January 2004: Christian Ecology Link: A Daily Prayer Guide for the Care of Creation
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January 2004

         "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power . . .
Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit,
which is the word of God.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests."

(Ephesians 6.10 & 17-18)

"Once we realise that we own absolutely nothing, we are enlightened, not only in the sense that our minds are flooded with light, but also in the sense that a weight is lifted from us and our hearts grow lighter."

(Donald Nicholl)

Thursday 1st January

In the early 1990s Cuba was suddenly deprived of agrochemical imports. In 1998 an EU-funded research project set out to discover:

1. whether Cuban agriculture was as organic as sometimes claimed, and
2. whether it was able to feed its population without agrochemicals.

The findings indicate that, although the urban farming network uses broadly organic methods, rural production is still largely conventional owing to lack of access to organic inputs and lack of knowledge of organic agriculture. Nevertheless Cuba's food production has steadily increased, though it remains dependent both on food imports and food aid. The report concludes that the use or non-use of agrochemicals is less important to yields than good human and natural resource management. Cuba succeeded in maintaining a basic food ration for each citizen by putting its national spending priorities into food production. Where there is a political will to feed the population there is no need for industrialised agriculture and its attendant problems.

Friday 2nd January

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, Europe's most widely used herbicide, has been banned in Denmark as an autumn spray on sites "where leaching is extensive because of heavy rain." This results from the publication of data showing its presence in groundwater, which provides most of Denmark's drinking water. Although concentrations did not exceed permissible limits, it was "worrying" that unacceptable levels might build up via drainage in the uppermost levels of groundwater. "Danes should be able to put on the coffee in the morning without worrying about pesticides" said the Environment Minister.

Saturday 3rd January

In October the Co-Op, Britain's biggest farmer, announced that it would ban the growing of GM crops on its land, and the sale under its brand name of any products containing GM ingredients. This follows the publication of results from the farm-scale GM trials, showing a detrimental effect on wildlife living amongst GM sugar beet and oilseed rape. Meanwhile the Canadian NFU, which had been enthusiastic about GM crops, is now opposed to them because yields had declined and the use of herbicides had increased.

Sunday 4th January

Lord God, Creator of all, forgive us that, through our greed and arrogance, we have turned from your love and followed the ways of injustice and violence. In our selfishness we have denied the needs of others and built a society which takes but seldom gives, which demands but rarely counts the cost, which values success above love, which seeks growth in output rather than in maturity. Forgive us, Father, and grant us the strength to turn from our evil ways.

Monday 5th January

A US study of GM crops released by the Northwest Science & Environment Policy Centre reveals that since 1996, when US farmers started to grow GM crops commercially, annual herbicide use has increased by 73 million pounds (33,112 metric tonnes). This is largely because GM soya was genetically modified to resist a particular herbicide, resulting in a proliferation of weeds which have become adapted to GM and are harder to control. The British Government at the time of writing has yet to decide whether to allow commercial production of GM crops.

Tuesday 6th January

For years scientists have been reporting changes in the sexual development of animals: most lakes in Florida contain alligators that cannot breed because their testes have been feminised to resemble ovaries. In Montana, out of 254 deer carcasses recovered after road accidents, 67% had severe genital abnormalities. Now a study by the University of N. Carolina School of Public Health has found that, out of 17,000 young girls examined by 225 physicians, 6.7% of white girls and 27.2% of black girls under the age of 8 showed breast development and pubic hair. The doctors reported that 1% of 3-year old girls had swollen breasts or pubic hair. According to numerous studies, the root of the problem is a family of endocrine-disrupting chemicals that mimic the effects of the female hormone oestrogen. Now the WHO warns that "the biological plausibility of possible damage to reproductive and developing systems from exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals is strong."

Wednesday 7th January

Prime suspects as hormone-disrupters are:
  • PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) widely used in electrical equipment during the 1970s but banned in the UK when they were found to be toxic and to build up in animals;
  • PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) still widely used as flame retardants in many everyday products;
  • OCPs (organochlorine pesticides) including lindane (now banned) and chlordane;
  • DDT and its metabolites, a long-lasting and toxic chemical banned in most countries but still used in some countries to control malaria.
Zac Goldsmith asks: At what point can we realistically expect our leaders to put happiness and human survival before the interests of industry? Is precocious puberty just another trend, like rising cancer, asthma and allergies, that we will simply have to get used to? Will this phenomenon become yet another excuse for profiteering?

