Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Stephan Schmidheiney: Rio 1992 & BCSD

Stephan Schmidheiney is not a name known to many, certainly not to me before May 1992, when I interviewed him in London on the eve of the Rio Earth summit, at which he led the Business Council for Sustainable Development - an organisation he funded and directed - that succeeded in having a big influence on all aspects of the Rio process. As a result, this Swiss billionaire has ever since been seen (or promoted) as an enlightened businessman with a global reputation for pushing forward enlightened messages and policies, enouraging the corporate community to become more sustainable and ecologic. And to have invested in such enterprises himself. If not Bob Geldof, then certainly a man with a mission and deep pockets to further his aims, with the ear of the Presidents, CEOs, the World Bank and other global leaders - including Bono no doubt. As we shall see in Part 2: things are not always what they seem. But here to begin with is the profile of Schmidheiny and his views I wrote, as part of a larger pre-Rio piece entitled 'Business As Usual' for The Indepedent on Sunday (published 31 May 1992).

The Schmidheiny dynasty began in the late nineteenth century with Jacob, a shoemaker's son. In 1866, Jacob bought Heerbrugg castle and the surrounding area in eastern Switzerland and built a weaving mill and a brickworks. Four generations later, an empire has been created that forms an important part of the Swiss economy.

Jacob divided his fortune between his two sons, establishing a family custom which survives to this day. The Schmidheiny rule of inheritance requires that each son is given a domain over which he has absolute control, to avoid family squabbling. When Stephan — Jacob's great-grandson, a qualified lawyer now aged 44 — came into his inheritance, he rebuilt it into three private holding companies which together control Landis & Gyr (energy management), Leica (optical and scientific instruments), Asea Brown Boveri (power stations and electrical equipment) and SMH (watches, including Swatch). Schmidheiny is also on the board of Nestle and of Switzerland's largest hank, the Union Bank of Switzerland. He and his elder brother Thomas, who runs one of the world's largest cement companies and is on the boards of Swissair and Credit Suisse, have between them a net worth in excess of $3bn.

Journalists interviewing Stephan Schmidheiny are given in advance two approved Press profiles. One describes "an achiever with a penchant for fundamentalist social criticism and an inclination to self-doubt". As a young man, we are told, he considered becoming a missionary or a development worker. "I had a tough childhood. Not materially — we wanted far within^ But f was preoccupied with the big questions — existence, the meaning of life." His father wanted him to qualify as an engineer; Stephan wanted to study law. He hung around in Zurich, "plagued by self-doubt".

His degree thesis, on investment risk guarantees, dealt with a subject dear to the heart of his father, who had tried to get such a concept accepted by the Swiss government. It was a theme in tune with Switzerland's internationally expanding industries, which were looking for some form of state-backed guarantee for investments they were making in the third world. Within a year Stephan had not only been awarded his doctorate but also surmounted his identity crisis. By 1984, he had control of a sizeable part of an empire worth around Sfr2bn, with 23,000 employees.

Two events followed which are crucial to the official presentations of Stephan's life and character: a business slump and an environmental health ha2ard. In a profile in the September 1986 issue of Fortune magazine, he said: "For 30 years my father's company enjoyed uninterrupted growth. But six months after I became managing director in 1975, the construction market collapsed and we lost 30 per cent of our business. That kind of experience forms the pattern of your thinking."

[n 1976 he decided to lead one of his companies, Eternit, out of the asbestos business, due to rising evidence of health hazards. Eternit was one of the world's leading asbestos cement producers. Stephan, according to one profile, "had first-hand experience of the fibre — now recognised as highly carcinogenic - as the site foreman on one of the company's plants in Brazil." When Sweden put a ban on asbestos cement Stephan was sent there, and returned with the conviction that Eternit needed to get out of the stuff fast.

Stephan's father and the company's old guard serioulsy believed, according to the profile, that a few technical improvements to the extraction systems of the factories and a change in name from asbestos cement to fibre cement would do the trick. But Stephan Schmidheiny sensed deep down that mere cosmetics were not going to be enough. He defeated internal opposition to launch a search for a substitute. The company and its German affiliate aimed to put their cement production on an asbestos-free basis by 1990. In addition it shed its minority shareholding in Eternit Brazil and, consequently, the company's 50 per cent stake in the world's biggest asbestos mine.

Schmidheiny refers to the subsequent restructuring of his empire as "industrial architecture". His profiler tells us that he built his vision of the future "on the ruins of the Eternit empire", via investment in high-tech companies which would help preserve the natural environment."

SITTING in an office in a leafy Bloomsbury square, Stephan Schmidheiny describes himself as "a Swiss maverick idealist rich man". If that suggests an overt charisma, it is misleading: he is a crisp businessman with the self-effacing air of the truly rich.

In the summer of 1990, Maurice Strong [the organiser of the Rio Earth summit] approached Schmidheiny. "Maurice was looking for someone who would stimulate business interest in the whole Rio process," Schmidheiny says. Together they formed the Business Council for Sustainable Development, with Schmid-heiny's role being "to make sure that the business voice is heard in a process where many decisions need to be taken which can only be implemented on the condition that business understands the message and co-operates and actually makes things happen."

Two years later, after spending a third of his time and £4.5m of his own money enlisting 47 leading industrialists (including the heads of Volkswagen, Du Pont, Alcoa, Nippon Steel and Royal Dutch Shell), Schmidheiny was in Washington, telling George Bush: "The environment must no longer be an issue primarily addressed on the ethical and legal levels, but should become an integral consideration in the economic game which has maJe possible the triumph of freedom in the world."

Schmidheiny hopes the council will be seen as a symbol of "eco-efficiency", a beacon that will lead the corporate conscience into a new age. In his book, Changing Course, he states that the cornerstone of sustainable development is "a system of open, competitive markets both within and between countries" — in other words, the removal of barriers that restrict market access and activity. Environmental measures should be imposed through economic instruments (such as taxes) rather than controls or self-regulation. Subsidies should be phased out, and prices should "increasingly reflect the costs of environmental damage". BCSD supports the introduction of pollution taxes, and a closer relationship between aid programmes and business investments.

When it is suggested to him that his approach seems to concentrate on the economic approach to ecology, ignoring ethical considerations, Schmidheiny responds: "In the past, the environment problem in the world has been very much a question of moral ethics, and of humanitarian efforts and philanthropic motives. The consequence was that governments have reacted, by and large, in a repressive way - bans of all kinds, regulations, standards imposed on industry. We believe that has served a useful purpose, but that now the time has come where this must be integrated into the whole economy. If we don't, we lose."

Isn't the idea of unlimited growth outdated? "We believe there must be further development in the whole world. How could you possibly deny growth to those 5 billion people in the poorest segments of society, in the poorest countries? We need growth in all parts of the planet. We have these poor people, but we also need this in the industrial countries in order to move towards more efficiency. We do need growth. We need growth to overcome inefficient behaviour. It's an apparent paradox, but I think you'll find out that it's true."

Are we witnessing the birth of the real New World Order?

"1 accept that we have the burden of having caused a major part of the pollution in the past, and are still doing so. I think the industrialised countries have the increasing public awareness, political pressure, financial means and technical ability to change that behaviour. In developing countries, all these factors are missing - you don't have public awareness, because priorities are different, and you don't have the financial or technical means. The basis for my New World Order is to find a new and sound basis for co-operation in the world, rather than exploitation.

"I've been telling my friends in the developing countries, 'Why don't you look at this global environment challenge as a new basis for co-operation?' For the first time in history, rich countries should care for developing countries — not only on moral grounds and through philanthropic efforts ... but in our very mutual self-interest."

But doesn't the run-up to Rio suggest the differences between exploiters and the exploited are widening?

"So isn't business, in this respect, one small segment of humanity being exposed to the same problem? In the past, the whole of human civilisation and culture was based on how to dominate nature. That comes to an end — and I think that business is part of that process. We now learn that unless we overcome the traditional view that creating wealth means using up and throwing away natural resources, we will lose out."


Stephan Schmidheiney 2; The Asbestos Ghost

Welcome to my official web site Here you’ll find information regarding my entrepreneurial and philanthropic activities. I’d also like to share with you my biography and some personal ideas. I cordially invite you to browse through this site.

'The Schmidheiny family had always led a private life, removed from public scrutiny. Suddenly, I found myself on the front page of the newspapers, linked to the harmful effects of asbestos, the very effects from which I was trying to protect society, my employees, and the group. This was very hard, not only for me, but also for my family and friends.

'In retrospect, and taking into account our present knowledge of the many tragic victims of asbestos, I am glad that I remained steadfast in my decision to put an end to asbestos use, despite the uncertainty and resistance from the industry, my own group, and many of my employees. As we know now, the illnesses caused by asbestos only manifest themselves many years and even decades after exposure to the fibers. This is a profoundly deplorable situation, particularly since neither governments nor the industry recognized the problem's implications and for a long time failed to take the necessary protective measures.'

