Green Politics: Monsanto Pinned for Poisoning

If you sell you something that makes you terribly sick, who is to blame?

Seems like an obvious question, right? Especially if you are applying chemicals that are designed to kill living organisms.

The thing is, it’s often a very hard thing to prove, especially when it comes to illnesses linked to toxic chemicals and pesticides exposure. U.S. agri-giant Monsanto has relied upon this absence of causal scientific  linkage–the proverbial “smoking gun”–to maintain its lack of culpability when people get sick from their products.

Until today. A French judge has found Monsanto directly culpable and responsible for a farmer’s illness after exposure to one of the company’s pesticides.

Via the Guardian:

Monsanto found guilty of chemical poisoning in France

French farmer Paul Francois says he suffered neurological problems after inhaling Monsanto’s Lasso weedkiller

A French court has declared the US biotech giant Monsanto guilty of chemical poisoning of a French farmer, a judgment that could lend weight to other health claims against pesticides.

In the first such case heard in court in France, the grain grower Paul Francois, 47, said he suffered neurological problems including memory loss, headaches and stammering after inhaling Monsanto’s Lasso weedkiller in 2004.

He blames Monsanto for not providing adequate warnings on the product label.

The ruling was given by a court in Lyon, south-east France, which ordered an expert opinion of Francois’s losses to establish the amount of damages.

“It is a historic decision in so far as it is the first time that a [pesticide] maker is found guilty of such a poisoning,” Francois Lafforgue, Francois’s lawyer, told Reuters.

Monsanto said it was disappointed by the ruling and would examine whether to appeal against the judgment.

“Monsanto always considered that there were not sufficient elements to establish a causal relationship between Paul Francois’s symptoms and a potential poisoning,” the company’s lawyer, Jean-Philippe Delsart, said.

Previous health claims from farmers have foundered because of the difficulty of establishing clear links between illnesses and exposure to pesticides.

This “burden of proof” is a really interesting element to the whole discussion of causing harm and assigning responsibility. United States law has traditionally flowed from a risk assessment strategy that favors trade and enterprise over public and environmental safety. Weigh the outcomes, then proceed. Assume the best, deal with the rest.

In contrast, European Union law rests upon a a precautionary mindset. If you want to sell it, you have to prove that it’s not harmful before you proceed.


The precautionary principle or precautionary approach states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action.

The problem, of course, with betting on things being OK is that they are–until they’re not. Once illness strikes or a watershed is bespoiled, we all suffer the consequences. There’s no unringing the bell. No matter who was to blame in the right place.  That’s good enough reason to stop throwing dice with our health and our environment.

Green Politics: Army Brass Champions LEED

Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees. Literally.

Congress’ recently passed defense authorization bill hampers military spending for LEED Gold or Platinum certified projects. How’s that again?

Could these roadblocks for LEED construction be linked to the interests of U.S. wood producers? (Here’s the backstory.)

Luckily  for us, Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy, and the environment is steadfastly committed to  sound, safe, cost- and energy-efficient construction.


The federal government has been one of the biggest supporters of LEED certification in the last few years, with the General Services Administration (GSA) requiring basic LEED certification for all federal buildings starting in 2003 and then upping that requirement to LEED Gold in 2010.

The military has been on the cutting edge of green building from the beginning. The Navy adopted sustainable design principles before LEED even existed, as we reported way back in 1998. The Army embraced LEED in 2006 and recently began the much more radical work of moving all its installations to net-zero energy, water, and waste. As Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy, and the environment, put it to EBN earlier this year, “Energy security is mission critical.”

Hammack is having none of it. In a call with reporters yesterday, she reiterated the Army’s commitment to net-zero and LEED and gave an update about some of the progress that’s already been made. “We’re finding it does not cost more to design and construct to LEED” standards, Hammack said.

Read the full story.


Green Links: UN Global Sustainability Report

“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”–Attributed to Yogi Berra

A new UN report offers a blueprint with specific recommendations for moving best practices for sustainable development into active economic policy.

This is how we get there.

The 22-member Panel, established by the Secretary-General in August 2010 to formulate a new blueprint for sustainable development and low-carbon prosperity, was co-chaired by Finnish President Tarja Halonen and South African President Jacob Zuma. The Panel’s final report, “Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing”, contains 56 recommendations to put sustainable development into practice and to mainstream it into economic policy as quickly as possible.

Read “Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing”


Green Politics: Environmental Bills in NJ Senate

Politics is often compared to sausage-making, for good reason. It’s always complicated and often controversial.

But it’s important.  We elect officials to run our state and represent our interests.

Here’s what’s being discussed today in the Senate Environment and Energy Committee: water safety, school clean-ups, land ownership, storm water run-off, state forestry resources, and renewable energy.

Weigh in on what’s important to you.

I’ll add the transcript once available.

More via Enviropoliticsblog: Energy and Environmental Bills in Committee Today in NJ


Green Living: Yes, You Can Keep Your Incandescents

Let’s clear up a few things. No one is coming to your house to confiscate your incandescent bulbs and force you you install twisty compact fluorescent bulbs.

