Category Archives: geo-politics

Food Riots Lead to Increased Push for Food Security

In response to the violent food riots in Haiti, Yemen, Egypt, and the riots that have taken place over the past year in Mexico, West Bengal, Camaroon, Burkina Faso and Senegal, French Agriculture minister Michel Barnier is urging the EU to take action immediately against biofuels sourced from edible crops. Four of France’s ministers also insist that similar food riots are on the brink in some 30 other countries.

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A demonstrator ate grass in front of a U.N. peacekeeping soldier during a protest against the high cost of living in Port-au-Prince earlier this month. Political leaders from poor countries contend that biofuels, which Western countries have been encouraging, are driving up food prices and starving poor people, making biofuels a new flash point in global diplomacy.

Meanwhile, today marks the official enforcement of the 2.5% biofuels mandate UK-wide.

[BBC News; NYTimes, Daily Kos; Celsias]

Eco Prison, No Bars

Yet another way the Scandinavians are eons ahead of us in terms of social civility.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSaoirOdZOQ[/youtube]

Here’s an island prison that’s about as distant in principle from Alcatraz as is it in location. Bastoey Island, about 45 miles south of Oslo, hosts some of Norway’s worst offenders in what is effectively an eco-village working holiday camp. Instead of the traditional barred cells, prisoners, including murderers, rapists, drug dealers and thieves, live in separate, unlocked houses on the island. Although only one and a half miles from the mainland, prisoners are reluctant to escape, lest they get returned to the typical maximum security unit and lose the privilege of serving their time where they’re learning valuable skills, as well as gaining respect for themselves, each other, and the environment.

The island prison uses solar panels, is almost self-sufficient with food from its own organic garden, and operates a strict recycling system. This is an interesting experiment in eco-therapy — where reconnecting offenders with nature may well also help develop a noble sense of purpose, that in turn helps them reconnect with society.

[celsias]

An Open Letter to Hillary

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This is a letter written to Hillary by Linn Cohen-Cole, a Wellesley graduate, for Celsias. I am going to replicate it in its entirety, because it is that critical:

Dear Hillary,

By polling logic, I should be your supporter – Democrat, older woman, white, liberal. I was even in a dorm with you in college. I have pulled for you for years. But something this past summer fundamentally changed my responsibility to my children and grandchildren. In the time I have left in my life to protect them and others, I need to speak out.

I saw a News Hour piece on Maharastra, India, about farmers committing suicide [see here and here]. Monsanto, a US agricultural giant, hired Bollywood actors for ads telling illiterate farmers they could get rich (by their standards) from big yields with Monsanto’s Bt (genetically engineered) cotton seeds. The expensive seeds needed expensive fertilizer and pesticides (Monsanto, again) and irrigation. There is no irrigation there. Crops failed. Farmers had larger debt than they’d ever experienced.

And farmers couldn’t collect seeds from their own fields [see here and here] to try again (true since time immemorial). Monsanto “patents” their DNA-altered seeds as “intellectual property.” They have a $10 million budget and a staff of 75 devoted solely to prosecuting farmers [here]. Since the late 1990s (about when industrial agriculture took hold in India), 166,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide and 8 million have left the land.

Farmers in Europe, Asia, Africa, Indonesia,South America, Central America and here, have protested Monsanto and genetic engineering for years.

What does this have to do with you?

You have connections to Monsanto through the Rose Law Firm where you worked and through Bill who hired Monsanto people for central food-related roles. Your Orwellian-named “Rural Americans for Hillary” was planned withTroutman Sanders, Monsanto’s lobbyists.

Genetic engineering and industrialized food and animal production all come together at the Rose Law Firm, which represents the world’s largest GE corporation (Monsanto), GE’s most controversial project (DP&L’s – now Monsanto’s – terminator genes) [here], the world’s largest meat producer (Tyson), the world’s largest retailer and a dominant food retailer (Wal-Mart) [here].

