NEWSLETTER NO. 39
Sustainability at and after the Johannesburg summit
Joachim J. Spangenberg
From Alexandra to Sandton
We can stop this war before it begins
Couldn't Peace be modelled?
Engineering Education for Sustainable Development
Atrazine Poisoning Worse Than Suspected
Joe Cummins and Mae-Wan Ho
Sustainability at and after the Johannesburg summit:
beyond neo-liberalism, confronting geopolitics
Joachim H. Spangenberg
Vice President, Sustainable Europe Research Institute, INES Executive Committee member
The Rio+10 World Summit for Sustainable Development WSSD is over, and we returned home "more knowledgeable about the state of the world, more sober about the ability of government to move us forward, more connected with sustainability advocates, and more clear about the necessary path forward" as Susan Burns and Mathis Wackernagel put it .
The summit results have been met with mixed feelings. More than 20,000 delegates from 191 governments (out of 195 states existing worldwide), inter- and non-governmental organisations, business and the scientific community, plus countless media representatives and other visitors attended the WSSD (ISSD 2002), but what did it actually achieve? Was it the "summit to end all summits," proving the uselessness of such mega-meetings as some NGOs claim, or a conference delivering more than could be realistically expected, as some government delegations pride themselves? Clearly, the summit fell short of meeting the World’s needs, let alone stand up to its official motto "People, Planet and Prosperity." But to understand the drama played and to judge fairly about its results, one has to take into account how the screenplay was written and which actors were allocated which roles. For this behalf, a brief review of the history is necessary.
Where we come from: Rio plus/minus 10
The 1960s were the decade of decolonisation in the South and unfettered belief in and experience of growing wealth in the North. The resulting self-consciousness, however, was undermined by the global youth revolt and the Vietnam war at the end of the decade. The 1970s brought a new issue in the North, the environment, popularised by the Club of Rome study on the "Limits to Growth" (Meadows et al. 1972) and resulting in a new and rapidly emerging field of politics. In the South, unequal distribution and the "Limits to Misery" (Herrera, Skolnik 1976) dominated the agenda, resulting in the call for a new World Economic Order finally adopted by the United Nations and ignored by its addressees, the industrialised countries led by the USA. As neither the North was ready to take the South’s demands seriously, nor the South to respond properly the new ideas from the North, the 1980s turned into a "lost decade" for development and international discourse. The UN, however, had recognised this stalemate and tried to overcome it by installing the World Commission on Environment and Development (better known as Brundtland Commission after its chairwoman) with the clear mandate to find ways how to integrate all three, economic development, social security and environmental protection for this one and the generations to come. The Commission’s answer was simple and straightforward: you can’t have one without the other. Having all three is what sustainable development is all about, but how each of these objectives can be reached and which dose of each is needed for a proper mixture has to be determined by a political process. Sustainable development and sustainability are "container terms" which can be and have been filled by different actors with different meanings. Still today, the concept is disputed: while the UNCSD suggested a fourth dimension, the institutional one to accommodate such important issues as governance, participation, transparency and accountability (UNDPCSD 1996), the WSSD restricted itself to the three "classical" dimensions. Of these, the environmental one is well defined and the social one increasingly acknowledged, but so far there is not serious and operational definition what "economic sustainability" might mean. Sustainable growth cannot be the same as sustained growth, as it has to take social and environmental criteria into account (Spangenberg et al. 2002), and economic criteria are not available at all. Little wonder then, that the preparation processes of UNCED 1992 and WSSD 2002 included fierce battles for the dominant definition.
While between 1987, when "Our Common Future," the report of the Brundtland Commission had been published , and 1990 sustainable development seemed to become a hegemonic discourse based on normative environmental and social targets, in the two years to the UNCED conference 1992 the tide turned. In particular in the US the fall of the communist system was not perceived as an opportunity to use the expected "peace dividend" to create a better World, but a final victory of capitalism in a decade long battle. This interpretation of the implosion of the Soviet system put capitalism, and in particular US capitalism beyond critique, a model for the World to follow. So unlike previous UN conferences dominated by East-West and sometimes North-South conflicts, the two dominating poles in the UNCED preparation process were Social Democracy and the Rhenish capitalism on the hand and the conservative-liberal US model on the other. While the former was represented by US Democrats and European Social Democrats (mainly in opposition), plus their governing Latin American counterparts, US Republicans, European conservatives and their allies spoke for the latter; other voices from the South were widely ignored in the North. This ideological war could be seen on the surface; the power struggle, the claims and spheres of influence and the economic and physical interventions linked with it remained hidden to the public eye (Roddick 1998).
In the end, a compromise had to be found: The Rio Principles and Agenda 21 (United Nations 1993b) did not reflect a consensus, but a cease-fire based on the power distribution of the day (and to be changed accordingly, as in particular the US tried in Johannesburg). The result was considered a victory on points for the substantial sustainability Democrats and Democratic Socialists had championed, significantly frustrating conservative neo-liberals, but also the NGO representatives who remembered what would have been possible two years earlier. Although they (rightly) denounced the summit results as unsatisfactory, in the years to come they learned to love the bit that they had got as times got worse for setting environmental and social limits and conditions to economic activities. What followed was a deregulation mania resulting in lax controls, financial market driven globalisation increasing the economic volatility of national and regional economies as South-East Asia, Russia, Mexico and Argentina had to experience, a share holder value hype and surging share prices, a bubble that when it burst left some millionaires richer but millions poorer in the USA and Europe, loosing significant part of their pensions or savings. It was the decade of the "Washington Consensus" on deregulation and globalisation, with the hegemony of the neo-liberal paradigm (stating the primacy of the economic against politics) complete and unchallenged. The Bretton Woods institutions (World Bank, IMF) appeared much more influential than the United Nations, and the WTO seemed the dominant global institution. Simultaneously, not only the progress on ratification of conventions and protocols and the verification of their implementation slowed down, reflecting the preference for voluntary agreements instead of binding contracts. Instead of increasing their contributions to development aid as they had pledged in Rio 1992 (about 4/5 of the cost for implementing the Rio targets were to be financed by the countries affected, with the matching funds coming from the North), the majority of rich countries decreased their ODA in relative and absolute terms (Spangenberg 2001).
However, by the end of the decade the exemptions from the rule of neo-liberal hegemony became more frequent: the OECD-based Multilateral Agreement on Investment MAI failed after public protests, in Seattle a new WTO trade round had to be postponed due to the combined efforts of NGOs, trade unions and Third World countries, and when it was launched in Doha, the rhetoric emphasis had shifted to social and sustainable development. Prague and Genoa saw a growing global movement against neo-liberal globalisation, and the rich countries accepted the need for enhanced debt relief (at the Cologne G8 summit) and debt reallocation and moderate increases in ODA in the Monterrey Consensus. Last but not least, US politics had increasingly shown signs of valuing domestic strategic concerns higher than the global free trade paradigm, reflected in its decision to heavily subsidise US farming and to shelter steel production from foreign competition, while the belief in the superiority of the US economic system had suffered from a series of accounting scandals. Finally, the September 11th 2001 acts of terror had demonstrated that for all their virtues markets cannot deliver security. Was that to be a final blow to the pro-market, anti-state ideologues?
The battle field: challenges, conflict issues and results in a nutshell
The situation in Johannesburg was from the outset very different than in Rio ten years earlier: no "big shots" like the three conventions adopted in Rio had been prepared, but a lot of concepts and principles adopted by UNCED 1992 were part of a general consensus that had emerged over the last ten years in most states (although the USA and some affiliates tries to renegotiate some key results of the Rio conference – they were still not ready to accept the partial defeat they had suffered). Furthermore, the enthusiasm of the early post-communist era had faded, and the hard facts of poverty and collapsing economies made it hard to believe in any business as usual suggestion. The challenges had been growing, but the expectations had declined.
So the WSSD was a place to see how the balance of political powers really was: would it end such concessions and result in the final surrender of substantial sustainability including all Global Environmental Agreements to the supremacy of the WTO rules, an idea indeed vigorously promoted by Australia at the WSSD, or had the tide really begun to turn again? The stage was set and the battle order was rather clear: primacy of the economic over politics as understood by neo-liberal deregulators (establishing this dominance structure is in itself a political process, as is any change to it), and thus a strict aversion against binding multilateral agreements stood against the intention (amongst the industrialised countries represented by the EU and its European allies) to adopt binding social and environmental commitments. Was ODA to be increased, or would enhanced foreign direct investment FDI be considered an adequate substitute? Was scientific and technological capacity building still on the agenda (the USA opposed it in the preparation process), or would technology diffusion through the market be considered a viable alternative? Would the reduction of poverty, social tensions and environmental stresses be considered to be delivered automatically through economic growth stimulated by liberalisation and globalisation, or would policy measures be promoted to deal with these problems? What would be the result of the G77 demanding, the EU accepting and the USA rejecting a move to more sustainable production and consumption patterns? Altogether, what was at stake was the hegemony of the neo-liberal paradigm, the dominance of the economic over politics, against a substantial sustainability paradigm, based on the integration of social, environmental and economic objectives and constituting a primacy of politics against the economic. As UN conferences are based on the principle of unanimous agreement, no knock-out victory of either side could be expected, but the question seemed rather open to which side the balance would lean, with a clear advantage expected for the neo-liberal side.
The actual conflict areas followed these expectations, with mixed but frequently unexpected results. Whereas the USA had announced early on that they were not willing to accept a single new target set on the state level and instead promoted voluntary agreements between business and other sectors of civil society, in the end they had to bow to the pressure from G77, EU and others and accept a series of new targets, while the voluntary agreements (called type II partnerships) played no role whatsoever, neither at the negotiation table nor in the public. The international business community even demanded political agreements (called type I agreements) as a basis for further voluntary commitments, to the surprise of the US government.
