The 16 Year Old, middle class, privileged, argues that meat and other animal produce are essential for his health, his ability to play sport, and the development of his adolescent brain; besides, one person becoming vegetarian/vegan, won’t make any difference to the environmental crisis.
The total failure to respond in any meaningful way to the environmental emergency rests firmly within the boundaries of such complacency. It can be found in all areas, from politicians and corporate board rooms to small businesses, NGO’s and community groups, education institutions, homes, and, apparently, some teenagers.
Complacency and the refusal to change individual behavior and collective ways of living are stoking the underlying cause of the crisis – Consumerism. Irresponsible Compulsive Consumption, as habitually practiced by populations in the rich nations, principally and excessively by the wealthy, but to a lesser degree throughout all sections of society.
Consumerism is the bedrock of the prevailing socio-economic system and materialistic way of life. Sold duplicitously as the Path to Happiness and Contentment it has poisoned the planet and created unhealthy societies of divided, insecure individuals. Inherent within the Ideology of Division is a methodology and set of values that encourage selfishness, greed and complacency. Sufficiency, cooperation and social responsibility, all essential if the environmental crisis is to be met, whilst routinely spouted by politicians and the like are thin on the ground or, more often than not, totally absent.
The environment cannot wait
Governments and businesses are completely invested in maintaining high levels of consumption; their profitability and continued existence depend on it. Indeed, far from prioritizing the environment and working to change societal behavior and deter individuals from spending, huge resources are expended to persuade and encourage consumption; to expand market share, develop new products and increase profits for shareholders.
It is this poisonous Ideology of Profit, which, in direct contrast to the needs of the environment for simplicity of living, collectivity and sharing, perpetuates, not just rampant consumerism, but widespread apathy and inaction. Governments talk a concerned environmental talk, but policies are determined by economic growth and voters’ concerns rather than CO2 emissions, pollution, or bio-diversity. And most companies, particularly big ones, routinely demonstrate that they don’t give a damn about the environment, unless by doing so sales increase and their annual dividends rise.
The environment cannot wait until governments and business judge that going “green” is more profitable or popular than the destructive status quo, before they act in a responsible manner. It is their insatiable thirst for power and profit, and their deep attachment to the Ideology of Greed – because, while the majority suffer, it has served them very well, that allows collective complacency to persist, and complacency (not money) is the root of all evil.
The final leg in the trinity of environmental neglect is formed by Ignorance or Misinformation. Ignorance of how individual choices impact on the natural environment; Ignorance of the depth and scale of the crisis and Ignorance of the impact of diet on the planet. Such ignorance and lack of awareness exist due to decades of government negligence in countries everywhere (some more, some less). This could be changed with a UN coordinated public awareness campaign; a global project designed to make plain the relationship between consumer-based lifestyles (including animal agriculture) and environmental destruction/climate change.
While it is true that only governments and business can make the needed large scale changes (fossil fuels to renewables, electrification of transportation networks, green production methods etc), individuals can make a valuable impact, and when individuals act collectively large-scale change can be accomplished.
Ultimately ‘we’ are the problem. It is our obsessive ignorant behavior, our complacency, greed and selfishness that has poisoned the planet. And it is up to all of us to act in the most comprehensive way possible to begin to clean up the unmitigated mess we have caused. We are all only ‘one person’, but every day we have a choice, every time we eat, or shop, or travel: Are our actions, our choices and decisions responsible or harmful, is the way we individually live detrimental to the planet or not?
Diet is one area everyone can look at; reducing the intake of animal produce or, better still, moving to a plant-based diet is the single most important step most individuals can take. In some countries there are encouraging signs that people are waking up to this fact, and the number of vegetarians/vegans, particularly among young people, is growing. And according to the Vegetarian Resource Group (US), providing a varied diet is followed, all their nutritional needs can be adequately met. In fact, various detailed studies show that, vegetarians are at lower risk of a variety of diseases and conditions, including: heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer, (conversely, The World Health Organization has classified red and processed meats as cancer-causing), and obesity. And according to Walter Willett at Harvard School of Public Health, “There is strong evidence that a plant based diet [vegan] is the optimal diet for living a long and healthy life.”
So, cutting out animal produce is not only good for the environment, it’s good for human health. Despite this, globally only some 8% of people identify as vegan, vegetarian, or something in between. Meaning 92% of the 7.8 billion world population consume meat, fish, poultry and all manner of dairy. The environmental result of this obsession is disastrous and multi-faceted.
Animal agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), which are the poisons disrupting natural climate rhythms. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization’s (UNFAO) put the figure at 14.5% of total emissions, but estimates vary, some studies suggesting it’s a good deal higher: Greenpeace e.g. say that, “Livestock and animal feed is responsible for approximately 60% of direct global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.”
Whatever the precise number, animal agriculture is clearly a major source, if not the greatest source of emissions (surpassing the transportation industry); it’s also the biggest cause (80%) of deforestation, habitat destruction and species extinction, contributing to soil erosion and water contamination. And it’s driven by the incessant demand for meat, dairy and fish.
A revolution in behavior and values is needed, moving away from excess to sufficiency, from selfishness to group responsibility, from complacency to action. Education and awareness plus a sense of imperative are the keys to igniting such a shift and generating urgent action. Action by government and businesses and action by us, all of us, particularly those of us living in developed nations where the historic burden for the catastrophe rests; action rooted in love, demonstrated as social and environmental responsibility undertaken by each and every one of us.
The UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), including a ‘pre-summit’, will take place in September 2021 in New York. The Italian government is hosting the pre-summit in Rome from 26–28 July. The UNFSS claims it aims to deliver the latest evidence-based, scientific approaches from around the world, launch a set of fresh commitments through coalitions of action and mobilise new financing and partnerships.
Despite claims of being a ‘people’s summit’ and a ‘solutions’ summit, the UNFSS is facilitating greater corporate concentration, unsustainable globalised value chains and agribusiness leverage over public institutions. As a result, more than 300 global organisations of small-scale food producers, researchers and indigenous peoples will gather online from 25-28 July to mobilise against the pre-summit.
The Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism (CSM) for relations with the United Nations Committee on World Food Security is working to eradicate food insecurity and malnutrition. According to the CMS, the UNFSS – founded on a partnership between the UN and the World Economic Forum (WEF) – is disproportionately influenced by corporate actors, lacks transparency and accountability and diverts energy and financial resources away from the real solutions needed to tackle the multiple hunger, climate and health crises.
The CMS argues that the UNFSS is not building on the legacy of past world food summits, which resulted in the creation of innovative, inclusive and participatory global food governance mechanisms anchored in human rights, such as the reformed UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS).
Promoting industrial agriculture
It seems the UNFSS is now dominated by corporate front groups and corporate-driven platforms, including the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the International Agri-Food Network, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the EAT Forum as well as the Rockefeller Foundation and the Gates Foundation. The President of AGRA, Agnes Kalibata, was even appointed as UN Special Envoy for the summit.
According to the CMS, those being granted a pivotal role at the UNFSS support industrial food systems that promote ultra-processed foods, deforestation, industrial livestock production, intensive pesticide use and commodity crop monocultures, all of which cause soil deterioration, water contamination and irreversible impacts on biodiversity and human health.
The industrialised food system that these corporations fuel does not even feed the world, despite corporate claims to the contrary. For example, the 2021 UN Report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition indicates that the number of chronically undernourished people has risen to 811 million, while almost a third of the world’s population has no access to adequate food. Furthermore, the Global South is still reeling from Covid-19 related policies which have laid bare the inherent fragility and injustices of the prevailing food system.
Those who contribute most to world food security, smallholder producers, are the most threatened and affected by the corporate concentration of land, seeds, natural and financial resources and the related privatisation of the commons and public goods.
And these processes are accelerating: the high-tech/data conglomerates, including Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and Google, have joined traditional agribusiness giants in a quest to impose a one size fits all type of agriculture and food production on the world. Digitalisation, artificial intelligence and other technologies are serving to promote a new wave of resource grabbing and the restructuring of food systems towards a total concentration of power.
Under the guise of saving the planet with ‘climate-friendly solutions’, helping farmers and feeding the world, what Gates and his corporate associates are really doing is desperately trying to repackage the dispossessive strategies of imperialism wrapped in the language of ‘sustainability’ and ‘inclusivity’.
Through various aspects of data control pertaining to soil quality, consumer preferences, weather, and land use, for example, and e-commerce monopolies, corporate land ownership, seed biopiracy, patents, synthetic food and the undermining of the public sector’s role in ensuring food security and national food sovereignty, global agricapital seeks to gain full control over the world’s food system.
Smallholder peasant farming is under threat as the big-tech giants and agribusiness impose lab-grown food, genetically engineered (GE) soil microbes, data harvesting tools and drones and other ‘disruptive’ technologies. The model being promoted desires farmerless industrial-scale farms being manned by driverless machines, monitored by drones and doused with chemicals to produce commodity crops from patented GE seeds for industrial ‘biomatter’ to be processed and constituted into something resembling food.
The CMS notes that these are false ‘solutions’ that seek to bypass and undermine the peasant food web which currently produces up to 70% of the world’s food, working with only 25% of the resources. Moreover, these false solutions do not address structural injustices such as land and resource grabbing, corporate abuse of power and economic inequality. They merely reinforce them.
Towards food sovereignty
More than 380 million people belong to the movements protesting against the UNFSS. They are demanding a radical transformation of corporate food regimes towards a just and truly sustainable food system. They are also demanding increased participation in existing democratic food governance models, such as the UN Committee for World Food Security (CFS) and its High-Level Panel of Experts. The UNFSS threatens to undermine CFS, which is the foremost inclusive intergovernmental international policy-making arena.
There is an intensifying fight for space between local markets and global markets. The former are the domain of independent producers and small-scale enterprises, whereas global markets are dominated by increasing monopolistic large-scale international retailers, traders and the rapidly growing influential e-commerce companies.
It is therefore essential to protect and strengthen local markets and indigenous, independent small-scale producers and enterprises to ensure community control over food systems, economic independence and local food sovereignty. With this in mind, the CMS is calling for a radical agroecological transformation of food systems based on food sovereignty, gender justice and economic and social justice.
Agroecology is practised throughout the world. As numerous high-level (UN) reports have argued over the years, this approach improves nutrition, reduces poverty, contributes to gender justice, combats climate change and enriches farmland. With no need to purchase proprietary inputs (chemicals, seeds, etc) and its outperforming of industrial agriculture, agroecology represents a shift towards genuine food sovereignty and thus a direct threat to corporate agribusiness.
During the online mobilisation against the pre-summit, participants will share small-scale food producers and workers’ realities and their visions for a human rights-based and agroecological transformation of food systems. In doing so, they will highlight the importance of food sovereignty, small-scale sustainable agriculture, traditional knowledge, rights to natural resources and the rights of workers, indigenous peoples, women and future generations.
More information about the online mobilisation from 25-28 July can be found on the FoodSystems4People website .
Note to readers: This is an analysis and personal inculcation of my own narrative tied to one specific topic — Lincoln County’s aerial spray (toxics, weedicides/herbicides) ban which was overturned and is now being presented to a judge for revalidation. Too many times people come to me thinking I am a news writer, or mainstream journalist. I was one of those, years ago, for years, and I am not that person now. “I don’t need no stinking Press badge, cabrón.” I can lead the reader down some curvy and out of the way places in my style of writing. Call it rant, diatribe, polemical, what have you . . . or just bad prose. It doesn’t matter to me anymore because I am not following the Associated Press rule book/style guide. I am no longer subscribing to the small-town newspaper tenets, or all those other big-town so-called “journalism 101 keeping it objective” crap. Unfortunately, I have to keep reminding readers of this fact.
And, I have been engaged in so many local battles, either in them as a member of this or that group or committee, or as a writer, or as a faculty member with students from various colleges in tow. In reality, under capitalism, as each nanosecond ticks off, things are really getting ugly. Predictable, sure, for anyone who has drilled superficially or deeply into this perverse system of profits over all other things. Still, though, I am beyond journalism 101, which in some sense really never existed in a real world . . . or, for most cases, newspaper journalism was always about “fabricated balance,” and showing two sides (how absurd is that, two sides!) to an issue. AND, my experience is the more intelligent and deeply holistic and systems thinking voices are never heard . . . or allowed into the journalism story.
I’ve written extensively about this, and while some call me Gonzo 3.0, nevertheless, I have to caveat my work regularly such as I have now. Be forewarned — this is not Journalism 101, which for all intents and purposes has failed, failed, failed. There is no so-called liberal media! It’s conservative, neoliberal, neocon, commercial, tied to empire and the bs of exceptionalism.
Waldport — I was driving back from Portland, hitting the scenic route, Highway 34, the so-called Alsea Highway. Two lane winding road. Farms and a river and homes on the slow-running river and no real towns except for Alsea. My wife was driving, fast, and I was a passenger looking hard at the surroundings.
On a sunny day, with this spring verdant overlay, a nice drive. It’s a green drive, with lots of leafing trees and conifers in the low-slung Coast Range. Of course, everything in the driver’s viewshed has been messed with more than a 100 years ago onward into this decade. Third growth tree plantations, clear-cuts, huge swaths of rye grass fields. A lot of dilapidated homes, cabins on the river and newer McMansions out there, with two RVs and four car garages and brand new out buildings.
Lots of clear-cuts, up to the road in some places. On one level, everything seems green and natural, but most of what a driver gets to see are second and third growth tree stands, AKA fiber/lumber plantations. There is a uniformity in the trees that are 50 years old. All the same size. All bunched up together.
No old growth in these here parts. When on runs into a really old Doug fir, people take selfies with it, sing to it, do prayers:
I know a few people who live out here, people who came to the area in the 1960s and ’70s. They are old now. On property that seems way out in the forest to some folk, but all are connected with paved roads, cement bridges spanning creeks, and with electricity and Wi-Fi. It’s an idyllic life in some regards, but for years (before this state’s draconian lockdowns) Highway 34 has been used as a byway for RV, pull trailers, Subaru’s with surfboards strapped to their roofs.
The destination is the coast. Small towns like Newport or Yachats. Plenty of beach. Tons of Air B&B’s and hotels.
The area indeed is an odd mix of retirees, out of towners, tourists, lumber and fish folk, people connected to the Oregon State Aquarium and the Hatfield Marines Sciences Center associated with Oregon State University. Like a lot of things and towns in North America, these places are worn out, rinky-dink, prime examples of those who have and the haves not.
It’s conservative with many centrist democrats tied to the hospital, Hatfield, many of the retired, and most from the community college. The rest of the population (to generalize) is stuck in a time warp, always impressing upon me about the good old days.
Those were the days when timber was king, and when there were beach house rentals, not this huge influx of STR’s (short term rentals) run by Portland-based Airbnb outfits like Vacasa.
Boom or bust, quasi back to the land, McDonald’s and Taco Bell drive-throughs, a Walmart, and a coast that depends big time on those crazy, congesting, demanding, beach swarming tourists.
Food, surprisingly, is not king here, as there are fewer and fewer unique mom and pop type eateries. Either a few high end resort restaurants, or small Mexican restaurants.
The drive from Corvallis down Highway 34 toward the coast is easy when the traffic is light. Otherwise, cussing galore as people from Portland and Corvallis, Salem and Eugene flood over to the cooler Pacific.
One small business, Deb’s Café, would have been on our list for a bite to eat, but the huge “Timber Unity” sign out front is a turn-off. I don’t want to have to pay for food from a mom and pop that visually supports anything as part of their advertising scheme: not Raytheon, Dow, Democrats, Republicans, the country Turkey or the Armenian people. To blatantly put up that Timber Unity logo sign is a sign of some sort of hard right, mean politics within, redneck politics worn on Deb’s sleeves (if there is a Deb there to begin with). Timber Unity signs are plastered all over homes and large yards and businesses in this neck of the woods. Unity my ass:
While the group has been hailed by state and national Republicans, and includes at least one former Oregon GOP lawmaker among its leaders, its participants have had no qualms associating with violent extremists and far-right groups. Several senior members have been photographed alongside members of neofascist or militia groups, and when pressed, its leadership has failed to disavow such ties. Its rallies have prominently featured messages backing QAnon, the sprawling internet conspiracy theory that posits a cabal of liberal elites are running a pedophile ring, and that has spurred real-world violence.
“While Timber Unity has sought to downplay these links, an investigation of its social media channels has found extensive ties between its leaders and Far Right figures, as well as the use of racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, and violent rhetoric by its supporters,” explained Spencer Sunshine, a sociologist who researches right-wing extremists, in a report he compiled for Oregon environmental groups. “The organization already has a history of and association with groups who have either made violent political threats or have supported violent actions.” — “The Oregon GOP’s Favorite Anti-Environment Group Is Awash in Racism and Violent Threats”
Left-wing/Right-wing — The American Bird
Right-wing groups. The Trump years. That’s all I have to go by since I’ve been here short-term — December 2018. Pro-cops/pigs, pro-military grunt, pro-timber, pro-all-red-white-blue.
