If You Love This Planet, Dr. Helen Caldicott

Archive for September, 2009

Dr. John Wright on ways to save energy and reduce one’s carbon footprint at home

Monday, September 28th, 2009


solar hot water heater with grey-water recovery system (istockphoto.com)

Solar hot water heater with grey-water recovery system (istockphoto.com)

Dr. John Wright from
the Australian Common-wealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) talks about the CSIRO Home Energy Saving Handbook. Published by Pan McMillan in 2009, the Handbook is designed to educate people how to save energy and money while reducing their carbon footprint. Dr. Wright and the Handbook’s two other authors are leading experts on climate change and sustainable living, and everyone will find valuable advice and ideas in this interview that they can apply to their own households.

At the start of the episode, Dr. Wright reveals how a young boy’s curiosity was the impetus for writing the Handbook, which is intended to give the public tools to feel more powerful in the face of global warming. Dr. Caldicott says the ideas presented in this Australian book are totally relevant to the U.S. and other industrialized nations. The Handbook can be ordered from Australia and shipped anywhere in the world. Dr. Wright says the Handbook’s 11 chapters cover basic facts about global warming, carbon footprints, and how householders can save energy.

Dr. John Wright

Dr. John Wright

One of the key themes in the Handbook is the carbon footprint of food – packaging, travel, refrigeration, etc.
Dr. Caldicott says that food now travels an average of 1,500 miles before it reaches the store. In talking about food miles, Dr. Wright mentions several studies done in England about the carbon footprint of food. See the report Our health, our environment: The Ecological Footprint of what we eat. Read the article Local food ‘greener than organic’ according to a report published in the journal Food Policy. Some argue that in certain cases, production or storage of local food may create more greenhouse gases than food imported from afar. See The “Food miles” lie: buying local could be no greener than importing. But Dr. Caldicott says that the luxury of being able to buy “any food in any season,” particularly in the United States, must be forsaken in order to reduce fossil fuel emissions and save the earth.

The Handbook also talks about how much electricity is used by computers and other appliances, the gasoline mileage consumed by automobiles, the role of the media in educating the public about global warming, and the waste and energy used represented by product packaging. Dr. Caldicott has long called for an “unpackaging revolution.” She notes that billions of plastic shopping bags discarded annually in Australia (and beyond). She mentions a gas, nitrogen trifluoride, used to produce flat-screen televisions which she says is much more potent than CO2 in causing global warming. See the articles The Greenhouse Gas That Nobody Knew and Nitrogen Trifluoride: Potent Greenhouse Gas More Common in Atmosphere Than Estimated and the relevant study Nitrogen trifluoride in the global atmosphere.

Dr. Wright and Dr. Caldicott discuss various household energy-saving tips and techniques, from cutting the power on microwave oven clocks and shutting off computers when not in use, to turning off all unnecessary lighting at home. Microwave ovens can make food toxic to the human body, according to Swiss studies. Dr. Caldicott rails against the notion of leaving numerous lights on throughout a home, even when people are sleeping. Nighttime light pollution from excess lighting of office buildings, stores, parking lots and illuminated advertising signs is now a major environmental issue. Light pollution harms human, animal and plant life and it also contributes to global warming. Read the National Geographic cover story on light pollution and visit the website of the International Dark Sky Association.

Dr. Wright mentions the efficiency of central heat pump systems which can control and restrict the use of heating and air conditioning in a home to only those rooms where it is needed. Double-glazed or double-paned windows are another energy-saving device described in the Handbook. Dr. Caldicott says that people can coat windows with a plastic film to add insulation if double-paned windows are not affordable.

