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Thursday, September 30, 2010

ISCOWP Update Aug-Mid Sept 2010

Click here for the latest update from our friends at the International Society For Cow Protection (ISCOWP)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Adopt A Cow-It's Time!

From our friends at and the New Govardhana farm at Australia

What is the true path to happiness for the whole world? His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder of the Hare Krishna Movement, has said that the happiness of mankind is directly connected to the happiness of the cows. He stated “Because the poor animals are always in anxiety, humanity is also put in anxiety by different strains of hot and cold wars.”

These simple, gentle creatures eat only grass and produce nutritious satisfying milk, like a gift from God to the world. And and out of love for the world herself the cow produces more milk than her calf can drink. Even her stool and urine have unlimited agricultural and medicinal uses. We also learn from the saints and sages that she is dear to God Himself.

At New Govardhana, our mission is to show the spiritual and material benefits that result from protecting and caring for the cows. To do this, we want to make New Govardhana a place in the world where everyone can see this demonstrated practically. A place where anyone, regardless of religious persuasion, can experience the peace and satisfaction that comes from personally caring for cows

Click here to go to the New Govardhana web site where you can see Cow Portraits. If you can please adopt a cow, or donate to the cause. The cows need our help….it’s time

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Notes On The Enthusiasm Gap

From Bill McKibben at the Huffington Post

I got to see the now-famous enthusiasm gap up close and personal last week, and it wasn’t a pretty sight.

The backstory: I help run a global warming campaign called In mid-summer, we decided to organize an effort to ask world leaders to put solar panels on the roofs of their residences. It was to be part of the lead-up to a gigantic Global Work Party on Oct. 10 (10-10-10), and a way to give prime ministers and politburos something easy to do in the hope of getting the fight against global warming slowly back on track. One of those crucial leaders is, of course, Barack Obama, who stood by with his arms folded this summer while the Senate punted on climate-change legislation. We thought this might be a good way for him to signal that he was still committed to change, even though he hadn’t managed to pass new laws.

And so we tracked down the solar panels that once had graced the White House roof, way back in the 1970s under Jimmy Carter. After Ronald Reagan took them down, they’d spent the last few decades on the cafeteria roof at Unity College in rural Maine. That college’s president, Mitch Thomashow, immediately offered us a panel to take back to the White House. Better still, he encouraged three of his students to accompany the panel, not to mention allowing the college’s sustainability coordinators to help manage the trip.

And so, on the day after Labor Day, we set off in a biodiesel college van. Solar road trip! Guitars, iPods, excellent snack food, and for company, the rock star of solar panels, all 6 x 3-feet and 140 pounds of her. We pulled into Boston that first night for a rally at Old South Church, where a raucous crowd lined up for the chance to sign the front of the panel, which quickly turned into a giant glass petition. The same thing the next night in New York, and then D.C., with an evening at one of the city’s oldest churches headlined by the Reverend Lennox Yearwood, head of the Hip-Hop Caucus.

It couldn’t have been more fun. Wherever we could, we’d fire up the panel, pour a gallon of water in the top, point it toward the sun, and eight or nine minutes later you’d have steaming hot water coming out the bottom. Thirty-one years old and it worked like a charm -- a vexing reminder that we’ve known how to do this stuff for decades. We just haven’t done it.

That’s what we kept telling reporters as they turned out along the route: If the Obamas will put solar panels back on the White House roof, or on the lawn, or anywhere else where people can see them, it will help get the message across -- the same way that seed sales climbed 30% across the country in the year after Michelle planted her garden.

There was just one nagging concern as we headed south. We still hadn’t heard anything conclusive from the White House. We’d asked them -- for two months -- if they’d accept the old panel as a historical relic returned home, and if they’d commit to installing new ones soon. We’d even found a company, Sungevity, that was eager to provide them free. Indeed, as word of our trip spread, other solar companies kept making the same offer. Still, the White House never really responded, not until Thursday evening around six p.m. when they suddenly agreed to a meeting at nine the next morning.

As you might imagine, we were waiting at the “Southwest Appointment Gate” at 8:45, and eventually someone from the Office of Public Engagement emerged to escort us inside the Executive Office Building. He seated us in what he called “the War Room,” an ornate and massive chamber with a polished table in the middle.

Every window blind was closed. It was a mahogany cave in which we could just make out two environmental bureaucrats sitting at the far end of the table. I won’t mention their names, on the theory that what followed wasn’t really their idea, but orders they were following from someone else. Because what followed was… uncool.

First, they spent a lot of time bragging about all the things the federal government had accomplished environmentally, with special emphasis on the great work they were doing on other federal buildings. One of them returned on several occasions to the topic of a government building in downtown Portland, Oregon, that would soon be fitted with a “green curtain,” by which I think she meant the “extensive vertical garden” on the 18-story Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building with its massive “vegetated fins,” the single largest use of stimulus money in the entire state.

And actually, it’s kind of great. Still, I doubt many people are going to build their own vegetated fins, and anyway I was beginning to despair that nothing could stop the flow of self-praise until one of the three seniors from Unity raised her hand and politely interrupted.

Now, let me say that I already knew Jean Altomare, Amanda Nelson, and Jamie Nemecek were special, but my guess is the bureaucrats hadn’t figured that out. Unity is out in the woods, and these kids were majoring in things like wildlife conservation. They’d never had an encounter like this. It stood to reason that they’d be cowed. But they weren’t.

One after another, respectfully but firmly, they asked a series of tough questions and refused to be filibustered by yet another stream of administration-enhancing data. Here’s what they wanted to know: If the administration was serious about spreading the word on renewable energy, why wouldn’t it do the obvious thing and put solar panels on the White House? When the administrators proudly proffered a clipping from some interior page of the Washington Post about their “greening the government initiative,” Amanda calmly pointed out that none of her neighbors read the Post and that, by contrast, the solar panels had made it onto David Letterman.

To their queries, the bureaucrats refused to provide any answer. At all. One kept smiling in an odd way and saying, “If reporters call and ask us, we will provide our rationale,” but whatever it was, they wouldn’t provide it to us.

