Archive | September, 2012

Bright Idea

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Innovative Altruism: Newman’s Own

Posted on 28 September 2012 by Jerry

When someone adds a new dimension to helping others which leverages naturally occurring behavior (consumers purchasing products), works within our economic system and maintains jobs for active employees, it deserves attention and emulation.  It is all the more unique when its success is a virtuous, self-reinforcing, upward beneficial spiral.  Newman’s Own is just such an innovation. 

Newman’s Own, Inc. produces consumer products such as salad dressings, sauces, pastas, etc. with a motto proclaiming its “Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good”.  Each year the company pays a royalty, equivalent to its annual profits after tax, to the Newman’s Own Foundation.  The foundation contributes all of its annual income, less excise taxes and necessary administrative expense, to charity.  Between the business’ beginning in 1982 and 2012, Paul and Newman’s Own Foundation have awarded over $350 million to help others.  The foundation was established in 2005 and is presently run by a Board of Directors headed by Mr. Newman’s widow, Joanne Woodward.

Many people show altruism, defined as an “unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others” or “behavior by an animal that is not beneficial to or may be harmful to itself but that benefits others of its species.”  Most frequently a person works in industry, makes a lot of money and puts some of the money in a charitable foundation.  The money in the foundation is invested and a portion of the foundations funds are donated each year to charity.  This generosity is generally recognized by a tax deduction and frequently by honors bestowed on the benefactor such as awards or naming a building after them.

While Newman’s Own is a variation on this theme, its uniqueness is the lack of an intermediate transfer of wealth into private hands to be ultimately turned over to charitable giving.  This shortening of the distance from the creation of wealth to a direct charitable end and the immediate recognition of business employees that they work for an enterprise which benefits others is virtuous on its own merits.  Assuming the business hires the best talent available for its management and its continued success, it and the foundation become a continually growing partnership for altruistic impact.

While a difficult structure to impose on a public company that has many shareholders, this model would work very well for a successful privately owned business.  It would permit an owner to perpetuate their business beyond their own lifetime with professional management for the benefit of customers, employees and charitable recipients.  It is this kind of charitable giving and altruistic behavior which honors the individual and demonstrates their intellectual transcendence beyond themselves to the common good of others.

Use the following links to obtain more information:

See page 11 of a history written by Rosabeth Moss Kantor and Lance Pierce for a Harvard University Case Study:

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A U.S. Domino for Genetically Engineered Foods

Posted on 17 September 2012 by Jerry

California may be the last chance for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods in the U.S. or the first U.S. governmental entity to require labeling. Unfortunately there has been no progress in the U.S. with a number of labeling bills defeated around the country.  As the birth place of genetic engineering, the U.S. and Canada have the largest adoption of genetically modified foods in the world.

When the U.S. reversed its decades long opposition to allowing other nations to require labels on genetically engineered food (see August 2011 posting of “Speed/Slow/Stop….or Label Genetically Modified Foods”) it was clear it would cause labeling dominoes to fall around the world.  We have seen movement in a number of countries including lately the European Union and most recently a committee of the Indian Parliament and separately the Turkish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock. 

The reality is that when consumers get information, they read it and they act on it.  This is why the opposition to California’s Proposition 37 (Genetically Engineered Foods, Mandatory Labeling Initiative Statute) has put up over $25 million to defeat the proposition. This does not compare favorably to the $2.5 million raised in support of the measure.

If you are judged by the company you keep as a measure of how you should be viewed, the roles of the two sides of the debate are clear.  The proponents number many and have a long history of standing on the side of consumers and their health (see ).  The antagonists include the largest chemical and food companies.  If you look at this list of opponents what is striking is that many producers on the list are either genetically modifying foods themselves, are the nation’s largest buyers of GE crops or produce products that are only sugar foods which contain nothing but empty calories and pander to the worst eating habits in our nation ( ).

