Sunday, January 28, 2007

Action Alert: Opportunity for Global Warming Activism

A message from the Carolinas Coalition for Clear Air on Jan 27, 2007: please write to the NC Utilities Commission and the Charlotte Observer to express concerns about Duke Energy's proposed new coal-fired power plants at the Cliffside site. Details below.

ACTION ALERT!! Global Warming Activists…2 quick requests

1) Public comments still being taken on the Cliffside Coal Plant

Send your comments ASAP to the NC Utilities Commission at

* Cliffside will be a global warming machine emitting over 11 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air annually.

* Duke Energy hopes to have Cliffside exempted from any future carbon regulation by the federal government, but that is not a sure thing.

* Even though the price of Cliffside has jumped from $2 billion to close to $4 billion Duke still has not considered energy efficiency or renewable energy as a less expensive option for ratepayers.

NC Utilities Commission studies have shown that a blend of energy efficiency and renewable energy can substantially reduce the need for more power plants.

2) Send a letter to the Charlotte Observer.

We need EVERYONE to email a letter about Cliffside to Letters should be limited to 150 words and refer to an article in the paper. Use one of the article links below to frame your response.

* Duke Energy’s rush to build Cliffside contradicts Duke CEO Jim Rogers’ public statements about the urgent need to reduce global warming emissions.

* Cliffside is one of more than 150 coal plants in the US being fast-tracked by utility companies eager to get their plants online before carbon regulation kicks in.

* If Cliffside and all the other 150+ coal plants get built, the US Dept. of Energy predicts that CO2 emissions from coal plants will increase 50% by 2030, from 1.97 billion metric tons in 2006 to 2.93 billion metric tons.

Charlotte Observer story links:

For more information,


Friday, January 26, 2007

Weiners & Burgers Heating the Planet More than Cars

A scientist collecting waste samples from a swine manure holding pond in Iowa

Animal farming is a bigger contributor of greenhouse gases and global warming than transportation is. So says a new report from the United Nations FAO or Food and Agricultural Organization.

Raising livestock accounts for 18% of all green-house gas emissions worldwide, including 9% of all carbon dioxide produced by human activities. Most of that CO2 is from the burning of forests for livestock pastures or to grow feed for farmed animals.

In addition, 37% of all methane due to humans is from livestock. Methane is 23 times more potent as a greenhouse gas, molecule for molecule, than CO2 is.

Farmed animals, says the FAO report, now comprise 20% of all land animals. The proliferation of animals we keep for meat, eggs, and milk is displacing and endangering wildlife species. The report says that 30% of land which is now occupied by livestock was at one time prime wildlife habitat. [It seems to me this figure should be closer to 100%.]

The FAO proposes, as a partial solution, that the true environmental costs inherent in animal agriculture should be passed along to livestock farmers. This would include the cost of attempting to restore habitats damaged by livestock, including the cleaning of rivers polluted by the liquid effluent from waste lagoons. The farmers then would be forced to pass those costs along to retailers and on to consumers. Sounds good to me.

But some costs can't be recouped. There is no technology to remove CO2 from the air, for example. I know this because my community has just had a couple of public hearings to consider our local power company's request to build more coal-fired power plants. That point was brought up again and again as I and others protested the construction: there is no technology to remove CO2 from the air. So the real solution to animal farming will have to be consuming fewer animal products. There is no other true fix.

Science News, January 13, 2007


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Harvesting justice

1 25 07

Farm workers are vital to the production of food in the United States. Without their labor, our lives and our national economy would be very different. Yet American farm workers are often undervalued and marginalized.

Working long hard hours, for little pay, the men, women and children who make up this vital workforce are frequently exposed to toxic chemicals, like pesticides and herbicides.

On this edition, we'll hear from speakers working on behalf of farm workers in the U.S. today, and we'll hear from some of the farm workers themselves. Their message is clear: America's farming community deserves our recognition and our support.


Erik Nicholson, Director, United Farm Workers of America; Tirso Moreno, Executive Director, Farm Workers Association of Florida; Senor Everardo, Senor Guzman, Senor Sacramento and Senor Zenon, farm workers featured in the documentary, "Pesticides: From the Fields to Your Table"; Doctor Loco's Rockin' Jalapeño Band, "El Picket Sign."

This week's host/producer: Tena Rubio.Contributing producers: Justin Beck, Emily Polk.

