industry. But consumers in poorer nations do not get much in return, as they do not form a lucrative enough market to inspire research on cures for many of their illnesses. Moreover, the intellectual-property rules make it difficult for poorer countries to manufacture less-expensive generic drugs that poor people rely on. The largest cost to poor countries is not money but health, as many people simply will not be able to find or afford brand-name medicine.
The hypercompetition for global investment has produced another important reverse subsidy: the tax holidays poor countries offer foreign investors. A company that announces it wants to make cars, televisions or pharmaceuticals in, say, east Asia, will then send its representatives to negotiate with government officials in China, Malaysia, the Philippines and elsewhere, holding an auction for the best deal. The savviest corporations get not only 10-year tax holidays but also discounts on land, cheap government loans, below-market rates for electricity and water and government help in paying their workers.
Rich countries know better -- the European Union, for example, regulates the incentives members can offer to attract investment. That car plant will most likely be built in one of the competing countries anyway -- the incentives serve only to reduce the host country's benefits. Since deals between corporations and governments are usually secret, it is hard to know how much investment incentives cost poorer countries -- certainly tens of billions of dollars. Whatever the cost, it is growing, as country after country has passed laws enabling the offer of such incentives.
Human nature, not smart lobbying, is responsible for another poor-to- rich subsidy: the brain drain. The migration of highly educated people from poor nations is increasing. A small brain drain can benefit the South, as emigrants send money home and may return with new skills and capital. But in places where educated people are few and emigrants don't go home again, the brain drain devastates. In many African countries, more than 40 percent of college-educated people emigrate to rich countries. Malawian nurses have moved to Britain and other English-speaking nations en masse, and now two-thirds of nursing posts in Malawi's public health system are vacant. Zambia has lost three- quarters of its new physicians in recent years. Even in South Africa, 21 percent of graduating doctors migrate.
The financial consequences for the poorer nations can be severe. A doctor who moves from Johannesburg to North Dakota costs the South African government as much as $100,000, the price of training him there. As with patent enforcement, a larger cost may be in health. A lack of trained people -- a gap that widens daily -- is now the main barrierto fighting AIDS, malaria and other diseases in Africa.
Sometimes reverse subsidies are disguised. Rich-country governments spent $283 billion in 2005 to support and subsidize their own agriculture, mainly agribusiness. Artificially cheap food exported to poor countries might seem like a gift -- but it is often a Trojan horse. Corn, rice or cotton exported by rich countries is so cheap that small farmers in poor countries cannot compete, so they stop farming. Three-quarters of the world's poor people are rural. The African peasant with an acre and a hoe is losing her livelihood, and the benefits go mainly to companies like Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill.
Most costly to poor countries, they have been drafted into paying for rich nations' energy use. On a per capita basis, Americans emit more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere -- and thus create more global warming -- than anyone else. What we pay to drive a car or keep an industrial plant running is not the true cost of oil or coal. The real price would include the cost of the environmental damage that comes from burning these fuels. But even as we do not pay that price, other countries do. American energy use is being subsidized by tropical coastal nations, who appear to be global warming's first victims. Some scientists argue that Bangladesh already has more powerful monsoon downpours and Honduras fiercer cyclones because of global warming -- likely indicators of worse things ahead. The islands of the Maldives may someday be completely underwater. The costs these nations will pay do not appear on the global balance sheets. But they are the ultimate subsidy.
Tina Rosenberg is a contributing writer for the magazine.
Return to Table of Contents Read or make comments
Rachel's Democracy & Health News (formerly Rachel's Environment &
Health News) highlights the connections between issues that are
often considered separately or not at all.
The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining
because those who make the important decisions aren't the ones who
bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human
health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the
rise of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among
workers and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy,
intolerance, and racial injustice that allow us to be divided and
therefore ruled by the few.
In a democracy, there are no more fundamental questions than, "Who
gets to decide?" And, "How do the few control the many, and what
might be done about it?"
As you come across stories that might help people connect the dots,
please Email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rachel's Democracy & Health News is published as often as
necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the
Peter Montague - email@example.com
Tim Montague - firstname.lastname@example.org
To start your own free Email subscription to Rachel's Democracy
& Health News send any Email to: email@example.com.
In response, you will receive an Email asking you to confirm that
you want to subscribe.
To unsubscribe, send any Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.