Friday, February 17, 2006

Friday Hope Blogging

The French government has agreed to take back an asbestos-laden ship headed for one of India's shipbreaking yards:

In what is being billed as a stunning victory for environmentalists, French President Jacques Chirac capitulated yesterday and ordered a contaminated warship destined for demolition in India to return home. His embarrassing reversal came immediately after France's Council of State ruled that the transfer to an Indian ship-breaking yard of the decommissioned aircraft carrier Clemenceau be suspended.
This is a good point at which to recall Lawrence Summers' views on "under-pollution":
I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.
Summers, of course, fails to grasp the difference between what's economical at a given moment, and what's in one's best interests in the long term. The abortive voyage of the Clemenceau humilated the French government, and that humiliation clearly outweighed the potential savings of offshoring asbestos pollution; in fact, it even outweighed the substantial cost of recalling the ship. More important, it cast a spotlight on the offshoring of toxic waste, and set a valuable precedent for first-world accountability; in the wake of Chirac's decision, Bangladesh has forbidden another asbestos-lined ship from being broken at Chittagong.

The problem isn't that low-wage countries are under-polluted; the problem is that high-tech countries have been underperforming when it comes to sensible redesign of products and processes. A new study on the long-term benefits of the EU's REACH program may help to change this:
The draft REACH legislation on chemicals could save society billion of euros in water treatment and other environmental costs such as sewage treatment, according to new research for the European Commission.
Meanwhile, over in Northern Ireland, researchers at Queen's University's Ionic Liquids Research Centre (QUILL) have apparently developed fume-free, low-toxicity industrial solvents. But as always, I'm more excited by low-tech ideas like Design for Africa:
Design for Africa is an ambitious project to bring design as a problem-solving tool to local communities in Africa. Brainchild of industrial designers Frank Hofmann and Staffan Weigel, the project's ambition is to assist the people of Kibera by helping them look at new ways of creating useful items from garbage and other rejected materials.
In pursuit of this goal, Hoffmann and Weigel will be spending a year driving across Africa; you can follow their progress (and support their work) here. (They have a nice photo gallery, too!)

Speaking of low-tech solutions, an organic farm in Virginia shows that allowing cows to forage confers a benefit on downstream neighbors, and on the environment generally:
Charles Stallings, a Virginia Tech dairy scientist, outlined the economic and environmental advantages of forage grazing to local farmers at a seminar Thursday. A dairy cow's intake of phosphorus, he said, relates directly to its potential to pollute surface water...."If you're trying to reduce phosphorus, forage is a good way. It's a healthier situation for the cow, as opposed to a high-grain diet."
On the medical front, there's more news on the possibility of high-speed production of an effective pandemic flu vaccine. Allegedly, it'll be possible to produce six million doses per week, after a one-month ramp-up. I don't have the expertise to assess this claim, but my fingers are crossed.

For recreation, I suggest Sounds From Space, which compiles recordings of satellites from a variety of countries. (Retro-futurists may prefer this collection of sounds from vintage craft like Oscar 1 and Sputnik.) Even more enjoyable - possibly - is Radio Meteor Listening, which allows you to listen in real time to meteor showers. Or, if you prefer, you can listen to the sounds of the aurorae, which provide a nice soundtrack for the Hourly STD DMSP/POLAR Auroral Activity Report.

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