Coming from Portland, supporting more than just a few days of protesting cops and such in downtown PDX, I know small towns from way back. Small towns supporting Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. Towns supporting Reagan. I’m old enough to know those Nixon years, and those small towns. From city council members, to police chiefs, and librarians, small towns and the conservative bent.
It was always more than support — called a traitor, threatened with violence, and handcuffed by pigs for non-violent protesting. Pre-Trump. Oh, Occupy Seattle, those Obama years. I’ve always been a traitor when speaking with Republicans, and I am now speaking with Democrats.
Yet here I am, in a poor rural country, with a mix of interesting people, divergent, many hopeless, a few lucky ones with retirement and health, hopeful. But hopeful in primarily a kind of transcendental mediation way. As a parenthetical, the idea impressed upon me is there are many people living in this area with college degrees and even graduate degrees since we are relatively close to Eugene and Corvallis, where the state land grant colleges are located. Retired professionals. And artists. This for many people infers a level of enlightenment and sophistication and wokeness not normally seen in other rural environs.
That’s debatable for me, since I subscribe to Chris Hedges “death of the liberal class”.
In a traditional democracy, the liberal class functions as a safety valve. It makes piecemeal and incremental reform possible. It offers hope for change and proposes gradual steps toward greater equality. It endows the state and the mechanisms of power with virtue.
We now live in a nation where doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, universities destroy knowledge, governments destroy freedom, the press destroys information, religion destroys morals, and our banks destroy the economy.
― Chris Hedges, The Death of the Liberal Class
I easily segue from one massive war crime after massive war crime — the American War Against Vietnam — to a small rural county in Oregon, and for the reader, this may seem disjointed. So goes the world of corporate wrongs, along with their various hitmen and hitwomen serving as financial thieves and legal Mafia. Because with lawyers, any company can literally get away with murder. And in the process, the murderer (collective, corporate, governmental) can blame the victims.
We are fighting that “timber unity” and the unchecked growth model, the clear-cut model of business, the boom or bust economics of real estate and out-of-state money dragging down the local economies. We are fighting chemical sprays.
The idea of blaming the victims isn’t new. If the economy goes bust, then blame the tree huggers and spotted owl kooks. Blame anyone or any group that is concerned about public health, safety and well-being. The judicial system is out of sync with the people, but in many ways, in sync wonderfully with the destroyers, the extractors, the people with paid-for experts and those with PhDs and MDs and what have you who will be the voice for corporations, giving both barrels for anyone who might question the bottom line — profits at any cost.
Here’s a living example of this legal system in the employ of the corporation. Chevron, no less:
Steven Donziger won a multibillion-dollar judgment against Chevron in Ecuador. The company sued him in New York, and now he’s under house arrest. — Sharon Lerner, The Intercept
Again, shifting to Lincoln County, Oregon, we are tied to the big case in France — for sure, again, one single woman up against lawyers, their assistants, and the thugs and chemists for Dow. We are talking massive poisoning, massive murdering, war profiteering, empires of subjugation, the entire shooting match in Indochina. Death and history, and empire and corporations. The War Machine which is in a sense the machine that drives a lot of things in the USA, including lobbying (sic) groups like Timber Unity:
ÉVRY, France — Almost six decades after the U.S. military began dropping a toxic herbicide known as Agent Orange in the Vietnam War, a French courtroom in a Parisian suburb has become the unlikely setting for a faceoff between a woman who says she was a victim and some of the world’s largest chemical and pharmaceutical corporations that supplied the substance.
The landmark case has pitched Tran To Nga, a 79-year-old, against 14 companies. A ruling is expected on Monday.
If the court in Évry sides with the companies, including American multinational Dow, it would crush hopes for what activists have seen as a “historic trial” and a unique chance for accountability. But if the court rules in Tran’s favor, she would be the first Vietnamese civilian to win such a case. — Source
PARIS — A French court on Monday threw out a lawsuit brought by a French-Vietnamese woman against more than a dozen multinationals that produced and sold toxic herbicide Agent Orange, used by American troops during the war in Vietnam.
The landmark case, filed in 2014, has pitched Tran To Nga, a 79-year-old who says she was a victim of Agent Orange, against 14 firms, including U.S. multinational companies Dow Chemical and Monsanto, now owned by German giant Bayer.
This is the murderous gift that keeps on giving, and leave it to the French, a French court, to throw out this righteous case. Oh the French in Haiti, in Viet Nam. The irony of it is Tran’s children and grandchildren have been diseased because of the exposure to Agent Orange. One child died because of the dioxin disease(s). How many millions of Vietnamese were exposed to this sprayed on poison? Deaths? Disabilities? Chronic illnesses?
The other irony is that US veterans have successfully sued those chemical monsters and have gotten service connected disabilities from this massive poisoning, again, it is we the taxpayer, paying for those “injuries.” The chemical Eichmanns are equal to the military Eichmanns. Bomb them back to the Stone age, uh?
Thibault Camus / AP file
Leave it to the Associated Press to call her “communist” when she was exposed to the gas:
The former journalist has described in a book how she breathed some Agent Orange in 1966, when she was a member of the Vietnamese Communists, or Viet Cong, that fought against South Vietnam and the United States.
“Because of that, I lost one child due to heart defects. I have two other daughters who were born with malformations. And my grandchildren, too,” she told The Associated Press.
According to some probably low ball estimates, U.S. warplanes dropped 19 million gallons of Agent Orange — it was dubbed that because it was stored in drums with orange bands. I’ve seen a few old empties in Vietnam. Between the early 1960s and early 1970s, this ecocide was deployed to defoliate jungles and destroy Viet Cong crops. Murder babies, you know, with calorie constriction. Like the American colony did to Native Americans.
Millions of Vietnamese were sprayed.
At least 3,851 of the 5,958 known fixed-wing missions had targeted flight paths directly over South Vietnamese hamlets. We calculated that at least 2.1 million but perhaps as many as 4.8 million people in 3,181 hamlets were sprayed. Population estimates for an additional 1,430 sprayed hamlets are unavailable. Few systematic data exist on population exposures through residual contamination of soils or consumption of herbicidal chemicals taken up in the food chain, although “hot spots” are known. Source.
It’s clear how the laws are written to protect the poisoners, the murderers. William Bourdon, one of her lawyers, stated on Twitter that the court was “applying an obsolete definition of the immunity of jurisdiction principle which contradicted modern principles of international and national law.”
Even this lawyer was shocked the French court had backed the companies’ defense spiel that stated they were acting on “orders” when responding to U.S. government requisitions for the poison. Again, rule of law for the corporations, and these groups of company lawyers cited contractual law and purchase agreements not tying them to the claims. No damages to the Vietnamese people!
Dow Chemical and Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) were the two largest producers of Agent Orange for the U.S. military and were named in the suit, along with 18 other companies to include Diamond Shamrock, Uniroyal, Thompson Chemicals, Hercules, Ansul Co., Riverdale Chemical Co., Uniroyal, Occidental Petroleum Co., N.A. Phillips, and Hooker Chemical Co.
The military — the USA, in fact, all the Big Little Man Eichmann’s and taxpayers and those in the media, in universities, etc. — is a party to millions of individual war crimes, but this was a crime against people, against their food supply. The spraying occurred right after I was born in 1957, in the early 1960s, as the US Defense Advanced Project Research Agency (DARPA), a US Department of Defense agency, was heavily involved in bioweapons and surveillance and other nefarious illegal weapons, including toxins and all sorts of diseases, like the one we think came from an innocent tick, but, in fact, Lyme’s disease is from Plum Island, US military biowarfare lab.
These new offensive technologies are part of the USA’s legacy of crimes against humanity — experimenting various combinations and concentrations of chemical herbicides for use in the Vietnam War. Agent Orange was created when developers combined two of the most potent herbicides, 2,4,5-Trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T) and 2,4- Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D).
DARPA mixed up many combinations of herbicides to destroy Vietnam, including Agent Purple, Agent Pink, Agent Green, Agent White, Agent Blue, and Agent Orange, all named for the band of colored tape on their containers. Four years after my birth (’57), in 1961, the US began spraying those herbicides on Vietnam’s crops and jungles, part of a lovely mission titled Operation Ranch Hand.
Small Town, Big Politics
So back in my neck of the woods, Waldport, Oregon in Lincoln County, I have a jarring perspective because this small town is isolated, and alas, yes, it is backwards, and the retrograde thinkers are in the hundreds and hundreds. Yet, there are slivers of hope, where smart people for many reasons, ended up here, and in the country at large. Some of those smart people are fed-up with the lies, the birth defects, the diseases, the entire flimflam game that is capitalism — whether it is health insurance scams, lemon automobiles or poisons peddled as “green chemistry for better farming/living/family rearing.”
I’ve been lucky enough to feature two of the people fighting the aerial spray ban reversal — Maria Kraus and Carol Van Strum:
Both pieces ended up in Dissident Voice: here and here. I even did a review of that documentary, The People VS Agent Orange, which highlights Tran To Nga‘s fight in France — “Eternal Impunity of Capitalism’s Crimes“. Here’s one passage from that story I wrote:
Dr. James Clary was with the Air Force in Vietnam, which ran the program. He was ordered to dump the computer and erase all memory. Instead, he printed out a stack of documents two feet high – missions, sorties, coordinates, dates, gallons dropped throughout all of Southeast Asia and Laos.
“We had the information coming from Dow that there were real problems for people associated with this chemical. It was all locked up for 35 years.”
Playing down all the negative effects of this chemical was part of the Dow plan. Dioxin was the byproduct in the brew. Dow told the US government they were having difficulty producing the volume of the chemical the US wanted. The government told them to not worry about safety standards and quality control, and that a fast production process which produced more of the dioxin would not matter, since the crops and forest were being sprayed, and if people got in contact with it, the idea coming from both industrialists at Dow and those in government and the military was, “Hey, so what, this is a war . . . these are the effing Vietnamese.”
However, a former military man like Clary never saw it that way. He reiterated that 20 million gallons of it was dumped on Southeast Asia. The Ranch Hand program stopped in 1971, but then the chemicals were enlisted by the US on forest land – clear cuts that were sprayed to denude the razed land of any opportunistic weeds and shrubs. The money has to be made, and the stockpiled product has to go! Sell it to the state forestry department and timber outfits.
Both Carol and Maria, along with others, are working to convince a judge to stop aerial spraying of herbicides by timber companies on private land they own, huge portions of the state, in fact, abutting communities, river and creek systems, property owners’ homes, etc. This coming June 1, a group of local activists — citizens, home owners, those with a few acres of “property” — face down the judge in the case that ended a two year temporary stay on aerial spraying of chemicals so closely linked to the Agent Orange formula, that herbicide which is a brother of another mother (Agent Orange).
The people who wrote an ordinance banning the aerial spraying of pesticides in western Oregon last year  aren’t professional environmental advocates. Their group, Lincoln County Community Rights, has no letterhead, business cards, or paid staff. Its handful of core members includes the owner of a small business that installs solar panels, a semi-retired Spanish translator, an organic farmer who raises llamas, and a self-described caretaker and Navajo-trained weaver.
And yet this decidedly homespun group of part-time, volunteer, novice activists managed a rare feat: They didn’t just stop the spraying of pesticides that had been released from airplanes and helicopters in this rural county for decades. They also scared the hell out of the companies that make them, according to internal documents from CropLife America, the national pesticide trade group. Although some of the world’s biggest companies poured money into a stealth campaign to stop the ordinance, and even though the Lincoln activists had no experience running political campaigns, the locals still won. — Source
This above was also written by Lerner of The Intercept. The article’s headline — “How a Ragtag Group of Oregon Locals Took on the Biggest Chemical Companies in the World . . . and Won” — speaks to a common “liberal” form of journalism which seems to harken all these amazing hopeful signs of American democracy (sic) at work, with all the elements of (almost) patronizing the “locals” who in the headline writer’s eyes, are a “ragtag” bunch. It’s always nice to have a Karen Silkwood (Kerr-McGee Cimarron Fuel Fabrication Site in Oklahoma, which made plutonium pellets) or Lois Gibbs (she discovered that her 5-year-old son’s elementary school in Niagara Falls, New York, was built on a toxic waste dump; Love Canal) highlighted in these stories.
For the Intercept, having these activists in Lincoln County working to stop aerial spraying is a David vs Goliath environmental script ready for Netflix prominence. The group, Lincoln County Community Rights (I’ll get to Spokane in a sec), worked hard to get the gumption and impetus going for this to end up on the ballot. But in USA, you can vote for no added two or three mile runway for an airport, but that goes out the window for the greater good — they call it the greater good for the community or public, but it is all about greater good of the pocket book. This is typical in societies, all part of the rapaciousness of industrialized and now digitized societies. “You hate noisy new airport runways? Get some earplugs.”
I’m just reading how Zoom-Google Hangouts will be the way of the future for doctors visits (and school, college, work, court, and more). Imagine, articles just before the planned-demic (SARS-CoV2) on how poorly western medicine is doing with diagnostics, with integrated medicine, with hands on medicine, without a compassionate treat-the-whole-person modality. It’s just more of the more bad. These court cases are on Zoom, and now evictions across the country are Zoomed, but with no time for individuals making a statement to the judge, to the court. Many eviction hearings are lumped together on Zoom. Dozens at a time, which is against certain inalienable rights in the constitution.
Give the bastards an inch, and they will take a mile.
Laws against protesting. Real murderous laws allowing drivers to run down and murder protestors.
I remember the anti-Monsanto protest in Portland. At the Lloyd Center. We did make it to the roads, and while much of the protest was “permitted” in the sense the organizers got all the paperwork done for an announced, planned peaceful event, there was no telling how many people would break off.
Impede traffic at the giant mall? Shoot, how many states are passing “run over them if you feel triggered, in danger.” Passing those right to run over pedestrians, AKA terrorists, ordinances is big on Republican governors’ list of important things to do. Stand your ground is now “pedal to the metal” laws — get the riffraff out of the way.
Protesting the pesticides in a small town like Toledo, OR, might be an invitation to the Timber Unity folk and the people coming out of the woodwork who love their open carry permits, love taunting peaceful protestors. And the local pigs, well, they are in the same camp — any protestation against “industry” or the capitalist way, well, that is clear and present danger to the public, the community, to their own fascist leanings.
When I was there with my 16-year-old daughter, I did look for exit paths in case the pissed off automobile drivers behind us decided to go “postal.”
Just having a bumper sticker in many parts of Oregon declaring anti-spraying could get you good, let alone a bumper sticker against Timber Unity (there are none). Having a bumper sticker calling Monsanto a poisoner, that too, a rock through the windshield. I have had rocks thrown two car windows, two trucks “keyed,” and a motorcycle kicked over for some sort of advocacy bumper sticker I plastered on.
Bans by any other Name — Attacking the Corporations’ Bottom Line
Beyond Pesticides is an advocacy group looking at the devastating effects of pesticides on community health — the avian, aquatic, terrestrial and human communities. As an organization, they function as a great clearing house of information on the various poisons used in industrial capitalism’s gift to the world: factory farming. The Lincoln County aerial spray ban may have passed in May 2017 with 64 yeah votes over the nay ones, of the total 14,000 votes cast, but it was one of more than 200 local measures that do some form of “restricting” of pesticides (weedicides, fungicides, fumigants, herbicides, rodenticides, and the like). Many communities have passed protective measures that surpass basic limits set by the feds, the EPA. Some have banned glyphosate (Roundup). The first community ban or restriction was passed in 1970 in Maine.
Nationwide, 71 communities from across the political spectrum have passed either rights-of-nature or community-rights statutes, said Craig Kauffman, a professor of political science at the University of Oregon, whose research focuses on legal and political arguments for the rights of nature.
Part of the motivation behind the campaign is to put ecosystems on an equal footing with corporations, which already have personhood rights under federal law. “Where we often see these campaigns is in rural communities that don’t want outside corporations coming in and destroying the ecosystems and watersheds,” Kauffman told me. With the twin pressures of climate change and biodiversity loss mounting, people are looking for new ways to fight back on the local level, he said.
— Carl Segerstrom, “Can a campaign for nature and community rights stop aerial spraying in Oregon?”
So, this upcoming June 1, the case will be made to reverse this judge’s action, which she declared in September of 2019: Judge Sheryl Bachart ruled that the county ordinance was pre-empted by an Oregon law that allows, with basic state-approved restrictions, aerial spraying of pesticides on forests and prohibits local governments from making any ordinance, rule or regulation governing pesticide sale or use. “Where local enactments are found incompatible with state law in an area of substantive policy and explicit preemption, state law will displace the local law,” she wrote.
