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#867 -- Justice and Your Health Department, 10-Aug-2006


We hope to see you at the precautionary action training in Minneapolis
Sept. 8-10. Scholarships are still available. Get details here.


Rachel's Democracy & Health News #867

"Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?"

Thursday, August 10, 2006...............Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.

Featured stories in this issue...

Justice and Your Health Department
  Your ENVIRONMENTAL agency is supposed to protect you and the
  natural environment from harm. But your local HEALTH department is
  supposed to create and maintain conditions that allow people to be
  healthy -- a far more powerful mandate. Your health department is also
  supposed to maintain vigilance to ensure social justice. But what if
  your health department doesn't do these thing? What then?
A Moral Code for a Finite World
  It seems pretty clear that our present industrial civilization is
  destroying the capacity of the Earth to sustain humans. Therefore,
  we need a new ethics for a finite world, an ethics of the commons.
  This article begins a debate that we all need to have.
What Mexican Activists Can Teach Us About Poverty and the Planet
  People are an important part of an ecosystem. If they are poor and
  unhealthy, then the ecosystem is poor and unhealthy. Many Mexican
  activists know this too well, but the closest thing the mainstream
  environmental movement in the United States has to this integrated
  people-and-poverty approach is the often-neglected environmental
  justice movement.
New York Activist Faces Life in Prison
  The old anti-communist "red scare" is being replaced by a new
  "green scare."
Military Waste in Your Drinking Water
  It's an ugly truth that manufacturing weapons to kill abroad also
  kills at home. In other words, the military is killing some of the
  people it is supposed to be protecting. After you read this article,
  get more details from the Military Toxics Project.
Chicago Residents Are Mobilizing -- and You're Invited
  Chicago is home to two coal burning power plants and Illinois is
  home to 25. Their pollution pumps mercury, soot and smog into the air,
  causing asthma and brain damage to thousands of children. Now
  residents are organizing to fight back. Join up!


From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #867, Aug. 10, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


By Peter Montague

Community-based activists may be missing an important opportunity if
they don't explore alliances with their local health department. Some
health departments are like dinosaurs, but many are not. Your local
health department is most likely connected to the national
organization, NACCHO (National Association of County and City Health
Officials). This week let's look at just two of the many resolutions
NACCHO has adopted and published in recent times:

ON HUMAN RIGHTS (Resolution 01-10, dated June 27, 2001)

WHEREAS, the mission of public health is "to fulfill society's
interest in assuring conditions in which people can be healthy";[1]

WHEREAS, "the values that underlie public health are the values of
human rights and there is an undeniable relationship between
individual rights, human dignity, and the human condition";[2] and

WHEREAS, Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, states
"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the
health and well-being of himself and of his/her family, including
food, clothing, housing, and medical care";[3] and

WHEREAS, "Vigilance to prevent human rights violations and to ensure
social justice for all people is essential to the advancement of human
development and the prevention of human suffering";[4] and

WHEREAS, according to the World Health Organization, more than 40
percent of all people who died in the world died prematurely, in part
due to major inequalities in access to basic human needs, poverty,
poor sanitary conditions, and violence;[5]

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the National Association of County and
City Health Officials (NACCHO) will advocate for the protection of
human rights and social justice as a guiding principle in public
health practice, research and policies; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACCHO will work to incorporate human
rights, social justice, and efforts to eliminate disparities in health
status into public health curricula, workforce development
initiatives, and program evaluation measures; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACCHO will collaborate with partner
organizations, government agencies, global initiatives, and community
groups in the prevention of human suffering and the promotion of
social justice, health, equity, and sustainable development. [End of
Resolution 01-10]

And this one:

SUPPORTING ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE (Resolution 00-07 Nov. 12, 2000)

WHEREAS, throughout the nation there is an overrepresentation of toxic
waste sites and contaminated properties in communities of color and
low-income communities[6], and race is the most significant variable
that has been associated with the siting of hazardous waste
facilities, even after controlling for urbanization, regional
differences and socio-economic status[7]; and

WHEREAS, penalties imposed under hazardous waste laws at sites having
the greatest white population were about 500 percent higher than
penalties imposed at sites with the greatest people of color
population[8]; and

WHEREAS, serious health concerns and exposures have resulted from the
siting of toxic waste and other contaminated facilities in communities
of color and low-income communities, adding to other threats posed by
poor quality housing, absence of mass transit, unhealthy working
conditions, poverty, and high levels of pollution production[9]; and

WHEREAS, urban sprawl and discriminatory land use decisions create
economic and racial polarization, segregated neighborhoods and
deteriorating neighborhoods in people of color and low-income
communities,[10] thereby increasing health and safety risks, health
disparities, air and water pollution, poor quality housing, unstable
neighborhoods, unsustainable ecosystems, and poor quality of life;[11]

