BC Salmon Farmers Assoc. deflects blame for its contaminated fish

Letter to the BC Salmon Farmers Association

A few weeks ago [early May], I saw you respond negatively to a letter asking for independent testing of your farmed salmon. Now, two of your farms have tested positive for the highly contagious IHN virus, resulting in the ordered killing of your stocks. Without any proof, you place the blame of your outbreaks entirely on wild fish, while deceptively proclaiming IHN won’t harm wild salmon. Those studies you quote were done on adult salmon, yet you don’t mention numerous studies showing IHN to be “deadly to juvenile wild salmon” – you know, the innocent ones now swimming past your filthy, infected farms. While the world’s leading labs are confirming a myriad of “European strain” diseases from store-bought BC farmed salmon, you not only deny those findings as well, but arrogantly still refuse independent testing. This has many of us questioning your ethics or lack thereof. Since your main argument with independent lab results is about “foul play” or “contamination,” why don’t you accompany your fish to the lab just to make sure there’s no hanky panky going on? If your fish are as squeaky clean as you claim, there should be no problem. The public and wild salmon deserve to know.

– Angela Koch, Quadra Island

Algorithms from wartime to Wall Street

American flag with digital stars

article and photo by Geoff Olson

• The Hungarian-born émigré and mathematician John von Neumann is remembered as an urbane and witty man. His colleagues admired his finely tailored clothes and superhuman capacity to handle liquor, to say nothing of his important contributions to a wide range of fields, from game theory to quantum physics. The man’s bald dome housed one of the most powerful brains of the twentieth century.

American flag with digital starsVon Neumann’s career arc took him from the top secret Manhattan Project to the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, where Albert Einstein also worked. The hawkish Hungarian did not share the frizzy-haired German’s fears about nuclear weapons. After the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, von Neumann approached the US government with a proposal for a new computer that would overtake its hand-driven predecessor ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) in running the mathematical simulations essential to atomic testing.

Einstein petitioned against building the machine at Princeton, but the US government approved the proposal. In 1951, von Neumann’s team unveiled the Mathematical and Numerical Integrator and Computer, known by the acronym MANIAC – meaning something crazy and uncontrollable.

“Because city-destroying bombs couldn’t be built by trial and error, computers were required to simulate the physics of detonation and blast waves. A computer helped build the bomb and the bomb necessitated ever more advanced computers,” observes author William Poundstone in the New York Times. MANIAC was the bulky, slow-moving granddaddy of today’s supercomputers, desktop systems, notebooks and smart phones. Most of our computing gadgets owe their attention-fracturing existence to John von Neumann and the Cold War’s nuclear stalemate.

A Punch cartoon from 1959 portrays two scientists in lab coats standing next to a huge mainframe computer that has been programmed to answer the question, “Is there a God?” They are holding a printout of the computer’s response: “There is now.” A mere half-century after that unnerving punch line, computers have come to dominate our lives in uncanny ways. Who would have thought that the humdrum telephone – a Canadian inventor’s century-old brainchild – would break free from the home to become a beeping, buzzing vector for social connection/disconnection? Or that the architecture of the processors in smart phones is traceable back to von Neumann’s MANIAC, a device designed to crank out estimates for nuclear blast range and fallout?

Yet even while our phones and computers went mobile, other changes were happening on the digital front, far below the public radar. These changes make for a story with mythic dimensions, which we are only partway through. Just as the Biblical creation myth involved a Tree of Knowledge, there’s also a tree of knowledge in this unfinished tale and, as an added bonus, it has a colourful selection of serpents.

Over 200 hundred years ago, businessmen in breeches and buckled shoes regularly gathered at a buttonwood tree at the foot of Wall Street, to wheel and deal. On May 17, 1792, under the tree’s dappled shade, 24 stockbrokers signed “The Buttonwood Agreement,” initiating the New York Stock & Exchange Board at 68 Wall Street.

Proximity to the area was key. Firms set up broker offices near the exchange so their employees could run over as fast as possible to buy and sell. Today, subatomic particles perform the legwork on Wall Street. Consider this: it takes you approximately 350,000 microseconds to blink and 500,000 microseconds to click a mouse. Computers can now perform trades in the span of just a few microseconds. Needless to say, even a bipolar, coked-up day trader can’t touch the cheapest Chinese-made netbook in response time. So what has this meant for Wall Street, where timing is critical in the buy-and-sell process?

It’s meant that Wall Street has given decision-making over to the machines. Every day, electrons race across electronic networks at near the speed of light to perform financial transactions. It’s been called “black box trading” or “high frequency trading.” The decisions to buy and sell are made by computer programs. These automatic computing procedures are called algorithms: coded sets of rules that define a precise sequence of operations.

These procedures are often massively repetitive. In consumer-grade software, algorithms repeat their routines over and over, until, for example, they have compressed a high-res photographic image into a web-friendly jpeg, or shoehorned a CD track into a tinny-sounding mp3. In high-frequency trading, algorithms continually sniff out stocks according to pre-programmed criteria. Amazingly, 70 percent of equity trades within the US in 2010 were by HFT.

That’s right. Most of the market activity on Wall Street is performed by machines, not human beings.

Here’s how it works: in the morning, a firm decides on a trading strategy for the day. The firm then releases its computational hounds into the secure, electronic backbone of the exchange. Millions of shares may be bought and sold throughout the day, but a young manager manning one of the HFT ‘special desks’ may know little to nothing about the value of the companies involved. He or she is only there to watch the screens and pull the plug if market activity gets out of hand. At the ring of the market bell, the firms close their position and rake in the bucks.

The HFT traders aren’t after a few big fish; they’re targeting an ocean’s worth of minnows. The gains and losses are tiny per trade, just a fraction of a penny per share or currency unit. Yet with algorithms darting in and out of short-term positions millions of times a day, and the firms liquidating their entire portfolios daily, the takings add up. Goldman Sachs netted $300 million in 2009 and Citadel hedge fund made $1 billion in 2008 from high-speed strategies, notes Sarah Anderson of the Institute for Policy Studies.

According to a study by TABB Group, 48 percent of HFT has been traced to a few hundred proprietary trading houses, 46 percent by investment banks and six percent by a dozen or more hedge funds.

Paper currency originated as a virtual representation of precious metals and electronic currency acts as a virtual representation of paper currency. HFT, which gambles on electronic currency free of human oversight, is virtualization run amok. It’s not so much trading as Tron. Critics say it has created “dark pools” and a kind of “Shadow Wall Street” where transparency and fairness is trumped by cabbalistic code.

