The Great Debate UK
from The Great Debate:
When I was a graduate student at the University of Kansas, the pesticide DDT was very much on my mind. My assistantship in 1953 involved research on the evolution of DDT-resistance in fruit flies. It quickly became clear to all of us in this research group that the broadcast use of pesticides was a losing and dangerous game. When I attempted to raise butterflies in New Jersey in the 1940s, bringing food plants in from nature usually resulted in the caterpillars dying. In those days, widespread spraying of DDT to control mosquitoes coated much of the countryside with poison. In the lab it was easy to use selection to make flies impervious to DDT in some 10 generations, or, in contrast, so susceptible that they would drop dead at a whisper of that “miracle” chemical’s name. Evolution of resistance tended to make continuous use of any pesticide inefficient. The usual response of the chemical industry was to recommend increasing the dose or to substitute more toxic compounds, making pest control even more expensive and dangerous.
That was well understood by evolutionists early on, but it took a marine biologist and talented writer, Rachel Carson, to bring the pesticide problem to public attention and, incidentally, to launch the modern environmental movement. Silent Spring, published in September, 1962, was a brilliant book, but also one that appeared when the time clearly was ripe. The public seemingly had been primed by publicity about radioactive fallout, fears of pesticide residues on cranberries and the thalidomide scandal, the latter enhanced by pictures of infants born with distorted limbs. Carson suffered from the drawbacks of being a female scientist before science’s gender gap began to dissolve, and from lacking a PhD and a professorial position. Despite those “handicaps,” she had the science about as right as it could be at the time.
Carson was subject to a storm of vicious attacks by the combined public-relations machines of the chemical industry and agribusiness, and even from scientists in the industry and entomology departments of some universities. Typical was the much quoted statement of Professor Robert H. White-Stevens, a poultry scientist of Rutgers University: “If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth.” The assault began even before Silent Spring was published. A public-relations campaign against Carson and trumpeting the safety of pesticides was bankrolled by the National Agricultural Chemical Association (NACA). Virtually all of the attacks were without merit. Carson withstood them all, even though she was struggling with metastatic cancer. I met her once only briefly, and then she was gone.
Rachel Carson's legacy looms huge today. Many people have the impression that climate disruption is the worst environmental problem humanity faces, and indeed, its consequences may be catastrophic. But the spread of toxic chemicals from pole to pole may be the dark horse in the race. Carson may have started environmentalism by illuminating exactly the right issue. This is especially the case as recent research has shown that many synthetic chemicals, called endocrine-disrupting compounds, may do nasty things to you at high doses but can have different harmful effects at very low doses. These low-dose effects can increase the probabilities of altered sex determination, behavioral changes, developing cancers and more.
from The Great Debate:
The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio was marked by optimism and hope, but much of the buzz about the upcoming Rio+20 meeting is skeptical and cynical. Critics say the Rio process has been unduly bureaucratic and hasn’t lived up to its goals. They are branding Rio+20 as a failure before it has even begun. President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron are sitting it out. Some even say that in the radically decentralized Internet Age, the days when government leaders or U.N. bodies can set global agendas by fiat are long gone.
True, the Rio process itself has sensibly evolved away from government decree and turned toward the private sector to build a green economy that can implement sustainability on a global scale. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t important things governments can do to make Rio’s goals a reality.
from The Great Debate:
If it were a novel, people would criticize the plot for being too far-fetched – thriving colonies disappear overnight without leaving a trace, the bodies of the victims are never found. Only in this case, it’s not fiction: It's what's happening to fully a third of commercial beehives, over a million colonies every year. Seemingly healthy communities fly off never to return. The queen bee and mother of the hive is abandoned to starve and die.
Thousands of scientific sleuths have been on this case for the last 15 years trying to determine why our honey bees are disappearing in such alarming numbers. "This is the biggest general threat to our food supply," according to Kevin Hackett, the national program leader for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's bee and pollination program.
It is more than a year since the devastating July and August 2010 floods in Pakistan that affected about 20 million people and killed an estimated 2,000. Many believe that the disaster was partially fuelled by global warming, and that there is a real danger that Pakistan, and the Indian subcontinent in general, could become the focus of much more regular catastrophic flooding.
By Morven McCulloch
The ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in north-eastern Japan, seriously damaged by a March 11 earthquake and tsunami, has led to anti-nuclear protests in several countries and forced governments to rethink their energy policies.
The UK currently has 10 nuclear power stations, representing 18 percent of the country’s energy supply according to Energy UK. Should British Prime Minister David Cameron, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, reverse his position on the safety of nuclear power?
– Sam Gill is Operational Director at the Environmental Investment Organisation. The opinions expressed are his own. —
Today’s launch of the Environmental Tracking (ET) UK 100 Carbon Rankings show just how far we have to go in tackling corporate emissions. If the first step is getting trusted, accurate data into the public domain, then 65 percent of the UK’s biggest companies are keeping us in the dark.
from Environment Forum:
Remote villages in developing countries might benefit from these twin 40-ft long containers (left) -- a water purification system driven by solar power -- as a substitute for noisy diesel-powered generators, trucks bringing in water or people spending hours every day walking to fetch water.
That's the hope of the makers, environmental technology group SwissINSO Holding Inc. The small company has recently won its first contracts to supply the systems to Algeria and Malaysia and is aiming to sell 42 units of what it calls the world's "first high-volume, 100 percent-solar turnkey water purification system" in 2011.
Lord Professor Julian Hunt is Vice President of GLOBE (Global Legislators for a Balanced Environment), Visiting Professor at Delft University, and former Director-General of the UK Met Office. The opinions expressed are his own.
Ahead of the UN Summit in Cancun, legislators from across the world, ranging from United States Congressman Bart Gordon to Chinese Congressman Wang Guangtao, met in China earlier this month at the GLOBE Climate Change Symposium. While the prospects for a comprehensive deal being reached in Mexico have been widely talked down, much progress can still be made and there remains substantial room for optimism.
from The Great Debate:
By Danielle Grace Warren
The opinions expressed are her own.
The people of Haiti have a name for the earthquake that rocked their country: Goudougoudou, an onomatopoetic creole nickname invented for the earthquake meant to emulate the sound of the earth rumbling, the buildings falling. There are numbers for it, too: 230,000 deaths, 59 aftershocks and 1.5 million people who remain displaced nearly a year later.
While over a billion dollars in US aid was promised was for rebuilding Haiti is tied up in the umbilicus of Washington, Port au Prince residents are settling between piles of debris — 98% of which still has not been removed. Haitians pick through the rubble for building scraps to reinforce torn tarpaulin.
– Lord Hunt is a visiting professor at Delft University and emeritus professor at University College London, and former director-general of the UK Meteorological Office. Dr Simon Day is a researcher at the Aon Benfield UCL Hazard Research Centre, University College London. The opinions expressed are their own –
The devastating tsunami that struck the Indonesian islands of Mentawai may have caused about 450 deaths, with hundreds more still missing, and compounds the disaster caused in the country by the eruption of Mount Merapi in Java. Following a magnitude 7.7 earthquake, the Mentawai Islands were engulfed with estimated three-metre waves that affected thousands of households.