The G77/China and the EU when collaborating scored a victory on points against the US-led JUSCANZ group (Japan, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, in particular on energy issues with the OPEC countries) not only opposed to new binding agreements, but even against the reconfirmation of existing ones, be it international conventions, the Rio Principles (United Nations 1992) or the UN Millennium Declaration (UN General Assembly 2000). Consequently the USA used the final plenary to issue a number of "interpretative notes" to distance itself explicitly from a lot of the more positive results of the summit, denying any political binding effect on the USA. On the other hand, whenever the EU was blocked by partisan interests and thus unable to react sensitively on justified Third World demands (like its hard-line position on agricultural subsidies and market access where France did not allow for any compromising to protect its farmers) no significant progress was reached at all. Similar threats which did not materialise was the initiative of the Vatican, the USA and some more conservative Islamic states to cut back on women’s rights e.g. in the case of abortions. It took some effort to avoid the conservative Berlusconi government of Italy not to join the Vatican, thus making it possible to have these women’s rights mentioned in the text. A final example is the negotiations of the trade and sustainability relationship: Long before the conference, USA and EU had agreed on a "non-paper" based on the assumption that free trade solves all problems and is inherently beneficial to sustainability (it had been negotiated by trade officials. Lesson learnt: the economy is much too important to leave it to the economists!). This paper was the initially shared position of the USA, the EU and the G77, demanding the WTO-consistency of all International Environmental Agreements (nonetheless the G77 demand for market access and financing was not responded to by the North). However, Norway, Switzerland Hungary and Canada (!) supported by massive NGO lobbying stopped this position from being adopted. Then due to the intensive work of Ethiopia first Tuvalu, then the Caribbean island states and the G77 changed course, and finally the EU joined in. Again the USA was isolated, and as a typical compromise no position regarding the relation UN – WTO was adopted at all: both institutions’ integrity should be preserved.
In the decision-making processes like this one not only states were involved, but also lobbies, from NGOs, trade unions, consumers and business. However, rather surprisingly the business sectors found itself on the defence in most media and to some degree even in the lobbying process, despite the fact that more than 80 CEOs were present (a formerly extremely influential group, which however lost much of its credibility over the last year’s accounting scandals in the USA and Europe). This defensive situation, admitted publicly by the Chairman of the global lobby group BASD ("Business Action for Sustainable Development") seems to indicate that green washing is wearing out, and substantial progress on corporate social responsibility (including economic and environmental concerns as well as citizens’ participations) is needed, first probably on a voluntary basis to be followed by international regulation and standards.
Furthermore international organisations played an important role: the UN organisations (UNEP, UNDP, UNESCO, WHO and others) promoted their cases as expected and with a rather strong emphasis on partnerships with the private sector. The WTO was more promoted than lobbying itself, and it managed to increase the reputation of its conflict resolution mechanism through a ruling against the USA, indicating a rather unexpected amount of non-partisan rule implementation. The Bretton Woods institutions were less visible than on previous conferences; the IMF seemed to be less self-conscious and its policy concepts discredited after the collapse of Argentina, its exemplary pupil, and the World Bank - to the surprise of a number of 3rd World delegates – even promoted their case pro development politics against a strict free trade orientation. However, the future role of the Washington Consensus and the trade and finance institutions was not on the agenda, despite the obvious necessity for some "sustainable logging in the Bretton Woods."
The main conflicts materialised concerning the following issues (results indicated in brackets) (after IISD 2002, modified):
Rio principles, in particular
Kyoto Protocol (states who ratified it urge those who did not do it so far to join in as soon as possible, a call Russia and Canada could not resist. The protocol is now due to enter into force before the end of the year).
Health and human rights (included against some African and Muslim-state resistance).
Governance (good governance is demanded, but no conditionalities attached. Support for capacity building is promised, but no binding obligation).
Trade, finance and globalisation (The Monterrey Consensus was reconfirmed. Globalisation is described as beneficial, but as a challenge to 3rd World countries and economies in transition. Neo-liberal demands to open markets are included, but no binding obligations).
Total deregulation was not on the agenda, but fixing a hierarchy between the so far not integrated different international regimes (trade, finance, environment, peace, human rights, social rights, etc.) which together constitute the current system of global governance. It was a battle of interest over spheres of influence. The result reminded to a tug-of-war, with enormous power released at both ends in order to produce minor progress: in the end, the status quo ante prevailed as WTO rules and Global Environmental Agreements should be mutually supportive, and in case of conflicts a case by case solution must be sought (similarly with ILO rules and other social regulations). So although a lot of compromising wording was produced, the subordination of social and environmental objectives to the rules of free trade was clearly avoided, and in this respect the neo-liberal hegemony broken. Even more, neo-liberalism was pushed back at least a few steps as some achievements for substantial sustainability materialised, briefly indicated in the list of conflict issues above. In total, the WSSD delivered more than could be expected given the political situation of a previously rather unchallenged neo-liberal hegemony and the open US aversion against multilateral commitments.
One structural problem of the summit is obvious in all its results: the issue of peace and sustainability is virtually missing in all documents. This is a joint failure of all participants, but most of all a result of the unwillingness of the World’s pre-eminent military power, the USA, to accept any critical remarks concerning the use of military force as an obvious contradiction to sustainable development. Although the World’s real problems like pollution, poverty, population and production patterns (P4) are obviously beyond the reach of military power (except for the fact that a year’s armament expenditures might be well enough money to solve most of these problems), the heads of state did not want to dismiss the military option of politics. However, opting for military means not only as a measure of last resort but as a standard political instrument like in the Bush administration’s strategy document is a kind of implicit admission of political weakness, despite all claims of general supremacy: although the US is still a politically and economically eminent power, it has lost its hegemonial status. This may be one more reason why peace was no issue of the WSSD debates, despite the fact that the UN Millennium Declaration ranking high on the Johannesburg agenda dedicates about half of its text to peace and security issues.
Black on white: the summit results
The WSSD adopted two documents, the Johannesburg Declaration (a four page, six item paper, and the Plan of Implementation (WSSD 2002b), referred to as "PI" in the remainder of this text), listing rather detailed goals, deadlines and policy measures.
The Declaration is a rather vague brief list of good intentions, reconfirming the commitment to Agenda 21 (United Nations 1993a) and the UN Millennium Goals, although not reflecting the strong emphasis for peace and security issues in the Millennium Declaration (UN General Assembly 200). Themes mentioned include the need to increase official development assistance payments (ODA), problems of foreign occupation (referring to Israel/Palestine), strengthening multilateralism, opening markets and technology transfer, and finally armed conflicts, corruption, terrorism and intolerance. However, due to the character of a declaration, neither concrete policy demands nor any obligations are included, but the goals and deadlines of the Plan of Implementation are welcome.
The Plan of Implementation comprises ten sections, with the introduction in section one devoted to a general overview and section two to ten dealing in a quite concrete way with specific issues.
It includes a commitment of all parties to
The Rio principles (all, not any one declined);
Full implementation of Agenda 21 and internationally agreed development goals (referring to the UN Millennium Goals);
Implementing the outcomes of the WSSD in a manner benefiting and involving all actors;
Good governance (particularly in the South and in international institutions, without mentioning e.g. questionable public and business governance in the North or obvious strategy failures of the Bretton Woods institutions, IMF and World Bank);
Importance of ethics for formulating sustainability strategies; and
Necessity of peace, security, stability and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms (not discussing the case of contradictions between these objectives).
The other chapters are dedicated to:
II: Poverty eradication (PI § 6 – 12)
Compared to the UNCED documents of Rio 1992 it is a major progress that not only poverty and other social issues grabbed the headlines of the conference, but poverty was recognised as a broad, cross-cutting challenge including gender issues, housing, agriculture and the like. However, it is still only referred to as an issue for the South, leaving the increasing level of poverty, i.e. citizens with less than 50% of the median income in OECD countries unaddressed (31% in Israel, 19% in the USA, 14% in the UK, 13% in Australia, 12% in Canada and Japan, 11% in Ireland, 10% in New Zealand, 8% in the EU) (UNDP 1999, p.149).
III: Changing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production (PI § 13 - 22)
UNEP’s call for a ten years plan of action on this aspect (UNEP 2002) was watered down by US and some G77 resistance to "encourage and promote the development" of such a plan, based on the "common but differentiated responsibilities" and "where appropriate delinking economic growth and environmental degradation" (PI § 14). However, the EU intends to develop such a plan for Europe, setting a precedent for the OECD countries and the global consumer class in general, and the OECD has already published detailed studies on potentials for such a delinkage (OECD 2001). Issues mentioned include the polluter-pays-principle ("inter alia"), life cycle analysis and national indicators for measuring progress ("where appropriate," PI § 14a), and labelling ("where appropriate, on a voluntary basis, effective, transparent, verifiable, non-misleading and non-discriminatory, not to be disguised as trade barriers," PI § 14e).
After heated debates, the call of a coalition of environmental NGOs, trade unions and some supportive countries like Sweden, Hungary, Argentina and Iran for a "Convention on Business Accountability" could not be completely ignored. It was responded to by a separate paragraph stating the need to "enhance corporate environmental and social responsibility and accountability. This would include actions at all levels to: encourage industry to improve social and environmental performance through voluntary initiatives, including [..] public reporting on environmental and social issues, encourage dialogue [..], encourage financial institutions to incorporate sustainable development considerations in their decision making processes; develop workplace-based partnerships [..]" (PI § 17). This falls clearly short of the NGO demands for a binding convention, but is nonetheless remarkable, in particular since an Exxon-sponsored lobby group had pressurised the US government to make sure that neither targets nor deadlines would be accepted in this respect. The decision made might nonetheless provide a starting point for future developments.