The inbred-ness of Rose’s legal representation of corporations which own controlling interests in other corporations there and of corporate boards sharing members who are also shareholders of each other’s corporations there, is so thorough that it is hard to capture. Jon Jacoby, senior executive of the Stephens Group – one of the largest institutional shareholders of Tyson Foods, Walmart, DP&L – is also Chairman of the Board of DP&L and arranged the Wal-Mart deal. Jackson Stephens’ Stephens Group staked Sam Walton and financed Tyson Foods. Monsanto bought DP&L. All represented at Rose.

You didn’t just work there, you made friends. That shows in the flow of favors then and since. You were invited onto Walmart’s board, you were helped by a Tyson executive to make commodity trades (3 days before Bill became governor), netting you $100,000, Jackson Stephens strongly backed Bill for Governor, and then for President (donating $100,000).

Food and friends, in Clinton terms: Bill’s appointed friend Mike Espy, Secretary of Agriculture, who immediately significantly weakened federal chicken waste and contamination standards, opening the door to major expansion of Tyson’s chicken factory farms. Espy resigned, indicted for accepting bribes, illegal contributions, money laundering, illegal dispersal of USDA subsidies, …. Tyson Foods was the largest corporate offender.

But what Bill did for Monsanto “genetic engineering” goes beyond inadequate concepts of giving corporate friends influence: He unleashed genetic engineering into the world. And then he helped close off people’s escape from it.

Genetic engineering is many orders of magnitude different from “normal” (even polluting) business in its potential biologic ramifications. The warning myth of Pandora’a Box – letting irretrievable things rush out into nature – has become real. The harrowing change to the world from nuclear fission and fusion is the closest parallel.

What did Bill do?

1. Bill’s put Monsanto people in at the FDA, as US Agricultural Trade Representatives, on International Biotechnology Consultive Forums, and more … (http://www.commondreams.org/headlines/072600-03.htm) or http://www.monitor.net/monitor/9904b/monsantofda.html or http://www.mindfully.org/GE/Revolving-Door.htm

2. Bill’s FDA gave Monsanto permission to market rBGH (a GE bovine growth hormone), the first genetically engineered product let loose on us (or did tomatoes with fish DNA get there first?).

3. Despite reports of bovine illness and death, Bill’s FDA did not recall it or put warnings on it. Even “a very angry, very vocal nationwide consumer base” had no impact.

4. Bill’s FDA wouldn’t even label rBGH as “present” in milk.

5. When dairy farmers tried to label their own milk rBGH-free so the public could choose [more on rBGH and labelling here], Bill’s USDA threatened all dairies that their products could be confiscated from stores. Michael Taylor, USFDA Deputy Commissioner, was formerly Monsanto’s counsel.

6. How were consumers to protect their family, given Bill’s FDA enforced public blindness, except to buy only organic? But Bill’s FDA tried to close off that last escape, proposing to include in “organic” standards, “the dirty three” a: genetic engineering of plants and animals, use of irradiation in food processing and use of municipal sewage sludge as a fertilizer. The FDA backed down.

Had this gone through, Monsanto could have finally labeled rBGH milk … as “organic.” And animal waste from factory farms, a pollution nightmare for Tyson and others, could have been sold as fertilizer.

USDA head Dan Glickman: “This is probably the largest public response to an [Agriculture Department] rule in modern history.” In fact the response was 20 times greater than anything ever before proposed by the USDA.

Personally, I resent years of effort to protect my children and now grandchildren, from that crap.

Politically, Bill sided against small farmers and against the public’s right to know, and with Monsanto.

A snap shot of our food:

Oils: Sheep died in India after feeding on Bt cotton fields. We feed our children Bt cotton, as cottonseed oil in peanut butter and cookies.

Grains: 49% of US corn acreage was planted in Bt corn in 2007. A French study proved Monsanto’s GMO corn causes kidney and liver toxicity.

