Tuesday, January 27, 2009
American Council on Science and Health, Sunday, January 18, 2009
Next week, the European Parliament will debate stringent regulation of a number of effective pesticides. It is apparently too much to expect a sense of shame from European public health officials and their activist "environmental" collaborators when the subject of chemical pesticides is raised.
What about some sense of history? Or compassion? Not likely, as the European Parliament votes next Tuesday on a proposal to tighten the already onerous restrictions on many common insecticides. If this regulation is passed, the consequences will be devastating -- not in Europe, but in Africa and Asia.
Over the decades from World War II through the late 1960s, widespread use of the potent and safe insecticide DDT led to eradication of many insect-borne diseases in Europe and North America. But at the doorstep of global malaria control, DDT became the poster child for environmental degradation, thanks to Rachel Carson's polemic, Silent Spring.
Based on no scientific evidence of human health effects, the newly established U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT, and its European counterparts followed suit. Subsequently, more than 1 million people died each year from malaria -- but not in America or Europe. Rather, most of the victims were children and women in Africa and Asia.
Today, even while acknowledging that indoor spraying of small amounts of DDT would help prevent many deaths and millions of illnesses, nongovernmental organizations continue -- with great success -- to pressure African governments not to allow its use. In order to stave off such pressure and be allowed to sell their agricultural products in Europe, African public health officials cave, and their children die needlessly. Yet, rather than learning the tragic lesson of the DDT ban, the European Union leadership in concert with activists wants to extend this unscientific ban to other effective insecticides, including pyrethroids and organophosphates -- further undercutting anti-malarial efforts.
The currently debated regulation would engender a paradigm shift in the regulation of chemicals, from a risk-based approach -- based on real world exposures from agricultural applications -- to a hazard-based standard, derived from laboratory tests and having little or no basis in reality as far as human health is concerned. Of course, this is fine with anti-chemical zealots in the activist camps. Their concern is bringing down chemical companies in the name of "the environment" -- tough luck if African children have to be sacrificed to their agenda, as was the case with DDT (which is still banned in the EU and not under consideration in the current debate).
Further consequences involve discontinuation of currently used insecticides, leading to higher prices and decreased availability of these chemicals, which would worsen food shortages and increasing malnutrition. Moreover, farmers and marketers of agricultural products in the world's poorest regions would withdraw from using restricted pesticides out of fear of discrimination against their exports in the EU, with similar consequences for farmers' yields, income and local nutrition. Such bans would, in effect, become nontariff trade barriers against poor African farmers.
The banned insecticides will not be easily replaced -- researchers in this area of chemistry will take note of the new, stringent standards and decide the potential return on their investment is not worth the effort of passing through the regulatory hurdles. Development of newer, more effective pesticides will come to a halt.
Most poignantly, the fight against malaria and other insect-borne tropical diseases would take another hit, with resulting illness, disability and death disproportionally affecting children under five and pregnant women.
And what, after all, is the "danger" of these chemicals being debated? In fact, there is no evidence to support the activists' contention that insecticides pose a health threat to humans. Even DDT, one of the most studied chemicals of all time, has been conclusively shown to be safe for humans at all conceivable levels of exposure sufficient to control malaria and save millions of lives.
So these new restrictions would have no benefit, yet contribute to much suffering. Is it asking too much for someone in power in the European Union to care?
Gilbert Ross, M.D., is medical director of the American Council on Science and Health in New York City.
Greens dismiss nuclear energy based on little more than greatly exaggerated depictions of the supposed dangers and difficulties of its use.
American Council on Science and Health, Jan 27, 2009
The environmental mantra these days has two main components -- clean energy and green (sustainable) energy -- anything but oil and coal. Proponents strongly encourage the development of solar and wind energy, neither of which is ready yet for widespread commercial use. But they ignore or downplay the use of a well understood and already commercialized technology -- nuclear energy -- based on little more than greatly exaggerated depictions of the supposed dangers and difficulties of its use.
One fear that has been widely promoted is that of large-scale accidents in nuclear power plants. Anti-nuclear activists point to two examples of that -- the explosion at the Russian Chernobyl reactor in 1986, and the partial meltdown of the fuel rods at the Three Mile Island reactor in 1979.
