Category Archives: air quality

In Memory of Jeff Haskins

It’s Saturday morning here in Paris, the 21st of July, 2012. Just one week ago, on July 14, 2012, my colleague, mentor and friend Jeff Haskins passed away in Mombasa, Kenya at the age of 32. His passing has left a big black hole which is impossible to fill, and so much pain.

In the past week, every morning as I look up at the sky I am reminded that another day is dawning where Jeff won’t be able to see the sky, hear the birds or  go on doing what he was born to do: making a difference to people’s lives.

Jeff made a difference at every level. His legendary ability to connect with people all over the world has been celebrated in the tributes which have poured forth in the past week from heartbroken family, friends, colleagues and clients. Jeff knew no boundaries of race, language or religion – he touched everyone with his smile, his charisma, his unique vision of the world.

I first worked with Jeff as a consultant on an International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) promotion in September 2007. In the ensuing years he taught me everything I know about PR, media relations, advocacy and more importantly: making an impact. Everything he did was about maximizing that impact. He had an uncanny sense of strategy and razor sharp judgement in every situation. He had a super-human devotion to the cause of each and every one of his clients, and they were numerous. He had boundless reserves of energy and he was full of life, as anyone who has seen his smile can testify.

Jeff and I had a unique and irreplaceable working relationship. We always worked at a distance – he was in Nairobi, I was in Paris. But over hundreds and hundreds of Skype calls, there was something I can only call a magical alchemy that flourished and endured. When I learned of his death last weekend, I struggled to understand how I could possibly go on doing communications work with him no longer there at the end of the Skype call to brainstorm with. Jeff defined the law of “two brains are better than one” when it came to brainstorming, except that in his case the equation would be more like 1+1 = 5.

I trawled through my email account this morning looking at thousands of emails that Jeff and I shared on all the promotions we worked on together. I now understand the common theme that unifies that work: it was about making a difference, and Jeff never gave up on his singular ambition to do so for each and every client. This was the energy that drove hundreds of successful campaigns, the thing that underlies a comment I saw on the Burness memorial page saying that his work literally resulted in “$ millions of grants” for one client. Jeff would have been happy to see that one.

This year, I had the privilege of working with Jeff on a media campaign that I ran for the International Council for Science at Rio + 20. So instead of being his colleague, this time I got to be Jeff’s client. I always knew that it was special to be Jeff’s client, but nevertheless there are some things that have to be experienced at first-hand. We started talking in April and the conversations continued until we met up in Rio mid-June. What can I say? His awesomeness as a strategic advisor was peerless. Every time I got on Skype with him and articulated a challenge, I would emerge half an hour later (our calls were always very efficient!) buzzing with new ideas and a fresh vision that had just been augmented tenfold.  It was this constant, tireless scaling up to a Big Vision which was Jeff’s trademark. He did this in real time, thinking out loud. It was like performance art. It was fast, furious and brilliant. And he was always right. (with one exception perhaps: pitching Will.I.Am to write a song for the Cowpea Breeders Conference might have been over-ambitious?)

In Rio we had many conversations about the future. Many of them were unfinished, broken off mid-sentence, because we were too busy, because there was a lot of work. We shared two memorable days together visiting EMBRAPA and a Rio favela with the media. Nothing will ever be the same again. But we must remember and honor his love of life, his genius for making a difference and his irrepressible energy, creativity, intelligence and curiosity. While we were at the favela in Rio, I kept handing him my pocket Leica so that he could capture the scenes with his unique vision and talent. Those shots are overflowing with movement and color, just like Jeff himself.

EMBRAPA, Rio de Janeiro, June 16, 2012

I actually don’t know how to end this post, so I’m just going to include some shots (thanks to Jeffrey Oliver of IITA) of our unforgettable trip to southeast Nigeria in September 2010 to promote yams for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). We ate a lot of yam, made a lot of new friends, and I hope we made a difference to funding for yam breeders.

Jeff, we will always miss you. The world is a smaller place without you.



Enjoy some of Jeff’s shots here from the ILRI pinterest board.