Full text here: http://www.abrea.com.br/Danbermaneng.pdf

'What has Stephan Schmidheiny, former sole proprietor of ETERNIT, done with his billions from the sale of Eternit's asbestos properties in the late 1980s? Between 1984 and 1999 Schmidheiny's net worth doubled from US$2 billion to US$4.4 billion. Part of what Schmidheiny has done is to reinvest in Latin American forest properties. According to recent Swiss accounts, Stephan Schmidheiny began buying Chilean forest land in 1982, and he now owns over 120,000 hectares in Southern Chile, near Concepcion, landwhich the Mapuche Indians claim has been theirs since time immemorial. The Mapuche charge that some of the land Schmidheiny bought was stolen from them during the Pinochet dictatorship, using that regime's standard techniques of intimidation, torture, and murder.'

Secrecy and Subterfuge in Switzerland
by Laurie Kazan-Allen (October 5th 2004)
'In 1985, the Swiss Eternit Group, owned by Stephan Schmiedheiny, was the world's second largest seller of asbestos; its asbestos-cement operations in thirty-two countries had annual sales of $2 billion. Although the Group had divested itself of asbestos holdings by 1990, former Eternit workers who have contracted asbestos-related disease remain unacknowledged and uncompensated in many countries.

'From the mid-1970s, Eternit was run by Stephan Schmidheiny who succeeded his Father as Chairman. In 1984, Schmidheiny was worth US$2 billion; in 2002, Forbes magazine estimated his wealth as US$4 billion. Since 2002, Stephan Schmidheiny does not enter into discussions about asbestos nor “does he comment publicly on this subject any more.”

'Swiss multinational Anova is facing claims in South Africa from lawyers representing former asbestos miners'
by Ariane Gigon Bormann in Zurich, Valérie Hirsch in Johannesburg (Swissinfo. 19 April 2003)
'The action stems from the company’s activities in South Africa, which were terminated at the end of the 1970s. The case is being led by Richard Spoor, a South African lawyer who has represented asbestos workers against a number of corporations.'

'In a few weeks time, Spoor is due in Switzerland to meet representatives of the former multinational Eternit, which became Anova...now presided over by Hans-Rudolf Merz, who took over from Schmidheiny last summer.

Singled out
'Merz feels that the lawyer is targeting one man: Stephan Schmidheiny. “Because he is Swiss, because he is rich, some people want to blame him for all their problems,” he said. Merz adds that 20 years ago, when Schmidheiny suggested that asbestos should be abandoned, the rest of the industry laughed at him.

'According to the Swiss financial magazine, Bilanz, Schmidheiny’s decision to get out of the asbestos business dated back to 1976, but it took nearly 20 years to completely pull out.

'The Schmidheiny brothers, who held a leading role at Eternit in the 1970s, have begun to leave the business world. Stephan has retired to Costa Rica, where he runs a development aid foundation, Avina.His brother, Thomas, announced earlier this month he was giving up his majority voting rights at Holcim, the world’s second-biggest cement maker.'

The Asbestos Cancer Epidemic by Joseph Ladou (Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 112, 2004)


The asbestos cancer epidemic may take as many as 10 million lives before asbestos is banned worldwide and exposures are brought to an end. In many developed countries, in the most affected age groups, mesothelioma may account for 1% of all deaths. In addition to mesotheliomas, 5-7% of all lung cancers can be attributed to occupational exposures to asbestos.

The asbestos cancer epidemic would have been largely preventable if the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) had responded early and responsibly. The WHO was late in recognizing the epidemic and failed to act decisively after it was well under way. The WHO and the ILO continue to fail to address the problem of asbestos mining, manufacturing, and use and world trade of a known human carcinogen.

Part of the problem is that the WHO and the ILO have allowed organizations such as the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH) and other asbestos industry advocates to manipulate them and to distort scientific evidence. The global asbestos cancer epidemic is a story of monumental failure to protect the public health.

More than 30 million tons of asbestos in its various forms have been mined in the past century. Asbestos is one of the most pervasive environmental hazards in the world, present in more than 3,000 manufactured products. All forms of asbestos can result in asbestosis (a progressive fibrotic disease of the lungs), lung cancer, and mesothelioma, a cancer arising in the membranes lining the pleural and peritoneal cavities.

Full text here:

'The tragedy of asbestos: Eternit and the consequences of a hundred years of asbestos cement
by R.F. Ruers and N. Schouten. Translated into English by Steven P. McGiffen. © September 2005
Socialistische Partij (Netherlands)

'In the European Union, the use of asbestos has been totally forbidden since January 1st, 2005, but in a number of developing countries it continues to rise. At the present time, on the world scale, two million tonnes of asbestos per year are used, usually without any form of protection.

'As long ago as 1930 it was confirmed that exposure to asbestos dust was dangerous to the point of being life-threatening. It nevertheless took until the beginning of the 21st century to have asbestos use banned within the EU. Before this, tens of thousands of victims suffered while a long struggle was fought against the ‘magic mineral’.

'By means of their massive power and extensive influence the asbestos cement concerns succeeded in postponing the ban on asbestos by decades, years in which huge profits were made at the expense of a multitude of factory workers and their families.

'In this report we reveal how, since the 1920s, the major asbestos concerns have used an international cartel to distort knowledge of asbestos and its dangers, with profit as their only goal.

'On the basis of these facts, some of which we have uncovered and will be new to the reader, and some of which are already well-known, we argue that these corporate groups should be held responsible for the human suffering which they have caused. Environmental damage must be systematically mapped and the high costs of cleaning it up should be paid by the polluter.'

Collaboration between Eternit companies has been used quite consciously to work against the introduction of measures responding to the dangers of asbestos cement, preventing them completely or delaying then for as long as possible. How this has been achieved is the subject of this report.

Chapter 2 describes the way in which Eternit companies have co-operated intensively during the whole period of their existence. The third chapter demonstrates that these firms knew very early on about the dangers to health their product presented. Chapter 4 shows what these firms did with this knowledge. Through lobbying and by delaying research these companies worked against the introduction of measures to deal with the dangers of asbestos cement. In the fifth chapter we look at the disinformation campaigns organised by Eternit companies, by means of which they succeeded in manipulating their customers’ trust, political decision-making and the medical debate.

Chapter 6 brings the report’s most important conclusions together and offers a number of recommendations on the basis of our research.

'An Eternity of Misdeeds' [Nostromo Research, London December 9 2005] http://www.minesandcommunities.org/Action/press834.htm

International Journal of Environmental Health
Special Issue - Asbestos Dispatches
(Volume 10, Number 2. April - June 2004)

International Ban Asbestos Secretariat home page for an extensive archive of recent and archived articles and reports.]

by Laurie Kazan-Allen
Jose Jesus Pessoa, known to one and all as Ze da Capa, died on November 3, 2005 in Osasco, Brazil; he was 63 years old and had suffered from asbestosis for many years. Ze da Capa had worked at the Eternit asbestos-cement factory as a foreman for more than 27 years. In 1995 he was one of the founding members of ABREA (The Brazilian Association of the Exposed to Asbestos), the first group to represent the interests of Brazilian asbestos workers. He was determined and courageous and worked assiduously to ensure that the voice of ABREA was heard nationally. Working closely with his colleagues Eliezer, Aldo and Fernanda, he laid the foundations for an organization which today stands as a testament to the vision of these pioneers. In 2000, the ABREA leadership and members brought together hundreds of international and Brazilian delegates at the world's first Global Asbestos Congress which was held in Osasco, near Sao Paulo.
Ze da Capa was a man of immense charm; his infectious smile and sense of humor were irresistible. His loyalty and sense of fun inspired friends and colleagues. He was the proud father of two wonderful daughters, Mara and Eliana, and the devoted husband to Dolores. The world is a sadder and duller place without him. Rest in peace dear friend.

Monday, February 27, 2006


Einstein-A-Go-Go: You can add your own message in chalk on this
famous image by going to Hetemeel.com. [Thanks to JT for this]

Sunday, February 26, 2006

I Bought Al Gore Lunch: Real As Rain

The young Al Gore at his typewriter at the Nashville Tennessean in 1962

On the 17th May 1992, on the eve of the Rio Earth Summit, on a Sunday lunchtime I found myself in the 'green room' of a London Weekend Television news studio with the then Senator Al Gore, Crispin Tickell (former UK ambassador to the UN and the man who was widely credited as convincing Margaret Thatcher about the reality of global warming) and Marcus Strong, the Canadian principal organiser of the Earth Summit.

