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Medical Breakthrough Could Change Global Politics

Chris Floyd , t r u t h o u t
…A quiet announcement at London’s Hammersmith Hospital at the turning of the new year heralded a breakthrough that has the potential to be one of the most transformative developments ever seen in global affairs: a positive change on a par with – or even surpassing – the world-altering malignancies of war, greed and strife. But this boon could be strangled in its cradle by the vast corporate interests threatened by its radical new approach to both health care and business.

The approach is called “ethical pharmaceuticals,” and it was unveiled on January 2 by Sunil Shaunak, professor of infectious diseases at Imperial College, and Steve Brocchini of the London School of Pharmacy, the Guardian reports. Their team of scientists in India and the UK, financed by the prestigious Wellcome with technical assistance from the UK government, have developed a method of making small but significant changes to the molecular structure of existing drugs, thereby transforming them into new products, circumventing the long-term patents used by the corporate giants of Big Pharma to keep prices – and profits – high. This will give the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people access to life-saving medicines – now priced out of reach – for mere pennies.

…Big Pharma says it costs an average of $800 million to create a new drug; but without the need to produce ever-expanding profits for shareholders or use glitzy ad campaigns to push their pills – or lay out the vast political patronage that Big Pharma dispenses each year to keep its favored politicians sweet – Shaunak says his team can now develop essential medicines for only a few million dollars each.

…Of course it may well be that the development of ethical pharmaceuticals, like most human endeavors, will not achieve its full potential. It may well be that powerful forces will combine to kill or cripple it. But for now at least, it stands as a reminder that in the course of human events, the ultimate ends are always unknown. Cycles, systems, patterns of behavior and immense structures of power that seem so fixed and immutable today will be swept away tomorrow, in ways that we cannot begin to fathom. In dark days that seem locked in a glide-path to disaster, these glimmers of possibility can perhaps offer some measure of hope.
(16 Jan 2007)


Rob Walker, NY Times
Getting new stuff can feel really good. Most everybody knows that. Most everybody also knows – particularly in the aftermath of the consumption-frenzy holiday season – that utility can fade, pleasure can be fleeting and the whole thought-that-counts thing is especially ephemeral. Apart from the usual solution to this problem (more new stuff!), it’s worth pondering whether getting rid of stuff can ever feel as good as getting it.

A few years ago, a self-described tree-hugger in Tucson named Deron Beal was working for a nonprofit that focused on recycling as a way to minimize what was going into local landfills. While plenty of people were willing, even eager, to get rid of things they no longer wanted but that weren’t really trash, finding people who wanted those things was a challenge. Beal set up a Yahoo Groups mailing list, hoping to create a giveaway marketplace where people could list usable items and others could lay claim to them and then come pick them up. The mailing list became the basis for Freecycle, a Web-enabled network of about 3,900 such e-mail groups, each dedicated to a local community and managed by a volunteer moderator, and claiming 2.9 million participants in more than 70 countries.

…Save-the-earth types make up only a fraction of Freecycle users. Like any successful marketplace, this one works because it links people with widely disparate motivations. Some participants want to declutter. Some see it as akin to a charity. Some just don’t want to lug items to the dump. And of course, many people are looking for free stuff.
(7 Jan 2007)

Massive Change and the City

David Zaks and Chad Monfreda, World Changing
In conjunction with the Massive Change exhibit that recently ended in Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the City of Chicago Department of the Environment organized a one-day symposium that brought together experts in urbanization, energy, evolution, information, wealth and politics. The symposium explored the impact of urban life around the world, and laid out visions for a sustainable urban future. Sustainable cities will be built from a mix of the disciplines these changemakers are armed with. We asked each of them the same question, and they gave us a really diverse, yet complementary set of answers.

What tool, model or idea do you see as being the key to bright green cities?
(15 Jan 2007)
Some interesting responses from figures like John Todd and Hazel Henderson.

Yes! Building a Just, Sustainable, and Compassionate World
(audio and video)
Janaia Donaldson, Peak Moment via GPM
Yes! magazine counters mainstream media by giving us stories of people creating sustainable, just and positive futures. Executive Editor, Sarah Van Gelder discusses healthcare for all, alternatives to prisons, peak oil, living democracy, climate change, working together, and how each of us can begin creating change.
(9 Jan 2007)

New quest in British politics: public happiness

Mark Rice-Oxley, Christian Science Monitor
Once upon a time, the hot-button issue for politicians in rich countries was “the economy, stupid.”

But after decades in which Western nations have gotten richer but not necessarily happier, a new performance indicator – harder to measure and more elusive to deliver – is beginning to emerge.

Some simply call it happiness. The more scientific term is subjective well-being (SWB), a composite of factors including income, health, environment, relationships with friends and family, education, recreation, and faith.

Economists on both sides of the Atlantic believe they are getting good at measuring it, and now the political class in Britain is beginning to take it seriously.

“There has been no upward trend in happiness despite the fact that we are richer, healthier, and have longer holidays.” says Lord Richard Layard, an economist and advisor to the British government on happiness. “That is the challenge to government policy and to our own lifestyle.”

According to happiness rankings by the United Nations, European Union (EU), and magazines like the Economist, the top 5 is normally dominated by the likes of Norway, Iceland, Australia, Ireland, Denmark, and Switzerland. G-7 countries fare less well; Europe’s richest troika – Britain, France, and Germany – languish.

British politicians are starting to ask why. In Britain, surveys consistently show that people are no happier than they were 50 years ago, though incomes have tripled since the 1950s.
(17 Jan 2007)
In terms of energy, it seems that past a certain point increasing energy usage does not bring happiness. -BA

Father of energy efficiency to get Fermi Award

Michael Kanellos, CNET
Art Rosenfeld, a physicist who helped jump-start the push for energy-efficient appliances and homes, will receive the Fermi Award from the U.S. government next week.

During the OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) oil crisis of the 1970s, Rosenfeld, a veteran researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a member of the California Energy Commission, began to study the amount of energy consumed by appliances, air conditioning systems and buildings.

The findings were surprising. New refrigerators, which had consumed 400 kilowatt-hours a year on average in 1959, were consuming 800 kilowatt-hours a year. To gain extra storage space, manufacturers removed insulation and gunned the refrigeration motor.
(13 Jan 2007)