Category Archives: Health

The TTIP pact leaks drop like a digital bombshell


German Greenpeace activists project the leaked TOOIP documents on the walls of the Reichstag building in Berlin.

German Greenpeace activists project the leaked TPIP documents on the walls of the Reichstag building in Berlin.

The one thing the Internet does extremely well is to provide citizens of the world a first-hand look at documents the powerful try desperately to keep secret, documents we should all known about if we are to make uniformed choices about our lives.

And the latest online bombshell [previously] comes from the Netherlands, it’s subject the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — the largest trade agreement in history, negotiated in secret by representatives of corporations, banks, and national and regional governments on both sides of the Atlantic.

From Greenpeace Netherlands:

Today Greenpeace Netherlands releases secret documents of the EU-US TTIP negotiations. On www.ttip-leaks.org the documents will be made available for everyone to read, because democracy needs transparency.

“These documents make clear the scale and scope of the trade citizens of the United States and the European Union are being asked to make in pursuit of corporate profits. It is time for the negotiations to stop, and the debate to begin.

Should we be able to act when we have reasonable grounds to believe our health and wellbeing is at risk, or must we wait until the damage is done?

Were our governments serious in Paris when they said they would do what was necessary to protect the planet, and keep climate change under 1.5 degrees?

Environmental protection should not be seen as a barrier to trade, but as a safeguard for our health, and the health of future generations.

We call on citizens, civil society, politicians and businesses to engage in this debate openly and without fear. We call on the negotiators to release the latest, complete text to facilitate that discussion, and we ask that the negotiations be stopped until these questions, and many more have been answered. Until we can fully engage in a debate about the standards we and our planet need and want” – Sylvia Borren, Executive Director Greenpeace Netherlands.

A report from RT offers some context:

While the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and Europe is set to create the world’s largest free trade zone, many Europeans worry the agreement would elevate corporate interest above national interest. TTIP opponents say that cheaper goods and services would only hurt the EU and help the US.

Europeans argue that international corporations would be given power at the expensive of small and medium-sized businesses. The secrecy surrounding the negotiations has also come under fierce criticism.

Just a day before Obama’s visit to Germany, thousands of anti-TTIP protesters hit the streets of Hanover.

According to a recent survey conducted by pollsters YouGov on behalf of the Bertelsmann Foundation, only 17 percent of Germans think the TTIP is a good thing, down from 55 percent two years ago. In the United States, only 18 percent of people now support the deal, compared to 53 percent in 2014.

More from Foreign Policy, including the sense of urgency driving the Obama administration in its mania to gut the European regulatory regime:

Less than two weeks after Obama made his pitch to Europe for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, documents leaked by Greenpeace on Monday are giving many European opponents of the deal further ammunition to shoot it down. The secret documents show, among other things, “irreconcilable” differences in some areas, and that the two sides are still at odds over U.S. demands that would require the EU to break environmental protection promises.

“Discussions on cosmetics remain very difficult and the scope of common objectives fairly limited,” reads an internal note by EU trade negotiators. Because of a European ban on animal testing, “the EU and U.S. approaches remain irreconcilable and EU market access problems will therefore remain,” the note says.

Proponents of the deal, which would cover more than 800 million people, scrambled into damage control mode Monday. “In that sense, many of today’s alarmist headlines are a storm in a teacup,” Cecilia Malmström, the European Union’s trade commissioner, said in a blog post.

>snip<

If the deal gets pushed to the next administration, Obama will be forced to abandon not just TTIP, but likely the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive, 12-nation Asia trade deal that covers nearly 40 percent of global GDP. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have warned the president that there are not enough votes to get it through Congress. Obama wants both deals done before he leaves the Oval Office.

European reservations on the rise

Deutsche Welle’s report on the leak notes Obama’s central role in pushing for the pact:

In April, Obama defended the necessity of the trade deal, which would currently cover roughly one-third of global trade, prior to his arrival in Hanover, where demonstrators called for the negotiations to be suspended.

“There’s still barriers that exist that prevent businesses and individuals that are providing services to each other to be able to do so seamlessly,” Obama told British broadcaster BBC. “The main thing between the United States and Europe is trying to just break down some of the regulatory differences that make it difficult to do business back and forth.”

However, German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who also serves as deputy chancellor, said the trade deal would “fail” if Washington did not offer concessions.