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the National Association of County and
City Health Officials (NACCHO) supports the fundamental right to
political, economic, cultural and environmental self-determination of
all peoples, and the right to be free from ecological destruction; and
affirms the need for urban and rural ecological policies to clean up
and rebuild our cities and rural areas in balance with nature while
assuring healthy communities; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACCHO facilitates local public health
agency efforts to ensure that no communities suffer from
disproportional exposures to environmental health hazards; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that NACCHO actively supports programs,
policies, and activities that build the capacity to identify
disproportionate sitings of facilities, discriminatory land use and
zoning laws, and to assure nondiscriminatory compliance with all
environmental, health and safety laws in order to assure equal
protection of the public health; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACCHO supports public and corporate
policy based on mutual respect and justice for all peoples, free from
any form of discrimination or bias; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACCHO supports universal protection from
unnecessary radiation exposure resulting from nuclear testing,
extraction, production and disposal of toxic/hazardous wastes and
poisons that threatens the fundamental right to clean air, land,
water, and food; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACCHO supports the principle that
producers of hazardous waste and materials be held strictly
accountable to the people and responsible for containment and
detoxification; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACCHO supports the right of all people
potentially affected to participate as equal partners at every level
of decision-making about hazardous waste and materials, including
needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement and
evaluation; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACCHO recognizes a special legal and
ethical relationship of the federal, state, and local governments and
Native Peoples through treaties, agreements, compacts, and covenants
affirming sovereignty and self-determination; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACCHO affirms the right of all workers to
a safe and healthy work environment; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACCHO calls for the education of present
and future generations which emphasizes social and environmental
issues, based on our experience, our concern for health, and an
appreciation of our diverse cultural perspectives; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NACCHO supports the right to ethical,
balanced and responsible uses of land and renewable resources in the
interest of a sustainable planet for humans and other living things.
[End of Resolution 00-07]

In sum, NACCHO recognizes that

** Everyone has a right to an environment that promotes health; this
is much more than merely having a right to an environment free of
toxicants. This is the difference between your environmental agency
and your health agency -- the environmental agency aims to "protect"
health from bad things. Your health department has a mandate to
promote health by making good things happen.

** Everyone has a right to a standard of living adequate for health
and well-being; your environmental agency has no mandate to worry
about your standard of living, but your health department does.

** Social justice is the guiding principle of public health practice
and policies;

** Vigilance is necessary to ensure social justice;

** Local health departments "will collaborate" with partner
organizations, including community groups -- perhaps your community

** In communities of color and low-income communities, toxic waste
sites have been piled on top of other threats posed by poor quality
housing, the absence of mass transit, unhealthy working conditions,
poverty, and high levels of pollution. Thus your health department
recognizes that toxic waste and pollution don't occur in a vacuum --
they are part of something now being called "cumulative risk."

** Sprawl and discriminatory land-use decisions (to keep the poor out
of suburbs, mainly by refusing to provide affordable housing) have
increased (a) health and safety risks for the poor and people of
color, (b) health disparities, (c) air and water pollution, (d) poor
quality housing, (e) unstable neighborhoods, (f) unsustainable
ecosystems, and (g) poor quality of life. In other words, your health
department "gets" that sprawl does more than chew up farmland --
sprawl makes people sick and ruins real lives of real people.

** Supports the "fundamental right" to be free from ecological

** Facilitates local agency efforts to ensure that no communities
suffer from disproportional exposures to environmental health hazards;

** Supports the right of all people potentially affected to
participate as equal partners at every level of decision-making about
hazardous waste and materials, including needs assessment, planning,
implementation, enforcement and evaluation. In other words, your
health department "gets it" about the importance of democracy.

What if your health department doesn't behave this way?

If your local health department doesn't seem to measure up to the
expectations outlined by NACCHO, there's a new tool you can use to
actually measure your health department's performance -- a set of
minimum functions expected of all local health departments, created
by NACCHO. The minimum "core functions" of a health department are
spelled out officially here -- and you can use them as a benchmark
for measuring the performance of your local health department. You say
they don't measure up?

Well, then -- that's good ammunition for a local political fight,
isn't it? A good health department is worth fighting for -- and worth
going to bat for when their budget is under threat.


[1] Institute of Medicine, The Future of Public Health. Washington,
DC: National Academy Press; 1988.

[2] Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, July 14, 1992 ILM.
1992; 31:873.

[3] Note, this was also echoed in the constitution of the World Health
Organization and was ratified by subsequent international covenants
and conventions.

[4] American Journal of Public Health, May 2000, Vol. 90 No. 5,
Rosalia Rodriguez-Garcia, PhD, MSc, Mohammad N. Akhter, MD, MPH

[5] World Health Organization. World Health Report. Geneva, 1998

[6] Benjamin Goldman, Not Just Prosperity: Achieving Sustainability
with Environmental Justice. Washington, DC: National Wildlife
Federation, 1994; Carita Shanklin, "Comment, Pathfinder: Environmental
Justice," 24 Ecology Law Quarterly 333 (1997); Commission for Racial
Justice, United Church of Christ, "Toxic Waste and Race in the United
States, a National Report on the Racial and Socio-Economic
Characteristics of Communities with Hazardous Waste Sites," Public
Data Access, Inc., 1987.

[7] Paul Mohai and Bunyan Bryant. "Environmental Justice: Weighing
Race and Class As Factors in the Distribution of Environmental
Hazards," 63 University of Colorado Law Review 921 (1992).

[8] The National Law Journal, "Unequal Protection, the Racial Divide
in Environmental Law, " Sept. 21, 1992.

[9] Robert Bullard, Unequal Protection: Environmental Justice and
Communities of Color. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1994;. Charles
Lee, Environmental Justice, Urban Revitalization, and Brownfields: The
Search for Authentic Signs of Hope. A Report on the "Public Dialogues
on Urban Revitalization and Brownfields: Envisioning Healthy and
Sustainable Communities. Washington, DC: National Environmental
Justice Advisory Council Waste and Facility Siting Subcommittee.
December, 1996. EPA 500 R-96-002. Also appears as "Environmental
Justice: Creating A Vision for Achieving Healthy and Sustainable
Communities," in Benjamin Amick and Rima Rudd eds. Social Change and
Health Improvement: Case Studies for Action, forthcoming, 1999; Craig
Anthony Arnold, "Planning Milagros: Environmental Justice and Land Use
Regulation," 76(1) Denver University Law Review 1998: 1.

