Environmental Health News

What's Working

  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

#634 - Liability For Global Warming, 20-Jan-1999

For the past decade a small group of physicists, funded partly by oil
and coal companies, has been denying that the earth is being warmed by
humans burning oil, coal and gasoline. In the face of overwhelming
evidence, they have insisted that global warming may not be happening
at all.

For evidence they have relied chiefly on satellite measurements of the
temperature of the lower atmosphere, measurements that have revealed a
pattern of cooling, not warming, during the past 20 years.

In 1998 Dr. Frank Wentz of Remote Sensing Systems in Santa Rosa,
California, reported that those satellite measurements contain a
systematic error. Everyone involved had neglected to correct for the
fact that the satellites were slowly falling to earth, at about one
kilometer per year. With the systematic bias corrected, the data no
longer indicate that the atmosphere is cooling.

Now that the main scientific evidence against global warming has
disappeared, it will be interesting to see what arguments the energy
corporations come up with in 1999 to continue to evade legal liability
for global warming.[1]

There is much to evade: 1998 was by far the warmest year recorded
during the past 600 years (by thermometers, tree rings and ice cores) -
- nearly one degree Fahrenheit warmer than the second-warmest year,
which was 1997. The extreme warmth of 1998 was accompanied by the
following signs of "climate chaos" (as reported by the British NEW
SCIENTIST magazine): record-setting forest fires in Florida, Indonesia,
Brazil, Russia, and southern Europe; bush fires in northern Australia;
floods and accompanying mudslides in California and coastal Peru and
Ecuador (where 50,000 were left homeless); major flooding in east
Africa; Hurricane Mitch, which killed more than 20,000 people in
Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador and devastated the economies of
central America; drought in New Guinea; intense drought and famine in
southern Sudan; drought in central America that left the Panama Canal
too shallow for many ships to pass through; failed coffee crops in
Indonesia and in Ethiopia; failed sugar and rice crops in Thailand;
failed cocoa and rubber crops in Malaysia; cotton crop failure in
Uganda; and warm ocean currents that reduced the Peruvian fish catch by
45%.[2]

The NEW SCIENTIST reports that "human disease is emerging as one of the
most sensitive, and distressing, indicators, of climate change." (See
REHW #466, #467, #528.) As temperatures rise, mosquitoes that carry
disease are moving into new territory. Dengue fever -- also called
"break bone fever" because it is so painful -- is spreading throughout
the Americas and has reached Texas. In Kenya, the worst floods in years
unleashed an epidemic of water-borne cholera; and in Kenya's capital
city, Nairobi (headquarters of the United Nations Environment Program),
mosquitoes are now transmitting malaria to humans.

We favor the idea, floated early last year, to stop naming hurricanes
after individual humans and start naming them after oil companies. In
place of hurricane Alice or hurricane Hugo, we would have hurricane
Mobil and hurricane Exxon. A headline like "Exxon Kills 10,000, Leaves
50,000 Homeless" would have a certain salutary ring of truth to it.

=====

THE RAW POWER OF THE CORPORATION

During 1998, Americans were treated to a demonstration of the raw power
of the corporation. Corporations prefer never to flex their political
muscle in public, but sometimes it can't be helped.

During 1998, some 30 million pages of secret tobacco-industry documents
became public, revealing the following:

** According to an internal memo dated 1987, R.J. Reynolds designed a
fatter cigarette, intending to addict new customers as young as age 13.

** Another internal document revealed that Philip Morris investigated
the smoking habits of children as young as 12, hoping to addict as many
of them as possible.

** Brown and Williamson, owned by the British American Tobacco Company,
once considered a plan to produce cigarettes with a "cola-like taste."

** NEW SCIENTIST uncovered a plan by Philip Morris to hire scientists
as consultants to start a new scientific society to provide a forum
favorable to the tobacco industry's views. (The Tobacco Institute was
already functioning in that capacity, but its name clearly linked it to
the industry it served; evidently the tobacco corporations felt the
need for a new scientific society with a more independent appearance.)

** The St. Paul PIONEER PRESS revealed that the Tobacco Institute had
paid scientists to submit letters and articles to journals, to cast
doubt on studies linking second-hand smoke to disease. Scientists
willing to participate received $2000 to $5000 per letter and $10,000
per article. The articles and letters were edited by tobacco industry
lawyers prior to publication.

** It was shown conclusively during 1998 that, for years, the tobacco
companies have routinely manipulated the nicotine levels in tobacco
leaves to give smokers a bigger "hit,"[3] to keep them addicted.

** It was also revealed that numerous tobacco corporation executives
had lied openly and repeatedly to the media, the public, and while
testifying under oath to Congress. None of them was impeached or even
asked to apologize.

On the contrary: during 1998, the tobacco companies summoned the
attorneys general of 26 states to meet with them, negotiated with them
for five months in total secrecy (all public health specialists were
excluded from the negotiations), announced a deal on November 14, 1998,
and on that date gave the attorneys general of all the states one week
to take it or leave it.[4] The tobacco companies promised to pay $206
billion to the states over a 25 year period. Within the required 7
days, the states all sniveled into line and took Big Tobacco's money.

Let's see what a payment of $206 billion might mean for the big 4
tobacco companies, RJR Nabisco, Philip Morris, Lorillard, and British
American Tobacco (owner of Brown and Williamson Tobacco). Together the
four firms presently enjoy combined sales of roughly $38 billion per
year.[5] Here is a "worst case" from the viewpoint of the tobacco
corporations. Suppose they have 25 bad years and their earnings grow at
just 5% above the rate of inflation (which, historically, has been 3.1%
per year[6]). Over the next 25 years, they would earn a total of $3085
billion, of which they will donate $206 billion, or 6.6%, to the
states. Naturally the states will be worried that they won't get their
money (Maryland alone stands to get $4 billion), so they will be
reluctant to interfere with the business practices of the tobacco
companies during the 25-year period.