“The Americans want to hold on to their ‘Buy American’ idea. We can’t accept that. They don’t want to open their public tenders to European companies. For me that goes against free trade” Gabriel told German business newspaper “Handelsblatt” recently.” If the Americans stick to this position, we don’t need the free trade treaty. And TTIP will fail.”

There’s lots more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Oceans losing oxygen; West Coast affected early


Deoxygenation due to climate change is already detectable in some parts of the ocean. New research finds that it will likely become widespread between 2030 and 2040. Other parts of the ocean, shown in gray, will not have detectable loss of oxygen due to climate change even by 2100.

Deoxygenation due to climate change is already detectable in some parts of the ocean. New research finds that it will likely become widespread between 2030 and 2040. Other parts of the ocean, shown in gray, will not have detectable loss of oxygen due to climate change even by 2100.

The oceans are losing oxygen, and climate change is the culprit.

Areas earliest hit are the western coasts of North America and Africa and the northeastern coast of South America.

The result will be major shifts in marine life, including the development of major dead zones.

And given that much of the world depend son ocean fish for protein, the changes could portend serious human and political crises.

From the American Geophysical Union:

A drop in the amount of oxygen dissolved in the oceans due to climate change is already discernible in some parts of the world and should be evident across large parts of the ocean between 2030 and 2040, according to a new study.

Scientists know that a warming climate can be expected to gradually sap oceans of oxygen, leaving fish, crabs, squid, sea stars, and other marine life struggling to breathe. But it’s been difficult to determine whether this anticipated oxygen drain is already having a noticeable impact.

“Loss of oxygen in the ocean is one of the serious side effects of a warming atmosphere, and a major threat to marine life,” said Matthew Long, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and lead author of the study. “Since oxygen concentrations in the ocean naturally vary depending on variations in winds and temperature at the surface, it’s been challenging to attribute any deoxygenation to climate change. This new study tells us when we can expect the impact from climate change to overwhelm the natural variability.”

The study [$6 read-only, $38 to print — esnl] is published in Global Biogeochemical Cycles, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Cutting through the natural variability

The entire ocean—from the depths to the shallows—gets its oxygen supply from the surface, either directly from the atmosphere or from phytoplankton, which release oxygen into the water through photosynthesis.

Warming surface waters, however, absorb less oxygen. And in a double whammy, the oxygen that is absorbed has a more difficult time traveling deeper into the ocean. That’s because as water heats up, it expands, becoming lighter than the water below it and less likely to sink.

Thanks to natural warming and cooling, oxygen concentrations at the sea surface are constantly changing—and those changes can linger for years or even decades deeper in the ocean.

For example, an exceptionally cold winter in the North Pacific would allow the ocean surface to soak up a large amount of oxygen. Thanks to the natural circulation pattern, that oxygen would then be carried deeper into the ocean interior, where it might still be detectable years later as it travels along its flow path. On the flip side, unusually hot weather could lead to natural “dead zones” in the ocean, where fish and other marine life cannot survive.

To cut through this natural variability and investigate the impact of climate change, the research team relied on the NCAR-based Community Earth System Model.

The scientists used output from a project that ran the model more than two dozen times for the years 1920 to 2100. Each individual run was started with miniscule variations in air temperature. As the model runs progressed, those tiny differences grew and expanded, producing a set of climate simulations useful for studying questions about variability and change.

Using the simulations to study dissolved oxygen gave the researchers guidance on how much concentrations may have varied naturally in the past. With this information, they could determine when ocean deoxygenation due to climate change is likely to become more severe than at any point in the modeled historic range.

The research team found that deoxygenation caused by climate change could already be detected in the southern Indian Ocean and parts of the eastern tropical Pacific and Atlantic basins. They also determined that more widespread detection of deoxygenation caused by climate change would be possible between 2030 and 2040. However, in some parts of the ocean, including areas off the east coasts of Africa, Australia, and Southeast Asia, deoxygenation caused by climate change was not evident even by 2100.

Picking out a global pattern

The researchers also created a visual way to distinguish between deoxygenation caused by natural processes and deoxygenation caused by climate change.

Using the same model dataset, the scientists created maps of oxygen levels in the ocean, showing which waters were oxygen-rich at the same time that others were oxygen-poor. They found they could distinguish between oxygenation patterns caused by natural weather phenomena and the pattern caused by climate change.