There is no need to stockpile or horde them like tulip bulbs or canned milk.*

Even though CFLs are vastly more energy-efficient, last 10 times as long, cost less to operate and provide just as nice light.

We know, you think the light is weird or you have concerns (legitimately!) about the potential health risks if you break one. (For the record, here’s how to clean up a broken CFL and why and how to recycle  CFLs responsibly and safely.)

And maybe you just don’t like being told what you can and can’t buy for your home.

For now, at least until 2014, you can have your incandescent bulbs.


A Congressional spending deal made late last night includes a provision that prevents the Department of Energy from enforcing the incandescent light bulb ban set to go in effect in January for another nine months.

The first phase of the ban, which still remains on the books but just can’t be enforced, includes higher efficiency standards for 100-watt bulbs.  By the end 2014, all incandescents will be phased out.  and this delay may now cause them to lose money to foreign competitors still selling the cheaper bulbs.

In the meantime, American light bulb makers are hot on the task of making the change from incandescents to more efficient bulbs like halogen, CFLs and LEDs that customers will love.

New out of the gate are Philips’ energy efficient EcoVantage incandescent bulbs, available exclusively at Home Depot stores and online via


Philips Lighting is launching a new line of incandescent light bulbs designed to meet federal energy efficiency standards that will take force in the US over the next few years.

While not as efficient as compact fluorescent or LED bulbs,  EcoVantage bulbs will likely appeal to people who are unhappy with the quality of light delivered by the more energy efficient technologies.

The new bulbs, which use halogen elements, provide energy savings of about 28% compared to conventional incandescents. That meets or exceeds efficiency standards established in the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007. Wattage options are as follows:

According to the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), lighting alone accounts for 22% of electricity use in the US, and there are over 4.4 billion medium screw-based light sockets.

Yes, you can keep your incandescents. But I hope you’ll consider upgrading to more efficient lights–with plenty of choice for which and how much–when you can.

Green Politics: NJ Playing Fields Act Fails Because It Never Got a Vote

Bills supporting clean water, land and air for NJ citizens failed to pass last week as the 2011 NJ legislative session came to a close. In the end, worries about the other Big E–the Economy–won out this round.

Among them were a number of bills that simply weren’t posted and never got to a vote, including the Safe Playing Fields Act. This bill enjoyed wide support and sponsorship and would have protected NJ children by banning toxic pesticide use on school grounds and playing fields.

I find this outcome an eminently political move by legislators who had previously supported these bills.  They can’t be blamed for voting for or against something if the vote never came up.


There were a number of good bills that were never even posted, [NJ Sierra Club Director Jeff] Tittel added. They included a bill to limit children’s exposure to pesticides at playgrounds, a bill increasing the state’s target for renewable energy from 22.5 percent to 30 percent, and a bill that would have prevented the governor from withdrawing New Jersey from a regional program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In a letter sent to supporters, Northern NJ Safe Yards Alliance asks for renewed grass-roots commitment to get the Safe Playing Fields Act passed in February:

We are disappointed.

Despite thousands of letters of support from residents & health advocates, 19 senate co-sponsors and 27 assembly co-sponsors, the NJ Legislature failed to pass the Safe Playing Fields Act (S2610/A3782) before the end of the legislative session on January 9.

We got the bill as close as we could to passing without getting it done. The bill now has to go through committees again.

We are also optimistic. Since it was so close to being passed into law, we want it to be posted to a vote during the first 2012 legislative session in February. Whether we are successful will be dependent on enough grass-roots support to counter the well-financed chemical industry who is opposing the bill.

Read NJ Spotlight’s coverage.

My post on the Safe Playing Fields Act

NJ Northern Safe Yards Alliance website


Green Links: Does Green = Green?

Does a company’s green practices factor into what you buy? What matters most to you? As a business owner, has being green helped you grow your business?

I try to consider my “5 Cs”: concern, convenience, community, conservation and cost.

I’d love to hear your thoughts for an upcoming presentation I’m writing.

Links to spark your thinking:


Will benefiting society benefit your company’s profit?


Are Green Businesses More Likely to Attract Your Green?


Walmart Wants To Start A Conversation On Sustainability With Its New Green Blog


Firms With Benefits (Patagonia Pioneers B Corp Sustainability Status) 

Green Politics: B Corp Status = Business Soul

What kind of company protects its directors to weigh in the environmental and social benefits of its business over profits?

In California, this new legal status is called a “Benefit Corporation.” I’ll call it: “giving corporate-persons a soul.”

What do you think? Gimmick or good idea?

Patagonia Pioneers Sustainability Legal Status.

And nope, didn’t start in Cali. Maryland.

New to me, glad to learn about it. New Jersey’s on the list!

Green Politics: NJ’s 2012 Energy Challenges

Don’t like how NJ’s energy landscape is shaping up? Want lower utility bills, more solar rebate options, a ban on fracking? Me too.

I plan to contribute meaningfully to the conversation this year and take positive action.

Step one: get oriented on where issues stand today in Trenton.

Difficult decisions about solar, offshore wind, and new power plants must be made — some in short order

NJ Spotlight round-up on NJ’s 2012 energy challenges