Human Byproducts Harm Us & Non-Humans, too
Getting the Market to Tell Ecological Truths
Unintentionally, people make progress, too. We trim, blend, and append five 2012 articles from: (1) Discovery, Apr 3, on dolphins by T. Wall; (2) OpEdNews, Apr 4, on chemicals by R. Clark; (3) AP, Apr 5, on exurbs by H. Yen; (4) Inter Press Service, Apr 11, on pricing by L. Brown; and (5) The Guardian, Apr 4, on taxes, their Economics blog reprinted a Blogpost of Feb 2 by Phillip Inman, economics correspondent.
by Tim Wall, by Richard Clark, by Hope Yen, by Lester Brown, and by The Guardian
Thousands of Dolphins Dying in Gulf Waters
Normally an average of 74 dolphins are stranded on the northern shore of the Gulf of Mexico each year, especially during the spring birthing season. But between February 2010 and April 1, 2012, 714 dolphins and other cetaceans have been reported as washed up on the coast from the Louisiana/Texas border through Franklin County, Fla., reported the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Since many of the dead dolphins sink, decompose or are eaten by scavengers before washing up, NOAA believes that 714 may represent only a fraction of the actual death count.
Although the timing of the die-off largely coincides with BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its aftermath, the deaths actually started increasing about two months before the April 20, 2010, explosion, which started the months long oil spill. Before the spill, 112 dolphins had already been reported stranded on the shore.
In the summer of 2011, NOAA tested 32 live dolphins in Barataria Bay, an area heavily impacted by the oil spill. The dolphins were underweight, anemic, and had low blood sugar and/or some symptoms of liver and lung disease. Nearly half had abnormally low levels of hormones that help with stress response, metabolism, and immune function. The symptoms are consistent with those seen in animals exposed to oil.
But the mystery remains as to why the dolphins started dying before the spill.
To read more
JJS: It’s not just other intelligent mammals that human byproducts are sickening and killing, it’s also humans themselves whose intended products are sickening and killing prematurely.
Chemicals in your food include BPA
Bisphenol-A, a controversial chemical used in the lining of nearly all cans, got a reprieve from the government. Responding to a court order to decide on the Natural Resources Defense Council's petition to ban the stuff on the grounds that it causes harm even in tiny doses, the Food and Drug Administration rejected the petition and upheld its approval of BPA.
A 2008 study found the higher the BPA concentration in people's urine, the higher their incidence of cardiovascular trouble and diabetes.
BPA is a very likely contributor to the prostate problems that eventually affect a large majority of men in America. An endocrine disrupter, meaning that it has a range of effects on human development at minute doses, BPA probably also contributes to the "man-boob" problem that many men experience in their later years, just as various other estrogen mimickers do.
Research has shown that even low levels of BPA and phthalates cause problems in humans -- including obesity.
Sometimes you just have to make decisions based on 'inadequate' evidence. In 1999, Eden Foods, which sells organic goods, began lining most of its cans with a plant-based oleoresin, even though the new cans cost 14 percent more.
To read more
JJS: With the bad news is some good. People are reducing their demand for oil and are considering their health when preferring walkable cities.
US Growth of distant suburbs falls
American city dwellers are slowing their exodus to distant homes. In the sprawling towns that sprouted in the heady 2000s, spacious McMansions sit abandoned or half-built. Construction of gleaming new schools and mega-malls built in anticipation of a continued population boom is cutting back.
About 10.6 million Americans reside in the nation's exurbs, just 5 percent of the number in large metropolitan areas. That number represents annual growth of just 0.4 percent from 2010, the largest one-year growth drop for exurbs in at least 20 years. It is also smaller than the 0.8 percent growth rate for cities and their surrounding urban areas, which has now surpassed that of exurbs for the first time in at least two decades.
By comparison, in 2006 exurban communities grew at an annual rate of 2.1 percent, compared with a population loss of 0.2 percent for inner cities.
