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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

More Weight On Less Meat

From Mark Bittman at the New York Times

Today the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released “Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health,” a comprehensive report that suggests what’s become a common refrain here and elsewhere: we all need to eat fewer animal products – not just meat, but dairy as well. The guide tracks the lifecycle of the food we eat, from production and processing to consumption and waste disposal. It’s tricked out with enough features, graphics, and factoids to keep you busy – or equal parts hopeful and despondent – for a while.

For instance:

- Of 20 common proteins and vegetables analyzed, cheese has the third highest greenhouse gas emissions. Lamb and beef have the two highest, lentils have the lowest. (An aside: as it turns out, lentils and lamb are great together. The key is to use small amounts of flavorful, fatty lamb, just enough to infuse a big pot of lentils with tons of flavor as you cook them low and slow.)

- If everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, over a year, the effect on emissions would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road. (Another aside: if for two days a week you don’t eat any meat or cheese until dinnertime, you’ll accomplish something similar.)

- A 2009 National Cancer Institute study of 500,000 Americans found that the people who ate the most red meat were 20 percent more likely to die of cancer and at least 27 percent more likely to die of heart disease than those who ate the least. (No aside needed.)

The EWG recommends that consumers buy right-size portions to reduce waste, avoid eating meat and cheese at least one day a week and choose “greener” options like grass-fed, organic and pasture-raised animal and dairy products that are produced in a more ethical manner and without antibiotics or hormones. (Clearly, equitable access is a big issue here.)

The guide’s addendum to the personal consumption platform is that even if everyone in the U.S. went “vegetarian” — that is, eliminated meat but continued to eat dairy at our current rate — it would make only a small (though significant) dent in overall emissions. The subsequent recommendation is that to significantly reduce emissions we all have to lobby our elected officials to adopt a comprehensive energy and climate policy that puts the U.S. on a path to green energy. Needless to say, that hasn’t happened.

Eating less meat and dairy doesn’t require any additional time or effort. Calling your congressman does. I’d say start with the first: with the energy you gain from eating a plant-based diet you might be ready to lobby ‘til the cows come home.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Great Global Poisoning Experiment

From John DeCock, environmental activist and writer, on the Huffington Post

If you are alive in 2011, no matter what your age, you have been part of one of the largest and worst experiments in history. No matter how carefully you eat or drink or watch your exposure to toxins, your body has chemicals in it that do not belong there and have the potential to make you ill, even fatally ill.

You didn't give anyone permission to experiment on you, it just happened to you. Chemicals have been spewing from smokestacks, sprayed on crops, dumped in your water, incorporated into your food, clothing and shelter. You've been exposed to laLinkrge amounts mercury if you eat fish, you've breathed in asbestos from fabrics and building materials. You've ingested lead from paint. You have consumedBisphenol-a since the 1950's or since you were a baby if you were born later. You probably havePCB's in the tissues of your body. If you eat meat, you are eating antibiotics meant for livestock. This is a particularly shoddy experiment since there is no control group, no hypothesis and the experimenters ignore the outcomes.

In spite of the fact that we have many laws on the books to protect us and federal and state regulators to enforce the laws, the sheer scale of pollution has overwhelmed us. We all pay the price for this with our health and our very lives.

For generations, environmentalists, health advocates and people with common sense have been fighting corporate interests to keep toxins out of our environment. Have we been successful? Well, we have managed to ban and regulate some of the worst poisons. In some cases we have only shifted the manufacturing and distribution channels off shore so that we primarily poison other people with those particular toxins. However, it's difficult to demonstrate any real big picture success against the tsunami of chemicals that we swim in every day.

Toxic pollution has no international boundaries. In China, a group of students shocked by the headlines about " toxic milk, tainted pork and beef and reused gutter oil" undertook a project to map toxic hot spots for food production. In Canada, environmentalists fight pollution in Lake Ontario and the massive threat of tar sands extraction fouling ecosystems. In Japan, radioactive particles from the massive failure of the Fukushima nuclear plants are being found in food and water. All over the United States, we transport out kids to school in diesel buses that spew carcinogens out of their tailpipes.