Soft drinks and candy have highly concentrated Bt corn, in the form of high fructose Bt corn syrup. The US food system depends most on two crops, soy (90% GMO, 90% of traits owned by Monsanto) and corn, the largest crop (60% GMO, nearly 100% Monsanto traits). “[E] ssentially our entire food supply is genetically modified, to the benefit of one company.” The Grocery Manufacturers of America in 2000 estimated that 70 percent of US food contains GM traits.

Meat: Steroids bulk up atheletes. Monsanto steroids bulk up animals – more weight, more profit. We feed our children steroids in meats. Is this why our children are fattening, like Hansel and Gretel?

Poultry: Bill’s USDA weakened chicken waste and contamination standards and attempted to allow sewage sludge as fertilize crops. I will say more about disease from industrialized poultry farms waste, at the end of this letter.

Milk: Over 30 scientific publications have shown increased levels of IGF-1 in milk with rBGH increases risks of breast cancer by up to seven-fold, also increasing colon and prostate cancers risks. Canada, 29 European nations, Norway, Switzerland, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa ban U.S. rBGH dairy products. Bill’s USFDA put no restrictions, no warning labels (not allowing labels at all).

American children eat that food and drink that milk, Hillary. Coincidentally, American children are increasingly fat and sick.

Here, Bill ignored pleas for labeling. Abroad, Bill ignored intense international objections over the same issue – unlabeled US food exports – badly straining trading relations. Monsanto’s “good ole boy,” he betrayed American families at the deepest levels conceivable – their family’s health and their democratic right to know. He betrayed our rural life and American family farmers – backing corporation deceit and control, over honesty and clean farming.

But, Hillary, it is one thing to not label a regular ‘ole food product to sell it, and quite another to sell a suspected-dangerous food product (rBGH), but Bill’s administration didn’t label (or stop) a well-known, terrifying threat – Mad Cow Disease.

Bill’s FDA’s August, 1997 regulation permitted “known TSE-positive [Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy] material to be used in pet food, pig, chicken and fish feed,” only requiring the label to read “Do not feed to cattle and other ruminants” in the US.

Monsanto added to the problem. “There is evidence that rbST use [Monsanto’s GE bovine growth hormone] reduces the useful lifespan of a dairy cow. … Given that the incubation period for BSE is at least three to five years and perhaps longer, rbST-treated cows could harbor “hidden” BSE. That is, they might be infected but still asymptomatic when sent to slaughter.” http://www.consumersunion.org/food/bgh-codex.htm

Bill let TSE into our entire food chain. And who owned the feed and slaughter and genetic engineering corporations which benefitted?

Please, tell me, Hillary, what he could possibly have gotten in friendship or favors, that could ever justify his exposing millions of people to this?

With genetic engineering itself, Bill did something to the whole world, which tried to object. Words are inadequate to express how astoundingly immoral, beyond human bounds and conceit and power, that was.

“Even for the biggest “winners,” it is like winning at poker on the Titanic.” Jerry Mander: Facing the Rising Tide

He had no right

Do you hear that?

Bill had sex from Monica Lewinsky. That’s “dinky immoral.” That’s chicken feed immoral – excuse the Tyson pun, excuse the TSE-laced pun. Bill let genetic engineering lose on NATURE itself.

Our way of life is likely to be more fundamentally transformed in the next several decades than in the previous one thousand years…Tens of thousands of novel transgenic bacteria, viruses, plants and animals could be released into the Earth’s ecosystems…Some of those releases, however, could wreak havoc with the planet’s biospheres. — Jeremy Rifkin, Biotech Century

Bill did this to us, like it was some nothing and he, some big dumb ass Southern boy, just smiling and getting in good with the Big Boys, thinking about as much about the consequences of something this immense and about us human beings out here, as he thought about you, when he was unfaithful with Monica. Just one big fool getting off on the power and used to getting away with things.

Terminator genes, developed by DP&L, a Rose Firm client, prevent seeds from “working” after only one season. Farmers “must” repurchase (patents and suing not certain enough control, it seems). Those “killing” genes pose the apocalyptic risk of breaking out into nature. Natural seeds could fail, too. Nature could fail.

