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‘Rio+20 asked to protect the bounty of the Seven Seas for future generations’ by Brian Handwerk

Plastic litter washes up on a remote beach in Laysan, one of the northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Photograph by Jon Brack

Sustainable Earth: Oceans
Scientists ask Rio+20 leaders to protect the bounty of the Seven Seas for future generations.

From National Geographic News

More than half the people on Earth live within 120 miles (193 kilometers) of the ocean, but even those who live nowhere near the sea are dependent on the massive saltwater ecosystem that covers nearly three-fourths of our planet.

The ocean helps create and regulate weather around the globe and produces many of life’s essentials, including water, food, and even the oxygen we breathe every day. But scientists warn that the sea is changing rapidly and that our many uses of its bounty must be managed far more sustainably.

“If I were speaking to all the leaders at Rio+20 I’d say this is not [a choice between] the ocean or ourselves,” said marine ecologist Enric Sala, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence. “A healthy ocean means healthier humans, more food on our tables, more jobs, and a healthier economy.”

The sea’s biodiversity is astounding. Scientists have identified some 200,000 marine species but suspect that millions more actually call the oceans home. Some seafloor ecosystems are so remote and inaccessible that we know less about them than we do the surface of Mars.

Yet the ocean is very familiar to more than three billion people whose livelihoods depend directly on coastal and marine ecosystems—about 8 percent of the world’s people are fishermen. And three billion people count on marine species as their primary sources of protein.

Until recent decades, most people considered the oceans to be an inexhaustible resource so vast and so plentiful that it was beyond humanity’s ability to deplete it of fish or seriously pollute its waters. Today we know that is far from the truth.

A Raft of Challenges

Since the mid-20th century, advances in technology have given rise to massive industrial fishing operations that can rapidly empty waters of species like bluefin tuna or Atlantic cod while satisfying an ever-increasing demand for seafood. UN-tracked fisheries have shown steady declines in catches since 1988—even as more fishers take to the water with ever more efficient gear. Some studies estimate that populations of large ocean fish are only 10 percent as big as their preindustrial levels.

Today’s ocean managers are challenged to cooperate internationally and use scientific knowledge of fish stocks to replace loosely regulated fisheries with well-managed, sustainable resources. This can be accomplished by implementing tools such as marine reserves, protected areas, and strict catch limits.

Aquaculture can also play a major part—in fact, farmed fish already constitute half of the world’s supply—but it must be done more sustainably. Aquaculture must consume fewer marine resources, like the ground-up seafood used to make fish feed, and it needs to be managed to reduce genetic dilution of wild stocks, destruction of mangroves, and other impacts on sensitive coastal areas.

Other ocean impacts have inland sources. “Most people don’t know that every eight months the drops of oil that leak from U.S. cars and other machines and run downstream into the ocean equal the amount of oil [11 million gallons] that was spilled by the Exxon Valdez,” Sala said.

Other runoff pollution, like nitrogen-rich fertilizers, has created oxygen-poor, algae-choked “dead zones,” including the New Jersey-size swath found each summer in the Mississippi River Delta. Carelessly discarded trash has formed a massive “garbage patch” the size of Texas swirling in the northern Pacific. Pesticides washed into ocean waters may be consumed by small organisms and retained by larger predators, with unknown consequences to species up and down the food chain.

“We know how to fix these problems,” Sala said. “Fishing in most cases just requires national action to restore populations to sustainable levels. We need to implement science-based quotas and reduce fishing capacity—there are just too many fishing boats in the world right now—so we can reach a point where we have a globally sustainable catch. Right now we’re above that for too many species.”

Other problems present bigger challenges and will require even greater concerted action around the world.

The Climate Connection

Ocean water and air share an enormous interface, stretching around the globe, and the two constantly interact. The sea absorbs some 30 percent of all the world’s CO2 emissions, which helps mitigate the impacts of climate change caused by greenhouse gases. But the absorption of all that CO2 is changing water chemistry, creating acidic seawater and altering marine ecosystems at their core through base-of-the-food-chain animals such as plankton and corals. These shifts are happening so quickly that some species may not have time to adapt.