The pattern caused by climate change also became evident in the model runs around 2030, adding confidence to the conclusion that widespread deoxygenation due to climate change will become detectable around that time.

The maps could also be useful resources for deciding where to place instruments to monitor ocean oxygen levels in the future to get the best picture of climate change impacts. Currently ocean oxygen measurements are relatively sparse.

“We need comprehensive and sustained observations of what’s going on in the ocean to compare with what we’re learning from our models and to understand the full impact of a changing climate,” Long said.

Obama demands Europe ease the way for GMOs


The Obama administration maintains the servility expected of both political parties when it comes to running the affairs of state in the singular interests of the corporate bottom line.

In the latest instance of servility, the administration is demanding that the European Union abandon its stricter rules governing GMOs if European car makers want easier access to the American market to be included in the pending Transatlantic trade agreement.

From the Süddeutsche Zeitung:

The United States government is putting more intense and significantly more far-reaching pressure on the European Union than previously thought during the ongoing negotiations to reach an accord on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This has become evident from copies of confidential negotiation documents that have been made available to Süddeutsche Zeitung and the German radio and television stations WDR and NDR. The material, consisting of 240 pages, was provided by Greenpeace and will be published this coming Monday. Several people familiar with the negotiations confirm that the documents provided are current.

According to the documents, Washington is threatening to prevent the easing of exports for the European car industry in order to force Europe to buy more U.S. agricultural products. The U.S. government concurrently has criticized the fundamental prevention principal of the EU Consumer Centre which protects 500 million Europeans from consuming genetically modified food and hormone-treated meat. The documents further reveal the fact that the U.S. has blocked the urgent European call to replace the controversial private arbitration tribunals, responsible for corporative lawsuits, with a public State model; instead, Washington has made a suggestion on the matter that had hitherto not been disclosed to the public.

The publication of these TTIP documents provides citizens with an unfiltered insight into the negotiations between the U.S. and Europe. Ever since the start of negotiations three years ago, the public could only try to guess what both sides were discussing, which has prompted millions of people to take to the streets in protest of TTIP. While the EU is making its suggestions publicly available, the U.S. insists on keeping their stances on issues secret. Washington utilizes this tactic to ensure a larger scope for negotiations. The disclosure of these 16 TTIP negotiation papers finally offers a fuller transparency for the 800 million people spread over two continents whose lives will be affected by the biggest bilateral trade agreement in history.

The papers allow for a deep insight into U.S. tactics, such as Washington’s active push to prevent the easing of export regulations of the European car industry, as this sector plays a central role in Europe’s economy. One of the confidential documents demonstrates that the U.S. government “hastened to point out that it would need to consult with its industry regarding some of the products and that progress on motor vehicle-related parts would only be possible if the EU showed progress in the discussion on agricultural tariffs.”

More from a second Süddeutsche Zeitung report, focusing on Washington’s thuggery in demanding Europe abandon the precautionary principle, under which GMOs and other products must be proven safe before they can be approved for human consumption.

Instead, Washington demands Europe apply a fair looser standard:

The confidential papers obtained by Süddeutsche Zeitung and the German radio and television stations WDR and NDR, which reveal details of the TTIP negotiations, demonstrate that risk evaluation is a central point of contention in these ongoing talks; two very different approaches to this topic being at the heart of the debate. In the U.S., the scientific principle reigns supreme, meaning that a product is considered safe until the opposite can be proven to be true. Europe on the other hand follows the prevention principle which can prompt bans to be passed even if only the slightest hint of possibly detrimental consequences exists.

The documents demonstrate, for the first time, how invested the U.S. is in annulling the prevention principle. The scientific principle is stressed in several places, such as where hygiene regulations are concerned. The U.S. demands that when “undertaking a risk assessment appropriate to the circumstances, each party shall ensure that it takes into account…the relevant available scientific evidence.” The EU does not exactly reject this proposal but insists on “preserving each Party’s right to protect human, animal or plant life and health in its territory and respecting each Party’s regulatory systems, risk assessment, risk management and policy development processes.”

