If You Love This Planet, Dr. Helen Caldicott

Archive for August, 2009

Rhett Butler on the state of the world’s rainforests and their connection to global warming

Monday, August 31st, 2009


Clearing of Amazon forest for pasture or soy (Rhett Butler, Mongabay.com)

Clearing of Amazon forest for pasture or soy (Rhett Butler, Mongabay.com)

Rhett Butler is the founder of Mongabay.com, an environmental science news web with a focus on tropical forests, now celebrating 10 years on-line. Butler is also co-founder of Tropical Conservation Science, an academic journal that aims to provide opportunities for scientists in developing countries to publish their research in their native languages. He has written for BBC News, Washington Monthly, Trends in Conservation Ecology and other publications. In this program, he describes to Dr. Caldicott the threats currently facing the world’s rainforests, which play a key role in reducing global warming.

At the start of the interview, Butler speaks about how his childhood exposure to nature and world travel inspired his passion to preserve rainforests. As he and Dr. Caldicott begin to look at rainforests, they first look at the current situation for forests and animals in Madagascar, where 80% of the country’s native plants and animals, such as lemurs, are found nowhere else. Lemurs are now threatened by the new trade in lemur bush meat. Read Bushmeat trade threatens Madagascar’s rare lemurs.

Rhett Butler (Mongabay.com)

Rhett Butler (Mongabay.com)

The show then examines logging in Australia, Indonesia and elsewhere. Butler mentions the new initiative, REDD (Reducing Emissions for Deforestation and Degradation), a plan for governments to be paid for keeping forests standing which has already had some successes. See the new Seed magazine article Forests for the Trees: Five experts discuss paying countries to keep forests intact, what role carbon markets should play, and how to protect the people whose lives depend on trees. For more on REDD, read Are we on the brink of saving rainforests? and Investing in conservation could save global economy trillions of dollars annually. They then discuss the notion of carbon offsetting to reduce greenhouse gases, a solution Dr. Caldicott considers worthless.

Dr. Caldicott reads from one of Butler’s articles, Brazil’s Plan to Save the Amazon Rainforest, in which he elucidates how global deforestation is a greater source of greenhouse emissions than cars, trucks, and airplanes. The Amazon rainforest, located in several South American countries, regulates global and regional climate, and as Butler notes, cutting down rainforest in Brazil negatively affects ranching in Texas. Read UN URGENT: End Deforestation, Conserve World’s Forests. They next explore the fate of native peoples in rainforests around the world, some of whom are manipulated by logging companies in terrible ways. Dr. Caldicott relates her experience visiting the Brazilian rainforest, where she encounteried indigenous tribes. This journey is described more fully in her book If You Love This Planet, a new edition of which is published this month. For more on forests and native peoples, read REDD may harm forest people, alleges report and Carbon conservation schemes will fail without forest people. Also see Adaptation Of Forests And People To Climate Change – A Global Assessment Report.

Butler enumerates which industries have been chopping down the Amazon rainforest, including cattle ranching, soy farming and gold mining. He says the 2009 Greenpeace report, Slaughtering the Amazon, which fingered major corporations which destroy the rainforest, has had a major positive impact. Many companies have drastically altered their behavior in the wake of the report. Read Shoe Brands Get Tough on Leather Suppliers to Save Amazon Rainforest. Butler speaks about the Peruvian rainforest, where over 30,000 indigenous Peruvians stood up earlier this year against energy companies that want to exploit the rainforest. Butler says that 70% of the Peruvian Amazon rainforest has been allocated for oil and gas exploration. Chevron has been sued for its practices in the Ecuadoran rainforest. For more background, visit the website of the Amazon Defense Coalition and read Mongabay articles Oil Extraction: The Impact of Oil Production in the Rainforest, Chevron expects to lose $27B suit but will refuse to pay damages and Oil development may destroy richest part of the Amazon rainforest. Also read Butler’s September 3, article Amazon tribes have long fought bloody battles against big oil in Ecuador. See the September 6 news article Chevron Awaits Verdict in Environmental Damage Case.