VR News Room


For more information::

United Farm Workers of America821 Yakima Valley HighwaySunnyside, WATel: (509) 839-4903; Fax: (509) 839-3870

The Farm Workers Association of Florida815 South Park AvenueApopka, Florida 32703Tel: (407) 886-5151; Fax: (407) 884-6644

Documentary: "Pesticides: From the Fields to Your Table"The Farmworker Health and Safety InstitutePO Box 510Glassboro, NJ 08028

Doctor Loco's Rockin' Jalapeño BandP.O. Box 410023San Francisco, CA 94141Tel: (415) 822-3209; Fax: (415) 822-3203

Other helpful links::

National Center for Farm Worker Health (NCFH)1770 FM 967Buda, TX 78610(512) 312-2700; (800) 531-5120

Farm Worker Justice Fund, Inc.1010 Vermont Ave. NW, Suite 915Washington, DC 20005Tel: (202) 783-2628

Association of Farm Worker Opportunity Programs (AFOP)1726 M Street NW, Suite 800Washington, DC 20036Tel: (202) 828-6006; Fax: (202) 828-6005

Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN)300 Young Street; Woodburn, OR 97071Tel: (503) 982-0243; Fax: (503) 982-1031 farmworkerunion@pcun.org

Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO1221 Broadway StreetToledo, OH 43609Tel: (419) 243-3456; Fax: (419) 243-5655 info@floc.com

National Farm Worker Ministry438 N. Skinker Blvd.St. Louis, MO 63130Tel: (314) 726-6470; Fax: (314) 726-6427

Monday, January 22, 2007

Technology transfer for the poor

My father, Douglas A. Weikle, a career journalist and, until his retirement in the 1990s, Asian desk director of the Lao service, USIA/Voice of America, spent many years covering the post war plight of developing East Asian countries.

During his several tours overseas, he came to understand that the inequitable distribution of technology increasingly was to blame for the discontent and rebelliousness, called aggression. His solution, which became an ongoing State Department program, was both practical and elegant, requiring corporations to share technology as a “cost of doing business” with underdeveloped nations.

Our feature editorial this week is by David Dickson, Director of SciDev.Net Harlan Weikle

Developing countries must adopt effective policies on technology transfer that meet the needs of all social classes, including the poorest.

There is a common misconception that the single most important factor in science and development is the need for adequate funding for relevant research. This type of thinking — sometimes described as the 'science push' model of development — tends to focus on the proportion of a country's gross national product spent on research and development.

But spending on research is part of a broader picture. An arguably larger role is played by government policies affecting the practical application of scientific knowledge. This usually involves embedding such knowledge in technological products and processes, what is widely described as 'technology transfer'.

Technology transfer has in the past often been demonised in many development policy circles as a process by which multinational corporations become rich at the expense of poor countries — selling them products they cannot afford and keeping them politically subservient by refusing to license technical know-how.

But as developing countries have become increasingly integrated into a single global economy, such thinking has changed.

For regions like East Asia or Latin America, effective technology transfer, tapping into the scientific and technical knowledge of not only researchers in the North, but increasingly their own, is now recognised as essential to economic growth and social prosperity.

The importance of technology transfer, and the policy challenges it represents to governments in the developing world, is reflected in a new dossier launched by SciDev.Net this week (see Technology Transfer dossier). This complements the existing resource on research and development policy (see R&D dossier). Together, they span the spectrum of issues in the field of science, technology and innovation.

Shared responsibility

One important theme to emerge is that technology transfer has become a complex business, with many different actors. But, just as important, is the fact that society's poorest sectors are often forgotten in technology transfer debates. Debates raised by the poverty gap between rich and poor countries are being replaced by concerns about the gap within developing countries themselves.

This should come as little surprise. In practice, the private sector tends to provide the most widely used channels for technology transfer. This is largely because the most effective mechanism for promoting rapid technology innovation is the market, with incentives for entrepreneurs and rewards, through patents, for inventors.

But governments still share substantial responsibility for making technology transfer work effectively and in the national interest. They must, for example, invest in the capital and intellectual infrastructure needed for smooth technology transfer. This includes investing in university-based research and training, to ensure that a country has the knowledge and skills it needs to not only acquire but also use new technologies.

Governments also need to regulate all transferred technologies — these should not just be useful, but socially acceptable as well. Governments must develop public institutions that can make such a judgement, either by adopting international criteria (on safety levels, for example) or by developing criteria of their own.

Creative thinking needed

But perhaps the biggest challenge governments face is actively developing forms of technology transfer that will directly benefit the poor. In some relatively rare cases, the utility of a new technology will be enough to reach all levels of society; the mobile telephone is perhaps the best example. In others, however, the needs of the poor are inevitably marginalised by procedures structured around the dynamics of the marketplace.