Change starts from within

Here’s a beautiful manifesto for change which comes from Ragi Kadirgamar in Mysore, India. We were talking about “the world in 2030” and he wrote something which strikes at the heart of all our global problems: which is that the change we need comes from within, that we should connect our hearts and minds, and thereby view the world from the perspective of inter-connectedness and collective stewardship. Why isn’t this at the top of everybody’s agenda?
“Most of our global conflicts, whether it be the wars between peoples, our disrespect for nature etc, originate within each one of us. Finding personal peace means our relationship with others and the world completely changes, because we realize the other is our self, the world is myself, nature is me; and therefore we stop wanting to treat it in any other way than with great respect, and love.
My thesis at university was about sustainable development and sustainable cities, 1994. I then took part and won several international competitions based on these themes. At that time I was not on a spiritual path so my perspective was very mental. Now the integration has happened, the heart and mind speak and see with the same voice. ‘Life is One Unbroken Whole’.
There is convergence between the great spiritual teachings of the world, and the latest scientific theories. For instance, the fact that every particle knows what every other particle is doing in the universe, at any given moment in time. And recent findings that show how plants communicate with each other constantly, creating a global matrix of plant life communication that spreads across the world – and how this relates back to our human bodies that are literally brand new every seven years, after every cell has died and been reborn. What an incredible story we are living.”
Ragi will be in Beziers France this summer from June-September to give workshops on Advaita philosophy.

France and Japan – the cost of arrogance

Le Monde ran an opinion piece by Hervé Kempf on March 30, 2011 which in my view merits a wider audience because of the parallel he draws between Japanese and French nuclear policy.

“Day after day, the Fukushima catastrophe becomes increasingly normal: the unacceptable has become part of daily life. Radioactivity is leaking, and will continue to leak. As the French Authority on Nuclear Safety – masters of the subtle art of understatement – said on March 28 “the prognostic of evaluation of reactors 1 to 3 should remain very uncertain during the coming weeks.” What is certain, is that the nearby waters and soil are being poisoned insidiously. Let’s try to establish a preliminary balance sheet, based on the optimistic assumption that Japan’s engineers and workers will succeed in stopping the emission of gases and cancerous particles.

Japan has lost four, perhaps six nuclear reactors, estimated at a value of 20 to 30 billion euros, not including decommissioning. More than one thousand square kilometers around the reactors are contaminated to different degrees, making normal life impossible. The Fukushima nuclear plant will become a nuclear cemetery, requiring surveillance during hundreds of years to come. The country’s energy policy will be upturned. There will be calls for political accountability.

In nuclear matters, Japan is France’s twin: same policy, same techniques, same opacity, same arrogance of the pro-nuclear lobby, same passivity in the political class. Fukushima will have consequences here.

No-one can accept the hypothesis of seeing Nogent-sur-Seine, just 100 kilometres from Paris, or Saint-Alban, at 50 kilometres from Lyons, going through the same thing as Fukushima. The requirements of nuclear safety will increase considerably, and so will the cost of electricity. Attention will also shift to the question of nuclear waste and the decommissioning of nuclear facilities, and there are no real solutions.

Aside from the debate on an end to nuclear energy,  we will have to question the logic of privatization which has informed nuclear policy for the past decade. Will EDF have to be renationalized? Should GDF/Suez build reactors in France? Is the EPR of Penly useful? Is the liberalization of the electricity market a good thing?

…..What the disaster in Japan teaches us is that opacity, in a technological society, is intrinsically dangerous.”

France sends nuclear experts to Japan; but robots refused

France’s nuclear company Areva has sent two experts to Japan to support TEPCO’s efforts in the nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima. The experts, who are going at the request of Tokyo Electric Power Co, are specialized in “dismantling” and “clean-up” of nuclear power plants, according to today’s Le Figaro. However, the standing offer to send robots to operate in areas where humans cannot has so far been refused by the Japanese company, and the robots are still parked at Chateauroux airport in France.
nb Tepco did not apparently refuse the 100 tons of boric acid, 3000 masks, 10,000 radiation suits, 20 000 gloves sent by Areva / EDF on the 17/18th March.