HFT first hit the news after May 6, 2010, when nine percent of the DOW Jones Industrial Average momentarily vanished, almost plunging the world into chaos. The 1,000-point drop was later traced to a mutual fund market that dumped $4.1 billion of securities in a 20-minute period, which were gobbled up and sold within microseconds by algorithms. The incident became known as the “Flash Crash,” after the US Securities and Exchange Commission suggested some blame lay with a variant of high speed trading called flash trading. (This is when selected players are allowed to see incoming orders to buy or sell securities a few microseconds earlier than the general market participants, in exchange for a fee.)

Could such untracked activity leverage a market mood swing into another financial meltdown? A 2011 survey of global financial firms found that 67 percent of executives believe that “rogue algorithms” are inescapable, versus 78 percent of US financial executives surveyed.

It’s not like Wall Street code hasn’t got us into trouble before. The granddaddy of financial algorithms, the so-called Black-Scholes equation, won its creators the 1997 Nobel Prize in Economics. Unfortunately, the equation makes no allowance for “Black Swan” events like market crashes. Ian Stewart, a respected science writer and professor of mathematics at the University of Warwick, insists the Black-Scholes equation is dumb as dirt in dealing with real world market gyrations, and may even amplify them.

“Any mathematical model of reality relies on simplifications and assumptions. The Black-Scholes equation was based on arbitrage pricing theory, in which both drift and volatility are constant. This assumption is common in financial theory, but it is often false for real markets,” Stewart observed in the Guardian. Financial managers who use ever more complicated derivatives – bets on bets on bets – eventually became prisoners of their instruments, like Mickey Mouse and his out-of-control brooms in the Disney film Fantasia.

Herd-driven market crashes are “virtually impossible under the model’s assumptions,” notes Stewart. The professor doesn’t blame the great subprime scam and credit crisis of ‘08 on bad math alone. “Black-Scholes may have contributed to the crash, but only because it was abused. In any case, the equation was just one ingredient in a rich stew of financial irresponsibility, political ineptitude, perverse incentives and lax regulation.”

The mathematician sees only more problems in hyper-speed finance. “The facility to transfer billions at the click of a mouse may allow ever-quicker profits, but it also makes shocks propagate faster,” he observes.

Critics accuse some HFT traders of ‘front running’ and other illegal activities. Andy Brooks, head of US stock trading at the mutual fund seller T. Rowe Price, hinted at the dimension of the problem. “We know that some high-frequency trading strategies have cancellation rates in the 95 percent range,” he told the Baltimore Sun this year. “So that means that 95 percent of the time that you say you want to buy 100 shares of IBM, you don’t really buy it. And that begs the question: Why have you said you want to buy? Are you trying to influence someone to do something else? And is that manipulative?”

In 2010, the Financial Services Authority in Britain fined one firm and froze the assets of another, for HFT abuses on the London Stock Exchange. The US Security and Exchange Commission has proposed monitoring HFT in real time with a consolidated paper trail, but for its part, the Obama Administration has not signalled much interest in doing anything to alienate the incumbent’s few remaining campaign benefactors on Wall Street. The European Commission’s proposal for a financial transaction tax on speculators, which might reduce HFT volume on world exchanges, has gone nowhere.

A 2010 study of the NYSE flash crash commissioned by Britain’s Government Office for Science contends the world narrowly avoided a “true nightmare scenario,” with the market contagion spreading to the global exchanges. The report concludes, “On the afternoon of May 6, 2010, the world’s financial system dodged a bullet.” (With the concern that HFT is playing chicken with a “Black Swan Event,” exchanges have reportedly installed post-flash crash ‘circuit breakers’ to halt trading in the event of extreme volatility.)

In a must-see 2011 talk on algorithms delivered at the Technology Entertainment and Design forum (TED), entrepreneur and new media maven Kevin Slavin insists the flash crash of 2010 indicates we have written code “we can no longer read. And we’ve rendered something illegible. And we’ve lost the sense of what’s actually happening in this world that we’ve made.”

This goes far beyond Wall Street. As an example, Slavin cites an anecdote from e-commerce, when a book for sale at Amazon.com, The Making of a Fly: The Genetics of Animal Design, rose from $1.7 million to $23.6 million in the space of a few hours. “When you see this kind of behaviour, what you see is the evidence of algorithms in conflict, algorithms locked in loops with each other, without any human oversight, without any adult supervision to say, ‘actually, $1.7 million is plenty,’” Slavin dryly observes.

UK software engineers now offer story algorithms to Hollywood. A company called Epagogix can run a script through its proprietary code to quantify whether it portends a $30 million movie or a $200 million movie. This is no longer about finance, it’s about “the physics of culture,” notes Slavin. “And if these algorithms, like the algorithms on Wall Street, just crashed one day and went awry, how would we know, what would it look like?”

We know already that high speed trading is affecting the hard-edged world of people and property. In a weird replay of the buttonwood tree era, trading distance is more crucial than ever. A distance of 20 miles from a high-speed trader to the exchange means a few extra microseconds, a critical amount of travel time for algorithms. Financial firms are locating their offices as close as possible to the NYSE hub to shave off these microseconds and the NYSE itself has installed supercomputers in its basement for high-paying clients.

In a world of whizzing financial code, what is the “market value” of slow, squishy human beings, with their circadian rhythms that evolved in tandem with a slowly turning planet? Not much. In his TED talk, Slavin recalls meeting “an architect in Frankfurt who was hollowing out a skyscraper – throwing out all the furniture, all the infrastructure for human use, and just running steel on the floors to get ready for the stacks of servers to go in” – just so algorithms could be closer to the financial electronic networks. For the same area of leased space, a human being squeezes out far less profit than a supercomputer firing off digits at the stock market.

Over the past few years, a company called Spread Networks has built an 825-mile trench between New York City and Chicago. This massive project is for a cable to transport algorithms 37 times faster than you can click a mouse. One of the newer projects in this field is a $300 million fibre-optic line beneath the Atlantic Ocean, intended to shave a few milliseconds off the data transmission time between London and New York markets. Algorithms have “a kind of manifest destiny” that will always seek out a new frontier,” Slavin observes. Along with nature and man, there is now a “third co-evolutionary force,” he says: the algorithm.

