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This is the third in a series of diaries about John and Teresa Kerry's book, "This Moment on Earth." Yesterday, we discussed Rachel Carson and her work in getting DDT banned. She was a citizen activist with little resources and little to go on but her concern, yet she succeeded in putting a halt to one of the most dangerous pesticides of modern times in this country.

Today, we are going to talk about how good intentions are not good enough, which is the next thrust of Kerry's argument. We will also hear from Teresa for the first time as she talks about the revival of Pittsburgh, which was formerly one of the dirtiest cities in the country.

John Kerry starts out by pointing out that modern industry operates on the faulty premise that all of the resources on the earth are limitless. As a result, for the last 80 years, people have traded their environmental well-being for convenience. As a result of this devil's bargain of convenience for the long-term environmental health of this country, we have reached a critical point at which we must either go green and make radical changes to the way we do business or end human life on this planet as we know it.

As we have to be specific in order to back these assertions up, we have to pick some victims, and Kerry picks two -- disposable diapers and the Model T. These are two prime examples of how we have picked convenience over environmental well-being. I say "we" here purposefully -- because of the fact that we are responsible for making the choices that we do. It is the easiest thing in the world to become a follower of Ralph Nader and blame Big Corporations for all the evils of pollution. And they are responsible for a lot of it. But the fact of the matter is, what we buy is just as responsible as well, as Al Gore has repeatedly hammered home as well.

In fact, following Ralph Nader can be an evasion of responsibility for what one does to contribute to the problem. It is all Big Corp's fault; therefore, it is not my problem if I buy disposable diapers, a gas-guzzling SUV, drive to work when I could carpool, etc. It is a matter of mutual responsibility to change the world for the better, not the responsibility of a strong man or Big Corps.

Disposable diapers can seem like the most harmless product in the world. However, they are one of the biggest contributors to the pollution problem in the country today. Kerry gives the following statistics:

--82,000 tons of plastic are used to make them; meaning they use crude oil.
--250,000 trees are cut down each year to make the pulp for the inner layer.
--It is bleached with chlorine gas, which contains dioxins.
--It is the third largest contributor to solid waste dumps.
--They take over 500 years to break down.

It is amazing what a seemingly harmless product can do to destroy the environment for the next 500 years. That is more than twice as long as the history of our country.

The next victim Kerry chooses is the Model T. It was chosen because it is the prototype of the throwaway car -- the kind of car that is towed off and hauled away to the junkman to rust away for decades and to contaminate the surrounding groundwater as well. Kerry points out that computers, cell phones, iPods, and other such technological gadgets are also designed to be thrown away when they are no longer needed.

Kerry then goes to his conversations with Bill McDonough, a man who is working to do something about it. Instead of making cradle to the grave products, McDonough is an inventor who designs products that are built to be reused. From the book on page 11, Kerry quotes him as follows:

"We are not victims of unfortunate physics," he says. "Neither physical or economic laws require that we lock ourselves up in buildings that don't breathe, or that we fill our surroundings with chemicals that poison our bodies, or that we be made to use tools that hurt us physically. Those outcomes are dictated not by the laws of nature, but by our failure to remember a cardinal principal of design -- products do what you ask of them."

For instance, here are some of McDonough's ideas in action:

The reuseable car:

The staging ground for Ford's innovation revolution is the top-secret Piquette Project. Unknown by all but the very top-level Ford executives, the program is aimed at nothing short of reinventing Detroit. It's named after the third-floor Piquette plant skunk works where Henry Ford and a group of engineers first developed the idea of the assembly line and experimented with lighter materials to create a car that could be mass-produced. The specific goals and the deadlines of the Piquette project are secret. But company officials say it harks back to Henry Ford's innovative experiments with soy-based polymers and the idea of agriculture and industry being closely linked. "The mission was, 'Could Ford design the Model T of the next century?'" says William McDonough, an expert on green architecture who is running the sustainability part of the project, involving recyclable and biodegradable materials.