Earlier that week [12 May] I had also interviewed Stephan Schimdheiny, one of the richest men in Switzerland, head of some eight corporations, who was leading the global corporate pitch at Rio. Material from Gore and Schmidheiny provided the major quotes in a feature piece 'It's Business As Usual' I produced for Richard Williams, then editor of the 'Independent on Sunday' magazine, at that time an impressive large-format magazine of which carried serious journalism and top photography.

[Interestingly, Gore was a complete unknown to the British press at that point and the published piece largely centred on the background history of Schmidheiney, Strong and the prognosis for the forthcoming Rio Summit'. The sub-title sums it up: 'A Swiss billionaire and the Rio Summit organiser have teamed up to convert big business to the cause. Or is it just a corporate greenwash?]

After the tv show, Al Gore and I were taken by hire car to Orsos in Covent Garden, where I interviewed him about his just published book 'Earth in the Balance.' At the end of the meal, I discovered Gore was being driven down to Gatwick Airport - halfway home for me - so I hitched a ride.

Yes it was just like a scene from 'The Candidate' - a real Kennedy moment. Just a few weeks later, on 9 July, Bill Clinton announced his selection of Gore as running mate.

As the majority of my interview with Gore was not published in the Independent, I tried to sell a fuller profile of Gore to The Guardian (which I faxed to Alan Rusbridger on 8 June) but with no success. So, almost 14 years later, this is its first publication. I hope you think it makes interesting reading. Just in case you get confused, the Bush in question is George Senior. How times change !


Throughout the tv news coverage of the Bush administration's intransigent and un-imaginative stance on Rio, one man's views have been consistently presented as a counter-point, those of Senator Al Gore. He is man little known to the British public but in the US he is widely perceived as the greenest Senator in the Congress and the man for the Democratic nomination in 1996.

Gore is a second-generation senator, a Baptist from Tennessee. He is, amongst other things, one of the architects of the Superfund Law to deal with toxic waste sites and head of the committee in charge of NASA. His well-written just published book 'Earth In The Balance' provides not only a clear analysis of global problems but also ranges across a wide canvas of other scientific and spiritual matters, concluding with an outline for a Global Marshall Plan.

In person he is tall, dark-haired, clean-shaven, well built, personable and intelligent. When we met he had just flown in from the black ghettos of Memphis for a tv debate on Rio and was en route to Strasbourg. This interview was conducted over a fast lunch at Orsos and during an 85mph drive to Gatwick and it is clear that he lives his life on this kind of tight schedule.

He has had some great teachers and has travelled the world in search of a true understanding of the global ecological crisis and how it can be resolved. As his book reveals, he has witnessed at first hand the Aral Sea disaster, has stood on the Antarctica ice, been in a nuclear submarine below the Arctic and travelled in the Amazonian rain forest. In Vietnam he trudged through a landscape defoliated by Agent Orange. He has done virtual reality and contributed a major article to Scientific American about the need to build the new 'data highways'. He understands the links between environmental awareness and electronics. He has internalised the JFK myth, draws his strength from Jeffersonian principles and his metaphors from the cutting edge of science.

When he was a child, his mother made him realise the importance of Rachgel Carson's 'Silent Spring'. His college professor was Roger Revelle, the first person in the worid to monitor carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and, along with C.O. Keeling, discoverer of the 'greenhouse effect'. He studied the nuclear arms race and ran for President and lost in 1987.

His inner spiritual search was intensified by an afternoon in April 1989 when, in front of his eyes, his six-year old son Albert was hit by a car and flung thirty feet in the air. The long life-and-death struggle that ensued, ending happily with his son's survival, caused him to rethink all his values. He was 40, a failed Presidential candidate, a man ready for personal change. He quotes Ghandi: "We must be the change we wish to see in the world".

Our conversation began with the Founding Fathers for whom Gore has great respect. Like Jefferson, he aspires to achieving a 'catholic understanding of the whole of knowledge' and he describes the original Constitution as a 'blueprint for an ingenious machine that uses pressure valves and compensating forces to achieve a dynamic balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the community, between freedom and order, between passions and principles.' Their ideas, he believes, are now very contemporary.

"Our civilisation's relationship to knowledge is unhealthy in at least one important respect. We have chosen the strategy of specialising in ever narrower fields of inquiry to the exclusion of any sustained effort to integrate what we're learning with an improved understanding of the whole of knowledge. And we rationalise this approach by telling ourselves that its absolutely impossible for anyone to keep up with all the facts emerging in every field of inquiry so it's efficient to just look at a tiny subset of knowledge.

"The result is that we don't pay attention to the way the parts relate to the whole. There's an implicit assumption that somewhere someone is putting all this together and no-one is. So whenever an important value relating to the whole is at risk no-one speaks for it."

Which, of course, is exactly the problem when we come to talk about the global environment. I put it to him that we are living in the last days of the Enlightenment paradigm and, in the classic paradigm theory, the anomalies are accumlating but we don't yet have the new vision and the new model.

"But it is in fact emerging.The manner in which a change of this kind takes place is rather like the way a shift in tectonic plates causes an earthquake. As the two paradigms press against one other, the pressure builds up for a long period of time before there's any tangible evidence of change on the surface. Just as in a real earthquake, there's a sudden heaving motion as one plate submerges the other and the shock waves [result].
When enough pressure builds up, one paradigm moves over the other one submerging it and the shock waves knock down the conceptual edifices that have been associated with the old paradigm. We're now in the stage where the pressure is building nearly to the point where this shift will take place. It's a very deep change.

"The ideas with which Descartes, Francis Bacon and others are associated, [is] that we would eventually be able to contain in our intellect the full mathematical blueprint of all reality, predict the movement within the patterns we have deciphered and then master all of reality.

"It was that arrogant and hubristic notion which led to, in the extreme form, communism, which was after all the notion that we could completely contain in an intellectual design all of human society and then manhandle reality to make it conform to the preconceived notion. The fact that communismm collapsed suddenly at the very moment when we see this paradigm shift about to take place in all these other fields is not an accident. Its part of the same shift.

He agreed with my notion that Fukuyama's The End of History' is not the end of history but the end of the old model, one in which the mass media and the intellectual apparatus that surrounds it is still trapped.

Conversation then turned to the earth as the new powerful, holistic symbol and to his involvement with NASA's Mission to Planet Earth.

"It's extremely important as a way of accelerating the solidification of this new consensus, as a way of identifying the best methods for healing the reelationship between civilisation and the earth and as a way of actually beginning the healing process itself.

"I've advocated a change in the design of Mission to Planet Earth to ensure that it is a mission by the people of Planet Earth and I'm now working with NASA and a number of corporations on a design for a worldwide education programme to link schoolchi1dren in every country wishing to participate, in a programme for monitoring the environment in their individual areas and recording [their findings] on a daily basis.

"What I envisage eventually, on cable television at least, is hourly updates on what is happening to the global environment both in terms of the indicators of temperature, wind speed, drought, soil aridity, soil erosion etc and in the way of mitigation and remediation worldwide. That's not far off. Its possible to link that together within two to three years."

"I've just had a meeting with the new NASA administrator Daniel Golden and I was recommending the creation of a new programme called Digital Earth to create a very dense, interactive model capable of accepting data inputs from a variety of different formats and contaning them within this grid, which will evolve to become an ever denser and more accurate representation of the world system.

I have also just completed a long negotation with the intelligence communi ty and the director [of the CIA] Robert Gates. It has just been agreed formally between the two of us to allow a panel of earth scientists to go through a very elabarate security check, so that they get the codeword clearance at the top level of classification. That includes lie detector tests and all kinds of things. Some of these scientists may not want to go through this but most of them are willing to do this in the cause.

"They will then go into the guts of the intelligence community as a scouting party to find the databases that are most relevant to quickly upgrade our understanding of the climate system. We have a very large array of satellites and other data collection systems that are totally hidden from public view, A good bit of the information that they're planning to get through Mission from Planet to Earth ten to fifteen years from now is, in fact, already available - except that it's top secret. (The first fruits of this was the release of Arctic sea ice data)

"I made it clear to the intelligence community that there would, under no circumstances be any compromise of national security. Starting from the premise, we then found ways to scrub out the national security sensitive information and still bring into the open these enormous volumes of data that the scientists have never seen before."

British cosmologist Fred Hoyle predicted in 1948 that: "once a photograph of the Earth, taken from outside, is available, we shall, in an emotional sense, acquire an additional dimension . . .Once let the sheer isolation of the Earth become plain to every man, whatever his nationality or creed, and a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.'