The Chernobyl explosion was due to errors made by the operators during a test and a lack of adequate safety features and procedures that could have prevented such errors. It will surprise many that, with the exception of workers who were on the scene and received massive acute doses of radiation, there has been no evidence of increased radiation-caused mortality. In contrast to the Chernobyl plant, modern nuclear facilities have redundant safety features to prevent such errors.
Although it has also been used as an example of a large-scale accident, there was actually little release of radioactivity from the Three Mile Island reactor -- even though about half of the fuel melted. The level of radioactivity received by the surrounding area was not significantly greater than that normally supplied by natural background sources. In other words, the containment precautions were effective. Of course, the anti-nuclear fanatics' propaganda pays no attention to these simple facts.
Another fear that has been widely promoted is that release of radioactivity from a nuclear plant -- specifically the radioactive iodine, I131 -- would cause thyroid cancer in exposed children. This fear actually has some biological basis in that the thyroid gland avidly takes up iodine. It can be prevented from absorbing the radioactive iodine, however, by giving a large dose of non-radioactive iodine. An even simpler preventive measure: avoid drinking milk for a week or two after such an (unlikely) event. Of course prevention of I131 release is a much better option.
It is true that a year after the Chernobyl accident screening studies revealed an increased occurrence of thyroid cancer in exposed children. However, many scientists have questioned whether this was really due to the Chernobyl-related exposure, since thyroid cancer typically has a latency period of thirty years. Further, it is important to note that prior to the explosion, there was very little screening of children in the Chernobyl area -- but around 90% were screened afterwards. This fact alone very likely contributed to the increased incidence observed. In addition, the incidence of thyroid cancer was actually lower in the highly contaminated region than in the general Russian population.
Dr. Ruth Kava is Director of Nutrition at the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH.org, HealthFactsAndFears.com).
U.S.–India Strategic Partnership on Laser-Based Missile Defense. By Lisa Curtis and James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
Heritage, January 27, 2009
Last week, the Press Trust of India reported that defense officials intend to produce a laser capable of shooting down enemy ballistic missiles. The United States is a global leader in directed-energy defenses, including both low and high-powered lasers. American military research is also highly advanced in the technologies of acquiring targets as well as the command, control, and battle management systems necessary to identify and direct weapons to destroy missiles and other targets. In recent years, the United States and India have increased bilateral cooperation in a range of defense, counterterrorism, and homeland security areas. This cooperation is helping increase trust and confidence between the two nations while fostering security, stability, and prosperity in Asia. Working together on directed-energy developments offers a significant opportunity to strengthen the U.S.-India strategic partnership.
India Goes to Light Speed
The United States and India share many security concerns, such as the threat of ballistic missiles. V. K. Saraswat of the Defense Research and Development Organization rightly told the Press Times of India: "If you have a laser-based system on an airborne or seaborne platform, it can travel at the speed of light and in a few seconds, [and] we can kill a ballistic missile coming towards [India]." India's interest in developing directed energy defenses is understandable, as lasers have several distinct advantages. Such weapons:
- Can use a high-powered beam of energy to disable electrical components or detonate explosives, rendering the attack means such as the warhead or body of a missile useless;
- Come with an almost infinite magazine--as long as the weapons have power, they can be recharged and fired again;
- Can be aimed effectively using existing target acquisition systems (such as radars) and command and control systems (such as a computer battle management network); and
- Can be employed with a minimum of risk toward surrounding civilians, buildings, or vehicles (such as aircraft, cars, and ships).
In addition, lasers are versatile. While high-powered lasers address ballistic missile threats, low-powered lasers have a number of potential security uses, from disabling small boats to downing shoulder-fired missiles to intercepting rockets and mortars. All these uses have application to Indian security concerns.
It is also worth noting that missile defenses, such as high-powered lasers, limit the potential for regional conflict. Missile defenses serve as important deterrents, undermining the effectiveness of enemy threats. They also provide an alternative to massive retaliation in the face of an actual attack. The security provided by missile defenses actually limits the likelihood of armed escalation or an arms race and makes diplomacy more effective. It is no coincidence that the greatest strides in reducing the nuclear arsenals came in the late 1980s, at the same time the U.S. was pursuing the Strategic Defense Initiative. A world with effective missile defenses is safer and more stable.