Many of us feel life is going faster and faster these days. The intuition isn’t without a real-world basis. Financial market time operating in microsecond cycles is driving our stock-obsessed 24-hour news channels and Internet blogs, which in turn demand a manic, megahertz pace from political campaigns and pop culture. And God help the hapless consumer if he or she is not fully wired and connected at all times to “the Cloud.”

The coming out party for John von Neumann’s MANIAC arrived in the summer of 1951, “with a thermonuclear calculation that ran for 60 days nonstop,” writes George Dyson in the 2012 book Turing’s Cathedral. The author quotes von Neumann’s second wife, Klari, who recalls his anxiety over what his invention might mean for the world. One evening in 1945, the mathematician proclaimed, “What we are creating now is a monster whose influence is going to change history, provided there is any history left.” Von Neumann wasn’t so much concerned about the atomic bomb per se as “the growing powers of machines,” Dyson observes.

“Is there a God?” scientists asked a huge mainframe computer in an ancient Punch cartoon. No real-world device could answer such a question in the era of von Neumann, who passed away in 1957. But perhaps the algorithms racing through the world’s electronic networks will one day give our machines a voice. Actually, in a sense, they have already through Apple’s smart phone app, SIRI. Not surprisingly, the interactive voice recognition software originated as a project funded by DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Program Agency), a Pentagon nursery for classified high technology.

I’m afraid to ask SIRI if there’s a God.

www.olscribbler.wordpress.com

Ta’Kaiya Blaney

Ta’Kaiya Blaney Voice for Change

A powerful voice for change

by Stephanie Goodwin

• In my work for Greenpeace, I meet special people pretty regularly. And by special I mean people who do the most unexpected things in the most wonderful ways.

Ta’Kaiya Blaney Voice for Change
Ta’Kaiya Blaney in Rio for the Earth Summit. Photo by Zack Embree.

In my work for Greenpeace, I meet special people pretty regularly. And by special I mean people who do the most unexpected things in the most wonderful ways.

Meet Ta’Kaiya. She’s a 10-year old girl from North Vancouver who, while learning about sea otters in her home-school, became concerned about the devastation oil tankers would cause to BC’s coast.

When she learned about Enbridge’s proposal to build an oil pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands to the Great Bear Rainforest, bringing more than 200 oil tankers per year to this pristine coast, she got really worried. So she wrote a song about her concerns. And it’s good, really good.

Ta’Kaiya and her mom, Anne, went to Enbridge’s office in Vancouver to hand deliver a copy of her music video and a letter that asks them to stop their plans. When she arrived, security guards stopped her from going to Enbridge’s office on the sixth floor and even entering the building, period. They also refused to send someone down to the street to accept her letter. Apparently, Enbridge, who has touted their willingness to listen and work with First Nations, is afraid of a 10-year-old First Nations girl. She is pretty powerful but, come on, really? I suppose that is what happens when you speak truth to power; it scares them.

Ta’Kaiya knows that oil spills are inevitable with oil pipelines and oil tankers. She recorded the song to make a difference for the environment and the cultures that depend on the coast for their livelihood.

If an election isn’t triggered already, which seems a certainty, our MPs will be debating Bill C-606 in the House of Commons shortly that would legally ban crude oil tankers from BC’s Great Bear Rainforest.

So Ta’Kaiya wrote an open letter to Canada’s Members of Parliament (MPs) and sent it to each of them today [March 24, 2011], on the anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, that urges them to vote in favour of the bill.

I’m sure you’ll agree that, with kids like her, our future looks bright. Follow Ta’Kaiya’s lead and send your own letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper urging his government to represent our voices and those of the future that say loud and clear “Protect the Great Bear Rainforest coast!”

Posted at greenpeace.org, March 24, 2011. Stephanie Goodwin is Greenpeace’s BC Director and works from Vancouver.


Open Letter to Canadian Members of Parliament

My name is Ta’Kaiya Blaney. I am 10-years-old. I live in North Vancouver and am from the Sliammon Nation. My name means “special water.”

I am writing to you because the Enbridge Corporation is planning to build a pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta to Kitimat, BC. I thought it would be very risky for our coast so I wrote a song, called Shallow Waters about an oil spill happening in the shallow waters.

You will be debating Bill C-606 soon, if an election is not triggered, which would ban oil tankers from our northwest coast. I am sharing my song’s music video and a personal message to encourage you to vote in favour of the bill.

Today is the anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. Even today, 22 years later, oil still remains a few inches under the surface of the water.

With this song, I hope to encourage government officials, people of British Columbia, and people across the world will realize the dangers of oil pollution, replace jobs that destroy the environment with jobs that help the environment. I ask government and corporate officials such as yourselves to change your plans and stop oil tanker traffic on BC’s coast and in waters around the world.

Please feel free to share my letter and video with others.

All my relations,
Ta’Kaiya Blaney

Shallow Waters was a semi-finalist in the 2010 David Suzuki Songwriting Contest, Playlist for the Planet.

Environmental laws gutted

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki

Portrait of David Suzuki

Canada’s environmental laws are under attack by both the federal and Ontario governments. In Ottawa, the government introduced Bill C-38 to implement far-reaching measures announced in its budget. Ontario’s government introduced a similar omnibus bill with profound implications for the environment.

The 420-page Bill C-38 will gut a raft of federal laws passed over the years to ensure that our air, water and most vulnerable wildlife populations are protected. Casualties include the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Fisheries Act, Species at Risk Act, National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy Act and the Kyoto Implementation Act.

In a surprisingly similar action, the government of Ontario recently introduced Bill 55. The 327-page bill seriously affects no less than six important resource and wildlife laws, with amendments that strike at the heart of Ontario’s Endangered Species Act and other vital environmental legislation. When Ontario introduced its Endangered Species Act in 2007, legal experts and advocates lauded it as one of the strongest environmental laws in North America. Ontario’s leadership was commendable.

Although biodiversity loss receives less attention than issues such as climate change, it threatens the very life-support systems of our planet: clear air, clean water and productive soil… Scientists say Ontario is particularly vulnerable to biodiversity decline and has a global responsibility for stewardship.

A study in the renowned scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences identified the boreal forest (which makes up more than 40 percent of Ontario) as the biome on the planet most vulnerable to damage from industrial activities and the effects of human-caused global warming. The study’s authors showed that, in recent years, these areas have lost more forest cover to resource development and natural disturbances exacerbated by human-caused climate change than any other biome on the planet.