Scientists say that oceans are sensitive to even small changes in temperature—and Earth’s temperature continues to trend upward. Sea temperatures over the past century have risen only about 0.18ºF (0.1ºC), and most of that occurred between the sunny surface and depths of about 2,300 feet (700 meters).

But some impacts may be evident. Too-warm waters can push coral reefs, also stressed by acidic water and pollution, toward die-off, and threaten the many species that dwell in these “rainforests of the sea.” One in five coral reefs is already damaged beyond repair. And krill, the foundation of the Antarctic ecosystem, can’t reproduce as efficiently in warming water.

The most visibly obvious result of warming water is already under way—rising sea levels that swamp coastline habitats and human dwellings alike. Due to expanding water volume and melting ice, the global mean sea level has risen an average of 0.13 inches (34.2 millimeters) annually during the past two decades, about twice the rise rate during the previous 80 years.

Though beset with challenges, the sea is resilient and has shown the ability to regenerate resources—if human beings give it a chance. The Rio+20 conference will seek to establish guidelines for sustainable management of the oceans and conservation of their priceless resources through a “blue economy” plan for the future.

Sala said progress has been stalled by what he calls an “artificial dichotomy” between economic development and environmental conservation. That view must be dispelled, he said. “In the long term there is no prosperity without sustainable use of natural resources,” Sala said. “A blue economy is a smarter economy than the current one of overexploiting one resource and then simply going on to the next.”

Original at:

For National Geographic News

Article recommended by 1,000,000 Strong Against Offshore Drilling

Naomi Klein: ‘If You Take Climate Change Seriously, You Have to Throw Out the Free-Market Playbook’

Naomi Klein on ideological impediments to addressing climate change and how to move forward

From Common Dreams staff
In an interview with Solutions, author and activist Naomi Klein discusses how market-based solutions are not going to meet the needs required to address climate change and how ideologies have hampered both the left and right in climate action. She also states that the Occupy movement has been “a game-changer.” There is a way forward, Klein says, and it involves “changing the mix in a mixed economy.”

Throwing Out the Free Market Playbook:
An Interview with Naomi Klein

From Solutions

Perhaps one of the most well-known voices for the Left, Canadian Naomi Klein is an activist and author of several nonfiction works critical of consumerism and corporate activity, including the best sellers No Logo (2000) and Shock Doctrine (2007).

In your cover story for the Nation last year, you say that modern environmentalism successfully advances many of the causes dear to the political Left, including redistribution of wealth, higher and more progressive taxes, and greater government intervention and regulation. Please explain.

The piece came out of my interest and my shock at the fact that belief in climate change in the United States has plummeted. If you really drill into the polling data, what you see is that the drop in belief in climate change is really concentrated on the right of the political spectrum. It’s been an extraordinary and unusual shift in belief in a short time. In 2007, 71 percent of Americans believed in climate change and in 2009 only 51 percent believed—and now we’re at 41 percent. So I started researching the denial movement and going to conferences and reading the books, and what’s clear is that, on the right, climate change is seen as a threat to the Right’s worldview, and to the neoliberal economic worldview. It’s seen as a Marxist plot. They accuse climate scientists of being watermelons—green on the outside and red on the inside.

It seems exaggerated, but your piece was about how the Right is in fact correct.

I don’t think climate change necessitates a social revolution. This idea is coming from the right-wing think tanks and not scientific organizations. They’re ideological organizations. Their core reason for being is to defend what they call free-market ideology. They feel that any government intervention leads us to serfdom and brings about a socialist world, so that’s what they have to fight off: a socialist world. Increase the power of the private sector and decrease the public sphere is their ideology.

You can set up carbon markets, consumer markets, and just pretend, but if you want to get serious about climate change, really serious, in line with the science, and you want to meet targets like 80 percent emissions cuts by midcentury in the developed world, then you need to be intervening strongly in the economy, and you can’t do it all with carbon markets and offsetting. You have to really seriously regulate corporations and invest in the public sector. And we need to build public transport systems and light rail and affordable housing along transit lines to lower emissions. The market is not going to step up to this challenge. We must do more: rebuild levees and bridges and the public sphere, because we saw in Katrina what happens when weak infrastructure clashes with heavy weather—it’s catastrophe. These climate deniers aren’t crazy—their worldview is under threat. If you take climate change seriously, you do have to throw out the free-market playbook.