Areva is commissioned by Japanese power companies to process uranium-plutonium mixed-oxide fuel, so-called MOX fuel. MOX fuel used at the No. 3 reactor unit at the Fukushima Daiichi plant was shipped from France in 1999.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is up for re-election in 2012 and faring badly at the polls, announced this week that he would visit Japan on Thursday, making him the first foreign leader to visit the country since the nuclear disaster began. The domestic context for Sarkozy is dire: his prime minister broke ranks with him recently on how to deal with a sudden surge in the far-right at the polls; pollsters forecast that he will not even make it to the second round of next year’s presidential elections in all but one of several scenarios. So he flies off to Japan to declare his solidarity with the Japanese, and to play the role of chief flak for France’s nuclear industry.

France and the nuclear lobby: public opinion will shift soon

The nuclear cloud was scheduled to arrive in France on Wednesday or Thursday, so those of us who aren’t convinced by the Heidi-esque declarations in the mainstream press telling us that there is no public health risk have to dig as best we can to try and figure out what we can/should be doing.

I’m following the evolution of public opinion with great interest and so far we don’t have much hard evidence that there’s an important shift underway. However, anecdotally I can report that the sentiment is not as rock solid as EDF, Areva, the nuclear lobby and the French government would like it to be. Stores of various types of “soft” remedies such as organic miso paste, seawater supplements and clay powder are moving quickly through the organic co-ops and stores in Paris, and Les Echos reported that geiga counters sold out in Paris earlier this week (source Les Echos on Twitter).

Don’t forget that France is a country:

* where over 75% of electricity comes from nuclear energy.
* which is the world’s largest net exporter of electricity (generates more than 3 billion euros/year in revenue)
•    for whom nuclear reactors and fuel products and services provide significant export revenue
* which is building its first Generation III reactor and planning a second.
* where 17% of electricity comes from recycled nuclear fuel.

A poll (March 15-16), commissioned by EDF and conducted by TNS Sofres, showed that only 42 percent of the French favoured an end to nuclear, but that 68% believed that a similar accident to Fukushima could happen in France.
Another poll (March 15-17) by IFOP for the Green Party Europe Ecologie Les Verts showed that 70% favoured an end to France’s nuclear program, with 19% in favour of an immediate halt, and 51% for a gradual phase-out over 25/30 years. Only 30 percent of those surveyed favoured continuing the nuclear program and building new power plants.

That was before the cloud arrived in France, before people started to worry about which vegetables they should stop eating (lettuce and mushrooms, for instance), and before reports suggesting that the nuclear reactor core may have breached at Fukushima.

Politicians have been conservative and relatively mealy-mouthed, no doubt keeping a close watch on the opinion polls as a presidential election is coming in 2012.  François Hollande, a Socialist presidentiable, has not said a word. Former PM Dominique de Villepin has called for a Grenelle on energy, and “possibly” a referendum (how brave!). Martin Aubry, head of the Socialist Party, said France should “move towards an exit from nuclear in the next 20-30 years.”

For objective information, the only source is the CRIRAD.

And everyone should read this post by Dmitry Orlov, and learn the difference between radiation and radioactivity.

Does electrosmog cause premature ageing?

There’s something really compelling about this product from Clarins: the Expertise 3P Screen Mist. Launched in 2006 and claiming to protect against premature ageing caused by electromagnetic waves, the product has generated very intense backlash, not just from bloggers and journalists, but also from the advertising watchdogs. The basic gist of the complaints were that the claims were false and not grounded in serious science. Wired magazine, for one, dubbed it “snake oil” and “a bottle of failure” here. In 2008, the FDA ruled that the product was a “drug” and not a cosmetic “because it is not generally recognized by qualified scientific experts as “effective” for its intended use. The blog dismisses the product, along with the suggestion that electrosmog might have consequences for health. “The new pollutants are computers and cell phones and never before, since the dawn of the industrial revolution, was working so capable of prematurely aging us.” Advertising watchdogs received numerous complaints, and the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) in the U.K. ruled Clarins was guilty of trading on customers’ fear of the unknown, and asked the company not to make such claims again.