Lincoln County, Oregon, voters approved the “Freedom from Aerial Sprayed Pesticides” ordinance. That was May 2017. It was a first-in-the-state law recognizing residents’ rights to clean air, water, and soil, their right to local community self-governance, and the Rights of Nature to exist, flourish, and evolve.
Soon after, the timber industry lawyered up — sued the county to overturn the ordinance, stating this Oregon county (or any county) had no right or authority to pass it (this sort of community rights legal codes) in the first place, and that this ordinance/law “adversely affected” them. This is a tactic used in Capitalism, whichever form you want to qualify your pro/quasi-pro capitalism with: predatory, usury, parasitic, disaster, casino, zombie — which has put a stranglehold on communities who vote to not allow some industry into town. Suing for imagined future losses (out of thin air profits), these Mafia corporations wrote the playbook on predatory capitalism. They time and time again, bring in an army of legal vultures to do battle with cash-strapped counties and municipalities threatening them with years of expensive litigation if a city or county prohibits their siting and industrial processes in that locality.
You don’t need to go back too far in history to see how industry works —
Hmm, many in my league just wrote about the 107th anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre, simply, a mass killing by a militia, anti-striker thugs during this period called the Colorado Coalfield War. This is the score — soldiers from the Colorado National Guard and then private guards/mercenaries in the employ of Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I) attacked peaceful Occupiers: a tent colony of 1,200 striking coal miners and their families. That was April 20, 1914, in Ludlow, and while 21 people, including miners’ wives and children, were murdered, the infamous John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a part-owner of CF&I, got away with it, with just a “talking to” during a US congressional hearing.
They Have the Big Ticket Lawyers
The right to your own labor, to strike, to refuse an illegal or dangerous order. The right to tell your supervisor things are smelly in Denmark. The right to expose malfeasance and shoddy manufacturing and death-creating products. The right to question the killer ingredients in chicken McNuggets?
It’s shoot to kill now, if as a citizen, you want to photograph clearcutting plots, animal factory farms, fracking facilities, even fields of GMO Franken-Corn.
When a community declares it is against war, against nukes, anything, the long arm of government and corporations comes in upper-cutting hard. Worse, though, is the longer arm of the mob, the herd, the bandwagoneers. Propaganda is a valuable tool of fascists and Madison Avenue, of governments and of right-wing movements. And let it be clear there is no real left left when that person announces his or her Democratic Party allegiances. Shifting the center to the right has been witnessed by yours truly my entire lifetime as a journalist — it is embarrassing how so-called weekly alternative newspapers are as right-wing as Mitt Romney. Let alone the massive experiment on the populous for this continual shifting baseline disorder. One day a few months ago, Big Pharma was despised in poll after poll. Now, Big Pharma wins the Nobel Prize collectively. Imagine the billions Pitzer has paid out in lawsuits, single ones and class action. Imagine that, and now imagine the profit hoarders, the mercenary capitalists, making billions on this jab-jab-jab jabberwocky.
Imagine the thugs the thugs hire to do their bidding, their dirty work. Imagine the Sisyphus of it all now, now that not just companies like Comcast, but their competitors, too, and entire countries, use app’s to send in faked and false comments to politicians. Imagine that, Sisyphus. The new normal is citizens scrounge up people to push a bill like the aerial spray moratorium, and then, imagine, those great software engineers and former military agents setting up companies that set loose false statements, push propaganda to a new level.
This article is being algorithm spun and any and all parties mentioned herein will be putting me on another watch list, or black list, but since I am just Don Quixote, I’m small potatoes, maybe even insane in their eyes.
I know I am on some FBI lists since some of the groups I was associated with have been surveilled by the Felonious Bureau of Inhumanity.
Try the Google search tool on “Dow” or “Agent Orange” or on “Timber Unity.” You’ll get more and more accolades, fewer and fewer critical hits. The rich have their Google tools and worldwide web cast far and wide.
It’s like this: You can lose your job as a pig/cop for calling an African American the racist term, n—–, but you keep your job if you put a bullet to the back of the head of that came black man while in uniform.
How does this all relate?
Again, communities taking control of their boundaries, their health, safety and welfare? Communities defunding the police. Communities putting the brakes on growth, on building and construction trades, on projects that impede healthy traffic loads. Communities demanding smoke stacks not release toxic chemicals. Imagine that, in Newport, where the largest users of our freshwater system — a brewery and the shrimp industry. You think there is pushback on those two outfits?
Who will sit on the water board? Who will be at the table when more scrutiny hits the beer and shrimp industry?
Then the Chamber of Commerce, and then the Rotarians, and then all manner of people saying, “We need jobs, we need infrastructure, we need corporation x and company y in town. Putting all these limits on their growth, on their profits, on their business model, is antithetical to capitalism. They know best. They hire the best engineers, the best economists, the best communicators, the best scientists. You do-gooders know nothing about running a business, keeping the lights on, building employment bases, providing a culture to a community. You are against all growth.”
Growth is that timber industry buying up more and more parcels of land, and, in fact, insurance companies and other investment portfolio “holders” own (sic) this land. In fact, you can own your 100 acres, but if you got snookered thirty years ago by needing some shekels to keep going, you ended up working with shifty insurance and timber companies to “grant them the right to come in and sustainably log said designated acreage in 30 or 40 years . . . here’s how much big money we will give you up front to keep those beautiful trees growing big and healthy and keeping that air clean and all those streamlets pure.”
This is reality, man. People in their 60s or 70s who came out here in the 1970s, now have seen their property cut down vis-à-vis those three- to five-decades old contracts.
Now there are some things in the world we can’t change — gravity, entropy, the speed of light, the first and second Laws of Thermodynamics, and our biological nature that requires clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean energy and biodiversity for our health and wellbeing. Protecting the biosphere should be our highest priority or else we sicken and die. Other things, like capitalism, free enterprise, the economy, currency, the market, are not forces of nature, we invented them. They are not immutable and we can change them. It makes no sense to elevate economics above the biosphere, for example.
–– Canadian scientist and TV series producer David Suzuki in his acceptance speech for Right Livelihood Award
The model of forestry is to use it all as a commodity, to manage it (control and destroy it), to turn real ecologies into tree plantations. Some people call these places out here, deserts:
It’s a no-brainer trees also provide shade for maintaining water temperature. To carry the analogy to the end point, we see fallen leaves, limbs and branches support food webs by providing food and habitat for insects that are food for fish, Hayduk states. Clean, cool water with more food equals bigger fish.
Nuances like growing alders on the flood plain or marsh plain encourages other species of trees to grow on the decaying fallen alder.
Looking at the ecosystem from a centuries-versus-a-few-decades perspective is important in understanding what Evan and others of his ilk are attempting. “Big conifers that fall help with grade control. Water tables rise. Conifers in the riparian areas can grow from 100 to 200 years before they fall into the creek.”
This concept of a “messy” stream refugia as being the most healthful for all species is anathema to the way most humans have thought about rivers. Scientists like Hayduk know fish get through any of the hurdles a natural stream environment presents them — even with huge logs and entire trees with root balls integrated into the water flow.
Laws only on Hold
The Lincoln County law held for over two years, preventing aerial application of pesticides. This got under the skin of the coalition of people and businesses in that so-called Timber Unity outfit.
The rule of law, of course, supports every aspect of predatory and disaster capitalism.
That judge in September of 2019 wrote: “Oregon does not recognize an independent right of local community self-government that is fundamental, inherent, inalienable, and constitutional.”
This is a battle line fought in many communities.
“Though this decision will be appealed on the grounds of denying the exercise of the right of local self-government, it also serves as positive energy to move the amendment forward so ultimately people, not corporations, decide the fate of their communities,” said Nancy Ward, coordinator for the Oregon Community Rights Network.
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) assisted Lincoln County Community Rights in drafting the law and representing them as an intervenor in the case. CELDF also sought to represent the Siletz River watershed’s interests in the case. The judge denied intervention.
Appeals were filed by Lincoln County Community Rights and the Siletz River watershed. They have their proverbial day in court June 1, 2021. This is from their May 8 press release:
Lincoln County Community Rights, the non-profit organization that placed Measure 21-177 on the ballot, filed an appeal against invalidation of the measure. The Siletz River Ecosystem also appealed the trial court decision to deny it intervention in the case. Oral arguments will be heard virtually Tuesday, June 1, 2021 in the morning session.
Speaking on behalf of the Siletz River Ecosystem, Carol Van Strum notes that ”securing rights of the river to exist, thrive and be protected from poisoning by aerial spraying is part of a global movement of tribal and other entities to grant natural systems standing to defend themselves in our courts.”
What is at stake is whether state government exists to protect people’s rights to save themselves and their environment from poisoning, or to protect industry’s right to poison people and their world for profit.
There have been more than the immediate effects on residents exposed to these chemicals: severe headaches, rashes, respiratory problems, and nosebleeds. Pets, livestock and wild animals exposed to spraying have died. Doctors and other medical professionals have been stating for years that long-term exposure to chemicals like glyphosate, 2,4-D and atrazine (just a few of the major ones used by the logging industry) can injure the liver and kidneys. The number of stillborn and miscarriages and babies with intellectual, learning and developmental disabilities is high in areas where these chemicals are sprayed.
Yet, the reality is Capitalism is all about “might makes right,” and as is true of any of the x, y, z you-name-it industries, in Oregon, the logging and chemical industries hold the Damocles sword (in the form of political influence) over the heads of all Oregonians. As is true every time, when these x, y, z you-name-it industries’ actions put people at risk, and ecosystems, one might believe there is a moral imperative for legislative and regulatory bodies to have a legal righteous imperative to intervene. The very idea of keeping industry spraying and industry land holdings secret should strike anyone believing in a democracy as both wrong and harmful to the public’s interest. Oregonians should have a right to determine which chemicals are verboten, but also, there has to be a set systems of do no harm, at any cost to the capitalist interests.
Solutions like having no-spray buffers from chemical drift speak to the inability of Oregon and other governments to hold them accountable. The Community Rights organization is in this to make sure state agencies work to protect our health by protecting wildlife, water, and not just private property.
Shielding politically influential industries from accountability is the name of the game, but community bill of rights movements have been proposed (and defeated in court, and the ballot box) to do exactly that — penetrate the obfuscation in order to hold them accountable and to derive their own agency to decide what a community deems safe.
The fact is we have let capitalism frame all debates, so, if there are movements to, say, stop animal cruelty in the agricultural arena, those movements should be part of the public interest, backed by government scientists and planners in concert with real science.
We can read a headline in the pro-farmer-rancher, Capital Press, “Anti-animal ag initiative raises alarm among Oregon farm groups … protections for livestock producers under the state’s animal cruelty laws,” but that entity, so-called journalism, will never access or refer to studies going back 20 years on the enormous amounts of cruelty the factory farming does to animals.
The same sort of mumbo-jumbo is leveled at people like Maria and Carol and the entire movement to put a stop to poisons in the air, water, soil. The fact a community group has to set forth an initiative process to get a spray ban even on the ballot box, up against the compliant media, the huge coffers of money to spend on propaganda by the timber and chemical industries, is not democracy at work.
For me, the history (my personal one) of a community bill of rights comes from a body of work tied to a community’s right to set the standards for human and ecological health, as well as the standards for labor and health and welfare. My own background includes 10 solid years in Spokane, and I was part of the push for the Envision Spokane, Community Bill of Rights, which bestowed legal rights on the Spokane River, granted residents the right to block development in their neighborhoods and given employees workplace protections. The kicker was to restrict any corporation’s “rights” that might be conflicting with the measure — conflicting with the community’s guidelines and values.
It took a coalition of business groups and governmental entities to sue, and the Washington Supreme Court “gave a victory to local business groups after unanimously ruling that Envision Spokane’s sweeping Community Bill of Rights ballot measure was outside of the initiative process and should not go before voters.”
Note the verbiage in the quotation marks. Very telling how business groups (backed by big bucks, and out-of-state bucks) is stated as a “coalition”, as opposed to being correctly labeled as a lobbying entity, special interest group, an anti-voter league. The media and press are spokespersons for the business community. Rocking the boat (taking a stand, or looking at community and nature bills of rights with a deeper analysis) is not part of the DNA of most co-opted media/Press entities.
At least High Country News gave LCCR a better shot at their story than other sources:
Anti-spray activists are appealing — and going after the pre-emption law itself. They say that the state and federal government shouldn’t be able to prevent locals from seeking greater protections for community and environmental health. It’s a new twist on long-running efforts by rural Westerners to gain more power. Traditionally, rural counties in Oregon and across the West have sought to undo state and federal environmental protections and open up land for logging and other industries. Now, Lincoln County residents want the power to create additional environmental protections, which they believe are necessary to end corporate political dominance and protect their health.
Murder, Broken Bodies, Poisons — A Tale of Too Many Counties
Just read some of the stuff here on the chemical industry, the state regulators, and more. Carol Van Strum, in her book, A Bitter Fog, and also when one talks with her, demonstrates the sacrifice of her activism — she lost four children in a fire at their cabin/house during the heated battle she was having with the chemical companies and forest service. She stated to me that the fire chief felt the fire was suspicious. Carol is clear that something wasn’t right that evening when she went to a neighbor’s with freshly baked bread and returned to her four children’s lifeless bodies from the fire.
From my piece on Carol: This is an idyllic life until the four children are sprayed. Then the court battles, the scientific investigations (and backtracking and cover-ups) of the real effects of these herbicides. We are talking about neighbors throughout the area, up to a mile away from each other, collectively having multiple miscarriages, children born with genetic defects, adults suffering cancers and other ailments.
The dedication in her non-fiction book is emblematic of the struggle Carol has undergone: “For my children, Daphne, Alexey, Jarvis and Benjamin Van Strum.”
I asked her what gives her hope. “The death of our children left me with what they loved — this farm, this dirt, these trees, this river, these birds, fish, newts, deer, and fishers — to protect and hold dear. These became my anchor to windward, keeping me from just drifting away with every wind that blows.”
Even that tragic story isn’t simple — there is evidence the four children, old enough to babysit each other, perished in a house while Carol was next door at a neighbor’s house. The fire marshal indicated it was suspicious, potentially the result of arson. Carol has her suspects.
This article was to be a precursor to the Lincoln Community Rights court case this June 1. However, for me, this is more than that, much deeper to, as we are all running into the gauntlet of US “rule of law.” The game is rigged, and you can ask anyone, not just public citizen Ralph Nader.
Describing the United States as an “advanced Third World country,” longtime consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader calls for a new mass movement to challenge the power corporations have in Washington. “It is not too extreme to call our system of government now ‘American Fascism.’ It’s the control of government by big business, which Franklin Delano Roosevelt defined in 1938 as fascism,” Nader says.
I end this long article with my interview of Maria Kraus and Debra Fant, two of the Lincoln County Community Rights activists:
Paul Haeder: What personal stake do you have in this fight to ban aerial spraying?
Maria Kraus: Personal stake? Every person aware of what is going on with our ecosystems, how they are unraveling due to ravenous extraction from them and toxic spraying on them to increase profits derived from extraction, has a stake in the effort to save the planet from becoming uninhabitable. This is a fight that is everyone’s fight, in which the personal examples of deadly illnesses, malformations, pain, hunger, and misery, together with the sight of degraded ecosystems, streams drying up, vanishing wildlife species are what should make this a universal fight.
Debra Fant: As a person who lives in coastal forest and appreciates clean cold water to drink for myself, my family, my community, I am highly motivated to end use of toxic chemical combinations from industrial tree farms in our watersheds.
PH: Fiftieth Anniversary of Silent Spring. Ironically with your case being heard next month. Any comments about this fact with reference to that below, here –
MK: Rachel Carson’s voice was the first to sound out publicly about the danger of using chemicals, DDT in her experience, not only to people, but to the environment. She held that chemicals should be studied for their effects on living organisms, soil, water, and air before being released into the environment.0
In other words, she insisted on the Precautionary Principle, according to which, chemical substances are not considered safe for use until proven to be so. However, industry, which dominates government here and in many other countries, believes that “business is business”, and that the profit motive has priority in all business decisions. Accordingly, the world has been freely experimenting with thousands of chemicals regardless of their possible effects on all forms of life and on the environment. The din of profit-making silenced Rachel Carson’s voice. Not only did use of chemicals proliferate during the many decades since Silent Spring was published, but chemicals used for war, such as Agent Orange in Vietnam, which were banned while the war was still going on due to the harm they caused to people exposed to it, started being used as herbicides in the US afterwards. There was a massive surplus of them and that could not be wasted. A market had to be found for them. Meantime, production of some chemicals has been banned only to make room for reformulations of their ingredients in new chemical products launched by the thousands into the market, with only a fraction going through testing. The EPA, created under the Nixon administration, has functioned, in Nixon’s own words, as a “buffer between industry and the public”, to make people believe they are being protected rather than to actually protect them.