Tambopata Rainforest canopy, Peru (Rhett Butler, Mongabay.com)

Tambopata rainforest canopy, Peru (Rhett Butler, Mongabay)

Brazil, Butler says, is making some good progress toward preserving its rainforest, with Brazilian leaders committing to raise significant money to save the forest. There has been concern that the government would continue to side with loggers and cattle ranchers, as stated in a June article at the time Slaughtering the Amazon was released, The Amazon is Dying: The Brazilian government is legalizing deforestation and western superbrands are benefiting from it. This needs to stop now.

Butler and Dr. Caldicott look further at the escalation of global warming that would occur if the Amazon rainforest is destroyed. She describes the relationship between burning trees and rising global temperatures. Butler is asked about soy companies’ role in rainforest destruction, and he points to another significant Greenpeace report, Eating up the Amazon, which came out in 2006 and helped force soy companies to change their practices. Dr. Caldicott brings up the topic of palm oil, and they look at the enormous growth in palm oil production from palms grown in areas cleared of rainforest. They examine which companies and which products are using palm oil, and how palm oil is used to produce biodiesel fuel for China. Butler notes that over 10 million hectares of palm oil farms have been planted in the rainforest. Read Is oil palm the next emerging threat to the Amazon? See the September 11 Friends of the Earth press release Environmentalists Welcome World Bank President’s Halt to Palm Oil Investments. Also read the September 2009 Mongabay article Palm oil paradox: a leading threat to orangutans and a key source of jobs in Sumatra, in which Butler interviews three experts on palm oil and saving orangutans.

Near the close of the program, Butler emphasizes the importance of compensating countries to save forests, which are often devalued when they remain living entities. He says that “smart people” are also working on building awareness that intact forests will retain more of the world’s water supply in the future, when water scarcity is expected to increase substantially. Dr. Caldicott in her closing remarks underlines the importance of rainforests, and all trees, in abating global warming, and says the rainforest issue is really about “the fate of the Earth.” Listen to this program and keep abreast of rainforest news on Mongabay.com and the Rainforest Action Network website to get the full picture.

More on Australian uranium mining with Senator Scott Ludlam of the Australian Greens

Monday, August 24th, 2009


Dr. Caldicott measuring radiation levels with a Geiger counter during her trip to the Western Australia Goldfields uranium sites with Senator Scott Ludlam

Dr. Caldicott measuring radiation levels with a Geiger counter during her trip to the Western Australia Goldfields uranium sites with Senator Scott Ludlam

Dr. Caldicott interviews Scott Ludlam, Australian Greens Senator for Western Australia, about the uranium industry in Australia.

Sen. Ludlam was elected to the federal Senate in November 2007, and has campaigned for a nuclear-free Australia and nuclear-free world, Aboriginal land rights, energy market reform, and action on climate change, trade and globalization issues. At the start of the show, he explains why Australia has 40% of the world’s low-cost uranium reserves, the current state of Australian uranium mining, and the history of uranium mining in that country. He talks about how in the past, unions refused to mine uranium, but that ban was overturned. As he and Dr. Caldicott address the present growth of uranium mining in Australia, Ludlam explains how the environmental movement and native Aborigines have in some cases worked together to try to prevent mines on ancient Aboriginal lands. Read Uranium Mining and Aboriginal People.

Dr. Caldicott asks Sen. Ludlam about the enormous health hazards to the men who mine uranium. They look at the whole picture of the cycle from uranium mining to nuclear weapons and nuclear power production, and how uranium becomes more and more deadly along the way. Sen. Ludlam and Dr. Caldicott recently flew to one of the richest uranium sites in western Australia to draw attention to the dangers of uranium mining. Read his account of that expedition, Three days in the goldfields: on the trail of the uranium miners, which links to a photo gallery of the trip.