Tuesday 8th January

155 volunteers including celebrities, MPs and MEPs took part in a WWF survey to measure levels of the chemicals listed yesterday. All the 18 WWF staff tested at the pilot stage were contaminated with up to 50 types of chemicals out of a total of 77 tested for. A WWF petition calls on the European Parliament "to protect the health of its citizens and wildlife by declaring endocrine-disrupting chemicals and very persistent and very bioaccumulative chemicals to be of very high concern under forthcoming EU legislation. We call upon Parliament to phase out these hazardous chemicals in favour of safer alternatives." The petition may be downloaded from www.wwf.org.uk/chemicals or else ring 01483 860869.

Friday 9th January

The Soil Association's annual conference, entitled "Reconnecting the Public with Agriculture", opens today at Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh. Questions to be addressed include:
How can we re-awaken a passion for good food and good husbandry?
How can producers enlist the support of consumers to build a future that is environmentally and economically sustainable?

Saturday 10th January

40 MEPs from at least 10 EU member states last month gave blood samples to laboratories in the UK, Belgium and Holland, to test for over 70 chemicals. The survey was organized by WWF and sponsored by the Co-operative Bank. The results will be available in the spring, in time for the determination of EU legislation on hazardous chemicals. For information on how to reduce exposure to these chemicals, call WWF on 01483 860869 and ask for the booklet "Chemicals and Health in the Home."

Sunday 11th January

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy power to combat evil;
Where there is sabotage of Thy creation
Let me strive to safeguard it.
Where greed seeks to destroy our moral heritage;
Let me be first to oppose it.
Where power and money combine to undermine our community life
Let me hasten to affirm the supremacy of love of neighbour.
Where there is passivity, deference and conformism to the giant powers of darkness
Give me the courage to radiate the light of truth.

(John Papworth, reproduced by permission)

Monday 12th January

According to the International Energy Agency, coal consumption in China is growing faster than anywhere else. The Agency predicts that China's increase in greenhouse gas emissions from 2000 to 2030 will almost equal that of the rest of the industrialised world put together.

China's car sales are rising dramatically, as well as domestic energy use for televisions, air-conditioning and other electronic appliances.

Pray for the rapid spread of clean renewable energy throughout the Far East and for those who promote it.

Tuesday 13th January

Alcoa, the giant US aluminium producer, which operates in 40 countries and in 2002 earned revenues of $20.3 billion, has closed three smelters in the USA owing to cost and overcapacity. Now it plans to build a giant smelter in Iceland powered by hydro-electricity from a new 57 sq.km. reservoir now being built near the east coast. Eight new dams will funnel water to an underground powerhouse generating 4,400 gigawatt hours a year. The whole project will cost over $1 billion. Alcoa produces 100 billion drink cans a year. Americans throw away enough of these in 3 months to rebuild the entire commercial airline fleet. A higher recycling rate could generate more aluminium than several smelters of the size planned in Iceland. Recycling aluminium uses a mere 5% of the energy needed to extract new metal from bauxite. Furthermore, all the bauxite used will have to be shipped from overseas, causing extra fossil fuel emissions. Communities around the world have protested against the destruction and contamination that results from bauxite mining. Yet modern economies cannot apparently survive without growth in material consumption and corporate profit: there is little of either in just recycling old Coke cans. So the Earth, our home, has to suffer. Or does it?

Wednesday 14th January

According to Sir John Houghton, the first chairman of the International Panel on Climate Change, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas) are already at 330 ppm over 30% more than in pre-industrial times. This will inevitably rise to 450 ppm, nearly doubling the pre-industrial level. Likely impacts are an increase in global average temperatures of 2o or 3oC. associated with a substantial sea-level rise and an increase in extreme events such as floods and droughts in many parts of the world. He lists four essential principles for an international agreement on an emissions reduction:
  • The precautionary principle;
  • The principle of sustainable development;
  • The polluter-pays principle;
  • The principle of equity both between nations and between generations.
The "Contraction and Convergence" proposal put forward by the Global Commons Institute satisfies these principles and, he believes, provides a sound and logical mechanism for dealing with climate change. But it does mean facing up to some difficult questions:

Can world leaders agree to a target for stabilisation of greenhouse gases at a sufficiently low level to stave off dangerous climate change?

Can they agree to an equitable global distribution of emissions permits assigned to different countries on a per capita basis?

An associated challenge is to provide sustainable energy for the one-third of the world who have no access to modern energy services.

Thursday 15th January

At last month's UN Climate Change conference in Milan rules were set for the inclusion of forest carbon sequestration as a means of extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This amounts to international recognition of the importance of forests to the world's climate - a big step forward. There were indications that Russia would sign the Kyoto Protocol after the presidential elections in March. At the conference, Germany, the Philippines, Britain and others agreed to keep the average global temperature increase to less than 2oC. WWF believes that above this threshold the world will suffer from increased flooding, droughts and glacial meltdown.