I purchased this product recently, and I must confess that it feels great. The “ultra-sheer mist” is extremely fine, and it smells like a cross between a herbal bath and a forest. Of course I don’t know whether it will protect my skin from premature ageing, but frankly, I don’t care.  What I wonder is why there has been so much negative backlash. Claims made on behalf of beauty products get more and more outlandish everyday, notably in the mascara department. Yet citizen bloggers don’t seem terribly concerned about these falsehoods.
Oh cellphone lobby, do I detect your invisible presence here? Or is this simply a collective denial from society which is so much in love with always-on mobile communications that any threat to that lifestyle is perceived as seditious?

New allergy label debuts in France

French allergy doctors from the Association for Clinical Research on Allergies and Asthma (Arcaa) unveiled a new label last month called “Allergenes Controlés” which aims to guarantee – with the help of independent laboratories – the safety of a range of consumer products for the fast-growing ranks of those who are afflicted by allergies.

Allergies affect one in every three French citizens today, compared with less than four percent of the population 40 years ago. Arcaa fears that this rate could increase to one in two people by 2020.

There is no single cause for this phenomenon. Some of the possible culprits are pollution, the arrival of more and more chemical compounds our industrialized food systems, premature weaning from breastfeeding and shorter breastfeeding times as well as the fact that doctors today are simply more aware of the allergy problem and tend to test more frequently for it.

The association hopes with the launch of the label that it can lobby the private sector more effectively to innovate and manufacture products which significantly reduce allergies in the home, office, hotel rooms, shopping malls, cars, trains and planes. Royalties from the label will be used to finance medical research.

Buy an electric scooter in Paris and get 400 euros

Paris Town Hall authorities are offering to give away up to 400 euros (not exceeding 25 % of the retail price) for every purchase of a new electric scooter. The offer, which begins on March 21, applies to anyone or any business resident in the French capital. All you have to do is fill out a form available online at the Mairie de Paris website. The aim of the program is to encourage a shift towards quiet and clean two-wheeled transportation. The offer applies only to vehicles with a maximum speed capacity of 45 km/hour.

Organic perfume goes upscale

The benchmark study on toxic chemicals in perfume appears to be the Greenpeace one from 2005 which tested 36 different fragrances and found both phthalates and artificial musks in almost every single sample. Most commercial scents contain either animal substances such as musk, civet, castor or ambergris which have been obtained at some price to the animal’s welfare; or synthetic substitutes of those substances which are made from the same toxic chemicals found in household products and air fresheners. Applying these chemicals to your skin means they are absorbed into your body – and they have been linked to respiratory and allergic reactions, as well as reproductive problems.

Organic alternatives are still quite thin on the ground. Here are some of the latest offerings. Kibio, a French brand, introduced Eau de Parfum 100% last November, a blend of citrus aromas and amber.

Brazilian brand Natura launched Amor América in October 2008, a line that uses elements from the Andes and Patagonia, including oils such as Palo Santo (from trees in Ecuador) and Paramela (from Argentinian bushes). The company claims that it uses 100 % organic alcohol; whether this means the fragrance would meet, say, Ecocert organic standards, I’m not sure. At any rate, here is the ad from Brazil, complete with Caetano Veloso soundtrack.

Finally, in the luxury niche (retailing at around 140 euros a bottle), and sold only at Printemps department store, is a new line of organic fragrances called “Honoré des Prés” by Olivia Giacobetti, with names like Nu Green, Bonté’s Bloom and Sexy Angelic.

Solar/Electric city car to start production in France in 2009

The Venturi Eclectic solar and electric car was unveiled in October at the Paris Motor Show, and it goes into production from October 2009 at a new assembly plant in France near the town Sablé-sur-Sarthe. It is powered by solar panels embedded in the roof, and an optional wind turbine for cloudy days. Designed to be an urban vehicle with a maximum speed of 50 km/hour and a range of 50 kms on fully charged batteries, it is an open, clunky-looking three-seater with the driver’s seat located in the middle of the passenger compartment. Production capacity is estimated at 3,000 vehicles a year.

You can see a video here of a test drive of the Venturi Eclectic.

via Danny’s Contentment