Elephant Dung Paper:

No, not the Republican Party...

It is actually insulting to the elephants to compare their dung to the Republican Party, as it can be made into paper, meaning that no trees get killed. McDonough would like to see various kinds of biodegradable materials replace trees for paper.

Solar Ribbon Highways:

Evergreen Solar is one company that makes solar ribbons to put along highways; they also make solar panels for people's homes as well.

McDonough has written a book called Cradle to Cradle about making sustainable products:

Paper or plastic? Neither, say William McDonough and Michael Braungart. Why settle for the least harmful alternative when we could have something that is better--say, edible grocery bags! In Cradle to Cradle, the authors present a manifesto calling for a new industrial revolution, one that would render both traditional manufacturing and traditional environmentalism obsolete. Recycling, for instance, is actually "downcycling," creating hybrids of biological and technical "nutrients" which are then unrecoverable and unusable. The authors, an architect and a chemist, want to eliminate the concept of waste altogether, while preserving commerce and allowing for human nature. They offer several compelling examples of corporations that are not just doing less harm--they're actually doing some good for the environment and their neighborhoods, and making more money in the process. Cradle to Cradle is a refreshing change from the intractable environmental conflicts that dominate headlines. It's a handbook for 21st-century innovation and should be required reading for business hotshots and environmental activists.

Environmentally friendly diapers:

gDiapers are environmentally friendly and can be flushed. They are biodegradable, unlike traditional disposable diapers; they are also not made with any chlorines which contain Dioxin.

Buildings that produce energy:

This newsletter discusses ways of constructing buildings that actually generate solar energy and that are no more costly than traditional buildings.

Teresa Kerry then takes up the narritave and writes about the economic revival of Pittsburgh, formerly one of the dirtiest cities in the country. She reasons that if all this stuff can be applied at an individual level, then why can't it be applied on a municipal basis?

She goes on to list many of the people who worked to clean up the city once described as "Hell with the lids off:"

Richard King Mellon:

He was a powerful banker for the city during the middle of the 20th century. He saw that the city of Pittsburgh's low quality of life was driving people away in droves and actively worked to reverse that trend. He had a passion for the outdoors; he would actively twist arms to get people to reduce their emissions and pushed for tougher environmental laws. He was one of the main forces behind the city's tearing down of 100 old buildings and replacing them with greener and more modern buildings.

David L. Lawrence:

He was the mayor of Pittsburgh for 12 years and was one of the key allies of Mellon. Both shared a passion for the environment that allowed Lawrence to reach across party lines and help transform the city.

Among some of the building projects that were part of the revival of Pittsburgh:

The David Lawrence Convention Center:

One of the largest Green buildings in the world; it uses natural daylight to heat the building and utilizes a water reclaimation system that reduces water usage.

Three Rivers Park:

This is a place that will has 13 miles of open space and has a continuous flow of trails, walkways, and bridges.

University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute:

This institute contains the Center for Environmental Oncology, an institute which specializes in identifying and diagnosing environmental diseases and identifying the links between environment and disease. The Magee Womens Hospital also does extensive research on the relationship between environment and disease as well.

Now, Pittsburgh has gotten to the place where it is one of the most liveable cities in the country. Not only that, it has provided inspiration to economic revivals in other cities as well.

And Teresa Kerry then poses the question, if we can do this with Pittsburgh, one of the bleakest cities in the country for a long time, then why not the whole country and the whole world? Many of the facts and figures in Inconvenient Truth seem glum and apocalyptic. But if Pittsburgh can turn around and become a world-class city that is one of the most environmentally-friendly cities to live in, then why can't we apply the lessons of Pittsburgh to the country and the world?