[10] Michael Gelobter, "The Meaning of Environmental Injustice," 21(3)
Fordham Urban Law Journal (Spring, 1994): 841-56; Robert Bullard,
Glenn S. Johnson and Angel O. Torres. Sprawl City. Washington, DC:
Island Press, 2000; Paul Stanton Kibel, "The Urban Nexus: Open Space,
Brownfields, and Justice," 25 Boston College Environmental Affairs Law
Review (1998): 589.

[11] Carl Anthony, Suburbs Are Making Us Sick: Health Implications of
Suburban Sprawl and Inner City Abandonment on Communities of Color.
Environmental Justice Health Research Needs report Series. Atlanta:
Environmental Justice Resource Center, 1998; David Bollier, How Smart
Growth Can Stop Sprawl. Washington, DC: Essential Books, 1998; Craig
Anthony Arnold, "Planning Milagros: Environmental Justice and Land Use
Regulation," 76(1) Denver University Law Review (1998): 1-152.

Return to Table of Contents


From: Chronicle of Higher Education, Nov. 15, 2002
[Printer-friendly version]


By Herschel Elliott and Richard D. Lamm

What if global warming is a reality, and expanding human activity is
causing irreparable harm to the ecosystem? What if the demands of a
growing human population and an expanding global economy are causing
our oceans to warm up, our ice caps to melt, our supply of edible fish
to decrease, our rain forests to disappear, our coral reefs to die,
our soils to be eroded, our air and water to be polluted, and our
weather to include a growing number of floods and droughts? What if it
is sheer hubris to believe that our species can grow without limits?
What if the finite nature of the earth's resources imposes limits on
what human beings can morally do? What if our present moral code is
ecologically unsustainable?

A widely cited article from the journal Science gives us one answer.
Garrett Hardin's "The Tragedy of the Commons" (1968) demonstrated
that when natural resources are held in common -- freely available to
everyone for the taking -- the incentives that normally direct human
activity lead people to steadily increase their exploitation of the
resources until they are inadequate to meet human needs. The
exploiters generally do not intend to cause any harm; they are merely
taking care of their own needs, or those of others in want.
Nevertheless, the entire system moves inexorably to disaster. Everyone
in the world shares in the resulting tragedy of the commons.

Today, our standard of living, our economic system, and the political
stability of our planet all require the increasing use of energy and
natural resources. In addition, much of our political, economic, and
social thinking assumes a continuous expansion of economic activity,
with little or no restraint on our use of resources. We all feel
entitled to grow richer every year. Social justice requires an
expanding pie to share with those who are less fortunate. Progress is
growth; the economies of developed nations require steady increases in

Every environment is finite. At a certain point, the members of an
increasing population become so crowded that they stop benefiting each
other; by damaging the environment that supports everyone, by limiting
the space available to each person, and by increasing the amount of
waste and pollution, their activity begins to cause harm... And if the
population continues to expand, its material demands may so severely
damage the environment as to cause a tragedy of the commons -- the
collapse of both environment and society.

What if such a scenario is unsustainable? What if we need an ethics
for a finite world, an ethics of the commons?

It is not important that you agree with the premise. What is important
is that you help debate the alternatives. An ethics of the commons
would require a change in the criteria by which moral claims are

You may believe that current rates of population growth and economic
expansion can go on forever -- but debate with us what alternative
ethical theories would arise if they cannot. Our thesis is that any
ethical system is mistaken and immoral if its practice would cause an
environmental collapse.

Many people assume that moral laws and principles are absolutely
certain, that we can know the final moral truth. If moral knowledge is
certain, then factual evidence is irrelevant, for it cannot limit or
refute what is morally certain.

Our ethics and concepts of human rights have been formulated for a
world of a priori reasoning and unchanging conclusions. Kant spoke for
that absolutist ethical tradition when he argued that only knowledge
that is absolutely certain can justify the slavish obedience that
moral law demands. He thought he had found rational grounds to justify
the universal and unchanging character of moral law. Moral knowledge,
he concluded, is a priori and certain. It tells us, for example, that
murder, lying, and stealing are wrong. The fact that those acts may
sometimes seem to benefit someone cannot diminish the absolute
certainty that they are wrong. Thus, for example, it is a
contradiction to state that murder can sometimes be right, for, by its
very nature, murder is wrong.

Many human rights are positive rights that involve the exploitation of
resources. (Negative rights restrain governments and don't require
resources. For example, governments shouldn't restrict our freedom of
speech or tell us how to pray.) Wherever in the world a child is born,
that child has all the inherent human rights -- including the right to
have food, housing, and medical care, which others must provide. When
positive rights are accorded equally to everyone, they first allow and
then support constant growth, of both population and the exploitation
of natural resources.

That leads to a pragmatic refutation of the belief that moral
knowledge is certain and infallible. If a growing population faces a
scarcity of resources, then an ethics of universal human rights with
equality and justice for all will fail. Those who survive will
inevitably live by a different ethics.