Senator Scott Ludlam

Scott Ludlam

In exploring how Australia contributes to the danger of a global nuclear holocaust, Dr. Caldicott and Sen. Ludlam look at the denial mechanism of uranium and defense workers who prefer not to think about their contribution to nuclear war or cancer, how Australian uranium may be sold to both Russia and China, and the major role of the Pine Gap base in Australia. Sen. Ludlam visited the base and Dr. Caldicott is keenly interested in what transpired. They talk about the role of Pine Gap, the largest U.S. installation in Australia, in tracking defense satellites, spying, missile defense, weaponizing space, and targeting sites for a U.S./Russian nuclear war. Dr. Caldicott talks about the insanity of continuing to plan for a nuclear holocaust. They end the interview by looking at how the media ignores the continuing U.S./Russian nuclear war danger which threatens all life on earth. It is imperative that the media educate people about this reality, Dr. Caldicott says. Sen. Ludlam says he is gratified that younger people are involved in antinuclear activism.

For more on the fight to stop Australian uranium mining, visit these websites: People for a Nuclear-Free Australia, ANAWA (Antinuclear Alliance of Western Australia), Australian Conservation Foundation, Roxstop, and Friends of the Earth Australia. Read the artiicle, Uranium mine linked to US arms dealer.

For more on the health effects on miners, weapons plant workers and communities from exposure to uranium and other nuclear weapons materials, read Health Impacts for Uranium Mine and Mill Residents, Memories Come To Us In the Rain and the Wind: Oral Histories and Photographs of Navajo Uranium Miners & Their Families, and Tennessee’s sick nuclear workers get $1 billion.

Jo Vallentine on opposing uranium mining and U.S. militarism, and the politics of making a difference

Monday, August 17th, 2009


Former Australian Senator and social justice activist Jo Vallentine joins Dr. Caldicott to discuss the rejuvenated uranium mining industry in Australia, which Vallentine is fighting. She has been arrested several times doing civil diso-bedience, most recently for opposing U.S./Australian military exercises involving nuclear-armed warships. Vallentine also reflects on her career in Australian politics and the experiences that led her to fight for social justice causes, including an inspirational trip to America in her formative years. Vallentine was elected to the Australian Senate in 1984 as an advocate for nuclear disarmament. Read Vallentine’s August 5 submission to the South Australian Government, There should be no expansion of Olympic Dam uranium mine.

Jo Vallentine

Jo Vallentine

In explaining her commitment to social change, Vallentine discusses her college years when she spent a year in the U.S. on a scholarship, during which time she was able to hear a rousing speech by Robert F. Kennedy. In the early 1970’s, Vallentine’s lifelong concern about nuclear weapons began as she became concerned about children and their future, both as a schoolteacher and as a mother-to-be.

In the process of asking Vallentine why there is such an intense interest in uranium mining now when Australia has a more progressive government,
Dr. Caldicott wonders how politicians who support uranium mining and nuclear weapons can become separated from the horrific dangers of nuclear materials, and can still call themselves Christians. Listen to Dr. Caldicott’s recent interview with Dave Sweeney for more on uranium mining and its global implications. Also visit the websites of People for a Nuclear-Free Australia, ANAWA (Antinuclear Alliance of Western Australia), Australian Conservation Foundation, Roxstop, and Friends of the Earth Australia.

Vallentine was elected to the Australian Senate three times, first on the issue of nuclear disarmament and later on a full Green-Party agenda. She explains how she became the candidate for the history-making Nuclear Disarmament Party, and was initially elected to the Senate at age 39. She says she was completely on her own in Canberra in terms of the progressive stances she would take on opposing nuclear weapons. There was intense media interest in her as a former teacher and mother of two young girls. Vallentine was deeply unsettled by then-President Ronald Reagan joking about using nuclear weapons as his administration greatly expanded the U.S. nuclear arsenal. She worked hard to put disarmament on the Australian government agenda, despite constant criticism from then-Prime Minister Bob Hawke, an ally of Reagan. She says she “got in trouble for asking too many questions.”