What is the political philosophy that underscores those who accept climate change versus those who deny it?

The Yale cultural cognition project has looked at cultural worldview and climate change, and what’s clear is that ideology is the main factor in whether we believe in climate change. If you have an egalitarian and communitarian worldview, and you tend toward a belief system of pooling resources and helping the less advantaged, then you believe in climate change. And the stronger your belief system tends toward a hierarchical or individual worldview, the greater the chances are that you deny climate change and the stronger your denial will be. The reason is clear: it’s because people protect their worldviews. We all do this. We develop intellectual antibodies. Climate change confirms what people on the left already believe. But the Left must take this confirmation responsibly. It means that if you are on the left of the spectrum, you need to guard against exaggeration and your own tendency to unquestioningly accept the data because it confirms your worldview.

Members of the Left have been resistant to acknowledging that this worldview is behind their support of climate action, while the Right confronts it head on. Why this hesitancy among liberals?

There are a few factors at work. Climate change is not a big issue for the Left. The big left issues in the United States are inequality, the banks, corporate malfeasance, unemployment, foreclosures. I don’t think climate change has ever been a broad-based issue for the Left. Part of this is the legacy of siloing off issues, which is part of the NGO era of activism. Climate change has been claimed by the big green groups and they’re to the left. But they’re also foundation funded. A lot of them have gone down the road of partnerships with corporations, which has made them less critical. The discourse around climate change has also become extremely technical and specialized. A lot of people don’t feel qualified and feel like they don’t have to talk about it. They’re so locked into a logic of market-based solutions—that the big green groups got behind cap and trade, carbon markets, and consumer responses instead of structural ones—so they’re not going to talk about how free trade has sent emissions soaring or about crumbling public infrastructure or the ideology that would rationalize major new investments in infrastructure. Others can fight those battles, they say. During good economic times, that may have seemed viable; but as soon as you have an economic crisis, the environment gets thrown under the bus, and there is a failure to make the connection between the economy and the climate crisis—both have roots in putting profits before people.

You write in your article, “After years of recycling, carbon offsetting, and light-bulb changing, it is obvious that individual action will never be an adequate response to the climate crisis.” How do we get the collective action necessary? Is the Occupy movement a step in the right direction?

The Occupy movement has been a game changer, and it has opened up space for us to put more radical solutions on the table. I think the political discourse in the United States is centered around what we tell ourselves the American public can handle. The experience of seeing these groups of young people put radical ideas on the table, and seeing the country get excited by it, has been a wake up call for a lot of people who feel they support those solutions—and for those who have said, “That’s all we can do.” It has challenged the sense of what is possible. I know a lot of environmentalists have been really excited by that. I’m on the board of, and they’ll be doing more and more work on the structural barriers to climate action. The issue is why? Why do we keep losing? Who is in our way? We’re talking about challenging corporate personhood and financing of elections—and this is huge for environmental groups to be moving out of their boxes. I think all of the green organizations who take corporate money are terrified about this. For them, Occupy Wall Street has been a game changer.

What comes after communism and capitalism? What’s your vision of the way forward?

It’s largely about changing the mix in a mixed economy. Maybe one day we’ll have a perfect “ism” that’s post-communism and -capitalism. But if we look at the countries that have done the most to seriously meet the climate challenge, they’re social democracies like Scandinavia and the Netherlands. They’re countries with a strong social sphere. They’re mixed economies. Markets are a big part, but not the only part, of their economies. Can we meet our climate targets in a system that requires exponential growth to continue? Furthermore, where is the imperative of growth coming from? What part of our economy is demanding growth year after year?

If you’re a locally based business, you don’t need continual growth year after year. What requires that growth is the particular brand of corporate capitalism—shareholders who aren’t involved in the business itself. That part of our economy has to shrink, and that’s terrifying people who are deeply invested in it. We have a mixed economy, but it’s one in which large corporations are controlled by outside investors, and we won’t change that mix until that influence is reduced.