Of course the tobacco companies intend to increase their earnings
substantially faster than 5% above the rate of inflation. For example,
after the $206 billion settlement became public, Philip Morris said it
expected next year's earnings to exceed this year's by 9.5%. Wall
Street analysts have announced their consensus that Big Tobacco is a
good investment: buy and hold, they say. Big Tobacco is a good
investment because tobacco corporations have a carefully-thought-out
plan to addict several billion people in the Third World during the
next 25 years. That's where the states' $206 billion will come from.

The BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL estimates that tobacco today is killing
four million people each year, half in the rich nations and half in the
Third World. (In the U.S. today, 33% of all deaths of people between
the ages of 35 and 69 are attributable to tobacco.[7]) By the year
2030, tobacco is expected to be killing 10 million people each year,
70% of them in the Third World. As time goes on, the killing fields
will expand substantially. In China alone, 100 million young men alive
today will die at the hands of a tobacco company, according to the
BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL.[8]

So 7% of sales -- or perhaps far less, if Third World business develops
as planned -- is the total penalty the tobacco corporations will pay
for intentionally addicting hundreds of millions of children and young
adults to a product that kills nearly 50% of everyone who uses it as
directed.

In sum: with abundant evidence of criminal conduct and criminal
intentions on the public record for all to see, the combined power of
half the attorneys general of these United States could not bring Big
Tobacco to justice. Instead, Big Tobacco bought them off, all of them.

Now THAT is a convincing demonstration of raw corporate power.

=====

LIFE IS SWEET

A study published in 1998 revealed that men who eat candy in moderation
live longer than those who don't.[9] Candy is defined as sugar
confections or chocolate. Subjects of the study were 7841 men who
entered Harvard University between 1916 and 1950 and who responded to a
health survey in 1988.

Those who ate candy differed in several respects from those who didn't.
Those who didn't eat candy were older, leaner, and more likely to smoke
tobacco compared to those who did. Those who didn't eat candy ate more
red meat, ate fewer vegetables or green salad, and were more likely to
take vitamin or mineral supplements, compared to those who ate candy.

After adjusting for age and cigarette smoking, those who ate candy
lived an average of nearly a year (0.92 years) longer than those who
didn't.

However, those who ate candy in moderation lived even longer than those
who ate a lot of it. ("A lot" was defined as "three or more times each
week.") Moderation in all things...

Authors of the study speculate that it may be chocolate that is
providing life-prolonging benefits to candy eaters. Previous studies
have shown that chocolate reduces the danger of heart attack. (See REHW
#527.) They compare chocolate to red wine, which is also believed to
reduce heart disease, when used in moderation.[1 0]

Chocolate is also known to act as an antioxidant (tieing up "free
radical" oxygen molecules).[1 1] Antioxidants are believed to reduce
the dangers of both heart disease and cancer.

--Peter Montague (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)

=====

[1] "Falling hero breaks sceptics' hearts," NEW SCIENTIST Vol. 160, No.
2165/6/7 (December 19 & 26, 1998, and January 2, 1999), pg. 32.

[2] Fred Pearce, "Can't stand the heat," NEW SCIENTIST Vol. 160, No.
2165/6/7 (December 19 & 26, 1998, and January 2, 1999), pgs. 32-33.

[3] David Concar, "The Smoking Gun," NEW SCIENTIST Vol. 160, No.
2165/6/7 (December 19 & 26, 1998, and January 2, 1999), pgs. 30-31.

[4]Saundra Torry and John Schwartz, "Big Tobacco, State Officials Reach
$206 Billion Deal; Pact Needs Approval of Dozens of States," WASHINGTON
POST November 14, 1998, pg. A1.

[5] Data from the Yahoo finance web site, www.yahoo.com.

[6] SBBI STOCKS, BONDS, BILLS, AND INFLATION 1998 YEARBOOK (Chicago,
Ill.: Ibbotson Associates, 1998), pg. 31. ISBN 1-882864-07-7.

[7] Alan D. Lopez, "Counting the dead in China," BRITISH MEDICAL
JOURNAL Vol. 317 (November 21, 1998), pg. 1399.

[8] Bo-Qi Liu and others, "Emerging tobacco hazards in China: 1.
Retrospective proportional mortality study of one million deaths,"
BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL Vol. 317, No. 7170 (November 21, 1998), pgs.
1411-1422. And Shi-Ru Niu and others, "Emerging tobacco hazards in
China: 2. Early mortality results from a prospective study," BRITISH
MEDICAL JOURNAL Vol. 317, No. 7170 (November 21, 1998), pgs. 1423-1424.

[9] I-Min Lee and Ralph S. Paffenbarger Jr., "Life is sweet: candy
consumption and longevity," BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL Vol. 317, No. 7174
(December 19-26, 1998), pgs. 1683-1684.

[10] Richard Doll, "One for the heart," BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL Vol.
315 (1997), pgs. 1664-1668.

[11] A.L. Waterhouse and others, "Antioxidants in Chocolate," LANCET
Vol. 348 (1996), pg. 834.

Descriptor terms: global warming; climate change; oil corporations;
coal corporations; fossil fuels; floods; famines; forest fires;
mudslides; hurricanes; crop failures; malaria; dengue fever; global
warming and human health; tobacco; candy; chocolate; diet and health;