Australias uranium mines (World Nuclear Association)

Australia's uranium mines (World Nuclear Association)

Vallentine and Dr. Caldicott talk about the U.S. base in Pine Gap, Australia, what Dr. Caldicott calls “the mid-brain of America’s military system.” Vallentine says that she was denied access to Pine Gap when she was a Senator, and that much about its true importance is kept secret. Dr. Caldicott says Pine Gap is part of a U.S. first-strike nuclear-war-fighting operation. The base presently targets U.S. drones when they bomb Afghanistan and Pakistan by remote control. It is also a key component of a U.S. missile defense system and is aiding America’s weaponization of space, part of the U.S. agenda to dominate and fight wars from space. Several billion dollars of contracts have been awarded to companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon to put U.S. weapons in space. Listen to Dr. Caldicott’s interview with Craig Eisendrath, Ph.D. about weaponizing space. Dr. Caldicott and Eisendrath wrote the book War in Heaven. Read about the Pine Gap 6 activists arrested for civil disobedience.

Vallentine continues the discussion of U.S. domination of the world. She talks about her experience at the recent Australian protest around the U.S. military exercise involving 20,000 U.S. service personnel and 6,000 Australians. She says Australia has a subservient relationship to the U.S., which operates at least 11 bases in Australia. Read about the global U.S. military presence in the 2008 article StratCom in Context: The Hidden Architecture of U.S. Militarism. Dr. Caldicott says that there is less opposition to U.S. policies and involvement in Australia than in the past, and she partly blames the Australian media led by Rupert Murdoch. The mad rush now to export Australian uranium, she says, is really about exporting cancer, leukemia and genetic disease, and young people in Australia are not educated to understand this reality.

Vallentine says that the nuclear war dangers have been blocked out from people’s consciousness since the ostensible end of the Cold War, and their concern has been transferred to the legitimate danger of global warming. Read Denial in the New Millennium: Nuclear Terror and Psychic Numbing by psychiatrist Carol Wolman, M.D. But she says the public needs to understand the fabrications of the nuclear industry about nuclear power and global warming, and she outlines how greenhouse emissions are produced by eight major stages of making power from uranium. The emphasis in opposing nuclear power should be on how renewables can fully power the future. This theme is covered in depth in a 2007 report Dr. Caldicott commissioned, Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy by engineer Arjun Makhijani, which can be read on-line. To stand up to the steady propaganda of the nuclear industry, Vallentine says, antinuclear activists must be very specific about why nuclear power is totally contraindicated. Read Dr. Caldicott’s 2006 book about nuclear energy and climate change, Nuclear Power is Not the Answer and see the article The U.S. Press: The Top Ten Nuclear Lies.

Dr. Caldicott’s April lecture on the perils of nuclear power and radiation

Monday, August 10th, 2009


Dr. Helen Caldicott speaking in 2003 (working TV)

Dr. Helen Caldicott speaking in 2003 (working TV)

This episode features a speech Dr. Caldicott delivered in Battleboro, Vermont in April 2009. The Battleboro community are fighting to close down the ailing Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor, and Caldicott explains the medical consequences of living near a nuclear plant, and the situation locals face should the reactor leak or melt down.

Near the beginning of her talk, Dr. Caldicott says the elementary school right next to Vermont Yankee was constructed by Entergy, which builds nuclear power plants. Dr. Caldicott stresses throughout her speech how nuclear radiation particularly affects children. See the August 6 article Group calls for probe of Entergy, and also read Leaving Dirty, Dangerous Power in the Past about why this reactor should be closed. Read a 2008 article, Nuclear Leaks and Response Tested Obama in Senate, about President Obama’s connection with the nuclear power industry. Exelon, a nuclear energy firm, donated over $200,000 to his campaign. See the July 8 article Obama Makes Nuclear Compromise to Pass Clean Energy Bill. Also read the July 24 article, Nuclear Industry Donations Target Moderate Democrats which documents the nuclear power industry’s continuing influence on Congress.

Dr. Caldicott acknowledges long-time antinuclear activist Randy Kehler in the audience. Kehler and Randall Forsberg coordinated the U.S. Nuclear Freeze campaign in the 1980’s. After Forsberg’s death, Kehler wrote the article
A New Vision of Security: Remembering Randall Forsberg.