"In a sense the Apollo 11 picture of the earth was a turning point. There's a moral philosopher named Mark Sagoff who argues that the old controversy between preservation and conservation, between the idea that nature is pristine and must be kept sheltered from human impact - or at least important parts of it must be - and the idea that nature is a collection of natural resources which we need for our own consumptive patterns, the task [being] to manage those patterns of consumption in ways that safeguard the continued availability of resource. He argues that both of these approaches really rest on the assumption that nature is one thing and human beings are something else altogether. The debate in the media and the environmental movement unfolded within that old paradigm.

"The solution is obviously to see ourselves as an integral part of the ecological system. And one concept, according to this particular thinker, is to dwell on the concept of place. We sink roots in a place and, as a consequence, we feel not only a connection to it but also an obligation to preserve it as [we are] a part of it. The image from Apollo 11, that first image of earth from space, was a breakthrough conceptually, primarily because it demonstrated that the earth is one place. That we are rooted in this one place. That is as important an element in the new paradigm as any other."

In his book Gore devotes a chapter to his ideas about 'environmentalism of the spirit' and quotes Teilhard de Chardin's view that "The fate of mankind, as well as of religion, depends on the emergence of a new faith in the future."

"Recently in Washington DC, I hosted a conference of religious leaders and scientists to talk about the global environment. We had the presiding bishops of the Episcopal Church, the Methodist church, the Baptist church, people from the Evangelical movement, from the historical African-American churches, the American Jewish community, the Council of Bishops of the Catholic church, right down the list - and a long list of some of the most distinguished scientists in the United States including Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, E.O. Wilson and Sherwood Row!and.

"The meeting went on for three days. It was a wonderful discussion and at the end of the conference they negotiated the text of a joint appeal. I chaired the session. One line of the appeal] was, we don't have to agree on how the world began in order to agree on the need to preserve it. Then they fanned out and went off lobbying members of Congress. The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church went to see President Bush, that's his denomination.

"I really believe there's a pending rapprochement between science and religion worldwide on this issue. Science, of course, is perhaps especially guilty of this problem we talked about earlier of increasing specialisation to increasingly narrow fields of inquiry. But the science of ecology, which emphasises relationships, is now leading to some very large changes in the way traditional science interprets some of the phenomena it has heretofore described in other languages.

"Every new discovery seems to bring into view an ever-more elaborate and richly complex web of interrelationships. It seems to be only logical to extrapolate that explosion of discovery to a point where the entire known universe will be seen as an elaborately interconnected whole. The new discovery that confirms the Big Bang theory is part of that process Once science arrives at this view of the universe, the distance between science and religion will have narrowed even more.

At this point the conversation takes a turn, when the real potential significance of the person sitting opposite me comes into focus.

"If I have the chance to run for President in the future I will and I will make the best use of whatever political talent I've gained in the effort to translate this issue into the central organising principle of the post-Cold War world. It must become that. I don't think, incidentally, it's anything like an impossible task. I think it will happen. It's just that we're in a race. It needs to happen sooner rather than later. It's happening, especially with young people. They're so much farther ahead of the others. There've been public opinion polls internationally that demonstrate quite conclusively that the number one issue for young people in almost every country is this task of saving the global environment. In the Year 2000 there will be 2 billion teenagers. It's a frightening thought in and of itself. They will all have the same notions about this change which has to take place.

Talk turned to Rio. Press coverage generally has been 'polluted with pessimism' in one memorable editorial phrase. What is the subtext though? Is this the fabled new world order taking shape? Is Rio just one stage in the process of reshaping the global political landscape?

"For the last fifty years, the central organising principle for the Western democracies has been the defeat of communism. In the United States, for example, that meant Federal assistance to local schools was approved only after the Russians had launched Sputnik. People from all parts of the ideological spectrum agreed that central government support of local schools was necessary if for no other reason [than that] it would assist our struggle against communism. My father was the author of the Interstate Highway Bill but it passed under the heading the Defense Interstate Highway Bill because in time of war, it would be quite useful for the trucks bringing material for the effort to defeat communism.

"Now that communism has been defeated, we are confronted with a great many new realities in the world. Chief among them is the emotional realisation by people all over the earth that we now have a global civilisation. It is a community of nations to be sure but it is truly a global civilisation linked together by an electronic comminucations grid - CNN, BBC and computer networks. The business community has long since begun to define all of its challenges in a global context. The scientific commmunity does the same thing. The fax machines between Bejing and East Anglia and Palo Alto are buzzing away right now.

"We are now at a point where politics has to catch up with the rest of civilisation and construct a global agenda of common problems which must be susceptible to cooperative worldwide solutions. So the new organs ing principle then must be the task of saving the world's environment and the Earth Summitt is the first of many world summit meetings at which this new global agenda will be drafted. It is in that sense, already a success.
Beneath the rhetoric this palpable sense of coming together is quite powerful. The shift in attitudes on the part of developing nations is quite pronounced, even though its disguised by the lingering resort to the ideological warfare of North and South left over from the 1960s,

"In fact that conflict is not what it appears to be. The new depth of concern about the global environment within the developing countries is a powerful fact of life. The South used to implicitly threaten the North with environmental irresponsibility if the North didn't cough up lots of money. We still hear [some of] that rhetoric [but] its an artefact of the past. The South now knows in its bones [that] the pattern of development has to change if the North does the right thing by them or not. Of course the North must do the right thing because it will not be physically possible for the South to accomplish the transition in time unless there is a truly cooperative effort. So all of these things are occurring beneath the surface at Rio.

"The great tragedy of Rio is that an occasion of this sort was intended to be the ideal setting for new commitments to get on with the task in hand. The fact that we've seen this enormous moral and political cowardice on the part of the leaders in the industrial world means that the tiny bit of substantive progress made at Rio is entirely out of proportion to the rapidly worsening problem. We've made an inch of progress while the problem has raced ahead many miles in its severity."

In his book, Senator Gore talks about the aftermath of the Gulf and reveals that James Baker had to disinvest his oil shares before he could talk about global warming. President Bush is, of course, an oil man through and through. Surely there is another fight going on. Entrenched corporate interests who have the power are damn well not going to give it up for anybody. As far as they are concerned, the world can go to hell in a handbasket.

"In this sense its a very old a classic struggle between short-term greed expressing itself as exploitation and a longer-term view of our obligations to generations to come. It's just that this whole conflict now has much higher stakes. The damage that can be accomplished by a continuation of this old resort to short-term greed is just unthinkable now.

"There is a very well-financed. well-organised and extremely agressive effort by elements within the coal industry and the electric utility industry to promote the Big Lie that we don't have a problem. They have already the cost the world several precious years in the effort to establish a new consensus and they seem bound and determined to do whatever it takes to fight this to the very end.

"At the last Rio preparatory meeting, the chief lobbyist for the US coal industry, a man named Don Pearlman, regularly caucused with the OPEC delegations and concocted strategy together. At a number of international meetings it seemed obvious to most observers that the Bush administration and the OPEC delegation were seeing eye-to-eye on tactical as well as strategic questions and worked cooperatively to prevent more meaningful agreements.

There is obviously a big change going on in the corporate world with green and spiritual ideas taking root.

"This is coming because of this very deep paradigm shift. What is a corporation? Is it a seperate entity unto itself, chartered to make money and nothing more, or is it an entity with complex interconnections to the society and the civilisation and the ecological system within which it makes money. This breakthrough to a new way of conceiving of the role of corporations in society confers a tremendous competitive advantage. Those who see the opportunity for profit in change are growing rapidly in numbers. I believe that the world business revolution in quality is being intertwined with the environmental revolution. This relationship between the business ethic and the environmental ethic is one of the keys to whether it moves in the right direction or not.

Corporations are now saying give us the responsibility but can we trust the the corporate world?

"I will quote you Ronald Reagan's dictum about the START negotiations. Trust But Verify, And where verification leads one to identify an agglomerati on of economic power being directed in a way that is intended to frustrate progress in saving the earth's environment, then we must be willing to take steps to correct that.

"But what's the alternative. The two polar extremes are untrammelled mercantilism and virulent statism. The latter has been associated with by far the worst environmental tragedies on the planet. Given a choice between the two approaches, one wants to learn from experience and recognise that modified free markets with appropriate restraints on unethical behaviour and unwise short-term exploitative behaviour represents an option generally to be preferred over what I regard as sometimes naive faith in central government programmes that sound good in concept but, for a variety of reasons, don't really accomplish what is intended. The reason why statism has been such a dismal failure in its communist iteration and elsewhere is that it deadens the human spirit and one does not unlock a higher fraction of the human potential unless there is a certain range of freedom.

Senator Gore tells me about a new movie, whose premiere he attended, called 'Mindwalk', made by Fritjof Capra and his brother Bert and starring Liv Ullman, Sam Waterstone and John Heard. It's about a Democratic senator who ran for President in 1988 and lost but is now totally absorbed in the global ecological crisis. The film takes the form of a two hour conversation between these protagonists as they wander round Mont St Michel. He could well be the model. He has certainly dedicated the rest of his life to his vision of global change. But is he for real? As real as rain, as they say in Tennessee,

Footnote: Gore's piece about the forthcoming concept of the Information Superhighway was called 'Infrastructure for the Global Village' and appeared in Scientific American, September 1991.

