March 2008: The New Green Superpower

European Union leading the way in eco-friendly economics
March 1, 2008

The ancient Chinese believed that a cosmic force, the Will of Heaven, controlled the rise and fall of their imperial dynasties. As soon as an emperor failed to act in accord with the laws of nature, also called the Tao, the Mandate of Heaven passed to a contender who founded a new dynasty. For the ancient Greeks, all human power had to obey Anananke, the goddess Necessity. Our own culture has also preserved this ancient and universal insight: that all power must serve life, that human rights must supersede the state’s rights, that the environment must have primacy over human ambition, that the demands of necessity cannot be denied, and that all rulers must learn to serve humanity or fall.

Today, however, a totally new idea had arrived, which our political and business leaders failed to resist.

Mark Schapiro, the director of the Center for Investigative Reporting in San Francisco, published a book last year in which he chronicles the fall of the American Empire and the passing of the Mandate of Heaven to the European Union as a result not of America’s immoral and financially crippling wars, but rather because the U.S. refuses to acknowledge that poisoning its own citizens for profit and demanding that the rest of the world buy its toxic products is not a sound business strategy.

This process began in 2000 when the E.U. made the so-called Precautionary Principle central to its policies. The concept was first formulated in Germany in the early 1930s (the Vorsorgeprinzip). It was eventually adopted in 1982 by the United Nations, and the first international treaty based on it was the Montreal Protocol on land mines; it is also part of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.

Its 2006 E.U. wording is, in part: “Where there are reasonable grounds for concern for the possibility of adverse effects, but scientific uncertainty persists, priority will be given to human health and the environment, without having to wait until the reality and seriousness of those adverse effects become fully apparent.”

In 2002, the E.U. put this ideal in practice and formally asserted that “sustainable and environmentally sound principles” would have to be as important for all industry as “competitiveness,” and by 2004 drafted the world’s most comprehensive environmental laws, most of which came into force last year. The U.S. and the rest of the world have to obey, if they wish to trade with 480 million of the “wealthiest and best-educated consumers and producers in the world.” According to the CIA’s World Factbook, Germany alone in 2005 surpassed the U.S. in exports, and the E.U. that year surpassed the U.S. in gross domestic productivity. The E.U. produces a third of the global economy, almost equal to the U.S. and Japan combined.

In 2006, the E.U. informed the U.S. that electronics may no longer contain the universally accepted toxic (and non-recyclable) ingredients mercury, cadmium, lead, chromium, and two types of fire retardants. A spokesperson for the industry commented that, ever since “we have been in reactive hell.” The director of the Electronic Industry Alliance said: “If you are not compliant, your market is evaporating as we speak.” Electronics was just one item. Cars are no longer allowed to use any toxicants either. A General Motors spokesperson said: “We have been hit by a tsunami!”

Cosmetics, pesticides, GMOs, antibiotics in food-producing animals, animal feed containing slaughterhouse waste, various plasticizers and more, are all no longer acceptable for Europeans to import. In fact, anything and everything is out–more than 60,000 chemicals–if science has shown it to be, or suspects it to be, cancer-causing, hormone-disrupting, birth defect-promoting, fertility compromising, toxic to aquatic life, or damaging to the environment–from ozone-depleting to CO2-increasing. This move is especially amazing in view of the fact that Europe, not the U.S., was the world’s largest producer of toxic chemicals. It is their own industries they are cleaning up the most, and it is the European scientists who are working overtime to find safe substitutes–having found many already.

The Europeans have a new word for their attitude: “glocalism”–thinking locally and acting globally, the phrase antibiotic researcher and environmentalist Renée Dubois coined. What was once the Cold War’s greatly feared “domino effect” (then attributed to communism and socialism) has now become reality in the sphere of environmental stewardship arising out of the socialism of the European Green Party that started this whole process in the 1970s and kept up the momentum of change. Now China, Japan, India, several South American countries (even Mexico has found the courage to oppose the U.S.) have either already adapted their environmental laws to the E.U., or are in the process of doing so. No wonder, since the E.U. is pouring hundreds of millions of Euros into helping these countries clean up their own technologies.

Brazil has taken the next logical step and identified the root cause of the global trafficking in poison: advertising. In January 2007, the world’s fourth largest city, Sao Paulo, banned all outdoor advertising as part of its new “Clean City Law,” and eliminated 15,000 billboards with the 70% approval of the city’s population. (Imagine the quantum leap in aesthetics if all major Canadian cities were free of those dreadful billboards!)

Worldwatch Institute researcher Erik Assadourian commented: “It’s not simply greenhouse gases that cause climate change; it’s our consumer lifestyle that causes the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. Until we end consumerism and the rampant advertising that drives it, we will not solve the climate crisis.”

A similar attitude was evident when the first French court dealt with farmers who had destroyed vast tracts of Monsanto’s test fields growing genetically engineered corn: they were all acquitted on grounds of “self-defence.” The court accepted the reason provided by the farmers, who had all pleaded guilty. They argued--correctly as it has since turned out--that there is no earthly way to prevent cross-pollination with the natural corn grown everywhere else, which would ruin their livelihood because GMO crops are not permitted to be sold in Europe.