Is that possible?

It is if we look at certain choke points like corporate personhood and financing, and it makes sense for us to zero in on aspects of our system that give corporations massive influence. Another is media concentration. If you had publicly financed elections, you’d have to require public networks to give airtime to candidates. So the fact that networks charge so much is why presidential elections cost more than a billion dollars, which means you have to go to the 1 percent to finance the elections. These issues are all linked with the idea that corporations have the same free-speech rights as people, so there would also be more restrictions on corporate speech.

Entrepreneur and writer Peter Barnes has argued that what’s missing is adequate incorporation of the “commons sector” in the economy—public goods like natural and social capital. “Capitalism 3.0” he calls it, which we’d achieve not by privatizing these goods but by creating new institutions such as public-asset trusts. What’s your opinion of this approach?

I definitely think it’s clear that the road we’ve been on—turning to the private sector to run our essential services—has proven disastrous. In many cases, the reason why it was so easy to make arguments in favor of privatization was because public institutions were so cut off and unresponsive and the public didn’t feel a sense of ownership. The idea that a private corporation has valued you as a customer was a persuasive argument. Now it turns out both models have failed. So this idea that there is a third way—neither private nor state-run public—is out there.

Published on Wednesday, February 29, 2012 by Common Dreams


Asbestos Action Alert‏

Show solidarity with asbestos victims in the Third World and support the campaign to demand the Canadian government ban asbestos mining and exports. Asbestos kills over 100,000 people every year, and Canada is a major player in the death-dealing industry.

In a change of tactics, we’re not targeting all Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs) – but just one. A number of other like-minded organizations are also ‘adopting’ a MP and focusing their efforts on convincing him/her what their party is doing is wrong, unethical and immoral.

In our case – we have chosen to focus our efforts on the Federal Environment Minister, the Hon. Peter Kent, MP for Thornhill, Ontario.

Peter is an intelligent guy and knows what his government is doing is wrong. We need to encourage him to support an end to Canada’s mining and export of asbestos. Peter and his government can prevent thousands of cases of cancer if they only do what’s right.

Here is what we’re asking you to do:
Send a letter to Peter Kent ( See “Key Messages” below.
Mail a copy of your letter to his office: House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6 (no postage is required).
Twitter him also (@mppeterkent). His Twitter stream is here.
Post your thoughts on his Facebook Wall
Call his Ottawa office (613-992-0253) and ask to speak with him. Keep calling until he, or a representative from his office, returns your call.
If you live in the Toronto area, call and ask to schedule a meeting with him (905-886-9911). Don’t take no for an answer! You can also visit his constituency office: 7600 Yonge St., Thornhill, Ontario, L4J 1V9
Please keep us informed of your efforts – we’d really appreciate it!

Key Messages:
According to the World Health Organization, more than 107,000 people die each year from asbestos-related disease.
Asbestos is the “perfect carcinogen” as it acts as both a promoter and initiator of cancer.
Exposure to asbestos has been linked to several diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
At the recent conference of the UN Rotterdam Convention in Geneva, the Harper government single-handedly prevented asbestos from being put on the Convention’s list of hazardous substances.
Newly released documents show that back in 2006 the Canadian government rejected advice from Health Canada that asbestos be added to the UN list of hazardous substances.
Billions of dollars will be spent over the next 20 years to remove asbestos from our Parliament Buildings because it’s a cancer-causing substance.
Canada mines and ships the majority of its asbestos to the Third World, particularly Asia. The world’s leading experts predict that the sharp increase in asbestos use in Asia will see a surge of mortality and morbidity in the decades ahead.

For more:
John Bennett, Executive Director
Sierra Club Canada

We Can’t Drink Tar Sands Oil‏

We know that tar sands oil is the dirtiest fuel in the world, and that tar sands projects create toxic lakes filled with cancer causing heavy metals and neurotoxins.1 We also know that the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would cross pristine land in six states and put almost 30 percent of our country’s agricultural water at risk of contamination.2

But a new report reaffirms that the corrosive nature of tar sands oil will increase risk of spills to a degree not seen in conventional oil pipelines.