Activists across from the Vermont Yankee plant (Greenpeace photo)

Activists at the Vermont Yankee plant (Greenpeace photo)

Dr. Caldicott urges Vermont citizens (and people who want to close any other U.S. reactor) to meet with legislators and teach them about the medical effects of nuclear power. She then describes the nuclear fuel cycle, starting with uranium mining, and points out how much fossil fuel is required at every step of the way, repudiating the nuclear industry’s claim that nuclear power is “emission-free.” She says that National Public Radio and other media should reject ads from the Nuclear Energy Institute, because the NEI consistently lies to the public to make their case for nuclear energy.

All radiation exposure is cumulative, Dr. Caldicott says, and she describes different forms of nuclear radiation and how they cause cancer. Nuclear plants constantly emit radiation in what are known as “routine releases” which are never benign. She then tells the audience about the terrible damage caused by depleted uranium (DU) munitions used by the United States in Iraq (and Afghanistan and Kosovo). DU has created an enormous increase in cancer and birth defects in regions bombed with DU. To see graphic evidence of
DU-induced birth defects, do a search on Google Images for “depleted uranium” which will bring up hundreds of images. She calls the use of DU
“a war crime beyond belief.”


Dr. Caldicott covers the dangerous plans to “recycle” uranium into clothing and furniture, and how the nuclear power industry uses enormous quantities of ozone-layer-damaging chlorofluorocarbons (banned by the Montreal Protocol, but allowed for the nuclear industry). She mentions a German study, led by pediatrician Dr. Winfrid Eisenberg, which found a higher-than-normal cancer incidence around nuclear reactors. She describes how a nuclear power plant could melt down, and all the frightening variables that could go wrong to initiate a disaster which would affect hundreds of thousands or even millions of people. She reads from her book Nuclear Power is Not the Answer, a companion to her other book on nuclear power, Nuclear Madness: What You Can Do. Dr. Caldicott underlines how the public is ill-prepared to deal with the devastation of a meltdown.

Those who wish to close a reactor must use the media to make their case,
Dr. Caldicott says. She gives an example of how she and other activists, including Dr. Patch Adams, were able to attract extensive international media attention in 1999 to the need to safeguard nuclear materials during the Y2K transition by using a clever publicity gimmick.

Dr. Caldicott says that it is simply preventive medicine to want to close Vermont Yankee, which she calls both a “cancer factory” and a “bomb factory.” She reveals how the radioactivity of uranium increases by a magnitude of one billion when used in the plant. If Vermont Yankee were to melt down, it would render Vermont (and probably much of Massachusetts) permanently uninhabitable. Read about the 2007 cooling tower collapse at Vermont Yankee, an example of the fallibility of all nuclear power plants.

George Vaillant, M.D. on the global implications of human happiness and mental health; lecture clip with Dr. Caldicott

Monday, August 3rd, 2009


Happiness is everyone's birth right

Happiness is everyone's birth right

George Vaillant, M.D. is a Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and at the Department of Psychiatry, Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He has spent the last 35 years as Director of the Study of Adult Development at the Harvard University Health Service. The study charted the lives of 824 men and women for almost 70 years, charting adult development, schizophrenia and other personality disorders. Read What Makes Us Happy? from the June Atlantic Monthly. Dr. Vaillant’s latest book is
Spiritual Evolution: A Scientific Defense of Faith, published by Doubleday Broadway in 2008. Vaillant has also written Adaptation to Life, The Wisdom of the Ego, The Natural History of Alcoholism and The Natural History of Alcoholism Revisited, and Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life From the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development. Read a review of Aging Well.