Industry tests its own products, and regulations are written to stop only the most extreme and obvious harms, ensuring that they remain effective for the purposes that industry produces them, and, with that, harmful to every living organism that comes into contact with them. The evolution of chemical use is glaring proof that government, in the US especially, is of, by, and for profit-driven industry, not for the health, safety, and welfare of the people and the places where they live.
DF: Biocides – “any substance that can kill living organisms,” came out of chemical warfare after WWI and became chemical warfare in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The US Congress stopped the military use of Agent Orange four years before the war ended because of the harms to people, land, water, wildlife, and food crops. Why then was it sprayed on timber lands of our county and elsewhere in Oregon? It not only killed plant material but created deformed farm animals, aborted elk and deer fetus’ with defects, and babies born without brains. These experiments on living people and communities confirmed toxicity of forever chemicals that do not degrade or disappear The US Government agencies and industry collaborated for profits, corruption rampant in safety testing protocols, and so called scientific results suppressed or simply changed to support the lies that these chemicals are “safe” when label instructions are followed. Rachel Carson warned us and spoke clearly the dangers yet industry and regulatory agencies were motivated by greed, dazzled by man-made innovations without the wisdom to question destructive practices. If this is an intelligence test, I fear the human family is flunking.
PH: So Carson took up her cudgels. Her book is not a mathematical theorem. It is a carefully researched, precisely reasoned, and elegantly written argument for what she passionately believed to be the public good. It is a product of her social conscience, but not the diatribe that her critics complained about. She did not call for a ban on all pesticides, but mostly for the long-lasting chlorinated hydrocarbons such as DDT whose movement through the environment cannot be contained and whose residues, being fat soluble, are stored in animal tissues and recycled through food chains.
“It is not my contention that chemical insecticides should never be used,” she wrote. “I do contend that we have put poisonous and biologically potent chemicals indiscriminately into the hands of persons largely or wholly ignorant of their potential for harm… I contend, furthermore, that we have allowed these chemicals to be used with little or no advance investigation of their effects on soil, water, wildlife, or man himself.” See Yale e360 source.
PH: Science should be “science” always in quotation marks since many in the “scientific” community (sic) adhere to a belief that chemicals have been tested extensively, and that there are no scientific connections to harms done on animals and humans at the level of dilution, say, an aerial application of said herbicides are used. Comment on this.
MK: The question is what “tested extensively” means. When does “extensively” become enough? Many of the chemicals used, in the concentrations they are used, don’t show their effects until many years after exposure, and some only in future generations.
Industry, of course, will not wait that long before launching chemicals into the market.
Once that happens, and time passes, it is hard to trace harmful effects to the chemical that caused them. In the race to justify its profitable products, the chemical industry is eager to find reasons to market them, not to refrain from doing so. Having the freedom granted to it by government, it conducts its own testing, and conveniently does so in search for the answers it needs to launch its products. The EPA accepts those results. What industry does to get chemical products approved for marketing has little to do with science, and much more with fooling the public to accept what they say. How much or for how long were flame retardants tested, or formaldehyde, before they were released for their various commercial applications?
We all know that growing food with poisons is madness, and that growing it on poisoned soil is madness too. We also know that forests have grown for millions of years without poisons, and that a mature or old-growth forest is healthier than a planted industrial one.
DF: The people of Oregon who sued the Forest Service to stop their spraying of Agent Orange in the 1970’s won their case and caused 1/2 of AO, 2,4,5, T to be de-registered. They also won a case proving that a contracted firm named IBT that EPA hired to do live animal studies of toxic chemicals used fraudulent practices and did not follow scientifically sound protocols to determine safety for the chemicals. Evidence of collusion between EPA and industry changing study results showed up in their own documents and communications which are part of the digitized “Poison Papers” online. That’s not scientific research, that is corruption.
PH: Yes, the rights of nature, yes, that’s where I come from, a deep green ecology. But for you both, how to frame that concept of a river having rights or land having rights to the average mis-educated and mis-directed citizen you might run into at a grocery store or public meeting?
MK: The argument we frequently use is that corporations are considered to be persons and have rights, and yet corporations are just a bunch of documents authorizing certain activities. Supposedly they speak through money.
Fundamental to the idea of Nature having rights is the fact that we are part of Nature and that all life is interconnected and depends on that interconnection. If we hurt one creature in the web of life, we hurt all the others that depend on it one way or another. We know that the absence or presence of wolves in an area can change the landscape of that area. If the wolves are no longer there, species that wolves predate on will multiply and eat vegetation that was abundant before. That vegetation will fail to provide nourishment, or shade, or shelter, to another species, which will not survive in that area, and so on. If starfish die, like they have in certain areas of the West Coast, sea urchins multiply exceedingly and eat all the sea grass, which is one of the main carbon sinks in the ocean. Westward winds over the Sahara Desert blow across the Atlantic Ocean and fertilize the Amazon Forest.
We all depend on Nature, and our need to protect it from human greed, crucial to its survival and that of all life, is best translated into recognition of Nature’s right to exist, flourish, and renew itself, a right which needs to be protected by laws, as perhaps the fastest way to get people to understand that transgressions against Nature have to stop. As we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness just because we exist, a right that is not up for discussion (although it has and continues to be violated), the right of Nature to be itself is not up for discussion. We have treated Nature as property. That has gotten us into the predicament we are in now, being as we are in danger of losing it as a source of life. This is still a concept that is difficult for people to grasp, but more and more people are coming to terms with it.
DF: Legal rights and the ability for a harmed river or a blasted mountain to be represented in a court of law are only needed where human beings have no limit to their willingness to harm balanced ecosystems whether for extracting fossil fuels, metals, board feet of lumber, or clean drinking water. When humans lose the ability to value clean air or fertile soil in a non-monetary way, there is no end to extraction no matter the cost to wildlife, oceans, humans, and nature’s resilience. Legal rights may be the only way of keeping intact what is needed for life on this planet!
People who relate to the Earth as our Mother, a forest as our grandparents, a river as our sister are not likely to defile or poison those ones who are family. When we all live with that value, knowing when what we have is “enough” and caring for clean water more than we care about money, we won’t need legal rights for nature to exist, thrive, and persist.
PH: Construction and finance rule the world, and here in Oregon, and in the world, there is a reported lumber shortage, and now a doubling of the prices of lumber. All sorts of reasons tied to lockdowns, SARS-CoV2 and more. Anticipate the push back from the timber industry which will cite that jobs are at stake and their own scientific studies showing aerial spraying is safer and more efficient and more expeditious than crews going out on the land hand spraying.
MK: We have had that kind of pushback from the timber industry all along, going on four years now. What has changed is the number of lawsuits filed for illness caused by the use of certain herbicides (mainly glyphosate) against the chemical industry, which have resulted in billions in fines for Bayer/Monsanto. In addition, many scientific publications and presentations by environmentally aware economists, foresters, and others (see Ernie Niemi, John Talberth, Chuck Willer) have raised awareness of the harm done to the soil by aerial pesticide spraying (and other forms of spraying), such as the death of micro-organisms; acceleration of global warming and climate change provoked by clear-cutting, drying up of streams in industrial forests, which carry only 50% of the water carried by streams running through mature and old growth forests, dying of fish and other water life due to increased temperature of the water in industrial forests, decreased capacity of industrial forests to store carbon because trees are not allowed to grow to a size that permits more storage, being cut down at 30-35 years of age instead of 80-100, and chemicals reaching streams and rivers due to drift or percolation in the soil. The discussion is evolving from aerial pesticide spraying to use of any herbicides and pesticides as more and more information on their harm comes to light.
The timber industry will continue to use its old arguments unless and until the law changes, and, together with that, also building materials. Our argument centers around preemption laws, which forbid local communities from protecting their health, safety and well-being, together with that of Nature, on which all life, including ours, depends, from the ravages of the timber and chemical industry through local democracy (people’s initiatives) such as our Measure 21-177. It focuses on the fundamental duty of government to protect the people from harm, and its use of preemption laws to instead protect the right of industry to profit from activities that constantly threaten and undermine the people’s and Nature’s wellbeing. Such laws turn the people in whom constitutionally all power is inherent to the guinea pigs of industry, making them the constant subject of chemical experimentation which they quietly oversee, like silent gigantic parasites sucking on the people’s and Nature’s lives while government looks on.
DF: Toxic chemicals are not required for re-growth of trees in this temperate rain forest. it is a fallacy made up by industry who wanted a market for their chemicals just as they made up those stories for food production.
Industry has been cutting at unsustainable levels for decades and finding loopholes in the law to clear cut far more than is wise. It’s time to keep standing natural forests who work daily to absorb C02 and release oxygen, hold moisture and fertility in the soil, protect the effectiveness of watersheds’ abilities to provide clean drinking water, provide habitat and food for wildlife, cold water for fish survival. It’s time to transition to growing hemp and bamboo that are fast growing fiber crops that can be processed locally for new building materials like “hemp-crete” and provide jobs for our people.
PH: This is coming down to a legal issue, where the concepts of precautionary principles and do no harm and holding polluters and chemical companies accountable to carry out all necessary objective studies of all their chemicals before being allowed to get approval for use might be powerful to me, a deep green ecosocialist, but we live in a country where herd immunity toward understanding/respecting/caring about the whole of nature and immunity to arguments about long-term health and safety concerns are the ruling orders of the day. We are expected to believe mainstream scientists about things like vaccine safety or the approval of what, now, (scientists) have given the green light to a million tons of radioactive water being dumped from Fukushima, so why not agree with the scientists who are in the employ of DOW, Monsanto and OSU forestry program?
MK: Our fight is to change how the government works and, ultimately, to bring down capitalism and its perverted and suicidal values. Can we win? Do we have enough time left to win, as the abolitionists and suffragists did? Probably not. We can either submit to the status quo or die fighting. Everyone has that choice.
DF: Because it’s BULL SHIT!
PH: What lessons learned for both of you as you go into this hearing, going on four years since you all activated?
MK: Everything I have written here I have learned through working on the aerial spray ban, from working with a group of people who are committed to putting their efforts into improving the world we live in, to seeing the importance of working for others, of contributing to one’s community. From the harms being inflicted on our environment to how government really works, especially here, but also in varying degrees in many other countries; from working as a team, to admiring the dedication of others and the varying forms in which it is expressed, and also appreciating the different talents that people doing the work bring to it. One of the main lessons has been to arrive at an understanding of how capitalism works, how disastrous its emphasis on profit is for the planet.
DF: I’ve learned that you can learn how to do almost anything that is unfamiliar or unknown, that commitment and truth telling are powerful and attractive forces to draw people together, that person power of volunteers can take on powerful corporate interests and make local law to protect safety and well-being, and it’s not all about the MONEY! Industry’s own public opinion polls late in the campaign showed that a majority of voters in this county did NOT want aerial spraying of pesticides and that included families who were a part of timber industry services. Would have loved to watch the Timber guys when they learned that poll results!
Two plus years without aerial spraying of toxins was a huge relief to all of us who live downstream. Listening to a spraying helicopter within a mile of my home after that was traumatic and made me cry for the streams getting poisoned, any life forms remaining on the steep slopes, for the ignorance of those who believe the spin and lies told about toxic chemicals being “safe.”
PH: In your own words, respond to: “Our argument is that the local government exists to protect public health and safety and should be immune from pre-emption laws that prevent them from doing so,” said Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin. “State preemption is a weapon of corporate special interests, which can more easily control state legislatures rather than deal with counties and local governments that are closer to the people.”
MK: I believe that preemption can be used for different purposes, and can be necessary (such as preemption of racism, violence, slavery, etc.) It is being used to protect corporate interests at the expense of public health and safety. That is the use we object to. Local governments should be able to enact more stringent laws than the state to protect the people’s and Nature’s health, safety and wellbeing (ceiling preemption, which prohibits more stringent protections of safety and health than the state has imposed, is what we are fighting). In that sense local governments should be able to complement the state government, because they are closer to the people. Preemption interferes with that closeness.
DF: Amen. Who cares more for finding solutions to local problems than the people who live there? Who will value and care for the land on which we live, work, play any more than we will?
End Note — Calling an Eichmann a Little Eichmann
Ward Churchill was vilified, dragged through the racist media mud, and afforded no due process and no 1st Amendment rights. Every time I open up the laptop and put fingers to illuminated keyboard, I feel the wrath of the overlords and Mafia thugs at the back of my neck. An Eichmann or a Little Eichmann are men and women who keep the trains running, the chemical spigots open, the bad science running, and the ruling class stashing their profits into every imaginable unethical and illegal tax shelter and “it takes money to make more money” scheme imaginable.
I see Little and Big Eichmanns in the vast military industrial complex, and the chemical-mining-extraction complex. This “complex” we call MIC is vastly more than just military industrial complex because our wars, our saber rattling, our sanctions, our dirty dealing, or incursions into other cultures on many levels is the Complex that props up and promulgates the wars: wars against nature, wars against people, wars against cultures, wars against diversity, wars against thought. There are millions of Eichmanns in the drug, medical, prison, education, law, finance, banking, real estate, AI complex. Herbicides is one small part of the Eichmann Show. But again, the vastness of the crime — from scientists, salespersons, governments, agencies, universities, state bureaucracies, media, press — is illustrative of capitalism on steroids: profits at any cost; secrecy; off-loading the harms to the people; welfare for the rich/corporations; unfair economies of scale; monopolies; a cabal of lawyers/judges/politicians working for them and against the people. Eichmanns big and small.
It is obvious that the University (U of Colorado) would never have begun its investigation of Ward Churchill were it not for his “little Eichmanns” comment, which he made as a citizen, not as a scholar or as a representative of the University. It is also obvious that dismissing Churchill from his position as a professor at the University violated his First Amendment rights. Most U.S. citizens will agree that what keeps America vital are the freedoms enjoyed by its citizens, foremost of which is speech. Without free speech, the U.S. is just another totalitarian state. This is why citizens must jealously guard the rights of their fellow citizens to express opinions, even opinions with which they disagree or that anger them. If Churchill is not allowed to speak freely, none of us are.
It was Churchill’s essay of September 12, 2001, that drew attention to him — an essay that called victims of the attack on the World Trade Center “little Eichmanns.” For four years the essay, titled “Some People Push Back,” went unnoticed, but in 2005 it caught the attention of faculty and administrators at Hamilton College in New York, and from there it went viral, becoming the topic of nonstop media commentary that lasted for months. Source
I supported Ward when he came to Eastern Washington University in Cheney (Spokane), and I supported him before that, and afterward. How many times have I used the Little Eichmanns rejoinder, uh? Death to me a thousand times over! That was 16 years ago when the radical violent Zionists and Israel Firsters went after him. Now? It’s as if all those chickens have come back in droves to roost, and they are taking a huge salmonella shit on us all. If you think you are radical and voted for Harris-Biden, you are in that muck, shit. The liberal project, the neoliberal bent, the neocon drive, the emptiness of cancel culture, all of that, it’s come to haunt the liberals. For socialist communists like myself, those chickens are just another version of “Whitey On the Moon“.
“Some People Push Back” On the Justice of Roosting Chickens
By Ward Churchill
When queried by reporters concerning his views on the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963, Malcolm X famously – and quite charitably, all things considered – replied that it was merely a case of “chickens coming home to roost.”
On the morning of September 11, 2001, a few more chickens – along with some half-million dead Iraqi children – came home to roost in a very big way at the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center. Well, actually, a few of them seem to have nestled in at the Pentagon as well.
It’s paramount to talk about all the untested, all the never-experimented-on synergistic affects of all those “compounds/ingredients/chemicals” the chemical industry has forced upon the public and nature through “better living/eating/drinking through chemistry.”
I was just talking with a 78-year-old woman whose father’s side of the family (56) all were murdered in Germany’s death camps. She grew up in Chile, and alas, ended up Oregon. She is working on stopping the aerial spraying of 2-4-D and other weedicides onto the clear-cuts.
She remarked at how insane the world is with so much lack of common sense and connecting of the dots when it comes to our factory/industrial food systems. She held up a potato:
How did it ever become normal to use poisons on our food? Poisons that have a direct vector not just to your gut and mine. But to the developing guts and brains of fetuses?
Only two things in this world are too serious to be jested on, potatoes and matrimony. —Irish saying.
Now, they are genetically engineered. And they are part of the monoculture that triggered the Great Famine, also called the Irish Potato Famine. Then, the Irish used a single breed of potato, the Irish Lumper, which was vulnerable to fungus that the breed had no resistance to. However, the Peruvians grow many hundreds of varieties. That diversity of breed/varieties is what keeps a single fungus or other pests from decimating a food stock.