Once the resources necessary to satisfy all human needs become
insufficient, our options will be bracketed by two extremes. One is to
ration resources so that everyone may share the inadequate supplies
equally and justly.

The other is to have people act like players in a game of musical
chairs. In conditions of scarcity, there will be more people than
chairs, so some people will be left standing when the music stops.
Some -- the self-sacrificing altruists -- will refuse to take the food
that others need, and so will perish. Others, however, will not play
by the rules. Rejecting the ethics of a universal and unconditional
moral law, they will fight to get the resources they and their
children need to live.

Under neither extreme, nor all the options in between, does it make
sense to analyze the problem through the lens of human rights. The
flaw in an ethical system of universal human rights, unqualified moral
obligations, and equal justice for all can be stated in its logically
simplest form: If to try to live by those principles under conditions
of scarcity causes it to be impossible to live at all, then the
practice of that ethics will cease. Scarcity renders such formulations
useless and ultimately causes such an ethics to become extinct.

We have described not a world that we want to see, but one that we
fear might come to be. Humans cannot have a moral duty to deliver the
impossible, or to supply something if the act of supplying it harms
the ecosystem to the point where life on earth becomes unsustainable.
Moral codes, no matter how logical and well reasoned, and human
rights, no matter how compassionate, must make sense within the
limitations of the ecosystem; we cannot disregard the factual
consequences of our ethics. If acting morally compromises the
ecosystem, then moral behavior must be rethought. Ethics cannot demand
a level of resource use that the ecosystem cannot tolerate.

The consequences of human behavior change as the population grows.
Most human activities have a point of moral reversal, before which
they may cause great benefit and little harm, but after which they may
cause so much harm as to overwhelm their benefits. Here are a few
representative examples, the first of which is often cited when
considering Garrett Hardin's work:

In a nearly empty lifeboat, rescuing a drowning shipwreck victim
causes benefit: It saves the life of the victim, and it adds another
person to help manage the boat. But in a lifeboat loaded to the
gunwales, rescuing another victim makes the boat sink and causes only
harm: Everyone drowns.

When the number of cars on a road is small, traveling by private car
is a great convenience to all. But as the cars multiply, a point of
reversal occurs: The road now contains so many cars that such travel
is inconvenient. The number of private cars may increase to the point
where everyone comes to a halt. Thus, in some conditions, car travel
benefits all. In other conditions, car travel makes it impossible for
anyone to move. It can also pump so much carbon dioxide into the
atmosphere that it alters the world's climate.

Economic growth can be beneficial when land, fuel, water, and other
needed resources are abundant. But it becomes harmful when those
resources become scarce, or when exploitation causes ecological
collapse. Every finite environment has a turning point, at which
further economic growth would produce so much trash and pollution that
it would change from producing benefit to causing harm. After that
point is reached, additional growth only increases scarcity and
decreases overall productivity. In conditions of scarcity, economic
growth has a negative impact.

Every environment is finite. Technology can extend but not eliminate
limits. An acre of land can support only a few mature sugar maples;
only so many radishes can grow in a five-foot row of dirt. Similar
constraints operate in human affairs. When the population in any
environment is small and natural resources plentiful, every additional
person increases the welfare of all. As more and more people are
added, they need increasingly to exploit the finite resources of the
environment. At a certain point, the members of an increasing
population become so crowded that they stop benefiting each other; by
damaging the environment that supports everyone, by limiting the space
available to each person, and by increasing the amount of waste and
pollution, their activity begins to cause harm. That is, population
growth changes from good to bad. And if the population continues to
expand, its material demands may so severely damage the environment as
to cause a tragedy of the commons -- the collapse of both environment
and society.

Those cases illustrate the fact that many activities are right --
morally justified -- when only a limited number of people do them. The
same activities become wrong -- immoral -- when populations increase,
and more and more resources are exploited.

Few people seem to understand the nature of steady growth. Any rate of
growth has a doubling time: the period of time it takes for a given
quantity to double. It is a logical inevitability -- not a matter
subject to debate -- that it takes only a relatively few doublings for
even a small number to equal or exceed any finite quantity, even a
large one.

One way to look at the impact of growth is to think of a resource that
would last 100 years if people consumed it at a constant rate. If the
rate of consumption increased 5 percent each year, the resource would
last only 36 years. A supply adequate for 1,000 years at a constant
rate would last 79 years at a 5-percent rate of growth; a 10,000-year
supply would last only 125 years at the same rate. Just as no trees
grow to the sky, no growth rate is ultimately sustainable.

Because the natural resources available for human use are finite,
exponential growth will use them up in a relatively small number of
doublings. The only possible questions are those of timing: When will
the resources be too depleted to support the population? When will
human society, which is now built on perpetual growth, fail?

The mathematics makes it clear: Any human activity that uses matter or
energy must reach a steady state (or a periodic cycle of boom and
bust, which over the long run is the same thing). If not, it
inevitably will cease to exist. The moral of the story is obvious: Any
system of economics or ethics that requires or even allows steady
growth in the exploitation of resources is designed to collapse. It is
a recipe for disaster.

It is self-deception for anyone to believe that historical evidence
contradicts mathematical necessity. The fact that the food supply
since the time of Malthus has increased faster than the human
population does not refute Malthus's general thesis: that an
increasing population must, at some time, need more food, water, and
other vital resources than the finite earth or creative technology can
supply in perpetuity. In other words, the finitude of the earth makes
it inevitable that any behavior causing growth in population or in the
use of resources -- including human moral, political, and economic
behavior -- will sooner or later be constrained by scarcity.