The specific themes addressed include energy (efficiency, affordability and accessibility, PI § 19), with even the moderate EU demand for a binding target of 15% of renewables including wood and water in total primary energy consumption, up from 13.8% in 1998 another issue of heated debate (the Brazilian proposal of 10% ‘modern’ renewables by 2010 was rejected by both, the EU and the US). Whereas explicit reference to nuclear energy has been avoided, reference to fossil fuels was the price to be paid to the USA and the OPEC countries for calling for renewables: "Develop and disseminate alternative energy technologies with the aim of giving a greater share of the energy mix to renewable energies, improving energy efficiency and greater reliance on advanced energy technologies, including cleaner fossil fuel technologies." (PI § 19c) and "With a sense of urgency, substantially increase the global share of renewable energy sources with the objective of increasing its contribution to total energy supply" (PI § 19e). While for energy access fresh donations were announced (26 mio. $ from partnership projects, 43 mio. $ from the USA and 700 mio. $ from the EU (IISD 2002), there was no agreement regarding renewable energies. Instead the German government, motivated by domestic river flooding perceived as a consequence of climate change announced to host a major conference in 2003 to organise "coalitions of the willing," including a funding volume of 1 billion € for developing countries over the next five years. All European countries and more than 80 other states declared their willingness to participate in an EU initiative for promoting renewable energies based on quantified national targets. As major Third World like Brazil and even oil exporting countries like Mexico and Venezuela joined the initiative it became obvious that the international community is not willing to bow to diplomatic sabotage by the self-declared "world leaders in sustainable development" (as the head of the US delegation, Ms Dobriansky, called the United States).
Shorter sections of the text deal with the need for sustainable transport systems (PI § 20), the prevention and minimisation of waste (PI § 21), and the sound management of chemicals (PI § 22).
IV: Protecting and managing the natural resource base of economic and social development
Although most of the statements in this section are neither quantified nor binding it is instructive, summarising a wide variety of international negotiations held so far and calling for the implementation of their results. Beyond that, some of the few concrete agreements of the WSSD are to be found here:
"We agree to halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of people who are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water [..]and the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation" (PI § 24). Measures suggested go beyond "mobilising international and domestic financial resources at all levels, transfer technology [..] and support capacity building" to include public information and participation, strengthening the role of women, and taking into account poverty restrictions.
Regarding oceans, seas, islands and coastal areas (PI § 29-34) the implementation of recommendations from a variety of international negotiations is "promoted" or "encouraged," and a target is set for fisheries to "maintain or restore stocks to levels that can produce the maximum sustainable yield with the aims of achieving these goals for depleted stocks on an urgent basis and where possible not later than 2015" (PI § 30a; a significantly watered down version of the initial call to stop overfishing with at least four loopholes in one sentence). Other commitments include to "eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and to over-capacity" with reference to the WTO to set standards for the subsidies "taking into account the importance of this sector to developing countries" (PI § 30f). Furthermore, "the establishment of marine protected areas" is called for, "including representative networks by 2012 and time/area closures for the protection of nursery grounds and periods" (PI § 31c). Finally, a monitoring program should be mentioned, establishing "by 2004 a regular process under the United Nations for global reporting and assessment of the state of the marine environment, including socio-economic aspects, both current and foreseeable" (PI § 34b).
The section on "vulnerability, risk assessment and disaster management" (PI § 35) unfortunately does not deal with the vulnerability and risk due to economic situations (Croward 1999) and other countries’ policy strategies, but is limited to natural and man made disasters, including disasters caused by climate change.
§ 36 underlines that "the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the key instrument for addressing climate change" and to operationalise it "States that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol strongly urge States that have not already done so to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in a timely manner." As Russia and Japan pledged to follow this call, the Protocol is due to enter into force before the end of the year despite the resistance of the USA and the OPEC governments.
The section on agriculture reiterates the obligation from the Millennium Declaration "to halve by the year 2015 the proportion of the World’s people who suffer from hunger and realise the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of themselves and their families" (PI § 38a). Another agreed statement without a deadline set is to promote markets for ecological products and for products from organic agriculture.
Other issues include air pollution (PI § 37), desertification (PI § 39), mountain ecosystems (PI § 40), sustainable tourism (PI § 41), sustainable forestry (PI § 43), and mining (PI § 44). For biodiversity (PI § 42) more ambitious and adequate recommendations already agreed upon under the Biodiversity Convention have been replaced by the goal of "achievement by 2010 of a significant reduction in the current rate of loss of biological diversity."
V: Sustainable Development in a Globalising World (PI § 45)
The section contains no binding commitments due to the conflicts arising around the issue. It refers to globalisation as "offering opportunities and challenges for sustainable development," a far cry from the initial enthusiastic support of globalisation, but just as far from naming and shaming the problems. Its main recommendation is the implementation of the WTO Doha Declaration on free trade with specific attention to developing countries’ needs, and the Monterrey Consensus on debt reduction. ILO standards, the need to "actively promote corporate responsibility and accountability," and to "examine the relationship between trade, environment and development" are also mentioned.
VI: Health and Sustainable Development (PI § 46 - 50)
Health is treated in an integrated manner by mentioning its economic and social roots (including occupational health) and the need to put specific emphasis on protecting the weakest members of society. A concrete agreement is to "develop programs and initiatives to reduce, by the year 2015, mortality rates for infants and children under 5 by two thirds, and maternal mortality rates by three quarters, of the prevailing rate in 2000, and to reduce disparities between and within developed and developing countries." This is one of the few occasions where disparities in the developed countries are mentioned as a sustainability problem.
Responding to the situation in the host country, chapter 6 and 8 dedicate special emphasis to combating AIDS, with a target of "reducing HIV prevalence among young men and women aged 15-24 by 25% in the most affected countries by 2005 and globally by 2010."
VII: Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States SIDS (PI § 52 - 55)
A wired range of themes is covered, from fisheries via coastal management, sustainable tourism development and pollution control to intellectual property rights and energy efficiency, but none of them deals with the key sustainability problem of these countries: rising sea water levels threatening their very existence.
VIII: Sustainable Development for Africa (PI § 56 - 74)
No binding commitments are included, but a number of specifications of themes mentioned elsewhere in the Plan. Besides HIV/AIDS, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development NEPAD ranks prominently in chapter 8, despite the more moral than financial support granted by the 2002 G8 summit, and despite heavy critique of African NGOs concerning the neo-liberal attitude and the lack of participation in drafting the plan.
VIII.bis: Other Regional Initiatives
This chapter contains short sections on sustainable development in Latin America and the Caribbean, in Asia and the Pacific, in the West Asia region and in the Economic Commission for Europe region (comprising Europe, North America and Central Asia). It mentions a lot of relevant documents and endorses them, but includes no concrete commitments and obligations.
IX: Means of implementation (PI § 75 - 119)
Prominent are the reiteration of long-stated goals like "substantial increase in ODA" (PI § 79) "towards the target of 0.7% of GDP" (PI § 79a, with 9.95 bln $ currently at 0.1% in the US(1) and at 0.35 in Europe, the latter representing 55% of global ODA payments: and "greater flows of foreign direct investment" (PI § 78) without discussing the risks of economic volatility associated with them (The Economist 2002). Similar prominent status is held by references to "existing financial institutions," the Monterrey Consensus, and the Doha Consensus and work programme; no any critical remark disturbs this chapter of statements of unbroken neo-liberal belief. Debt relief and debt cancellation are mentioned (PI § 83), but nothing beyond the Monterrey Consensus was decided. A positive element is the call upon industrialised countries to open their markets for Least Developed Countries exports (PI § 87), the support for export diversification of commodity dependent countries and for the increase in value added of developing countries exports (as a political task, not leaving it to the market, a clear contradiction to the neo-liberal paradigm). The "mutual supportiveness of trade, environment and development with a view to achieving sustainable development" is once regarded as in need of enhancement (PI § 90), once it is taken as a given (PI § 95). Capacity building is stressed as an important factor, however without details on which capacities are to be built how. Information access is mentioned but refers only to environmental information, and indicators for monitoring progress are encouraged if national and not intended for cross-country comparisons: this very clause (PI § 119.quinquies and 119.sexties) makes much of the other commitments worthless as it deprives the international community of all means of monitoring progress.
(1) The USA falls 60 billion $ a year short of the 0.7% target – a seemingly unbridgeable gap, until one realises that the annual military spending has risen by about that amount since Mr. Bush entered the White House , and that the money the USA is ready to spend for toppling Saddam Hussein is about twice the annual ODA shortcoming.
X: Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development (PI § 120 - 153)
With reference to all UN conferences since 1992, a harmonised approach to reporting and the integration of implementation programs is demanded: a long demanded serious improvement (Spangenberg J.H. 2002a) - if implemented. Similarly, the improved integration and the further progress in this respect is to be welcomed, although the neglect of the fourth dimension defined by UNCSD, the institutional one, deprived the discourse of the necessity to systematically discuss issues of power balance, institutional equity and the like.
Discussing global institutions, WSSD called upon WTO, World Bank and IMF "to enhance, within their mandates, their cooperative efforts to [..] implement Agenda 21, the outcomes of the WSSD, relevant sustainable development aspects of the Millennium Declaration…" (PI § 133). The latter is probably meant to exclude the parts of the Millennium Declaration referring to peace and armed conflicts. The possibility that it might be necessary to modify existing mandates is not mentioned, let alone demanded in the text.
States accepted the obligation to have operational sustainability strategies before 2005; if combined with the ten years programme for sustainable production and consumption and thoroughly implemented, this might turn out to be a valuable contribution to the development of national sustainable development patterns and strategies (Jimenez-Beltran 2002).
The challenge to science and engineering
Given the mixed results, some NGO activists declared the summit to be dead even before its final day, but others – including scientists – say some progress was made (Kaiser 2002). Although science did not make it into the Johannesburg declaration, two full sections of the plan of Implementation are devoted to science and engineering (PI § 99–108), and one more to education. Furthermore, the text of the Plan is scattered with references to research and development, and technology transfer.
Regarding research (PI § 101–108), capacity building is considered of prime importance, including the creation of centres of excellence for sustainable development research in Third World countries. Unfortunately this consensus (which had failed at the UNESCO science conference in Budapest and suffered from US resistance against new institutions during the WSSD preparation process) is not supported by specific funding agreements but dependant on the more general increase in scientific collaboration hoped for (see below). Based on such capacities, networking South-South and South-North is encouraged, as is interdisciplinary research and closer collaboration of science and politics. The latter mainly refers to scientific risk assessments to identify solutions mostly based technical and engineering means, often (misguidedly) considered to provide tools capable to solve essentially political problems. Precautionary policies based on scientific warnings are advocated, but mentioned only for environmental problems, not for social, economic or institutional ones. Monitoring is suggested, but the development of indicators as essential means to this end is not mentioned in this context.