The problems with “conventional” potatoes are tied to the fact the soil is so eroded and decimated in industrial growing models that there is no natural fungi and bacteria, so ungodly amounts of chemical fertilizers have to be applied each season, more and more each season, that is. Again, in the USA, only several varieties of potatoes are grown.
But it’s the pesticides, man! Leave my spuds alone.
The the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program determined 35 different pesticides have been found on “conventionally-grown” (nonorganic) potatoes.
As is true of many of the plastic compounds, these pesticides have some lethal side effects: – 6 are known or probably carcinogens – 12 are suspected hormone disruptors – 7 are neurotoxins – 6 are developmental or reproductive toxins
One herbicide, chlorpropham, is used to stop the growth of weeds and to inhibit potatoes sprouting; it’s found on up to 80 percent of all “conventionally-grown” potatoes.
According to the Extension Toxicology Network, this poison is toxic to honey bees. In labs, tests bare out the effects of chronic exposure to the herbicide: animals show “retarded growth, increased liver, kidney and spleen weights, congestion of the spleen, and death.”
It’s systems thinking that is lacking in the full portrait of industrial farming and how agribusiness thinks and works, yet holistic (systems thinking) approaches are utilized and integrated into true objective research (mostly by environmental safety and advocating groups) on the benefits, harms, and unintended consequences of this chemicalized world — sometimes we can only work on one chemical at a time, which takes many human lifetimes to drill down into to determine the cradle to cradle impacts of those compounds, the chemicals. The alternative to this entire agribusiness industrial model is actually to go back to the start of good farming. Agroecology is the way to go, according to many groups I have been a part of and interviewed as a journalist. This is the only way to make it through the heating planet, and all the issues tied to soil degradation and productivity falling, droughts, and, well, ocean inundation and changed water cycles throughout the globe. Agroecology, a harmonious system of saving the planet and feeding the people with no genetically engineered “foods” and vegetables and fruits sprayed with toxins. This continues what Benyus states above and ramified here:
Biomimicry offers an empathetic, interconnected understanding of how life works and ultimately where we fit in. It is a practice that learns from and mimics the strategies used by species alive today. The goal is to create products, processes, and policies — new ways of living — that solve our greatest design challenges sustainably and in solidarity with all life on earth. We can use biomimicry to not only learn from nature’s wisdom, but also heal ourselves — and this planet — in the process. — Benyus.
All those poisons, then, are integrated into the spud, since, as a root vegetable, potatoes absorb all of the pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides sprayed above the ground which eventually spread into the soil.
I’ve talked with potato growers who say point-blank they would never eat the potatoes they sell. They have separate plots where they grow potatoes for themselves without all the chemicals.
The potato is a great example of an industrial system gone crazy. Terms like Frankenfoods, fishy tomatoes and assassin seeds are not benign. Imagine, the now defunct DNA Plant Technology of Oakland, California developed the gene therapy (sic) of inserting a fish gene into a tomato. It was the genes that helps a flounder survive in frigid waters. This “anti-freeze” fish gene was spliced into tomato cells to enhance the plant’s resistance to cold.
Monsanto developed the gene technology to create suicide seeds, of all wonderfully bad things: They call it Genetic use restriction technology (GURT), but it’s more commonly referred to as terminator technology or suicide seeds. This keeps farmers from saving seeds from Monsanto crop, as the genetic alterations either activate or deactivate) some genes only in response to certain stimuli. That second generation of seeds is infertile.
That Roundup (Monsanto) is what is sprayed all over our Oregon forests when clear cuts raze stands of trees – to keep opportunistic and invasive brush and other tree species, from overtaking the sawed over hills and valleys.
The history and politics are not lost on people like my Chilean friend — Dow Chemical and Monsanto were the two largest producers of Agent Orange, a fifty-fifty mix of the n-butyl esters 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T).
I’ve worked with military veterans exposed to Agent Orange, and worked with offspring of American veterans who were exposed.
Birth Defects Associated with Female Vietnam Veterans
Dr. James Clary was with the Air Force in Vietnam, which ran the program. He was ordered to dump the computer and erase all memory. Instead, he printed out a stack of documents two feet high – missions, sorties, coordinates, dates, gallons dropped throughout all of Southeast Asia and Laos.
“We had the information coming from Dow that there were real problems for people associated with this chemical. It was all locked up for 35 years.”
Playing down all the negative effects of this chemical was part of the Dow plan. Dioxin was the byproduct in the brew. Dow told the US government they were having difficulty producing the volume of the chemical the US wanted. The government told them to not worry about safety standards and quality control, and that a fast production process which produced more of the dioxin would not matter, since the crops and forest were being sprayed, and if people got in contact with it, the idea coming from both industrialists at Dow and those in government and the military was, “Hey, so what, this is a war . . . these are the effing Vietnamese.”
The idea for this environmental series is that walk along the wrack line, for sure, which has for me the past two years conjured up all sorts of topics that are worthy of many books. It is a simple walk I conduct on a calm (mostly) sandy and driftwood-strewn beach in Central Oregon. But that solitude allows some of my own decades studying environmental harms to both animals and plants to filter through my thoughts. For this short essay, it is that potato, which is still not the most sprayed crop in the industrial system.
There are many groups looking into industrial vegetables and fruits, but they all have their own very similar Dirty Dozen – These foods should be purchased organic if possible.
Apples – at least 99 % have residue
Strawberries – contained 13 different pesticides each
Grapes — contained 15 different pesticides
Celery — 13 different pesticides per sample
Sweet Bell Peppers
Imported Nectarines – every sample tested positive for pesticides
Cherry Tomatoes – contained 13 different pesticides each
Imported Snap Peas – contained 13 different pesticides each
Potatoes – had more pesticides by weight than any other food
We go from one chemical exposure – PFAS which is more generally known as flame retardant, and then we go to one or two common chemicals used in our food system – Roundup (glyphosate) and Atrazine – and we are not even scratching the tip of the iceberg in terms of global pesticide use, which is in the billions of pounds yearly, accounting for hundreds and thousands of different types of Herbicides/PGR Insecticides; Fungicides; Fumigants.
Remember, there are literally dozens of active ingredients in one type of herbicide. There are hundreds and sometimes thousands of chemicals in a scoop or pint of poison used in industrial ag. There are no studies on how all those interact with each other as they bioaccumulate and end up as part of the war against the human biome.
For one of the most common herbicides, atrazine (ATR), and its persistence in the environment has resulted in documented human exposure.
Alterations in hypothalamic catecholamines have been suggested as the mechanistic basis of the toxicity of ATR to hormonal systems in females and the reproductive tract in males. Because multiple catecholamine systems are present in the brain, however, ATR could have far broader effects than are currently understood. Catecholaminergic systems such as the two major long-length dopaminergic tracts of the central nervous system play key roles in mediating a wide array of critical behavioral functions. In this study we examined the hypothesis that ATR would adversely affect these brain dopaminergic systems. Male rats chronically exposed to 5 or 10 mg/kg ATR in the diet for 6 months exhibited persistent hyperactivity and altered behavioral responsivity to amphetamine. Source.
There are many warriors in this battle to stop the war against nature, the war against Homo Sapiens. UK’s Dr. Rosemary Mason, a retired physician and health and environmental campaigner, is one of hundreds of gutsy go-to thinkers who is pulling away the blinders and cutting through the PR spin. In addition, the Institute for Responsible Technology claims that cancers caused by Roundup include non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, bone cancer, colon cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, melanoma, pancreatic cancer and thyroid cancer.
… cascading scientific evidence linking glyphosate to a constellation of other injuries that have become prevalent since its introduction, including obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, autism, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease, brain, breast and prostate cancer, miscarriage, birth defects and declining sperm counts. Strong science suggests glyphosate is the culprit in the exploding epidemics of celiac disease, colitis, gluten sensitivities, diabetes and non-alcoholic liver cancer which, for the first time, is attacking children as young as 10.
All these injuries and diseases are covered here, at Hormones Matter.
As a capstone to this piece, it is both a testament to Rachel Carson’s work, Silent Spring, as she is considered the mother of the environmental movement. She was vilified, and her book on poisons, Silent Spring, is poetic, clear, and was published in 1962, after four years of work writing it ( her lifetime of thinking and honoring nature, that is). She was one of thousands studying at the time the world’s most dangerous pesticide, DDT.
Appearing on a CBS documentary about Silent Spring shortly before her death from breast cancer in 1964, she remarked, “Man’s attitude toward nature is today critically important simply because we have now acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature. But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself? [We are] challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves.”
Unlike most pesticides at the time, whose effectiveness was supposedly limited to destroying one or two types of insects (though we now know that is basically not true), DDT was capable of killing hundreds of different kinds at once.
Nature writer Edwin Way Teale, warned, “A spray as indiscriminate as DDT can upset the economy of nature as much as a revolution upsets social economy. Ninety percent of all insects are good, and if they are killed, things go out of kilter right away.”
More than 75 years after Way Teale’s warnings, we are seeing the devastating effects again of DDT. On the ocean floor, near Catalina Island. Leaving Hormones Matter readers with yet another huge gash in their hearts concerning the ill effects of this industrialized agriculture has on future generations, of both Homo Sapiens and all the other species, is possibly yet another trigger warning when reading my articles. However, this is the fabric of my own cloth looking at this all as a systems thinker.
High concentrations of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, an insecticide that was widely used for pest control during the 1940s and 1950s) were previously detected in ocean sediments between the Los Angeles coast and Catalina Island, in 2011 and 2013. At the time, scientists who searched the seafloor in the area identified 60 barrels (possibly containing DDT or other waste) and found DDT contamination in sediments, but the full extent of the area’s contamination was unknown.
Now, a research expedition presents a clearer picture of the deep-sea dump site. Their findings reveal a stretch of ocean bottom studded with at least 27,000 industrial waste barrels — and possibly as many as 100,000, researchers with Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California said in a statement. Live Science.
In a short video on the empirediaries.com YouTube channel, a protesting farmer camped near Delhi says that during lockdown and times of crisis farmers are treated like “gods”, but when they ask for their rights, they are smeared and labelled as “terrorists”.
He, along with thousands of other farmers, are mobilising against three important pieces of farm legislation that were recently forced through parliament. To all intents and purposes, these laws sound a neoliberal death knell for most of India’s cultivators and its small farms, the backbone of the nation’s food production.
The farmer says:
Corporates invested in Modi before the election and brought him to power. He has sold out and is an agent of Ambani and Adani. He is unable to repeal the bills because his owners will scold him. He is trapped. But we are not backing down either.
He then asks whether ministers know how many seeds are needed to grow wheat on an acre of land:
We farmers know. They made these farm laws sitting in air-conditioned rooms. And they are teaching us the benefits!
While the corporations that will move in on the sector due to the legislation will initially pay good money for crops, once the public sector markets (mandis) are gone, the farmer says they will become the only buyers and will beat prices down.
He asks why, in other sectors, do sellers get to put price tags on their products but not farmers:
Why can’t farmers put minimum prices on the crops we produce? A law must be brought to guarantee MSP [minimum support prices]. Whoever buys below MSP must be punished by law.
The recent agriculture legislation represents the final pieces of a 30-year-old plan which will benefit a handful of billionaires in the US and in India. It means the livelihoods of hundreds of millions (the majority of the population) who still (directly or indirectly) rely on agriculture for a living are to be sacrificed at the behest of these elite interests.
Consider that much of the UK’s wealth came from sucking $45 trillion from India alone according to renowned economist Utsa Patnaik. Britain grew rich by underdeveloping India. What amounts to little more than modern-day East India-type corporations are now in the process of helping themselves to the country’s most valuable asset – agriculture.
According to the World Bank’s lending report, based on data compiled up to 2015, India was easily the largest recipient of its loans in the history of the institution. The World Bank thus exerts a certain hold over India: on the back of India’s foreign exchange crisis in the 1990s, the IMF and World Bank wanted India to shift hundreds of millions out of agriculture.
In return for up to more than $120 billion in loans at the time, India was directed to dismantle its state-owned seed supply system, reduce subsidies, run down public agriculture institutions and offer incentives for the growing of cash crops to earn foreign exchange.
The plan involves shifting at least 400 million from the countryside into cities.
Indian business giants such as Reliance and Adani are major recipients of foreign investment, as we have seen in sectors such as telecom, retail, and energy. At the same time, multinational corporations and other financial investors in the sectors of agriculture, logistics and retail are also setting up their own operations in India. Multinational trading corporations dominate global trade in agricultural commodities. For all these reasons, international capital has a major stake in the restructuring of India’s agriculture… The opening of India’s agriculture and food economy to foreign investors and global agribusinesses is a longstanding project of the imperialist countries.”
The article provides details of a 1991 World Bank memorandum which set out the programme for India. It adds:
At the time, India was still in its foreign exchange crisis of 1990-91 and had just submitted itself to an IMF-monitored ‘structural adjustment’ programme. Thus, India’s July 1991 budget marked the fateful start of India’s neoliberal era.
It states that now the Modi government is dramatically advancing the implementation of the above programme, using the Covid-19 crisis as cover: the dismantling of the public procurement and distribution of food is to be implemented by the three agriculture-related acts passed by parliament.
The drive is to drastically dilute the role of the public sector in agriculture, reducing it to a facilitator of private capital and leading to the entrenchment of industrial farming and the replacement of small-scale farms. The norm will be industrial (GMO) commodity-crop agriculture suited to the needs of the likes of Cargill, Archer Daniels Midlands, Louis Dreyfus, Bunge and India’s retail and agribusiness giants as well as the global agritech, seed and agrochemical corporations. It could result in hundreds of millions of former rural dwellers without any work given that India is heading (has already reached) jobless growth.
As a result of the ongoing programme, more than 300,000 farmers in India have taken their lives since 1997 and many more are experiencing economic distress or have left farming as a result of debt, a shift to cash crops and economic liberalisation. The number of cultivators in India declined from 166 million to 146 million between 2004 and 2011. Some 6,700 left farming each day. Between 2015 and 2022, the number of cultivators is likely to decrease to around 127 million.
We have seen the running down of the sector for decades, spiraling input costs, withdrawal of government assistance and the impacts of cheap, subsidised imports which depress farmers’ incomes.
Take the cultivation of pulses, for instance. According to a report in the Indian Express (September 2017), pulses production increased by 40% during the previous 12 months (a year of record production). At the same time, however, imports also rose resulting in black gram selling at 4,000 rupees per quintal (much less than during the previous 12 months). This effectively pushed down prices thereby reducing farmers already meagre incomes.
We have already witnessed a running down of the indigenous edible oils sector thanks to Indonesian palm oil imports (which benefits Cargill) on the back of World Bank pressure to reduce tariffs (India was virtually self-sufficient in edible oils in the 1990s but now faces increasing import costs).
The pressure from the richer nations for the Indian government to further reduce support given to farmers and open up to imports and export-oriented ‘free market’ trade is based on nothing but hypocrisy.
On the ‘Down to Earth’ website in late 2017, it was stated some 3.2 million people were engaged in agriculture in the US in 2015. The US government provided them each with a subsidy of $7,860 on average. Japan provides a subsidy of $14,136 and New Zealand $2,623 to its farmers. In 2015, a British farmer earned $2,800 and $37,000 was added through subsidies. The Indian government provides on average a subsidy of $873 to farmers. However, between 2012 and 2014, India reduced the subsidy on agriculture and food security by $3 billion.
According to policy analyst Devinder Sharma subsidies provided to US wheat and rice farmers are more than the market worth of these two crops. He also notes that, per day, each cow in Europe receives subsidy worth more than an Indian farmer’s daily income.
The Indian farmer simply cannot compete with this. The World Bank, World Trade Organisation and the IMF have effectively served to undermine the indigenous farm sector in India. The long-term goal has been to displace the peasantry and consolidate a corporate-controlled model.
And now, by reducing public sector buffer stocks and introducing corporate-dictated contract farming and full-scale neoliberal marketisation for the sale and procurement of produce, India will be sacrificing its farmers and its own food security for the benefit of a handful of billionaires.
Contingent on World Bank aid to be given to poorer countries in the wake of coronavirus lockdowns, agrifood conglomerates will aim to further expand their influence. These firms have been integral to the consolidation of a global food regime that has emerged in recent decades based on chemical- and proprietary-input-dependent agriculture which incurs massive externalised social, environmental and health costs.
Reliance on commodity monocropping for global markets, long supply chains and dependency on external inputs for cultivation make the food system vulnerable to shocks, whether resulting from public health scares, oil price spikes (the global food system is fossil-fuel dependent) or conflict and war. An increasing number of countries are recognising the need to respond by becoming more food self-sufficient, preferably by securing control over their own food and reducing supply chain lengths.