Unlike current ethics, the ethics of the commons builds on the
assumption of impending scarcity. Scarcity requires double-entry
bookkeeping: Whenever someone gains goods or services that use matter
or energy, someone else must lose matter or energy. If the starving
people of a distant nation get food aid from the United States, then
the United States loses that amount of food; it also loses the
fertility of the soil that produced the food. To a point, that
arrangement is appropriate and workable. Soon, however, helping one
group of starving people may well mean that we cannot help others.
Everything that a government does prevents it from doing something
else. When you have to balance a budget, you can say yes to some
important services only by saying no to others. Similarly, the ethics
of the commons must rely on trade-offs, not rights. It must specify
who or what gains, and who or what loses.

Indeed, in a finite world full of mutually dependent beings, you never
can do just one thing. Every human activity that uses matter or energy
pulls with it a tangled skein of unexpected consequences. Conditions
of crowding and scarcity can cause moral acts to change from
beneficial to harmful, or even disastrous; acts that once were moral
can become immoral. We must constantly assess the complex of
consequences, intended or not, to see if the overall benefit of
seemingly moral acts outweighs their overall harm.

As Hardin suggested, the collapse of any common resource can be
avoided only by limiting its use. The ethics of the commons builds on
his idea that the best and most humane way of avoiding the tragedy of
the commons is mutual constraint, mutually agreed on and mutually

Most important, the ethics of the commons must prevent a downward
spiral to scarcity. One of its first principles is that the human
population must reach and maintain a stable state -- a state in which
population growth does not slowly but inexorably diminish the quality
of, and even the prospect for, human life. Another principle is that
human exploitation of natural resources must remain safely below the
maximum levels that a healthy and resilient ecosystem can sustain. A
third is the provision of a margin of safety that prevents natural
disasters like storms, floods, droughts, earthquakes, and volcanic
eruptions from causing unsupportable scarcity.

Not to limit human behavior in accordance with those principles would
be not only myopic, but also ultimately a moral failure. To let excess
human fertility or excess demand for material goods and services cause
a shortage of natural resources is as immoral as theft and murder, and
for the same reasons: They deprive others of their property, the
fruits of their labors, their quality of life, or even their lives.

The ethics of the commons is a pragmatic ethics. It denies the
illusion that human moral behavior occurs in a never-never land, where
human rights and duties remain unchanging, and scarcity can never
cancel moral duties. It does not allow a priori moral arguments to
dictate behavior that must inevitably become extinct. It accepts the
necessity of constraints on both production and reproduction. As we
learn how best to protect the current and future health of the earth's
ecosystems, the ethics of the commons can steadily make human life
more worth living.

As populations increase and environments deteriorate, the moral laws
that humans have relied on for so long can no longer solve the most
pressing problems of the modern world. Human rights are an inadequate
and inappropriate basis on which to distribute scarce resources, and
we must propose and debate new ethical principles.


Herschel Elliott is an emeritus associate professor of philosophy at
the University of Florida. Richard D. Lamm, a former governor of
Colorado, is a university professor at the University of Denver and
executive director of its Center for Public Policy and Contemporary

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From: Grist, Mar. 7, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


What Mexican activists can teach the U.S. about poverty and the planet

By Oliver Bernstein

As the border organizer for Sierra Club's Environmental Justice
program, I bounce back and forth across the U.S.-Mexico border
supporting grassroots environmental activists. More than the food,
language, or currency, the biggest difference from one side to the
other is what issues are considered "environmental." Perhaps nowhere
else on earth is there such a long border between such a rich country
and such a struggling one, and this disparity seems to carry over to
which issues take priority.

For example, Laguna La Escondida in Reynosa, Mexico, a water source
for the surrounding community whose name means Hidden Lagoon, is also
an important migratory bird stopover point. Reynosa citizens concerned
about their environment are working to clean up the lagoon to protect
their families' health from the waste dumped into its waters.
Neighboring Texas citizens concerned about their environment are
working to clean up the lagoon to prevent habitat destruction for
hundreds of migratory birds. This binational effort is a terrific
start, but it avoids confronting the issue of poverty. For all their
goodwill and concern, the Texans' narrow focus on bird habitat
prevents many of them from seeing the bigger problem -- human habitat.

Since the enactment of NAFTA in 1994, rapid industrialization along
the border has led to some of the fastest population growth in either
country. Almost 12 million people now live in Mexico and the United
States along the nearly 2,000-mile border, and by 2020 that number
could reach 20 million. This is not "smart growth," but instead a
ferocious growth to support the movement of consumer goods.

NAFTA was supposed to bring economic prosperity to Mexico, but the
poverty and human suffering along the border tell a different story.
Mexico's more than 3,000 border maquiladoras -- the mostly foreign-
owned manufacturing and assembly plants -- send about 90 percent of
their products to the United States. The Spanish word "maquilar" means
"to assemble," but it is also slang for "to do someone else's work for
them." This is what's really going on; the maquiladora sector produced
more than $100 billion in goods last year, but the typical maquiladora
worker earns between $1 and $3 per hour, including benefits and
bonuses. Special tariff-free zones along the border mean that many
maquiladoras pay low taxes, limiting the funds that could improve
quality of life.