Teresa then takes her husband's thesis, that all environmental politics is local, and takes it a step further -- environmentalism involves the choices that each of us as individuals make. For her, this is not an ivory-tower theory that she learned from some university or think tank -- this is a conclusion based on observation from her childhood growing up in Africa. As a child in Africa, she constantly observed the interplay between nature, health, and survival. Nature has rules that each of us must follow -- for her area, it was not swimming during dawn and dusk, because that was when predators were most active -- like crocodiles. In addition, the rules involved not creating problems for nature.

Much resistance to environmentalism is based on the faulty premise that we are somehow the dominant race on this earth and the rest of the world is there for our benefit. Right-wing fundamentalists constantly misuse Genesis by claiming that we do not have to worry about the environment because God will provide everything that we need. But the fact of the matter is that if we love God, we love the creation. If we show our indifference to creation, or even our hate, that is an act of hate towards God. It is just like how we would regard an artist -- we cannot claim that we love Da Vinci to death and then promptly destroy the Mona Lisa painting. That would be the ultimate act of hatred against Leonardo. Yet numerous fundamentalists claim to love God and then look the other way as people constantly desecrate his creation.

And returning to the fact that we are nature's guests and that we follow nature's rules -- the fact of the matter is that we make rules that are in accordance with sound science -- i.e. based on observation. That means that we should not take the slightest chance that something seriously destructive to the environment should be approved. It is better to go back to the drawing board and design a better product than it would be to take the slightest chance of ruining the environment.

Teresa Kerry's father was Dr. Jose Simones-Ferreira. He practiced medicine for people in West Africa and he understood those lessons well -- he was constantly trying to relate their diseases to the conditions of their environment.

The fact of the matter, as Teresa Kerry points out, and her father understood as well, is that we cannot take ourselves and then separate the environment from ourselves into the background. Environmentalism is not a matter of throwing $25 at Greeneace to save the whales every time they write you begging for money. Too many people do that, pat themselves on the back for being good liberals, and then make personal choices that are destructive to the environment -- choices such as littering along the highway, buying a gas-guzzler, making unnecessary trips, violating the local hunting regulations. Environmentalism is a matter of local issues and personal choices.

And as I state in the title, good intentions are not good enough. Teresa Kerry gives a prime example of this -- a few decades ago, the WHO decided that it would be a good idea to spray DDT to wipe out malaria in Boreno. It worked, but it also killed the wasps in the area, which resulted in a lot of collapsed thatch roofs. It killed all the lizards and killed all the cats that ate the lizards, which meant that the area became infested with rats. The WHO had to airlift 14,000 to control the resultant rat infestation.

Tomorrow, we will talk about the unintended consequences of chemical use, the rampant prevailence of chemicals in our country, and the price that we have to pay for using them.

Originally posted to Stop the Police State! on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 08:42 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Great diary that makes me wince (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eternal Hope, QuickSilver, Jocelyn

    As I grow more conscious of the ways we have polluted our environment I really have a case of feeling guilty.  Even worse, I get frustrated about what to do.  More and more I am trying to be environmentally careful, but there are so many areas to think about.  I thought I was doing great for a while by recycling garbage.  It is such a small piece of what we need to do.  And there is so much more to become aware of.  

    Thank you John and Teresa Kerry for the book and your advocacy.  It is a positive development when other prominent leaders join Al Gore in this issue.

    It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin

    by pioneer111 on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 08:47:01 AM PDT

  •  I Couldn't Agree With You More (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eternal Hope, Jocelyn

    And as I said yesterday I can't wait for This Moment on Earth to arrive from Amazon.

    I've said this to people in the past. Companies that can find a way to make things that work with our environment are going to make billions. I wish America would lead on this issue.

    Just a little side story. One of my best friends is a lawyer at the EPA. He does "ground water." He worked for the better part of a decade (how sad to say) to get a sign posted on the Potomac that basically said, during heavy rain raw sewage will be dumped into said river. Swimming and fishing isn't a good idea.