Write a letter to the editor of your local paper and help us spread the word about the dangers posed by new tar sands pipelines.

The Sierra Club, in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Wildlife Federation, and Pipeline Safety Trust, is releasing a report this week that shows transporting tar sands oil is much more dangerous than transporting traditional oil.3

Why? Because tar sands oil is more corrosive than traditional crude oil, and its thicker nature means increased heat and pressure are needed to force it through a pipe, making ruptures and spills more likely.

We cannot allow regulators to treat tar sands oil the same as regular crude oil — write a letter to the editor today.

Despite the new risks posed by tar sands crude, American regulators have not created specific safeguards to protect communities along pipeline routes from spills and contamination.

Before we agree to transport tar sands oil across the Midwest, we need to make sure it’s not going to destroy our water and farmland.

The American people deserve a voice before new tar sands pipelines are approved — write a letter and make your voice heard.

From Sarah Hodgdon
Sierra Club Conservation Director

[1] Benjamin J. Wakefield. The Environmental Integrity Project. “Feeding U.S. Refinery Expansions with Dirty Fuel.” June 2008. Web. 8 July 2010.

[2] Dennehy, K.F. “High Plains regional ground-water study: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet FS-091-00.” USGS. 2000 Web. 26 Oct. 2010 .

[3] Anthony Swift, Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, Elizabeth Shope, and Natural Resources Defense Council. Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, Pipeline Safety Trust, and Sierra Club. “Tar Sands Pipelines Safety Risks.” Feb. 2011.

Energy Security and Climate Change: Pakistan

Date: Thursday, February 17th, 2011
Time: 10:00-02:00pm
Venue: Marriot Hotel, Islamabad

Ms Javeriya Hasan
Research Associate, Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), (Consumer Network and NEPRA)
Mr Arshad H Abbasi
Advisor Water and Energy, Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), (Energy Governance in Pakistan)
Mr Shakeel Ahmed Ramay
Head, Climate Change Study Centre, Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI)
(Renewable Energy Resources in Pakistan)

Concept Note
A spectrum of landscapes marks the geography of Pakistan; with the mountains and glaciers of the north to the coastal belt in the south and a host of hills, plateaus, forests and deserts in between. Despite lying in a temperate zone, the unique geography of Pakistan ensures that extremities of temperature are experienced in different locations across the country. Encompassing a land mass of 880,940 km2, Pakistan also geographically overlaps the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates.

Pakistan’s unique geographical position has made it especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change which include glacier melt, sea level rise, increased frequency and intensity of natural hazards, changes in rainfall patterns, droughts, floods, and increased frequency of extreme weather conditions. These vulnerabilities will only be exacerbated by the current social, economic and political schemes operating in the country. With the sixth largest population in the world, most of which still under the poverty line, unstable government structures and institutions, military conflicts, worsening fiscal crisis, rampant food insecurity and a deepening energy crisis, Pakistan is becoming increasingly susceptible to the impacts of climate change. Its geographical location and its status as a state marred with the crisis of underdevelopment makes climate change in Pakistan a pertinent concern. Inaction in the face of climate change is not an option, as the recent floods in Pakistan have made the urgency and necessity of a response to climate change clearly evident.

The concept of mitigation within the discourse of climate change refers to the set of actions taken to eliminate or substantially reduce the long term hazards associated with climate change. As the main cause of climate change is identified as the emission of greenhouse gases, mitigation efforts are focused on a reduction of the sources of greenhouse emissions. The major contributors to climate change are the developed nations whose past emissions have resulted in the rise of average global temperature. In an attempt to limit greenhouse gas emissions in the future, developing countries today must reconsider employing the same strategies of economic growth characteristic of their developed counterparts. Failure to do so would have potentially catastrophic impacts as increased emissions cannot be sustained by the ecosystem.