Those who don't work in the maquiladoras live in their shadows. The
industrial growth has drawn more people and development to the region,
putting additional pressure on communities and the environment. Towns
that until recently were small agricultural settlements now produce
toxic chemicals for a worldwide market. Informal, donkey-drawn garbage
carts cannot keep up with the waste stream from booming border cities.
The natural environment suffers, indeed, but the most immediate
suffering is human.

I recently visited a community near Matamoros, at the eastern end of
the border, where the streets and canals were filled with trash.
Rather than a classic litter campaign, the local activists explained
that their biggest concern was the roads. If the local authorities
don't pave the road, they told me, the garbage trucks cannot get in
and pick up the waste. Even burning the waste would be preferable to
having to live with it in their homes, they say. The activists lament
the polluted canals and the litter, but their focus is on the people.
Without regular pickups, families live with trash piling up in their
houses, and their children get sick.

South of Tijuana, on the western end of the border, a small
environmental group advocates for more drains and sewers. Heavy
seasonal rains flood the valleys and bring sewage and trash tumbling
down to the beaches. While a goal of the local campaign may be to have
cleaner beaches and unpolluted water, the way to reach that goal is by
talking about quality-of-life issues like proper drainage from homes,
regular trash pickup in outlying areas, and safe drinking water --
something that 12 percent of border residents do not have. In the
United States, these issues are all too often considered a given,
lumped into the category of "basic services." But even in the U.S.
there are people who suffer as we ignore their poverty, having decided
that it is not an environmental issue.

People are an important part of an ecosystem. If they are poor and
unhealthy, then the ecosystem is poor and unhealthy. Many Mexican
activists know this too well, but the closest thing the mainstream
environmental movement in the United States has to this integrated
people-and-poverty approach is the often neglected environmental-
justice movement. The EJ movement works for justice for people of
color and low-income communities that have been targeted by polluters.
The EJ movement is our salvation -- but we must stop viewing it as
extracurricular to the business of conservation.

It's time to support the right to a clean and healthful environment
for all people. This means that residents in the border region should
not suffer disproportionately from environmental health problems
because of the color of their skin, the level of their income, or the
side of the international line on which they live. It also means that
environmental activists should not look past human poverty to save an
endearing species, but must look instead at the big picture.

The cries of intense poverty and injustice across the world are
getting louder. It is time for the environmental movement to listen,
and to act.

- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -

Oliver Bernstein is a Sierra Club environmental-justice organizer
along the U.S.-Mexico Border.

Return to Table of Contents


From: Satya Magazine, Aug. 1, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


By friends and family of Daniel McGowan

On December 7th, 2005, Daniel McGowan, a highly respected and long-
time environmental and social justice activist from New York, was
unjustly arrested by federal marshals as part of a nationwide
crackdown on activists. He is being charged in federal court with
multiple counts of arson, property destruction and conspiracy,
relating to two direct actions that occurred in Oregon in 2001. Daniel
maintains his innocence and has pled not guilty to all charges. He is
facing a minimum of life in prison if convicted on all counts.

Daniel's arrest is part of "Operation Backfire," a well- coordinated,
multi-state sweep of environmental activists by the federal
government. Many of the charges, including Daniel's, are for cases
whose statute of limitations were about to expire. Fifteen people have
since been indicted by a grand jury on 65 charges in connection with
17 direct actions that took place between 1996 and 2001 in Oregon,
Washington, California, Colorado and Wyoming. This FBI offensive
appears as just the beginning of a nationwide "green scare."

The Green Scare

The term "green scare" was first introduced in 2002 in the zine Spirit
of Freedom referring to tactics used by the U.S. government to attack
environmental and social justice activists. In the U.S. today,
"terrorism" has replaced "communism" as the catchphrase for all the
evils in the world. Where the red scare once saw leftwingers
stigmatized as "communists," today we have a green scare where
environmentalists and animal rights activists are being targeted as
"eco-terrorists" by the media, business interests and politicians-
including Attorneys General Gonzales and Ashcroft.

Since 2001, there has been a rise in the number of environmentalists
arrested and a dramatic lengthening of the potential sentences they
face. Activists who have never physically harmed or injured anyone now
risk being arrested and charged with crimes carrying life sentences
(or, in some cases, a charge sheet that could result in a 300-plus
year prison sentence).

Similar to the campaign of Senator Joe McCarthy and the House Un-
American Activities Committee (HUAC) of the 1950s, today, legislators,
property rights advocates and industry spokespeople are using threats
and propaganda to crush political resistance. History is repeating
itself and one cannot help but wonder which of our friends and family
will be next.

Anti-Terror Legislation

In the current political climate, it is virtually impossible for the
accused to get a fair trial once the specter of "terrorism" has been
raised. This climate of fear is reinforced by legislative changes that
have considerably broadened the definition of a "terrorist."

Lobbying by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a powerful
right wing advocacy group funded by over 300 corporations, is
successfully pushing for legislation defining terrorism as an act by
"two or more persons organized for the purpose of supporting any
politically motivated activity intended to obstruct or deter any
person from participating in an activity involving animals or natural
resources." It includes such acts as property defacement -- which is
already illegal -- within the scope of terrorism, and holds the
potential to include other forms of legal protest within the same
definition. So far ten states have already passed legislation defining
the destruction of property as terrorism.