Similarly, the technology section focuses on environmental issues and on the transfer of technologies, not questioning their suitability for sustainable development. Biotechnology – a hot issue in Rio 1992 and a prominent one in Agenda 21 – was not discussed at all. False promises of genetic engineering ending World hunger or fatal diseases were not reiterated, except by the business lobby outside the negotiation table. Nor was the fact discussed that the formerly much-praised genetic engineering (for all its merits in the affluent countries’ research and pharmaceutical sectors) had proven to be no suitable tool for overcoming poor countries’ problems, and that the specific characteristics of biotechnology in general (in particular the water demand in fermentation) makes them a viable option only to locations with the appropriate resource endowment.
Nonetheless, to achieve even the modest targets of the Plan of Implementation will require the massive application of advanced and locally adapted technologies (Dickson 2002), and capacity building and networking are as well severely needed. In particular the EU announcement of opening up parts of its research programme for foreign applicants, of earmarking a significant amount of money for North-South co-operation and for opportunities to apply for funds for capacity building were welcome steps in this respect (Cherry 2002). However, scientists cannot single-handedly solve sustainable development problems, although many of the problems cannot be solved without them. This is of particular relevance since science and technology are as much a part of the problem as they must be a part of the solution. Such a situation requires a critical self-assessment of individual scientists and of the scientific and engineering community as a whole and the broad discussion of their results with the target groups affected. Such a process, however, was not on the agenda of the policy makers negotiating the WSSD results.
Fortunately, throughout the wide range of scientific workshops, meetings, conferences and roundtables held in Johannesburg and Pretoria alongside the summit, a more critical tone dominated, reflecting the ambiguity of scientific contributions past and present. Most prominent amongst these was the "Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation" jointly organised by the World Science and Engineering organisations ICSU and WEO, in collaboration with the Third World Academy of Science and other partners. Themes discussed included institutional issues like which science and technology is most suitable for sustainable development, or the opportunities for research partnerships, but also substantial sessions e.g. on sustainability indicators in forestry, or the delinkage of economic growth and environmental impact. They were complemented by sessions on assessment tools like the dashboard of sustainability (see www.iisd.org) or on sustainability concepts and strategies (see e.g. www.irfd.org). Science for sustainability or – briefly – sustainability science was found to be an innovative and stimulating concept, and it was endorsed by participants as new framework, including the need for inter- and transdisciplinary work, problem-orientation and long-term perspectives (for more details see e.g. If only governments and other funding agencies would take these recommendations into accounts when drafting their research budgets, science for sustainability could really deliver something to meet the demands aired.
It is highly welcome that the official scientific institutions are now picking up concepts and ideas developed outside the mainstream by scientific groupings like the International Network of Engineers for Global Responsibility INES (see e.g. including the INES Appeal to Engineers and Scientists or the works from the heterodox school of ecological economics, see e.g. . This provides an opportunity for those long sidelined to make their ideas even better heard in the international science for a and beyond, but also requires refreshed efforts in order not to miss this window of opportunity.
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Deller, N. (2002). "Recht des Stärkeren oder Stärke des Rechts? Die Einhaltung von Sicherheitsabkommen durch die USA." Wissenschaft & Frieden 20(4): 62-66.
Hinterberger, F., Schepelmann, P., Spangenberg J.H. et al. (1998). Integration von Umwelt, Wirtschafts- und Sozialpolitik. Wien/Wuppertal, Wuppertal Institut/Österreichisches Institut für nachhaltige Entwicklung.
Krieger, D. (2002a). "Orwellian Peace looming." Nuclear Age Peace Foundation newsletter(October 2002).
Krieger, D. (2002b). "Peace and Sustainable Development will raise or fall together." INES Newsletter(38): 14-15.
Kyriakou, D. (2002). "Inheriting the post-Enron whirlwind." The IPTS Report(68): 2-4.
Pally, M. (2002). "Badewannen voller Nagelscheren." Frankfurter Rundschau 2002(Sept. 11th): 17.
Rose, J. (2002). "Enduring Freedom" oder "gerechter Friede" ?" Wissenschaft & Frieden 20(4): 56-59.
Rousseau, J.-J. (1762). Du contrat social ou Principles du droit politique. Paris, Dreyfus-Brisac, 3rd ed. 1896.
Ruf, W. (2002). "Weltmacht USA und Konkurrent EU" FriedensJournal 2002(4): 10-12.
Sachs, J. (2002). "Weapons of mass salvation." The Economist October 26th, 2002 365(8296): 81-82.
Schepelmann, P. (1999). From Vienna to Helsinki. SERI Sustainable Europe Research Institure, Vienna: 46.
Spangenberg, J.H. (1992). "Bilanz der UNCED: Rio-Nachlese." Dritte Welt 23(July 1992): 37-38.
Spangenberg, J.H., Lorek, S. (2002). Lebensqualität, Konsum und Umwelt: intelligente Lösungen statt unnötiger Gegensätze. Studie für die Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung und die Heinrich Böll Stiftung. Bonn, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.
Sunday Times (2002). "Summit leaves USA standing alone." Sunday Times (South Africa)(September 1st, 2002): Front page headline.
The Economist (2002a). "Don't mention the O-word. Special report Iraq's oil." The Economist September 14th 2002 365(8290): 23-25.
The Economist (2002b). "Sub-Saharan African oil: Black gold." The Economist October 26th, 2002 365(8296): 67-68.
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From Alexandra to Sandton
Impressions of the Johannesburg Summit
In the era of apartheid Johannesburg was a beaming city. With its 6.5 million inhabitants and the impressive skyline of the inner city it was the nation's financial and commercial centre, housing the stock exchange of South Africa, the banks and the offices of the prominent national and international companies. When apartheid was abolished, the financial and commercial elite moved out and built new palaces for the stock exchange and for their offices at Sandton, in the northern suburb area. There they live, in houses surrounded by walls with electric wires in complexes that are again secured by walls and by a guardhouse and barriers at the entrance. The centre of Johannesburg is left to the thousands of black people and their crowded markets; white people do not venture into this area any more. The huge criminality is in remarkable contrast with the extreme friendliness of both black and white people in this country, a friendliness which is rare in the rich countries of the North. The office buildings and skyscrapers in the inner city are empty and 147 of them should be pulled down. But in order to suit the delegates of the Summit, they were all illuminated during the conference up to the last window at the top. And the authorities had put a deportation program into effect, to avoid that the delegates would be bothered by street vendors and beggars. I do not know the extent of this operation, but I could observe that at least the street vendors had found their way back and populated the surroundings of the conference locations.
Numerous demonstrations were held during the conference, both on and outside the official premises. Most spectacular was the procession of predominantly black people from Alexandra, the major slum area of Johannesburg to Sandton Centre, where the delegates were gathering. There was a variety of issues and slogans, but the word poverty covers everything. The Summit conference being held in Africa reflected the African situation, African issues being in the foreground of everything and African delegates being most abundant.
The Summit meetings were held at different locations, the official sites and numerous places in hotels and offices scattered all over the nearby country. The government delegations came together in plenary and panel meetings at Sandton Centre; there also the heads of state delivered their speeches. The conference participants could attend the meetings in limited numbers or they could follow the presentations on television screens outside the meeting rooms. The subjects of discussion were biodiversity and ecosystems, agriculture, health, energy, and water, as marked by Kofi Annan as the prominent issues. Obviously, it was a political decision, already taken during the preparation phase of the Summit, that peace and security were not marked as major subjects, and thus did not figure in the official debate. In addition to the plenary events, there were numerous sessions in parallel, organized by United Nations agencies and by state and non-state entities including many corporations, where the subjects of the plenary sessions were broadened or completely different issues were brought up.
I was impressed by the style and the contents of many of the discussions, the sharp analysis of the situation and the strong intention to find improvement and implementations for the principles of sustainability. An outstanding example was the forum about water which was moderated by Jan Pronk and which placed in the forefront all perils and extremities under which peoples and countries suffer at the moment and will suffer more intensely in the future.
It is striking that national delegations and international agencies were advocating approaches to sustainability and problem solutions, speaking a completely different language than ten years ago. This trend could be experienced already during some of the Summit's preparatory meetings.
There is a huge discrepancy between the spirit of these discussions and the text laid down in the Summit final document. We all may deplore that writing a final document resulted in the reflection of the selfishness and conservatism of the richest among us and that the corporates' interests overruled so many well-considered intentions.
A remarkable example of the bargaining style of the negotiations is the rejection of proposals for renewable energy, put forward mainly by the countries of the European Union and not being acceptable for the US and the oil producers. The rejection was bought from the poor countries by promising them financial aid for a long-term sanitary and drinking water project. For their part, the Southern countries - in particular the African ones - were remarkably persistent in their rejection of the forced introduction of genetically manipulated products to their continents.
The NGOs came together in Nasrec, at the southern fringe of Johannesburg. There was a large exposition with the theme "Living within the Planet's Limits," a continuous series of seminars conducted by the Böll foundation and numerous activities in the open air. In the workshops, symposia and general meetings, the same subjects were discussed as in Sandton and a daily analysis was made of the progress and lack of progress of the main conference. Generally, the United States was blamed for the lack of progress, also in the Johannesburg newspapers that meticulously followed the achievements of the conference. The US was not popular anyway, because of its warlike behaviour, its arrogance and - most grieving for the Africans - the absence of its president at the Summit.
An important issue of debate where the projects of partnership between NGOs, international agencies and governments, to be established as a follow-up of the conference. The purpose of these so-called Type 2 partnerships between government agencies and NGOs is to start sustainable development programs on specific subjects in limited areas with the financial support of the participating governments. The Type 2 is in contrast with Type 1 which concerns global issues and is supposed to be completely within the province of the governments.
The third conference site, the Ubuntu village, hosted the Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development, where I spent most of my time. Here an analysis was made of global warming, sustainable forest management, water and sanitation and many other subjects, mostly referring to the countries of the Third World. Central subjects were the promotion of scientific research, the need of education in the Southern countries and the establishment of rules for good governance.