But what exactly is the scientific principle? “It does, initially, sound very sensible but it hides a perfidious concept which is supposed to enable companies to halt any regulatory legislation processes,” says Bärbel Höhn of the Green Party. The impending ban of a product could therefore be prevented, based on the fact that not enough scientific evidence that relates to its potential dangers has yet come to light. In fact, the U.S. feels that there is a need for both “parties…[to] strengthen their cooperation in the field of standards, technical regulations, and conformity assessment procedures to reduce and eliminate unnecessary technical barriers to trade.” Translated into plain English this means that bans that are not based on the scientific principle are “unnecessary technical barriers to trade,” and that these need to be reduced and eliminated.

In addition to the demands to grease the skids for GMO exports, Washington is also decreeing that Europe must withdraw its demands that tribunals to decide on corporate litigation alleging damages for restrictions should open to the public.

Instead, Washington wants the tribunal sessions to convene in secret with only the barest results to be made public, a process already implemented in the North American Free trade Agreement, where corporations may allege damages before a secret tribunal.

From Deustche Welle:

The German outlets said the documents disclosed by Greenpeace also showed that the US was blocking an EU demand that arbitration panels to handle corporate lawsuits be public not private as sought by Washington.

Greenpeace trade expert Jürgen Knirsch said what had so far trickled out of the talks had “sounded like a nightmare.”

“Now we know that this could very much become reality,” said Knirsch.

The head of Germany’s consumer advisory bureaus Klaus Müller told the SZ that the texts confirmed “pretty much all of our fears in terms of what the US-Americans want to achieve on the food produce market through TTIP.”

What else to expect from a President who began his political career as the Senator from Monsanto?

New studies reveal fracking environmental costs


Two new reports focus on the growing evidence of the dangers of fracking to environments both far and near.

First up, from NASA’s Earth Observatory, a report on the danger that fracking in the lower 48 and elsewhere poses to the Arctic:

BLOG Frack gas

Researchers have suspected for several years that the flaring of waste natural gas from industrial oil and gas fields in the Northern Hemisphere could be a significant source of nitrogen dioxide and black carbon pollution in the Arctic. Research from a NASA-sponsored study lends new weight to that hypothesis.

Nitrogen dioxide is a well-known air pollutant that is central to the production of ground-level smog and ozone. It is closely associated with black carbon (also known as soot), which is an agent of global warming, particularly in the Arctic. In addition to absorbing sunlight while aloft, black carbon darkens snow when it settles on the surface. Both processes lead to heating of the air and the land surface, accelerating the melting of snow and ice.

The amount of black carbon that reaches the Arctic is poorly estimated, but scientists know that any soot could have a significant impact. “The Arctic starts from a very clean state, as there are no significant local sources of dust or smoke pollution,” said Nickolay Krotkov, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and a member of a team examining the origins of Arctic black carbon. “In this kind of pristine environment, even small anthropogenic sources make a big difference.”

Previous research has suggested that gas flares from oil and natural gas extraction near the Arctic could be a key source of black carbon. But since international inventories of industrial emissions have gaps in observations and in reporting, they often over- or underestimate the amount of pollutants.

Gas flares are an often-overlooked subset in that already messy data set. Regional estimates from Russia, for example, suggest that gas flaring may account for 30 percent of all black carbon emissions. But with few monitoring stations near flaring sites, the scientific community has had great difficulty getting accurate estimates of emissions.

Can Li and other researchers at NASA Goddard were recently asked by atmospheric modelers to see if they could provide flaring estimates based on satellite data. Black carbon levels in the atmosphere cannot be directly measured by satellites, but they can be derived indirectly. Black carbon is associated with nitrogen dioxide and with the total concentration of aerosol particles in the atmosphere. Nitrogen dioxide and black carbon particles are often produced at the same time when fossil fuels are burned.

The modelers were simulating the trajectories of pollution through the atmosphere based on existing, flawed emission inventories. And their results generally underestimated the amount of black carbon reaching the Arctic compared to what scientists in the field were measuring directly.

The first step for Li, Krotkov, and colleagues was to find gas flares. They compiled “night lights” data from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite on the Suomi NPP satellite. They examined four known fossil fuel extraction sites: Bakken, North Dakota (shown above); Athabasca Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada; the North Sea near Great Britain and Norway; and western Siberia, Russia. The researchers pinpointed gas flares by excluding electric light from nearby towns and roads.

For each study site, Li and Krotkov analyzed nitrogen dioxide data from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument aboard the Aura spacecraft. A sample is shown at the top of this page. Fellow NASA researchers Andrew Sayer and Christina Hsu retrieved aerosol concentration data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite.