Take employment, for instance. As Ashok Khosla, of Development Alternatives in India, has pointed out, India is likely to see its workforce increase by 40 million over the next three years (see Exporting problems: arguments against technology transfer). The growth of new industries, such as information technology (IT), during this period may hold the key to the country's economic prosperity. But IT is only expected to create about one million new jobs, leaving the rest of the workforce to find traditional employment in areas such as farming or construction.

These sectors need new technologies that can create jobs, not displace labour. Such technologies are unlikely to be sufficiently profitable to attract the investment capital that flows into IT — particularly if, as Khosla argues, they are based on a commitment to sharing intellectual capital. But they are essential if countries like India are to avoid a growing gulf between the rich and poor, with all the social tensions that can result.

Various forms of creativity are needed. Some are purely technical; Khosla describes the success of various novel brick-making techniques in creating small-scale enterprises. Others require social innovation — by combining modern science with the practical experience (and good sense) of traditional communities, filling gaps left by the private sector in fields such as niche agriculture (see Agricultural technology transfer to developing countries and the public sector), or finding new ways of attracting investment without patent fights.

These activities should not replace conventional technology transfer. But they are more likely to provide the basis for a sustained attack on poverty.

Just as developing countries need new forms of social entrepreneurship to meet the needs of the poor, so they need new types of social technology transfer for such entrepreneurship to flourish.

David Dickson
Director, SciDev.Net


Friday, January 19, 2007

Sneaky shrimp wreak havoc on Great Lakes

They’ve been on experts’ Most Wanted lists since 1998. Since the 1970s, investigators have been tracking their movements, waiting for them to burst on the scene and wreak havoc at any moment.

And finally, this November, it happened.

But these outlaws are no ordinary criminals. In fact, they’re no more than half an inch long, and from a distance, could be mistaken for fish.

For more than thirty years, scientists have been keeping tabs on Hemimysis anomala, one of seventeen species of shrimp living in European waters frequented by U.S.-bound cargo ships. It was only a matter of time, experts feared, before these minute crustaceans strayed across the Atlantic and invaded North American fresh water environments.

And now, Hemimysis has been the first to do just that. The members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who first spotted this warm-water species of mysid shrimp in Lake Ontario in November were stumped at first. How had these fresh-water dwellers traversed the thousands of miles of salt water separating them from their home in Eastern Europe’s Ponto-Caspian region?

Could ballast tanks be to blame? A ship’s ballast is a large tank that can be filled with water to adjust the ship’s stability and center of gravity. Water can be added or released from the tank as needed; if water is taken in one area and released in another, it would be easy to inadvertently transport aquatic organisms.

The shipping industry’s NOBOB – “no ballast on board” – rule was designed to avoid just this problem. According to David Reid of the NOAA, more than 90% of the ships entering the Great Lakes since the mid-1980s have been NOBOBs.

However, these very NOBOBs are probably still to blame for the shrimp invasion. Closer investigation has proved that it’s impossible to expel the last few gallons from the bottom of a ship’s ballast – and even one gallon is one too many. Ships are now required to completely rinse out their tanks with salt water, thus totally displacing the fresh water.

But it is too little too late. The Hemimysis are already quite at home in the warm surface waters of Lake Ontario. McGill University researchers predict that the species will compete with native fish for the microscopic organisms at the bottom of the aquatic food chain, potentially causing serious problems in the native food web. In turn, the shrimp themselves could be a tasty new source of food for larger fish species. Unfortunately, their high fat content makes them prone to bioaccumulation of PCBS and other pollutants in the lake waters. These toxins, which accumulate in the fatty tissues of the animals that consume them, are then passed on to the fish that eat the shrimp, and the humans that eat those shrimp.

Hemimysis’ tiny bodies may be almost clear, but they are far from invisible. The introduction of this diminutive species will continue to impact the Great Lakes’ ecosystem for decades to come. The full extent of the damage remains to be seen, but scientists predict Hemimysis to be long-term problem. It looks like Louisiana isn’t the only place whose shrimping has seen better days.

by Sara Kate Kneidel

Keywords:: shrimp, Hemimysis, H. anomala, introduced species

Child-brides, Poverty, Population Growth

Photo of an 11-yr-old Afghan bride by Stephanie Sinclair, NY Times magazine 2006 and National Public Radio

Eight-year-old Enatnesh stands by the door way of her Ethiopian home contemplating the recent marriage of her 12-year-old sister with a look of profound sadness. She says she would like to be a doctor or a teacher, but she doesn't think that can happen if she marries at 12.
She says she doesn't want to get married; she'd rather get an education. But, she says, "Of course, I can't decide to marry or not. The decision is under my family, my father and mother." (Brenda Wilson, NPR)

In many developing nations, rural girls marry very early, often as children. Brenda Wilson reports for NPR that up to 40% of girls in rural Ethiopia are married before the age of 15. The girls' fathers arrange the marriages, and the girls have no voice in the matter. Many are married by the age of 12, but are allowed to remain with their parents until they are 14, when they go to live with their husband's family. The husband is generally10 years older.