The rising demand for energy in the developing world comes from the high population growths and ambitious developmental programs that attempt to curb the widespread poverty in these areas. Provision of energy becomes the prerequisite for economic development and as developing countries strive to industrialize, they resort to the cheapest and most readily available sources of energy. As the growing energy sector in the developing world would eventually contribute more to the greenhouse gas emissions than the current biggest emitters, their energy sectors cannot be immune from mitigation policies. The 450[1] scenario outlined in the World Energy Report 2009, which seeks to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at 450ppm, reiterates the recognition of common but differentiated responsibilities requiring each region in the world to implement mitigation policies.

While Pakistan’s emissions contribute a mere 0.8 of the global GHG emissions, the number is projected to rise in the coming decade owing to the country’s burgeoning population and growing energy needs to fuel its development plans. Pakistan must embark on a comprehensive and efficient mitigation strategy not only as a responsible state within the global arena committed to emission reduction, but also because it would be much easier and economically feasible to make the transition to a low carbon economy now rather than later. Thus it is imperative that efforts aimed at sustainable development in the country incorporate the goals of emission reduction.

As the energy sector is the primary contributor to GHG emissions in the country, it is essential that mitigation strategies are aimed at reforms within this sector. For Pakistan, this presents a host of opportunities. The vast potential of alternate energy in the country has not yet been exploited though efforts are being made in this direction. Increased use of alternate energy does not only coincide with mitigation of emissions in the country but also serves as a long term strategy for achieving energy security.

Pakistan is an energy deficit country, relying heavily on imported oil to meet its energy needs. In recent times the energy crisis has reached alarming heights; Power outages have become a routine phenomenon and are gravely impacting economic development in the country. While there is no prospect for Pakistan to reach self sufficiency in hydrocarbons, the exploitation of renewable energy to counter the current energy crisis presents itself as a sustainable option. Cheap and reliable sources of energy are imperative to push the country on a path of development; exploitation of indigenous renewable sources of energy is likely to serve this end.

Reliance on traditional fossil fuels is not a sustainable option for Pakistan, not only because it would contribute heavily to growing emissions but also because the limited reserves within the country have prompted oil imports and rapid depletion of indigenous gas reserves. This has put a financial strain on the economy and made the energy sector extremely vulnerable to the unreliable global supply of fossil fuels. The energy sector in Pakistan needs to be restructured to be made more reliable and secure and a shifted reliance on the vast supply of indigenous alternate sources of energy presents itself as a viable step in this regard.

It is important to recognize that exploitation of alternate energy resources does not only constitute as an essential and urgent response to climate change but also satisfies Pakistan’s long term goals of energy sufficiency and sustainable development.

Consumer Network and NEPRA
Pakistan is currently grappled by a severe energy crisis that has spearheaded significant socio-economic repercussions. An inability to install sufficient power generation capacity in addition to a heavy reliance on costly furnace oil imports has contributed immensely to the climax of the crisis. This has come at a time when Pakistan is already plagued with many other important woes such as the menaces of poverty, illiteracy and terrorism. The energy shortages and escalating cost expenditures in meeting needs has necessitated that power sector governance is revisited; rather analyzed critically for apparent pitfalls that have led to the severe situation the country is facing today.

One of the institutions that figures prominently in the equation is Pakistan’s National Electricity Regulation Power Authority (NEPRA), whose mandate is basically to promote principles of openness, transparency, accountability and competition in the power sector. It grants licenses to generation, transmission and distribution companies and also prescribes standards for this purpose in order to ensure that the consumer is provided with a safe, efficient and reliable supply of electricity. Unfortunately, it has been observed that the performance of NEPRA, has very much deviated from its mandate and has not been in line with the vision with which it was created.

Consumers, particularly the domestic consumers, don’t matter much as a priority in its decision making processes. NEPRA organizes public hearings on tariffs, licenses and fuel adjustments and these have reduced to mere cosmetic exercises, whereby those in authority only mark it against a checklist of items. There is no concerted effort to include the public proactively, in fact, the entire regulatory environment is convoluted and complex for any individual to fully comprehend the nitty gritty involved in electricity regulation.

The seminar on ‘Consumer Participation in Electricity Regulation’ would help bring together academics, professionals and concerned civil society in brainstorming on ways the vacuum of consumer participation can be overcome. The aim is to create a network of likeminded individuals who can contribute in generating awareness among the public about the issue of electricity governance, which they are key stakeholders of.