While we have seen this rapid acceleration of ever more toxic substances into our environment, we have experienced a corresponding increase in disease. Cancer rates continue to increase, although treatments have reduced the number of deaths. According to the World Health Organization's2008 Cancer Report:

The rapid increase in the cancer burden represents a real crisis for public health and health systems worldwide. A major issue for many countries, even among high-resource countries, will be how to find sufficient funds to treat all cancer patients effectively and provide palliative, supportive and terminal care for the large numbers of patients, and their relatives, who will be diagnosed in the coming years.

The WHO warns of a possible 50% increase in cases of Cancer by 2020.

The Scientific American suggests that soaring rates of autism are linked to our constant exposure to toxics. Again, we pay an enormous emotional, practical and financial price to deal with the increase in this disease.

Links correlating many other illnesses with toxic and radioactive exposure are many and powerful. Yet we continue to operate in a manner that all but ignores this fact. It is not from stupidity. We are smart enough as a species to understand the connection. It is more likely from a combination of greed, laziness and apathy that we continue to allow this to happen.

This is not a problem that can be solved in a year. No governmental body can pass a regulation or set of regulations that will fix this quickly. The hard work of reducing exposure to toxins from our environment will occur over decades and centuries. It will take a massive shift in our thinking about the rights and responsibilities of corporations and the role of our governments, local, national and global, in protecting the commons and prioritizing human health over things like the cost of production.

The fact that this problem is so massive is no excuse to give up. It is a reason to get active. Progress in reigning in the power of corporations to poison the entire population of the world will bring with it many collateral benefits. It's an enormous cultural shift and requires dis-empowering the most powerful entities in the world. But if we don't wish our descendants to live in a world riddled by disease, genetic damage and drastically shortened life spans, we need to begin now. As we fight the important battle against climate change, we must not lose sight of the urgent need to support organizations that fight the battles against toxic exposure and unbridled corporate power.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How Fragile We Are: Why The Complexity Of Modern Civilization Threatens Us All

From Mike Adams at
The fragility of our modern human civilization did not become clear to me until I began living full-time in South America. As a resident of Vilcabamba, Ecuador, I've grown accustomed to the idea of knowing where the things I consume come from.

The water I drink, for example, comes from a hole in the ground that taps into a water table replenished by the clouds hanging over the Podocarpus National Forest to the East. I can make a logical connection between the clouds, the rainfall, and the water in my glass. And if the well pump fails, I know I can always carry a bucket to the river a few hundred meters away and scoop up virtually unlimited quantities of water that recently fell out of the sky.

During a recent trip to Tucson, however, I found myself hesitating when I turned on the kitchen faucet. I paused, marveling at the magic of this water which apparently appears from nowhere. And it's always there, reliable and uninterrupted. That's when I noticed myself asking the commonsense question: "Where does the water come from around here?"

I had no idea.

The realization astonished me. I lived in Tucson for over five years and yet the thought suddenly occurred to me that if the water stopped magically flowing out of these pipes, I had absolutely no idea where to physically find water beyond the bottled water in the grocery stores, and that wouldn't last very long.

Sure, I know where the rivers are in Tucson, but these desert rivers are bone dry river beds for all but a few days of the year. And yes, I know how to get water out of cactus, but it's hard work, and the water isn't pure water. Try to live off cactus juice for a few days and you'll end up with severe diarrhea (which is dehydrating).

This thought never hit me when I lived in America, but now it struck me hard: Life in many U.S. cities is extremely fragile. Much of the abundance and convenience of city life is pure illusion, conjured up by a system of underground pipes that deliver water to your home and another set of pipes that magically dispose of your flushed liquid waste. A set of wires brings electricity that makes your home livable (at the great expenditure of energy for heat or cooling), and cheap gasoline makes it possible for fresh produce to magically appear in the grocery stores that feed us all with food from who-knows-where.

Take away any one of these -- electricity, water, sewers, fuel, food -- and virtually every U.S. city becomes an urban death trap for all its citizens.

It's not just Tucson, either: The entire American Southwest is extremely fragile when it comes to supporting life. The same story holds true with Phoenix, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego and many other cities and towns of all sizes. The population currently living in the Southwest USA is far greater than what those geographic regions could support on their own: It is the mass-importation of water, electricity, food and fuel that makes life possible there.

And all those mass imports are extremely fragile.

