NI 415 - Drowning in plastic - September, 2008

NI 415 - September, 2008

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Drowning in plastic

A note from the editor

Wayne Ellwood

I don’t know about you but I’m both an inveterate label reader and a sceptic – have been for years. Cans, boxes, bottles: you name it, I read it. It’s a bit of an in-joke at our family dinner table. There’s Dad reading the label on the pickle jar again. Maybe it comes from growing up when consumerism was still in its infancy and the wonders of modern science were accepted without question.

‘Better living through chemistry’ was more than an advertising slogan back then – it was, in those innocent times, a declaration of faith in modernity. Then came DDT, asbestos, agent orange and horrors of Love Canal. Suddenly, corporate chemistry didn’t look so good anymore.

Today it’s more of the same. The toxic substances in your sunscreen, shower curtains, plastic bottles and cleaning products may be killing you. Chemical companies are literally getting away with murder. Profits trump human health – the industry continues to peddle poisons with little accountability while resisting any attempts to regulate their trade.

So I read labels, recycle like crazy, shun food additives and try to limit my intake of hazardous chemicals.

But it’s not enough. As citizens we have the right to know what poisons are out there. We need to push our lawmakers to get tough. How can we allow industry to poison people for profit in the 21st century?

Wayne Ellwood for the New Internationalist co-operative.
www.newint.org

The big story

Aamjiwnaang activist and ‘toxic tour’ guide Ron Plain (right). The Chippewa community’s cemetery flanked by petro-chemical plants (centre). A warning sign (left) beside a pond on the native reserve – the land is laced with poisons from decades of pollution and spills.

Aamjiwnaang activist and ‘toxic tour’ guide Ron Plain (right). The Chippewa community’s cemetery flanked by petro-chemical plants (centre). A warning sign (left) beside a pond on the native reserve – the land is laced with poisons from decades of pollution and spills.

Photo by *Wayne Ellwood*

This toxic life

They’re in our homes and our workplace, in the air we breathe and in the food we eat. Wayne Ellwood argues that toxic chemicals are changing the nature of nature.

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‘Every time I come here my body gets sad and angry at the same time,’ says Ron Plain. ‘You can’t put into words what it means to me.’

We’ve just tumbled out of Ron’s jeep near the end of a three-hour tour of Sarnia, Ontario’s ‘chemical valley’. Ron calls it his ‘toxic tour’. He’s done it dozens of times so the patter is easy and familiar. Sarnia is a gritty blue-collar community of 70,000 people at the top of the St Clair River, on the Canadian side, about a 100 kilometres north of Det...




Features

The North Pacific ‘gyre’ – a vast whirlpool stretching from California to Japan that keeps garbage, mostly plastic, circulating in its currents for decades. Sailing ships were often trapped for weeks here and tried to lighten the load by dumping extra cargo, including livestock. Thus the name: ‘horse latitudes’.

Sea of garbage

The good ship Alguita sails an ocean choked with plastic. Blog by Anna Cummins.

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Plastic plants

Plastic plants

As oil supplies dwindle, the plastic industry is pinning its hopes on biomass. Not a great idea, reasons Jim Thomas.

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Abandon the toxic treadmill!

Things you can do to avoid toxic plastics. PLUS the Action / Campaign directory.

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Message in a bottle

Message in a bottle

It’s a fashion statement and an environmental nightmare. Zoe Cormier examines one of the most successful marketing ploys ever – bottled water.

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Cambodia: Year Zero on trial

What can be wrong with putting five notorious Khmer Rouge leaders on trial? Plenty, argues lawyer Brooks Duncan, as he examines the nature of the long-awaited, and foreign-funded, trials currently underway.

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Currents

Currents Coal Special

Currents Coal Special

A special on coal – including the ‘clean coal’ con, windpower in China, success in Bangladesh and activism everywhere.

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'Territory, autonomy, dignity... and no coal'

'Territory, autonomy, dignity... and no coal'

Jorge’s community is part of the 500,000-strong Wayúu indigenous group, and it is not only their home in the northern foothills of the Sierra de Perijá which is under threat.

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Breaking China’s coal addiction

Breaking China’s coal addiction

Renewables revolution is there for the taking

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Black holes and demonstrations

Black holes and demonstrations

Positive outcome, but at a cost of seven campaigners lives, killed by police during a demonstration against the GCM coalmine in Bangladesh.

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On yer bike! A clear message was given to coal companies at Australia's climate camp in July.

Power surge

Activists scrub the grubby face of globalization clean

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Who are you kidding? The coal industry may be trying to dupe us (top), but not everyone is fooled...

'Clean coal' con

Desperate industry’s ludicrous claims exposed

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Regulars

Country profile: Botswana

Since independence in 1966, Botswana’s annual growth rates have been the highest in the world – bar none. It is estimated that were it not for the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, growth rates would be one or two per cent higher today.

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Life on Mars

Life on Mars

True tales of a mixed-up world

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Youssou N'Dour

Senegal’s beacon of good music and positive energy Youssou N’Dour talks to Ed Stocker

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What love’s got to do with it

Maria Golia on conflicting loves in Cairo

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Earthworks 2008 cartoon competition

Earthworks 2008 cartoon competition

Earthworks 2008: highlighting cartoonists from the global South taking part in the Biennial Ken Sprague competition.

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Things to do before I retire

Things to do before I retire… humble thoughts from the diary of GW Bush, as revealed by Stefan Simanowitz

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Film, Book & Music Reviews

Alive

Alive

Chinese Mongolian ‘Björk’ steps into Tibet controversy

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Umalali

Umalali

The Garifuna Women’s Project from Central America

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El Baño del Papa (The Pope’s Toilet)

El Baño del Papa (The Pope’s Toilet)

A film about the Pope’s toilet. Directed by Enrique Fernandez and Cesar Charlone

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Children of the Revolution

Children of the Revolution

This is a book that highlights how people caught in between places are denied identity, perspective and intimacy.

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In Defense of Lost Causes

In Defense of Lost Causes

Superstar philosopher Slavoj Zizek writes in defence of lost causes

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Dancing, dying, crawling, crying

Dancing, dying, crawling, crying

Stories of continuity and change in the Polynesian community of Tikopia by Julian Treadaway

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Time and Winds (Bes Vakit)

Time and Winds (Bes Vakit)

A beautiful contemplative immersion in the children’s sense of the immensity of time and events. Written and directed by Reha Erdem

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