Also at this site there was an exhibition with stands where countries and industrial firms advertised their commitment to sustainable development. Like on the other sites there was an enormous display of printed material - papers and leaflets - among which the INES Johannesburg Newsletter made a good appearance.
There were many political events on the conference sites. There were demonstrations for the Palestinians and for an independent Tibet, a procession of local disabled people and a nearly continuous meditation session of Falun Dafa, asking for recognition. There was a debate - also in the newspapers - about the land reform in Zimbabwe, the expropriation of the white landowners. The South African government has up till now ignored the problem of land distribution in its own country, but with 85% of the agricultural area in the hands of 13% of the rural population, the issue will unavoidably be raised in the future.
It did strike me, how restrained many Africans react on their political situation, on the horrors in their own society and on their own continent. The atrocious acts of war and terrorism of the last years, exceeding in mortality the 11th of September by several orders of magnitude, are accepted by many Africans with resignation. They believe that these acts will be overcome by the African people who survived so many wars and nine centuries of foreign attack and oppression and the horrors of colonization. Forgiveness is needed for making a new start. And the new movement must liberate the Africans from the forced assimilation to the Northern cultures, it must return to the traditional African values, including African spiritualism.
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WE CAN STOP THIS WAR BEFORE IT BEGINS
Statement at the European Parliament, October 22, 2002
Dr David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and Vice-Chair of INES.
His latest book is Choose Hope, Your Role in Waging Peace in the Nuclear Age.
Thank you for inviting me to speak today. I have come here to urge you all, individually and collectively, to do everything in your power to oppose a US war against Iraq a war that can have no good end. I believe that we have within our reach the ability to stop this war before it begins.
If we succeed, we will save the lives of innocent Iraqis who have suffered enough, and also the lives of young American soldiers, who enlisted in the military with the primary purpose of obtaining the resources to go to college. We will also prevent the creation of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of new terrorists, whose activities will undoubtedly affect Europe as well as the United States.
America Does Not Speak with One Voice
The Bush administration would have the world believe that America speaks with one voice on the issue of war against Iraq. John Negroponte, the US Ambassador to the UN, recently said, referring to the Joint Congressional Resolution authorizing the president to use force, "This resolution tells the world that the United States speaks with one determined voice."
Nothing could be further from the truth. Large and growing numbers of Americans are saying "Not in our name." They are saying it in full-page ads in major newspapers and they are saying it in the streets.
They are making their voices heard and their presence felt. It is reminiscent of the period of the Vietnam War. The difference is that this war has not yet begun in earnest, which is not to say that the sanctions and the bombing in the no-fly zones have not already taken a large toll of victims.
Only a few months ago, most Americans were not paying serious attention to the possibility of war. Now they are, and they are showing up in protest marches by the thousands. The number will swell to hundreds of thousands, even millions, if the bombs begin to fall on Baghdad.
One recent ad in USA Today concludes: "Let us not allow the watching world today to despair of our silence and our failure to act. Instead, let the world hear our pledge: we will resist the machinery of war and repression and rally others to do everything possible to stop it."
Let me give you the example of the member of Congress from my district, Lois Capps. Just one month ago she was undecided on this issue, perhaps because the Democratic leadership in the Congress has been so timid with a few notable exceptions such as Senator Robert Byrd. Many of Capps' constituents spoke to her in opposition to the war. When it came time for the vote on the war resolution, she was one of 133 members of the House of Representatives who voted No, along with 23 Senators.
She stated: "I have not yet seen or heard any convincing evidence that Saddam Hussein is an immediate threat to our national security. Military action should always be a last resort, and we should work in concert with our allies and the U.N. to exhaust every possible diplomatic and economic solution to this problem. At this time I do not believe that the case has been made that force is the only option left to us."
I am here to ask your support in rallying the European Parliament to stand together with the growing number of Americans who are saying an increasingly clear and powerful No to this war - Not In Our Names.
Children of Iraq
The Bush administration is attempting to paint the face of Saddam on the people of Iraq. The children of Iraq deserve more from us. We must not accept the simplistic and militaristic solutions of the Bush administration - Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle and others - who have their own agendas for war, including oil, dominance and revenge.
If you visit the web site of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, you will find photographs of the children of Iraq, children who will become the collateral damage of this war just as they have been the collateral damage of US-led sanctions that have taken some one million lives. You will also find at this web site letters from Iraqi students to American students. These children do not deserve to be painted with the face of Saddam.
Mr. Bush has put forward a doctrine of preemptive war. It is actually not a new doctrine, but it is dangerous and aggressive unilateralism at its most extreme.
Preemptive war was once called "aggressive war," and was described as
a "Crime against peace" in the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals. Such war violates Article 6 of the Nuremberg Charter. It includes "planning, preparation, initiation or waging a war of aggression."
At stake is the entire post World War II international order, including the United Nations system itself.
A Defining Moment for the International System
The Bush administration has already cajoled the US Congress to authorize preemptive war. This authorization is false because it is illegal. Congress cannot give the president the power to commit illegal acts, and war against Iraq cannot be legal unless it is properly authorized by the United Nations after all peaceful means have failed. We are far from that point.
There are only two circumstances in which force is authorized under the United Nations Charter. First, there is self-defense, but this only comes into effect when a country is under attack or an attack is imminent, and then only until the United Nations Security Council becomes seized of the matter. In the case of Iraq, there is not a current or imminent attack and the United Nations Security Council is already seized of the matter.
The second circumstance in which force is authorized under the UN Charter is when the Security Council determines that all peaceful means of resolving a conflict have failed. The Security Council has not made this determination in the case of Iraq, despite the Bush administration's efforts to push it in this direction.
Mr. Bush also places the UN in jeopardy by his threats to act unilaterally if he decides it is necessary. One former US diplomat recently referred to the Bush administration as "hectoring radical unilateralists." He means by this that the approach of the administration is that of a bully. We must stand up to this bully in the name of peace, justice and international law.
Senator Robert Byrd, a wise octogenarian and a hero on this issue in the US Senate, said: "S.J. Resolution 46 would give the president blanket authority to launch a unilateral, pre-emptive attack on a sovereign nation that is perceived to be a threat to the United States.... This is an unprecedented and unfounded interpretation of the president's authority under the Constitution of the United States, not to mention the fact that it stands the Charter of the United Nations on its head."
The Bush administration is more inclined to practice hypocrisy than democracy. The administration's hypocrisy takes many forms. The most pronounced forms are Nuclear hypocrisy, Compliance hypocrisy and Criminal Justice hypocrisy. In each of these areas the Bush administration practices a clear double standard.
Joseph S. McGinnis, Acting Head of the US delegation to the First Committee of the UN, recently stated when introducing a resolution (L.54) on Compliance with Arms Limitation and Disarmament Agreements:
"The US believes that every country in the world should be a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention. We also believe that every country that has signed and ratified these agreements should comply fully with their provisions, and that States Parties must hold each other accountable and take appropriate steps to deter violations."
The US has been in standing violation of its Article VI obligations for nuclear disarmament since the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) entered into force in 1970.
The Bush administration has shown no inclination to comply with obligations of the 1995 and 2000 NPT Review Conferences. It has failed to submit the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to the Senate for ratification, pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and entered into a fraudulent Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty (SORT) that will reduce some of the currently actively deployed strategic nuclear weapons but will not make these cuts irreversible. Rather, this treaty will allow for the deactivated weapons to be placed in storage, where they will actually be more likely to be available to terrorists.
The Bush Nuclear Posture Review calls for retaining nuclear weapons in perpetuity, calls for contingency plans to use nuclear weapons against at least seven countries, indicates a willingness to use nuclear weapons against chemical or biological weapons attacks, and outlines plans for more useable nuclear weapons such as bunker busters.
Further, the Bush administration has formed alliances with Pakistan and India, although both have developed nuclear arsenals. The administration has never even raised the issue of Israel having developed a nuclear arsenal, despite long-standing calls for a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone, including in Security Council Resolution 687, the resolution that laid down the terms of Iraqi disarmament.
Regarding biological weapons, the Bush administration sabotaged six years of negotiations to add an inspection and verification protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention. The Bush administration also forced the resignation and replacement of Jose Bustani, the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). They disliked Bustani because he had encouraged Iraq to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention and become part of its inspection regime, a step that would have made military action against Iraq even less justifiable.
The Bush administration is ready to go to war with Iraq to achieve compliance with UN Security Council resolutions. Yet, there are many other violations of Security Council resolutions by other nations, including US allies Israel and Turkey, for which the US shows little or no concern.
Additionally, the Bush administration has indicated a willingness to engage in diplomatic efforts to seek a peaceful solution to the recent revelation by North Korea that it is developing nuclear weapons.
Criminal Justice Hypocrisy
Bush has withdrawn the US signature from the International Criminal Court and has sworn that US leaders will never be subject to the Court's jurisdiction, yet he has threatened to bring Iraqi leaders to an International Tribunal should they use weapons of mass destruction if attacked by the US.
The international community must stand firm in rejecting a US initiated preemptive war against Iraq.
The states of the European Union can help lead the way in preventing the Bush administration from standing the international system on its head with its plans for preemptive war. They can also engage in the hard work of negotiations and diplomacy to find a peaceful solution to the current compliance issues with Iraq and with other countries currently out of compliance with Security Council Resolutions and other multinational treaties such as the NPT.
Double standards in the international system must be ended, and a single standard must be applied to all, even the sole remaining superpower.
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Couldn't peace be modelled?
An issue also formulated during the international scientific meeting on mathematics and war in Karlskrona, Sweden, in late August.
Dr Tine Wedege is associate professor, Centre for Research in Learning Mathematics, Roskilde University, Denmark.
On a wonderful late summers day, fifty mathematicians, mathematics and science historians, philosophers, physicists, computer scientists, military analysts and historians met in Karlskrona, Sweden. We came from Denmark, France, Norway, Russia, Sweden, United Kingdom, Germany and the United States of America.