The flipside of this problem exists across Northern USA and Canada, where extremely cold winters make these regions unlivable without the steady importation of heating fuel. Most Americans and Canadians would freeze to death in less than a week if left without some ability to heat their homes during a severe winter freeze. Very few people (in the cities especially) still have free-standing, non-electric wood-burning stoves or effective fireplaces that can keep them warm and alive during such an outage. Most of the younger generation has never even chopped wood! (And wouldn't know where to start if they had to...)

The illusion of progress hides the frailty of complex civilizations

As U.S. cities have become increasingly complex and population dense, they have simultaneously become alarmingly fragile. Just one small break in the supply lines -- or one severe disruption in a single essential input -- can ripple through the entire system, causing widespread catastrophe.

I found this difficult to see when living in the USA. Everything seems fine on the surface. The water always appears when you turn on the faucet. Electricity seems ever-present. Food is magically replaced on store shelves each night (apparently by sleepless Elves of some kind) and no matter how much gasoline you pump out of the gas station, it always seems to have more!

But what if these essentials stopped? Could YOU survive for even one weekend without store-bought food, water pressure in your home, fuel, electricity and internet access? Increasingly, the honest answer is simply "No".

(This isn't an article about survival, by the way. But if you're interested in the concept of "surviving and thriving," then check out the "surthrival" website of Daniel Vitalis at )

Our modern world lacks redundancy

In the quest for complexity, specialization and profit, our modern civilization has completely forgotten about redundancy. There is almost no slack in the systems that deliver your food, fuel, electricity, water or consumer products. That means if something goes wrong, even for a little while, you'll need to depend on yourself to provide these things. Yet how many people have the ability to provide all these essentials for themselves -- disconnected from the grid -- for even as little as one weekend?

Very few, it turns out. And that leads to one giant, disturbing realization: When the next great disruption occurs, the vast majority of the population will panic. That's because they're unprepared. They have unknowingly bet their lives on the reliability of just-in-time delivery systems and complex infrastructure interdependencies. When the water stops flowing, or the electricity goes off, or the gasoline runs out, they literally will have no idea what to do.

The very idea that such a thing could happen will be entirely foreign to them. It's as if they've all been living in The Truman Show (a Jim Carey film, one of my favorites) then suddenly the veil is lifted and they're shown the real world. In the real world, water doesn't just automatically flow through your pipes. Fuel doesn't materialize into existence out of nowhere. Food isn't mysteriously teleported to your local store each night while you sleep. In the real world, food, fuel, energy and water all depend on a long, intricate web of interdependent processes, and there isn't a person living today who truly understands the complexity of those dependencies.

In essence, we are all living a civilization experiment. It's an experiment that asks the question, "What happens if we all become specialists and give up our redundancies in the pursuit of higher specialized production?"

The cost of specialization

Let me rephrase it more simply: A hundred years ago, almost everybody was a farmer. If your neighbor's garden crop failed, that was no big deal because you had some extra garden food to share with them. But as society became more "advanced" and complex, people became specialists: Forklift operators, grocery store checkout clerks, bank paper pushers, auto alarm installers, and so on.

Importantly, in this process they all lost the knowledge of how to grow their own food, or fetch their own water, or heat their own homes. Instead, they pursued their own narrow specialized skills and traded their time (and money) for bits and pieces of other peoples' special skills, some of which include delivering the essentials we all need to survive. A newspaper journalist, for example, doesn't need to grow her own food. She writes stories that farmers want to read, and in exchange, she eats some of the food they grow. The medium of exchange for all this is called "money," of course.

As you can see, however, this specialization results in the mass loss of basic living knowledge such as how to raise chickens, how to prune fruit trees or how to plant garden seeds. I'm actually forcing myself to re-learn many of these basic skills now in Ecuador, and I'm finding myself astonished at how little I really knew about living off the land...

This loss of practical knowledge sets up precisely the kind of situation I hinted at earlier, where a disruption in the complex systems that deliver our essentials results in the masses panicking because they have no clue what to do. They've never had to use live-off-the-land skills, so they don't even know where to begin.

Where can you find water within walking distance? How to build a water filter out of a plastic barrel, some sand and some old tree stumps? How do you repair a flat tire on a bicycle without changing the inner tube? How do you protect your garden veggies from insects or rodents without using chemical pesticides? These are the kinds of things that most people just don't know, and yet in a breakdown emergency, these are precisely the kinds of skills that are desperately needed. (They're the skills your parents or grandparents probably knew very well, but have since been largely abandoned...)

