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Tag: "environment"

Cannibal Lobsters

[ 24 ] July 28, 2013 |

Let’s take massive overfishing and combine it with rapidly worsening climate change. What you end up with is a nightmare of cannibalistic lobsters, not to mention a Maine fishing economy desperately holding on for survival.

Here’s a great infographic explaining what the larger article explores in more detail.

Are Your Distressed Jeans Worth a Dead Chinese Worker?

[ 20 ] July 23, 2013 |

The apparel industry’s terrible toll upon working-class Asians becomes more apparent everyday:

“Distressed” jeans are designed to make that wear-and-tear look seem oh-so-effortless, but it can be the result of someone’s body taking a real beating.

According to a recent investigation by the advocacy groups Clean Clothes Campaign, War on Want, and Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM), several manufacturers in Guangdong, China—which supply global brands such as Levi Strauss, Lee and Wrangler—have used patently unsafe sandblasting techniques on their denim.

Sandblasting usually involves spraying chemicals and mineral dust against textiles to create a weathered look. It is commonly done by hand, using an air gun, though some manufacturers use mechanical sandblasting performed inside special cabinets. Without adequate ventilation and other protections, either technique can expose workers to damaging particles that increase the risk of silicosis, pulmonary fibrosis and other lung and respiratory problems.

In the case of the denim workers in Guangdong, SACOM is demanding that the global brands using the sandblasting factories take responsibility. SACOM advocate Pui Kwan Liang tells Working In These Times via email:

The brands are not required by the law to make compensation but since the workers are suppressed by the suppliers in China and the brands are making huge profit every day with the workers’ sacrifices, it is no doubt that the brands are ethically responsible to such issue.

Under pressure from international advocates for garment workers, several apparel brands, including Levi Strauss and H&M, have in recent years announced plans to phase out sandblasting, which has previously been used in factories in Bangladesh and Turkey. But SACOM’s investigations show that in the apparel industry’s twisted supply chains, “regardless of whether a brand has ‘banned’ sandblasting or not, the practice continues—to the point that some factories have taken to hiding sandblasting machinery in sealed rooms to avoid detection, while others have simply subcontracted the procedure.”

Meanwhile, the real distress of global capitalism is surfacing all over Guangdong, as workers continue shredding their lungs so Western consumers can wear perfectly abused denim.

But wait, there’s more! Because the capital mobility of the apparel industry, scouring the planet for people and ecosystems to exploit, has also created terrible pollution in Mexico, similar to the purple water of Bangladesh I pointed out yesterday.

That picture is from Tehuacán, in the Mexican state of Puebla. Yep, the distressed jeans industry dumps a tremendous amount of chemicals into local water supplies, poisoning humans and other animals. And then of course there’s Bangladesh. Turkey banned the manufacturing of distressed jeans in that country in 2009, after at least 6 workers died from lung diseases so that apparel corporations could market a cool new look that made them boatloads of money, but the apparel manufactures don’t care if a country bans the practice. They just move to Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, wherever they can exploit people and nature with the greatest intensity.

Once again, we need to create environmental and labor law that transcend international borders so that companies, especially in the apparel industry, cannot circle the earth to find the most easily exploitable people. We need a set of labor and environmental law that empowers workers at the point of production to take on the corporations without the threat that their factory will close and move to Cambodia or Vietnam or Indonesia. Without this, industrial democracy and sustainable living on this planet will not take place.

The Environmental and Human Health Effects of Outsourcing Garment Production to Bangladesh

[ 19 ] July 22, 2013 |

Why do capitalists move their operations?

They do so to maximize profit. But that term is an euphemism that obscures the decisions behind those choices. Profits are great, right! For decades, corporations have shifted operations around the globe, sometimes within the United States but usually between nations, in order to take advantage of lax labor and environmental regulations. We know about the apparel industry’s exploitation of Bangladeshi labor. But that’s not the only reason to choose Bangladesh. Here is another:

That water is indeed purple. The large building near the water: a school. This is near the site of the factory collapse in April that killed over 1100 workers. Here is the mayor of the town of Savar, where this picture was taken:

The inspections were part of a highly publicized antipollution enforcement campaign led by Munir Chowdhury, a senior official in the environment ministry. Mr. Chowdhury raided factories, often at night, finding that many were saving money by dumping waste without treating it. He imposed repeated fines until he was transferred this year to run the state dairy operation.