Today we talked with an Ethiopian woman who lives in our hometown. She said that even in the capital city of Ethiopia (Addis Ababa), girls are commonly married in their early teens. Child-marriage is most prevalent in the two most impoverished areas of the world: sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia, including India and Bangladesh. See this document by the International Center for Research on Women for more data about child-brides.

Tradition plays a role in the persistence of this practice. Because so many girls do marry young, fathers fear that their daughters will be viewed as defective if they don't marry young, then no one will want them. Or they might be raped or abducted or become sexually active if they don't marry early, then - again - no one will want to marry them. Marriage, for girls, has been seen traditionally as the only way for parents to provide for their daughter's future.

But marrying early is bad news all the way around for the girls. Girl-brides are virtually powerless, easily manipulated, and extremely vulnerable to their older husbands. The incidence of domestic violence, abuse, and abandonment is much higher for wives who are married before the age of 18.

Child-brides are also likely to experience pregnancy and childbirth while they are still children themselves, an event which is likely to damage their bodies permanently. The CDC reports that many girls who give birth too early experience tearing of internal tissues during birth, leaving them with "fistulas," or internal chambers that should be separate but are no longer so. The walls of the vagina, large intestine, and bladder may be torn so that one opens into another. The girls may "leak" urine or feces continuously for the rest of their lives. Young brides in rural Ethiopia and in other developing nations often go through pregnancy without health care and give birth attended only by female neighbors or family members.

Forcing young girls to marry older men has repercussions far beyond the suffering and lost potential of the girls themselves. Girls coerced into marriage, whether by their fathers or by the circumstances of poverty and the absence of other options, perpetuate the cycle of poverty. Girls and young women with no education, no financial resources, no opportunities to generate income or improve their circumstances, are much more likely to have large families. They have little authority or autonomy in the marital relationships, and men in developing nations often want large families, to work the farm or for spiritual and traditional reasons. Young women with limited options may want large families themselves - children can give meaning to a life that is otherwise bleak.

There is abundant research to show that in communities with programs to improve educational and occupational opportunities for women, birth rates drop dramatically. That's important not just for those women, but for all of us on planet earth.

Worldwide population growth exacerbates all of our environmental problems on the planet. Although the number of humans on the planet will swell from 6 billion to 9.5 billion people by the year 2050, our land and other resources are not growing. In fact, our resources are shrinking due to overharvesting, overgrazing, pollution, and global warming.

Most of the growth in world population will occur in developing nations. In those countries, the subjugation of women is one of the biggest factors contributing to population growth. That subjugation is locked in place when girls are betrothed as children.

For more information about what you can do to protect young girls from arranged marriages, go to the web site of the International Center for Research on Women ( or email


Thursday, January 11, 2007

The House Was Rockin...The Night We Socked It to the Utilities Commision

As you may have read in the previous post, the NC Utilities Commision held a public hearing last night, Jan 10, for the purpose of hearing public comments on Duke Energy's $3 billion price tag for two new coal-fired power plants 55 miles west of Charlotte.

About 300 people showed up to protest construction of the plants! The hearing was preceded by a press conference outside, during which several scientists and activists and general folks spoke of their opposition to the air pollution and greenhouse gases and mountaintop destruction caused by coal. A lot of local people worked hard to organize this resistance, including the Sierra Club and the Clean Air Coalition. (Click on these orgs for more info about coal and the Duke campaign.) I am grateful for the hard work of everyone involved. It inspires me.

After the press conference, those who wanted to speak at the hearing signed up on a sheet of paper, and the utility commissioners called their names one by one. Each person had 3 minutes to speak. Soon after we got started, the police came in to force some of the attendees out of the hearing room, saying it was too crowded for safety. So 100-200 people had to hang around outside the room.

I signed up to speak, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. My comments to the Utilities Commission are below

My Message to the Commissioners

"I understand that this hearing is about the 'cost effectiveness' of spending $3 billion on Duke Energy's new Cliffside coal plants. To my way of thinking, $10 would be too much to spend on a new coal plant.

"I don’t understand why this discussion of 'costs' is limited to rate hikes and Duke Energy’s construction costs. What about the broader costs to future generations? What about the cost in agricultural productivity lost to global warming? What about the costs of entire coastal cities flooded by rising ocean levels?