Skills matter

The upshot of all this is that it's a good idea to acquire some essential preparedness skills so that you don't find yourself a complete noob when the lights go out. And this isn't about acquiring just stuff (gadgets and the like), it's about developing skills and know-how. Skills beat stuff any day.

For example, by working alongside some of the locals I've hired in Ecuador, I've learned how to cut wire without a wire cutter. I've learned how to repair irrigation pipes without pipe clamps (just using bailing wire and a nail). I've learned how to build water troughs out of bamboo and how to make a decent roof covering out of dried sugar cane leaves. It's all the more curious given that I came to Ecuador from what people call an "advanced nation" (the USA) and yet found myself clueless in so many areas that are considered common knowledge by the people of this "developing nation" (Ecuador).

I can tell you this: In a prolonged crisis, rural Ecuadorians will out-live USA city-dwellers by a hundred to one. Many skills that we might consider "advanced preparedness skills" in the USA are everyday knowledge to the Ecuadorians I know. There is much to learn from these knowledgeable people.

Come visit Southern Ecuador some time if you'd like to learn more for yourself. In cooperation with the local tourism bureaus, I plan to cover several tourist events and destinations throughout Ecuador in 2010. Watch for those announcements here on NaturalNews. For starters, the primary cities / towns to visit in Southern Ecuador include Loja, Zamora, Cuenca and Vilcabamba, where I live.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Why Water Is The New Oil

From Julian Brookes at Rolling Stone

We take water for granted. And why not? We turn a tap and out it comes. But that's going to have to change, says author Alex Prud'homme. As he explains in a new book,The Ripple Effect, the basic problem is this: the quantity of water in the world is finite, but demand is everywhere on the rise. As oil was in the 20th century – the key resource, a focus of tension, even conflict – so water will be of the 21st, as states, countries, and industries compete over the ever-more-precious resource. So we need to figure out how to use it more sustainably. But that's not all. In the United States fresh water is under threat from new kinds of barely understood pollutants, from pesticides to pharmaceuticals, and from a last-century infrastructure of pipes, dams, levees, sewage plants that urgently needs upgrading.

All this and (much) more you'll learn fromThe Ripple Effect, a book that will forever change the way you think about what comes out of your faucet. (A film based on the book, titled Last Call at the Oasis, produced by the same folks who brought us An Inconvenient Truth and Food Inc., is in preparation.)Rolling Stone recently got Prud'homme on the phone to talk about thirst, waste and the fate of fresh water.

Reading the book, I was really struck by how fundamental water is to so many processes.

Right. Water is considered an “axis resource,” meaning it’s the resource that underlies all others. So whether you're building a computer chip, or growing crops, or generating power, all these things require lots of water. But there's only a finite amount of water, and now resources are butting up against each other.

At the same time, you point out, we waste a lot of water.

We're using our water supplies unsustainably. In America, we can turn the tap on at any time of day and get as much water as we want at any temperature for as long as we want. And, consequently, we take it for granted. Which is unusual: In most places in the world it's very difficult to get water on a regular basis.

Water is virtually free. Is that a big part of why we take it for granted?

Yes. There's not a great economic incentive to use it efficiently. I came to believe after all this research that we need to value water more highly.

Does that mean putting a price on water? Even privatizing it?

That's probably the trickiest question in water today, because it raises a moral dilemma. Is water a common, like the air we breathe? If it is, it should be free to everyone. Or is it a commodity, like oil or gas, that process and sell in the marketplace? On the one hand, if you don't price water, people waste it. On the other hand, if we price it too high, then you are playing a game of life and death, predicated on making a profit.

Is there a middle ground?

Yes. We need to provide a certain amount of water to every person, essentially for free. And that figure is about 13 gallons per capita per day. In the U.S., that's not very much water, but in a place like sub-Saharan Africa or China or India, it's a lot. Beyond that, we should institute a tiered price structure. So that the more water you use, the more you will pay for it.

Let’s talk about what’s in our water. I was shocked to learn that our water is more polluted now than it was 30 years ago.