Mr. Kader, the acting mayor of Savar, said there was only so much a single official could do. “You should understand the reality in Bangladesh,” he said. “These people who are setting up industries and factories here are much more powerful than me. When a government minister calls me and tells me to give permission to someone to set up a factory in Savar, I can’t refuse.”

For global brands that buy clothing from Bangladeshi factories, pollution rarely gets the same attention as workplace conditions or fire safety. H &M has sponsored some environmental programs, but Bangladeshi environmentalists say global buyers have done far too little.

“The buyers totally understand the conditions of Bangladesh and they take advantage of it,” said Ms. Hasan, the environmental lawyer.

After the United States and western Europe passed meaningful environmental regulations, corporations moved to the developing world precisely to recreate a situation where they could dump chemicals and dyes into water, without regard for how it would affect local ecosystems or human health.

In other words, the textile industry still operates by the laws of 1835. And they intend to keep it that way through capital mobility.

This is why environmental and working-class issues are so intertwined in my mind. Bangladeshis need jobs. There’s no reason why the textile industry needs to dump its dyes into the rivers. But if the Bangladeshi people organize to create meaningful environmental legislation and begin coming after the polluters, they will just move to another country. This is why we need international labor and environmental laws. There are meaningful and enforced laws prohibiting the importation of goods to the United States that are made by prison labor or slave labor. There is no good reason why we can’t expand those laws to include nations that allow union organizers to be killed with impunity or products that are produced in an environmentally unsustainable manner. Whether in Bangladesh or the United States, Vietnam or Honduras, worker rights and environmental rights are human rights. The United States should crack down on its corporations whose factories violate basic conceptions of these rights or who subcontract work out to employers who do the same thing. Workers need to be able to bring suit in western courts against companies who pollute their water, give them industrial disease, or kill their husbands and daughters on the job.

This is how a worldwide industrial democracy must work. Without empowering workers to improve their lives and limiting corporate mobility to evade basic labor and environmental regulations, environmental problems and working-class life will not improve.

Thai Bin Two

[ 8 ] July 20, 2013 |

The US Export-Import Bank has decided not to fund the Thai Binh Two coal-fired power plant in Vietnam. This is a marginally good sign that the Obama Administration’s rejection of coal that he set out in his climate change speech will have real life benefits. However, it’s also a decision that comes at almost no political cost except irritating the Vietnamese government. What happens with the Keystone XL Pipeline and especially the exporting of Powder River Basin coal to Asia will be far more telling.

Powder River Basin Coal

[ 69 ] July 11, 2013 |

I agree with Zoe Carpenter here. If President Obama is serious about fighting climate change through clamping down on coal, he has to deal with the coal industry’s plans to export Powder River Basin coal to Asia through west coast ports. If the United States is to become more of a leader on climate change by reducing coal, it can’t just be through how we consume coal in power plants. It also has to step in and severely reduce or eliminate exports of coal to other countries. Obama has been silent on this issue. Instead, citizens of Oregon and Washington have stepped in and said they didn’t want their ports used for these exports. They have defeated the industry three straight times in finding outlets for that coal, but the industry is incredibly powerful. Ultimately, the federal government has to step in here. However, like with the Keystone XL Pipeline, I am skeptical Obama make the right decision.

More on Bees and Insecticides

[ 6 ] July 3, 2013 |

Updating the story from last week on bumblebees dying by the thousands from insecticide exposure in Oregon, the state has issued a 6 month moratorium on using neonicotinoid-based insecticides. The maker of the insectcide the killed the bees is angry. And while I suppose that’s a good sign, the fact that it is now illegal to use the chemical but not illegal to buy and sell the chemical makes me think this is not all that helpful. Maybe it’s a good first step for a more comprehensive review and ban.