    "It is not enough to win, all others must lose," Sun Tzu.

    by webranding on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 08:54:08 AM PDT

    •  Which is why states and localities (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Eternal Hope, webranding, Jocelyn

      have sometimes taken matters into their own hands.

      He worked for the better part of a decade (how sad to say) to get a sign posted on the Potomac that basically said, during heavy rain raw sewage will be dumped into said river. Swimming and fishing isn't a good idea.

       CA has its Coastal Commission.  Groups like Heal the Bay and Surfrider work with the counties and other agencies to monitor ocean water along beaches and some rivers.  

      My Karma just ran over your Dogma

      by FoundingFatherDAR on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 10:30:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  McDonough's (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eternal Hope, Jocelyn

    stated model for design is nature, where there is no waste, only rearrangements in the nutrient stream. Thanks for bringing him up again. I used to give out copies of Cradle to Cradle as high school graduation gifts.

    While personal choices are everything, I don't think we should minimize the contribution the NGO's have made. It isn't just a matter of tossing Greenpeace some money so they can go chase a boat. They, and my favorite org WWF, do much more than that. It is a strawman environmental group that just runs off to save the forest. WWF organizes programs to ensure the continued productivity of the forest, to the benefit of the stakeholders who count most - the surrounding communities.

  •  If everyone of us strarted at home (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eternal Hope

    and in our neighborhoods and bought green, things would change. I wonder if we have the time left for this to work? 10 years is not that long.  One thing it would bring about is change but unless everybody did their part that change would take too long.

    "Though the Mills of the Gods grind slowly,Yet they grind exceeding small."

    by Owllwoman on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 09:00:55 AM PDT

  •  I Can't Believe I Can Going To Reference (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eternal Hope, QuickSilver, Jocelyn

    Billo and The Factor, but he got into a lot of detail about this quote when he had them on:

    As a child in Africa, she constantly observed the interplay between nature, health, and survival. Nature has rules that each of us must follow -- for her area, it was not swimming during dawn and dusk, because that was when predators were most active -- like crocodiles. In addition, the rules involved not creating problems for nature.

    It makes me wonder how many Americans can't recall a walk in the woods. Wading in a creek. Growing something and then having the pleasure of eating it.

    I know more here at Kos do these things then the average American, but it still isn't enough.

    "It is not enough to win, all others must lose," Sun Tzu.

    by webranding on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 09:01:46 AM PDT

  •  Millions of children (0+ / 0-)

    have died from malaria that could have been easily prevented by the continued use of DDT.  WHO has finally started to lift that misguided ban.

    Yes, you probably shouldn't use it in the vast quantities we were doing so, but most dangerous is absurd -- you can sprinkle it on your breakfast cereal.

    •  Sorry: (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jocelyn

      But the problem is, as Teresa Kerry points out, is that you simply trade one set of problems for another. Allowing the use of DDT simply creates other problems. Problems such as the death of all the cats in a particular area, meaning that the area gets overrun with rats. Problems such as DDT finding its way into the food chain and creating sickness in the very children that you say that you want to save.

      These appeals to guilt simply do not work. Pointing to DDT is a copout and an excuse not to do research on safer alternatives.

      •  So use it in moderation (0+ / 0-)

        to let millions die and many more be chronically ill because overuse cause other lesser problems is irresponsible.  By all means, look for better alternatives.  But in the meantime, there is a proven solution that we used to solve our own malaria problems in the early part of the century.

        It is a form of racism for a rich society such as ours who used DDT by the kiloton to solve our malaria problem to deny it's use to the millions in Africa currently afflicted because of theoretical concerns based on our massive overuse.

        DDT doesn't cause sickness in children, you really can eat it on your breakfast cereal safely.

        •  This is typical. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          environmentalist, Jocelyn

          First of all, these appeals to guilt over racism mean nothing to me. These are not theoretical concerns at all -- these are actual concerns based on scientific fact. DDT does not break down at all -- which means the more that you consume, the more that you have in your body and the more that you are likely to get premature cancer and other such diseases.