Meanwhile, business being business, Asian countries have to get rid of the stuff they already made and can’t sell in the E.U. So they are selling their toxicant-laced products to the U.S. and Canada, where it’s still quite legal for them to do so. In the U.S., there are no laws against lead in lipstick, for example. When the FDA was founded in 1938, cosmetics were exempt from oversight, thanks to intense lobbying from Revlon, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, and Estee Lauder.

The underlying principle of this policy is to prevent harm when harm is likely or proven as such by independent scientific research. The E.U. also assumes that government regulation in matters of public health and planetary survival is a good thing. Clearly understanding the difference of this attitude to the U.S. way of doing business, and horrified by the obvious consequences to U.S. business, the international affairs officer of the American Electrical Association exclaimed: “The E.U. must get the science out of politics!”

Dr. Shiv Chopra, our own Health Canada drug regulator and inveterate activist against the above-mentioned poisons and agricultural practices, observed that, “in Europe they listen to their scientists, while North American governments fight them.”

The E.U. further demands that industry must meet the requirements of “life-cycle analysis”; a car, lipstick, computer, and a chewy toy have to be safe at the time of sale, as well as in the future when they are discarded somewhere. Consequently, the E.U.’s 2006 Accounts Modernization Directive requires that all publicly-traded European firms must include future environmental liabilities in their accounting costs and potential future profits.

The American approach is to invoke liability law once the damage is done; the courts set the brakes when it is too late, presumably to teach others to behave themselves. By that time, society and the environment have paid the price, the harm done is irreversible and merely becomes a “lesson.” That this deterrent thinking doesn’t work is by now obvious: the very planet is sick while the multinationals are obscenely rich and include the cost of potential litigation as part of the cost of doing business.

The U.S. dispatched some 15,000 lobbyists in a desperate attempt to stop the European Parliament from voting in the various laws described so far. All efforts failed; the laws passed. Schapiro quotes an E.U. diplomat: “Why should we listen? If we are to listen to the U.S., how would we explain to European citizens where the hundreds of chemicals in their bodies come from?” Schapiro sees these E.U.-led developments as a “convergence of ‘green’ and ‘economy’ which is not utopian; it’s more like realpolitik for the 21st century.”

On the international scene, the Mandate of Heaven has withdrawn from the U.S. in every instance where the great laws of natural justice were at stake. The rest of the world simply ignored U.S. opposition to the POPS treaty which successfully banned the sale and production of the world’s most hazardous wastes. The same happened with the Kyoto and the Land Mine treaties, the establishment of the International Criminal Court, and the Basel Convention on Hazardous Wastes which outlaws dumping toxic wastes on Third World countries. Schapiro comments that these are all “human rights initiatives that have gained international legitimacy without American participation.” In each case, the E.U. was the leader.

The real superpower, however, is not the E.U., but Science. I would suggest that Science is Anananke’s sister. The guiding star of political power is no longer informed by missiles, Schapiro explains, but by a policy that places the most vulnerable–the child–at the centre of business policy. Science, being both a transcendent force and an enterprise that knows no borders, has placed the U.S. in the ultimate of ironies: since the late 1990s, most of the policy decisions made in the E.U. are based primarily on American research. In fact, the leading U.S. institutions, whose databases are possibly the most comprehensive in the world, often simply bypassed their own regulatory agencies, knowing them to be hopeless, and sent their reports directly to the European Commission–which wasted no time in using them to pass appropriate laws. (This appears to have so enraged those who cannot accept that the Mandate of Heaven is passing from them that they have started to close the immense network of the Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific libraries and destroy much of its contents. The Union of Concerned Scientists is hoping to stop this vandalism. [Go to]).

In the meantime, a lot remains to be done. Here in Canada, we still have cancer-causing hormones and antibiotics in our food-producing animals. Slaughterhouse waste is still being fed to herbivores, exposing us to the risk of Mad Cow Disease. Our food is contaminated with pesticides and genetically engineered substances. Granted, we can’t sell any of this to Europe, but North America will become a toxic region if we do not emulate the E.U.’s decision to put human and environmental health above corporate profits from pollution.

When Dr. Shiv Chopra recently spoke at the Whole Life Expo, he got a standing ovation for his proposal to exercise our natural right to stop our government from forcing us to eat contaminated food for corporate profit. A nationwide action has in fact begun. A petition is to be put before Parliament by MP Paul Dewar, which basically demands that we accept the E.U. principles. The petition and the required information can be downloaded from my website:

If you would like to know how toxic your bathroom, laundry and kitchen actually are, and what those roughly 100 chemicals do that assail you daily through personal care products, go to the E.U.’s website, which tells you what Europeans now are not exposed to and why: /health/ph_risk/ committees/sccp/sccp_opinions_en.htm and to http://www.cosmetic

(Helke Ferrie is an investigative medical science writer.)

Sources and Resources

M. Schapiro, Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power, Chelsea Green, 2007.

M. Simon, Appetite For Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines our Health and How to Fight Back, Nation Books, 2006.

C. White, The Spirit of Disobedience: Resisting the Charms of Fake Politics, Mindless Consumption, and the Culture of Total Work, PolitPoint Press, 2007.