Far-fetched?

GMO fields are already contaminating normal species Berkeley Professor of Microbiology, Ignacio Chapela, wrote an open letter, warning the Mexican government about just this breaking out phenomenon happening in maize

And it has already happened with weeds – pesticide resistant GMO seeds break lose and weeds become pesticide-resistant Superweeds. [here]

But Bill’s USDA spokesman, Willard Phelps said the USDA wanted the technology to be `widely licensed and made expeditiously available to many seed companies.’

Genetic Engineering is often justified as a human technology, one that feeds more people with better food. Nothing could be further from the truth. With very few exceptions, the whole point of genetic engineering is to increase sales of chemicals and bio-engineered products to dependent farmers. — David Ehrenfield: Professor of Biology, Rutgers University [also see previous link]

Hillary, one third of the world’s bee colonies have collapsed [here]. Gone. Farmers in India are killing themselves. Farmers and bees. Since organic farmers in India are fine and organic farmers report no colony collapse [here], what does these farming catatrophes say about “industrial agriculture” [here]

Mad Cow Disease is another direct result of industrial agriculture. And now ……. transnational poultry factories are implicated as the source of bird flu [here]. Small scale poultry farms and wild birds seem not to be the problem [just as small farmers are not the issue in Mad Cow Disease], and yet “initiatives are multiplying to ban outdoor poultry, squeeze out small producers and restock farms with genetically modified chickens. … http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/feb2006/2006-02-27-01.asp “Of the few outbreaks that did occur in [Laos], more than 90% broke out in commercial poultryoperations, not free-ranging flocks.”

Monsanto (and others) is currently working with the USDA to force small farmers to tag every animal with a global tracking device (NAIS – National Animal Identification System). Allegedly related to food safety, Monsanto and others would be creating a vast corporate digital library on every move of small farmers’ livestock.

But small farmers do not create the contaminated environments, do not supply the feed, do not grind up diseased animals into feed (how Mad Cow began) and then sell it. In fact, their farming methods, free range and small scale, are significantly healthier and safer for animals and food than the massive concentration of animals by corporate industrial agriculture.

Monsanto is also aggressively pushing for state laws to limit farmers’ right to choose what to plant and the public’s right to exclude GE plants from their communities.

Cattle bloated by steroids, lapse and loss of 10,000 year old normal seeds [here], immense pollution from factory farms [here], deadly-disease-ridden feed, world-wide bee colony collapse, poisoned soil and depleted water supplies, Superweeds, lawsuits against farmers, loss of family farms, and … India farmers killing themselves in what may be the largest mass suicide in recorded human history (on average … one farmer suicide every 30 minutes since 2002 – The Hindu 1.30.08) – that is industrial agriculture.

Monsanto and Tyson are two of the largest industrial agricultural corporations in the world. Industrial agriculture is represented by your Rose Law Firm.

Your claim to care about food safety is terrifying double-speak given what Bill did and who you take donations from. Your idea of a Department of Food Safety would centralize control of food – in whose corporate connected hands? You talk tough about labeling food – ah, but “foreign” food – a sleight of hand tricking a public desperate for safe US food. You talk about food safety but Bill degraded food in every imaginable way and prevented minimally sane labeling.

I am a person before I am a woman. Your gender means nothing. It is a media distraction. Your policies on health and food and women and children, are meaningless in the face of connections that have threatened those groups profoundly, connections you have never denounced.

Monsanto uses child labor in India, primarily very young girls, exposing them to a lethal pesticide 13-14 hours a day, for pennies in pay. But you take donations from their lobbyists. You say you care about black people but as the poorest people in this country, they are least able to buy organic and are forced to eat the contaminated foods Bill let into our food system. The National Black Farmers Association has a boycott out on all Monsanto products.

Do you eat organic?