It was all a little odd, to say the least. They refused to accept the Carter panel as a historic relic, or even to pose for a picture with the students and the petition they’d brought with them. Asked to do something easy and symbolic to rekindle a little of the joy that had turned out so many of us as volunteers for Obama in 2008, they point blank said no. In a less than overwhelming gesture, they did, however, pass out Xeroxed copies of a 2009 memorandum from Vice President Biden about federal energy policy.

I can tell you exactly what it felt like, because those three students were brave and walked out graciously, heads high and kept their tears back until we got to the sidewalk. And then they didn’t keep them back, because it’s a tough thing to learn for the first time how politics can work.

If you want to know about the much-discussed enthusiasm gap between Democratic and Republican bases, in other words, this was it in action. As Jean Altomare told the New York Times, “We went in without any doubt about the importance of this. They handed us a pamphlet.” And Amanda Nelson added, “I didn’t expect I’d get to shake President Obama’s hand, but it was really shocking to me to find out that they really didn’t seem to care.”

Did I say I was impressed with these young women? I was more than impressed. Nobody I went to Harvard with would have handled it as powerfully as they did (maybe because they weren’t looking for a job in the White House someday). A few hot tears were the right response, followed by getting on with the work.

Our next question, out there on the sidewalk, was how to handle the situation -- which, indeed, we had to do right away, because in today’s blog-speed world, you’re supposed to Put Out a Statement to reporters, not to mention Tweet. So how to play it?

The normal way is to claim some kind of victory: we could have said we had an excellent exchange of views and that the administration had taken seriously our plea. But that would have been lying, and at, we long ago decided not to do that. The whole premise of our operation, beginning with the number at its core, is that we had better always tell the truth about our actual predicament.

Alternatively, we could have rounded on the administration, and taken our best shot. In fact, it would have been easy enough right then and there for me to chain myself to the White House fence with the panel next to me. It would have gotten some serious press (though not as much as if I’d burned a Quran). And in fact, some of our supporters were counseling that I head for the fence immediately.

We got an email, for instance, from a veteran campaigner I deeply respect who said:

Show Obama you can't be taken for granted, and I predict you will be amazed at the good things that come your way. This is a watershed moment: if they think they can get away with this with you, they'll judge they can get away with more in the future. If you show them they can't get away with it (at the very least without embarrassment), they will come your way more in the future. It's power politics, pure and simple. This is how the game is played. Get their respect!

And I think he was probably right. As he pointed out, Obama was even then on the phone with the mustachioed Florida geezer, the stack of Qurans, and the following of 50 or less. But I couldn’t do it, not then and there. Because… well, because on some level I’m a political wuss.

I couldn’t stand to make that enthusiasm gap any wider, not seven weeks before an election. True, it’s the moment when you have some leverage, but no less true: The other side was running candidate after candidate who literally couldn’t wait to boast about how they didn’t believe in climate change. (Check out R.L. Miller’s highly useful list of "climate zombies.") That’s why we’re deeply engaged in fights this fall like the battle to defeat California’s Prop. 23 and save the state’s landmark climate law. As a group we can’t endorse candidates, but I came home and spent part of the weekend mailing small checks to Senate candidates I admire, men like Paul Hodes from New Hampshire, who have fought hard for serious climate legislation.

And a confession. We’d walked past Obama’s official portrait on the way out and, despite the meeting we’d just had, I couldn’t help but smile at the thought that he was president. I could remember my own enthusiasm from two years ago that had me knocking on doors across New Hampshire. I admired his character and his smarts, and if I admire them a little less now, the residue’s still there.

And so I couldn’t help thinking -- part of me at least -- like this: the White House political team has decided that if they put solar panels up on the roof, Fox News will use that as one more line of attack; that they somehow believe the association with Jimmy Carter is the electoral equivalent of cooties; and that, in the junior high school lunchroom that now comprises our political life, they didn’t want to catch any.

If that’s their thinking, I doubt they’re on the mark. As far as I can tell, the right has a far better understanding of the power of symbols. Witness the furor they’ve kicked up over “the mosque at Ground Zero.” My feeling is: We should use the symbols we’ve got, and few are better than a solar panel. Still, with the current craziness in mind, I was willing to give them a pass. So we just put out a press release saying that we’d failed in our mission and walked away.

At least for now, but not forever, and really not for much longer.

On Oct. 10, we’re having our great global work party, and ever since Obama stiffed us, registrations for its events have been soaring. Last week, with the heads of Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network, I issued a call for ideas about how to mount a campaign of civil disobedience around climate. Not a series of stunts, but a real campaign. At coal plants and drilling sites -- and at the places where our politicians do their work.

Actually, I’ll be surprised if the White House doesn’t put up solar panels within a year. But even if they do, that would just be the barest of beginnings. We’ve run out of spare decades to deal with climate change -- the summer’s events in the Arctic, in Russia, in Pakistan proved that with great clarity. I may be a wuss, but I’m also scientifically literate. We know what we need to do, and we will do it. Enthusiastically.

Bill McKibben is the founder of and author most recently of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. He is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College.

Copyright 2010 Bill McKibben

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Eco-Valley: The Green Path Of Harmony-The Video

From our friends at

Krishna-lila Devi Dasi is the Managing Editor of ISKCON News, The News Agency of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

Krishna-lila is a scholar, activist, and filmmaker, and a devotee of Krishna. With a Ph.D. in Comparative Literary Studies and Indian Aesthetics from the University of Budapest, and a Certificate in Screenwriting from New York University, she is the author of 3 books, dozens of articles, and writer-producer of 25 documentaries. As a media spokesperson for ISKCON, she has led several international campaigns against religious and minority discrimination. Krishna-lila Devi Dasi lives in New York.

On 14th of December, Krishna-lila’s film entitled Eco-Valley: The Green Path of Harmony was screened at the United Nation`s 2009 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. (Writer-producer: Krisztina Danka (Krishna-lila Devi Dasi), Director: Norbert Palinkas, Director of Photography: Denes Doboveczky)

Click here to watch an excerpt from Eco-Valley: The Green Path of Harmony

Monday, September 20, 2010

U.S Meat Farmers Brace For Limits On Antibiotics

Brian C. Frank for The New York Times

At Elite Pork, a large pork farm in Ralson, Iowa, pigs are fed antibiotics for weeks after weaning to ward off possible illness.