Additionally, fake grassroots groups, or "astroturf" groups like the
deceptively-named Stop Eco Violence, the Center for Consumer Freedom
and the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, have organized
letter writing campaigns to Northwest politicians lobbying to push
legislation that would increase penalties for environmentalist direct

At a federal level, Section 802 of the USA PATRIOT (Uniting and
Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to
Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act defines domestic terrorism as an
act which intends to "intimidate or coerce a civilian population,"
"influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion," or
"affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination
or kidnapping." But, as the American Civil Liberties Union has pointed
out, the breadth of the first two definitions means that "Greenpeace,
Operation Rescue, Vieques Island and WTO protesters, and the [Earth]
Liberation Front have all recently engaged in activities that could
subject them to being investigated as engaging in domestic terrorism."

Although none of the defendants in this case are technically charged
with domestic terrorism, the government has used the term extensively
in the media to discredit the activists involved.

The larger aim of such legislation is to spread fear and distrust in
the activist community with the hope that it will act as a deterrent
and make it hard for us to support our friends and family when they
are targeted.

It is essential that we combat this misrepresentation of our movement
and not allow people who are arrested to fade away and be forgotten.
These legal (and illegal) measures look likely to make an already bad
situation worse. There are now so many pending cases against activists
that it is impossible to mention them all here. We urgently need to
provide arrested activists with moral support so they know that people
are aware of their situation and feel less isolated, and we need to
ensure that fear does not spread as our movement continues to be
targeted under this green scare.

An Activist in Need

For years Daniel McGowan was behind the scenes keeping countless
campaigns afloat. He worked on old growth protection campaigns,
fighting to keep trees over 2,000 years old from becoming toilet
paper. He ran successful Burma divestment campaigns. He did extensive
education and press work about genetically modified organisms. He
provided active support for indigenous people, including the Dineh,
the Ogoni and the Uwa people, all the while supporting political
prisoners all over the world.

During the 2004 Republican National Convention, Daniel decided to
publicly organize demonstrations, fundraisers and benefit shows as
part of the RNCnotwelcome.org protest mobilization. Daniel is an
expressive, caring, thoughtful and compassionate person and his
tireless dedication and support for political prisoners makes it all
the more moving that we are now being called upon to provide the same
support for him.

To find out how you can help Daniel McGowan, visit
www.supportdaniel.org and email friendsofdanielmcg@yahoo.com to
receive regular updates. To learn more about the green scare see
www.greenscare.org. If you would like to write to Daniel, please
send your letter of support to:

Daniel McGowan, P.O. Box 106, New York, NY 10156.

Return to Table of Contents


From: AlterNet, Aug. 4, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


By Sunaura Taylor and Astra Taylor

The US military is poisoning the very citizens it is supposed to
protect in the name of national security.

In 1982 our family was living on the southside of Tucson, Ariz., in a
primarily working class and Latino neighborhood not far from the
airport. That year Sunaura was born with a congenital birth defect
known as arthrogryposis, a condition that severely impedes muscle
growth and requires her to use an electric wheelchair. On nearby
blocks, women were giving birth to babies with physical disabilities
and neighbors were dying of cancer at worrisome rates. Over time, we
learned that our groundwater was contaminated.

Most of us are vaguely aware that war devastates the environment
abroad. The Vietnamese Red Cross counts 150,000 children whose birth
defects were caused by their parents' exposure to Agent Orange. Cancer
rates in Iraq are soaring as a result of depleted uranium left from
the Gulf War. But what about closer to home?

Today the U.S. military generates over one-third of our nation's toxic
waste, which it disposes of very poorly. The military is one of the
most widespread violators of environmental laws. People made ill by
this toxic waste are, in effect, victims of war. But they are rarely
acknowledged as such.

On Sept. 11, 2001, we were living together in New York City. In the
months following the attack on the World Trade Center, the media and
government routinely informed a fearful citizenry of the importance of
clean drinking water. Terrorists, they warned, might contaminate
public sources with arsenic. We were instructed to purchase Evian
along with our duct tape.

In 2003, when the Defense Department sought (and later received)
exemptions from America's main environmental laws, the irony dawned on
us. The military was given license to pollute air and water, dispose
of used munitions, and endanger wildlife with impunity. The Defense
Department is willing to poison the very citizens it is supposed to
protect in the cause of national security.

Our family knows of something much more dangerous than arsenic in the
public aquifers: trichloroethylene, or TCE, a known carcinogen in
laboratory animals and the most widespread industrial contaminant in
American drinking water.

Disturbingly Common

Last week a study was released by the National Academy of Sciences,
raising already substantial concerns about the cancer risks and other
health hazards associated with exposure to TCE, a solvent used in
adhesives, paint and spot removers that is also "widely used to remove
grease from metal parts in airplanes and to clean fuel lines at
missile sites." The report confirms a 2001 EPA document linking TCE to
kidney cancer, reproductive and developmental damage, impaired
neurological function, autoimmune disease and other ailments in human

The report has been garnering some publicity, but not as much as it
deserves. TCE contamination is disturbingly common, especially in the
air, soil and water around military bases. Nationwide millions of
Americans are using what Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey, D-NY, has called
"TCE-laden drinking water." The Associated Press reports that the
chemical has been found at about 60 percent of the nation's worst
contaminated sites in the Superfund cleanup program.

"The committee found that the evidence on carcinogenic risk and other
health hazards from exposure to trichloroethylene has strengthened
since 2001," the study says. "Hundreds of waste sites are contaminated
with trichloroethylene, and it is well-documented that individuals in
many communities are exposed to the chemical, with associated health

The report urges the EPA to amend its assessment of the threat TCE
poses, an action that could lead to stricter regulations. Currently
the EPA limits TCE to no more than five parts per billion parts of
drinking water. Stricter regulation could force the government to
require more thorough cleanups at military and other sites and lower
the number to one part per billion.