By weakening its Endangered Species Act, Ontario will be unprepared to cope with ongoing threats to its precious ecosystems and biodiversity, such as urban sprawl, the spread of invasive species and climate change.

The federal government has justified its efforts to eviscerate environmental laws by cynically claiming that caring for nature is a barrier to economic prosperity. But this ideologically driven agenda will harm our nation and undermine the future for our children. We can’t hope to have healthy economies and communities in Ontario or the rest of Canada without healthy ecosystems and species diversity.

A recent study by the David Suzuki Foundation found that biodiversity in Ontario’s Greenbelt alone helps to filter, store and regulate drinking water for millions of people in the Greater Toronto Area. The health of our air, water and most vulnerable wildlife populations are too important to be treated so callously. The government of Ontario must withdraw the proposed amendments to its Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws.

The environment can’t simply be a fair-weather friend for politicians running for election. True leadership means committing to the long haul and ensuring that air, water, land and wildlife are protected now and into the future in Ontario and across Canada.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Terrestrial Conservation and Science Program director Faisal Moola. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Taking the bite out of GM apples

Love the Apple No GMO

by Lucy Sharratt

• A small BC company called Okanagan Specialty Fruits (OSF) has developed a genetically modified apple that will not turn brown when it is cut, even though 10 years ago, the genetically engineered (or genetically modified, GM) “non-browning” apple was actually driven out of Canada when BC apple growers successfully stopped planned field trials at a local government research station. Nonetheless, the company has now asked Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) for approval.
Love the Apple No GMO
When apple flesh is cut and exposed to oxygen, it begins to brown. But the GM apple or “Arctic Apple,” as the company calls it, “will decay naturally just like any other apple, but it will not turn brown from bruising, cutting or biting – not in minutes, hours or days.” In fact, the company president has told reporters the GM apple will not brown for 15 to 18 days.

But browning in fruit is not a problem; on the contrary, it’s helpful information. Without this visual cue for freshness, we could be eating apple pieces that are old and decaying. Non-browning is a cosmetic change that consumers have not asked for, especially as we already have techniques that slow browning – in our kitchens, we use lemon juice and the food service industry uses ascorbic acid (vitamin C).

OSF is asking for approval to sell two varieties of genetically engineered apples: GM Golden Delicious and GM Granny Smith, but president Neal Carter also says, “Our Arctic program isn’t going to stop with golden and the granny; those are just the first out of the pipe.” In fact, OSF says they are planning to engineer Gala and Fuji apples and also lists “future products” that include cherries and pears with the same non-browning technology.

BC apple growers reject the GM apple

BC and Washington apple growers, both conventional and organic, have already rejected the GM “non-browning” apple and opposition from orchardists has not wavered for over 10 years. The BC Fruit Growers Association opposes the GM apple and early last year the Washington-based Northwest Horticultural Council asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to stop the GM apple, saying, “The projected commercial benefits of a nonbrowning apple (which we feel are limited) are clearly outweighed by the marketing problems that the entire United States apple industry would confront.” Okanagan organic orchardist Linda Edwards says, “At best, market awareness that genetically engineered orchards existed in our area would necessitate expensive testing. At worst, it would be loss of market share to areas where the possibility of this contamination could not occur.”

While OSF insists that GM pollen flow will not happen, orchardists like Edwards say, “There is no question that contamination of non-genetically engineered fruit would occur.” The bees that pollinate apple trees can travel a minimum of four miles and while there are factors that can limit pollen spread, they cannot eliminate the risk.

Additionally, if the federal government allows the GM apple onto the market, apple seeds from GM trees and from the contaminated fruit from non-GM trees could pose a contamination risk. If fruit on non-GM trees is pollinated with GM apple pollen, it’s the seed that would contain the patented new gene sequences. Apple trees are propagated by grafting because apple seeds seldom create equal or better apples than the parent, but apple seeds can germinate. To illustrate the risk, Harry Burton, who grows over 120 varieties of organic apples on Salt Spring Island, points out that the apple called Poppy’s Wonder was created when a Cox apple seed was thrown in a compost pile in Victoria, BC. Ironically, the BC Ambrosia apple, which happens to be a naturally slow-browning apple, was a chance seedling found growing in Keremeos, BC.

The GM apple is designed for the fast food market where freshness is an obstacle to getting packaged slices of apple to customers across North America. Genetically engineering apples to not brown “is an indication of our distancing from nature” says Harry Burton. Yukon farmer Tom Rudge, chair of the Slow Food Whitehorse convivium, agrees. Rudge was appalled by a small plastic bag of apple slices in his recent Ottawa hotel breakfast: “We should eat real food instead of genetically engineering an apple so companies can slice it, wrap it in plastic and truck it across the country,” he says, adding, “Apples are already the perfect, healthy fast food. The proposed GM apple shows how unhealthy and wasteful our food system is.”

Huguette Allen of the Okanagan group Bee SAFE says, “Sweet, juicy and crunchy, they come with their own protective wrapper and if you throw away the core, it decomposes instead of adding to the landfill.”

OSF says the US could approve the GM apple this year and by 2014 it could be on sale in Canada. While our government has set up regulation to approve GM foods quickly and quietly, without any consideration of the impact on farmers and consumers, the GM apple and proposed GM alfalfa are putting this system to the test. While the federal government ignores the negative effects on farmers, local and regional governments cannot. On May 28, the City of Richmond just south of Vancouver, unanimously passed a resolution that states, “No further GM crops, trees or plants should be grown in the City of Richmond. This also includes GM fruit trees, all GM plants and shrubbery, GM vegetables, GM commodity crops and any and all field tests for medical and experimental GM crops.”

The resolution, one of at least six similar decisions in BC communities, was the result of over two years of dedicated work by local co-organizers. On June 10, the Board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen also unanimously adopted a motion to ask the federal government to reject the GM Apple. As Board member Allan Patton reportedly said at the meeting, “Vote in favour of (the motion) or give the finger to the organic growers and the commercial grower.”

Lucy Sharratt is the coordinator for the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) www.cban.ca

Cholesterol drugs

What you don’t know can hurt you

DRUG BUST by Alan Cassels

The people’s briefing note on prescription drugs

Portrait of columnist Alan Cassels
• I’ve been following the cholesterol saga – both the marketing and the science of the dreaded “high cholesterol” – for more than 15 years and I have come to a single conclusion: people, and I mean all of us, including specialists, researchers, physicians, nurses, pharmacists and patients, have no idea of the range of possible harms associated with taking a cholesterol-lowering drug.