RALSTON, Iowa — Piglets hop, scurry and squeal their way to the far corner of the pen, eyeing an approaching human. “It shows that they’re healthy animals,” Craig Rowles, the owner of a large pork farm here, said with pride.

Brian C. Frank for The New York Times

The questions over antibiotics come at a time when animal confinement methods and other aspects of so-called factory farming are also under attack.

Brian C. Frank for The New York Times

Craig Rowles, the owner of Elite Pork, said that antibiotics help keep down the cost of his pork.

Brian C. Frank for The New York Times

Excenel RTU antibiotic at Elite Pork.

Readers' Comments

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Mr. Rowles says he keeps his pigs fit by feeding them antibiotics for weeks after weaning, to ward off possible illness in that vulnerable period. And for months after that, he administers an antibiotic that promotes faster growth with less feed.

Dispensing antibiotics to healthy animals is routine on the large, concentrated farms that now dominate American agriculture. But the practice is increasingly condemned by medical experts who say it contributes to a growing scourge of modern medicine: the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including dangerous E. coli strains that account for millions of bladder infections each year, as well as resistant types of salmonella and other microbes.

Now, after decades of debate, the Food and Drug Administration appears poised to issue its strongest guidelines on animal antibiotics yet, intended to reduce what it calls a clear risk to human health. They would end farm uses of the drugs simply to promote faster animal growth and call for tighter oversight by veterinarians.

The agency’s final version is expected within months, and comes at a time when animal confinement methods, safety monitoring and other aspects of so-called factory farming are also under sharp attack. The federal proposal has struck a nerve among major livestock producers, who argue that a direct link between farms and human illness has not been proved. The producers are vigorously opposing it even as many medical and health experts call it too timid.

Scores of scientific groups, including the American Medical Association and the Infectious Diseases Society of America, are calling for even stronger action that would bar most uses of key antibiotics in healthy animals, including use for disease prevention, as with Mr. Rowles’s piglets. Such a bill is gaining traction in Congress.

“Is producing the cheapest food in the world our only goal?” asked Dr. Gail R. Hansen, a veterinarian and senior officer of the Pew Charitable Trusts, which has campaigned for new limits on farm antibiotics. “Those who say there is no evidence of risk are discounting 40 years of science. To wait until there’s nothing we can do about it doesn’t seem like the wisest course.”

With the backing of some leading veterinary scientists, farmers assert that the risks are remote and are outweighed by improved animal health and lower food costs. “There is no conclusive scientific evidence that antibiotics used in food animals have a significant impact on the effectiveness of antibiotics in people,” the National Pork Producers Council said.

But leading medical experts say the threat is real and growing. Proponents of strong controls note that the European Union barred most nontreatment uses of antibiotics in 2006 and that farmers there have adapted without major costs. Following a similar path in the United States, they argue, would have barely perceptible effects on consumer prices.

Resistance can evolve whenever drugs are used against bacteria or other microbes because substrains that are less susceptible to the treatment will survive and multiply.

Drug use in humans, including overuse and misapplication, clearly accounts for a large share of the surge in antibiotic resistant infections, a huge problem in hospitals in particular. Yet biologists and infectious disease specialists say there is also enormous circumstantial and genetic evidence that antibiotics in farming are adding to the threat.

Livestock and poultry have been identified as the most likely sources of drug-resistant strains of microbes like salmonella and campylobacter that have caused outbreaks of severe intestinal illness in people and of E. coli strains that cause serious bladder, blood and other infections. (Resistant strains have not been implicated in the recent outbreak of salmonella contamination in eggs.)

In a letter to Congress in July, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cited “compelling evidence” of a “clear link between antibiotic use in animals and antibiotic resistance in humans.”

As drug-resistant strains of microbes evolve on the farms, they are passed along in meat sold in grocery stores. They can infect people as they handle the uncooked product or when eating, if cooking is not thorough. The dangerous strains can also enter the environment via manure or the clothes of farm workers.

Genetic studies of drug-resistant E. coli strains found on poultry and beef in grocery stores and strains in sick patients have found them to be virtually identical, and further evidence also indicated that the resistant microbes evolved on farms and were transferred to consumers, said Dr. James R. Johnson, an infectious-disease expert at the University of Minnesota. Hospitals now find that up to 30 percent of urinary infections do not respond to the front-line treatments, ciprofloxacin and the drug known as Bactrim or Septra, and that resistance to key newer antibiotics is also emerging. E. coli is also implicated in serious blood, brain and other infections.

“For those of us in the public health community, the evidence is unambiguously clear,” Dr. Johnson said. “Most of the E. coli resistance in humans can be traced to food-animal sources.”

The proposed Food and Drug Administration guidelines focus on the use of antibiotics to speed growth. Just how antibiotics have this effect, which has been known for decades, is unclear, but scientists suspect that the drugs improve the absorption of nutrients as they prevent low-grade disease.

Mr. Rowles, the proprietor of Elite Pork and a trained veterinarian himself, estimates that by feeding his pigs an antibiotic in their final months he is saving $1 to $3 per animal in feed costs. For the consumer, this is negligible, but from his perspective it looms larger because, he said, in good years his net profit is only $7 to $10 per animal.

More contentious is the routine use of antibiotics to prevent disease, as Mr. Rowles and other pork producers do with newly weaned pigs.

Dr. James McKean, an extension veterinarian at Iowa State University, said experience in Denmark, Europe’s leading pork producer, showed that ending the practice would result in more illness, suffering and death among pigs, and cause a jump in antibiotic treatments of actual disease.

Dr. McKean estimated that a ban on most nontreatment uses of antibiotics would raise the cost of pork by 5 cents a pound.

Others counter that farmers in Denmark have learned to hold down illness in young pigs by extending the weaning period, altering feeds and providing more space and veterinary scrutiny of the animals. Some of the drugs used in prevention by farmers like Mr. Rowles would also be permitted under the measure before Congress because they are not used in human medicine.

“In the end, the producers will do what is right,” Mr. Rowles said. “We will make sure we deliver a product that meets the needs of consumers.”