The various coronavirus lockdowns have disrupted many transport and production activities, exposing the weaknesses of the food system. If the current situation tells us anything, it is that structural solutions are needed to transform food production, not further strengthen the status quo.
During the Disappearing World Forum in 2013, author Arundhati Roy was asked by an audience member, what is the alternative to the mainstream development narrative?
She responded by saying:
You can ask the question of alternatives in two ways. One way is a genuine way and the other is a sort of aggressive way. And the genuine way would take into account that today we are where we are because there has been a series of decisions taken about everything; whether it’s about hybrid seeds, whether it’s about big dams. Whatever it’s about, every time there’s a decision that has been taken, there’s always been an alternative… There was an alternative to every way you chose to develop. When you have a system that’s been created with a layer – with thousands of decisions – and you want me now to tell you an alternative in one sentence, it isn’t possible.
In a world where the ‘good life’ is associated with GDP growth, endless consumption and increasing urbanisation, there is a price to be paid in terms of environmental destruction, devastating resource conflicts, population displacements, a destructive arrogance that sees humans apart from and above nature and the degradation of our most fundamental need – food and our ability to produce it.
The solution cannot be expressed in one sentence, but a vital – perhaps central – component of ‘the alternative’ involves prioritising an agrarian-centric development paradigm based on a wide-ranging shift to agroecology. The agroecological paradigm is not just about growing food; it involves reimagining our relationship with nature and with each other and the type of actions and activities that give meaning to life.
In 2014, UN special rapporteur Olivier De Schutter’s report concluded that by applying agroecological principles to democratically controlled agricultural systems we can help to put an end to food crises and poverty challenges. He argued that agroecological approaches could tackle food needs in critical regions and could double food production in 10 years.
The 2009 IAASTD peer-reviewed report, produced by 400 scientists and supported by 60 countries, recommended agroecology to maintain and increase the productivity of global agriculture. And the recent UN FAO High Level Panel of Experts concluded that agroecology provides greatly improved food security and nutritional, gender, environmental and yield benefits compared to industrial agriculture.
Agroecology is based on traditional knowledge and modern agricultural research, utilising elements of contemporary ecology, soil biology and the biological control of pests. This system employs sound ecological management by using on-farm solutions to manage pests and disease without the use of agrochemicals and corporate seeds. It outperforms the prevailing industrial food system in terms of diversity of food output, nutrition per acre, soil health, water table stability and climate resilience.
Academic Raj Patel outlines some of the basic practices of agroecology by saying that nitrogen-fixing beans are grown instead of using inorganic fertilizer, flowers are used to attract beneficial insects to manage pests and weeds are crowded out with more intensive planting. The result is a sophisticated polyculture: many crops are produced simultaneously, instead of just one.
By creating securely paid labour-intensive agricultural work in both richer and poorer countries, it can address the interrelated links between labour offshoring by rich countries and the removal of rural populations elsewhere who end up in sweat shops to carry out offshored jobs: the two-pronged process of neoliberal, globalised capitalism that has hollowed out the economies of the US and UK and which is displacing existing indigenous food production systems and undermining the rural infrastructure in places like India.
Agroecology is based on food sovereignty, which encompasses the right to healthy and culturally appropriate food and the right of people to define their own food and agriculture systems. ‘Culturally appropriate’ is a nod to the foods people have traditionally produced and eaten as well as the associated socially embedded practices which underpin community and a sense of communality. But it goes beyond that.
Modern food system
People have a deep microbiological connection to soils, food processing practices and fermentation processes which affect the gut microbiome – up to six pounds of bacteria, viruses and microbes akin to human soil. And as with actual soil, the microbiome can become degraded according to what we ingest (or fail to ingest). Many nerve endings from major organs are located in the gut and the microbiome effectively nourishes them. There is ongoing research taking place into how the microbiome is disrupted by the modern globalised food production/processing system and the chemical bombardment it is subjected to.
Capitalism colonises (and degrades) all aspects of life but is colonising the very essence of our being – even on a physiological level. With their agrochemicals and food additives, powerful companies are attacking this ‘soil’ and with it the human body. As soon as agri-food corporations undermined the capacity for eating locally grown, traditionally processed food, cultivated in healthy soils and began imposing long-line supply chains and food subjected to chemical-laden cultivation and processing activities, we not only lost our cultural connections to food production and the seasons, but we also lost our deep-rooted microbiological connection with our localities. Corporate chemicals and seeds and global food chains dominated by the likes of Monsanto (now Bayer), Nestle and Cargill took over.
Aside from affecting the functioning of major organs, neurotransmitters in the gut affect our moods and thinking. Alterations in the composition of the gut microbiome have been implicated in a wide range of neurological and psychiatric conditions, including autism, chronic pain, depression and Parkinson’s Disease. In addition, increasing levels of obesity are associated with low bacterial richness in the gut. Indeed, it has been noted that tribes not exposed to the modern food system have richer microbiomes.
To ensure genuine food security and good health, humanity must transition to a notion of food sovereignty based on optimal self-sufficiency, agroecological principles and local ownership and stewardship of common resources – land, water, soil, seeds, etc.
However, what we are seeing is a trend towards genetically engineered and biosynthetic lab-based food controlled by corporations. The billionaire class who are pushing this agenda think they can own nature and all humans and can control both. As part of an economic, cultural and social ‘great reset’, they seek to impose their cold dystopian vision that wants to eradicate thousands of years of culture, tradition and farming practices virtually overnight.
Consider that many of the ancient rituals and celebrations of our forebears were built around stories and myths that helped them come to terms with some of the most basic issues of existence, from death to rebirth and fertility. These culturally embedded beliefs and practices served to sanctify their practical relationship with nature and its role in sustaining human life.
As agriculture became key to human survival, the planting and harvesting of crops and other seasonal activities associated with food production were central to these customs. Freyfaxi marks the beginning of the harvest in Norse paganism, for example, while Lammas or Lughnasadh is the celebration of the first harvest/grain harvest in Paganism.
Humans celebrated nature and the life it gave birth to. Ancient beliefs and rituals were imbued with hope and renewal and people had a necessary and immediate relationship with the sun, seeds, animals, wind, fire, soil and rain and the changing seasons that nourished and brought life. In addition to our physiological connection, our cultural and social relationships with agrarian production and associated deities had a sound practical base.
We need look no further than India to appreciate the important relationship between culture, agriculture and ecology, not least the vital importance of the monsoon and seasonal planting and harvesting. Rural-based beliefs and rituals steeped in nature persist, even among urban Indians. These are bound to traditional knowledge systems where livelihoods, the seasons, food, cooking, processing, seed exchange, healthcare and the passing on of knowledge are all inter-related and form the essence of cultural diversity within India itself.
Although the industrial age resulted in a diminution of the connection between food and the natural environment as people moved to cities, traditional ‘food cultures’ – the practices, attitudes and beliefs surrounding the production, distribution and consumption of food – still thrive and highlight our ongoing connection to agriculture and nature.
If we go back to the 1950s, it is interesting to note Union Carbide’s corporate narrative based on a series of images that depicted the company as a ‘hand of god’ coming out of the sky to ‘solve’ some of the issues facing humanity. One of the most famous images is of the hand pouring the firm’s agrochemicals on Indian soils as if traditional farming practices were somehow ‘backward’.
Despite well-publicised claims to the contrary, this chemical-driven approach did not lead to higher food production according to the paper “New Histories of the Green Revolution” written by Prof Glenn Stone. However, it has had long-term devastating ecological, social and economic consequences as we saw in Vandana Shiva’s book The Violence of the Green Revolution and Bhaskar Save’s now famous and highly insightful open letter to Indian officials.
In the book Food and Cultural Studies’ (Bob Ashley et al), we see how, some years ago, a Coca Cola TV ad campaign sold its product to an audience which associated modernity with a sugary drink and depicted ancient Aboriginal beliefs as harmful, ignorant and outdated. Coke and not rain became the giver of life to the parched. This type of ideology forms part of a wider strategy to discredit traditional cultures and portray them as being deficient and in need of assistance from ‘god-like’ corporations.
What we are seeing in 2020, is an acceleration of such processes. In terms of food and agriculture, traditional farming in places like India will be under increasing pressure from the big-tech giants and agribusiness to open up to lab-grown food, GMOs, genetically engineered soil microbes, data harvesting tools and drones and other ‘disruptive’ technologies.
This vision includes farmerless farms being manned by driverless machines, monitored by drones and doused with chemicals to produce commodity crops from patented GM seeds for industrial ‘biomatter’ to be processed and constituted into something resembling food. What will happen to the farmers?
Post-COVID, the World Bank talks about helping countries get back on track in return for structural reforms. Are tens of millions of smallholder farmers to be enticed from their land in return for individual debt relief and universal basic income? The displacement of these farmers and the subsequent destruction of rural communities and their cultures was something the Gates Foundation once called for and cynically termed “land mobility”.
Cut through the euphemisms and it is clear that Bill Gates – and the other incredibly rich individuals behind the great reset with their ‘white saviour’ mindset – is an old-fashioned colonialist who supports the time-honoured dispossessive strategies of imperialism, whether this involves mining, appropriating and commodifying farmer knowledge, accelerating the transfer of research and seeds to corporations or facilitating intellectual property piracy and seed monopolies created through IP laws and seed regulations.
In India – still an agrarian-based society – will the land of these already (prior to COVID) heavily indebted farmers then be handed over to the tech giants, the financial institutions and global agribusiness to churn out their high-tech industrial sludge?
With the link completely severed between food production, nature and culturally embedded beliefs that give meaning and expression to life, we will be left with the individual, isolated human who exists on lab-based food, who is reliant on income from the state and who is stripped of satisfying productive endeavour and genuine self-fulfilment.
Technocratic meddling has already destroyed or undermined cultural diversity, meaningful social connections and agrarian ecosystems that draw on centuries of traditional knowledge and are increasingly recognised as valid approaches to secure food security, as outlined, for example, in the 2017 article “Food Security and Traditional Knowledge in India” in the Journal of South Asian Studies.
Such a pity that prominent commentators like George Monbiot, who writes for the UK’s Guardian newspaper, seems fully on board with this ‘great reset’. In his 2020 article ‘Lab-grown food will soon destroy farming – and save the planet’, he sees farmerless farms and ‘fake’ food produced in giant industrial factories from microbes as a good thing.
The notion that high-tech ‘farm free’ lab food will save the planet is simply a continuation of the same mechanistic mindset which has brought us to where we are today – the idea that we are separate from and outside of nature… it is the basis of industrial agriculture which has destroyed the planet, farmers livelihoods and our health.
Turning ‘water into food’ is an echo from the times of the second world war, when it was claimed that fossil-fuel-based chemical fertilisers would produce ‘Bread from Air’. Instead we have dead zones in the ocean, greenhouse gases – including nitrous oxide which is 300 times more damaging to the environment than CO2 – and desertified soils and land. We are part of nature, not separate from and outside of nature. Food is what connects us to the earth, its diverse beings, including the forests around us — through the trillions of microorganisms that are in our gut microbiome and which keep our bodies healthy, both inside and out.
As an environmentalist, Monbiot supports lab-based food because he only sees a distorted method of industrial farming; he is blind to agroecological methods which do not have the disastrous environmental consequences of chemical-dependent industrial agriculture. Monbiot’s ‘solution’ is to replace one model of corporate controlled farming with another, thereby robbing us of our connection to the land, to each other and making us wholly dependent on profiteering, unscrupulous interests that have no time for concepts like food democracy or food sovereignty.
Moreover, certain lab-engineered ‘food’ will require biomatter in the form of commodity crops. This in itself raises issues related to the colonisation of land in faraway countries and the implications for food security there. We may look no further to see the adverse health, social and environmental impacts of pesticide-dependent GMO seed monocropping in Argentina as it produces soy for the global market, not least for animal feed in Europe.
Instead of pandering to the needs of corporations, prominent commentators would do better by getting behind initiatives like the anti-imperialist Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology, produced by Nyeleni in 2015. It argues for building grass-root local food systems that create new rural-urban links, based on genuine agroecological food production. It adds that agroecology requires local producers and communities to challenge and transform structures of power in society, not least by putting the control of seeds, biodiversity, land and territories, waters, knowledge, culture and the commons in the hands of those who feed the world.
It would mean that what ends up in our food and how it is grown is determined by the public good and not powerful private interests driven by patents, control and commercial gain and the compulsion to subjugate farmers, consumers and entire regions to their global supply chains and questionable products (whether unhealthy food or proprietary pesticides and seeds). For consumers, the public good includes more diverse diets leading to better nutrition and enhanced immunity when faced with any future pandemic.
Across the world, decentralised and local community-owned food systems based on short(er) food supply chains that can cope with future shocks are now needed more than ever. But there are major obstacles given the power of agrifood concerns whose business models are based on industrial farming and global chains with all the devastating consequences this entails.
Following the devastation caused by coronavirus-related lockdowns, World Bank Group President David Malpass has stated that poorer countries will be ‘helped’ to get back on their feet – on the condition that further neoliberal reforms and the undermining of public services are implemented and become further embedded.
He says that countries will need to implement structural reforms to help shorten the time to recovery and create confidence that the recovery can be strong:
For those countries that have excessive regulations, subsidies, licensing regimes, trade protection or litigiousness as obstacles, we will work with them to foster markets, choice and faster growth prospects during the recovery.
For agriculture, this means the further opening of markets to benefit the richer nations. What journalists like George Monbiot fail to acknowledge is that emerging technology in agriculture (AI drones, gene-edited crops, synthetic food, etc) is first and foremost an instrument of corporate power. Indeed, agriculture has for a long time been central to US foreign policy to boost the bottom line of its agribusiness interests and their control over the global food chain.
It is by agriculture and control of the food supply that American diplomacy has been able to control most of the Third World. The World Bank’s geopolitical lending strategy has been to turn countries into food deficit areas by convincing them to grow cash crops – plantation export crops – not to feed themselves with their own food crops.
It is naïve to suggest that in the brave new world of farmerless farms and lab-based food, things would be different. In the face of economic crisis and stagnation at home, exacerbated by COVID lockdowns and restrictions, whether through new technologies or older Green Revolution methods, Western agricapital will seek to further entrench its position across the globe.
The most popular poster for the Green New Deal reveals startling assumptions.
Looking at it as a whole, ignoring the details for now, the poster exhibits a sense of movement. The train is the focal point and duplicates similar depiction of trains, for example, in vintage French posters. These huge machines, emblematic of the Modern Age, are a graphic cliché. Similar renditions are found in posters all over Europe and the United States.
The vehicle bridge reinforces the sense of speed and upward thrust. The city-scape, with its high-rises elevated in the distance, recalls the notion of “A City upon a Hill,” a phrase from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount that came to refer to America’s global role as a refuge and a source of hope in an otherwise hopeless world. A questionable proposition these days.
There are predictable elements in the poster like the wind turbines and the birds, who, thankfully, have managed to survive the rotating blades. And the lone fish suspended in air influenced, we imagine, by the graphic thrust to contribute in its modest way to the overall upward movement. The stylized trees are odd in a poster meant to emphasize environmental issues. Another disturbing element is the rolling agricultural field extending to the horizon that recalls corporate agriculture. Maybe the traditional barn is meant to mitigate the impression that these fields are indeed politically incorrect. However, the most incomprehensible portion of the poster is the highway flyover, replete with cars and a truck. Are we to believe that these are electric vehicles? And where are they rushing to?
Taken as a whole the poster shouts Progress. This is most obvious when we assume that while the train may be symbolic of public transportation, most often when selling the GND advocates despair that the US still has no bullet trains. Is this the intention of the Green New Deal – bullet trains as Green Progress? A future world, in other words, not unlike the one we suffer from now, but faster. And sustainable, whatever that means. Which is the problem. It means nothing.
The trajectory of Green Progress hurtles us along a track where resources will be consumed to maintain a style of life, albeit “green,” that we instead need to abandon. Why, for example, do we need bullet trains? Why not direct a fraction of the money needed to build bullet trains and refurbish track and rolling stock of the already-in-place Amtrak lines? And instead of speed the goal, have an affordable, pleasurable experience be the purpose for train travel.
Unfortunately, slow options for travel run against the century-long indoctrination that progress is defined by speed. Speed is an addiction, or at least a state of mind, that no one expected to be questioned until the worldwide impositions of the COVID-19 lockdowns. Politicians in a panic wrenched the gears of Capital to a full stop. Interestingly enough, after the public’s initial shock of the restrictions receded, the press reported that, despite the added stress of families trying to balance work at home, children’s education, and safe health practices, people actually enjoyed the decompression from their previous frantic life-styles.