Friday 16th January

From today until the 21st the 4th World Social Forum meets at Mumbai (formerly Bombay), where 75,000 delegates will discuss alternatives to the dominant neo-liberal model for globalisation, as put forward by the big transnational corporations, the IMF, World Bank and WTO at the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos. The Forum is also an opportunity to strengthen alliances among mass organisations, peoples' movements and civil society organisations. For more information visit www.wsfindia.org

Saturday 17th January

In 1987 the Montreal Protocol was agreed with the aim of phasing-out ozone-depleting chemicals by 1996. That has not happened.

Scientists estimate that since the 1980s there has been a 3-6% reduction in the ozone layer. For every 1% reduction, there is a 2-4% increase in skin cancers and between 100,000 and 150,000 new cases of eye cataracts. The Protocol allowed exceptions for chemicals exported to developing countries and for essential uses such as inhalers for asthmatics.

Unfortunately a black market has developed. For example, 15,000 tonnes of CFCs exported to the Dutch Antilles were discovered by customs officers to be illegally shipped back to France. Moreover, 45% of Spanish companies contacted by undercover investigators were willing to supply CFCs illegally: in Italy the figure was 29%, in the UK 24% and in France 12%. In the Indian sub-continent CFCs are crossing borders concealed in every kind of transport. In the Philippines 75% of CFC consumption is illegal: vehicle air-conditioning systems that were adapted for alternatives to CFCs have been converted back to the cheaper CFCs.

Sunday 18th January

Lord God, the world is full of your glory, but now it is being veiled by our negligence. Forgive us for our lack of concern. Unstop our ears, so that we may hear the groans of your creation that is being so afflicted by human thoughtlessness. Stir us up to act now to protect your suffering world. For the sake of your dear Son, who died to redeem us all.

Monday 19th January

A new Greenpeace report "Sea Wind Europe" claims that, if the right actions are taken, one-third of the EU's electricity needs can be met by offshore wind, while providing 3.5 million new jobs. This capacity would come from 55,000 of the biggest wind turbines available today. Installation rates of 8-9 turbines a day would be needed, but Germany has already achieved this rate with onshore turbines. The report details the priorities:
  • Developing the EU Renewables Directive so as to set far more ambitious targets for 2020;
  • Ensuring that the European Investment Bank, with other banks, prioritises offshore wind for investment;
  • Targeting R & D funds towards offshore wind and other marine renewable energy technologies;
  • Developing the European grid so as to accommodate large-scale offshore
  • wind.

Tuesday 20th January

The report says that offshore wind has potential to create more jobs than coal and nuclear power. The jobs cover a wide range - from planning, designing and building the wind farms to connecting them to the grid and maintaining them during operation. The manufacture of turbines, offshore support structures etc. would use established skills and facilities from the ports, shipping, manufacturing and engineering sectors in areas where unemployment is a growing concern.

Wednesday 21st January

From today until the 25th the World Economic Forum meets at Davos, Switzerland. It is funded by the world's biggest corporations and, according to is website, is "an independent organisation committed to improving the state of the world." It "facilitates dialogue between corporate, political, intellectual and other leaders on matters of global, regional, corporate and industrial importance. We facilitate discussion acting as a catalyst for the development of key strategic insights." Others might interpret these "insights" as finding the means to exercise more and more control over every aspect of our lives.

Thursday 22nd January

The world's biggest test centre for wave technology has been opened on the Pentland Firth, Scotland. Run by the European Marine Energy Centre, it will test a variety of wave energy devices. Portugal is building a similar centre on the Bay of Biscay, while the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco has given the go-ahead for a pilot project to test tidal power in San Francisco Bay.

Friday 23rd January

Japan has over 1700 waste incinerators and registers the highest level of dioxins in the world.

Now the town of Kamikatsu on the island of Shikoku has adopted the country's first Zero Waste Declaration. By promoting waste recycling and better resource use, it aims to eliminate waste incineration and landfill disposal by 2020.

Many cities in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and USA have already accepted the Zero Waste approach, which promotes the re-use, recycling or composting of discarded materials. For more information visit: www.greenpeace.org.uk or e-mail: mark.strut@uk.greenpeace.org

Saturday 24th January

In October the EU Environment Commissioner Margaret Wallstrom outlined the REACH proposals for substituting less harmful chemicals for the most hazardous. Under the proposals, industry must provide data on all chemicals that it sells.

Chemicals of high concern, no matter how long they have been on the market, will require an authorisation for production, use and marketing to continue. The applicant must demonstrate that there are no safer substitutes available, that the chemical serves a useful social need and that the hazards are adequately controlled. Greenpeace believes all authorisations should be temporary so as to encourage innovation. Also, if a suitable substitute is available, that alone should be a sufficient reason to refuse an authorisation.