“My only concern is that we make decisions in a scientific fashion, not a political fashion,” he said.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Cows Need Your Help Now!

(photo from

From our friends in Australia at

By Antony Brennan

Krishna by His practical example taught us to give protection to the cows, and Srila Prabhupada spoke often with great force and feeling on the need to protect cows. As time progresses and as more and more of us live in urban environments, cow protection seems as if it could slip through our fingers and disappear.

ISKCON has played a pioneering role in advocating and practising cow protection by establishing farm communities and goshalas, all over the world. In these difficult economic times we should try and not forget the request of Krishna, the Vedic literature, and the Srila Prabhupada, that we protect cows.

It can seem that there is little those devotees living in urban areas can do, but there is something. Quite a few cow protection organisations have web sites which allow you to adopt a cow.

Cow protection is not usually a profit making business, so donations to programs such as adopting a cow can be very important. Donations help provide for the general feed and care of cows, this is a very useful and helpful contribution to carrying on the business of protecting cows.

Click on: for the New Govardhana farm in NSW and scroll down to see photo’s of the resident cows and find ways you can help with the protection effort underway there.

At New Govardhana their mission is to show the spiritual and material benefits that result from protecting and caring for the cows. To do this they want to make New Govardhana a place in the world where everyone can see this demonstrated practically. A place where anyone, regardless of religious persuasion, can experience the peace and satisfaction that comes from personally caring for cows. Practically demonstrating our gratitude to her, not only will we receive her blessings, but God himself will smile upon us in appreciation. Of this there is no doubt.

Click on: for the New Gokula farm in the Hunter Valley in NSW. Click on COWS on the menu to see photo’s of the resident herd and click on CONTACT then DONATE on the menu to donaste funds for assisting with the protection of cows.

Winter is a hard time to survive if you’re one of our cows or bullocks hit especially hard by the intense frosts the likes of which have not been seen in this region in a very long time. New Gokula Farm spent over $350 per week on lucerne feed for cows and bullocks to help see them through the harsh winter months. They are requesting everyone to try and contribute any donation big or small to gain Krishna’s blessings by performing this extremely important Go-seva. You may contribute directly to the cause via the paypal link on the web site or in person if you are visiting the farm. “Thank you for your support of New Gokula Farm and our cow protection program which Srila Prabhupada stressed was the essence of human civilzation.”

Click on: and choose ‘How Can I Help’ on the menu bar. Here you will find a variety of ways you can help the Care for Cows care for the cows of Vrindavan.

Care for Cows in Vrindavan (India) maintains abandoned cows, bulls, retired oxen, and orphaned calves. Iinternational volunteers offer talents and resources to tend to the neglected cows living in Krishna’s holy land. Care for Cows provide stray cows with hay, flour, fresh grass, medical attention and a place where they can recuperate from injuries. At present they host a herd of three hundred.

There are approximately three to four hundred abandoned cows in Vrindavan requiring accommodation. Unless they are protected they are destined to subsist on refuse and become plagued by various debilitating and often terminal diseases or suffer injury from careless motorists. However, the most immediate danger is that they become abducted for slaughter by cattle rustlers who are active in this area today. The present facility is full and there is an urgent need to acquire more land for their protection.

Click on: and choose the ‘How to Adopt a Cow’ link. Here you will find photos of some cows who can be adopted and details on how you can make a payment.

The ISCOWP web site says: “5000 years ago, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, appeared on earth to protect His devotees and to demonstrate His pastimes. Among those pastimes was his childhood role as a cowherd boy. The cows were very dear to Him because of their affectionate and gentle nature as well as their contributions to human society, and He was kind to them in return and protected them. We should follow His example.”

Click on: and choose the ‘Adopt A Cow’ link. Then choose the adoption program link. There are a variety programs and payment options you can choose from.

The Gita Nagari website says: “If You Drink Milk, You Have a Responsibility: This responsibility cannot be assumed by someone else. If milk from protected cows is not available, then compensatory donations should be made on a regular basis to support cows and cowherds on a devotee farm. Large-scale commercial milk production is likely to result in over-breeding and future neglect of retired animals; therefore it should be strongly discouraged.”

Click on: and choose the ‘Adopt-a-Cow’ link. Choose from the donation options that suit you.

The New Talavan website says: “New Talavan has been protecting cows for over 30 years. We cannot do it without you. Please contribute and be one of Bhagavan Sri Krsna’s eternal cowherd boys and girls.”

Click on: and click on ‘Adoption Options. Here you will find the options available and the cows who need your help.

The Save the Cow website says: “Every cow and ox protected by Save the Cow’s dedicated staff and donors lives a happy, natural life. Feeling secure, each one expresses a unique personality. Some are shy and some playful. Some are explorers and others pranksters. When Krishna tended cows in Vrindavan He knew each of them by name and treated them as individuals. Through cow protection, Save the Cow creates a Vrindavan atmosphere in North Central Florida at New Raman Reti farm.”

It may be that due to the current economic climate adopting a cow may be beyond your means. The web sites mentioned above also allow one off donations to the amount that you can afford

Click on:, another site where even a small amount will be put to good use.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Banks Grow Wary of Environmental Risks

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

A West Virginia surface mine.

Blasting off mountaintops to reach coal in Appalachia or churning out millions of tons of carbon dioxide to extract oil from sand in Alberta are among environmentalists’ biggest industrial irritants. But they are also legal and lucrative.
Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

A Massey Energy mountaintop site. Some lenders that previously extended credit have eliminated ties to the company.

For a growing number of banks, however, that does not seem to matter.

After years of legal entanglements arising from environmental messes and increased scrutiny of banks that finance the dirtiest industries, several large commercial lenders are taking a stand on industry practices that they regard as risky to their reputations and bottom lines.

In the most recent example, the banking giant Wells Fargo noted last month what it called “considerable attention and controversy” surrounding mountaintop removal mining, and said that its involvement with companies engaged in it was “limited and declining.”

The bank was a small player in the sector, representing about $78 million in bonds and loan financing for such companies from 2008 to April of this year, according to data compiled by the Rainforest Action Network, an environmental group tracking the issue.

