issue 220 - June 1991
Scientific studies which showed how the massive oil spill from the Exxon Valdez destroyed natural life in Prince William Sound can finally be made public now that Exxon has agreed to pay $1.1 billion in fines and damages. The results of hundred of studies have been kept secret while government agencies and companies that paid for the research were expecting to be using them in legal battles.
When Exxon's tanker ran aground on 24 March 1989, 240,000 barrels of crude oil leaked into the Alaskan waters.
The payment, agreed mid-March, will settle all claims against Exxon brought by the federal and state governments. These are the biggest claims that the largest petroleum company in the world faces, because state and national parks covered most of the area affected by the spill.
Yet Exxon still faces hundreds of additional lawsuits from fisherpeople, environmental groups and local villages.
From New Scientist, Vol. 129, No. 1761 1991.
Patents are being filed in Alaska for a 'personal protection device' against muggers which does them no harm, it simply smells. The secret ingredient is natural skunk essence. The foul-smelling (unless you are a skunk) liquid is sealed in a plastic capsule and the capsule moulded into a credit card. Anyone worried about attacks carries the card to whip out in an emergency, bending it while pointing it at the attacker. Bending the card fractures the capsule along a pre-weakened line, so the essence squirts out in a thin stream. Anyone sprayed will stink for at least two weeks, probably a month.
From Consumer Currents, No. 135, 1991.
About a year and a half ago the international trade in ivory was almost entirely banned, now Kenya is facing a problem - elephants over-breeding. Although they are still comparatively scarce (down from 65,000 fifteen years ago to 20,000 today) Richard Leakey, the warden-in-chief acknowledges that Kenya could never support 65,000 elephants now, and in some places 20,000 is too much.
However due to the emotion which surrounds the issue, culling the herds would create a backlash in the countries that supply Kenya's tourists. So Leakey is looking at methods of birth control. Vaginal rings are being explored, but the cost is high.
Nevertheless something has to be done. For the proliferating jumbos are smashing woodlands, destroying agriculture and threatening the black rhino, which competes with the elephant for food.
From Time magazine, Vol. 137, No.12, 1991.
In Latin America, the overseas debt crisis and government spending cutbacks mean that people talk about the 1980s as a lost decade, and further, about the lost generation born in these years. In Rio de Janeiro the lack of any worthwhile future has given birth to a new sport: train-surfing. Brazilian street children stand atop trains beside a 3,300 volt cable that powers the trains to speeds of up to 120 kilometres an hour. During eighteen months, over 1987-1988, train-surfing in Rio produced 200 deaths and 500 gruesome injuries. 'It's a form of suicide,' said the father of a surfista who was killed. 'Brazilian youth is suffering so much, they see no reason to live.'
From Foreign Policy, quoted in World Development Forum, Vol. 9, No.3,1991.
Indian kids miss out
India is the world's largest producer of illiterates and child labourers - and there is a direct connection. Of the 82 million Indian children within the 6-14 year old age group, half do not go to school. They don't have to, because there are no laws against parents withdrawing their children from the classroom.
Of those who do enter the first grade of schooling, only 40 per cent complete four years, the minimum necessary to achieve literacy. So it is no surprise that literacy remains low - only 40.8 per cent of Indians can read and write. Illiteracy is increasing. From 1961-1981, the number of adult illiterates increased by five million a year, from 333 million to 437 million.
Other Third World countries put India's educational record to shame. Indonesia with 6.4 per cent of its population literate in 1930, now has a 74 per cent literacy; China has increased literacy from 20 per cent in 1949 to 73 per cent by 1986 while a whole range of African countries from Botswana to Zimbabwe have literacy rates in the 50-75 per cent range.
From Far Eastern Economic Review, Vol. 151, No 6, 1991.
Being killed by kindness
Being kind enough to allow others to smoke in your presence might not be such a good idea. For an estimated 53,000 non-smokers die in the US every year from diseases caused by inhaling tobacco smoke. Office workers are particularly vulnerable. A study published January 1991 blames passive smoking for 37,000 deaths annually from heart disease, 3,700 from lung cancer and 12,000 from other forms of cancer. The conclusion was that passive smoking is now the third leading preventable cause of death in the US, after active smoking and alcohol.
From Circulation, January 1991.
Journal of the American Heart Association.
Friends fall out over Shell
Friends of the Earth: Hong Kong has split with the international environmental organization because of a disagreement on business sponsorship. For the Hong Kong group is being given generous support by Shell, the multinational oil company. Shell pays for local education programmes and buys advertising space in the group's magazine One Earth. However Shell is the target of a campaign by FoE International against pesticide producers that contaminate the environment.
The dispute arose at Foe's annual international meeting last year, when Hong Kong was threatened with being expelled unless they changed their policy. Rather than do that, Hong Kong Foe decided to withdraw. However nothing prevents the group from keeping the name, Friends of the Earth.
From New Scientist, Vol. 129, No. 1755, 1991.
'We judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles,
rather than by the quality of our service and relationship to humanity.'
Martin Luther King, 1929-1968.