Imagine the circumstances where, on the contrary, we leisurely experience a slower pace, not one forced upon us. The simple fact is that integral to a pleasurable life is slowing down our lives. Besides it is widely recognized to be good for the environment—less commuting and fewer planes brought us good air. Well, good air when the wind is blowing the smoke from wildfires elsewhere.
Progress connotes speed, but also shopping—bigger and faster cars, but also larger homes, TV screens, and waist-lines. The GND is essentially an industrial policy to support corporate profits through public/private schemes. Ostensibly this policy creates jobs and is tied to a Jobs Guarantee as a foundational element of the new Liberal Green Order (LGO).
No one doubts that all variety of work needs to be done to repair the deterioration of the environment due to manufacturing, extractive industries, and industrial agriculture. But do we need the federal government to massively hire a new bureaucracy to gear up for “green” jobs, which in turn will spawn bureaucracies in every state, region, and city to filter the largess from D.C.?
To bypass this so-called “strong state,” a grant directly to every resident sufficient to lead a comfortable life, but not one of excess, opens the possibility of people abandoning their bullshit jobs to do socially necessary work. No other proposal most clearly addresses the issue of racial and economic justice. With the guarantee of an income to meet essential needs (and with universal healthcare established, besides a few other social benefits enjoyed by the citizens of other countries), the restraints of wage-slavery are removed to make available a variety of social activity. For instance, the possibility of genuine solidarity was manifest in France last Spring, when COVID-19 restrictions prohibited entry of seasonal agricultural workers, forcing the government to establish a website for volunteers to sign up to help the farmers with the harvest. More than 200.000 signed up immediately.
Of course, not all environmental restoration need be done by volunteers for little or no pay. Subsidies distributed by local authorities should be available for long term commitments.
The point here is to respond to several catastrophes that are hitting us simultaneously by galvanizing the citizenry to take responsibility for addressing them. This sounds like a formidable task, if not foolhardy and unachievable. The advocates of the GND refer to two programs from the FDR era that were directed from Washington — the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps, as successful examples of popular mobilizations.
The difference between that era and ours is that many more citizens, beyond the unemployed, need to be enrolled in socially necessary projects. The GND highlights a few, for instance, installing solar panels, developing cabled internet access to rural areas, constructing infrastructure for electric transit, and forest restoration. We don’t hear, though, that our food system is on the verge of collapse and to maintain a healthy (the operative word) supply of nutrition industrial agriculture must be abolished for ruining the soil and producing garbage to eat. If local small scale farms and ranches are to be developed, it will take millions of people across the country to implement the task. Chris Smaje, a British sociologist-turned-farmer, delves into the subject in his new book A Small Farm Future.
Partisans of the GND, when they are not harking back to FDR’s work programs, often compare the calamity ahead of us to the massive military buildup for WWII, but this is a fallacious analogy. Then relatively direct commands – build tanks, ships, guns – were assigned to corporate bosses who knew what to do. Our situation today doesn’t resemble a war-time economy. This is not to discount the patriotism of millions to civilians who entered the factories and shipyards (including many women who promptly lost their industrial status when the troops returned).
What we face is a country-wide diversity of tasks that no Captains of Industry (if any can be found) are equipped to undertake. And instead of patriotism driving the population to participate, an ecological internationalism seems more appropriate as current motivation. An internationalism, however, that’s grounded on democratic participation at the local level — all over world. The solidarity necessary to transform a profit-driven economy arises from local actions, for instance, to choose one example, the rise of Mutual Aid groups across the world to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 lockdowns. People participate in these activities because they are invested in fostering a good life for themselves and their neighbors. There’s no place for Progress here. Or, rather, we need to define progress as the avoidance of imminent catastrophes in pursuit of a life of abundant joy.
The World Wildlife Foundation, in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London, recently issued an eye-popping description of the forces of humanity versus life in nature, the Living Planet Report 2020, but the report should really be entitled the Dying Planet Report 2020 because that’s what’s happening in the real world. Not much remains alive.
The report, released September 10th, describes how the over-exploitation of ecological resources by humanity from 1970 to 2016 has contributed to a 68% plunge in wild vertebrate populations, inclusive of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish.
The report offers a fix-it: “Bending the Curve Initiative,” described in more detail to follow. The causes of collapse are found in human recklessness and/or neglect of ecosystems. It’s partially fixable (maybe) but don’t hold your breath.
What if stocks plunged 68%? What then? Why, of course, that is an all-hands-on-deck panic scenario with the Federal Reserve Bank repeatedly pressing “a white hot printing press button,” hopefully, avoiding destructive deflationary forces looming in the background. But, an astounding jaw-dropping 68% loss of vertebrates doesn’t seem to budge the panic needle nearly enough to count.
Of special note, according to the Report, tropical sub-regions were clobbered, hit hard with 94% loss of vertebrate life, which is essentially total extinction. For comparison purposes, the worst extinction event in history, the Permian-Triassic, aka: the Great Dying, of 252 million years ago took down 96% of marine life and has been classified as “global annihilation.”
According to the Report, on a worldwide basis, two-thirds (2/3rds) of wild vertebrate life has vanished in only 46 years or within one-half a human lifetime. That is mind-boggling, and it is indicative of misguided mindlessness, prompting a query of what the next 46 years will bring. What remains is an operative question.
According to the report: “Until 1970, humanity’s Ecological Footprint was smaller than the Earth’s rate of regeneration. To feed and fuel our 21st century, we are overusing the Earth’s biocapacity by at least 56%.” (Report, page 6) Meaning, we’ve gone from equilibrium to a huge deficit of 50% in less than 50 years. Putting it mildly, that’s terrifying!
As stated in the Report, we’re effectively using and abusing and trampling the equivalence of one and one-half planets. How long does that last? The experience of the past 46 years provides an answer, which is: Not much longer.
The denuding, destructing of natural biodiversity is almost beyond description, certainly beyond human comprehension, which may be a big part of the problem of recognition. Still, by and large, people read the World Wildlife Foundation report and continue on with business as usual. This lackadaisical behavior by the public has been ongoing for decades and not likely to end anytime soon. Therefore, an eureka moment of radical change in farming practices and ecosystem husbandry is almost too much to wish for after years and years, of preaching by environmentalists about the ills associated with the anthropogenic growth machine.
In all, with ever-faster approaching finality, and worldwide failure to act to save the planet, the answer may be that people must learn to adapt to a deteriorating world.
More to the point, the Report is “an extermination report.” Consider the opening sentence: “At a time when the world is reeling from the deepest global disruption and health crisis of a lifetime, this year’s Living Planet Report provides unequivocal and alarming evidence that nature is unraveling and that our planet is flashing red warning signs of vital natural systems failure.” (Report, page 4)
Accordingly, unequivocally “nature is unraveling.” And, the planet is “flashing red warning signs of vital natural systems failure.”
Why repeat that disheartening info? Simply put, it demands repeating over and over again. Yes, “nature is unraveling.” And, by all indications, time is short as “flashing red warning signs” are crying for help. But, will it happen? Or, does biz as usual rattle onwards towards total extinction of life way ahead of anybody’s best guess, which, based upon how rapidly the forces of the anthropocene are gobbling up the countryside, could be within current lifetimes. But, honestly, who knows when?
Still, with great hope but not enough fanfare, the Report proposes a new research initiative called “Bending the Curve Initiative” to reverse biodiversity loss via (1) unprecedented conservation measures and (2) a total remake of food production techniques.
One of the upshots of the breakdown in nature is the issue of “adequate food for humanity.” Accordingly: “Where and how we produce food is one of the biggest human-caused threats to nature and to our ecosystems, making the transformation of our global food system more important than ever.”
Which implies the end of rainforests obliteration, the end of industrial farming, full stop, eliminating mono-crop farming, and “stopping dead in its tracks” the use of toxic, deadly insecticides, which kill crucial life-originating ecosystems by bucketloads, as for example, 75% loss of flying insects over 27 years in nature reserves in portions of Europe.1
What kills 75% of flying insects?
Additionally, the Report recognizes the necessity of “transformation of the prevailing economic system.” Meaning, a transformation away from the radical infinite growth hormones that are attached to the world’s lowest offshore wages and lowest offshore regulations as an outgrowth of neoliberalism, which is rapidly destroying the world. It’s a terminal illness that’s fully recognized around the world as “progress.” But, its unrelenting disregard for the health of ecosystems and for workers’ rights makes it a serial killer.
The wonderful world of nature is not part of the neoliberal capitalistic formula for success. In fact, nature, with its life-sourcing ecosystems, is treated like an adversary or like one more prop to use and abuse on the way to infinite progress. Really?
The Report alerts to the dangers of a “business as usual world,” an epithet that is also found throughout climate change literature. These warnings of impending loss of ecosystems, and by extension survival of Homo sapiens, depict a biosphere on a hot seat never before seen throughout human history. In fact, there is no time in recorded history that compares to the dangers immediately ahead. The most common watchword used by scientists is “unprecedented.” The change happens so rapidly, so powerfully. It’s unprecedented.
Meanwhile, people are shielded from the complexities, and heartaches, of collapsing ecosystems in today’s world by the artificiality of living a life of steel, glass, wood, cement, as the surrounding world collapses in a virtual sea of untested chemicals.
In the end, humans are the last vertebrates on the planet to directly feel and experience the impact of climate change and ecosystems collapsing. All of the other vertebrates are first in line. Maybe that’s for the best.
Still, how many more 68% plunges in wild vertebrate populations can civilized society handle and remain sane and well fed?
Save Our Planet Save Our Future, Belgium, January 31, 2019 (Photo: EuroNews/Twitter)
This is the fourth newsletter in our series on the 2020s as a decade of transformation See Remaking International Relations, Remaking the Economy for the People, and Remaking Healthcare. In addition to COVID-19 and the economic collapse, multiple crises are reaching a peak and the world is changing as a result. How the world changes will be determined in some part by our actions. This week, we look at what can be done to bring our societies into balance with nature.
Biologist Elisabet Sahtouris describes an alternative theory of evolution to Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” in her book, “Earthdance: Living Systems in Evolution.” Sahtouris finds that evolution is cyclical, a spiral instead of linear. She describes how when a new species arises, it upsets the ecological equilibrium as it comes into competition with other species over habitat. The task of that species in the adolescent phase of its evolution is to find its niche in a way that is cooperative with other species. If it fails, it goes extinct.
The human species is in its adolescent phase, and now it is time to recognize our mistakes and change our behaviors. Sahtouris writes:
Like any adolescent who is suddenly aware of having created a very real life crisis, our species faces a choice — the choice between pursuing our dangerous course to disaster or stopping and trying to find mature solutions to our crises. This choice point is the brink of maturity — the point at which we must decide whether to continue our suicidal course or turn from it to responsible maturity. Are we going to continue our disastrously competitive economics, our ravaging conversion of our natural supply base into things, our pollution of basic soils, waters and atmosphere in the process? Or will we change the way we see life — our worldview, our self-image, our goals, and our behavior — in accord with our new knowledge of living nature in evolution?
We’re in for a rough patch
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic occurred quickly. The first documented cases occurred in Wuhan, China in late December. The first reported case outside of China occurred two weeks later in Thailand. At that point, it was also discovered that human-to-human transmission of the virus could occur. One week later, the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the United States. Within a month, 18 countries besides China had infections. By early March, there were 500 cases in the United States impacting 30 states plus the District of Columbia. And within another month, the number of cases in the US grew one thousand-fold to 500,000, with 20,000 deaths. These are only the ones we know about. It is certain that the number of cases in the US is being undercounted, perhaps by a factor of ten, as are deaths.
Within a matter of months, the pandemic has had wide-ranging and devastating impacts. There are nearly two million cases in 210 countries. Over 100,000 people have died. Health care systems are being overwhelmed. The pandemic triggered a global recession, which the world was on course to experience at some point soon, and this was before the economy started shutting down.
Nearly 17 million people in the US became unemployed in the last three weeks. This is also likely an underestimate as unemployment offices are overwhelmed. And a majority of workers in the fields of construction, manufacturing, and transportation, and in the service sectors are unable to meet their basic needs. Millions are losing their health insurance when they need it most.
As abruptly as the pandemic and global economic collapse have changed our lives, scientists predict another rapid disruption in our lives is on the horizon. A new study published in Nature predicts ecosystem collapse could start occurring within the next decade. Researchers found that many species are already living near the limits of the conditions they require to survive. As the planet heats up, many species will reach their limit simultaneously and there will be mass die-offs.
As global warming heats their habitat to the point that it is intolerable, many species have no place to go. Some will go extinct, with a domino effect that affects scores of other species. If it gets too hot for bumblebees, for example, it affects the reproduction of plants. If it gets too warm for insects and reptiles, it affects food supplies for birds and mammals.
When ecosystems start collapsing abruptly, we will face similar situations as we are facing today with the twin COVID-19 pandemic and global recession. We will be forced to adapt to a new reality, but this time it will be a reality that threatens the food supply in addition to increasing the risk of disease. Just as health professionals warned us for years that we were unprepared for an inevitable pandemic, climate scientists are warning us of ecosystem collapse. We can mitigate the crisis, but that is only going to happen if we take the initiative to make it happen.
COVID-19 will change the world (From News Karnataka)
We’re all connected and it’s all connected
Before we start looking at solutions, we must understand the roots of the crises we face. It is by changing systems at the root level that we will bring about the transformation we need. Of course, this won’t be an in-depth examination. That is beyond the scope of a newsletter.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we are a connected global community. Diseases, greenhouse gases, and capital are not restricted by borders. What we do in one place, impacts another. To stop the pandemic, we must control the infection everywhere or there will always be a repository perpetuating it and putting any of us at risk. International cooperation and solidarity are required to make the transition we need.
The same is true with the climate crisis and the globalized neoliberal economy. They are connected to each other and to our health. It is the globalized neoliberal financial system that has driven the race to the bottom. Capital moves freely about the world in search of the cheapest labor and resources. Many governments, especially those in the global south, compete with each other to loosen regulations that protect workers and the environment to attract capital to their countries. Corporate trade agreements make transnational corporate profits more important than protecting the planet. Humans have created multiple environmental crises from polluting the Earth, as Robert J. Burrowes writes, turning it into a junk planet.
Capitalism knows no limits when it comes to profits. People are being displaced from their land as corporations gobble it up for mining, energy production or industrial agriculture. This forces people deeper into wild habitats where they come in contact with wildlife and also pushes wildlife into human communities. It increases the chances of transmission of disease.
As Keishia Taylor explains, “…human activity disrupts ecosystems and damages biodiversity, shaking loose viruses, which then need a new host.” As the barriers between humans and wildlife break down, the greater the risk for zoonoses, diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans. COVID-19 “is the sixth major epidemic in the last 26 years that originated in bats, mediated by a range of farmed, domesticated or hunted animals.” Factory farming is a great culprit driving these epidemics. Large numbers of animals live in crowded and unnatural environments, which weaken their immune systems and make disease transmission more likely.
Biodiversity is key to healthy ecosystems, writes Eric Roston in TIME. He adds, “Almost half of the new diseases that jumped from animals to humans… after 1940 can be traced to changes in land use, agriculture, or wildlife hunting. …There may be 10,000 mammalian viruses potentially dangerous to people.” The climate crisis is another threat to biodiversity as described above, for which governments are not responding.
Capitalism drives the exploitation of people and resources for profit without regard for the consequences. The burning of cheap, dirty fossil fuels for transportation required to connect disparate parts of the global supply chain as well as the oil and gas industry’s history of pushing dirty forms of transit drives greenhouse gas emissions along with large polluting industries and factory farms. Destruction of the land, including our forests, has lowered the capacity for natural carbon sequestration. This has led to the high levels of carbon in the atmosphere that cause climate chaos; record high temperatures are heating the oceans and storms, fires and droughts are causing more damage.
Vijay Prashad describes the many ways neoliberal capitalism has also driven privatization of state institutions, such as healthcare, and has created precarious livelihoods in his newsletter “We Won’t Go Back to Normal, Because Normal Was the Problem.” And that is our task: to make sure that out of these crises come major changes, the maturation of our species to cooperate with the ecosystems in which we live.
Activists march in a climate change rally in London, Britain, September. 20, 2019 (Reuters)
Opportunities for change
Life has changed drastically for many people as we are suddenly required to stay in our homes. Education has moved online. People are doing more of their own food preparation. Conferences and other large gatherings have been canceled, and some have moved online. We’ve had to change our habits quickly to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 cases.
One positive side effect of our reduced activity is that greenhouse gas emissions have dropped significantly. Charles Komanoff and Christopher Ketcham of the Carbon Tax Institute estimate that the drop could be as much as 50% this year. They identify four positive lessons from the pandemic: greater reliance on science, the recognition that government action is required to confront crises, the knowledge that we can change our behavior quickly, and the necessity of social solidarity.