But the policy shift by Wells Fargo follows others over the last two years, including moves by Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citibank, to increase scrutiny of lending to companies involved in mountaintop removal — or to end the lending altogether.

HSBC, which is based in London, has curtailed its relationships with some producers of palm oil, which is often linked to deforestation in developing countries. The Dutch lender Rabobank has applied a nine-point checklist of conditions for would-be oil and gas borrowers that includes commitments to improve environmental performance and protect water quality.

In some cases, the changing policies represent an attempt to burnish green credentials in areas where the banks had little interest, and there is no indication that companies engaged in the objectionable practices cannot find financing elsewhere.

Still, banking analysts and others suggest that heated debate over climate change, water quality and other environmental considerations is forcing lenders to take a much harder — and often uncomfortable — look at where they extend credit, and to whom.

“It’s one thing if your potential borrower is dumping cyanide in a river,” said Karina Litvack, the head of governance and sustainable investment with F&C Investments, an investment management firm based in London. “But if they’re dumping carbon dioxide into the air, which is not exactly illegal — what do you do? Banks are in kind of a quandary, because they are competing for business, and if they get holier-than-thou and start to play policeman, they risk allowing other banks to take that business.”

Environmental risk has been on the radar for lenders since the 1980s and early 1990s, when courts began forcing some measure of responsibility on banks for the polluting factories, superfund sites and other environmental problems that had, to one degree or another, been facilitated by their financing.

Congress passed a law in 1996 that limited the exposure of lenders on this front, but since then, most major banks have developed environmental risk management divisions as part of their commercial banking due diligence efforts.

Now, the rise of murkier issues like global warming, along with increasing scrutiny by environmental groups of banks’ investments in many other industries — like oil and gas development, nuclear power, coal-fired electricity generation, oil sands, fuel pipeline construction, dam building, forestry and even certain types of agriculture — are nudging lenders into new territory.

“We’re taking a much closer look at a much broader variety of issues, not all of which are captured under state and local laws,” said Stephanie Rico, a spokeswoman for the environmental affairs group at Wells Fargo.

Ms. Litvack, of F&C Investments, pointed to large protests last week by many climate activists outside the Royal Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh. At least a dozen protesters have been arrested in demonstrations against the bank’s financing of oil sands development in Canada.

The Royal Bank of Canada, meanwhile, responding to intense pressure from environmental advocates denouncing the bank’s financing of oil sands projects, hosted 18 international banks in Toronto in February for “a day of learning” on the “regulatory, social and environmental issues” surrounding the oil sands.

Globally, banks and environmental advocates are seeking to make things easier by developing best practices and other voluntary standards. Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley helped initiate the Carbon Principles, which aim to standardize the assessment of “carbon risks in the financing of electric power projects” in the United States. Several international financial institutions — including HSBC, Munich Re and others — have formed the Climate Principles, which aim to encourage the management of climate change “across the full range of financial products and services,” according to the compact’s Web site.

In the United States, mountaintop removal mining has become both increasingly common and contentious, as coal companies vie to feed the nation’s appetite for inexpensive electricity. An expeditious and disruptive form of surface mining, it involves blasting off the tops of mountains and dumping the debris in valleys and streams below.

A report published in May by the Sierra Club and the Rainforest Action Network estimated that nine banks were the primary lenders for companies engaged in mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia, and that they had provided nearly $4 billion in loans and bond underwriting to those companies — chiefly Massey Energy, Patriot Coal, and Alpha Natural Resources — since 2008.

The Rainforest Action Network, which has headed a campaign to highlight financial institutions with connections to the mining, said this month that the policy shifts were chipping away at the financing.

Citing Bloomberg data, for example, the group noted that Bank of America — listed as recently as 2008 as one of the “syndication agents” on a $175 million revolving line of credit to Massey Energy — has eliminated that and all other connections to the company. The group also pointed to JPMorgan, which had previously underwritten $180 million in debt securities to Massey, but no longer has any financial ties to that company. In May, the bank said it would be subjecting all future engagements with companies involved in mountaintop removal mining to “enhanced review.”

Some environmental groups have criticized that and other policies as providing too much wiggle room — and whether any of it has any real impact is an open question. Mining industry representatives say such policies often fail to consider laws already in place requiring coal companies to limit their environmental impact, and to restore former mine sites when they are finished.

Carol Raulston, a spokeswoman for the National Mining Association, an industry group, said that most of the policies in question position the banks to phase out lending over time — and only to companies that primarily engage in mountaintop removal mining. “Companies are still getting financing for their projects,” she said.

Roger S. Hendriksen, the vice president for investor relations for Massey Energy, suggested that environmentalists were overstating things, and that his company was having no trouble securing financing.

“While some banks no longer provide financing for companies conducting surface mining, there are many who will,” Mr. Hendriksen said. “We have and will continue to replace their services with alternate bank providers with little difficulty.”

But Rebecca Tarbotton, the executive director of the Rainforest Action Network, said in a published statement that the banks’ moves nonetheless send “a clear signal that these companies have a high risk profile and that other banks should beware.”

“Bottom line,” she added, “as access to capital becomes more constrained it will be harder for mining companies to finance the blowing up of America’s mountains.”

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Disaster At The Top Of The World

Click here to read the full article from Thomas-Homer Dixon from the New York Times

Aboard the Louis S. St-Laurent

STANDING on the deck of this floating laboratory for Arctic science, which is part of Canada’s Coast Guard fleet and one of the world’s most powerful icebreakers, I can see vivid evidence of climate change. Channels through the Canadian Arctic archipelago that were choked with ice at this time of year two decades ago are now expanses of open water or vast patchworks of tiny islands of melting ice.

In 1994, the “Louie,” as the crew calls the ship, and a United States Coast Guard icebreaker, the Polar Sea, smashed their way to the North Pole through thousands of miles of pack ice six- to nine-feet thick. “The sea conditions in the Arctic Ocean were rarely an issue for us in those days, because the thick continuous ice kept waves from forming,” Marc Rothwell, the Louie’s captain, told me. “Now, there’s so much open water that we have to account for heavy swells that undulate through the sea ice. It’s almost like a dream: the swells move in slow motion, like nothing I’ve seen elsewhere.”

