Page 1


cmyk PAGE

Little to prove that exposure Diabetes can make a to toxic World Trade Centre comeback after weight-loss dust caused cancer: Scientists surgery, says a study


‘Ban nuke tests, weapons’ Bombay: The Maharashtra State Convention for General Disarmament and Peace today called for an immediate ban on all nuclear weapons tests, which, linked with real progress towards general and complete disarmament, would be of considerable help in easing international tensions. In a resolution adopted here today, the second day of the State Convention for Disarmament, it supported the proposal made by defence minister Mr V. K. Krishna Menon at the Geneva conference, for the location of stations on the soil of non-aligned countries, which could ensure that any ban on nuclear weapon tests was carried out by all powers, making it unnecessary to have international inspection posts on the territory of the nuclear power. The convention also extended its full support to the appeal made by Prime Minister Nehru to all powers to refrain from carrying out any further nuclear tests. The two-day convention was inaugurated yesterday by Maharashtra governor Dr P. Subbarayan.


ANDREW M. SEAMAN Women who go through in vitro fertilisation (IVF) early in life are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer compared to those who don’t undergo the treatment, suggests a new study. The findings, however, cannot determine whether IVF contributed to the cancers or whether something else could explain the link. “I don’t think it’s a huge increased risk that you should worry or panic (about),” said Louise Stewart, the study’s lead author and a researcher at the University of Western Australia in Crawley. She added, however, that her findings did show a link between the two and doctors should keep that in the back of their minds. Stewart and her colleagues collected information on 21,025 women between 20 and 40 years, who went through fertility treatment at the hospitals of Western Australia between 1983 and 2002. — Reuters


Getting our sedentary, overweight children off the couch is a challenge. That’s why the Nintendo Wii game console, which arrived in the United States six years ago, was such an exciting prospect. It offered the chance for children to get exercise without even leaving the house. Tennis was one of the games in the Wii Sports software that came right in the box with the console. This was the progenitor of “exergames,” video games that led to hopes that fitness could turn into irresistible fun. But exergames turn out to be much digital ado about nothing, at least as far as measurable health benefits for children. “Active” videogames distributed to homes with children do not produce the increase in physical activity that naïve parents (like me) expected. That’s according to a study undertaken by the Children’s Nutrition Research Centre at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, and published early this year.


Rio+20 missed the point Aashima Dogra

focus ■ At Rio+20, that ended last week, the UN tried again to save humanity from what United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon called “a global suicide pact”. Sadly, it failed. Many billed it as lost opportunity even before it started on June 20th.




wenty years ago at the epic Earth Summit in Brazil’s capital, the most powerful politicians, including George W. Bush and Fidel Castro, gathered to discuss the steps needed to save our planet from ourselves. The bunch of documents that would come out of the high-profile meeting, significantly Agenda 21, form the basis of the grossly inefficient global environment policy we have in place at the moment. At the sequel, nicknamed Rio+20, that ended last week, the UN tried again to save humanity from what United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon called “a global suicide pact”. Sadly, it failed. Many billed it as lost opportunity even before it started on June 20th. Since 1992, not much has changed except the spread of righteous activism in

the name of environmentalism. State of the environment is much worse — forests are thinning, especially at a time when we need them more than ever to store the carbon we emit so that it doesn’t build up in the atmosphere where it behaves like an invisible greenhouse, trapping all the heat inside. As a consequence, soon we won’t grow food like we always have, our oceans will boil and acidify, wind patterns will change and glaciers will melt. The way we have been fishing and drilling has already killed much of the marine life faster than we could even get to know it. Non-human life on the planet has diminished and a large chunk of biodiversity is at the edge of a cliff waiting for one of our ‘infrastructure’ projects to end their story. Forget the cultural values we get from nature, the

ones that make us human, or its romanticism, the scope of our own survival is dwindling. Millions go hungry everyday. The bitter truth is Earth’s carrying capacity is already much lower than the number of people on it today, and is reducing everyday. In next 20 years, we will add two billion more people, mostly in the poorer part of the world. The outcome of Rio+20 is a 50-page ambiguous nonbinding document where member states “commit” less and “encourage” more. UN’s intention of progressing to Sustainable Development Goals after Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015 was recognised. What these exactly mean for countries rich and poor is not clear. UK’s Royal Society responded to the text: “We are surprised to see some