So, who are you with, hapless black consumers and black farmers, or Monsanto? Mothers left to give their children rBGH milk, or Monsanto? Women exposed to 7 times greater risk of breast cancer, or Monsanto? Desperate farmers in India and young children forced into child labor in cottonseed factories there, or Monsanto? Animals suffering [here] from lives in filthy cages and disgusting feedlots, shot up with steroids and hormones and antibiotics, or Monsanto? Our children who eat candy with high fructose Bt corn syrup associated with kidney and liver toxicity, or Monsanto?

Edwards was right about your corporate connections. I just didn’t understand until I saw that PBS show and read about Monsanto, how personally affected my children and grandchildren, and all people around the world, have been.

I will not vote for you. I will vote for someone who will commit themselves to work on behalf of small farmers and real food and decent treatment of animals and to end this industrialized agricultural nightmare that is taking us off a cliff.

Linn Cohen-Cole, Atlanta

Disclaimer: I am not a scientist. I have read for months on this subject, and am including only a tiny portion of the horrifying things I have learned. I am expressing my opinion as person and may be wrong. Perhaps things are swell out there and rBGH is fabulous and TSE-laced feed is great, and genetic engineering is the best thing since manna. But I am scared for my family and I have not only a right to say so but an obligation to do so. I am angry that Monsanto was allowed the influence it had and has done the things it definitely seems to have. I am disgusted by industrialization of every tender and beautiful part of our world and hope, for all our children’s sake, we are not too late to pull back.

[Celsias]

Unofficial Quote of the Day 03.05.07

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After the US won the cold war, environmentalism became the new communism. It would take a better psychologist, or sociologist, than I to explain why.

Some might argue that aligning environmentalism with communism is not such a negative claim. However, within context, the heads making this claim intend for it to be negative in a way that pinches at people’s most sensitive of nerves. I pulled this out of a Sharon Begley quotation in an interesting article on TerraPass. Begley, of course, is not advocating the comparison, but it is scary the extent to which people actually believe this environmentalism = communism claim to be true.

Another couple classic gems on the topic:

[Environmentalism is] a green tree with red roots… a socialist dream… dressed up as compassion for the planet.

- Washington Post columnist George Will, May 31, 1992

With the collapse of Marxism, environmentalism has become the new refuge of socialist thinking.

- Rush Limbaugh, The Way Things Ought To Be, July 2, 1992

Most terrifyingly, I came across a comparison by George Reisman of environmentalism with not only Communism, but Nazism as well. The bulk of his argument is simply too ignorant for me to replicate here (check it for yourself if you so desire), but I will leave you with this:

SAY NO TO RECYCLED COMMUNISM AND NAZISM. SAY NO TO ENVIRONMENTALISM.

Dude is scary. Way scary.

[TerraPass]

Obama for the Planet

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Last Wednesday the MNP Group officially proclaimed our endorsement of Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama. We here at green.mnp would like to follow suit and endorse Obama as the best candidate to lead the country into a future of sound environmental policy and action. Obama has made it clear that climate change and energy policy will be one of the ‘defining issues’ of his presidential campaign. While he is not perfect on every green issue (no candidate is or was) we are confident that he will seek advice from the right minds and engage people across the country and across the globe in reducing our impact. Grist has great resources for determining how green each candidate is, as well as interviews with each of them. Here are some pertinent excerpts from an interview with Obama:

question You’ve consistently emphasized consensus and putting aside partisan battles. Many argue that, when it comes to climate change, the maximum of what’s politically possible falls short of the minimum we need to do to solve the problem. In other words, consensus won’t get us where we need to go. Will you fight the political battles needed to move the consensus on this issue, even if that means aggravating partisan rifts?

answer I am the cosponsor of the most aggressive climate-change legislation in the Senate, along with Barbara Boxer [D-Calif.] and Bernie Sanders [I-Vt.], which would reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050. We are going to have to make some big decisions to meet those goals. Consensus doesn’t mean 100 percent consensus — there is undoubtedly going to be resistance from certain parts of the energy sector, and there may be ideological resistance within the Republican Party, and we are going to have to attend to the regional differences in terms of how people get energy. But I believe that we can put together a strong majority to move forward, as long as we are thoughtful about the potential losers in any big piece of energy legislation.