Al Gore 2: An Inconvenient Truth

The subsequent story of Gore's rise to Vice President and his subsequent crooked defeat by Bush is well known and part of the historical record. He was widely criticised during the campaign for the formality and woodenness of his public persona. Yet in recent years his star has risen again, partly due to a dogged one-man tour of cities and towns across America. in which he has been delivering a powerful audio-visual presentation about global warming.

A full description of this presentation can be found at: 'Al Gore at the TED 2006 conference'. It begins:

TED organizer Chris Anderson introduces Al Gore as the president of an "alternate universe this close to our own." Vice President Gore takes the stage, unfortunately not naked to the waist, beating drums. But he does open with a good joke:' I am Al Gore. I used to be the next President of the United States of America.' [laughter, applause] 'I don't think that's funny'.

'Gore's talk is a slideshow of images, designed to help us think about "a planetary emergency, a climate crisis". He quotes the old saw that the Chinese character for crisis includes signs for "danger" and "opportunity" and suggests that we have the possibility of making the 21st century the "Century of Renewal"

Read one reaction to his presentation, an Editorial at buzzflash.com entitled:
'If Al Gore Falls in the Forest and No One is There To Hear Him..'

Digest: 'True transformations in politics are as rare as palm trees in the Arctic Circle. But Al Gore is that palm tree. On Martin Luther King Day, Al Gore took us to the mountaintop and allowed us to view the desecrated landscape of Constitutional rubble that the Bush Administration has spread across America. Gore has, for the last three years, been a prophet of saving our democracy and restoring out Constitution. Al Gore isn't just bringing the truth to the Bush Administration. He is bringing it to a Democratic establishment which has been patriotically compromised and Constitutionally corrupted by their personal sinecures and commitment to their Senate positions, rather than their commitment to our Constitution. This is Al Gore day on our BuzzFlash alerts, because Al Gore has the temerity to tell the truth with passion and alarm -- and document his assertions every step of the way. Gore is the real thing, someone who went through a personal crisis, traveled to the mountaintop, and saw the light. '

Footage of Gore's tour has been woven into a global warming documentary, directed by Davis Guggenheim [94 Minutes, color] called An Inconvenient Truth Reviewed in the Sundance Film Festival catalogue by Caroline Libresco as follows:

'Extreme poverty, intractable wars, virulent disease, hatred of all stripes–these are a few of the scourges we live with today. And yet global climate change trumps them all; for if it's not addressed, all life on the planet will be devastated, regardless of geography, class, race, or creed. 'The Inconvenient Truth' is the gripping story of former Vice President Al Gore, who became interested in this startling issue while at college 30 years ago, and now devotes his life to reversing global warming. Traveling the world, he has built a visually mesmerizing presentation designed to disabuse doubters of the notion that climate change is debatable. The heart of Davis Guggenheim's film is this elegant multimedia lecture itself, where Gore indisputably correlates CO2 emissions with exponentially rising temperatures, already responsible for dramatic climactic shifts like ice-cap melting, drought, and rising sea levels. Interwoven with this riveting public address are intimate moments revealing the poetic, searching side of Gore as he struggles to define his purpose in the aftermath of the 2000 election. This is activist cinema at its very best, for it serves to popularize and demythologize a problem long obscured by those most threatened by the solution. With humor and searing intelligence, Gore outlines crucial steps we must take to avert impending disaster and proves that inaction is no longer an option–in fact, it's immoral.

Read review of the Sundance screening at Treehugger, one of the smartest environment sites on the web.

A full-length video of a talk Gore gave towards the end of 2005 at the NetImpact conference at Stanford
can be heard and seen here.

There is also a web petition aimed at the UN to try and institute a Global Environmental Ambassador and suggesting that Al Gore should be the first. Sign up here if you agree.

Gore is also in the headlines on two other fronts:

1. On 24th Feb, environmental activists from the Computer TakeBack Campaign, a national coalition of environmental organizations, descended on Gore's Nashville office in an attempt to convince him to use his position on the board of Apple Computers to get the company to recycle their products. [They have already persuaded Hewlett-Packard and Dell to support producer take-back of toxic discarded products carrying their brand names.]

The group's website claims Apple's electronic wastes contain dangerous toxic chemicals.

"The iLife isn't quite as harmonious as it seems. Lurking underneath Apple's beautifully designed digital music players and computers are poisonous chemicals like lead and mercury that can cause birth defects and disabilities. When the millions of Apple's obsolete computers and other electronic products hit the landfills and incinerators, millions of pounds of toxic lead and other highly toxic materials will be dumped into our air, land, and water."

2. Also this month, Al Gore’s Current TV - a news network for young adults which Gore co-founded - is facing two lawsuits over its name - from Maryland-based Current Communications Group, a provider of broadband Internet services, and Minnesota Public Radio. Both parties claim that they made priopr registartion of the Current trademark. A statement from Current TV noted, "We know of no consumers who confuse us with Minnesota Public Radio, and we can't imagine that anybody ever would."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Out and About 2

In London: had lunch with John Elkington at Gallerie Charlick (138 Gray's Inn Road), where there's currently an excellent show of photos by Stuart Redler

To escape a hail storm, ducked into Magma at 117-119 Clerkenwell Road - for my money, the best book/magazine/DVD shop around.

Bought The Believer, an excellent, quirky and beautifully designed perfect-bound journal of thought-provoking contributions, published 10 times a year from San Francisco and Juxtapoz, an underground and cult/art and culture mag of real punch and flair, showcasing some extraordinary work.
Genuinely exciting stuff, as is the DVD of 'Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus', a fantabulous documentary by Andrew Douglas recently screened on the BBC Arena programme, tracking singer Jim White on a journey through the netherbelly of the Southern States. This is a marvelous and imaginative film, genuinely fresh and unexpected in style, showcasing some wonderful southern music from the likes of the Handsome Family, Johnny Dowd and David Johansen - a spine tingling and spellbinding experience.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Fourth Door Review

Published annually, Fourth Door Review, in the words of its publisher and editor Oliver Lowenstein, ''explores the relationships between ecology and technology, art and architecture, and new media and new music. Part book, part magazine, Fourth Door Review expands these horizons in ground-breaking ways, offering in-depth essay-features and interviews alongside short overviews, across a spectrum of connections contemporary art, design, craft and architecture are making with new technologies, sustainability and ecological perspectives.'

'Fourth Door Review 7’s centrepiece is the Architexts Scenario themed section which explores the new and recent buildings of the Maggie Centres movement, featuring a Frank Gehry interview, Charles Jencks writing on the whole Maggies story, plus an overview of the related wider field of ongoing research being carried out in the healthcare design field, and a call for architects to take on the sustainable argument for improvements in health to be met with healthy buildings. Alongside the Design with Care section, building on its focus on contemporary Timberbuild in previous issues, Architexts features an in-depth interview with Europe’s leading timber engineer, Julius Natterer.

'In the arts section, Framework the second part of the interview Andy Goldsworthy interview concludes Fourth Door’s exploration of eco-arts superstar artists work. Further Scottish input comes in the form of Dundee based cross-disciplinary installation artists, Dalziel and Scullion, while the Margins of Music section is devoted to one of the leading Nordic musicians of his generation, Jan Garbarek. In Digitalis, the new media section, the twinpath life of George Dyson is examined in detail, looking both at his advocacy of the electronic edges in his book Darwin Among the Machines, the integration of cad-cam into his primary working life, Baidarka (kayak) boat building and how this, and many years of real life kayaking amidst the Northern Pacific and Alaskan coastal lands has brought to him a visionary, futuristic ecological perspective. '

Further details at

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Underground Lullaby

It was an underground lullaby

Somewhere beneath, outside, left of centre
There is another kind of world
Where things operate by other rules
In my underground lullaby

A world of secrets, passions and blue desires
Just behind the curtain of reality
There is another world
In my underground lullaby

Strange to relate and even stranger to recall
I was caught up in reality once
Before zen caught up with me
And I learnt how to be free from it all
One day at a time

Moments of time mean nothing
If they fail to rhyme and chime
In with the web of life
The flow of existence
The patterns of perception
The Golden section

Droplets of yellow fall from blue piano keys
The old joanna never fails to please
When in the hands of a master
The dappled dreams and drifting thought beams
The old singer acknowledges the applause
And shuffles off his mortal coil right there
On the bareboard stage
We watch as his soul uncurls and spirals upwards
Like smoke and disperses in the rafters
Adding a scintilla of stain
To the browned ceiling panels that keep out the rain
Havanas never smelt so sweet
As that man’s soul escaping on Bourbon Street

