The Daily Grist: March 4

Group Hug
Environmental Cooperation Bringing Hostile Nations Together

Frustrated by the glacial pace and bothersome bureaucracy of major international treaties and conventions, a new generation of environmental activists is turning its focus to "environmental peacekeeping": local, grassroots efforts to forge cooperation on ecosystem preservation among neighboring nations with a history of conflict. Activists say that, rather than provoking further conflict, shared environmental challenges often serve as an opportunity for geopolitical opponents to reach rapprochement. Joint conservation projects are underway between rival nations such as Russia and Kazakhstan; Peru and Ecuador; and China and Vietnam. "There's not much in the way of political stakes, so if all fails there's not nearly the embarrassment there would be on a cooperative deal on the economy or military," says environmental consultant Mary Matthews. "The environment is just a nice soft-political backdoor way for countries to get along."

Well, Excuuuse Us!
U.S. Seeks Exemptions from Ban on Ozone-Damaging Pesticide

The U.S. will seek to make a large number of American farmers and industries exempt from an international ban on the highly toxic and ozone-depleting pesticide methyl bromide, set to take effect next year, Bush administration officials announced yesterday. (We thought they saved this kind of stuff for Fridays!) The ban is part of the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty aimed at reducing the use of ozone-depleting chemicals; the treaty has yielded a 70 percent reduction in methyl bromide use in industrialized countries since 1999, when it was signed. Parties to the treaty will meet in Montreal this month to consider requests for exemptions. The U.S. request is larger than all the others combined. U.S. growers say the cheap pesticide is needed to help them compete with other countries that use low-cost labor to do weed and pest control. If granted, the request would mark the first time since the protocol was signed that a country has reversed the phaseout and increased use of the pesticide.

Asbestos Times, the Worst of Times
U.S. Faces Coming Asbestos Health Crisis, Group Says

Despite the common public perception that asbestos went out with bell bottoms and disco, the fact is that asbestos -- like, uh, bell bottoms and disco -- is still with us. In fact, claims a report released today by the Environmental Working Group, we are poised to enter an asbestos-related public-health crisis: An estimated 100,000 Americans will die over the next decade from diseases linked to asbestos exposure, including mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, and gastrointestinal cancer. EWG recommends public screening, assistance for victims, and an immediate ban on asbestos. Yup, that's right -- like disco, asbestos is still perfectly legal. A 1989 ban by the U.S. EPA was overturned in an industry lawsuit. "That was the last time the EPA tried to ban anything," said EWG Vice President Richard Wiles. "They figured that if they couldn't ban asbestos -- a known carcinogen for which no level of exposure is safe -- what could they ban?" Republican-sponsored legislation in the Senate would shield asbestos manufacturers from legal liability and establish a trust fund for victims.

For more environmental news and humor go to Grist Magazine

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