Factors include an extended housing bust and renewed spike in oil prices. Plus young singles increasingly delaying marriage and childbirth and thus are more apt to rent and a graying population that in its golden years may prefer closer-in, walkable urban centers. Once an escape from urban problems, suburban regions hit by foreclosures are posting bigger jumps in poverty than cities.
Fewer people are also moving around within the nation's borders -- just 11.6 percent of the nation's population moved to a new home, the lowest since the government began tracking such information in 1948.
To read more
JJS: Human settlement patterns could be far more compact than now. And more people would make efficient choices if prices told them to.
Getting the Market to Tell Ecological Truths
If we can get market prices to reflect the full cost of burning gasoline or coal, of deforestation, of overpumping aquifers, and of overfishing, then we can begin to create a rational economy.
For energy, the indirect costs to society -- climate change, oil industry tax breaks, military protection of the oil supply, oil industry subsidies, oil spills, and treatment of auto exhaust-related respiratory illnesses -- total roughly 12 per dollars gallon. That is on top of the price paid at the pump. These are real costs. Someone bears them.
Not only do we distort reality when we omit costs associated with burning fossil fuels from their prices, but governments actually subsidize their use, distorting reality even further. Governments are shelling out nearly 1.4 billion dollars per day to further destabilize the earth's climate.
Full-cost pricing means putting a tax on carbon to reflect the full cost of burning fossil fuels and offsetting it with a reduction in the tax on income. Some 2,500 economists, including nine Nobel Prize winners in economics, have endorsed the concept of tax shifts.
Cutting income taxes while increasing gasoline taxes would lead to more rapid economic growth, less traffic congestion, safer roads, and reduced risk of global warming -- all without jeopardizing long-term fiscal solvency. This may be the closest thing to a free lunch that economics has to offer.
Phasing in full-cost pricing will quickly reduce oil and coal use. Suddenly wind, solar, and geothermal will become much cheaper than climate-disrupting fossil fuels.
Consider deforestation. Proper incentives, such as a stumpage tax for each tree cut, would automatically shift harvesting from clear-cutting to selective cutting, taking only the mature trees and protecting the forests.
If the water table continues to fall, then water should be priced at a rate that will reduce its use and stabilize the aquifer. Otherwise, there is a "race to the bottom" as wells are drilled ever deeper. When the aquifer is depleted, the water-based food bubble will burst, reducing harvests and driving up food prices.
We are economic decision-makers, whether as corporate planners, government policymakers, investment bankers, or consumers. And we rely on the market for price signals to guide our behavior. But if the market gives us bad information, we make bad decisions, and that is exactly what has been happening.
To read more
JJS: The writer’s thinking was broad enough to cover shifting both subsidies and taxes. The tax shift that gives the biggest bang for our buck is not from income to pollution or from sales to depletion but from buildings to locations.
IFS backs land value tax
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has thrown its weight behind OECD proposals for a shift away from income taxes to consumption and wealth taxes. In particular, the IFS said: "Replacing business rates with a land value tax would remove a damaging bias against property-intensive production."
To read more
JJS: What makes the property tax shift the greenest tax shift? Several factors. Foremost, when people must pay “land dues” they take less land and use what they take more wisely. Settled on land compactly, people both pollute less and consume less (the two aims of the other two broad categories of eco-taxes).
But also, as other eco-taxes succeed, those taxes shrink their tax base; people quit doing the things they get taxed for, and when they’re harming the planet, quitting is a good thing. Yet, interestingly, when people use land efficiently, they raise the value of that land (while preserving the health of surrounding land). Thus there’s more land value to go around, to fund any desired social service and/or to disburse as a dividend to residents (a la Alaska's oil share).
Because a tax or fee or dues on land challenges property, it is more controversial than the obvious principle of “polluters must pay”. Yet it is a controversy that those who would rescue the ecosystem can not keep dodging and hope to resolve the people vs. planet quandary. Just as those who extol speculation in land also demand property “rights”, so must environmentalists demand property duties -- and do so now.
Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics and helped prepare a course for the UN on geonomics. To take the “Land Rights” course, click here .
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