Solar energy and home-grown food:  greenhouse in front of solar panels (istockphoto.com)

Solar energy and home-grown food: greenhouse in front of solar panels (istockphoto.com)

The interview next looks at the present status of both solar and wind power.
Dr. Caldicott notes that oil companies like ExxonMobil have funded think tanks to create the false mindset that renewable energy is far from being feasible, and will never produce enough base energy, and therefore the world must use nuclear and coal. Read Despite Pledge, Exxon-Mobil Still Funding Climate Change Deniers. Dr. Wright says that solar energy is the ideal way to heat water, given how energy-intensive that process is. He mentions other developments in solar energy. Read the recent National Geographic article Plugging Into the Sun and see Chinese solar plant expected to be the biggest. For apartment and condominium dwellers, installing rooftop solar panels may not be feasible, but there are solar panels that can be installed in windows. See Solar Power for Apartment Dwellers. Dr. Caldicott says that all parking lots should be covered with solar panels to recharge plug-in solar electric cars, thus using only renewable, non-polluting energy. The feasibility of this scheme, and how renewable energy can now meet all of the world’s needs, is covered in depth in Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Blueprint for U.S. Energy Policy by engineer Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D., based on a study commissioned by Dr. Caldicott.

Dr. Wright says wind power can provide power in areas where solar is not as effective, and vice-versa. He says a “smart grid” can make adjustments to use whatever green energy source is most available. Read about Australia’s smart grid in Govt nears decision on smart grid builder and about U.S. smart-grid plans in The Smart Grid Is Not Just for Geeks Anymore.

For more information, see three other books offering energy-saving and green living advice: The Earth-Friendly Home: Save Energy, Reduce Consumption, Shrink Your Carbon Footprint and How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint and When Changing a Lightbulb Just Isn’t Enough: 150 Ways to Slash Your Household Bills & Save Energy, Too. And read the article Reduce your Carbon Foot Print: Here are ways you can reduce your Carbon Foot Print; A Gaia How-to Guide.

Alexandra Spieldoch on global land-grab schemes, food and water security and the power of corporate agribusiness

Monday, September 14th, 2009


Image: Independent/UK

Image: Independent/UK

Alexandra Spieldoch is the Director of the Trade and Global Governance Program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. She specializes in analysis of international policy and institutions that support fairer rules in food and agriculture. In this interview she discusses food security and global governance from a human rights and development perspective. Dr. Caldicott starts the conversation by remarking how disturbed she was by the information in Spieldoch’s 2009 article Global Land Grab. In
providing an overview of the international food and water situation, Spieldoch says 200 million more people are now
hungry since the 2006 food crisis. And water supplies are decreasing; two-thirds of the world may suffer from lack of water stress if urgent action is not taken.

For background, see Spieldoch’s May 5 PowerPoint slide presentation, Land Grab: The Race for the World’s Farmland. Read her 2008 article The Food Crisis and Global Institutions. Also see the 2009 articles Fears for the World’s Poor Countries as the Rich Grab Land to Grow Food and Wish You Weren’t Here: The Devastating Effects of Rich Countries Buying Land in Poor Countries to Grow Food and Cash Crops and
Land Grab: The Race for the World’s Farmland. Visit the blog, FarmLandGrab.org. And see World Hunger Facts 2009.

As they talk about the trade in “commodities” and the theft of land from the world’s poor to grow food and flowers, Spieldoch provides a historical perspective back to the 1980’s when globalization initiatives started to dismantle cooperative and community agriculture programs. For more information on the impact of globalization, visit the website of the International Forum on Globalization. Spieldoch explains why governments go along with free trade agreements that cut domestic programs which help the poor. Dr. Caldicott refers to research by Australian social psychologist Alex Carey on how Americans have been trained by corporate think tanks to worship free enterprise and to disdain government social welfare. Her just-released book If You Love This Planet covers the “manufacture of consent” by corporate America in depth. Listen to a two-part program on corporations, propaganda, and democracy based on Carey’s research.

Alexandra Spieldoch

Alexandra Spieldoch

As they discuss water, Dr. Caldicott quotes a corporate leader who says the world will run out of water before it runs out of fuel, and points out the impact of glacier melt on billions of people. Spieldoch says that agriculture contributes up to 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, and irrigated agriculture uses over 70% of the world’s water. Read Millions of Rural Poor in Nepal Could Face More Hunger as a Result of Climate Change; The melting of the Himalayan glaciers will be felt well beyond Nepal’s borders.