significant holes in the outcome text from Rio.” “Further, no explicit link is made between population dynamics and sustainable development in the text. This is akin to planning for a party without any idea of who’s been invited, but on a unimaginably vast scale.“ When the environment is involved in global development goal, the picture gets complicated. Paul R. Ehrlich of the Standford University, the most prominent patron of dangerous population dynamics and conservation of our time, is doubtful over these SDGs. “The goals are fine but these are not possible to implement in the way the current system is running. As long as people feel that growth is what you have to have with more people and more consumption to keep GDP increasing, then you can

talk about those goals all you want but you are not going to reach them,” he said. Population and consumption are the biggest evils according to him. Since the rich claim more than their fair share of the planet, it is right for them to help out those who don’t have access to their share. But what help and how will this money be used? And for what kind of growth? There is surely no point channelling this “help” into the same growth patterns that have polluted the natural systems in the first place? Are we asking the right questions? “Rio almost certainly is not going to discuss the problem of overconsumption among the rich or the issue that economies can’t grow forever,” Mr Ehrlich says. At the 1992 Rio, the then US President Bush famously boasted that economic growth was nature’s friend. Mr Ehrlich thinks “the whole the idea of economic growth being the cure is exactly backwards. Economic growth is a disease in the rich countries”. The consumption model that Western economies are raised on only puts its citizens/customers in a position to demand more and more of the planet that their industry is equipped to fetch for them. The dynamics is straightforward — as the rich get richer the planet gets poorer. More importantly, the same consumption pattern is seeping into developing countries like India, China and Brazil that are just beginning to stand up, meanwhile the fate of even poorer nations is a bigger question mark. When their massive population becomes capable of affording planet-costing products

in the same way as Westerners do, the pressure on the planet is bound to increase dramatically. “Hopefully countries like India will stop trying to emulate the US as a nation based on cars and instead start building a nation based on people,” said Mr Ehrlich. The solution is in a global economic system that doesn’t snatch from the planet but instead takes part in its cyclical ways. “Whatever your ideological view of that is, you cannot negotiate with nature,” said Mr Ehrlich. Changes will need to be made at an international scale as is clear from many realisations. For example, 30 per cent of threat to various species is due to international trade-consumer demand drives the supply chain arrangements that harm the local ecosystem. Local thinkers will need to be engaged to harness their ideas towards context specific solutions if greening of civic systems is to be achieved. By now, we have all seen then and now pictures of glaciers, experienced odd weather conditions that we can’t match from our memories or official records, and the climate change denier feels rightfully like an outsider. We can still keep our hopes up. London’s Royal Society reminds, “We must remember that although the outcome document appears to agree so little, the devil is in the detail. Delving into the text we can see the skeleton of what we need to ensure our planet’s future. From these bare bones we can raise an army. Now is not the time to complain about thwarted hopes and aspirations, it is the time to encourage new ambitions and great leadership.”

be changed.

they were all in favour of it. I suspect, with the economic situation the population size would have started to decline anyway but nobody is sure. One thing that does seem certain is that India is going to pass China in population size, which is a very sad thing for India. I would not institute that policy as they did. The Chinese government in terms of their approach to population and the environment is certainly way ahead of, for example, the most overpopulated country in the world which is the United States. We have no population policy, we have no consumption policy, population isn’t even discussed. So China and India are both way ahead of the states in the intelligence of their governments. And also in their not fighting resource wars like the US is doing in central Asia for fossil fuels.

‘Govts, people must do much more to save planet earth’ P

aul R. Ehrlich wrote the controversial best-seller The Population Bomb in the sixties in which he made predictions that did not come true, prompting critics to call him names like “alarmist” and “doomsayer”. His calculations might have gone wrong occasionally and his bold words may have made some chuckle, but his futuristic view is aligned towards a sensible direction, a force that is much needed in the time where the urgency to feed starving millions and the desire to stay rich deludes all from the reality of an impending collapse. Excerpts from the interview by Aashima Dogra: Question: What do you think of the discussions at Rio+20? Answer: Rio got a lot wrong. One, they are not discussing the non-linearities with additional population growth, i.e. every person we add to the planet has a disproportionate impact. We started farming on the very best lands and now we are moving more and more to marginal lands; we irrigated with surface water to begin with and now we have to have tubewells that go way down and now we are exhausting our groundwater. So basically every person we add further deteriorates our life support systems. To be sustainable just with today’s miserable conditions we would need another half a planet to be able to continue indefinitely with our societies. Two, their discussions are also missing the power relations in which the rich countries keep taking from the poor countries without really helping them and the same thing is happening within countries. Three, I don’t know how well they will push the issue of women rights. But I and all of my colleagues think that the best way to deal with the population problem is to see to it that women everywhere have equal rights and opportunities as men, equal pay.

Since we have already changed probably several millennia of precipitation patterns, the world’s infrastructure of handling water has got to be changed. All of these are huge technological challenges.