The United States has significant research and development capabilities regarding the application of lasers for national security uses. The Tactical High-Energy Laser (THEL) is one such experimental system tested by the U.S. Army. Development of the THEL began in 1996 as a joint program between the United States and Israel to develop a laser system capable of shooting down Katyusha rockets, artillery, and mortar shells. The THEL system uses radar to detect and track incoming targets. This information is then transferred to an optical tracking system, which refines the target tracking and positions the beam director. The deuterium fluoride chemical laser then fires, hitting the rocket or shell and causing it to explode far short of its intended target. More recently, the Army has experimented with low-power commercial solid-state lasers.
Another system under development in the United States is the Airborne Laser (ABL). The ABL is a system that uses a megawatt chemical laser mounted on a modified Boeing 747 to shoot down theater ballistic missiles. The megawatt-class laser was first successfully tested at full power in early 2006. The system is still under development.
A Shared Security Interest
The American record of military laser research and its many cooperative ventures with friendly and allied powers suggests that a joint U.S.-Indian directed energy program is certainly achievable. The shared interests of both nations in promoting security and stability in Asia also indicates they have a common cause in developing military technologies that would lessen the potential for conflict while effectively countering terrorism. The U.S. should explore opportunities for joint development of cutting edge directed energy technologies--lasers--with India as part of overall missile defense dialogue and deepening of military-to-military ties.
Lisa Curtis is Senior Research Fellow in the Asian Studies Center, and James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Assistant Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Senior Research Fellow in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
Media Note, Office of the Spokesman
State Dept, Washington, DC, January 27, 2009
The United States is pleased to announce an initial contribution of $125 million toward the 2009 operations of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The contribution will support UNHCR efforts worldwide, including activities such as refugee returns to Afghanistan and Burundi; local integration and resettlement; and protection and life-saving assistance such as the provision of water, shelter, food, healthcare, and education to refugees, internally displaced persons, and other persons under UNHCR's care and protection in places like Colombia, Ecuador, Georgia, Thailand, Nepal, Pakistan, Sudan, Chad, Kenya, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda.
The contribution will directly support UNHCR's Annual and Supplementary Program activities as indicated below.
Africa $65.07 million
Asia and Pacific $15.88 million
Europe $9.92 million
Global Operations $7.16 million
North Africa/Middle East $6.73 million
Headquarters $9.87 million
Western Hemisphere $5.5 million
Emergency Response activities $4.87 million
TOTAL $125.0 million
Press Statement by Robert Wood, Acting Spokesman
US State Dept, Washington, DC, January 27, 2009
The United States is extremely disappointed that Fiji’s self-appointed leader, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, refused to attend the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) conference of leaders in Port Moresby on January 27. The United States firmly supports the PIF’s statement that “More than two years of rule by an unelected military government, with no clear timetable for the return of constitutional government to the people, is not acceptable by international standards.” The United States strongly endorses the PIF position and urges Fiji’s interim government to move immediately to restore democracy and to hold free and fair elections by the end of this year.
The Economic Times (India), Jan 23, 2009, 0033 hrs IST
Barack Obama in his inaugural speech promised to “roll back the spectre of a warming planet.” In this context, it is worth contemplating a passage from his book Dreams from My Father. It reveals a lot about the way we view the world’s problems.
Obama is in Kenya and wants to go on a safari. His Kenyan sister Auma chides him for behaving like a neo-colonialist. “Why should all that land be set aside for tourists when it could be used for farming? These wazungu care more about one dead elephant than they do for a hundred black children.” Although he ends up going on safari, Obama has no answer to her question. That anecdote has parallels with the current preoccupation with global warming. Many people — including America’s new President — believe that global warming is the pre-eminent issue of our time, and that cutting CO2 emissions is one of the most virtuous things we can do.
To stretch the metaphor a little, this seems like building ever-larger safari parks instead of creating more farms to feed the hungry.