Why do we have no idea?

My answer is the substance of this month’s column, which was born from my suddenly realizing the depth of our collective ignorance about the dangers of this drug class. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld who spoke of “unknown unknowns,” in the statin world, there are those things we do not know, we don’t know. With this incredibly popular drug class, there are forces conspiring to keep us flailing in ignorance in the dark.

Let me give it to you up front: Regardless of your age, if you are otherwise healthy with no history of heart disease, please avoid having your cholesterol tested. Don’t. Ever. Do. It. There. That’s my public health message for this month.

But you may ask, “If it’s not worth doing, why do all the experts, as well as my doctor, keep saying that watching our cholesterol is worthwhile? Why do so many organizations promote the testing and treatment of high cholesterol, including the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Canadian Cardiovascular Society and any group that has an interest in cardiovascular disease?”

Even the independent bodies we trust, such as the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), which delivers some of the best evidence-based recommendations on screening, says, “The benefits of screening for and treating lipid disorders in all men aged 35 and older and women aged 45 and older at increased risk for coronary heart disease substantially outweigh the potential harms.”

Now this advice would be perfectly acceptable if we had a full account of the “potential harms” of statins – by this, I mean the bad things that can come with drugs such as Lipitor (atorvastatin), Crestor (rosuvastatin), Pravachol (pravastatin) and Zocor (simvastatin), among others.

On the ‘benefit’ side, most of us need a good slap to the side of the head to remind us that being labelled as having ‘high’ cholesterol is not the same as having a disease. It is a “risk factor” for a disease such as a future heart attack or stroke. But it’s a tiny risk factor. Miniscule. Most of us may want to reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease, but most of us aren’t told that tinkering with our cholesterol levels, through drugs or diet, does very little to reduce our overall risk.

Even in a “best case “ scenario, one in 20 very high-risk men would see a benefit of only five percent. Most people would never even get close to that level of benefit; most of us would get no benefit while still having to contend with considerable harm.

But back to the dangers of statins – drugs like Lipitor, Crestor or Zocor. What are the most common negative effects of these drugs?

For clarity, I talked to Dr. Beatrice Golomb, a professor in medicine at the University of California in San Diego and likely one of the world’s experts on the dangers of statin drugs. In 2008, she published an extensive literature review of the adverse effects of statins and to say it’s exhaustive is a gross understatement; this paper has 900 references!

And what effects did she find? The range of adverse effects associated with statins is incredibly broad, but the key adverse effects could be summed up easily in a quick soundbite: muscles, memory and mood.

The adverse effects happen more frequently in people taking higher doses of statins, but muscle pain and weakness, trouble remembering things and feeling generally irritable are the most common troublesome effects of statins. Statin users might also experience violent nightmares, liver and stomach problems, trouble with breathing, sexual difficulties and a range of other problems.

I called Dr. Golomb at her office in San Diego the same week her new study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The study found that statins cause people to feel tired and have less energy. This study, while small, was a randomized trial and probably the first of its kind to provide solid evidence on something patients have known about and which the drug industry has been able to hide for years: Statins cause fatigue and adversely affect a person’s energy levels. Her study found that about four in 10 women taking a moderate dose of a drug like pravastatin or simvastatin had less energy and were more fatigued when they exercised.

When I talked to her, I realized pretty quickly that she and I have something in common: We had both spent part of our professional lives listening to people complain about the side effects they’d experienced while on statins. Both of us have heard many stories of physicians refusing to believe that these common side effects were real.

About 10 years ago, Dr. Golomb set up a study to collect reports of people who were taking statins. It was called the UCSD Statin Effects Study (www.statineffects.com). Unlike most research on statins, Dr. Golomb’s data were refreshingly innovative, consisting of real stories of real experiences of real patients who had taken statins and had problems. These data are a huge contrast to much of the published literature on the effects of statins because most of what you find in the medical journals is research that is a) funded by the pharmaceutical industry, b) biased, often not reporting full adverse events data and c) generally biased towards only the positive effects of statins.

No wonder our doctors have been kept in the dark.

In 2007, she published a study in the medical journal Drug Safety that analyzed the reports of over 650 patients. The key thing she found was what I would call “doctor denial.” This is the “I’ve never heard of that before” reaction that statin patients often get from doctors when complaining of sore and weak muscles, memory loss or any of the scores of nasty effects linked to statins.

When a doctor fails to recognize that a patient’s symptoms could be the side effects of a drug, a vicious cycle can ensue, with more drugs – perhaps anti-inflammatory drugs – being prescribed to treat the side effects. Statins can cause a long cascade due to its side effects, including drugs for anxiety or impotence. There are even reports of patients who experience adverse effects that look like Parkinson’s disease, leading, of course, to drugs for Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Golomb has learned a lot about statins from what people have reported to her. Over the last six years or so, she has been publishing her survey results in medical journals and presenting them to doctors.

A 2010 study found that muscle-related problems were a very common complaint of statin users, maybe as many as 20 percent of people who take the drugs. And if the drugs prevent people from exercising, they are actually doing the opposite of what they should be doing to keep you healthy.

Many people can eliminate the adverse effects by taking a lower dose or stopping the statin altogether, but some are not so lucky; some statin users have adverse effects that are irreversible.

At the end of the day, most of what we know about the safety of statins is biased. The statin world has very few researchers like Beatrice Golomb and that’s a shame. The medical world’s efforts to screen and pharmacologically treat something as simple as your cholesterol levels is a phenomenon that I believe is largely rooted in ignorance. Some day, I suspect we will regard statins as an unmitigated scandal in medicine, the same way we now think of bloodletting, thalidomide or Vioxx.

Alan Cassels is a pharmaceutical policy researcher at the University of Victoria and the author of Seeking Sickness: Medical Screening and the Misguided Hunt for Disease (Greystone, 2012), in which he discusses, among other things, screening for high cholesterol. Read more of what he’s writing about at www.alancassels.com

Walk for Peace presentation

photo of Woody with photo of partner

Presentation at Walk for Peace June 30

by Woody Coward

photo of Woody with photo of partner
• I’m Woody Coward. I’m 94. In 1939, I joined the Canadian Army as a stretcher bearer. I became a professional soldier and one of Canada’s atomic program veterans. Thirty years later, I resigned my commission as a Lt-Col. About 30 years after that, I became a peace activist. I changed.