Paul. R. Ehrlich


And that doesn’t occur in any country of the world. Women are behind men in virtually every country in the world. Finally, we have to see to it that the poor countries do not repeat the mistakes that rich made with the Victorian Industrial Revolution.

edly increasing the gross domestic product leads to happiness has been shown by economists through surveys as non-existent. So we need a whole new economic system and we need much more worldwide discussion of what people are for? Are people just consumers of more and more junk or are people supposed to be lead decent and lead happy lives and treat each other well. So far we are not treating each other well and we are not treating out life support systems well. And that makes me and all my colleagues very worried. Almost all the scientific academies in the world sent a message to Rio+20 saying that we have to deal with population and consumption.

Q: What can be the alternative economic framework? A: Well, slowly but surely the smartest economists are beginning to ask the question: are we consuming too much? The economists themselves have shown clearly that the standard economic models don’t work and are basically silly. Free trade has been worked in a way that simply hurts poor countries. The idea that repeat-

Q: How much can science help? A: My feeling about science is that the major places you have to shift to are basically the social sciences and behavioural sciences. Because the scientific community, for example in the US, has told the scientific facts of what’s going on with the climate very very clearly and yet we have had no action to deal with it.

Paul R. Ehrlich

Q: What about technology? A: Technology can be very helpful. We are going to need a lot of technology because it is absolutely essential that we stop using fossil fuels as rapidly as possible and that’s a huge job. Since we have already changed probably several millennia of precipitation patterns, the world’s infrastructure of handling water has got to be changed. All of these are huge technological challenges. Technologies have to be very carefully used (because they can easily become the goods rather than tools) but we will need them. Q: What disasters await us if nothing is done? A: We don’t know what the worst things will be. One, climate change is certainly going to be disastrous from its impact on both agriculture and the distribution of disease. Two, and most people are worried that sea-level rise will cause hundreds of millions of people to become refugees or worse and the precipitation change can starve more millions. Three, we are spreading toxic chemicals from pole to pole and many of them are intercur-

rent disrupting compounds that have what are called “non-monotonic dose response curves”; that basically just says they may be more or equally dangerous in tiny quantities as they are big quantities. This could be a more difficult problem to solve because we don’t have any crazy idea about what to do to try and solve it if, for example, everybody starts getting pancreatic cancer when they are seven-yearsold. Four, then we have the problem of the loss of biodiversity and the ecosystem services they provide which are absolutely essential to society. Five, we are becoming more and more vulnerable to vast epidemics as the population grows as is well known for a long time. Six, and of course there is always a chance that our resource wars can turn nuclear. We are fighting nuclear wars in central Asia right now over fossil fuels. But I suspect that in the end resource wars over water will be even more serious. And of course one of the possibilities there is a nuclear war between India and Pakistan, which could easily end civilisation on the entire planet. So its not exactly a cheery picture but we have been this way for only last 200 years so I believe it could

Q: What are the urgent issues for developing countries? A: A country like India should be carefully looking at its pace of development and trying not to emulate the course the rich countries took, which is basically destroying the world. I would say that they have got to move away from fossil fuels as rapidly as possible, they have got to do many of the things they are trying to do, like take care of their agriculture which needs much more attention in all nations but especially in developing countries. They have got to deal with their population problems, and they have got to work very hard to make rich countries see that sharing is really important. There has to be better access to the basic things that are needed in human life in poor countries that means that the rich countries are going to have to take some of the pressure off. And since the poor countries are now armed with nuclear weapons, some of them, it seems they should have a fairly easy time persuading rich countries that they should be paying attention to the state of the world and not the state of their own affluence. Q: Do you agree with the one child policy in China? A: The one-child policy was not the ideal policy but we have often said that when governments have to intervene in that way they are likely to have policies that are not great. The Chinese have worked really hard at trying to get rid of some of the abuses. I talked to whole group of Chinese women about it almost 20 years ago now,

Q: Is it possible to not overstress about population and try to find strength in it? A: The size of the population and the number of children people have is not just a personal decision, it’s a social decision because if you have more than the average number of children you are demanding more from the environment than is your proper share, so the number of children one has is a very important decision from a social point of view. And it is perfectly reasonable for the government to look at it. If I were trying to change things in the United States I would get the government to simply announce that patriotic Americans stop at the maximum of two children and see if that worked than any other policy.

Rio+20 Spread  

Feature on Rio_20 summit failure. + interview with Paul Ehrlich

Rio+20 Spread  

Feature on Rio_20 summit failure. + interview with Paul Ehrlich