Make no mistake: global warming is real, and it is caused by manmade CO2 emissions. The problem is that even global, draconian, and hugely costly CO2 reductions will have virtually no impact on the temperature by mid-century. Instead of ineffective and costly cuts, we should focus much more of our good climate intentions on dramatic increases in R&D for zero-carbon energy, which would fix the climate towards mid-century at low cost. But, more importantly for most of the planet’s citizens, global warming simply exacerbates existing problems.
Consider malaria. Models shows global warming will increase the incidence of malaria by about 3% by the end of the century, because mosquitoes are more likely to survive when the world gets hotter. But malaria is much more strongly related to health infrastructure and general wealth than it is to temperature. Rich people rarely contract malaria or die from it; poor people do.
Strong carbon cuts could avert about 0.2% of the malaria incidence in a hundred years. The other option is simply to prioritise eradication of malaria today. It would be relatively cheap and simple, involving expanded distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets, more preventive treatment for pregnant women, increased use of the maligned pesticide DDT, and support for poor nations that cannot afford the best new therapies.
Tackling nearly 100% of today’s malaria problem would cost just one-sixtieth of the price of the Kyoto Protocol. Put another way, for each person saved from malaria by cutting CO2 emissions, direct malaria policies could have saved 36,000. Of course, carbon cuts are not designed only to tackle malaria. But, for every problem that global warming will exacerbate — hurricanes, hunger, flooding — we could achieve tremendously more through cheaper, direct policies today.
For example, adequately maintained levees and better evacuation services, not lower carbon emissions, would have minimised the damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans. During the 2004 hurricane season, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, both occupying the same island, provided a powerful lesson. In the Dominican Republic, which has invested in hurricane shelters and emergency evacuation networks, the death toll was fewer than ten. In Haiti, which lacks such policies, 2,000 died. Haitians were a hundred times more likely to die in an equivalent storm than Dominicans.
Obama’s election has raised hopes for a massive commitment to carbon cuts and vast spending on renewable energy to save the world — especially developing nations. As Obama’s Kenyan sister might attest, this could be an expensive indulgence. Some believe Obama should follow the lead of the European Union, which has committed itself to the goal of cutting carbon emissions by 20% below 1990 levels within 12 years by using renewable energy. This alone will probably cost more than 1% of GDP.
Even if the entire world followed suit, the net effect would be to reduce global temperatures by one-twentieth of one degree Fahrenheit by the end of the century. The cost could be a staggering $10 trillion.
Most economic models show that the total damage imposed by global warming by the end of the century will be about 3% of GDP. This is not trivial, but nor is it the end of the world. By the end of the century, the United Nations expects the average person to be 1,400% richer than today.
An African safari trip once confronted America’s new president with a question he could not answer: why the rich world prized elephants over African children. Today’s version of that question is: why will richer nations spend obscene amounts of money on climate change, achieving next to nothing in 100 years, when we could do so much good for mankind today for much less money? The world will be watching to hear Obama’s answer.
(The author, adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, is the organiser of the Copenhagen Consensus.)
Pelosi should abstain from social engineering.
WSJ, Jan 27, 2009
One of the more curious items in the $825 billion House "stimulus" is $87 billion to help states with Medicaid, specifically including an expansion of family-planning services. The implication is that more people mean less economic growth.
Following a White House meeting with President Obama on Friday, Republican John Boehner, the House Minority Leader, asked how spending millions of dollars on birth control will help stimulate the economy. On Sunday, George Stephanopoulos of ABC's "This Week" repeated the question to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who responded that "family planning services reduce costs."
She added: "The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now, and part of what we do for children's health, education and some of those elements are to help states meet their financial needs. One of those -- one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception -- will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government."
The notion that a larger population will produce a lower standard of living can be traced to the 18th-century economist Thomas Malthus. But during Malthus's own lifetime, his prediction was proved false, as he later acknowledged. Population and living standards rose simultaneously, and have continued to do so.
Ms. Pelosi's remarks ignore the importance of human capital, which is the ultimate resource. Fewer babies would move the U.S. in the demographic direction of Europe and Asia. On the Continent, birth rates already are effectively zero, and economists are predicting labor shortages in the years ahead. In Japan, where the population is aging very fast, workers are now encouraged to go home early to procreate. Japan is projected to lose 21% of its population by 2050.