"The cost that concerns me most, as a biologist, is the loss of wildlife species.

"More than 70% of the nation’s biologists believe we are in the midst of a worldwide mass extinction of wildlife. A mass extinction is defined as a catastrophic global event in which 25 to 75% of existing species are wiped out. The main cause of this mass extinction is habitat loss and environmental damage.

"What is the single biggest threat to the environment?

"Global warming. A change of just a few degrees in temperature can completely change rainfall patterns, or soil organisms, or plankton populations – any of which can alter the dynamics of an ecosystem, or cause it to collapse altogether.

"Global warming threatens much more than wildlife. In sub-Saharan Africa, a region struggling with desperate and increasing poverty, the rainy season has been shortened by global warming. There's less snow on the mountaintops, lakes are much lower, and when the rain finally does come, it falls too hard and fast and sweeps away the precious topsoil that farmers need to plant their harvests.

"While Americans are still arguing about whether climate change is a problem, European government officials and business leaders agree with scientists worldwide that global warming is the single greatest problem facing humankind in 5,000 years of civilization.

"Europeans are busy looking for solutions and making plans while we debate. Great Britain has 30-year plans to build levees and dikes to prepare for rising waters as the polar ice caps melt. Britain may lose three-fifths of its farmland as the oceans rise.

"Meanwhile Duke Power proposes to build two new coal plants that will crank out ever more greenhouse gases. No amount of scrubbers will take CO2 out of a coal plant’s emissions. What’s even scarier, CO2 emissions are not even regulated here in the United States. Even though the U.S. is the world’s largest contributor to greenhouse gases.

"We don't need more coal plants. With adequate incentives for consumers to adopt more energy-efficiency measures, and with renewable green sources of energy, we could meet all of our energy needs without new power plants. In fact, we could even begin to see some of these power plants retired or taken off line.

"If we want to save the world’s habitats and wildlife species, as well as our agricultural lands, we need to say no right now to coal and yes to energy efficiency and clean power."

You Can Still Speak Your Piece

June Blotnick of the Clean Air Coalition has emailed me the following information:

For everyone else who would like to give their opinion to the NC Utilities Commission, please send your comment in writing by next Friday January 19. It doesn’t have to be long or technical—just your view on why investing $3 billion in the new Cliffside coal-fired power plants is wrong for meeting NC's energy needs. For more information, go to Comments should be sent to: NC Utilities Commission, Re: Docket E7, Sub 790 (Cliffside), 4325 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4325.

As several speakers referred to last night, there is an open docket on the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) study that the Utilities Commission ordered last year to determine how much of North Carolina’s energy needs can be met through renewable sources of energy and energy efficiency. Keep an eye on this blog next week for talking points for that important issue. Comments are due soon. We need folks to impress upon state officials the massive public support for these two clean air strategies.

We also need folks to write letters to the editor. This is an easy way to get coverage of the issues out to the public on a regular basis. If we’re serious about building a movement for clean energy, we need to regularly remind the public that there are lots of people in the region who support it. For the Charlotte Observer, letters should be limited to 150 words and emailed to

June says thanks to all the people who worked hard to organize attendance and speakers for the hearing last night, including Beth Henry, Diane Frederick, Isabella Lacki, Kelly Picarsic, Todd Glasier, Brian Staton, Chatham Olive, Bill Glass, John Autry, Alan Burns, and Ken Davies. I agree, and say thanks to June, too, the Executive Director of the Carolinas Clean Air Coalition. You all give me hope.


Chimps and Gibbons Have Human Elements to their Language

Gibbon photo courtesy of

Researchers studying a population of wild gibbons in Thailand have found that these great apes recombine sounds to convey different meanings to one another, exhibiting a form of simple syntax.

The researchers, psychologists Esther Clarke and Klaus Zuberbuhler of the University of St. Andrews, claim that the ability to recombine sounds for varied meanings has not previously been demonstrated in apes. Their report was published in December of 2006 in the online journal PLoS ONE.

Before this study, psychologists had held that syntax developed in pre-historic people in response to a growing vocabulary. But this is not the case with gibbons, whose vocal abilities are limited. So perhaps previous theories about the development of syntax in humans will need to be reexamined.

The field studies of gibbon vocalizations, conducted in 2004 and 2005 with 13 groups of white-handed gibbons in Khao Yai National Park, focused on gibbon vocalizations for finding long-term mates and on vocalizations in response to predators. The research team recorded the two different kinds of songs. The songs provoked by predators began with soft "hoo" notes and included another repeated extra note, lasting altogether about 30 seconds. The mating songs were similar to the predator songs but lacked the "hoo" notes and the other extra note, and lasted only about 10 seconds.