I am representing Veterans Against Nuclear Arms, otherwise known as VANA. I speak on behalf of David Laskey and Ed Livingstone, leaders of Veterans Against Nuclear Arms before we folded our tent a year or so ago. They stand with me here on this platform.

Today, we bring a message of change and greetings to all – and a special greeting to any veteran or member of Veterans Against Nuclear Arms who may be in this great gathering.

Our message is about change, as today we are celebrating Vancouver’s original Peace Walk in 1982. It is a special time for VANA for it was that Peace Walk in 1982 that spawned the birth of the VANA Vancouver Branch a year later.

Veterans Against Nuclear Arms participated as a group in Vancouver’s Remembrance Day ceremonies during the 80s and 90s. But the organizers of those events were more interested in glorifying war than promoting peace and refused to allow us to place a wreath on the cenotaph at Victory Square. By 2000, that had changed since then we were included in those events. The wreath on this stage is in commemoration of all the people of Vancouver who have worked for peace and who may not be with us today.

We sense change in the air. The world is finding ways of resolving differences, of settling disputes without resorting to arms. Apartheid no longer exists in South Africa. A man of colour is president of the USA. Twenty-seven nations of Europe that fought each other for centuries are joined together in a peaceful union. Common trade was the route they used to bind their union. Interdependence may now be the glue that keeps them united. The Arab Spring carried countries of the Middle East towards social and political change. The youth of the world is telling us loudly and clearly that we need to move towards a peaceful and just society, without resorting to arms. Although the globe still has many problems and more nuclear devices than it had in 1982, none have been used in war since 1945.

Yes, my friends, we believe that in balance this world is a better and safer place than it was 30-years-ago. We are convinced this change would not have happened without the constant pressure from those of our numbers who let the world know that peace was not just the way; it is the only way and we must keep up the pressure.

We often repeat John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields on Remembrance Day: “To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high.”

And so we hold high our banner – let peace be our memorial. Thank you.


Veterans Against Nuclear Arms (VANA)

three veterans with wreath
From left: Ed Livingston, Woody Coward, David Laskey. The wreath featured commemorates all the people of Vancouver who have worked for peace. It was created and donated by the Liang family of Dunbar Produce, 4355 Dunbar Street, Vancouver, 604 228-8615.

Wars have been repeated, over and over, in the name of freedom and peace. War does not bring lasting peace. We must find those roads to peace, with love and understanding.

We must awaken the power of hope for peace that is buried deep within the depths of each individual, as this power can transform and change even the most intractable reality.

When we can end the use of war, then all those who have died in war can rest in peace, as peace should be their memorial. Thank you.

– Dave Laskey, Veteran Against Nuclear Arms

Birth of the peace

semaphore origin of peace symbol

Nuclear Disarmament

semaphore origin of peace symbol
• The peace symbol is one of the most widely known symbols in the world. In Britain, it is recognized as standing for nuclear disarmament and, in particular, as the logo of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). In the US and throughout much of the rest of the world, it is known more broadly as the peace symbol. It was designed in 1958 by Gerald Holtom, a professional designer and artist and a graduate of the Royal College of Arts. He showed his preliminary sketches to a small group of people in the Peace News office in North London and to the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War, one of several smaller organizations that came together to set up CND.

The Direct Action Committee had already planned what was to be the first major anti-nuclear march, from London to Aldermaston, where British nuclear weapons were (and still are) manufactured. It was during that march, over the 1958 Easter weekend, that the symbol first appeared in public. Five hundred cardboard lollipops on sticks were produced. Half were black on white and half white on green. Just as the church’s liturgical colours change over Easter, so the colours were to change “from Winter to Spring, from Death to Life.” Black and white would be displayed on Good Friday and Saturday, green and white on Easter Sunday and Monday.

The first badges were made by Eric Austin of Kensington CND using white clay with the symbol painted black. Again, there was a conscious symbolism. They were distributed with a note explaining that, in the event of a nuclear war, these fired pottery badges would be among the few human artifacts to survive the nuclear inferno. These early ceramic badges can still be found and one, loaned by CND, was included in the Imperial War Museum’s 1999/2000 exhibition “From the Bomb to the Beatles.

What does it mean?

Gerald Holtom, a conscientious objector who had worked on a farm in Norfolk during the Second World War, explained the symbol incorporated the semaphore letters Nuclear and Disarmament. He later wrote to Hugh Brock, editor of Peace News, explaining the genesis of his idea in greater, more personal depth: “I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad. I formalized the drawing into a line and put a circle round it.”

Eric Austin added his own interpretation of the design: “The gesture of despair had long been associated with the death of Man and the circle with the unborn child.”

Holtom had originally considered using the Christian cross symbol within a circle as the motif for the march, but various priests he had approached with the suggestion were not happy at the idea of using the cross on a protest march. Ironically, Christian CND later used the symbol with the central stroke extended upwards to form the upright of a cross. This adaptation of the design was only one of many subsequently invented by various groups within CND and for specific occasions – with a cross below as a women’s symbol, with a daffodil or a thistle incorporated by CND Cymru [Welsh] and Scottish CND, with little legs for a sponsored walk, etc. Whether Holtom would have approved of some of the more light-hearted versions is open to doubt.

The symbol crossed the Atlantic almost immediately. Bayard Rustin, a close associate of Martin Luther King, had come over from the US in order to take part in that first Aldermaston March. He took the symbol back to the US where it was used in civil rights marches. Later, it appeared in anti-Vietnam War demonstrations and was even daubed in protest on the helmets of American GIs. Simpler to draw than the Picasso peace dove, it became known, first in the US and then around the world, as the peace symbol. It appeared on the walls of Prague when the Soviet tanks invaded in 1968, on the Berlin Wall, in Sarajevo and Belgrade, on the graves of the victims of military dictators from the Greek Colonels to the Argentinian junta, and in East Timor.

There have been claims that the symbol has older, occult or anti-Christian associations. In South Africa, under the apartheid regime, there was an official attempt to ban it. Various far-right and fundamentalist American groups have also spread the idea of Satanic associations or condemned it as a Communist sign. However, the origins and ideas behind the symbol have been clearly described, both in letters and interviews, by Gerald Holtom and his original sketches are now on display as part of the Commonweal Collection in Bradford.