The age and growth rate of a nation help determine its economic prosperity. A smaller workforce can result in less overall economic output. Without enough younger workers to replace retirees, health and pension costs can become debilitating. And when domestic markets shrink, so does capital investment. Whatever one's views on taxpayer subsidies for contraception, as economic stimulus the idea is loopy.
How elections can work in an unstable country
Washington Post, Tuesday, January 27, 2009; Page A16
PRESIDENT OBAMA has suggested that elections may not be constructive in countries where there is no "freedom from fear" or where the rule of law and civil society are undeveloped. Iraq may be about to prove him wrong. Though security is fragile, the constitution is still disputed and institutions such as courts and a free media remain works in progress, the country's third national election since 2005 is scheduled for Saturday -- and it is looking like another important step toward stabilization.
The campaign for positions in 14 provinces so far has been a major improvement over the previous Iraqi elections -- not to mention the rigged or tightly limited ballots staged by most other Arab countries. Some 14,400 candidates are competing for 440 seats; in contrast to the last provincial vote, in January 2005, candidates are identified by name rather than being presented anonymously on a party slate. Thousands are openly competing in Iraqi cities and towns once paralyzed by violence or controlled by al-Qaeda. Blast walls have been papered with posters, and much of the debate is focused on improving government services. Violence, which spiked four years ago, so far has been a minor factor: Two candidates have been reported killed, and U.S. and Iraqi casualties this month are among the lowest since the war began.
In 2005, voters mostly chose among sectarian coalitions, and most Sunnis boycotted the vote. This month, Sunni parties are actively competing, and though religious parties remain important, the major Shiite and Sunni factions are jockeying among themselves. This means that Sunni politicians will be far better represented in local government and that the leaders themselves will be more popular, secular and diverse. In southern Iraq, an important debate over whether Shiites should support a strong national government or a Shiite-dominated federal region is being fought out by the Dawa party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which controls many provincial councils.
Mr. Maliki has gravitated toward a secular nationalism: His coalition is called State of Law. Once dismissed as hopelessly weak, the prime minister has grown so strong that some accuse him of plotting to construct a new Iraqi autocracy. For the moment, that seems unlikely, given the balances built into Iraq's new political system. But Mr. Maliki's platform does augur an Iraq that will be relatively secular, that will assert its independence from Iran and that will remain allied with the United States in the fight against al-Qaeda. If that prospect is advanced this weekend, Iraqis -- and their American partners -- will have elections to thank.
Planet Gore/NRO, Monday, January 26, 2009
Here's a good article on the problem of non-migratory Canada Geese in Connecticut. First up, why they won't migrate:
"There has been a steady increase of the nonmigratory Canada geese since the 1950s," Cherichetti said.
Harris estimated that there were 40,000 Canada geese in the state, primarily in the southwestern region.
Cherichetti said the geese are staying because they have the perfect combination of foraging (food), nesting (habitat) and covering habitat in this area of the state. They also don't have many natural predators left in Connecticut.
"With each nesting pair producing nonmigratory goslings each year, there are thousands of geese born each year that do not migrate," said Patrice Gillespie of the Wilton Conservation Commission member and a member of the Norwalk River Watershed Initiative. "Because we feed them and provide them with mowed lawns and well-groomed grass, we provide them with an ample food source, thus contributing to the excess nutrient problem they create."
And take a look at the "approved" method for controlling the population:
As a result, Cherichetti and other local environmental activists are urging local residents, especially those with waterfront property, to do their part in controlling the geese population through geese "family planning."
"We are trying to reduce their long-term growth rate by locating their nests and oiling their eggs," Cherichetti said. "The oiling means that the clutch of eggs is non-viable and won't mature into chicks. The birds continue to incubate the nests because they don't realize the eggs aren't viable. If we were to take the eggs away instead, it would result in the geese laying more eggs."
According to Cherichetti, in order to legally oil the eggs, municipalities must obtain a registration from the Fish and Wildlife Service. Then, with the permission of private property owners, environmental officers like Cherichetti can enter their property and oil the nests.