Faisal Nadeem Gorchani
Sadia Sharif
Policy Advocacy and Outreach Policy Advocacy and Outreach
Sustainable Development Policy Institute
38, Old Embassy Road
(Atta Turk Avenue), G-6/3,
Ph: 051-2278134-6, Ext: 113
Fax: 051-2278135
Cell: 0333-5592210

Nuclear waste dumping in Pakistan

By Adnan Farooq

If the leaching ponds containing the effluents of a milling and leaching plant are not covered in water, the dumped waste can dry up and gets blown all over by winds, as often happens in and near Dera Ghazi Khan

Dr. A. H. Nayyar is Director of the Ali Institute of Education, Lahore. He is a physicist, who retired from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad after serving it for over 30 years. After retirement, he worked at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Islamabad, dealing with policy issues in education and energy. Dr. Nayyar holds a visiting position at Princeton University, USA, where he studies technical issues in nuclear disarmament. He is a member of the International Panel on Fissile Materials.

In an interview with Viewpoint, he describes the hazards dumping of nuclear waste poses to the people of Pakistan. Read on:

How much nuclear waste is created in Pakistan and what are the dangers posed by this waste to our lives?

Let me first describe the different kinds of nuclear waste.

The first is the low level waste resulting from uranium ore processing. Only a few fractions of a kilogram of uranium are extracted out of tons of the ore. The rest, which is in thousands of tons, contains low level radioactivity, and poses health risks to people exposed to it. Radon gas is the main source of risk. This is the situation around uranium milling plants, like the one in Dera Ghazi Khan or Qubul Khel. In the newer uranium mines in Isa Khel, in-situ leaching is being done, and it is not known how much radioactivity is released to the environment from this process.

It has been conclusively shown in India that the health of the population around uranium mines gets seriously hurt by the mining activity, including severe skin ailments, cancers of various kinds, especially of lungs and skin, genetic disorder in new births.

The second is the high level waste from reactors of any kind. In a reactor, an isotope of uranium fissions and gives off energy. The parts in which a uranium nucleus is split are very highly radioactive and remain poisonous for thousands of years. The spent fuel of a reactor consists of such a material. Nobody in the world, nobody, knows what to do with this waste. Hundreds of thousands of tons of this waste is just lying in protective enclosures around the world. Nobody has found a safe way to dispose off this waste. Reactor accidents of the kind of Chernobyl can spew a large amount of such waste into the environment over thousands of square kilometers around the accident site, causing extensive loss of life and agriculture.

Pakistan has three kinds of reactors: power reactors, as in Karachi and Chashma, reactors made to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, as in Khushab, and research reactors as in Nilore, Rawalpindi. Spent fuel from power reactors remains stored in cooling ponds on site, nearly for ever. Spent fuel from plutonium production reactors is reprocessed to extract plutonium and the remaining uranium, and the highly radioactive waste containing fission products is stored in a specially protected waste site. Spent fuel from research reactors is stored as such in storage sites.

We hear about Dera Ghazi Khan when it comes to dumping of nuclear waste. If there are other places too becoming pits for nuclear waste?

Pakistan’s Atomic Energy Commission holds most of its activities secret, and does not let citizens know where it dumps nuclear waste. Presently the Commission is directly under the Ministry of Defence, and hence its work has become highly confidential. Even when it was under the Ministry of Science and Technology, it would not allow any probing into its activities. We do not know which other places are being used as nuclear waste dumping sites.

Do as citizens we have any right to know about nuclear waste dumping procedures?

Given that radioactivity from nuclear waste directly impacts citizens’ health, it becomes a fundamental right of citizens to know what risks such activities pose to them. If there are dumping sites near a population centre, the activity can seep into ground water and make it unusable. If the leaching ponds containing the effluents of a milling and leaching plant are not covered in water, the dumped waste can dry up and gets blown all over by winds, as often happens in and near Dera Ghazi Khan. It is criminal that the Atomic Energy Commission does not share any information on waste dumping procedures it adopts. In principle, there is the Nuclear Regulatory Authority meant to oversea the work of PAEC. But PNRA is mostly staffed by persons seconded from the Commission, and loyalties die hard.