Although specifically designed for the anti-nuclear movement, it has quite deliberately never been copyrighted. No one has to pay for it or seek permission before they use it. A symbol of freedom, it is free for all. This, of course, sometimes leads to its use, or misuse, in circumstances that CND and the peace movement find distasteful. It is also often exploited for commercial, advertising or general fashion purposes. We can’t stop this happening and have no intention of copyrighting it. All we can do is to ask commercial users if they would like to make a donation. Any money received is used for CND’s peace education and information work.

Information about the origin of the peace symbol is from Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament: cnduk.org

For more information about peace initiatives, visit:
The Council of Canadians: canadians.org
Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace: cndpindia.org
Canadian Peace Alliance: acp-cpa.ca
Ceasefire: ceasefire.ca
Department of Peace: departmentofpeace.ca
Canadian Peace Congress: canadianpeacecongress.ca
Greenpeace Canada: greenpeace.org
Canadian Voice of Women for Peace: vowpeace.org
stopwar.ca
Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility www.ccnr.org

Northern Gateway pipeline economics

Ta’Kaiya Blaney protests the Tar Sands

by Robyn Allan

• I grew up at Jericho Beach. My brother and I played war games with our friends based on a TV show called The Rat Patrol. We’d sneak along the beach, under the army base wharf, past imaginary enemy lines and make our way to Spanish Banks and up into a field we called the Plains of Abraham.

Ta’Kaiya Blaney protests the Tar Sands
Ta’Kaiya Blaney (L) protests the Tar Sands at the Rio Earth Summit, June 20-22. Photo by Zack Embree.

I never imagined then that I would be fighting now to stop Supernatural British Columbia from becoming a supertanker terminal for Alberta. It’s not just the danger of a spill and what it will do to the beaches that I want to talk about today. It’s the broader issue of Canada’s energy strategy putting all our futures at risk.

Canada has an energy strategy? Yes we do. It’s just not designed to serve Canadians.

The strategy is decided in the boardrooms of large corporations and national oil companies owned by foreign governments. It’s delivered to the federal government behind closed-door meetings with lobbyists and over dessert at state dinners in other countries. Companies like Suncor, Nexen, MEG Energy, Cenovus and Total are all investors in the Northern Gateway approval process. We also have national oil companies owned by the Communist Party of China like Sinopec, PetroChina, and the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company. These companies are all directly or indirectly involved in this project.

These players have decided they need pipelines to the westcoast. They want to ship crude oil, primarily unprocessed oil sands called bitumen, to Asian markets. Both Sinopec and PetroChina have a fleet of oil tankers. They own almost all the refineries in China. That’s where they plan to upgrade and refine the crude oil they produce here into gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other petroleum products necessary to power Asia’s economic growth. It’s upgrading and refining that creates jobs. It’s upgrading and refining that generates value added – not shipping bitumen down a pipeline.

We’ve been led to believe Northern Gateway means construction jobs. Enbridge – in a new ad campaign developed for British Columbians – pitches the construction jobs as a big plus. Enbridge claims “over 3,000 construction jobs at the peak of construction.” Sounds, you know, okay. That is until you run it by the truth metre.

That number comes from Volume 6C of their application, pages 4-8. The number is 3,029 person years of employment for three months in the third quarter of the third year of a five-year construction project. Person-years of employment are not jobs. If you work for a company for three years as a manager, that’s one job and three person-years of employment. Enbridge would call it three jobs. The construction jobs, when we run them through the truth meter, are just a tad over a 1,000, not 3,000.

That doesn’t mean these jobs are for British Columbians – they may go to anyone, even offshore temporary workers.

Enbridge CEO Pat Daniel has told us PetroChina would “love” to build the pipeline. Stephen Harper has made major changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in Budget Bill C-38. These changes allow companies to import workers within 10 days, and pay them 15 percent less than the going domestic rate. These changes will certainly help PetroChina tender a low bid since they have a huge, low-paid labour pool ready to draw on.

There are virtually no long-term jobs from Northern Gateway. Enbridge says 78 jobs in BC and 26 in Alberta. A total of 104 permanent jobs.

But we do give up a lot of permanent jobs by not upgrading bitumen in Alberta. We ship those jobs down the pipeline along with the crude oil. For the bitumen that can be shipped along Northern Gateway, it’s estimated 4,800 permanent upgrading and refining jobs are lost. Compare 4,800 permanent jobs lost to Enbridge’s 104 permanent jobs gained.

We need to know that when bitumen is exported, so are jobs and value-added wealth. None of the lost jobs have been acknowledged by Enbridge in its ads or included in any of its analysis. If the Canadian government was as concerned about jobs in Canada as it pretends to be, bitumen would be upgraded in Alberta.

So what’s stopping us? The multinational companies and the Chinese government don’t want it that way. Upgrading and refining in Alberta was the strategy as recently as 2008. The oil industry had 10 new upgraders planned and even some new refineries, but then the financial crisis hit. Since then, oil production plans have recovered, while plans for new upgraders and refineries in Canada have not.

Back in 2008, when Prime Minister Harper was running for re-election, he promised bitumen would not be shipped to Asia. His government continued to publicly extol the virtues of processing oil in Canada right up until Enbridge filed its application for Northern Gateway in May 2010. So when industry proponents say it’s not economic to upgrade and refine in Canada, you can say, “Hey wait a second, as recently as 2008 that was the plan; it was economic and it was endorsed by Harper’s government.”

Once Northern Gateway is built, when Enbridge decides it wants to expand capacity, increase tanker traffic and expose the land and sea to exponential spill risk, no one will be held accountable to address the environmental threat. If the actual environmental threat of Northern Gateway is going to be assessed, it has to be done as part of the initial application.

This issue becomes important when Kinder Morgan submits its application to the National Energy Board. You need to ensure the full design capacity of the new pipeline and marine expansion is assessed, not the minimum, as has happened with Northern Gateway.

Kinder Morgan has presented its new project as a 450,000 barrel per day pipeline. With design features similar to Northern Gateway’s, it could move 850,000 barrels a day and that means somewhere around 475 oil tankers a year dropping anchor off English Bay.

There’s one final area of misinformation I want to discuss today. That’s Enbridge’s operating risk and safety record. Enbridge tells us in its ad campaign that the company has “World-class safety standards… carefully planned and built to respect the terrain and wildlife. The pipeline will be monitored 24/7.” But when you run this information through the truth metre, well…

From 1998 to 2010, Enbridge had 770 reportable oil spills, a number of them considered large by National Energy Board standards. When Enbridge submitted its risk analysis to the National Energy Board, it only included spill statistics from 2005 to 2009. In the insurance industry, we call this kind of selective choice of data “cherry picking.”