The environmental laws that were instituted in the '70s – the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the founding of the EPA – were largely the result of water issues, and we tend to say, "Okay, we've dealt with that, let's move on." But the EPA has been under-funded and weakened even as the stresses on the system have grown and new kinds of pollutants have come on to the marketplace.

What kinds of pollutants?

There's something like 700 new chemicals – they're called “emerging contaminants” – that come on the market every year. Many of which are not tested for their toxicity, because there's just too many of them. And the questions are, what's the impact of all these things, individually, and what is the combined effect? What happens when that cocktail of things – say, lead, plastic, anti-bacterial soap, Chanel No. 5, narcotics and, say, Viagra – is in the water supply? What does it do to us? Again, we don't know the answer, but these are the cutting-edge questions right now.

How much do we know?

To take one example: You spray your lawn with herbicides, which contain a chemical called Atrizine, which, if and when it gets in the waterways, will disrupt the endocrine system of fish. In the Chesapeake Bay, where I spent a lot of time, the U.S. Geological Survey is now looking at male bass that are developing eggs in their testes. And there are other cases where the female fish are developing testes. It turns out the endocrine system of fish is very similar to that of humans. So, again, what is this doing to us?

And these are on top of the old-fashioned pollutants.

Right. You have the "legacy pollutants," like PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), that have been in waterways for decades, and traditional pollutants like sewage and storm water runoff.

Talking of sewage, I was shocked to find that the water treatment process is only partially effective.

Me too. I was surprised to learn that the federal law is that sewage must be cleaned to 85 percent of cleanliness, which means that, even on the best of days, 15 percent of the pollutants get through!

Another big theme of your book is that our water infrastructure is in bad shape. How bad?

The state of our dams and levies and pipelines is shocking. They call this the dawn of the "replacement era," meaning water pipes are starting to burst, and it's really difficult – and expensive – to dig them up and replace them. Many levies were not well built, not well maintained, and they're starting to breach. City sewage systems needs to be totally revamped. New York City’s, for instance, was state-of-the-art 150 years ago, but now it gets overwhelmed, and we actually end up dumping raw sewage into New York's harbor when that happens.

Let’s get back to the sustainability issue. We need to change the way we value water. What else?

We need to focus on efficiency and conservation. I talk in the book about Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute, who is sort of the champion of a new ethos that comes under the name of the "soft path," as opposed to “hard path” engineering. Soft path is technologically driven, it's kind of a smarter, less dramatic way of conserving the water supplies that we have, and using them more efficiently. How? Fairly simple steps – low-flow showerheads, low-flush toilets, drip irrigation, side-mounting washing machines, storing water underground instead of above ground, where it evaporates. These are not super hi-tech, they're existing technologies, we just haven't used them intentionally enough yet. And Gleick will tell you that if everyone in California got low-flush toilets and low-flow shower heads, that even there, in the fastest-growing state in the union, they wouldn't have to build new dams. Did working on the book change the way you use water? It did. Once I got into this, I discovered to my horror that I was wasting water in many small ways. So now I recycle water much more. I'm very careful about what I put down the drain; I used to put pharmaceuticals down the drain, because that's what we were told to do, but I realize now that many of those survive the treatment process and end up in the water supply. We now have a more efficient, low-flush toilet. I have fixed leaks in my house. The stat that I remember is that a dripping faucet can drip ten gallons a day of water – water that's been carefully collected and cleaned and piped to you. That’s just a crazy waste of resources.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Slaughterhouse In Brooklyn, And Misery Next Door

Michael Kirby Smith for The New York Times

A worker at New Lee's Live Poultry Market on Greenpoint Avenue, where hundreds of chickens are slaughtered every day.

Click here to read the full piece from the New York Times

For decades now, the pattern has been the same: New York City factories fall prey to the hunger for offbeat places to live, and once-gritty industrial neighborhoods like SoHo, TriBeCa, Dumbo and the meatpacking district are transformed into enviable residential enclaves.

Michael Kirby Smith for The New York Times

Andrew Rodgers, on his rooftop deck overlooking the slaughterhouse. “It smells like death, like rotting garbage, like rotting flesh,” said Mr. Rodgers, who is seeking to move out of his duplex.