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, and this summer its sea ice is melting at a near-record pace. The sun is heating the newly open water, so it will take longer to refreeze this winter, and the resulting thinner ice will melt more easily next summer.

At the same time, warm Pacific Ocean water is pulsing through the Bering Strait into the Arctic basin, helping melt a large area of sea ice between Alaska and eastern Siberia. Scientists are just beginning to learn how this exposed water has changed the movement of heat energy and major air currents across the Arctic basin, in turn producing winds that push remaining sea ice down the coasts of Greenland into the Atlantic.

Globally, 2010 is on track to be the warmest year on record. In regions around the world, indications abound that earth’s climate is quickly changing, like the devastating mudslides in China and weeks of searing heat in Russia. But in the world’s capitals, movement on climate policy has nearly stopped.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Outdoors And Out Of Reach, Studying The Brain

GLEN CANYON NATIONAL RECREATION AREA, Utah — Todd Braver emerges from a tent nestled against the canyon wall. He has a slight tan, except for a slim pale band around his wrist.

For the first time in three days in the wilderness, Mr. Braver is not wearing his watch. “I forgot,” he says.

It is a small thing, the kind of change many vacationers notice in themselves as they unwind and lose track of time. But for Mr. Braver and his companions, these moments lead to a question: What is happening to our brains?

Mr. Braver, a psychology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, was one of five neuroscientists on an unusual journey. They spent a week in late May in this remote area of southern Utah, rafting the San Juan River, camping on the soft banks and hiking the tributary canyons.

It was a primitive trip with a sophisticated goal: to understand how heavy use of digital devices and other technology changes how we think and behave, and how a retreat into nature might reverse those effects.

Cellphones do not work here, e-mail is inaccessible and laptops have been left behind. It is a trip into the heart of silence — increasingly rare now that people can get online even in far-flung vacation spots.

As they head down the tight curves the San Juan has carved from ancient sandstone, the travelers will, not surprisingly, unwind, sleep better and lose the nagging feeling to check for a phone in the pocket. But the significance of such changes is a matter of debate for them.

Some of the scientists say a vacation like this hardly warrants much scrutiny. But the trip’s organizer, David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, says that studying what happens when we step away from our devices and rest our brains — in particular, how attention, memory and learning are affected — is important science.

“Attention is the holy grail,” Mr. Strayer says.

“Everything that you’re conscious of, everything you let in, everything you remember and you forget, depends on it.”

Echoing other researchers, Mr. Strayer says that understanding how attention works could help in the treatment of a host of maladies, like attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia and depression. And he says that on a day-to-day basis, too much digital stimulation can “take people who would be functioning O.K. and put them in a range where they’re not psychologically healthy.”

The quest to understand the impact on the brain of heavy technology use — at a time when such use is exploding — is still in its early stages. To Mr. Strayer, it is no less significant than when scientists investigated the effects of consuming too much meat or alcohol.

But stepping away is easier for some than others. The trip begins with a strong defense of digital connectedness, a debate that revolves around one particularly important e-mail.

Friday, September 10, 2010

In The Fields of Italy, A Conflict Over Corn

VIVARO, Italy — Giorgio Fidenato declared war on the Italian government and environmental groups in April with a news conference and a YouTube video, which showed him poking six genetically modified corn seeds into Italian soil.
Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times

Last week, Giorgio Fidenato, who had planted genetically modified corn, stood amid stalks that had been trampled by antiglobalization activists.

Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times

An ear of corn infested with corn borers. A modified variety is meant to counteract the pest.

In fact, said Mr. Fidenato, 49, an agronomist, he planted two fields of genetically modified corn. But since “corn looks like corn,” as he put it, it took his opponents weeks to find his crop.

The seeds, known as MON810, are modified so that the corn produces a chemical that kills the larvae of the corn borer, a devastating pest. Yet while European Union rules allow this particular seed to be planted, Italy requires farmers to get special permission for any genetically modified, or G.M., crop — and the Agriculture Ministry never said yes.

“We had no choice but to engage in civil disobedience — these seeds are legal in Europe,” said Mr. Fidenato, who has repeatedly applied for permission, adding that he drew more inspiration from Ron Paul than Gandhi.

The World Trade Organization says that general bans on genetically modified crops constitute an unfair trade barrier, because there is no scientific basis for exclusion. But four years after a W.T.O. panel ruled that European Union policies constituted an illegal “de facto moratorium” on the planting of genetically modified seeds, some farmers, like Mr. Fidenato, and seed producers like Monsanto complain that Europe still has not really opened its doors.

It is true that a small but growing number of European countries, including Spain, Portugal and Germany, now allow some cultivation of genetically modified crops. But only two genetically modified seeds (MON810 and the Amflora potato seed) out of dozens on the global market have made it through the European Commission’s laborious approval process, a prerequisite for use.

What is more, some areas of Europe have declared themselves “G.M.O.-free zones,” or free of genetically modified organisms. France, Austria and Germany specifically ban MON810, saying they believe that it could harm local crops. In Italy, a Kafkaesque approval process in which the Agriculture Ministry has never established the requirements for success, makes genetically modified crops a nonstarter.

Such foot-dragging reflects passionate public opposition to the crops in many parts of Europe, even as more than three-quarters of corn, soybeans and sugar beets in the United States are genetically modified. Though the science is at best inconclusive, there is a widespread conviction in Italy that genetically altered foods and crops pose dangers to human health and ecosystems.

After Mr. Fidenato’s provocation, investigators did genetic testing to identify the locations of the offending stalks in the sea of cornfields that surround this tiny town. Officials seized two suspect fields — about 12 acres — and declared the plantings illegal. Greenpeace activists surreptitiously snipped off the stalks’ tassels in the hope of preventing pollen from being disseminated.

On Aug. 9, 100 machete-wielding environmental activists from an antiglobalization group called Ya Basta descended on Vivaro and trampled the field before local police officers could intervene. They left behind placards with a skull and crossbones reading: “Danger — Contaminated — G.M.O.”