Karlskrona was founded as a naval station in 1680, and as a town strongly marked by its military background it formed a suitable backdrop for the conference Mathematics and War. It was an unusual scientific meeting that took place on the 29th, 30th, and 31st of August, 2002, at Blekinge Institute of Technology, as a group of colleagues' celebration of Bernhelm Booss-Bavnbek's 60th birthday last year.
After the conference, I was invited to give an "eye witness account," and I did this with pleasure. It wasn't only a remarkable international event. (For the first time mathematics and war have been combined in a title of a scientific conference.) It was also an irritating thought provoking event. This combination demanded that a series of scientific and political-ethical points of view were confronted.
The central theme of the conference was Co-development of mathematics and the means of war? The organisers had formulated three general topics: (1) Military traces in the history of mathematics and in present day mathematics. (2) Changes in the character of warfare under the influence of mathematical theory and mathematically supported technology. (3) Ethical and social aspects of the interaction between mathematics and the military. My account contains a necessarily limited presentation of the talks, which were given in their specific approach to the topic.
Perspectives from mathematics
Roger Godement (mathematician, Le Groupe Bourbaki, Paris) opened the series of talks with an attempt to explain the connections between the military, science and technology in the 20th century with focus on the United States since the 1930s. He concluded that there had been decisive changes in the relationships between the military, science and mathematics, of the funding of research and in the transfer between civil and military technology. But so far nobody had wanted or been able to summarise the role of mathematics in this development - neither quantitatively nor qualitatively. Nevertheless, he summed up the function of mathematics so far with the term "service science."
Reinhard Siegmund-Schultze (mathematics historian, Agder University, Norway) took an international view on the mathematicians' military work in 1914-45 by means of exemplary considerations of some epistemic transfer processes between mathematics and military applications. With an example (W. Haack's fast and effective shift from pure differential geometry to applied anti-aircraft-projectile-design hydrology) he demonstrated the new role of "pure" mathematics as practice ground and emergency force of the military.
Elisabeth Rakus-Andersson (mathematician, Blekinge Institute of Technology, Karlskrona, Sweden) pointed out that three gifted Polish mathematics students as early as 1929 were set to break the code of the German Enigma encoding machine, at a time where other secret services only employed engineers and linguists in exotic languages for decoding.
Kathleen Williams (military historian, CUNY, New York) told the story about two female mathematicians, Grace Hopper and Mina Rees, who were involved in the US Navy in World War II: Hopper with epoch-making data analyses that led to the development of high level programming languages; Rees with "translating" military needs to mathematical research programmes. Both were without time to test the scientific results in the usual way.
Tinne Hoff Kjeldsen (mathematics historian, Roskilde University, Denmark) focused in "War as the Midwife of Mathematical Disciplines" on the significance of the Second World War for the rise and establishment of new disciplines in applied mathematics as well as for the renewed interest and growth in some related subjects in "pure" mathematics. The disciplines were mathematical programming, operations research, game theory, the theory of convexity, and the theory of systems of linear inequalities. Here it was also difficult to distinguish both the internal and the employment motivation and the military and the civil significance, which might have been, and still is, overestimated after all.
Revaz Valerianovich Gamkredlidze (mathematician, Steklov Institute of Mathematics, Russia) talked about Pontryagin's discovery of the maximum principle in control theory in an attempt to find a solution of a highly specific optimising problem related to manoeuvres of an aircraft. His point was that the military sector in the Soviet Union during the 1950s was so protected and demarcated from civil research that Pontryagin and his fellow workers were never seriously involved in the military applications.
Philip J. Davis closed the first day in a dignified and provocative way with a public talk on the Karlskrona Naval Museum where he combined mathematics, entertainment and war, starting from numerical graphics presentation.
Perspectives from the military
"War cannot be calculated" and "Warfare can be calculated" were the titles of two successive talks made by military analysts on the second day. The two slightly conflicting statements illustrate one aspect of the complexity within this area.
Svend Bergstein (retired lieutenant-colonel and former Minister of Research, Denmark) borrowed his definition of war as "an act of human intercourse" from the Prussian officer Carl von Clausewitz, whom he quoted: "Though we may be able to estimate the outcome of a single battle, we have to realise that it is only an estimate and not a prognosis." From his point of view, war is a continuum ranging from political ambitions to mere technology, and Bergstein used in his talk the concept of social technology borrowed from Popper to underline the human and social dimension as necessary for the creation of coherence in military units. He was asked if mathematical thinking, mathematical methods and mathematically-supported new technology make modern war a measured limited risk and thus frustrating Clausewitz' words about the unpredictable forces in war, particularly when the modern mathematical tools are concentrated on one side of the war. His answer was "No" exactly with reference to the in principle inexhaustible category "social technology."
Svend Clausen (the Danish Defence Research Establishment, Denmark) presented some Danish models for simulation and analyses of possible warfare of long duration on Danish territory, utilising Markov chains and differential equations. In the following discussion, these kinds of models proved to be quite controversial. Among other things, discussion pointed to the 'over-parametrisation' and the absurdity in estimating transition probabilities for quite unthinkable situations, which one could imagine ending up in Armageddon after the first day. Discussion also pointed to the purely legitimating function of such models in relation to decisions already made. Nevertheless, these models were also defended as the only models we have.
The heading of my account is inspired by a question asked to the Swedish military analyst Helge Löfstedt: "Why not model peace and co-operation instead of war?" He explained the latest changes in practical warfare caused by new mathematical tools, which invite limited operations without loss to yourself and with only limited loss to the enemy. During the following discussion the military significance of mathematical technology was questioned (e.g.high-speed broadband encrypted communication, extensive satellite and aircraft reconnaissance, and high precision laser or GPS-controlled bombing raids). Apparently the land troops (the Northern Alliance) have been quite decisive in Afghanistan, while the absence of land troops in Kosovo contributed to the military standstill.
Ralf Bendrath (political scientist, Research Group Information Society and Security Policy, Berlin) talked about the possibility of an "electronic Pearl Harbour." By "cyberwar" he meant war in, on, and against data networks. He asked if we have to fear cyberterrorism or rather a new digital arms race between states. Finally he discussed the possibility - or rather the impossibility - of quantitative and qualitative control of weapons in cyberspace.
The third day of the conference started with presentation of two extreme basic models of attitudes to war and responsibility. Finn Aaserud (historian of science, Niels Bohr Archive, Copenhagen) told about Niels Bohr's political crusade during World War II. Impressive was Bohr's clear understanding of the threatening nuclear race and his persistent talk about the necessary openness towards the Russians from leading British and American scientists and statesmen. On the other hand, his missing understanding of the limited influence of a physicist was tragic.
Andrew Hodges (mathematician, Oxford, United Kingdom) used, on the other hand, Alan Turing's design of a digital computer to illustrate a quite different and more realistic attitude, and thus exhibiting a tendency for a more cynical attitude towards the military use of mathematics during and after World War II. During the following discussion, the German mathematician Matthias Kreck pointed to that mathematicians nowadays could be identified with small Grace Hoppers and Alan Turings: "Our zeal of problem solving can easily be turned on - for example, a little patriotism, and then our zeal works almost like an euphoriant, so we don't think anymore."
Jesper Ryberg (philosopher, Roskilde University, Denmark) discussed scientists' personal moral responsibility when they contribute to military research. He submitted to a gruelling examination five different arguments of the opinion that scientists don't have any responsibility (or only a marginal responsibility) to how their works are used.
The last two contributions to the conference were supposed to adopt a positive perspective on mathematical thinking and mathematical models to preserve peace and prevent, or put an end to, war. In his talk, "Mathematical thinking and the law of war", Ib Martin Jarvad (lawyer, Roskilde University, Denmark) took as his point of departure the mathematical thinking underlying Kepler's, Galilei's and Newton's concepts of law. He documented that the same thinking underlay the creation of the modern international law and the regulation of war that was introduced by Vittoria and Grotius, and internationally established during a long process from the Westphalian Peace of 1648 to the UN system after 1945.
The title of the presentation by Jürgen Scheffran (physicist, Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, Germany) was "Calculated Security? Mathematical Modelling of Conflict and Co-operation in Social Systems". After L. F. Richardson's pioneering work modelling the arms race between the two world wars, one hoped that mathematics could contribute to solving conflicts. According to Richardson it is an advantage of mathematics that the situation can be described succinctly and clearly, but the disadvantage is that what is excluded (because it cannot be mathematised) may show up to be the most important.
Bernhelm Booss-Bavnbek (mathematician, Roskilde University, Denmark) closed the meeting repeating that the aim of the conference was to create an overview of the knowledge and arguments within this area. He concluded:
"(1) There can't be anything wrong in reflecting and using logic, abstraction, and mathematical thinking. One could hope that the mathematical thought as a form of rationality might help to prevent worse. (2) Like all technology, military mathematical technology is ambivalent. It can serve to defend or to attack; it can invite warfare or discourage it. (3) Mathematically supported illusions about "surgical strikes" like all other illusions are deadly, dangerous, and terrible to those who suffer the first time, and often to the owner of the illusion the next time. The actual ethical condition is possibly determined by the contributions of individual mathematicians in spreading those illusions or in preventing them."
Openness and sharpness
There is not one single, but there are many possible tales about mathematics and war. The open scientific meeting in Karlskrona was the first of its kind. In order to maintain the openness of the conference, I think that mathematics and war & peace as a subject area should continue to be cultivated by means of multidisciplinary approaches. Nevertheless, the construction of new inter-disciplinary concepts is needed to sharpen statements and points of view for example about the specific relationship between theory and practice in this field.
Fortunately, the conference is to be followed up by a scientific publication with a publisher who will arrange the international distribution (Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel & Boston, 2003). For the present we have the home-site:
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Engineering Education for Sustainable Development
Dr Philip Smith is emeritus Professor at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands.
A conference on this subject took place in October at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. To everyone's surprise the response to the international call for papers was immediate and overwhelming. The number of papers submitted and the number of participants surpassed the expectations of the organizers. As usual there were posters and papers for oral presentation. So many papers were admitted that the presentation required nineteen parallel sessions. Not only was the quality high, but the enthusiasm of the speakers was breathtaking.