Researchers played the recordings to other gibbons.

Gibbons within earshot responded vocally to the recordings, but responded differently to the two types of vocalizations, clearly distinguishing between the predator song and the mating song. Females responded to any song, but waited a full 2 minutes to respond to the predator call. All gibbons within earshot responded to the predator song by loudly repeating it.

This study demonstrates that great apes share some of our own facility for vocal communication.

My Work with Chimps

Although this gibbon research has been heralded as a new discovery of the capacity in apes for complex communication, we have known for decades that apes are capable of complex communication. Their development of language is limited by less versatile anatomy for vocalization than we have. That is, their lips and tongues and soft palates, etc., are unable to produce as many different sounds as we can produce. But researchers, since the 1960s and 1970s, have been teaching American Sign Language to chimps and orangutans and gorillas. These apes can also communicate by way of computer keyboards. As can some parrots.

For 2 years during my graduate training, I worked with Dr. Roger Fouts at the University of Oklahoma in his pioneering work teaching American Sign Language (ASL) to chimps. I was just a graduate student basically working as a research assistant - I was an additional pair of hands to help carry out his research. The object of his research was to see how much American Sign Language chimps could learn, and to see whether they would use it spontaneously with humans and with each other or even teach it to each other.

The chimps I worked with were mostly Bruno and Booee, two youngsters who were about 4 years old. My job was to work with one of them at a time, to get the chimp to go through a binder we had of photos that had been cut out of magazines. Each page had a picture of some object, like food, a ball, water, a bird, a hug, etc. The chimp was supposed to do the hand sign for the object and if he did it correctly, he got a sip of Kool-Aid or some other little tasty treat. Maybe an M&M. Of course, the chimps did not much want to look at the binder of pictures. This act of looking a book did not resemble any normal behavior in their repertoire, and they did not particularly want my approval, so getting them to sit still with the binder was not easy. Imagine a young child with full blown ADD, but 10 times magnified.

In fact, unless the instructor such as myself was very stern with the chimp during the lesson, the language lesson often devolved into the chimp jumping up and running around. On a bad day, the chimp would sometimes run back and forth past me, "accidently" bumping into me as he passed me, to see what I would do. This was a standard sort of bluff that was really a challenge. The chimps did it to everyone on the premises, to test their boundaries. But I was afraid of the little guys, who were by no means full grown, but weren't all that little. More than one of the senior graduate students had missing finger tips from being bitten by chimps during lessons. The chimps had collars and a chain, and I was supposed to grab that and make the chimp sit down. But the collar was within range of their sharp teeth.

The chimps knew I was a wimp and so I seldom made much progress in the language lessons. After a year and a half of trying to work with the chimps, and then with the orangutans in the nearby Oklahoma City Zoo, I decided I wasn't that interested in the language abilities of captive apes. That is, I wasn't very interested in getting them to behave like humans. I was much more interested in the natural behaviors of wildlife. So I transferred to the University of North Carolina to study the field biology of woodland salamanders.

But at any rate, there was merit to Dr. Fouts' studies, and to the continuing studies of one of those senior graduate students, Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh who went on to study chimps' acquisition of language for 23 years at Georgia State University. (She's now with the Great Ape Trust of Iowa.) Both Fouts and Savage-Rumbaugh, as well as many other researchers by now, have shown that many apes can learn more than 300 different signs. It may be up to 600 by now, I don't know. Not only that, but when I was in Oklahoma, the chimps that we were working with used the signs to communicate with us and with each other. They regularly asked us for food or drink or to play with the ball, or for a tickle. One of the mother chimps taught some of the signs to her youngster. And - here's the best part - one of the chimps we worked with combined words in a unique way to apply to new objects. It was a new word for "duck." Bruno and Booee and a few other chimps lived on a small island surrounded by a moat to keep them from escaping. There were ducks on the moat on occasion. The chimps did not have a sign for duck, but one of them put together the sign for water and the sign for bird to make "water bird," for the ducks! That convinced me that chimps do have a profound capacity for understanding and using language - they just don't have the vocal apparatus. Gorillas too have been demonstrated to have extensive sign language capacity. Koko was the first gorilla to show this; her researcher was Dr. Francine (Penny) Patterson, who has written at least a couple of great children's books about Koko.