On July 25, 2010, a little over a month after filing its application for Northern Gateway, Enbridge suffered the most significant spill in the company’s history. Enbridge’s Line 6B ruptured in Marshall, Michigan, releasing more than 20,000 barrels of dilbit. Toxic condensate evaporated into the air impacting the local population. Bitumen made its way into the Kalamazoo River.

Enbridge’s corporate standard for identifying a spill is 10 minutes with an additional three minutes for pipeline shutdown. It took more than 17 hours for the Kalamazoo spill to be detected and the pipeline shut down. This pipeline was monitored by Enbridge “24/7.” Enbridge CEO Pat Daniel testified before the US House of Representatives in September 2010. He said, “By the end of September, we will have completed the bulk of the clean up.”

Twenty-three months later, with clean-up costs reaching $765 million, only three of the 39 miles of the Kalamazoo River have been opened to the public. Restoration of the affected waterway and surrounding lands has not started. The restoration stage of the Kalamazoo River will certainly take years and possibly decades. A few weeks ago [early June], the US National Transportation Safety Board released 170 documents, 5,000 pages and 58 pictures of the spill. These documents provide an arms-length, independent look at Enbridge’s world-class safety standards. They explain operating safety took a back seat to corporate growth.

All it will take to ruin the Kitimat watershed system is a spill of – not 20,000 barrels of dilbit into the Kitimat River, but if the spill takes place upstream – somewhere in the neighbourhood of 600 to 650 barrels should do it.

There are more than 700 fresh waterways that Northern Gateway will traverse. The topographical and other geophysical challenges of Northern BC are significantly greater than the relatively flat land traversed by Line 6B in Michigan.

The Kalamazoo spill wasn’t discovered by Enbridge in its state of the art control room, even after 17 hours of pressure problems, repeated alarms in the control room and three shift changes. No one saw the problem as a spill. Someone in Marshall who saw the oil called the control room. But here is something truly shocking. Enbridge doesn’t just downplay Kalamazoo; the company behaves as if the spill never happened.

During the past two years, Enbridge has not updated any of the risk analyses filed with the National Energy Board to include the Kalamazoo spill. We need to ask – who is looking after the Canadian public interest? Mr. Harper is not. Mr. Harper is not behaving as the Prime Minister of Canada. Mr. Harper is behaving as a marketing manager for big oil.

We need to ask who is looking after BC’s public interest? Premier Clark is not. As Premier she has the constitutional power to ensure Northern Gateway undergoes a provincial environmental assessment that includes the environmental threat of the designed capacity of the project—including the tanker traffic it triggers.

She has the power to ensure BC’s public interest is protected, but stands back and allows it to be trampled by the Harper government. We need to be clear. Premier Clark has been asked to lie down and play dead on Northern Gateway. By agreeing to do so she has given Northern Gateway the go ahead.

Not exercising the right to a provincial environmental assessment means BC agrees to accept the National Energy Board decision. Prime Minister Harper has told us Northern Gateway will go ahead. The only way to stop this pipeline and the tanker traffic that comes with it is for BC to exercise our right to review the project and decide whether or not we want it to go ahead.

Who is looking after the pubic interest of this riding? Your MLA Christy Clark is not. As Premier, she has the power to ensure a provincial environmental assessment of the Kinder Morgan project. Yet she has not said the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal will undergo a provincial review. As a result, Premier Clark has agreed to – what has become – a National Energy Board rubber stamp with a big yes on it.

By doing nothing, Christy Clark has made a decision for you.

She has decided the oil export strategy designed in the boardrooms of big oil take precedence over your vision of what British Columbia, as a province, and Vancouver, as a coastal city, should be.

Environmental assessment is our right. While you still have the power to keep BC’s economy and environment out of harms way, take action. Tell Prime Minister Harper you’ve had enough of his support of large oil companies who put at risk our economy and our environment.

Tell Premier Clark to stop playing dead and stand up and protect the rights of all British Columbians. Thank-you.

Robyn Allan is an economist and the former president and CEO of ICBC (Insurance Corporation of British Columbia) www.robynallan.com. On June 16, she delivered a talk on the Northern Gateway Pipeline at a townhall meeting in Vancouver hosted by Joyce Murray, Liberal MP for Vancouver Quadra, www.joycemurray.liberal.ca The text here has been adapted from her talk. Read her entire address at www.commonground.ca

Dr. Rosalie Bertell – in memorium

Dr. Rosalie Bertell

World loses renowned environmental researcher

by Dr. Gordon Edwards

• On June 14, 2012, we lost a giant with the passing of Sister Rosalie Bertell, Ph.D., an internationally recognized environmental epidemiologist, cancer researcher and public health advocate. She was 83.

Dr. Rosalie Bertell - environmental researcher
I knew of Rosalie Bertell’s work at the Roswell Park Memorial Institute where she first gained invaluable insights into the manner in which ionizing low-level radiation degrades health and impairs the intelligence of very young children. I was lucky enough to accompany Rosalie on a trip to Korea to visit the communities where the CANDU nuclear reactors are located. I witnessed first-hand her compassionate heart and her scientific mind working in seamless harmony.

She was a trailblazer in the practice of science and mathematics in the public interest, something the human community sorely needs if we are to survive our own technologies. She travelled the globe, researching and advising ways of dealing with chemical and nuclear hazards until shortly before her death. She authored more than 100 articles and two books: No Immediate Danger (1985) and Planet Earth: The Latest Weapon of War (2000). Better active today than radioactive tomorrow

It is pitiful to see scientists and engineers allowing themselves to be shackled in jobs where their conscience is anaesthetized, their voices stilled and their actions severely limited because they have sold their services to a corporation, a government agency or a military establishment.

Rosalie saw that science must be at the service of humanity and that scientific language has to be demystified so we can all understand the magnitude of the stakes and the enormity of what we are doing to Earth’s living systems. Scientific thought devoid of compassion, concern and action – for the good of humanity and all life on Earth – is not only sterile, but rapidly becomes enormously destructive.

May Rosalie rest in peace, but may her spirit remain very much alive and active in the world, because we need it – we need her – so much.

Dr. Gordon Edwards is President and co-founder of Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. He is qualified as a nuclear expert by courts in Canada and in 2006 he received the Nuclear-free Future Award in the category of Education. www.ccnr.org