Today in Humans Destroying the Planet

[ 28 ] June 26, 2013 |

1. You like Canadian tar sands? Then you’ll love domestic Utah tar sands, as Tara Lohan reports!

2. The EPA dropping a fracking study linking the practice to contaminated groundwater in Wyoming is just embarrassing and again suggests the one step forward, one step back approach to the environment under Obama. As Sarah Gilman at High Country News (the best newspaper on western environmental issues, you all should read it!) states:

On a higher level, though, it’s yet another example of the Obama administration coming out guns a-blazing, aiming at the high middle of progressive ambition on an environmental policy issue, only to shrink back (or roll back proposed rules) when things get politically ugly. It’s something HCN staffers have tracked with bemusement since Obama’s election in 2008. There were those new ozone limits that the administration had trumpeted as a necessary step to protect public health, for example, which it later withdrew and endlessly delayed for further review after a political flogging from the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. There were the Bureau of Land Management’s first-ever hydraulic fracturing rules, which the administration first tried to spin in terms of clearing the industry’s name and then later were systematically weakened after a top White House official met several times with industry groups.

Before last fall’s election, when Obama still had everything to lose by taking a stand that could be construed as anti-economy, his agencies’ wishywashyness sort of made sense. (Only sort of, though, since politicizing legitimate public health concerns actually doesn’t make moral sense at all.) Now, though, it’s baffling.

We can only hope that the lofty language and goals Obama laid out in his June 25 speech on how he (FINALLY!) plans to address the biggest environmental problem of all – climate change — won’t suffer the same fate as so many other of his administration’s environmental initiatives.

Yep.

3. In our focus on energy, let’s not forget the joy of pesticides. Certainly people in Wilsonville, Oregon won’t forget:

Target shoppers in Wilsonville, Oregon found a tragedy in the parking lot as tens of thousands of of bumble bees were found dead and dying on the pavement, along with honey bees and ladybugs. Shoppers notified Rich Hatfield, a conservation biologist with the Portland-based Xerces Society of Invertebrate Conservation, who went to the scene to investigate.

Oregon officials say preliminary results point to an insecticide that was used on the nearby European Linden trees. The trees were sprayed with a pesticide called Safari to kill aphids, an insect that destroys plants and vegetation. Safari is part of a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids that are known to kill pollinators such as bumblebees, Associated Press reports. The investigation is still under way. If the pesticide is the confirmed cause and it wasn’t used according to the label instructions, civil penalties could be handed down ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 per violation for gross negligence or willful misconduct, Dale Mitchell, program manager in the Agriculture Department’s pesticide compliance and enforcement section, told AP.

Why is this pesticide even legal? But hey, I’m sure that a pesticide that kills 50,000 bees has no effect on humans. So. Much. Confidence.

The Climate Speech

[ 63 ] June 25, 2013 |

Kind of an unfortunate day for Obama’s climate change speech, not that it is his fault. I’ll distract my attention from my outrage at the overturning of a huge part of the civil rights movement for a moment to make a couple of notes.

First, Obama is absolutely correct to simply sidestep Congress here. In the long run, arguably the biggest impact of Congressional dysfunction could be that presidents regardless of party begin to ignore it and we move closer to unilateral rule. Of course, filibuster reform would help with this. Anyway, Obama still has significant power within the Executive Branch to shape policy and it is here he will leave his climate legacy.

Second, increasing carbon emissions standards on power plants is absolutely the best way to go about this, or at least it’s a very good first step. If it is a war on coal, then it is a war on coal. I know the UMWA and coal companies hate him for it, and what we really need is a clear program of green jobs in coal country to replace the jobs lost to environmental regulations, but sometimes you just have to make these hard decisions. Of course, the vast majority of coal jobs have already disappeared due to automation and industry disinvestment in Appalachia for new coal seams in Wyoming.

Third, Obama needs to take two steps he doesn’t want to take to show he is serious. First, he needs to not allow the Keystone XL Pipeline. If he lets that be built, it demonstrates that he is unwilling to do what it will actually take to slow climate change. Second, he needs to fight against coal exports to China. The Powder River Basin in Wyoming is now basically an enormous coal mine, mostly to serve an export market. West Coast cities are fighting against having their ports used for coal exports. Obama needs to step in here. I am skeptical on both counts.

Fourth, the plan really needs a more vigorous green jobs program and clean energy subsidies to replace dirty energy subsidies, but without funding from Congress, it’s hard to do too much here.

Fifth, none of this will probably make a molehill’s worth of difference in the ultimate battle against climate change. But a start is a start and you have to do something. Overall, it’s a positive speech, for whatever that’s worth.

As a sidenote, it’s also worth reading this essay by environmental justice scholar Robert Bullard on the need for historically black colleges to take climate change seriously. It’s an environmental justice issue. Unfortunately, even those affected don’t always see it that way because unlike a toxic waste dump in your backyard, you don’t notice it every day.