Giancarlo Galan, who became agriculture minister in April, called the protesters “vandals,” although he did not say he would allow genetically modified crops. But Luca Zaia, the previous agriculture minister and president of the nearby Veneto region, applauded the rampage, saying: “There is a need to show multinationals that they can’t introduce Frankenstein crops into our country without authorization.”

Over the past decade, genetically modified crops have been a major source of trade friction between Europe and the United States.

Both the United States Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Agency say that there is no scientific evidence that eating MON810 corn is dangerous. But there is greater disagreement on how genetically modified plants affect ecosystems and whether traditional and genetically modified crops can be kept apart to avoid what organic farmers call “contamination” of traditional crops by modified plants or genes. Seed or pollen can travel with the wind or on farm equipment or truck tires, sometimes for hundreds of miles.

This issue is particularly sensitive in Italy, whose farmers rely heavily on specialized organic and heritage crops, like hundreds of varieties of tomatoes. Crops contaminated with genetically modified material can lose its organic designation. Farmers worry that plants with tailor-made survival genes will over time displace tastier traditional varieties.

Greenpeace has called the European Union’s judgment to accept MON810 as safe “fundamentally flawed,” noting, for example, that the chemical that kills corn borer larvae could also harm butterflies that land on the plants. Even in the United States, reservations linger. This month, a federal judge in San Francisco revoked permission for further planting of genetically modified sugar beets, saying that the Agriculture Department had not adequately assessed the environmental consequences; 95 percent of the sugar beets in the United States are genetically modified.

Faced with a W.T.O. judgment on the one hand and a reluctant public on the other, the European Commission has tried in recent years to walk a middle ground. It requires countries to establish procedures for separating traditional and modified crops, like maintaining certain distances between fields. Recent proposals give regions increasing latitude to deny entry to such plants if they provide scientific proof that the seeds could harm the environment, however.

But groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation say that studies used to justify excluding genetically modified crops do not pass muster.

Here in Vivaro, farmers are divided about the issue, said Luca Tornatore, Ya Basta spokesman and an astrophysicist from Trieste, Italy, noting that his group’s “blitz” did not allow much time for talking with local people.

Residents may not know much about the science of genetically modified crops, but they are quite familiar with the corn borer larvae; they tunnel into ears of corn, allowing funguses to fill the holes in their wake. Some of the funguses produce mycotoxins that can end up in places like the milk of corn-fed cows and have been associated with serious health problems, including cancers.

Some farmers spray insecticides on the crops to prevent the boring, but it must be applied at just the right moment and leaves chemical residues as well as an odor in the air. Others simply sell the corn in bulk, ignoring the problem, said Mr. Fidenato, displaying an ear from a field that was alive with worms and covered with patches of white fuzz.

If the Italian government does not relent on the genetically modified seeds, he warned, he commands an army of farmers across Italy who are prepared to plant MON810 to force its hand.

But it is not clear that the battle of Vivaro will have a quick victor. Jail time or at least fines are expected for Mr. Fidenato (illegal planting) and Mr. Tornatore (trespassing and destroying private property).

Monday, September 6, 2010

Why Quick, Cheap Food Is Actually More Expensive

From Dr. Mark Hyman at the Huffington Post

I was in a grocery store yesterday. While I was squeezing avocados to pick just the right ones for my family's dinner salad, I overheard a conversation from a couple that had also picked up an avocado.

"Oh, these avocados look good, let's get some."

Then looking up at the price, they said, "Two for five dollars!" Dejected, they put the live avocado back and walked away from the vegetable aisle toward the aisles full of dead, boxed, canned, packaged goods where they can buy thousands of calories of poor-quality, nutrient-poor, factory-made, processed foods filled with sugar, fat, and salt for the same five dollars. This is the scenario millions of Americans struggling to feed their families face every day.

The odd paradox is that food insecurity--not knowing where the next meal is coming from or not having enough money to adequately feed your family--leads to obesity, diabetes and chronic disease. Examining this paradox may help us advocate for policies that make producing fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole other foods cheaper, while rethinking the almost $300 billion in government subsides that support the production of cheap, processed food derived from corn and soy.

At the same time, a Food Revolution, along the lines of that advocated by Jamie Oliver, a radical chef, can help Americans take back their table and their health from a food industry that has driven us to eat more than 50 percent of our meals out of the home compared to less than 2 percent 100 years ago. And most of those meals eaten at home are produced in plants, not grown on plants, are from a food chemist's lab, not a farmer's field. Cooking and eating whole fresh foods at home, can be cheaper, more fun, and simpler than most people think.

So I would ask you to consider: Have you ever made poor food choices because of cost? What is the REAL cost of this cheap food--the cost in dollars, on our health, on our environment, and even on the fraying fabric of our social and family systems?

This is what you need to remember:

1. The true cost of unhealthy food isn't just the price tag--in fact, the real costs are hidden.
2. Eating healthy doesn't have to cost more.

Sure, it seems cheaper to eat a burger, fries, and a soda from McDonald's than to eat a meal of whole foods, but there are healthier options. Let me review why the true costs of eating unhealthy food are hidden, and give you some suggestions that will help you save money and suffering by eating well for less. Poverty or financial limitations do not preclude eating well, creating health and avoiding disease.

Let's start by looking at how our economy and public policy are geared toward the production of cheap, unhealthy food.

Government Policy Supports the Production of Unhealthy Food

Unhealthy food is cheaper because our government's policies support its production. We're spending nearly $30 billion a year to subsidize corn and soy production. Where do those foods go? Into our food supply as high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated soybean oil (trans fats), that are the foundation of almost all fast food and processed foods that are "manufactured" by the food industry.

Since the 1970s--when our agricultural policies where changed to support corn and soy farmers--we're consuming, on average, an extra 500 calories (mostly in the form of cheap, artificial high-fructose corn syrup) per person.

Corn and soy are also used to feed cattle for the production of meat and dairy. In fact, 70 percent of the wheat, corn and soy farmed in this country is used to feed animals used for our food. The world's cattle alone consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people--more than the entire human population on Earth!

So, when our government helps pay for these foods--well, of course they're cheaper! That explains the low price tag. But what about the OTHER costs to you?