We can take rapid action to “flatten the curve” of greenhouse gas emissions just as we are for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here is a list of ten basic steps we can take to reduce greenhouse gases and support the health of all living beings and the planet:
Decentralize agriculture – End monopolized industrial agriculture and return to small and medium-sized farms owned by farmers who will manage the land in ways that support biodiversity, rebuild the soil and sequester carbon. This means organic farming methods and includes urban agriculture to produce food locally.
End land grabs – Stop the land grabs that drive people off their land and allow them to return. Smaller landowners tend to be better stewards of the land.
Sequester carbon naturally – Do this through regenerative farming methods, and by restoring wetlands which has the added benefit of buffering sea level rise, and protecting forests, especially mature forests.
Restore wildlife habitat – Protect wildlife areas and plan our communities in ways that do not encroach upon them. This includes rethinking tourism. There are some areas humans ought to avoid out of respect for wildlife habitat.
End fossil fuel and nuclear use – Move rapidly to a carbon-free and nuclear-free energy economy. To make this a just transition, areas that overuse energy will need to reduce consumption and areas that do not have enough energy to meet basic needs will need to increase energy use. This also means finding ways to reduce travel until we can reduce the carbon output. Many businesses and organizations are changing to online meetings and conferences instead of doing them in-person.
Decentralize energy production – Massive solar and wind farms can be disruptive through displacement of communities and the destruction of wildlife areas. Energy production can be integrated into the infrastructure; e.g., on rooftops, parking lots and community solar. Decentralized production ends energy monopolies and allows many people to benefit from the energy they produce.
Remake transportation – Reduce energy use significantly through investment in mass public transit and shared ownership of vehicles as cars are parked 95% of the time. Many cities already have fleets of cars for short-term rental. Fewer cars mean fewer resources being used. And we can increase bike and pedestrian areas to encourage less driving.
Rebuild the rail system – Electrify our railroads and increase their use for moving goods and people. Decentralized energy production can feed into the rail line to power it. This is a concept called Solutionary Rail.
Become zero waste communities – Rethink our consumption and reduce it to what is necessary and then find ways to meet our necessities through closed-loop production cycles, reuse of materials, sharing of items and more.
Cooperate more – In this pandemic, people around the world are organizing mutual aid to provide food and other basic needs. Let’s build on this spirit to look out for each other and connect human-to-human. We may find that building our communities will increase sharing and reduce our desire for so much stuff.
There are more steps we could add to this list that include socializing sectors of the economy so that human rights and protection of the planet supersede corporate profits, remaking trade along the same lines and strengthening localized, worker or community-owned enterprises.
We are truly at a crossroads. The pandemic has taught us to act in solidarity and that we can alter our lifestyles drastically when necessary. The climate crisis requires us to flatten the curve of our greenhouse gas emissions and toxic, polluting society. We can’t go back to normal because normal is killing us. The time is now to create a new world in balance with nature.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was launched in 2000 and has $46.8 billion in assets (December 2018). It is the largest charitable foundation in the world and distributes more aid for global health than any government. One of the foundation’s stated goals is to globally enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty.
The Gates Foundation is a major funder of the CGIAR system (formerly the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research) — a global partnership whose stated aim is to strive for a food-secured future. Its research is aimed at reducing rural poverty, increasing food security, improving human health and nutrition and ensuring sustainable management of natural resources.
In 2016, the Gates Foundation was accused of dangerously and unaccountably distorting the direction of international development. The charges were laid out in a report by Global Justice Now: ‘Gated Development – Is the Gates Foundation always a force for good?‘ According to the report, the foundation’s strategy is based on deepening the role of multinational companies in the Global South.
On release of the report, Polly Jones, the head of campaigns and policy at Global Justice Now, said:
The Gates Foundation has rapidly become the most influential actor in the world of global health and agricultural policies, but there’s no oversight or accountability in how that influence is managed.
She added that this concentration of power and influence is even more problematic when you consider that the philanthropic vision of the Gates Foundation seems to be largely based on the values of ‘corporate America’:
The foundation is relentlessly promoting big business-based initiatives such as industrial agriculture, private health care and education. But these are all potentially exacerbating the problems of poverty and lack of access to basic resources that the foundation is supposed to be alleviating.
The report’s author, Mark Curtis, outlines the foundation’s promotion of industrial agriculture across Africa, which would undermine existing sustainable, small-scale farming that is providing the vast majority of food across the continent.
Curtis describes how the foundation is working with US agri-commodity trader Cargill in an $8 million project to “develop the soya value chain” in southern Africa. Cargill is the biggest global player in the production of and trade in soya with heavy investments in South America where GM soya monocrops (and associated agrochemicals) have displaced rural populations and caused health problems and environmental damage.
According to Curtis, the Gates-funded project will likely enable Cargill to capture a hitherto untapped African soya market and eventually introduce GM soya onto the continent. The Gates foundation is also supporting projects involving other chemical and seed corporations, including DuPont, Syngenta and Bayer. It is effectively promoting a model of industrial agriculture, the increasing use of agrochemicals and patented seeds, the privatisation of extension services and a very large focus on genetically modified crops.
What the Gates Foundation is doing is part of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) initiative, which is based on the premise that hunger and malnutrition in Africa are mainly the result of a lack of technology and functioning markets. Curtis says AGRA has been intervening directly in the formulation of African governments’ agricultural policies on issues like seeds and land, opening up African markets to US agribusiness.
More than 80% of Africa’s seed supply comes from millions of small-scale farmers recycling and exchanging seed from year to year. But AGRA is promoting the commercial production of seed and is thus supporting the introduction of commercial (chemical-dependent) seed systems, which risk enabling a few large companies to control seed research and development, production and distribution.
The report notes that over the past two decades a long and slow process of national seed law reviews, sponsored by USAID and the G8 along with Bill Gates and others, has opened the door to multinational corporations’ involvement in seed production, including the acquisition of every sizeable seed enterprise on the African continent.
Gates, pesticides and global health
The Gates Foundation is also very active in the area of health, which is ironic given its promotion of industrial agriculture and its reliance on health-damaging agrochemicals. This is something that has not been lost on environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason.
Mason notes that the Gates Foundation is a heavy pusher of agrochemicals and patented seeds. She adds that the Gates Foundation is also reported to be collaborating in Bayer’s promotion of “new chemical approaches” and “biological crop protection” (i.e. encouraging agrochemical sales and GM crops) in the Global South.
But perhaps this should come as little surprise: some 42 authors’ names are attached to the report and Mason says that in one way or another via the organisations they belong to, many (if not most) have received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation is a prominent funder of the World Health Organization and UNICEF. Gates has been the largest or second largest contributor to the WHO’s budget in recent years. His foundation provided 11% of the WHO’s entire budget in 2015, which is 14 times greater than the UK government’s contribution.
Perhaps this sheds some light on to why a major report on child health would omit the effects of pesticides. Mason implies this is a serious omission given what the UN expert on toxics Baskut Tuncak said in a November 2017 article in the Guardian:
Our children are growing up exposed to a toxic cocktail of weedkillers, insecticides, and fungicides. It’s on their food and in their water, and it’s even doused over their parks and playgrounds. Many governments insist that our standards of protection from these pesticides are strong enough. But as a scientist and a lawyer who specialises in chemicals and their potential impact on people’s fundamental rights, I beg to differ. Last month it was revealed that in recommending that glyphosate – the world’s most widely-used pesticide – was safe, the EU’s food safety watchdog copied and pasted pages of a report directly from Monsanto, the pesticide’s manufacturer. Revelations like these are simply shocking.
Mason notes that in February 2020, Tuncak rejected the idea that the risks posed by highly hazardous pesticides could be managed safely. He told Unearthed (GreenPeace UK’s journalism website) that there is nothing sustainable about the widespread use of highly hazardous pesticides for agriculture. Whether they poison workers, extinguish biodiversity, persist in the environment or accumulate in a mother’s breast milk, Tuncak argued that these are unsustainable, cannot be used safely and should have been phased out of use long ago.
In his 2017 article, he stated:
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most ratified international human rights treaty in the world (only the US is not a party), makes it clear that states have an explicit obligation to protect children from exposure to toxic chemicals, from contaminated food and polluted water, and to ensure that every child can realise their right to the highest attainable standard of health. These and many other rights of the child are abused by the current pesticide regime. These chemicals are everywhere and they are invisible.
Tuncak added that paediatricians have referred to childhood exposure to pesticides as creating a “silent pandemic” of disease and disability. He noted that exposure in pregnancy and childhood is linked to birth defects, diabetes, and cancer and stated that children are particularly vulnerable to these toxic chemicals: increasing evidence shows that even at ‘low’ doses of childhood exposure, irreversible health impacts can result.
He concluded that the overwhelming reliance of regulators on industry-funded studies, the exclusion of independent science from assessments and the confidentiality of studies relied upon by authorities must change.
However, it seems that the profits of agrochemical manufacturers trump the rights of children and the public at large: a joint investigation by Unearthed and the NGO Public Eye has found the world’s five biggest pesticide manufacturers are making more than a third of their income from leading products, chemicals that pose serious hazards to human health and the environment.
Mason refers to an analysis of a huge database of 2018’s top-selling ‘crop protection products’ which revealed the world’s leading agrochemical companies made more than 35% of their sales from pesticides classed as “highly hazardous” to people, animals or ecosystems. The investigation identified billions of dollars of income for agrochemical giants BASF, Bayer, Corteva, FMC and Syngenta from chemicals found by regulatory authorities to pose health hazards like cancer or reproductive failure.
This investigation is based on an analysis of a huge dataset of pesticide sales from the agribusiness intelligence company Phillips McDougall. This firm conducts detailed market research all over the world and sells databases and intelligence to pesticide companies. The data covers around 40% of the $57.6bn global market for agricultural pesticides in 2018. It focuses on 43 countries, which between them represent more than 90% of the global pesticide market by value.
While Bill Gates promotes a chemical-intensive model of agriculture that dovetails with the needs and value chains of agri-food conglomerates, Mason outlines the spiraling rates of disease in the UK and the US and lays the blame at the door of the agrochemical corporations that Gates has opted to get into bed with. She focuses on the impact of glyphosate-based herbicides as well as the cocktail of chemicals sprayed on crops.
Mason has discussed the health-related impacts of glyphosate in numerous previous reports and in her open letter to Costello again refers to peer-reviewed studies and official statistics which indicate that glyphosate affects the gut microbiome and is responsible for a global metabolic health crisis provoked by an obesity epidemic. Moreover, she presents evidence that glyphosate causes epigenetic changes in humans and animals – diseases skip a generation then appear.
However, the mainstream narrative is to blame individuals for their ailments and conditions which are said to result from ‘lifestyle choices’. Yet Monsanto’s German owner Bayer has confirmed that more than 42,700 people have filed suits against Monsanto alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that Monsanto covered up the risks.
Mason says that each year there are steady increases in the numbers of new cancers and increases in deaths from the same cancers, with no treatments making any difference to the numbers; at the same time, she argues, these treatments maximise the bottom line of the drug companies while the impacts of agrochemicals remains conspicuously absent from the disease narrative.
She states that we are exposed to a lifetime’s exposure to thousands of synthetic chemicals that contaminate the blood and urine of nearly every person tested – “a global mass poisoning.”
Gates Foundation in perspective
As part of its hegemonic strategy, the Gates Foundation says it wants to ensure global food security and optimise health and nutrition.
However, Rosemary Mason alludes to the fact that the Gates Foundation seems happy to ignore the deleterious health impacts of agrochemicals while promoting the interests of the firms that produce them, but it facilitates many health programmes that help boost the bottom line of drug companies. Health and health programmes seem only to be defined with certain parameters which facilitate the selling of the products of the major pharmaceutical companies which the foundation partners with. Indeed, researcher Jacob Levich argues that the Gates Foundation not merely facilitates unethical low-cost clinical trials (with often devastating effects for participants) in the Global South but also assists in the creating new markets for the “dubious” products of pharmaceuticals corporations.
As for food security, the foundation would do better by supporting agroecological (agrochemical-free) approaches to agriculture, which various high-level UN reports have advocated for ensuring equitable global food security. But this would leave smallholder agriculture both intact and independent from Western agro-capital, something which runs counter to the underlying aims of the corporations that the foundation supports – dispossession and market dependency.
And these aims have been part of a decades-long strategy where we have seen the strengthening of an emerging global food regime based on agro-export mono-cropping linked to sovereign debt repayment and World Bank/IMF ‘structural adjustment’ directives. The outcomes have included a displacement of a food-producing peasantry, the consolidation of Western agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of many countries from food self-sufficiency into food deficit areas.
While Bill Gates is busy supporting the consolidation of Western agro-capital in Africa under the guise of ensuring ‘food security’, it is very convenient for him to ignore the fact that at the time of decolonisation in the 1960s Africa was not just self-sufficient in food but was actually a net food exporter with exports averaging 1.3 million tons a year between 1966-70. The continent now imports 25% of its food, with almost every country being a net food importer. More generally, developing countries produced a billion-dollar yearly surplus in the 1970s but by 2004 were importing US$ 11 billion a year.
The Gates Foundation promotes a (heavily subsidised and inefficient – certainly when the externalised health, social and environment costs are factored in) corporate-industrial farming system and the strengthening of a global neoliberal, fossil-fuel-dependent food regime that by its very nature fuels and thrives on, among other things, unjust trade policies, population displacement and land dispossession (something which the Gates Foundation once called for but euphemistically termed “land mobility”), commodity monocropping, soil and environmental degradation, illness, nutrient-deficient diets, a narrowing of the range of food crops, water shortages, pollution and the eradication of biodiversity.
At the same time, the foundation is helping powerful corporate interests to appropriate and commodify knowledge. For instance, since 2003, CGIAR (mentioned at the start of this article) and its 15 centres have received more than $720 million from the Gates Foundation. In a June 2016 article in The Asian Age, Vandana Shiva says the centres are accelerating the transfer of research and seeds to corporations, facilitating intellectual property piracy and seed monopolies created through IP laws and seed regulations.
Besides taking control of the seeds of farmers in CGIAR seed banks, Shiva adds that the Gates Foundation (along with the Rockefeller Foundation) is investing heavily in collecting seeds from across the world and storing them in a facility in Svalbard in the Arctic — the ‘doomsday vault’.
The foundation is also funding Diversity Seek (DivSeek), a global initiative to take patents on the seed collections through genomic mapping. Seven million crop accessions are in public seed banks.
Shiva says that DivSeek could allow five corporations to own this diversity and argues:
Today, biopiracy is carried out through the convergence of information technology and biotechnology. It is done by taking patents by ‘mapping’ genomes and genome sequences… DivSeek is a global project launched in 2015 to map the genetic data of the peasant diversity of seeds held in gene banks. It robs the peasants of their seeds and knowledge, it robs the seed of its integrity and diversity, its evolutionary history, its link to the soil and reduces it to ‘code’. It is an extractive project to ‘mine’ the data in the seed to ‘censor’ out the commons.
She notes that the peasants who evolved this diversity have no place in DivSeek — their knowledge is being mined and not recognised, honoured or conserved: an enclosure of the genetic commons.
This process is the very foundation of capitalism – appropriation of the commons (seeds, water, knowledge, land, etc.), which are then made artificially scarce and transformed into marketable commodities.
The Gates Foundation talks about health but facilitates the roll-out of a toxic form of agriculture whose agrochemicals cause immense damage. It talks of alleviating poverty and malnutrition and tackling food insecurity but it bolsters an inherently unjust global food regime which is responsible for perpetuating food insecurity, population displacement, land dispossession, privatisation of the commons and neoliberal policies that remove support from the vulnerable and marginalised, while providing lavish subsidies to corporations.
The Gates Foundation is part of the problem, not the solution. To more fully appreciate this, let us turn to a February 2020 article in the journal Globalizations. Its author, Ashok Kumbamu, argues that the ultimate aim of promoting new technologies – whether GM seeds, agrochemicals or commodified knowledge — on a colossal scale is to make agricultural inputs and outputs essential commodities, create dependency and bring all farming operations into the capitalist fold.
To properly understand Bill Gates’s ‘philanthropy’ is not to take stated goals and objectives at face value but to regard his ideology as an attempt to manufacture consent and prevent and marginalise more radical agrarian change that would challenge prevailing power structures and act as impediments to capitalist interests. The foundation’s activities must be located within the hegemonic and dispossessive strategies of imperialism: displacement of the peasantry and subjugating those who remain in agriculture to the needs of global distribution and supply chains dominated by the Western agri-food conglomerates whose interests the Gates Foundation facilitates and legitimises.