The EPA found it impossible to take such action back in 2001, because,
according to the Associated Press, the agency was "blocked from
elevating its assessment of the chemical's risks in people by the
Defense Department, Energy Department and NASA, all of which have
sites polluted with it." The Bush administration charged the EPA with
inflating TCE's risks and asked the National Academy to investigate.
Contrary to the administration's hopes, however, the committee's
report has reinforced previous findings, which determined TCE to be
anywhere from two to 40 times more carcinogenic than previously

Thousands Contaminated

We didn't know it when we lived there, but our Tucson neighborhood's
public water supply was one of thousands nationwide contaminated with
TCE (along with a medley of other toxic chemicals including,
ironically, arsenic). It wasn't terrorists who laced our cups and
bathtubs with these poisons -- it was private contractors employed by
the Air Force.

Beginning during the Korean War, military contractors began using
industrial solvents, including TCE, to degrease airplane parts. Hughes
Missiles Systems Co. (which was purchased by the Raytheon Corp. in
1997) worked at the Tucson International Airport, spilling chemicals
off the runway and letting them sink into the soil of a city entirely
dependent on its underground water supply. What didn't seep into the
earth was dumped into unlined pits scraped into the desert floor. Over
the course of many years Hughes used barrels and barrels of TCE at the
airport hangars and at weapons system manufacturing facilities on
government-owned and contractor-operated land not far from where we
lived. As late as 1985, 2,220 pounds of TCE was still being dumped in
Tucson landfills every month.

Like so many other toxic hotspots, Tucson's southside is primarily a
working-class community called home by many people of color. It is
situated near the San Xavier Indian reservation, which also had
residential areas affected by runoff.

Generally, fines associated with hazardous waste laws are up to six
times higher in white communities than their minority counterparts.
What has happened in Tucson since the early '80s reflects this
unevenness. There has been only one legal case against the military
and its cohorts, a lengthy personal-injury lawsuit filed in behalf of
1,600 people against the aircraft manufacturer, the city of Tucson and
the Tucson Airport Authority (citizens are not allowed to sue the
federal government over such matters). The case excluded thousands of
potential plaintiffs and did not include funds from which future
claimants could collect for illnesses like cancers, which typically do
not appear until 10 or 20 years after chemical exposure. As a result,
many southside residents have yet to be compensated and probably never
will be. To this day, some area wells remain polluted, and most
estimate cleanup will not be completed for another 20 to 50 years.
Meanwhile, residents have the small consolation their water supply is
being monitored.

The National Academy of Sciences study is a step in the right
direction, but one that will certainly be met with resistance. In
Tucson, because the lawsuit was settled out of court, none of the
defendants had to admit that TCE is carcinogenic. Instead of
acknowledging the link between TCE and local health problems,
officials blamed the smoking and eating habits of local residents and
said their cancer was the result of "eating too much chili." It was
suggested to our parents, who are white, that Sunaura's birth defect
may have been the consequence of high peanut butter consumption.

But people who have lived on the southside of Tucson don't need
experts to verify that TCE is deadly. Some estimate that up to 20,000
individuals have died, become ill, or been born with birth defects.
Providing further proof, the Tucson International Airport area is one
of the EPA's top Superfund sites. Arizona state guidelines also assert
that TCE is toxic; they say one gallon of TCE is enough to render
undrinkable the amount of water used by 3,800 people over an entire
year. Over 4,000 gallons drained into Tucson aquifers. As a result of
this week's report, Arizona's environmental quality chief says the
state is independently and immediately going to adopt stricter TCE
soil standards.

It's an ugly truth that manufacturing weaponry to kill abroad also
kills at home. The process involves toxic chemicals, metals and
radioactive materials. As a consequence, the U.S. military produces
more hazardous waste annually than the five largest international
chemical companies combined. The Pentagon is responsible for over
1,400 properties contaminated with TCE.

Citizens, who pay for the military budget with their tax dollars, are
also paying with their health and sometimes their lives.


Sunaura Taylor, a figurative painter, has written on disability for
various publications. View her paintings online at
www.sunnytaylor.org. Astra Taylor is a writer and documentary
filmmaker. Her first book, Shadow of the Sixties, is forthcoming from
the New Press in 2007.

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From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #867, Aug. 10, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


By Tim Montague

Please join the Chicago Clean Power Coalition for a town-hall style
meeting to learn what you can do to make Chicago and Illinois a more
livable and healthy place to live, work and play. Please come to our
next bi-weekly meeting on Chicago's near south side.

When: Wednesday, August 23, 2006;
Where: 2856 S. Millard Ave Chicago
IL 60623-4550 (held at the offices of Little Village Environmental
Justice Organization; tel. 773.762.6991).

For more information http://www.ChicagoCleanPower.org or contact Tim
Montague: tim@rachel.org

Did you know... Chicago is home to two coal burning power plants.
Their pollution pumps mercury, soot and smog into our city's air just
a few miles southwest of the downtown, causing asthma and brain damage
to thousands of children in the Chicago area.

The agreement reached between the coal power industry (Ameren) and
the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, announced on August 1st
2006, is a significant setback for improving our state's polluted air
from dirty coal power plants. Organized action by residents is needed
now to take back our right to healthy air.

Return to Table of Contents


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  The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining  
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  bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human
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