question Do you believe that we can achieve political consensus on this goal of 80 percent reductions by 2050?

answer I think with presidential leadership we can meet this goal, and it will be one of my top priorities. But it is going to require a thoughtful approach that accounts for the possibility that electricity prices will go up, and that low-income people may need to be compensated. We’ll have to deal with the fact that many of our power plants are coal burning, and consider what investments we’re willing to make in coal sequestration. If we make sure that the burdens and benefits of a strong environmental policy are evenly spread across the economy, then people will want to see us take on this problem in an aggressive way.

question Some argue that we should only commit to a global climate treaty if China and India do as well. Do you agree? How would you bring China and India to the table?

answer We shouldn’t look at it as a single tit-for-tat exchange. The U.S. is the world’s largest economy and the largest single source of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions, so it is our responsibility to take the first step. We cannot expect China and India, with a billion people each, to take the lead on this if we do not — but we can expect them to join us if we demonstrate leadership. If we must take the first step, our second and third steps must be conditioned on meaningful participation by all countries. This is also an enormous opportunity for us to provide our technological expertise to these nations so they can leapfrog to cleaner technologies.

Really though, this is just a shameless excuse to post this adorable and exploitive photo of my niece (who will turn 1 in exactly one month!). I say exploitive because she is a young impressionable mind and should be free decide for herself who she wants to endorse politically. But, I predict that young Skyler will grow up to be a fierce advocate for the planet and its people, and thus will not mind if her cuteness is taken advantage of for the cause:

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COP13 – What Happens When Kyoto Expires?

The rumors are true: From Dec. 3 to Dec. 14, more than 15,000 people from 190 nations will gather in Bali, Indonesia: politicians, bureaucrats, nosy reporters, earnest activists — the usual party-hearty crowd. They’ll give due respect to the “global” in global warming, and discuss what to do about it — in particular, what should be done after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. The goal is to come up with a framework for a brand-new global climate treaty.

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The Bali meeting will be the 13th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP13) — and the 13th time is the charm, right? The targets set by the Kyoto Protocol expire in 2012, and as most folks are finally catching on that climate change ain’t just gonna go away, many politicos are eager to whip up an effective successor.

Read the whole article at Grist.org.

79 Million Trees in One Day

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You read it right, 79 million trees in a day – that’s Indonesia’s planting goal for TOMORROW, November 28, 2007. It’s being reported that each of the 71,000 individual villages, plus some 8,000 other administrative areas of the country, have each been ordered to plant 1,000 trees – just before a U.N. climate change conference is scheduled to be held there in December of this year.

Why the sudden mass planting? Indonesia currently suffers from the worst example of deforestation on the planet – with their forests having lost 63% of their total area [about 91 million hectares] since 1966 [stats via] due to logging. Now I know what you’re thinking : ‘Sounds great – deforestation sucks, and trees are great. Man do I love oxygen and shade…’ – but thats not even it! The irony of the move emerges when one looks into what many of the forests are currently being clear-cut for, now that logging is being more and more heavily regulated and has been gaining national attention : biofuel. That’s right, these forests are being destroyed to produce a ‘green’ energy source! My Ninjas, Please!! The crop in particular is palm olive, which is used to produce palm oil – which can be used as a biodiesel fuel. And worse still – it’s not always the farmer’s/landowner’s decision.

[Aruk] is just one of several [villages] where the land rights of local communities and indigenous groups come head to head with new concessions given to palm oil companies.

…35-year-old Alexander [from Aruk - a village on the Indonesian side of the border with Malaysia, in West Kalimantan], lost his 10-acre plot last year.

“I went to my land one morning, and found it had been cleared. All my rubber trees, my plants had been destroyed,” he says, fighting back the tears. “Now I have to work as a builder in Malaysia, so I can feed my three children.”