The Hidden Costs of Eating Poorly

We all know that bad foods are bad for your health. It turns out they are also bad for the national pocketbook. For example, one expert has estimated that healthcare costs related to obesity are $118 billion per year. That's nearly 12 percent of total healthcare expenditures--and more than twice that caused by smoking! Seventy-two percent of Americans are overweight and over one third are medically obese. One in three children born today will be diabetic in their lifetime and the life expectancy of our population is declining for the first time in human history.

A report from the Worldwatch Institute called Overfed and Underfed: The Global Epidemic of Malnutrition documented the real costs of obesity related to poor diet--and this does NOT include the other effects of poor diet such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia, autoimmune diseases, and osteoporosis. Here were some of the conclusions of that report:

• Obese people account for a disproportionate share of health-related absences from work.
• Obesity accounts for 7 percent of lost productivity due to sick leave and disability.
• 7 percent of all of North Carolina's healthcare expenditures are related to obesity.
• Obese people visit their physicians 40 percent more than normal weight people.
• Obese people are 2.5 times more likely to require drugs prescribed for cardiovascular and circulation disorders.
• Liposuction is the number-one form of cosmetic surgery in the US, with 400,000 operations a year.
• Over 100,000 people a year have gastric bypass surgery.

According to a recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine (i), we're spending about $20,000 per person for each extra year of life gained from medical interventions like drugs and surgery ... as if that's something to be proud of!

That doesn't even take into account the $282 billion in costs resulting from medical interventions that go wrong--hospital infections, medical errors, deaths from drug reactions, bedsores, or unnecessary surgeries.

And what if that $20,000 per year was given to each person during his or her lifetime to support better nutrition, lifestyle, and stress management? My guess is that we would save trillions of dollars in health care expenditures on chronic disease!

As these numbers prove, the costs of eating fast, junk, and processed foods are often deferred until later. And that's the key point: When you go to McDonald's for a cheap burger and fries, you might immediately compare that lower price to whole organic foods which are more expensive in the short term. But the total cost isn't reflected in how much you pay for your meal in the immediate moment, it's the cumulative cost of what those decisions cost you over a lifetime.

For example, when you eat unhealthy foods like these, the costs of medical visits, co-pays, prescription medications, and other health services skyrocket. There are other non-economic costs of eating poorly as well. You reduce your ability to enjoy life in the moment due to increased fatigue, low-grade health complaints, obesity, depression, and more.

The biggest advantage of eating well now is not just preventing disease and costs later, but simply enjoying each day to its fullest. You can make that happen. Eating well doesn't have to cost more.

It's true that there are very few, if any, subsidies for the production of produce or healthier alternative foods. And the same government agency that supports the production of the ingredients for junk food provides less than $300 million for education on healthy nutrition.

But change is in the air. Dean Ornish, MD, has shown that a program to teach people to eat better, exercise, and learn stress reduction can prevent heart disease and reduce the need for heart bypass or other treatments. Insurance companies are starting to take notice as some cover the costs for that program. Paying $5,000 for such a program now, Medicare has finally recognized, is better than paying $50,000 later for a cardiac bypass operation.

A number of us advocated last year that a "health council" be established to coordinate and develop national polices that create and support health for Americans. This was part of the health reform bill and the National Council on Prevention, Health Promotion and Public Health was created by executive order of the President in June. Drs. Dean Ornish, Memhet Oz, Michael Roizen and I, among others, have been nominated to be on a twenty-five member advisory council that helps guide the council. The council is made up of all the cabinet secretaries in charge of departments that in some way affect our health--agriculture, health, transportation, environment, trade, labor, and more--and will be chaired by the Surgeon General. This provides a way to influence national policies to support and create health--including our food and agriculture polices--for the first time.

The idea that you can save money by eating well is further supported by studies like the one published by the American Dietetic Association (ii) that shows eating well to lose weight is actually cheaper--or at the worst, no more expensive--than eating poorly! The authors of the study concluded that "adopting a lower-energy, nutrient-dense diet did not increase dietary costs over time. Consequently, cost should not be a barrier in the adoption of a healthful diet."

That's powerful evidence that eating well is not just good for your body, it's good for your wallet, too! Here are some ideas to get you started.

Four Tips to Start Eating Healthy for Less Today

1. Listen to Gandhi. Yes, Gandhi! He said that we should never mistake what is habitual for what is natural. Case in point: Some Chinese are very poor and yet they eat extremely well--small amounts of animal protein, with an abundance of vegetables.

2. Be willing to learn. We have to learn new ways of shopping and eating, new ways of ordering our priorities around our health and nutrition that supports our well-being, even if it is hard at the beginning.

3. Do your research. There are ways to find cheaper sources of produce, whole grains, beans, nuts, and lean animal protein. You just need to seek them out. It doesn't all have to be organic. Simply switching from processed foods to whole foods is a HUGE step in the right direction.

4. Make an effort. Eating healthy does take more planning. It may require you to find new places to hunt and gather for your family. You might have to reorder your priorities regarding where you spend your money and your time so that you can make healthier eating choices.

Remember, eating healthy foods without spending a lot is possible--and you can do it.

Now I'd like to hear from you...

What do you think about the long-term costs of eating poorly?

Do you agree or disagree that eating poorly in the short-term has dramatic long-term consequences on your health care costs?

What other costs of eating poorly have you seen or experienced?

Are you also worried about the exploding costs of health care, whether insurance, medical, Medicare or other costs?

Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

To your good health,

Mark Hyman, MD


(i) Cutler D.M., Rosen A.B., and S. Vijan. 2006. The value of medical spending in the United States, 1960-2000. N Engl J Med. 355(9): 920-7.

(ii)Raynor, H.A., Kilanowski, C.K., Esterli, I., et al. 2002. A cost-analysis of adopting a healthful diet in a family-based treatment program. J Am Diet Assoc.102(5): 645-650, 655-656.

Mark Hyman, M.D. is a practicing physician, founder of The UltraWellness Center, a four-time New York Times bestselling author, and an international leader in the field of Functional Medicine. You can follow him on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn, watch his videos on YouTube, become a fan on Facebook, and subscribe to his newsletter at