Eggs are only oiled if they do not float during a float test. If an egg, submerged in water, floats it means it is in the later stages of incubation and the chick has fully formed, so the egg wouldn't be oiled. If the egg sinks, in means it has been incubated for less than 13 days and the chick is not matured, so the egg is allowed to be oiled.
This method has been approved by several animal rights groups, including GeesePeace, PETA and the Humane Society because of the "float test" method, Cherichetti said.
"I think it's because of that clause that animal rights groups approve of the oiling and are even quite active in the oiling because they recognize that without minimally invasive methods to control the geese population the geese are going to have other issues like over-competition for food and diseases," Cherichetti said.
Other issues . . . like airplane crashes. Thanks in part to a feel-good bird-sanctuary earmark provided by Sen. Chuck Schumer, Laguardia airport has witnessed and a near tripling of bird strikes over the past few years:
When Flight 1549 took off from LaGuardia, North and South Brother Island Sanctuaries were about one-and-a-half miles to its west. As the jet headed north, it flew within two miles of Goose Island, another city bird sanctuary.
Seconds later, pilots radioed a bird strike and the plane started losing altitude as it headed for the Hudson.
"I predicted something just like that based on what we knew as a result of our study and the close proximity of a large bird population," aviation attorney Andrew Maloney said.
Data that we obtained from the Port Authority shows a dramatic increase in the number of reported bird strikes at LaGuardia in the last six years — From 31 bird strikes in 2002 to 87 in 2007, nearly a tripling in the number of strikes.
Parks and Recreation insists its sanctuaries pose no threat to aircraft. Egrets and cormorants nest on the islands. Experts we spoke to say both can pose risk to aircraft. In 2004, a passenger jet had to make an emergency landing in Chicago after one engine ingested two cormorants and caught on fire.
"Each one of these birds that are wading birds, all get sucked into engines and all pose a threat. They all pose a threat," Garber said.
A spokesperson for Parks and Recreation says there is no causal link between birds nesting on these islands and any bird strikes. She said the Port Authority has not contacted parks about the issue.
Institute for Energy Research, January 26, 2009
President Obama has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to swiftly decide whether or not it will waive federal law and allow California to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles. EPA is very likely to grant the waiver enabling California to institute new and costly regulations. The regulations amount to a stealth carbon tax of at least $1,000 on average per car or truck.
While the costs for this action are substantial, the benefits will be miniscule. These regulations will only reduce carbon dioxide emissions by a tiny amount. In fact, if every car in the US met these standards, the amount of carbon dioxide reduced would be overcome by the increase in other parts of the world within 134 days. American jobs, American workers and American family budgets will suffer. Meanwhile carbon dioxide emissions savings will essentially be “background noise.”
According to the rosy and dated estimates from California’s regulators, granting the waiver and allowing California to further regulate automobiles will increase the average price of a car by over $1,000. In addition to California, 16 other states have indicated that they plan to implement California’s costly regulations. If California and other states choose to deliberately increase the cost of automobiles for their citizens, their voters can express their discontent to their government. However, since California and the 13 other states’ citizens make up 50 percent of the nation’s population, in order to make car cost-effectively, automakers will likely be forced to implement California’s regulations on all cars, not just ones for California. This means that California will become the de facto national regulator and all Americans will pay a hidden $1,000+ tax per car.
Worse, there are infinitesimally small benefits generated from the planned regulations. In fact, if every car and truck complied with California’s regulation today (in reality, California’s regulation will likely only apply to new cars and trucks) U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases would decrease by 5 percent overnight. But emissions from the rest of the world are increasing so dramatically that by mid-June, emissions increases from the rest of the world make our decrease moot. This small and costly policy would have no noticeable impact on carbon dioxide emissions.
This program hurts family budgets and transportation affordability and provides no real benefits. It is a luxury that our nation should not be subjected to when economic times were good and we certainly cannot afford it now.
President Obama should ensure that Detroit builds cars Americans want to buy, not to satisfy California’s regulators. After all, should the U.S. be forced to follow the policies of a state nearing bankruptcy and losing massive numbers of jobs?