          Just like unsafe drinking water -- you can drink a glass of unsafe drinking water and not get sick. But the more that you drink, the more that you get any number of diseases like chlorea for instance.

          You've been had -- you've fallen into the trap of choosing short-term benefits at the expense of long-term damage to the environment.

          And not only that, you ignore the basic scientific fact that mosquitoes can get resistant to DDT if it is applied enough -- that is what happened in the 1960's which forced the WHO to stop using it.

          So, given the long-term damage to the environment that DDT creates and given the fact that its benefits are only short-term, the most safe and cost-effective way of eradicating Malaria would be a combination of genetic research to develop a vaccine combined with getting mosquito nets to every person in Africa. That goal can be accomplished through the money that is being used right now on the senseless occupation of Iraq.

          •  What I Have Learned (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Eternal Hope

            As I have tried to educate myself on this topic is how every thing is interrelated. I am not sure the exact spot mosquitos play in the ecosystem, but I am sure they play an important part.

            "It is not enough to win, all others must lose," Sun Tzu.

            by webranding on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 10:49:41 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  But if you look at the history (0+ / 0-)

            Of DDT use in the United States, you can see that we used it in quantities vastly greater than anything that is being proposed for modern use.

            We did this for decades.  And the resultant health effects were questionable at best.  I would argue that the safety of DDT is much better established than 'safer' alternatives that we do not have such long experience with.

            I do not argue that it is harmless.  But it is not one of the most dangerous pesticides.  To hope for a vaccine ignores the problem of the abject poverty of the region -- vaccines are expensive and they can't even afford separate needles for the ones they have!

            •  With drastic consequences. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              environmentalist

              Like birds and fish and other harmless insects being killed. We would not even have been here as we know it if we had not stopped when we did. The resultant health effects were scientifically proven to be harmful and cumulative -- meaning that if we had used it for another decade, we would have been in a lot worse shape than what we are now.

              And once again, we have the resources to reverse that. The problem is that we are so committed to throwing away our resources on Iraq that we have nothing left over for malaria. If we were to get out of Iraq, then we would have more money for malaria research.

              It is one of the most dangerous pesticides because it does not break down like most other pesticides and chemicals do.

              •  If we hadn't stopped (0+ / 0-)

                It would pretty much be as it is now.  Decades of heavy use cause effects that are still being debated on birds and some animals.

                Because of the fact that silent spring was a seminal step in the environmental movement, the battle against DDT has been enshrined as a world-saving event.  I don't think the science really supports that.  I also think that many millions of people have died as a result of that decision.

                If you look at malaria deaths worldwide in countries that had not eradicated malaria as the U.S. has, comparing the trend before DDT was banned and after you can see clearly that people have and are dying as a result.  The trends are a hell of a lot clearer than the ecological effect science.

                •  Nope. (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  environmentalist, Jocelyn

                  Because as I stated before, DDT does not break down. Therefore, the effects would have been cumulative. The fact that it is still being debated simply proves my point about its long-term effects.

                  If people had been spending millions of dollars on safe alternatives and not spent millions of dollars shilling for DDT, then we would not be having this discussion. But sadly, too many people want the easy way out and do not consider the long-term damage that they are doing to the environment.

                  •  All good points EH. Well said. (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Eternal Hope, Jocelyn

                    I would add that there is a very effective and very inexpensive alternative to DDT that has been proven to work.  That is, supplying everyone with a night time mosquito net.  The net has a small amount of replent on it and has been proven to be very effective at cutting the rates of malaria.

                    Problem is, they cant get funding for this.

                    Why cant something that is cheap and effective get funding while something expensive and with harsh long-term side effects (DDT) gets tons of funding...?

                    Oh wait!  I think I already know the answer.
                    :-(

  •  Tag request (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eternal Hope, ZappoDave

    Please add the tag "books" when discussing books.

    Thanks!

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