The background for this conference arose in a Conference on Innovation for Sustainability - Technology Meets the Market organized by the World Health Organization in Amsterdam in March of this year. In particular the Keynote Address of that conference by Dr. Gro Brundtland, Director-General of the World Health Organization, was instrumental in shaping the contours and content of the Delft conference. She made a point of explaining that her famous book "Our Common Future," chartered by the U.N. Commission on Environment and Development (UNCED), was not the only fruit of this Commission.
In particular, and directly relevant for the conference in Delft, was the Economy, Technology, Ecology (EET) programme. This programme, perhaps not as well known as it should be, attempts to tackle the basic problems which must be confronted in order to transform an industrial, capitalistic society, which on principal is not sustainable, into a sustainable society. The conference in Delft approached the problem from the coupled points of view of technology and ecology.
Participants and Papers
There were, as usual at conferences, many participants with papers from the home country, but there were also a very large number from all of the countries of Europe, as well as quite a few from the United States and Canada, and several from Russia, India, Bangladesh, Australia and New Zealand, and even from Colombia. It was abundantly clear from the depth of the details of the educational programmes presented that the response was not just the result of a fad or "buzz word." And even more important, for me at least, was the fact that the ethical foundations of the educational programs presented were quite explicitly brought into the discussion by many of the speakers.
I had expected that my own presentation, almost exclusively concerned with societal and economic factors that would have to be overcome in order to achieve sustainability, would stand entirely alone. Far from it; I was impressed and overjoyed to find that my paper was just one of a number of papers in which the difficulty, but also the necessity, of teaching engineers the indispensable ethical background of sustainability was accentuated. That the economic side was left untouched was, however, a shortcoming. The reader will find my views on that subject below in the excerpts of my own presentation.
It is impossible to discuss, in the space of a Newsletter article, more than two papers out of the total of almost two hundred. I have chosen a Dutch paper and an American paper.
Particularly impressive, to me at least, was that one of most eloquent speakers, Saul Lemkowitz, who teaches at Delft, dared to raise the question of what it is that we are so intent on "sustaining." Is it the capitalist world economy, or indefinitely increasing material riches, or a two-tier world of rich and poor, or what? He also dared to speak of the need to train "intellectuals," defined as persons who ask basic questions and do not necessarily believe the leading social paradigms, as opposed to the time honored tradition of training technically schooled person who have only learned to solve problems presented by the boss, be they mechanical, electrical, chemical, civil, or what. The first-year (required) programme that he and a number of colleagues developed proceeds initially to discuss the distinction between what is true, the epistemological question, and what is good, the ethical question. On the basis of examples from industrial practice the course makes this distinction clear. The acute toxicity of the dioxin 2,3,7,8, TCCD is a question of the first kind. The permissible level of this dioxin in the atmosphere is a question of the second kind.
As an aside, I was a bit disappointed that a much more difficult question, but in the end also an epistemological question, was not brought up: what are the long-term effects on life of very low-levels of this compound, and, in fact, of all organic compounds of chlorine, with none of which evolution has outfitted life to co-exist? With this remark I certainly don't mean to disparage Lemkowitz's truly revolutionary approach to engineering education. Rome wasn't built in a day, either. I only meant to bring out that there are epistemological questions that we can't answer, at present in any case, and maybe never.
Another fresh approach was that of Nicholas Ashford, from MIT. He stated that multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary efforts were simply inadequate to give answers to the fundamentally systemic problems of sustainability. They both give the appearance of breaking down the barriers, but in fact neither really threatens the carefully guarded turfs of the traditional disciplines. He used the expression trans-disciplinary to name the approach, truly across the disciplines that he felt was necessary. The practical difficulty encountered here is that the employment possibilities of academics trained in this way are very low. Neither universities nor industry are likely to hire, much less fund research proposed by, such a person.
Ashford's answer to this problem is simple, but in my view, quite visionary: a government-funded programme that would guarantee employment to trainees. The problem is, in my view, that governments inevitably ask highly respected leaders in their own fields to set up a programme, which simply guarantees that the boundaries between the turfs will be respected. No educational system has ever been successfully put into operation that trains young people to undermine the power structure of the society in which they live. The maverick will always be considered "less" than a well-trained candidate in a well defined discipline, and therefore it has always taken guts to deviate from the accepted path.
As I said above, I was relieved that I was not treated as a pariah by the other participants, but rather welcomed as one bringing fresh insights into the discussion. Who want to be an outcast? But thinking about it later I became less and less happy. Now, a few weeks after the conference, I can put my finger on the root of my discontent: the lack of discussion, even of consciousness, of the insurmountable obstacles to achieving sustainability built into the economic order under which we, perforce, live. I can best get my doubts and troubles across to the reader by quoting some excerpts from my own contribution to the conference in Delft which bore the title, Sustainability is not a Technological Problem.
Why engineers can't help
Engineers would be able to help the society in which we live become a sustainable one if they had a chance. The trouble is that engineers are only obliquely involved in the problem. Their intelligence and comprehension of nature, especially materials, are their stock in trade. Powerful as they are, they are not suited to eliminate or even substantially ameliorate the environmental and social consequences of the social-economic paradigms that dominate our society and make achieving a sustainable future all but impossible. Stated succinctly these are:
We have to add to these paradigms what might be called a "folk's myth" - a dogma that is almost universally believed and forms an impervious mental barrier to confronting the real, human, problems of our world that cannot be solved by technology. I refer to the myth that says that:
Limits to growth
In June this year the Dutch Pugwash group organized a conference in Groningen on the subject of Sharing the Planet, centering on the linked themes of consumption, population and loss of biodiversity. At the conclusion we formulated what we called the "Groningen Manifesto" (Pugwash Netherlands, 2002); one of the nine points you will find there says: "There is a lack of public awareness as to the inescapable limits of the planet's resources, including land, water and energy sources, and the global commons of oceans and atmosphere. It must be clear to all that endless growth in consumption is at loggerheads with a sustainable future ... "
Notice how well the myth of the technological fix works to encourage this lack of awareness by suppressing any public consciousness of the dangers implicit in the first three obstacles to sustainability.
But now let me get something straight from the beginning. I am in no way saying that production of goods and delivery of services is bad or unsustainable. I am talking about the measure of it; i.e. how much? On the difference between enough and too much I like to quote the following from John Kenneth Galbraith (Galbraith, 1958):
"To furnish a barren room is one thing. To continue to crowd in furniture until the foundation buckles is quite another. To have failed to solve the problem of producing goods would have been to continue man in his oldest and most grievous misfortune. But to fail to see that we have solved it, and to fail to proceed thence to the next tasks, would be fully as tragic."
Galbraith was speaking of our western, rich and industrialized societies. Not of the vast number of people on earth who still suffer from man's oldest and most grievous misfortune. The main purpose of this talk is try to delineate the next tasks to which he refers, and to see how engineers and engineering, albeit a different engineering than we now know, could contribute to them. The choice of these tasks, make no mistake about it, is a purely political choice. When I say that it is a political choice, I mean that there is a difference of opinion as to what should be done.
There could be many and varied tasks, depending on your political preference, ranging from creating a just world all the way down to freezing the rich-poor divide by military means, as expressed in the US Space Command's Vision 2020. My value premises are that the tasks before us are the many that are necessary to bring about social and environmental justice. But on an intellectual level, I do not think that sustainability can otherwise be achieved.
Technical Problems and Human Problems
I want to proceed now to consider what tasks that lie before us are amenable to engineering solutions. From the title of this talk it is clear that I am not of the opinion that the problem of achieving sustainability is one of those. The specific obstacles to sustainability I have listed are human problems. And human problems which cannot be solved by technology. That does not mean that, in combination and symbiosis with others, the engineer cannot make a substantial contribution. But in order to do that he must understand this distinction.
Let me take an example: automobile traffic. Every inhabitant of the Netherlands knows that the steady increase in automobile mileage is poisoning the environment (including the ozone layer) and depleting natural resources. It is also slowly eating away the feeling of well being of the population, through the resulting traffic jams. But interestingly enough, attention is not given to traffic jams for that reason, but because of the negative effect they have on economic growth, which is the cause of the increasing number and severity of traffic jams. And the solution to that is almost inevitably sought in more highways, leading to more automobiles, leading to more automobile mileage, leading to more traffic jams, etc. The classical downward spiral.
Every measure, financial or restrictive in any way, which has been proposed to decrease the load of the automobile on nature, is met with the answer that it is not politically feasible, or as is commonly said, "People won't accept it." Here is clearly a human problem that is only solvable by political means. Politicians who have thought of ways to keep this increasing load within bounds were decisively defeated in recent Dutch elections, to the great joy of other politicians who are against any solution because they believe, along with mainstream economists, that there is no reason whatsoever to limit production and consumption. All that is needed are technical innovations that will remove the inconvenience. The Kyoto agreement is now on the scrap heap here in Holland, just as in the U.S.A.
But is there perhaps a technical answer? Some automobile manufacturers and their customers don't care that much. When the American government set gas-mileage goals that had to be reached by new models of cars they exempted the real gas-guzzler, the SUV, from the rules. Both the carmakers and the public jumped at the chance, and as a result the number of SUVs made and sold is increasing madly. To repeat what we said in the Groningen Manifesto, "There is a lack of public awareness... "
But other automobile manufacturers are proceeding on the assumption that there is a solution that will lead to sustainability and they are working on it. Recently introduced technical solutions include the hybrid car which is capable of considerably lessening the environmental load of traffic, per kilometer driven. A factor of three to five is certainly, in time, feasible. Good engineers will be essential for this, but are these engineers helping to build a sustainable society? Yes, but only if the political problem of stopping the increase in kilometers driven is solved. Otherwise it is just a question of time before that increase will swamp any technological advance. These engineers are postponing that moment, but postponement is not a sustainable answer. Do we want to train engineers to postpone disaster, or engineers who work on ways to permanently remove the threat of disaster? They would be the ones who would indeed be working toward a sustainable society.