I have to say that I don't particularly approve of coercing chimps or any primates to participate in behavioral studies. And I vehemently object to taking any primates at all for any reason out of the wild. But chimps born in captivity probably have few good options. Learning sign language is preferrable to being subjected to medical research. But far better than either would be a reintroduction program to return them to the wild, or life in a primate sanctuary where they would be protected and have all of their physical, social and mental needs met, and be free to exercise their normal behaviors 24 hours a day.

Chimps are smart. They are much smarter than we think they are, and the language programs have gone a long way to show that. For that reason, the language research has been valuable. But it's only valuable if we pay attention to it. We should protect chimps and all other primates from the wildlife trade, from poaching, and from all other human activities that threaten their safety and their future existence. Their survival hangs in the balance as we continue to destroy their remaining habitat and remove animals from nature. I hope we can stop before we've eliminated our only close relatives on this planet.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Opportunity to Speak Out Against Coal, In Favor of Clean Energy

Dear Readers

Carolinas Clean Air Coalition and the Sierra Club are trying to get 200 folks to the Main Library in Charlotte tonight (Weds Jan 10) for a press conference at 6:00 and a public hearing at 7:00 sponsored by the NC Utilities Commission.

Duke Energy has increased the price tag, which we will pay for through increased rates, from $2 billion to $3 billion to expand its Cliffside coal plant 55 miles west of Charlotte.

Coal is an environmental disaster that begins with blowing up 6 tons of mountaintop to extract every single ton of coal. Coal-fired power plants spew tons of greenhouse gases, ozone-producing pollution, and highly toxic mercury into the air. Recent studies have shown that NC can provide adequate energy through renewables (solar, wind, methane from hog waste, landfills, timber waste, etc.) AND by maximizing energy efficiency.

We invite you to TAKE ACTION for a few hours at this pivotal point in NC's energy policty debate. We need BODIES to show up at the library tonight. If there's any way you can make it, a large audience will show the Utilities Commissioners that ordinary people want to move away from old polluting power plants to clean energy sources.

The room downstairs at the library holds 114 chairs and we want to overflow the room. We will have speakers lined up, so we mainly need lots of folks to show their support.

The press conference will be at 6:00 outside the library and we encourage folks to come then so they can get into the hearing room early.

The US is the major contributor to global-warming greenhouse gases and Duke is the 3rd largest producer of electricity through coal in the US. WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IF WE SPEAK OUT NOW!


Friday, January 05, 2007

Lockdown on life: stories from women behind bars

On this edition, we take you to two U.S. prisons (California Medical Facility - CMF and The Washington Correctional Center for Women) ­ and go behind the bars and into the lives of incarcerated women. We'll share the personal stories of transgendered-women forced to live among hundreds of men in a California prison. You'll also hear from imprisoned mothers and incarcerated expectant mothers who are being helped by a group of doulas.


Dr. Lori Kohler, prison doctor; Alex Lee, Transgender, Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project; Juana, Donna, Shante, Diamond, Kim, five transgender Women at California Medical Facility whose names have been changed; Taska Harand, mom at Washington Correctional Center for Women; Christy Hall, the Birth Attendants, co-founder; Genesis, mom at Washington Correctional Center for Women; Katrina Eva, Residential Parenting Program
correctional unit supervisor; Jade Souza, works with The Birth Attendants; Julie Montie, works with The Birth Attendants; Teresa Corel, mom at Washington Correctional Center for Women;

Senior Producer/Host: Tena Rubio
Contributing Freelance Producers: Sandra Lupien and Sarah Olson

Additional resource:: Medical Advocates/Prisoners

For more information::

Transgender, Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project
1322 Webster St., Suite 210
Oakland, CA 94612

Trans/Gender Variant in Prison Committee
California Prison Focus
2940 16th Street #B-5
San Francisco, CA 94103

The Birth Attendants
P.O. Box 12258
Olympia, WA 98508

Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
1540 Market St., Suite 490
San Francisco, CA 94102

California Coalition for Women Prisoners
1540 Market St., Suite 490
San Francisco, CA 94102
415-255-7036 ext. 4;

Justice Now
1322 Webster Street, Suite 210
Oakland, CA 94612

Free Battered Women
1540 Market St., Suite 490
San Francisco, CA 94102
415-255-7036 x320;

Project Avary
1018 Grand Ave.
San Rafael, CA 94901

The Osbourne Association
Administrative Office
36-31 38th Street
Long Island City, NY 11101

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Top 6 Ways to Protect Wildlife from Commercial Trade

Over 650 million animals - from lemurs to zebras to tropical birds - were imported legally into the United States in the last 3 years.

More than that were smuggled into the country illegally. The illegal wildlife trade is a $10-billion-a-year business, second only to drugs as a worldwide black market, reports INTERPOL, the international police agency.

