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Big Harm: Recent Examples

Prologue to Rio+20: The Big Bod Buyout of Earth Summit 2002

"Earth Summit for Sale: Katharine Ainger discovers how the UN learned to stop worrying and love big business"

Katharine Ainger
New Internationalist.
July 1, 2002

WHITE ants -- Australian for termites - are pale grubs that chomp their way through wooden structures which still look intact from the outside. Until, that is, you lean on the framework and find yourself crashing through rotten, hollowed-out wood. In the run-up to the second 'Earth Summit' which will open on 26 August in Johannesburg, South Africa, 10 years after the Rio Conference which brought environmentalism centre stage, the world will look to United Nations frameworks to protect the planet and its people. But corporations with a record of undermining UN initiatives -- on climate change, toxic waste, tobacco, apartheid sanctions and more, are now 'valued partners' of the institution. Secretary General Kofi Annan says: 'The UN and private companies are joining forces.' Critics say corporations have successfully 'white anted' the UN.

As the economy has globalized, political and social institutions that mitigate the worst ravages of the market have become hopelessly outgunned. For some, the UN still holds out hope for a planetary social contract for the age of globalization. But for that optimistic hope to be realized, the UN would need to have enforceable powers over corporate polluters and human-rights abusers.

Big business is ahead of the game. As one international lobbyist put it: 'The first thing I tell an industry that's being threatened with regulation is to self-regulate, put in place voluntary codes of conduct.' There are now over a quarter of a million voluntary, non-binding corporate codes of conduct in place -- and not a single international binding agreement of corporate responsibility. As the UN is the likeliest venue for such an agreement, corporate partnerships and voluntary codes of behaviour are their best weapon of defence.

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More on Corporate Cancer

Cash Of The Titans: Against The Noxious Fantasy Of Limitless Growth

By Phil Rockstroh
greanvillepost.com
Feb 23, 2012

Cancer, if given voice, would proclaim itself to be a believer in “free market values”"devoted to the principle of endless growth”until, of course, it would silence its own voice by killing its host. [Meanwhile] as the world races toward the point of no return, squeamish liberals are devotees of the cliché-worshipping temple of incremental change.

On thin iceThe concept of endless economic growth, accepted as sacrosanct by both U.S. mainstream political parties, and internalized as the dominant mode of mind by the general population of the corporate/consumer state is mirrored in the exponential mathematics of a malignancy.

Cancer, if given voice, would proclaim itself to be a believer in “free market values”"devoted to the principle of endless growth”until, of course, it would silence its own voice by killing its host.

Likewise, all life seeks limits or prematurely dooms itself.

The same holds true with addiction to unlimited economic expansion”the craving for incessant ascension is, in fact, a doomed Icarusian flight.  

In our time, politics as usual has failed to address the most pressing issues of the age: The manner by which neoliberal economic agendas exploit the masses in the service of a corrupt elite, and in so doing, decimating individual hopes and aspirations, as, all the while, the environmental dangers, endemic to the unchecked system, imperil the survival of humankind.  

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Climate Endgame - Hansen


Game Over for the Climate

By JAMES HANSEN
New York Times
May 9, 2012

GLOBAL warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening. That is why I was so troubled to read a recent interview with President Obama in Rolling Stone in which he said that Canada would exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves “regardless of what we do.”

If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.

Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk.

Big Body-sponsored Heartland sounds off on climate

That is the long-term outlook. But near-term, things will be bad enough. Over the next several decades, the Western United States and the semi-arid region from North Dakota to Texas will develop semi-permanent drought, with rain, when it does come, occurring in extreme events with heavy flooding. Economic losses would be incalculable. More and more of the Midwest would be a dust bowl. California’s Central Valley could no longer be irrigated. Food prices would rise to unprecedented levels.

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Brutal Facts about Big Agrobiz

Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food

By Bryan Walsh
time.com
Aug. 21, 2009

This little pig went to marketSomewhere in Iowa, a pig is being raised in a confined pen, packed in so tightly with other swine that their curly tails have been chopped off so they won't bite one another. To prevent him from getting sick in such close quarters, he is dosed with antibiotics. The waste produced by the pig and his thousands of pen mates on the factory farm where they live goes into manure lagoons that blanket neighboring communities with air pollution and a stomach-churning stench. He's fed on American corn that was grown with the help of government subsidies and millions of tons of chemical fertilizer. When the pig is slaughtered, at about 5 months of age, he'll become sausage or bacon that will sell cheap, feeding an American addiction to meat that has contributed to an obesity epidemic currently afflicting more than two-thirds of the population. And when the rains come, the excess fertilizer that coaxed so much corn from the ground will be washed into the Mississippi River and down into the Gulf of Mexico, where it will help kill fish for miles and miles around. That's the state of your bacon today.