But in each evolution, there is a fraught, in-between moment when the factory and the home must exist side by side. Such is the situation, literally, on Greenpoint Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and, yes, it is fraught.

It is there that residents of a 15-unit apartment building, which was carved, tellingly, out of an air-conditioner factory, live alongside a squat one-story structure where, six days a week, hundreds of chickens are slaughtered and dispatched to restaurants and supermarkets in Chinatown and elsewhere. The residents complain of regularly being awakened at dawn by a collective cackle as trucks from upstate farms, each carrying 600 anxious chickens squeezed into narrow crates, arrive at the slaughterhouse doors.

Samantha Knoll, 36, who pays $2,500 for a ground-floor one-bedroom she rents with her husband, Matthew, says she finds feathers that have flown in through her windows. As the day wears on, Ms. Knoll says, she can tell the precise moments when the panicked chickens expire by the diminishing cries she hears.

“It slowly dies out,” she said, her twisted smile expressing her squeamishness.

She and Andrew Rodgers, another ground-floor tenant, said that on particularly hot days, an unbearable stench wafts in, emanating from the feces and slaughtering byproducts next door.

“It smells like death, like rotting garbage, like rotting flesh,” said Mr. Rodgers, 40, a certified public accountant who moved into a $2,650-a-month, two-bedroom duplex in October, and is seeking to move out. “You can hear the chickens clucking and screaming and the truck guys cursing and carrying on. These guys are delivering chickens to a slaughterhouse. It’s not exactly Goldman Sachs.”

He and other tenants would like the slaughterhouse to pack up and leave. The problem is that the slaughterhouse was there first. In fact, it has been on the block since 1928 and its main business is made unmistakably clear in a sign in block letters over its front door: “LIVE POULTRY SLAUGHTER.”

“Why did they move next door?” asked John Lee, an owner and a manager of the slaughtering business, New Lee’s Live Poultry Market. “They knew it was a slaughterhouse.”

Like many neighborhoods affected by both immigration and competition for cheaper housing, Greenpoint is evolving. Some of the Polish immigrants who give the neighborhood its ethnic flavor are moving to newer Polish neighborhoods, like the one along Fresh Pond Road in Ridgewood, Queens, or to the suburbs. They are being replaced by young couples and singles who cannot afford Manhattan.

These newcomers are drawn to a patch of Brooklyn that happens to be right near bohemian Williamsburg and has its own rough-hewn, Old World charm — Manhattan and Greenpoint Avenues are meccas for Polish food — and a lively art and film scene along an increasingly animated Franklin Avenue. Subways can whisk them to Midtown Manhattan in half an hour, and a new East River ferry service may speed up the commute.

When 118 Greenpoint Avenue opened as a condominium building two years ago, the apartments seemed highly desirable — tall ceilings, modern kitchens and bathrooms, duplexes outfitted with laundry rooms. Condos were offered at prices as high as $675,000.

But residents say many condos ended up as rentals, perhaps because of the difficulty of selling apartments near a slaughterhouse. Nevertheless, it was the block’s quirky charm and affordable rents that drew people like Mr. Rodgers, who has a side line as an independent filmmaker with a company called B1L Productions.

“I’m no dummy, and I thought it would be a curiosity for a production company if we could tell our clients to ‘Follow your nose to B1L Productions,’ ” Mr. Rodgers said. “I had no idea of the way they delivered birds in the morning.”

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Greasy Burgers, Sausages Don't Belong In President's Photo-Op

From Dr. Neil Barnard at the Huffington Post

Last month, two food-related stories dominated the press. First, the World Cancer Research Fund announced that no one should eat processed meat ever because of its incontrovertible link to colon cancer. Second, President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron made sausage the centerpiece of their photo-op during the president's trip to the United Kingdom.

The World Cancer Research Fund's new report, the most comprehensive ever conducted on colon cancer, confirmed that both red and processed meats play a significant role in the development of colorectal cancer. The authors found that 45 percent of all colorectal cancer cases could be prevented if we ate less meat and more fruits and vegetables and made other lifestyle changes.

You can't begrudge heads of state a bit of choreographed symbolism (pour the Guinness now, please). But when obesity, heart disease, cancer and other food-related conditions are epidemics costing hundreds of billions of dollars and a great many lives, the president needs to lead, not follow. He should set an example. So far, it's been in the opposite direction.