Animals smuggled into the U.S. are not quarantined or screened for disease. Even those arriving legally are largely unscreened, since the government employs only 120 full-time inspectors. The imports do bring diseases, such as hantavirus, tularemia, salmonella, meningitis. That's a concern. But it doesn't concern me nearly as much as the impact of the wildlife trade on the animals themselves.

Many of the animals traded legally and illegally are parrots, among the smartest of birds. And many are primates.

According to the Aesop Project, more than 32,000 wild-caught primates are sold on the international market every year, and more than one-quarter of this trade is illegal.

I was dismayed, but not too surprised, to discover that the biggest importer of primates worldwide is the United States. According to an American University document, we import more than 20,000 primates per year into the United States, in spite of the substantial breeding capacity of our research facilities. We import four times more primates than any other single country.

The Convention on Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) prohibits all trade of primates except those born in captivity. I called the International Primate Protection League to ask about CITES. Over the phone, Shirley with IPPL told me that CITES is only a treaty, not a law. A country that agrees to abide by the CITES treaty can then establish laws to support it. Many prosperous countries such as the United States support CITES – in theory if not in reality. But many tropical countries whose people make a living in wildlife trafficking make no pretense of supporting it. Or even if they do support it on paper, the laws restricting wildlife trade are not enforced. In developing nations, which tend to be tropical, wildlife poachers often operate freely because governments lack funds to enforce wildlife protection laws, or because officials in charge of protection are getting a cut of the profits from wildlife trade. In impoverished nations, wages for wildlife officials are often below the minimum living wage. So animals are trapped and sold illegally - for food, for use in laboratory research, for exhibition, and for keeping by private individuals as companions.

I asked Shirley at IPPL to guess how many of the primates brought into the U.S. are wild-caught rather than bred in captivity. She didn’t know, but confirmed what I have heard from various other sources. Regardless of laws, regardless of endangered status, poachers and smugglers illegally transport thousands of wild animals into the United States the same way smugglers transport drugs – in cigar boats from the Caribbean, in cars, in false compartments, across the Mexican border. The sale of smuggled birds, primates, and other wild-caught animals in the United States is rampant.

Where do our imported primates come from? The countries exporting the most are Indonesia, Malaysia, Kenya, Thailand, and China. The first three, I know, are countries with several native species of primates that are threatened by deforestation and habitat loss.

By far the biggest consumers of imported primates in the United States are medical research facilities. Do we know they are using wild-caught rather than captive-bred primates? Consider this excerpt from an article in “Animal Issues”:

“On a late summer day in 1998, a China Airlines flight carrying American and Asian vacationers touched down on the runway at San Francisco International Airport. Below the passengers in the plane's cargo hold sat 40 monkeys in small wooden crates. When an official from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention peered inside the individual compartments, he saw that 11 of the animals had died, apparently from dehydration and heat during the lengthy flight. The monkeys were pig-tailed macaques, a species classified as ‘vulnerable’ by the World Conservation Union. Captured in traps set in the forests of Indonesia, the animals were on their way to the Regional Primate Center at the University of Washington to be subjects in a laboratory experiment.”

The World Wildlife Fund reports that the majority of primates used in research facilities are bred in captivity. But wild-caught primates are still used. Why? Most primates are imported, not by the research facilities, but by companies who sell animals to these research labs. By far the biggest suppliers in the United States are Charles River, Inc. and Covance Research Products, Inc. The incentive for buying wild-caught animals is clear: they cost one-third as much as raising primates from birth. Many primates that are bred in captivity here in the United States are exported for profit. The United States is third in the world in the number of primates exported annually, just behind the Philippines and Indonesia. It’s all about money. The suppliers who breed primates and import wild-caught primates are competing with one another for research facilities’ business – cheaper primates means more business and more profits. The researchers who buy from these suppliers feel pressure to shave pennies from expenses, in order to stretch their grant funding as far as possible.

How can you protect animals from the wildlife trade?

1) Don't buy exotic animals as pets. If you must have something other than a cat or a dog for a pet, be positive that it was bred in captivity. Insist on documentation.

2) Don't eat exotic animals in restaurants.

3) Don't buy clothes, furs, jewelry, shoes, trinkets, traditional medicines, carvings or any other consumer products made with body parts of wild animals. Ask for documentation if you're not sure.

4) Write your representatives in Congress to demand that humane alternatives to animal experiments be used.

5) Contact medical schools that use animals for education and ask them to eliminate live-animal labs from their curricula. Many of our most respected medical schools have already done this.

6) Purchase only cruelty-free products and donate only to health charities that never fund animal experiments.