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Big Agro-biz Toxin Lobby

Chemical Agriculture Goes to the Mattresses

enviroblog.org
May 8, 2012

pesticide spraying.jpg

The U.S. Department of Agriculture began testing fruits and vegetables for pesticide residues in 1991 after the public became concerned about their potential risks to children. Remember Alar? In 1993, at the request of Congress, several top public health experts released a seminal report, Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children. Three years later, Congress responded by passing unanimously the federal Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), which required the Environmental Protection Agency to implement health-based standards for all pesticides used in food, with special safeguards for infants and babies.

This flurry of activity grew out of one overarching conclusion embraced by scientists, physicians, policy makers, parents and the public interest community: Pesticides used in the cultivation of fruits and vegetables can cause serious and lasting harm to young children.

That didn't stop conventional agribusiness interests from trying hard to water down or remove provisions of the proposed law designed to protect infants and children. The industry argued that it would cut into their profits if they had to take children's health into consideration.

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Corporate Assaults on Biodiversity

Big Bodies vs. the Biosphere

by: W. David Kubiak, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed
01 February 2010

Confronting the global corporate hijack of Nagoya's COP10
In the fog of war, climate chaos and economic ruin, the import of the United Nations' COP10 biodiversity treaty conference in Nagoya in October 2010 may be easily overlooked. Given the mighty array of corporate forces now encircling this treaty's premises, that could prove a huge mistake.

Like the Copenhagen-jubilant corporate climate lobby before them, the big corporate bodies that dominate the drug, energy, agro-business and natural resource extraction arenas are aggressively organizing to keep any Nagoya agreement toothless, while the NGO community remains barely aware of their schemes or the fateful stakes.

Fixing the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD 1.0)
Spawned a generation ago, the UN's attempt to preserve the planet's living bounty was finally presented as the Convention on Biological Diversity at the '92 Rio Earth Summit and came into force in late 1993. Dubbed the Kyoto Protocol for living things, the treaty has been spurned by successive big-business-friendly US administrations, but it has been ratified by 193 other countries. The CBD's declared intent was to "significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010 to help alleviate poverty and benefit all life on Earth" but in the absence of clear goals, key players and binding commitments, it has  failed in almost every respect.

To revitalize the process, the United Nations has named 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity and organized the Nagoya COP10 conference to draft a CBD 2.0 that extends and amplifies the original treaty and hopefully fixes its fatal flaws. For better or worse, the results of COP10 will affect almost every ecosystem on earth for the next several decades. It is already being lavishly "worked" by the corporate community and deserves a far more vivid NGO response.

Best Case Aspirations and Big Body Belches
COP10's preliminary docs envision some relatively strong and salubrious goals:

  • Stopping the rate of biodiversity loss by 2020.
  • Ending subsidies that harm biodiversity.
  • Halting destructive fishing practices.
  • Controlling the unintentional transfer of species from place to place.
  • Placing at least 15 percent of land and sea area under protection.

These proposals do seem promising, but the devil, dollars and seeds of Big Body resistance are in the details. Do agro-business and fossil fuel subsidies harm biodiversity? Whose fishing practices are "destructive"? Do genetically modified organisms constitute new species? What is on, in or under the 15 percent to be protected; who will decide which 15 percent, and what will "protection" entail? What will be the new costs of doing business if such eco-sensitivity is mainstreamed? And how much can be kept vague or voluntary to ensure business as usual for another 10 years?

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Keystone Pipeline Preview

Spill from Hell: Diluted Bitumen

Poisoned air. Sunken gunk. A clean-up nightmare. What we're learning from the oil sands 'DilBit' dump into the Kalamazoo River.

By Mitchell Anderson
TheTyee.ca
5 Mar 2012

On a July morning in 2010 in rural Michigan, a 30-inch pipeline owned by Calgary-based Enbridge Energy Partners burst and disgorged an estimated 843,000 gallons of thick crude into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. This was no ordinary crude -- it was the first ever major spill into water of diluted bitumen from the Alberta oil sands.

oilspill

The cleanup challenges and health impacts around Kalamazoo were unlike anything the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had ever dealt with, and raise serious questions about the preparedness in British Columbia to respond to such a disaster on the B.C. coast -- or the Vancouver harbour.

Each year, increasing numbers of tankers filled with diluted bitumen leave Vancouver loaded from the existing Kinder Morgan pipeline from northern Alberta to a terminus in Burnaby.

Tankers exiting Vancouver harbor must transit through the shallow Second Narrows channel during "high slack water" -- a short tidal window of about 20 minutes that provides loaded tankers with less than two metres of under-keel clearance.

Citizens concerned about these shipments have been assured that extensive preparations have been made to respond to an accident, and that an array of skimmers and floating oil booms are on-hand to contain any spilled oil. But what if the "oil" in these tankers doesn't float?

Unlike conventional crude, diluted bitumen or "dilbit" is a mixture of unrefined tar that is often heavier than water and "diluent." This is usually a cocktail of volatile solvents like naphtha or natural gas condensate that allows the thick bitumen to be pumped through the pipeline.

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