Who do you believe has your best health interests at heart, Monsanto, Bayer Crop Science, Cargill, Clorox, and Dow Agro Sciences?  Maybe others have more credibility with you, like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo Inc., Hershey Company, Nestle USA, H.J Heinz, Sara Lee, and the J.M. Smucker Company.   These are the company’s paying the most to defeat a simple labeling requirement.

You should decide for yourself but not be swayed by the avalanche of negative ads that are about to launch in California.  This is simply a labeling requirement, not anything more.  When the antagonists say it is a conspiracy to have a deceptive labeling scheme or a plot to help organic businesses or will cost too much to change labels or will cause a rise in food prices or will be a windfall for trial lawyers or has loopholes for special interests, you should reject these claims. Some of us have read the legislation, are familiar with the genetic engineering of foods in the U.S. and have seen these scare tactics before.  We are only talking about your right to see a label that shows you what is in the food you intend to eat and feed to your family.

Use the following links to obtain more information:

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Consumption – Biodiversity = 6th Mass Extinction?

Posted on 15 September 2012 by Jerry

Three reports offer a chilling analysis of the overall loss of diversity of life on Planet Earth.  They suggest that humans in the developed world are consuming the planet’s resources at a record pace, biodiversity is seriously declining, and humanity is progressively crowding out other life forms, possibly initiating a sixth great extinction of life on our planet.  Readers are encouraged to follow the links provided at the end of this article to read the reports directly. 

The Living Planet Report is prepared every two years by the World Wide Fund for Nature, the Global Footprint Network and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).  The 2012 report paints a bleak picture about world consumption, declining biodiversity, and the five greatest pressures forcing further reductions of biodiversity.  

The report states that in terms of demand and consumption of natural resources worldwide we are using the equivalent of 1.5 planets to support our activities and will need the equivalent of two planets by 2030.  Of course we are consuming resources at a different pace in the various nations of the world.  Comparing countries, the report states “If all of humanity lived like an average resident of Indonesia only two-thirds of the planet’s bio-capacity would be used; if everyone lived like an average Argentinean, humanity would demand more than half an additional planet; and if everyone lived like an average resident of the USA, a total of four Earths would be required to regenerate humanity’s annual demand on nature.”

The report identifies the five greatest direct pressures on biodiversity:

  • Destruction of habitats
  • Over exploitation of wild species populations
  • Pollution
  • Climate Change
  • Invasive species

Further, it estimates biodiversity has shrunk by 30% between 1970 and 2008 and by 60% in the tropics.

A separate study of 60 protected areas located in 36 nations in the world’s major tropical regions has shown continuous erosion of biodiversity over the last 30 years.  Tropical forests are the biologically richest ecosystems on Earth and protecting them has been a priority for the last 100 years.  The study considered 31 functional groups of species and 21 potential drivers of environmental change in evaluating the performance of the protected reserves.  While about half of all reserves performed effectively or passably, the rest are experiencing “an erosion of biodiversity that is often alarmingly widespread taxonomically and functionally.”

Published by Nature in July of 2012, it reports the failure of protected areas in tropical environments to slow the decline of biodiversity. The most vulnerable species groups are top predators, large non-predatory vertebrates, bats, stream-dwelling amphibians, terrestrial amphibians, lizards and larger reptiles, non-venomous snakes, freshwater fish, and large-seeded old-growth trees.  Still vulnerable, but less so, are primates, birds of all kinds, venomous snakes and migratory species.  The research showed somewhat unfortunately that five groups increased their abundance in the reserves, including pioneer and generalist trees, lianas and vines, invasive animals, invasive plants and human diseases.

The report offered an analysis that ecological changes and pressures inside the reserves compared to those outside the reserves were highly similar.  This led to the following conclusion “Our findings signal that the fates of tropical protected areas will be determined by environmental changes both within and around the reserves, and that pressures inside reserves often closely reflect those occurring around them.  For many reasons, larger reserves should be more resilient to such changes, although we found that removing the effects of reserve area statistically did not consistently weaken the correlations between changes inside versus outside protected areas.”