….Or as Pierce says, Obama’s bailing the ocean out with a thimble.

The Wonders of Nature

[ 41 ] June 22, 2013 |

Evidently, there’s a South American plant that uses gigantic spines to ensnare sheep until they starve to death, at which point decompose and fertilize the plant. I assume this will be adapted into some horror movie soon.

Unregulated Marijuana’s Plague upon Nature

[ 31 ] June 21, 2013 |

I’ve talked about this issue before a couple of times, so I’m really glad to see the New York Times report on the awful environmental impact of unregulated marijuana production in northern California.

The animal, a Pacific fisher, had been poisoned by an anticoagulant in rat poisons like d-Con. Since then, six other poisoned fishers have been found. Two endangered spotted owls tested positive. Mourad W. Gabriel, a scientist at the University of California, Davis, concluded that the contamination began when marijuana growers in deep forests spread d-Con to protect their plants from wood rats.

That news has helped growers acknowledge, reluctantly, what their antagonists in law enforcement have long maintained: like industrial logging before it, the booming business of marijuana is a threat to forests whose looming dark redwoods preside over vibrant ecosystems.

Hilltops have been leveled to make room for the crop. Bulldozers start landslides on erosion-prone mountainsides. Road and dam construction clogs some streams with dislodged soil. Others are bled dry by diversions. Little water is left for salmon whose populations have been decimated by logging.

And local and state jurisdictions’ ability to deal with the problem has been hobbled by, among other things, the drug’s murky legal status. It is approved by the state for medical uses but still illegal under federal law, leading to a patchwork of growers. Some operate within state rules, while others operate totally outside the law.

The environmental damage may not be as extensive as that caused by the 19th-century diking of the Humboldt estuary here, or 20th-century clear-cut logging, but the romantic outlaw drug has become a destructive juggernaut, experts agree.

Once again, the only way to stop these problems is to legalize and regulate marijuana, turning the enforcement mechanism away from busting people who grow to busting people who grow in antisocial and antiecological ways. Inevitably in posts like this, someone comes around in comments to talk about how our agricultural system is broken and treating marijuana like other crops within our economic system is a defeat for the little guy. Either way, big marijuana growers are capitalists engaging in a capitalist market. The question is whether they are allowed to engage in a black market capitalism with very real negative consequences for local ecosystems and wildlife populations or whether they are forced to acquiesce to our, admittedly deeply flawed, regulatory system. The only responsible answer is the latter.

The irony in all of this is that the marijuana economy originally started by people who saw the Humboldt County forests as a treasure to be saved, rejecting not only the timber industry but much about the ecologically destructive economy of the 1960s and 1970s. And then people started making real money.

Lead and Schizophrenia

[ 41 ] June 10, 2013 |

I’ve linked to articles before connecting the protection of people from lead poisoning through environmental regulations and drops in crime over the last few decades. Here is a scientific study reinforcing these connections, with lead poisoning leading to schizophrenic symptoms in mice. Interesting stuff.

More broadly, the lead-crime nexus shows the unexpected payoffs of potentially expensive environmental regulations and remediation. Protecting people from pollutants creates healthier, happier, and more productive people. It also helps make them mentally healthy and helps prevent them from committing crimes. These are huge payoffs.

Wolves

[ 41 ] June 8, 2013 |

A good comment on the federal disavowal of the wolf reintroduction program that brought wolves back from the brink of the extinction in the Lower 48:

In Idaho, hunters and trappers killed 698 wolves in the last two seasons — more than the estimated population of 683 wolves in the state at the end of 2012. In more than 80 percent of Wyoming, anyone can kill as many wolves as they wish, without a license. Hunters and trappers in Montana will each be allowed to kill up to three wolves this winter. (In Idaho, the number is 10.) Beginning this fall, hunters in Wisconsin can use dogs to track and chase wolves — a scenario that all but amounts to state-sanctioned animal fighting.

Where management has been transferred to the states, America’s wolves have fallen under an assault of legislation, bullets and traps. A conservation victory is quickly turning into a conservation tragedy. Now the Obama administration is proposing to remove virtually all remaining protections. Have we brought wolves back for the sole purpose of hunting them down?

It’s really depressing that the Obama Administration has continued this move toward state control, which is synonymous with elimination.

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