Spieldoch comments on recent riots in countries that can no longer grow enough food. Dr. Caldicott cites Madagascar, where South Korean firm Daewoo tried to take over half of the country’s arable land for 99 years, which led to violent protests which successfully blocked Daewoo’s plan. Spieldoch explains the significance of these events, and then talks about the large size of the new land-lease schemes. She states which nations are buying land in other countries to grow food, and which countries are victims of the land schemes, mostly in Africa.

Dr. Caldicott moves the conversation to biofuels, which create more greenhouse gas emissions, not less. See the September 23 press release More Than 200 Scientists and Economists Call on Congress, Federal Agencies to Account for All Emissions From Biofuels. Dr. Caldicott alludes to Archer Daniels Midland, the world’s largest grain and ethanol producer whose former slogan was “Supermarket to the World.” She says that biofuels are an inappropriate response to the real problem of peak oil. Read The Era of Xtreme Energy: Life After the Age of Oil and visit the Web site of Post Carbon Institute. Spieldoch notes that big agribusiness, not small farmers, profits from biofuels. Spieldoch talks about genetically modified foods and Monsanto’s new advertising campaign, “How can we squeeze more food from a raindrop?” Watch the new French documentary The World According to Monsanto in 10 parts on YouTube (narration in English). See the September 22 news article Court Rejects Genetically Modified Sugar Beets. Read Agriculture -South Africa: Small Farmers Pushed to Plant GM Seeds.

Photo:  www.ifad.org

Photo: www.ifad.org

Dr. Caldicott says that in a future world without oil, communities will need to grow their own food and harvest their own water. See the nine-minute Web video Eat the Suburbs: Gardening for the End of the Oil Age and read Creating a backyard vegetable garden. Spieldoch says that increasing world populations will exacerbate land struggle issues, and she notes that women farmers have few legal rights. Global investment should support local efforts. To that end, Spieldoch closes by praising a landmark study, International Assessment of Agriculture Science, Technology and Development. The report emphatically advocates sustainable practices, small-scale farming, local knowledge, healthy food and biodiversity to solve critical food problems and safeguard farmers.

For additional information on the topics she discussed, Spieldoch recommends people read Free Trade in Agriculture: a Bad Idea, Integrated Solutions to Water, Ag and Climate Crises, Global Food Responsibility: the EU and the U.S. Must Chart a New Path, and the executive summary of the International Assessment of Agriculture, Science and Technology, in which Spieldoch at one point refers to the role of women in agriculture. She also recommends The World Bank’s Gender in Agriculture Sourcebook. See The Hunger Project’s fact sheet, Women Farmers and Food Security.

For a more general look at the world food situation, read the article Half the world’s population faces major food crisis by 2100, Science study finds, and look for the new documentary film, Food Inc., which might be shown in your area (or later available on DVD). Also check out the book Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations about the importance of soil to world survival. For more about global warming and the world’s food and water, see the reports Cooking up a storm: Food, greenhouse gas emissions and our changing climate and Livestock’s Long Shadow. Read River systems worldwide are losing water due to global warming, Water Scarcity Looms as Population, Temperatures Rise, and As water and power dry up in India, the people revolt. And check out a Ugandan woman’s account of how global warming is affecting rural African farmers, Climate Change is Killing Our People. For more on looming world water issues, read the book Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water.