Lies are the hard stuff to chew
In your eyes so much harder to live with
Nothing walks the night like fear

Dressing rooms strewn with pantaloons
Buffoons playing bassoons
A hairy-eyed monster casting the runes
Bill Evans playing those cool jazz tunes
The waitress with her big bazooms
Swirls of chat wash round the room

Drenched by life, I stumbled into space
I remember falling four stories
Watching the iron balustrades tumble past me in slow motion
As I whirled like as astronaut mending a communication satellite
Right into the arms of mother earth
When I awoke I knew I was a broken man
Who’d been healed by life

The star-struck sailors cluster round the raven-haired star
Who’s laughing at their biceps, choking on their applause
They form a ring around her radiance

And the sirens sound in the neighouring streets
As whores and pimps come out to eat
The fresh meat

The batter and clatter
Crash and dash
Holy commotion
Of daytime
The sweet night
With birds asleep above
The street lights

Trust in me whispered a voice in my ear
I tried to comprehend what it was saying
But the words just seemed to hum
And the sky was turning my way
And I fell down to my knees on the damp street

Trust in me
How long had it been since he heard those words
And how many times had they been betrayed
Her face came back wholesale
He could smell her neck and hold her tiny hands
Once more

To little to late and then a mistake
A bad word at the wrong time was all it took in the end
To unlock the padlock of attachment
And send me spinning through the bars of the world

Hold tight to me she said
But I had to set her free
There was no time to dream
Only puddles and islands
Fringe thoughts on curved beaches
And the passing smudge of a steamer’s smoke
Like a brushstroke on the horizon

Scheister strokes his tie, spits in the street
Picks his nails, picks his nose
Adjusts his velvet collar
Snorts in anticipation and waits
She comes out of the third door on the left
It bangs shut behind her
Scheister peels off from the brickwork
And ambles in her wake
The chase begins
Bound to be bad stuff waiting up there’s a way
As the old man used to say
The old man
The old man
How many times can I say that
Like a mantra

And, as to a friend
I confided my secrets to the man in the weatherproof suit
He didn’t seem to care
The women opposite me in the train
Spread her legs the more I talked
I wanted to talk my way home
But my nerve failed me at the first tunnel

Lewes Light 2

The view from the castle grounds.
One of the 'Lewes Light' series
[Shot on APS]

Elephant News

[Above] 'Rogue Elephant' - a hand-tinted photograph. Produced by Gathered Images of Brighton. [HQInfo Postcard Archive]

The situation facing the Asian elephant is critical. Just over 5 percent of the original Asian elephant habitat remains today, and its population has declined over the past half century to an estimated 30,000–50,000 animals in the wild. This is only 10-15% of the African elephant population. Country populations vary from perhaps less than 100 in Vietnam to over 20,000 in India, but many population estimates are little more than guesses. It is now threatened with extinction according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

To address the main issues threatening the survival of the Asian elephant, the 13 Asian countries which still have wild populations came together for the first time in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on 24–26 January 2006. The meeting, convened by the Government of Malaysia, was facilitated by the
World Conservation Union (IUCN), and in particular its Species Survival Commission (SSC). Regional consensus on ways to secure the species’ future was the main aim of the meeting and the need for transboundary cooperation was highlighted throughout the discussions.

One of the main contributing factors to the elephant’s decline is the increase in human–elephant conflicts, which result in the death of several hundred animals and people every year, as well as damage to properties.

This rise has become inevitable as Asian elephants have less and less natural habitat in which to feed and roam. Just 500,000 sq km of the former Asian elephant habitat remains today –out of an original 9 million sq km. South and Southeast Asia have the highest human population density in the world, and it is still increasing by 1-3 percent every year. This results in accelerated conversion of forest and other elephant habitat into agriculture and settlements, disrupting traditional elephant paths and reducing their food supply.

Human-elephant conflict is now the major cause of individual elephant deaths, through indiscriminate poisoning, shooting and trapping. It is therefore critical to find ways to minimize this conflict and integrate these strategies into land use to ensure the long term survival of the species.

In addition, the recognition of elephants as an economic asset instead of an agricultural pest, and realistic compensation payments to farmers for elephant damage would encourage local people to be more tolerant of them living in their neighbourhood.

Other threats include selective poaching of tusked males for ivory, which results in skewed male-female ratios in many populations. While ivory is the main target for poachers, meat, hide, tail hair, bones and teeth are also traded, making elephants a particularly attractive target. Illegal killing has significantly reduced populations over wide areas.

According to Ian Sample, science correspondent of The Guardian: 'Intense poaching by ivory hunters has caused a dramatic shift in the gene pool of Asian elephants, leading to a steep rise in tuskless herds. Asian elephants are under more intense pressure from ivory hunters than their largerAfrican cousins... Male elephants usually grow tusks, but typically around 2-5% have a genetic quirk that means they will remain tuskless. By killing elephants for their ivory, poachers make it more likely that tuskless elephants will mate and pass on the quirk to the next generation.' Herds in China have been found in which up to 10% of the males are tuskless. See: 'Poaching leads to more tuskless elephants.'

See: Indonesia uses chillies to protect elephants (Reuters 03 Mar 2006 )

Asia battles to save endangered elephants (Reuters 03 Mar 2006 )

'A baby elephant returns to its home in West Bengal'
This delightfully expressed first-hand report comes from

'It is a special day for this rowdy pachyderm, rescued and released in the wild by Indian forest officers recently. After nearly a week of training and some serious taming, the large sized baby is all set to return home. The over nine-feet tall jumbo was rescued minutes before being poisoned by villagers like in a dramatic manner like any Bollywood film, by forest officials.

'The pachyderm had strayed into the village bordering the dense forests of nearby Midnapore region, lured by ripe paddy and tons of rice bear being brewed by the local for an annual festival.
The rowdy elephant, officials said, had refused to be bogged down by barbed wire fencing. He even tided over broom beatings by the locals, who had eventually decided to poison it just before when forest officials stepped in.

'The animal was transported from the village to the main Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary and was released into the wild after first aid and specialised training to avoid village landmarks. But the over 12-kilometer journey to the interiors of the sprawling sanctuary has been anything but easy and the animal, which was transported on a container truck, was given frequent baths, to keep him calm. The vagabond tusker has now been fitted with a radio collar so that his movements can be tracked.

"Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary has got a very good forest cover and also houses a lot of migrant elephants which are here in north Bengal. We hope that since this elephant was not getting enough forest cover in southern parts of Bengal. But here we have better forest cover, so we hope that it will stay in this forest," says P.T. Bhutia, Chief Conservator of Forests, West Bengal Government.

'The jungles in the northeastern parts of India are one of the last significant refuges of the mainland variety, Elephas maximus. But with the increase in population and logging have bitten badly into that refuge. Many of the protected forests exist; many of them are either too small or poorly protected, and too scattered to support large herds. Often, the pachyderms find migration routes blocked by villages, canals, and railway lines.

'Recent studies say the animals are increasingly going on rampage in the villages and dozens emerge from the jungle every year to take advantage of the paddy harvest, others have discovered a taste for local liquor and drink everything they can lay their trunks on. (ANI)

FUTHER INFORMATION: Good global overview on elephants here:
www.newsbbc.co.uk . Go to Science & Nature > Animals > Conservation > Elephants

NEW BOOK: 'Seeing the Elephant: The Ties that Bind Elephants and Humans'' by Eric Scigliano [Bloomsbury, London 2006]

Elephants can mimic sounds

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The First Vegan

Photo: Food for Life
Donald Watson, founder of the Vegan Society and originator of the word ‘vegan’ died at his home in Keswick at the age of 95 on November 16, 2005.

The son of a headmaster in the mining community of Mexborough, South Yorkshire, he was born (2 September 1910) into an environment in which vegetarianism, let alone veganism, was unknown. Donald’s parents, however, encouraged and supported their three children in determining their own paths in life, a liberal approach which enabled Donald to formulate ideas which were both challenging and controversial. He held his parents in great esteem, and often expressed his gratitude for their wisdom in accepting, if not understanding, his philosophy.

An obviously sensitive young man, Donald responded to the harshness and brutality of much which he observed in the industrial and farming community in which he grew up early last century, and he developed a great reverence for and in-depth knowledge of the countryside. An acute observer of the natural order and perfection of creation, this throughout life became his inspiration and guide, and led him to question man’s place in nature and his relationship with other species.