Competitiveness; air travel
I have just spoken of the first two obstacles to sustainability. But take the third one: competitiveness. The main Dutch airport, Schiphol, is a good example. The management, the government, everybody except for the unfortunate people who live around it, are unanimous in striving for endless expansion of the airport in order to keep us competitive, in order to make sure that Holland remains the gateway to Europe so that we, the Dutch, can beat our neighbours. That this policy is, in the end, collectively suicidal, does not seem to bother anyone.
Is there a technical solution? There has been great progress in efficiency and noise abatement. But the progress in efficiency and noise abatement has been always overcome by growth, and will continue to be if the fundamental societal attitude doesn't change. In the case of airplane flight we have to add direct poisoning of the upper atmosphere to the list I gave of the deleterious consequences of increasing automobile traffic. Here, the sky is not the limit - even the sky is being destroyed.
To conclude this part of my talk I would say simply that our society's main problems are human problems and we can't expect engineers, however well trained in science and technology, to help us out. The next subject I want to broach is the question of how we got this way, and whether a discussion of this will help us change our approach to engineering education in such a way that engineers can be of help.
Root causes - the Bible, Francis Bacon, and the technological fix
To get out of a mess you have to figure out how you got into it. Historically the excuse for, but certainly not the necessity for, the environmental crisis of western civilization can be found in Genesis, according to which God created the world and all that lives on it and in it, and gave it to man for his use and enjoyment. But nothing I can read into Genesis requires man to destroy nature. A gentle stewardship would be quite compatible with the word of the Bible. But Francis Bacon changed that with the introduction of the idea, four hundred years ago, that it is man's mission to subjugate nature to his will. However arrogant his attitude was, we cannot accuse him of wanting to destroy the natural ecosystem. He could hardly have imagined the extent of the damage that would be brought about by the consistent application of his ideas during the last thirty years. He did sow the seeds of destruction, but a temperate application of his ideas would not necessarily have been this bad.
But whether or not we may hold Bacon responsible in the end, the fact is that in our society the conviction has taken firm root that the solution to all problems should be sought in technology, and further that there are no problems that cannot be solved this way. This is the myth of the infallibility of the technological fix. In my view this belief is a tragic error. The fact that technology has made the solution to many problems possible doesn't prove that it can solve all problems. The faith that a technological fix will come along to solve every problem is fundamental in our society despite the daily experience of the disastrous, environmental or social problems technology sometimes creates.
The belief in the unlimited power of the technological fix to solve all problems has blinded a large part of humankind, rich and poor, to the fact that the lifestyle of the rich industrialized nations is inherently unsustainable, whatever technological fix may be tried.
And returning to the subject of this conference, it is this belief that puts the honest engineer in an impossible position. Such an engineer knows that any environmentally favourable development will, in the end, only really help the environment if the continuous growth of production tapers off to equilibrium replacement, in other words if it is not used to say, "Fine, the problem is fixed, we can continue with business as usual!" But what is the engineer to do, may I ask, who thinks of, or is told to think of, an improvement that will reduce the environmental load of a product or service. The way our world is now organized there is no way of putting a condition on the use of such a brainchild. A new style of education that teaches future engineers that they should do that would only lead to frustration. They are powerless.
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Atrazine Poisoning Worse Than Suspected
Joe Cummins and Mae-Wan Ho
In the course of the preparations for the Johannesburg conference in August of this year, INES joined a collaboration with some other organizations. Participants in this collaboration are:
The Institute of Science in Society (ISIS), London;
Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), Folkestone, UK ;
Third World Network (TWN), Penang, Malaysia;
Tebtebba Foundation (International Centre for Research, Education and Capacity Building for Indigenous Peoples),
Baguio City, Philippines;
The present article appeared as one of the recent press releases of the Institute of Science in Society. These publications that often center on gene manipulation and biological / chemical hazards, or touch the general status of science, may all be found on their website (see next page). Even more information may be obtained if you join ISIS as a member.
Controversy erupted over new findings that atrazine may be linked to global demise of frogs. Prof. Joe Cummins and Dr Mae-Wan Ho review the evidence on the endocrine-disrupting and carcinogenic effects of atrazine, especially in the light of the non-linearity of biological activities, and call for a global ban of the herbicide.
Atrazine is a herbicide registered in the United States for the control of broadleaf weeds and some grassy weeds. It is currently used on corn, sorghum, sugarcane, wheat (to get rid of wheat stubble on fallow land following wheat harvests; wheat is not the target crop), guava, macadamia nuts, orchard grass and hay, range grasses, and southern turf grasses. Atrazine is most widely used on corn followed by sorghum and sugarcane. Atrazine is registered for use on range grasses for establishing permanent grass cover on rangelands and pastures under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in four states: Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas, and Oregon. The CRP is administered by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
There are prohibitions against grazing on these CRP lands, and cutting the grasses for hay, except in national emergencies, such as severe drought, and there are "right-of-way" uses with grazing restrictions. Atrazine is also registered for use on the following non-agricultural sites: lawns, golf courses, and sod farms. Worldwide, atrazine is a leading agricultural chemical, and so extensively used that it has been identified as a significant pollutant in surface water, groundwater, in offshore areas and in the atmosphere.
Atrazine acts by inhibiting photosynthesis. Many atrazine-tolerant mutations have begun to appear in weeds, and this tolerance is predominantly based on detoxifying atrazine by binding it to glutathione, a mechanism in naturally atrazine-tolerant corn. Efforts have been made to select or produce atrazine-tolerant mutants crops such as soybean that is otherwise difficult to rotate with atrazine-treated corn or potato.
Most of the crop-plant mutants had impaired productivity, but in potato, an atrazine-binding photosynthetic protein is mutated, and this makes it tolerant to the herbicide without impaired productivity. Transgenic potato containing a complex of human cytochrome p450 genes was found to be tolerant to atrazine, and was proposed for phytoremediation of chemically polluted croplands. Unfortunately, the cytochrome p450 enzymes are very important in metabolism of man-made chemicals, they both inactivate many carcinogens, and in some instances, activate pollutants to form
carcinogens. Atrazine is used worldwide, but its continued application is hampered by appearance of atrazine-tolerant weeds.
Atrazine was in the news recently in connection with the global demise of frogs. Frogs were reported to be demasculinized or became hermaphrodite after being exposed at low ecologically relevant doses of the herbicide in the laboratory. Levels as low as 0.1 parts per billion atrazine induced hermaphroditism. This was confirmed by fuller ecological evidence that atrazine is associated with hermaphroditism in frogs at levels an order of magnitude below the currently accepted standard.
Those findings were criticized on several grounds, but mainly on the basis that very low levels of atrazine produced a stronger impact than levels 250 times higher, and that the low levels of atrazine did not induce the cytochrome p450 enzyme aromatase. Such criticism is significant, but should be considered in the light that endocrine disrupting chemicals often have more marked effect at lower doses, and the enzyme aromatase, though important in producing the feminizing hormone estrogen, shows complex cellular patterns of activation in animals exposed to feminizing pollutants.
The endocrine-disrupting effects of atrazine are not restricted to frogs. Atrazine reduced olfactory-mediated endocrine functions in salmon at levels commonly observed in polluted water. And it was found to inhibit testosterone production in prepubertal rats.
The impact of atrazine on endocrine disruption is very serious. A study of aquatic ecosystems concluded that a single universal maximum on atrazine in catchments does not provide adequate environmental protection, and suggests flexible limits be set. However, it may be far more reasonable to discuss eliminating further atrazine input into the aquatic environment altogether.
Another important factor that is almost never considered in environmental risk assessment is that biological activities are predominantly nonlinear: weak forces or extremely low concentrations of a chemical may have disproportionately large effects at times, and conversely, strong forces or high concentrations of the chemical may have no effects at all.
The debate over the biological effects of trace chemical pollutants, which Rachel Carson began some fifty years ago, is getting to resemble the debate over the biological effects of weak electromagnetic fields that erupted in the 1970s, and more recently the effects of microwaves emanating from mobile phones and antennas. It is symptomatic of the basic inadequacy of the linear, mechanistic model of living systems that still dominates the scientific establishment, at a time when scientists across the disciplines are already working with non-linear dynamical models and even quantum coherent models of living systems.
It has not escaped our notice that in homeopathy, more dilute concentrations of substances are said to be 'potentised,' and expected to produce stronger effects, or in any case, effects opposite to what the same substance would produce at high concentrations. That, too, could fall within the spectrum of nonlinear behaviour of living systems, although it is much more difficult to explain.
Andrew Marino and his coworkers in LSU Health Science Center, Shreveport, Louisiana, have recently devised nonlinear statistical methods for analyzing the biological effects of weak electromagnetic fields that may be relevant to a range of data including the endocrine-disrupting effects of atrazine and other environmental pollutants.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer determined that there is sufficient evidence for the carcinogenicity of atrazine in animals, but not in humans. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded that the cancer studies showing atrazine carcinogenic in animals were not applicable to human but EPA did make minor adjustments to the regulatory framework for atrazine based on the elevated pollution by that herbicide. Recently, atrazine was found to potentiate arsenic toxicity in human cells, a result that causes concern in areas where drinking water is polluted with both toxins. Even though cancer has been a focus of regulatory action on the herbicide, impacts such as the intra-uterine growth retardation observed in communities with atrazine-polluted drinking water supplies have been given scant consideration.
Atrazine can be present in parts per million in agricultural run-offs and can reach 40 parts per billion in precipitation. The global impact of atrazine is staggering. Significant atrazine pollution has been found in the Lio-He and Yangtse rivers of China, and a review of the atmospheric dispersion of atrazine shows impacts of the herbicide even in isolated areas of the globe.
Prompt action to limit further pollution from atrazine may be delayed by the development of "super weeds" from current herbicide tolerant GM crops, and volunteer crops or weeds that develop multiple-herbicide tolerance by gene flow between commercial varieties. Some authorities and government regulators advise that herbicides such as atrazine should be used to control superweeds. This is the height of lunacy and irresponsibility. There should be a global ban on atrazine.
This article can be found on the I-SIS website at www.i-sis.org.uk/atrazine.php
The Institute of Science in Society (ISIS)
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