The company, a subsidiary of the Indonesian Duta Palma group, did offer Alexander compensation for his land.

Full Article via the BBC

[I mean, who cares about local Indonesian farmers? I want my biodiesel so I can catch this 'green' wave before my neighbors. What can I say, I like being the trend-setter.]

Getting a ‘green’ fuel in this way is very similar to the U.S.’s use of corn to produce ethanol – claiming it as sustainable while the process both encourages the use of more and more land for farming – instead of natural habitats – AND raises/alters the value of corn itself, which will inevitably affect food supplies/prices. Creating a ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ world first requires that we act smart, my ninjas -otherwise we’ll end up burning down all the rainforests so we can build wind-farms.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsLxIdUkGQE[/youtube]

::Interesting random sidenote : WholeFoods‘ 365 brand uses palm oil in some of its products [I bought french fries this past weekend and noticed they were cooked with palm oil after I got home], which is considered by many to be one of the worst kinds of cooking oil. Strange coming from a store so apparently devoted to the health of its customers and the world::

How to make the perfect compost lavatory

THERE are few international conferences these days at which delegates can hope to be presented with a souvenir ball of dried human faeces. Indeed the World Toilet Summit, which was convened in Delhi last week, may be the only one.

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I know, I know, it sounds pretty funny (or um, gross). But really, the fact that 2.6 billion people worldwide, or about one-third of the population, do not have access to functional toilets is no laughing matter.

The excrement was a gift from one of the organisers, the Sulabh International Social Service Organisation (SISSO). An Indian NGO, it has built over a million toilets in a country where over 700m people still have no access to one.

The culprits behind the lack of worldwide toilets: money and water. That is why the innovations at the 2007 World Toilet Summit, which took place from October 31 to November 3, did not include expensive sewage or septic systems, but instead relied on technologies that used little water and in many cases used heat harnessed from solar panels to help speed up the decomposition process.

The organisation’s toilets, which include 6,500 public facilities, are based on two simple innovations. By setting the bowl—of a shallow Asian variety—at a downward slope of 22 degrees, the toilet can be washed clean with two litres of water (a flush toilet uses 10 litres). The toilet empties into one of two cess-pits, which are rotated every three or four years. That is long enough for the contents of a full cess-pit to turn into a harmless fertiliser, or paperweight.

What is more, SISSO’s latrines can be designed to send the excrement to underground bio-gas digesters that will encourage the natural production of methane gas (otherwise emitted to the atmosphere) and store the gas so that it can be burned for home cooking and heating or used to generate electricity.

The purpose of the summit, which was attended by distinguished guests, including the Netherlands’ Prince of Orange, was serious indeed. At issue was the UN’s Millennium Development Goal of providing lavatory access for everyone in the world by 2025.

Thanks to my ninja Anura for the link!

[economist.com]

Get it Straight in 2008

The next president of the United States of America will control a $150 billion annual research budget, 200,000 scientists, and 38 major research institutions and all their related labs. This president will shape human endeavors in space, bioethics debates, and the energy landscape of the 21st century.

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During the past seven years of the Bush administration, America has been subject to what can only be called antiscientific governance. Scientists have been ignored, threatened, suppressed, and censored across agencies, across areas of expertise, and across issues. Policies have gone forward repeatedly without adequate scientific input and sometimes in spite of it, and have subsequently backfired.

Science—and the broader way of thinking that comes with it—trains its adherents and practitioners to relish the very act of questioning for its own sake, of figuring out what’s true and false, of determining what works and what fails. Science can detect dark matter and dark energy; it can also build you dependable levees.

Americans now have the opportunity to elect a new leader who is his antithesis—a president who understands how science works, and who surrounds him- or herself with trusted science experts so as to remain continually informed; one who grasps that scientific uncertainty is a fundamental facet of reality to be embraced, rather than to be exploited as an excuse for political inaction.

[seed magazine]