He became a vegetarian at the age of fourteen, although he knew of no others who followed this precept. A self-critical and free thinker, throughout his life he always responded to his inner convictions, regardless of any personal inconvenience or difficulties which this might entail. He was a quiet, strong-minded perfectionist, an abstemious man – teetotaller and non-smoker – who tried to avoid contact with any foods or substances which he regarded as ‘toxins’. Never one to criticise others, he himself never felt that his way of life demanded any personal sacrifice; rather, he puzzled at the risks, as he perceived them, which others took so readily.

On leaving school at the age of fifteen, he became apprenticed to a family joinery firm where he perfected the skills necessary to continue a life-long love of working with wood, later (from the age of twenty) becoming a teacher of this subject. He taught in Leicester, where he also played a large part in the Leicester Vegetarian Society, and later in Keswick, where he was able to enjoy his love of fell-walking and organic vegetable gardening until very shortly before his death.

From his early conversion to vegetarianism, he later came to view the abstention from the use of all animal products as the logical extension of this philosophy. A committed pacifist throughout his life, he registered as a conscientious objector in the war, and faced the harshest challenges to his ethical position.

It was at this time that the need for a word to describe his way of life, and a society to promote its ideals, became apparent; together with his wife, Dorothy, they decided on the word ‘vegan’ by taking the first three and last two letters of ‘vegetarian’, - ‘because veganism starts with vegetarianism and carries it through to its logical conclusion’, and the Society was founded in 1944. Donald ran this single-handed for two years, writing and duplicating the newsletter, and responding to the increasing volume of correspondence.

From these early beginnings, more than sixty years ago, the world-wide movement which exists today developed, with the word ‘vegan’ appearing with increasing frequency on food labelling and restaurant menus.

Donald continued his life quietly in Keswick where he taught for twenty-three years; also working with the Cumbrian Vegetarian Society, campaigning through the local press on matters important in his home community, and, together with his family, enjoying his love of the mountains.

He never sought any recognition for his early work in founding the Vegan Society, and indeed actively shunned the limelight, concerned only that his vision for a more compassionate way of life in harmony with the natural order should take root and grow. He was concerned to confound his many critics who claimed that he could not survive on his proposed diet by proving that he would not only survive but survive well and free from the need for doctors’ interventions until his final days.

Within the last ten years of his life he climbed many of the major peaks of the Lake District. He viewed his home and garden in Keswick as his ‘little piece of heaven’, and died peacefully there.

Posted by Dave at http://www.vegansociety.com/html/

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Death of Environmentalism (2)

Right in the early days of this blog, I wrote about 'The Death of Environmentalism' by Michael Shellenburger and Ted Norhaus. a 2004 essay by a pair of US strategists and organizers , based on interviews with 25 leaders in the mainstream environmental movement.

Grist reported: 'The paper...argues that environmentalism is ill-equipped to face the massive global challenges of our day, particularly climate change.The movement has become a relic and a failure, the authors say, coasting on decades-old successes, bereft of new ideas, made fat and complacent by easy funding, narrowly defining "environmental" problems, and relying almost exclusively on short-sighted technical solutions. Mainstream green organizations' varied legislative and legal victories -- and their cumulative membership rolls of some 10 million-plus - don't cut it for S&N. These achievements, they claim, take place against the backdrop of a broader failure to offer the American people an expansive, inspiring, values-based vision. They conclude that the environmental movement should meet its re-maker, as it were, and give way to a more cohesive, coordinated, and ambitious progressive movement.’

See: Don't Fear The Reapers - Grist's on-going debate on this subject.

In a related development:

Painting the Town Green [published 16 January 2006} is the report of the Green-Engage project, set up with the backing of WWF, Transport 2000, Friends of the Earth, Sustain and Green-Alliance, and drawing on the the views, ideas and vision of around 60 key thinkers in environmental policy, campaigns and communication. It aims to create a blueprint for the ‘green movement’ in the widest sense to more effectively help and persuade people to adopt environmentally friendly behaviours.

It argues that public participation is essential if as a nation we are to meet our environmental objectives and it recommends deep changes in how the wider green movement communicates in order to achieve public behaviour change across 13 lifestyle areas, including transport, holidays and leisure, energy use, waste and recycling, food and water use.

Chief among the recommendations are:
- a move away from what is essentially exhortation to engagement on equal terms
-a halt to scare and guilt tactics
-the articulation of a positive vision for the future that’s desirable and realistic
- movement from a reliance on detailed information towards a real attempt to connect with people’s values, emotions and desires
- a focus on communication with people in ways that work for them rather than for the communicator
- new attempts to involve public role models and produce ‘soft messaging’ particularly through television;
- movement towards green living ‘on a plate’ where people can access green advice and services easily, cheaply and without fuss
- a shift in modus operandi for non-governmental organisations towards co-operation with decision makers and away from external campaigning and even public harassment
- the introduction of a national network of green ‘demonstration houses’ run by local authorities.

Stephen Hounsham, who researched and wrote the report and is also Communications Manager at Transport 2000, said:

“The public are crucial in the work of the green movement but we’ve a lot to learn in terms of how to engage with them. Indeed we sometimes tend to follow the Dad’s Army approach to changing lifestyles. It’s an unattractive combination of disaster prediction (Private Fraser’s ‘We’re all doomed!’), supercilious criticism (Sergeant Wilson’s ‘Do you really think that’s wise?’) and condemnation (Captain Mainwaring’s ‘You stupid boy!’). And what response do we often get? Yes, Warden Hodges said it: ‘Oi Napoleon! Who do you think you are?’

“Painting the Town Green represents a meeting point of public education, campaigning, psychology and creative marketing. It shows that with new approaches and a degree of imagination, the green movement could have much greater success in promoting environmentally friendly behaviours in all areas of life.

Painting the Town Green is available as a 148-page printed report at £20 post-free or as a pdf file, price £10, from Sales, Transport 2000, The Impact Centre, 12-18 Hoxton Street, London N1 6NG (cheques payable to Transport 2000). Credit and debit card holders can call 020 7613 0743 for immediate delivery or order online from the bookshop at www.transport2000.org For further information contact Stephen Hounsham, Co-ordinator of Green-Engage, on 020 7613 7716 or 07984 773468.

See also: Article on the report - 'The Art of Persuasion' by David Adam (The Guardian 25.1.06)

WORTH READING: 'It's capitalism or a habitable planet - you can't have both' by Robert Newman.
It begins: 'There is no meangful response to climate change without massive social change.'

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Déjà Vu

The following is an extract from a recent story in 'The Reporter', the University of Leeds newsletter (30 Jan 2006), entitled 'Giving déjà vu a second look.'

'Many of us have experienced déjà vu - the unsettling sensation of knowing that a situation could not have been experienced, combined with the feeling that it has. It is usually so fleeting that psychologists have until recently thought it impossible to study. But for some people, the feeling of having been there before is a persistent sensation, making every day a ‘Groundhog Day’.

Psychologists from Leeds’ memory group are working with sufferers of chronic déjà vu on the world’s first study of the condition. Dr Chris Moulin first encountered chronic déjà vu sufferers at a memory clinic.

“We had a peculiar referral from a man who said there was no point visiting the clinic because he’d already been there, although this would have been impossible.” The patient not only genuinely believed he had met Dr Moulin before, he gave specific details about the times and places of these ‘remembered’ meetings.

Déjà vu has developed to such an extent that he had stopped watching TV - even the news - because it seemed to be a repeat, and even believed he could hear the same bird singing the same song in the same tree every time he went out.

Chronic déjà vu sufferers are not only overwhelmed by a sense of familiarity for new experiences, they can provide plausible and complex justifications to support this. “When this particular patient’s wife asked what was going to happen next on a TV programme he’d claimed to have already seen, he said ‘how should I know? I have a memory problem!’” Dr Moulin said.

For the first time, those who suffer chronic déjà vu can help provide sustained research into the problem. “So far we’ve completed the natural history side of this condition - we’ve found ways of testing for it and the right clinical questions to ask. The next step is obviously to find ways to reduce the problem,” he said.'

Big Brother Tesco

In The Guardian on the 20th September last year, they ran as a short front-page item, headlined: 'Big Brother Tesco is watching us all.' It read as follows:

'Tesco, the supermarket group that attracts one in every £8 spent by the British public, has developed a database that tracks the spending habits and lifestyle of everyone in the country - not just those who sign up to its Clubcard loyalty scheme.

'Dunnhumby, a Tesco subsidiary, has built a database which takes in raw information from a wide variety of sources, such as the electoral roll and credit agencies. According to its marketing literature, the company has "details of every consumer in the UK at their home address across a range of demographic, socio-economic and lifestyle characteristics." '

So I wrote to them as follows:

Dear Sir/Ms: I understand from The Guardian that your company is holding personal details about me 'across a range of demographic, socio-economic and lifestyle characteristics.' I believe I am entitled, under the Data Protection Act, to enquire what information you are holding on me and to request a copy of same.'