Sunday 25th January

Save us, Father, from over-reliance on human ingenuity and short-term solutions as we strive to repair the damage we have wrought to your world. Acknowledging our reasoning powers as your most precious gift, inspire us to put our trust in you alone, who gave your Son for our salvation.

Monday 26th January

The Chernobyl accident of 1986 and the Indonesian forest fires of 1997, both of which affected many countries, forced the realisation that a healthy environment is an international concern.

In 1996 the International Court of Justice pronounced as follows:
    "The environment is not an abstraction but represents the living space, the quality of life and the very health of human beings, including generations unborn. The existence of the general obligation of states to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction and control respect the environment of other states or of areas beyond national control is now part of the corpus of international law related to the environment."
Yet individual states' interests remain paramount and few international environmental agreements have the teeth to secure enforcement. Even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, is in the form of recommendations rather than requirements. Neither the 1972 Stockholm Declaration nor the 1982 World Charter for Nature nor the 1992 Rio Declaration on the Environment & Development, none of these is legally binding on the signatories. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) oversees international agreements and promotes compliance with existing laws. For example, monitoring the illegal trade in wildlife requires collaboration with enforcement agencies across the world, but UNEP itself has little power to enforce sanctions on non-complying states. As the threat of climate change bulks larger, one may pray that agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol may be made enforceable at law, though it seems more likely that self-interest will prevail.

Tuesday 27th January

The recent Government Energy White Paper accepted that a carbon emissions trading scheme will be essential if we are to achieve a reduction of 20% in carbon emissions by 2010. Two crucial questions arise:
  • What cap will be set on total emissions?
  • How will permits be issued to the industries affected?
A tough cap will give a strong signal of the Government's commitment to its domestic target. To achieve this, the energy sector will have to reduce its emissions by around 30%. This would increase the cost of fossil-fuelled power stations and change the economics of building new ones.
    "At last" says Greenpeace "Fossil fuel-intensive industries will be paying more of the real cost of their activities."
Clean renewable energy projects will be correspondingly more attractive when the cost of the dirty alternatives increases. Nevertheless, renewable energy technologies such as solar, wave and tidal power will continue to require support if they are to develop their full potential.

Wednesday 28th January

In April 2002 Greenpeace activists boarded a ship off the coast of Florida carrying 70 tonnes of mahogany exported illegally from Brazil, and unfurled a banner calling on President Bush to stop importing illegally-logged timber. Now Greenpeace is being prosecuted by the US Justice Department for authorising the boarding. If the prosecution succeeds, the tradition of non-violent civil protest, practised from the time of the Boston Tea Party to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, may become another casualty of the US Justice Department's attacks on civil liberties since 9/11.

Thursday 29th January

Nearly three-quarters of us, when we die, are embalmed in the hope of preserving us in as lifelike a state as possible rather than allowing natural decomposition to take place. The USA alone buries 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid a year. Half of the fluid used is formaldehyde, a potent carcinogen which causes flu-like symptoms, rashes, asthma and neurological illness. Hospital workers and undertakers have a 30% greater chance of developing cancer of the throat, nose or pharynx. Coffins are often made of reinforced fibreglass which is not biodegradeable, thereby (so manufacturers claim) "protecting the body from the environment and the environment from the body for countless tomorrows." How hard it is for some of us to contemplate the natural processes of death, decay and re-birth! So our health and the environment are made to suffer for our blinkered attitudes.

Friday 30th January

73% of corpses are now incinerated, compared to just 4% in 1946. According to the EU, 12% of UK atmospheric dioxins resulting from combustion come from crematoria. The WHO describes the effects of dioxins thus: "Short-term exposure to high levels of dioxins may result in skin lesions and altered liver function. Long-term exposure is linked to impairment of the immune system, the developing nervous system, the endocrine system and reproductive functions. Chronic exposure of animals to dioxins has resulted in several types of cancer." Moreover 11% of mercury vapour in the atmosphere comes from the amalgam in dental fillings burnt during cremation. Researchers in Northampton have discovered twice the normal level of mercury in the hair of crematorium workers, while the risk of stillbirths for women living near crematoria is 4% up on the national average.

Saturday 31st January

Many people now want funerals where the natural processes are embraced, not resisted. In 1996 there were 17 woodland burial grounds, now there are over 180, with more and more choosing not to be encased in dead wood or plastic, but to be part of the nutrients that help new trees to grow. There are no headstones and no metal. Most coffins are biodegradeable cardboard. A tree is planted on each grave. We are not taking from God's earth, but giving back. For information about woodland burials, contact: The Natural Death Centre, 6 Blackstock Mews, Blackstock Road, London N4 2BT or ring 020 7359 8391 or fax 020 7354 3831 or visit www.naturaldeath.org.uk


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