Dr. Caldicott and Vaillant cover many aspects of mental health and happiness, and their ramifications for the whole planet. She asks him how he became interested in researching happiness, after they reminisce about mutual involvement in 1980’s antinuclear activism. Vaillant describes the Harvard study, and Dr. Caldicott remarks about her fascination in learning about the men in the study at different stages of their lives. Vaillant broke with tradition to focus his study on healthy, well-adjusted men, and he found similarities in the resilience and coping mechanisms with people who have overcome addictions or dealt with scizophrenia. He notes how future happiness cannot be predicted from childhood and early adulthood. Vaillant talks about one of the study participants and his non-conformist attitudes, and whether he was in fact living a productive life in his own way. They touch on the Stonewall riots in New York City, a milestone in the gay right struggle, which occurred in 1969 (Vaillant gives the date as 1971).

George Vaillant, M.D.

George Vaillant, M.D.

Dr. Caldicott ponders if some seriously mentally ill people have more clarity and understanding than sane people. Vaillant responds by pointing to the overemphasis on left-brain, rational thinking at the expense of “the heart” in the modern world.
Dr. Caldicott mentions her experience giving lectures about nuclear war, and the striking difference between the comments of the men and women who approach her after she speaks. She notes the difference in brain structures between women and men, and in how they communicate and process emotions.

As they explore mental health in the context of social responsibility, Dr. Caldicott mentions Nazi Germany and the German people’s compliance with the horrors committed, and the importance of the Nuremberg principles. She moves the dialogue to the legacy of Robert McNamara, and
Dr. Caldicott illuminates her experiences collaborating with McNamara on antinuclear work. Read the article they wrote together in 2004, Still on Catastrophe’s Edge, about U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons maintaining the constant danger of global nuclear war in the 21st Century in the absence of complete disarmament. Dr. Caldiott mentions the work of Dr. Berry Brazelton, who has been honored for his work in pediatrics.

Next, Dr. Vaillant talks about some of the fascinating conclusions in his book Spiritual Evolution, and how we can experience more positive emotions. Dr. Caldicott shares her experiences with dying patients, and how their values often transform as the end of life approaches. Vaillant describes the differences between negative emotions and positive emotions, and how our emotional state alters our worldview and relationships with others. He discusses recent scientific findings about how people can experience the peaceful or euphoric states they might temporarily experience taking mind-altering drugs by engaging in constructive behaviors that involve helping others.

For more information about Dr. Vaillant and his work, read his article Mental Health in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Also see the articles The Talent for Aging Well and Happiness, Dissected: Can We Learn More About Happiness From Genes Or Lives?

In the last 10 minutes of this week’s program, we hear an excerpt from a speech Dr. Caldicott gave in Brattleboro, Vermont in April to support efforts to close the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. She states empathically how important it is to close the reactor, which poses an enormous risk to the local community and all of Vermont. She notes how the elementary school right next to the plant was paid for by Entergy, a company that makes nuclear power plants. Read the August 6 article Group calls for probe of Entergy. Also see Leaving Dirty, Dangerous Power in the Past which lists reasons to close Vermont Yankee.

It could have been a meltdown:  2007 cooling power collapse at Vermont Yankee reactor

It could have been a meltdown: 2007 cooling tower collapse at Vermont Yankee reactor

Exelon, another nuclear energy concern, donated over $200,000 to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign to pressure him to support nuclear power. Read the July 8 article Obama Makes Nuclear Compromise to Pass Clean Energy Bill. Read an article from 2008, Nuclear Leaks and Response Tested Obama in Senate.
The Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents atomic energy companies and promotes nuclear power, has been very busy building political support to build new American nuclear reactors. See the July 24 news article Nuclear Industry Donations Target Moderate Democrats.

Dr. Caldicott says that opposition to nuclear power and wanting to close the Vermont Yankee plant is preventive medicine, and should not be obscured by talk of money. Dr. Caldicott calls the reactor a “cancer factory” and a “bomb factory” and explains why. She illuminates how the radioactivity of uranium increases by staggering orders of magnitude when used in the plant, and how a meltdown of Vermont Yankee would render Vermont permanently unin-habitable. The 2007 cooling tower collapse at the plant is a reminder how easily a reactor like Vermont Yankee could blow up and melt down.