Carole Gallagher on the victims of U.S. nuclear testing

Monday, September 7th, 2009


1955 Wasp Prime nuclear test in Nevada. (National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office)

1955 "Wasp Prime" nuclear test in Nevada (National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office)

This week’s guest is Carole Gallagher, author of American Ground Zero: the Secret Nuclear War (MIT Press, 1993). Gallagher’s book documents the effects of nuclear testing in Nevada on those living downwind, the test site workers themselves, and atomic veterans who were exposed to the bombs at very close range. The U.S. government program to expose soldiers to the bomb was an experiment to see what a man could withstand emotionally and physically on the “nuclear battlefield,” should a full-scale nuclear war occur, or during more limited nuclear exchanges. After living in Utah for seven years to work on the book, Gallagher returned to New York in 1990 because she was being harassed by locals, even receiving death threats. Gallagher is also a successful artist/photographer, and has exhibited in museums and galleries nationally and internationally.

In 1983, Gallagher began documenting the effects of nuclear testing in Nevada on Utahans, and on U.S. veterans made to walk over Ground Zero shortly after each bomb was exploded. Dr. Caldicott says she was “flabbergasted” to read the shocking personal stories and see the accompanying photos in American Ground Zero, and urges all listeners to buy the book.


Gallagher and Dr. Caldicott look at the enormous amount of radiation released by each of the above-ground Nevada bomb tests, the sense of guilt or lack thereof on the part of bomb scientists such as Robert Oppenheimer, the Pacific Ocean bomb tests and how the bombs compared in size to those exploded in Nevada, the sort of nuclear weapons now stockpiled by the U.S. and Russia, the huge number of people in the American West who were exposed to bomb-test radiation, and how far east in the U.S. the bomb fallout was blown.

They also explore the Mormon culture and how it dealt with what the U.S. government told residents about bomb test effects, case histories of bomb test victims, many of whom were children when the bombs were detonated, and how physicians turned their backs on studying the health effects of radiation on sick patients. Dr. Caldicott has strong words for her colleagues who treated patients contaminated by the Nevada weapons tests.

Gallagher refers to a National Cancer Institute study map of U.S. fallout exposure. Dr. Caldicott and Gallagher ponder the global extent of cancer cases and deaths stemming from nuclear radiation. Dr. Caldicott mentions
Prof. John Gofman’s book, Poisoned Power: The Case Against Nuclear Power Plants Before and After Three Mile Island, which helped her understand how radiation damages the human body. The book can be read on-line. Gallagher refers to Richard Miller’s map of U.S. areas affected by nuclear test clouds. Gallagher says that the nuclear scientists knew about the effects of the bombs on downwinders.

The program also examines the terrible plight of U.S. military personnel forced to take part in the Nevada tests, as well as the foreigners who were brought in to take part in terrible experiments. In discussing the psychology of the weapons scientists and warmakers, Dr. Caldicott mentions a book she is reading, The Sociopath Next Door. Dr. Caldicott refers to scientist Karl Morgan, the father of health physics who denounced nuclear weapons, and she talks about the new generation of health physicists who cover up the medical effects of radiation.

Dr. Caldicott praises Gallagher for her work to reveal the nuclear bomb devastation in the U.S., and mentions whistleblower Karen Silkwood, who tried to expose the safety lapses at a plutonium factory. Read The Killing of Karen Silkwood (Cornell University Press). In closing, Dr. Caldicott again urges listeners to buy and read every page of American Ground Zero to understand more about the Nuclear Age. The book is a powerful complement to the Emmy Award-winning documentary White Light Black Rain, available on DVD, about the effects of nuclear weapons and radiation on Japanese atomic bomb survivors.

For more information on downwinders, watch the short documentary, Forgotten Victims: The Story of Utah’s Downwinders. Read the book They Never Knew: The Victims of Atomic Testing, an excerpt of which can be read here. And see the article Did Utah Kill John Wayne? about the fate of the cast and crew of a 1953 Hollywood movie filmed in a highly radiated part of Utah downwind of a nuclear test explosion in Nevada. For more about the originators of the atomic bomb, read the book Brotherhood of the Bomb. And for more about nuclear contamination, read Uranium Contamination Haunts Navajo Country and Plan to Pay Sick Nuclear Workers Unfairly Rejects Many, Doctor Says.