As Pakistan is not a party to Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty while it has recently signed nuclear deals with China. What will be the implications of these deals for Pakistan’s nuclear program?

Pakistan will get nuclear power reactors manufactured in China on soft payment conditions. The fuel will come from China, and the highly toxic spent fuel will be stored in Pakistan. Each of the new reactors would cost an arm and a leg, and yet each would add only 1.5% to the installed electricity generation capacity. Nuclear electricity is viable only in countries that are short of other options. Many countries of the world have therefore shunned it for ever. The main reasons why Pakistan is insisting on buying new reactors include (a) it wants to secure the same status of global acceptability as a nuclear state as India has acquired after the US-India nuclear deal, overcoming the embargo the international nuclear agreements had imposed on it after the 1998 nuclear tests; (b) nuclear reactors provide a raison d’etre to the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission.

From VIEWPOINT, Pakistan

‘BP and Bhopal – USA Double Standard’ By Quigley and Tuscano

By Bill Quigley and Alex Tuscano

When President Barak Obama went after BP and demanded a $20 billion dollar fund be set up for victims of the Gulf oil spill, the people of India were furious. They saw a US double standard.The US demonstrated it values human life within the US more than the lives of the people of India.

BP should pay $20 billion in compensation, probably even more. The people of India agree with that.

But people are angry because the US is treating the oil spill, called the worst environmental disaster in US history, in a radically different way than the US treated the explosion of a US-owned pesticide plant in Bhopal India, which some call the worst industrial disaster in history.

The 1984 Bhopal explosion released tons of toxic chemicals into the air, claimed the lives of between 15,000 and 20,000 people within two weeks, and disabled hundreds of thousands of others many still suffering from physical damage and genetic defects.

The plant that exploded was operated by Union Carbide India Limited, a corporation owned by Union Carbide of the United States.

The disaster occurred in a thickly populated area close to the central railway station in Bhopal, an urban area of 1.5 million in the heart of India. Most people in the area lived in shanty huts.

Thousands of dead humans and animals filled the streets of Bhopal. Survivors complain of genetic damage which has caused widespread birth defects in children and even grandchildren of those exposed.

The soil and water of Bhopal remain toxic with heavy pesticide residue and toxic metals like lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium and chromium.

While President Obama displayed outrage at BP officials over the 11 deaths from the US oil spill, the US has refused to extradite Warren Anderson, the chair of Union Carbide, to face charges for his role in the Bhopal disaster.

Recall too that Obama advisor Larry Summers, then chief economist at the World Bank, stated in an infamous 1971 memo. “Just between you and me, shouldn’t the world Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the Less Developed Countries?… I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted””

Obsolete and hazardous industries have been systematically transferred to the third world countries to not only exploit the cheap labor but also to avoid disastrous impact of these industries on the advanced countries.

Union Carbide put profit for the corporation above the lives and health of millions of people. Dow Chemical, which took over Union Carbide, is attempting to distance itself from all responsibility.

In India there were two Bhopal developments this month. The Indian government announced a compensation package of $280 million for Bhopal victims, about $22,000 for each of the families of the deceased according to the BBC, and seven former Indian managers of the Bhopal plant were given two year jail sentences for their part in the explosion. These legal developments are a mockery of justice for one of the world’s greatest disasters.

We call on the people of the US and the people of India to join together to demand our governments respect the human rights of all people, no matter where they live.

Together we must bring about change in corporate development. We have to emphasize social production for the needs of people and improved social relations.

If we continue to value some lives more than others, and to allow corporations to spoil some areas with impunity, our world will not last.

Unless we respect the human rights of all people and demand corporations do that as well, we will be damned to live out the Cree Indian prophecy “Only when the last tree from this earth has been cut down, only when the last river has been poisoned, only when the last fish has been caught, only then will humankind learn that money cannot be eaten.”

[Bill is the Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University, New Orleans. You can reach Bill at Alex directs Praxis, a human rights organization in Bangalore, India. You can reach Alex at]


Article provided by Ghulam Muhammed

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