I received the following response:

'I am in receipt of your request to access any personal data information held by dunnhumby. Dunnhumby is not a Data Controller, meaning that I am legally unable to reveal information to you that is held on behalf of our clients. You should contact directly any company that you believe to hold data about you.

I hope that you will find the following information useful:

In order to access information that may be held on the Tesco Clubcard database you should contact Mr Nick Eland at Tesco Stores PLC, New Tesco House, Delamare Rd, Cheshunt EN8 9SL.

General data sources that are held at dunnhumby and on which you may be present are sourced from two data owners, who can be contacted at:

Experian Ltd (Consumer Help Service), PO Box 8000, Nottingham, NG80 7WF
Acxiom Ltd, (attn Lynsey Conway) Park House, Station Road, Teddington TW11 9AD

Please note that all organisations will require satisfactory proof of identity and are entitled to charge a nominal fee for the access request.

Should you wish to register with the Mailing Preference Service in order to reduce the amount of direct mail that you receive, you can contact the Direct Marketing Association, DMA House, 70 Margaret St, London W1W 8SS.


Richard Topliss

The Truth Is Out There Somewhere

'You can't believe everything you read in the papers' is a well-known cliche - and if you want full and on-going evidence of same, we recommend the following two websites that specialise in documenting the errors so common in our daily press - let alone our national tv news. Both are beautifully organised and executed and deserve regular viewings:

Regret the Error is the work of Craig Silverman who deserves some kind of Pulitzer Prize for keeping a constant and beady eye on print pratfalls. Some are just hilarious (see 'beef panties' story above]; others have serious consequences.
In his review of 2005, Craig writes:

'Let’s just say it: This was a very bad year. That's the inevitable conclusion after just a few minutes spent reviewing this year’s long list of errors, corrections and plagiarists. But it’s about more than just quantity. What jumps out is that this was a year during which we witnessed the astounding consequences of media errors.

'It was the year that Newsweek’s Koran error played a role in deadly riots, the year a Fox News commentator’s error caused a family to be terrorized by its neighbors, the year the Chicago Tribune was sued for $1 million for mistakenly labeling a man a mobster (it did the same to another man the same week but he declined to sue). The year the New York Times' reputation took a beating over its failure to accurately report on WMDs in Iraq. And let’s not forget the furor over a “nudge” that never was.

'Media errors caused incredible consequences for average citizens and the media in 2005. These consequences, though dire for all involved, do have a silver lining. They are a powerful argument in favor of instituting a higher standard of accuracy in the media. Fact checking needs to play a greater role in the editing process, anti-plagiarism software should be utilized within newsrooms, and the correction must be evolved to meet a higher standard of disclosure.'

Equally marvelous is Museum of Hoaxes, the work of Alex Boese, whose encylopaedic site includes not only a monumental chronological history of hoaxes and April Fools through the ages but also a Hoax website gallery and Hoax photo gallery, the Top 10 College Pranks of All Time and the Tell-Tale Creature Gallery. Plus a forum.

See also the Wikipedia entry on Urban Legends with many links to worthwhile sites, the intro of which is digrested below:

Urban legends are a kind of folklore consisting of stories often thought to be factual by those circulating them.
Urban legends are sometimes repeated in news stories and distributed by e-mail. People frequently say such tales happened to a "friend of a friend" (FOAF). In the UK, urban legends are sometimes referred to as WTSs (Whale Tumour Stories), from a famous WWII story about whale meat.

Urban legends are not necessarily untrue, but they are often false, distorted, exaggerated, or sensationalized. Despite the name, urban legends do not necessarily take place in an urban setting. The name is designed to differentiate them from traditional folklore created in preindustrial times.

Some urban legends have survived a very long time, evolving only slightly over the years, as in the case of the story of a woman killed by spiders nesting in her elaborate hairdo. Others are new and reflect modern circumstances, like the story of people being anaesthetized and waking up minus a kidney surgically removed for trsnplant.

Urban legends often are born of fears and insecurities, or specifically designed to prey on such concerns.

Bringing Our Rivers Back To LIfe

A paradigm shift in our thinking about river management

Severe flooding in Britain is now an annual event and the frequency of such inundations is only likely to increase in the years ahead due to climate change.

The management of our rivers is in the hands of the Environment Agency, an organisation dominated by engineers with a mere sprinkling of conservationists. Thus it should come as no surprise that the majority of solutions proposed for dealing with flooding involve large-scale construction projects. The funding of such projects mainly comes from DEFRA but such funds, whilst large, are still limited and all projects have to line up in a queue for government cash.

The Treasury, recognising that there is not enough money to go round, have devised a cell system, based on rateable property values. Each flooded community or area is broken down in this manner and the cells are prioritised. Thus rather than managing the problem as a whole, funding is made available for one or two cells at a time, thus providing some evidence of activity whilst obviously failing to deal with the root causes of the problem.

Norman Baker, MP for Lewes and Environment Spokesman for the Lib Dems, told me, when I raised this issue with him, that Environment Minister Elliot Morley had told him that the cell system was, in his opinion, rubbish.

To understand the real solution to the problem, one must look back to the history of river management. In general and in brief, all the rivers in Britain were progressively canalised and engineered from the 1700s onwards, generally being straightened by removing meanders and dredged in order to make navigation easier.

In addition, through the establishment of Drainage Boards, farmers were able to further interfere with the water table, canalising subsidiary streams and rivulets on their land in order to drain water off into the main river as quickly as possible. Thus what used to be living rivers are now little more than drains, designed to swiftly move water from source to mouth and rendering them unable to function efficiently in times of flooding.

The other prime cause of flood damage is development of the flood plain. Pre-Neolithic times, every floodplain had a forest, the northern hemisphere’s equivalent of a rain forest, biodiverse environments rich in species. The first farmers began clearing trees and vegetation from these areas to gain access to the rich fertile floodplain soil and, this process has accelerated over the centuries until, in our present day in Britain, there are just a handful of genuine patches of original floodplain forest left.

In modern times, the accelerated and short-sighted development of floodplains for housing and industrial purposes has exacerbated the problem. In addition, as towns have grown, greater areas have been tarmaced, thus increasing the volume of water run-off which previously would have been absorbed in the soil.

Having consulted widely with leading experts in both Britain and Europe and having seen at first hand the kind of landscape scale riverine conservation projects being carried out in the Netherlands, it is clear to me that we need to make a dramatic shift in our thinking towards a system of sustainable river management and natural flood control.

Interestingly, this paradigm shift has already happened in coastal management due to expert advice from the oceanographers at Southampton University. They demonstrated beyond question that we could no longer build our way out the problem. There was not enough money available to do that even if it was a sensible option. Rather than trying to hold the sea back, King Canute-like, we should allow the sea to inundate where it obviously wants to and, instead, compensate landowners and householders for their losses.

A new system of management for rivers naturally follows in the flow of the EU Water Framework Directive [see below], which provides for a continental-wide system of control centred around the basic unit of the river catchment system – that is the entire tree-like branching structure of the main river and all its thousands of tributaries which generally extend over a large area.

Under this EU law, every catchment area in England must be assessed – a huge task that has hardly begun – to provide a proper holistic environmental overview of the river system and to enable an appropriate river management plan for each river to be devised.

Overall, there are a palette of possibilities that can be employed to provide natural approaches to flood control and to massively increase the biodiversity of riverine environments.

Firstly we have the art and science of ‘river restoration’ – retro-engineering the river back to a more natural shape and structure by, amongst other techniques, reinstalling meanders, developing bank and gully systems, and removing banks back to the edges of field to enable the creation of ‘washlands’ for holding flood water.

Secondly, we need to restore both riverine forest and wetlands where possible. These incredibly rare and important biodiverse environments have a top priority for conservation funding and will provide important river management functions as well helping with flood control and providing an environment for a myriad of rare and important species.

Obviously, in some places, construction may be needed. Taking another leaf from the Dutch, currently engaged in a wide variety of huge schemes to allow their major rivers to ‘breathe’, we need to follow their lead in developing flood-proof housing and sustainable drainage. We need also to ban as much future development on flood plains as possible.

Such tremendous and exciting possibilities are within our grasp but, as with so many issues, the first blockage in the system is a dam of outmoded thinking, deep-seated prejudices and widespread public ignorance. Pressure should be brought on DEFRA and the Environment Agency to urge the adoption of this new paradigm which has huge benefits and opportunities. Let’s stop building walls and start bringing our rivers back to life.


The Water Framework Directive (WFD), which came into force on 22 December 2000, is the most substantial piece of EC water legislation to date. It requires all inland and coastal waters to reach "good status" by 2015. It will do this by establishing a river basin district structure within which demanding environmental objectives will be set, including ecological targets for surface waters. The full text of the Directive can be found here