First, it was a well-publicized motorcade to Ray's Hell Burger in Arlington, Va., with the Vice president. Then, a repeat performance -- same place, same menu -- with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Five Guys burgers, meaty chili and similar junk food used as props of choice show a president who is out of touch with health.

Just as the previous administration ignored the pleas of the president's cancer panel to stop subsidizing unhealthy foods, the current one has similarly treated health and nutrition with indifference.

The First Lady's signature anti-obesity campaign -- Let's Move -- is no match for the administration's ongoing purchases of sausage, cheese, burgers and other fatty foods that are sent to schools everyday. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture continues to bow to the interests of meat lobbyists and heavily subsidize the production of meat and other unhealthful foods.

It's time for the administration to acknowledge the clear and convincing scientific evidence linking processed meat to increased cancer risk. And it's time for action to protect our children: The president and the USDA should work to get hot dogs, bacon, pepperoni pizza and other processed meat products out of school lunches.

The president should also reconsider photo-ops that promote unhealthy foods.

Certainly, no political leader wants to appear aloof, and beer, burgers and sausage lend a "regular guy" image. But I don't want a regular guy as president. My plumber, my accountant, the pharmacist are all regular guys. And none of them should be running the country, much less setting a dietary example. Most "regular guys" die of heart disease, and half will develop cancer.

The fact that the Obama-Cameron photo-op served food to British soldiers doesn't excuse the unhealthful choices. British Ministry of Defence recently reported that 57 percent of its troops are overweight or obese. Many American soldiers are in the same predicament.

There is no shortage of healthful choices, as Michelle Obama and Samantha Cameron demonstrated with an agile pair of salad tongs. The sooner our leaders break the pattern of catering to the worst of health problems, the better off we'll all be.

Neal D. Barnard, M.D., is a nutrition researcher and president of the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Climate of Denial

Click here to read the full essay from Al Gore at Rolling Stone

Here is the core of it: we are destroying the climate balance that is essential to the survival of our civilization. This is not a distant or abstract threat; it is happening now. The United States is the only nation that can rally a global effort to save our future. And the president is the only person who can rally the United States.

Many political advisers assume that a presiLinkdent has to deal with the world of politics as he finds it, and that it is unwise to risk political capital on an effort to actually lead the country toward a new understanding of the real threats and real opportunities we face. Concentrate on the politics of re-election, they say. Don't take chances.

All that might be completely understandable and make perfect sense in a world where the climate crisis wasn't "real." Those of us who support and admire President Obama understand how difficult the politics of this issue are in the context of the massive opposition to doing anything at all — or even to recognizing that there is a crisis. And assuming that the Republicans come to their senses and avoid nominating a clown, his re-election is likely to involve a hard-fought battle with high stakes for the country. All of his supporters understand that it would be self-defeating to weaken Obama and heighten the risk of another step backward. Even writing an article like this one carries risks; opponents of the president will excerpt the criticism and strip it of context.

But in this case, the President has reality on his side. The scientific consensus is far stronger today than at any time in the past. Here is the truth: The Earth is round; Saddam Hussein did not attack us on 9/11; Elvis is dead; Obama was born in the United States; and the climate crisis is real. It is time to act.

Those who profit from the unconstrained pollution that is the primary cause of climate change are determined to block our perception of this reality. They have help from many sides: from the private sector, which is now free to make unlimited and secret campaign contributions; from politicians who have conflated their tenures in office with the pursuit of the people's best interests; and — tragically — from the press itself, which treats deception and falsehood on the same plane as scientific fact, and calls it objective reporting of alternative opinions.

All things are not equally true. It is time to face reality. We ignored reality in the marketplace and nearly destroyed the world economic system. We are likewise ignoring reality in the environment, and the consequences could be several orders of magnitude worse. Determining what is real can be a challenge in our culture, but in order to make wise choices in the presence of such grave risks, we must use common sense and the rule of reason in coming to an agreement on what is true.

The climate crisis, in reality, is a struggle for the soul of America. It is about whether or not we are still capable — given the ill health of our democracy and the current dominance of wealth over reason — of perceiving important and complex realities clearly enough to promote and protect the sustainable well-being of the many. What hangs in the balance is the future of civilization as we know it.