These two reports support conclusions drawn in a third watershed publication in March of 2011, entitled “Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived?”  Mass extinctions are identified as occurring “when the Earth loses more than three quarters of its species in a geologically short interval, as has happened only five times in the past 540 million years or so.”  Biologists are suggesting in this report that a sixth mass extinction may now be underway given the increasing species losses in the last few centuries and millennia.

The scientists have compared the present species loss rates with those found in other, older extinctions and suggest the present loss rates are higher than would be expected from the fossil record.  The authors state “Such observations suggest that humans are now causing the sixth mass extinction, through co-opting resources, fragmenting habitats, introducing non-native species, spreading pathogens, killing species directly and changing global climate.  If so, recovery of biodiversity will not occur on any timeframe meaningful to people: evolution of new species typically takes at least hundreds of thousands of years, and recovery from mass extinction episodes probably occurs on timescales encompassing millions of years.”

Use the following links to obtain more information on these topics:

Scroll down the page and select the form of the report you want to see:

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Significant Changes in the Arctic and Greenland

Posted on 01 September 2012 by Jerry

Unfortunately two new records are being set in the Arctic.  The first is that carbon dioxide levels at the Arctic have reached a new milestone by passing 400 parts per million.  The second is that the Arctic has lost more sea ice than at any time since satellite images were begun in 1979. 

The significance of this is that these trends are synergistic and scientists fear that at some point they will create a self-reinforcing sequence of events.  The potential consequent spiral of deterioration is described as follows.  As the carbon dioxide level rises in the Arctic, which is a leading indicator of what will happen with the rest of the planet, more heat is trapped by the atmosphere which causes a temperature rise.  As the temperature rises, more Arctic ice melts exposing more open water.  Open water does not reflect heat as efficiently as ice so water temperatures rise which melts even more ice.  As the water temperature rises, frozen seabed permafrost melts releasing large amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.  This in turn increases the atmosphere’s ability to trap heat, which increases the temperature of the Arctic, and so on.

Arctic sea ice grows in the winter and diminishes in the summer causing a seasonal ebb and flow.  Complicating winter replenishment is the declining thickness of “perennial” ice, which has been in place on a year-round basis for many years and is more resistant to melting.  When this ice begins to melt it makes summer ice even more vulnerable.  Diminishing the thickness and shrinking the area of the ice footprint reduces the summer ice volume to only 30% of its size in the 1980’s, as measured by submarines.

The Arctic is not the only region experiencing significant ice melt.  The scientific community is alarmed by Greenland’s extremely rapid ice melt in July of 2012.  In just four days the thawed ice area of Greenland jumped from 40% to 97%.  Up until now the highest melting as seen by satellites in the last 30 years has been about 55% of Greenland’s total area.  Mary Albert, an ice expert at Dartmouth College indicated this was the first significant melt at the site since 1889.  Ice core samples point to  a similar rapid ice melt in 1946, although to a much lesser degree.

The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of the planet has been steadily rising since the beginning of the industrial age when it stood at 275 parts per million.  The planet’s carbon dioxide level now stands at 395 parts per million.  With the Arctic passing the level of 400 parts per million it means that in a few short years the rest of the world will follow.  Beyond the Arctic, these high readings have already been recorded in Greenland, Alaska, Norway, Iceland and Mongolia. 

Climate change deniers point out that carbon dioxide levels have changed over the millennia with CO2 having been above 400 parts per million about 800,000 years ago.  Today’s climate scientists point out that historically there were a number of factors that existed to produce those high concentrations.  Those factors are missing today.  Present concentrations can only be explained by acknowledging the contribution that human beings make to carbon dioxide levels as a result of industrialization.

Use the following links to obtain more information on this topic:

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