“We found a pretty good match-up between the gas flare signals from the night lights and the nitrogen dioxide retrievals for two regions—Bakken and the Canadian oil sands,” said Li. Every year from 2005 to 2015, the levels of atmospheric NO2 rose about 1.5 percent per year at Bakken and about 2 percent per year at Athabasca. This means the concentration of black carbon produced by those flares was also likely on the rise.

The team saw a smaller rise in nitrogen dioxide in western Siberia, and no discernable flaring signal from well-established oil rigs in the North Sea. According to Li, the North Sea signal was likely obscured by the abundance of nitrogen dioxide pollution in Europe.

Aerosol data were less conclusive. Aerosols tend to linger in the atmosphere longer than nitrogen dioxide, making it more difficult to establish whether there was an increase due to oil field activities, as opposed to general background levels, Sayer said.

The new observational results fit well with modeling done by Joshua Fu, an atmospheric modeler at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and a collaborator on the paper. When Fu and colleagues added the gas flare locations and estimated emissions into a model of chemical transport in the atmosphere, they were able to reproduce the amount of black carbon observed in the Arctic by ground stations and aircraft.

Fracking waste spills pollute soil, water

Next, from Duke University, a report revealing that far from being exceptional, soil- and water-polluting spills of contaminated fracking waste water, filled with chemicals fracking companies aren’t even required to report to the concenred public, are all-too-common occurrences:

Accidental wastewater spills from unconventional oil production in North Dakota have caused widespread water and soil contamination, a new Duke University study finds.

Researchers found high levels of ammonium, selenium, lead and other toxic contaminants as well as high salts in the brine-laden wastewater, which primarily comes from hydraulically fractured oil wells in the Bakken region of western North Dakota.

Streams polluted by the wastewater contained levels of contaminants that often exceeded federal guidelines for safe drinking water or aquatic health.

Soil at the spill sites was contaminated with radium, a naturally occurring radioactive element found in brines, which chemically attached to the soil after the spill water was released.

At one site, the researchers were still able to detect high levels of contaminants in spill water four years after the spill occurred.

There’s a whole lot more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Headline of the day II: Words to help you sleep


Or not.

Probably the latter.

From the London Daily Mail:

Security alert at German nuclear power plant after computer systems are found to be infected with viruses

  • Technicians found two computer viruses at the Gundremmigen facility 
  • Officials claimed none of the infected systems were connected to the web
  • The computer systems were infected by a USB drive hiding the software 
  • The nuclear power plant is approximately 75 miles north west of Munich

It’s not just American youth growing fatter


Following up on today’s earlier post about the soaring obesity of youth in the United States comes another student, this time revealing a similar somatic inflation on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

From BBC News:

Obesity has rapidly increased in young rural Chinese, a study has warned, because of socioeconomic changes.

Researchers found 17% of boys and 9% of girls under the age of 19 were obese in 2014, up from 1% for each in 1985.

The 29-year study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, involved nearly 28,000 students in Shandong province.

>snip<

“It is the worst explosion of childhood and adolescent obesity that I have ever seen,” Joep Perk from the European Society of Cardiology told AFP news agency.

France getting cold feet over that trade accord


You know, the TTIP [previously], the latest of the Obama-pushed, ocean-spanning international trade agreements designed to further ensrine corporate power over national sovereignty.

From Radio France Internationale:

The French government appeared to toughen its stance on the TTIP transatlantic trade partnership on Tuesday with Prime Minister Manuel Valls warning that the proposed deal being discussed by the European Union and the US will not go through if health and environment standards are not maintained and negotiator Matthias Feki saying it might not be signed at all.

“I want to be clear: it will not succeed if it does not guarantee that the standards we have in France for our citizens’ health and environment will be maintained,” Valls said at a government-organised environmental conference in Paris on Tuesday. “And today we are too far from that to envisage an agreement.”

US President Barack Obama this week visited Europe, in part to push the free-trade deal, which has been opposed by civil society groups who claim that negotiations have been hidden from public view and that it could harm agriculture and the environment.

Earlier on Tuesday French Foreign Trade Minister Matthias Fekl, who leads negotiations for France, predicted that the deal would not be signed before the end of Obama’s mandate at the end of the year and raised the possibility that agreement may never be reached.