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Modern time tyranny- Is Monsanto alone to blame?

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This is not an article about the genetically modified organisms (gmos) and whether they are harmful or not. It is not about the health of humans and the environment. It is an article on the political economy of bio-industries; it is about food security, politics and civil freedoms. How can a seed industry blackmail citizens and still governments bow in front of them?

It is not about what Monsanto merchandizes, it is about how it does it. It is about Mafia-like-running companies defining food security and civil liberties.

The politics of policy making is an arena where different sets of actors, not necessarily only political, contest and interact in order to influence policy emergence and its application. This process is of course legitimate, as long as the market actors do not overrun or even move like puppets the political, elected by the citizens, actors.

It is of great interest to take a closer look in the US and the bio-tech monolith Monsanto. The United States Department of Agriculture recently approved Monsanto’s controversial herbicide-resistant genetically modified strains of soybean and cotton, something that many critics see as a bow to probably the most powerful bio-industry, at the expense of human health and environmental conservation. Moreover, the company is also seeking to extend its reach into milk production by marketing an artificial growth hormone for cows that increases their milk production, and it is taking aggressive steps to bring those who don’t want to use growth hormone at a commercial disadvantage.

The research studies that have shown that Monsanto’s genetically-modified foods can lead to serious health conditions, such as the development of cancer tumors, infertility and birth defects, are merely besides the point here. And the fact that something like this is beside the point, in my opinion means, that the whole systemic problem that Monsanto represents is simply absurd.

In the United States, the FDA, the agency responsible for ensuring food safety for the population, is lead by ex-Monsanto executives, and apparently this is a dubious conflict of interests. Recently, the U.S. Congress and president passed the “Monsanto Protection Act” that, among other things, prohibits courts from ceasing the sale of Monsanto’s genetically-modified seeds.

For decades, Monsanto has not only been the benefactor of political favoritism, but on top of that have received considerable corporate subsidies. For instance, Monsanto received millions to expand its activities in Africa; and I will come to this later on.  This is not wrong because of its potentially harmful merchandize, which for many scientists is not even proven; but because Monsanto forces an annihilating monopoly in the seed market and the world’s food supply, with the buying up of conventional-seed companies and by acquiring exclusive patenting rights over seeds and genetic makeup; over life forms. It is absurd because Monsanto’s seed police, blackmails, threatens, humiliates and financially destroys farmers that do not comply with its preposterous seed policy. It is absurd because Monsanto launches incredibly expensive campaigns to fight Act initiatives, attempting to regulate the industry, causing in fact, the nullification of democracy; as money so easily silences political voices coming from both elected representatives and citizens alike. Monsanto exerts overwhelming influence over the government through campaign donations and lobbying, turning the government into a marketing spokesperson for Monsanto products.

Everyone sees the problem through the lenses of human and environmental health, and this is absolutely reasonable. But let us say, for the sake of the argument, that a corporation that sells “ambrosia”, implements the same tactics; would that be acceptable. Wouldn’t that be tyranny as well? Protection of civil liberties, in all levels, has a value on its own. The concept of the benevolent tyrant exists only in Plato’s world of ideas, and there is a reason for that; that is because absolute, all-consuming power in one’s hands is dangerous, no matter what. History of humanity proves it.

And why am I saying benevolent tyrant. For instance, in Mr. Friedberg’s view, Vice President of Monsanto, genetically modified seeds enable farmers to grow larger crops with less resources and represent a way to help sustain the growing world population. Some of Monsanto’s critics “want to live in a natural world where we’re all living in treehouses in the rainforest and picking coconuts out of the tree,” Mr. Friedberg said. “Maybe it would be possible if we had 100,000 people living on earth, but that’s not the reality that we’re living in today.”

Nonetheless, even if there is a point in this argument, and I am not saying there isn’t, citizens of a democratic country should have the real freedom to choose otherwise. The example of what happened in the state of Hawaii is one of many. According to a local news website, Honolulu Civil Beat (HCB), Monsanto and Dow — two of the world’s largest biotech and agricultural conglomerates, have thrown $8 million to beat back a Maui County voter initiative that would prohibit temporarily all GMO farming, according to documents of the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission. On the other hand, proponents of the measure have spent less than $83,000; and apparently they lost. These numbers show the absence of real democracy, when policies depend on who can spend more in lobbying and campaigning.

This example is actually one of the civilized actions of Monsanto. Monsanto relies on a dirty army of private investigators and agents to spread fear among farmers. They strike into fields and farm towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers and store owners. They ambush farmers on their land and try to pressure them to sign papers giving Monsanto access to their private records. Farmers call them the “seed police” and use words such as “Gestapo” and “Mafia” to describe their tactics. Investigators have actually shown farmers a photo of themselves coming out of a store, to let them know they have been followed. Not surprisingly, the numbers of farmers who settle because they don’t have the money or the time to fight Monsanto are overwhelming.

Besides the fact that the loss of biodiversity of seeds, particularly in a time of climate change, threatens the resilience of food supply; there is another side of this problem, which I believe is wildly understated. Traditionally and until the late twentieth century, plant genetic resources belonged to a global commons and were considered the ‘‘common heritage of humankind’’. Who owns biodiversity after all?

IPRs in the area of biodiversity are not merely a matter of transfer of technology but become ground for intercultural dialogue. For many communities, knowledge and biological resources are inalienable. In the hill regions of India, for example, people value their seeds more than their lives. For traditional societies, biodiversity is common property, and knowledge related to it is in the intellectual commons. For biotechnology corporations, biodiversity becomes private property through their investments, and IPRs are the means for such privatization.

The emergence of genetic engineering has encouraged the emergence of patents and lPRs for products originating from biodiversity. Instead of being treated as the common property of local communities or as the national property of sovereign states, the Global South’s biodiversity has in recent years been treated as the common heritage of the world. In contrast, the modified biodiversity is patented and sold back to them as high-priced and patented seeds. Funny enough, this is as well happening in the “free world” as well, the U.S. There is no epistemological justification for treating some germplasm as valueless and common heritage and other germplasm as a valuable commodity and private property. This distinction is not based on the nature of the germplasm but on the nature of political and economic power.

That brings us to the subsidized by the US government presence of Monsanto in Africa. In 2010, the Obama administration pushed a humanitarian initiative focused in increasing the food supply of Africa. In order to solve the hunger problem in Africa, they started promoting industrial, mono-crop farming and genetically modified goods rather than investing in local farms; with devastating results for both biodiversity of the land and cultural diversity of the local population.  
    
Don’t get me wrong. Monsanto is just an example. The same applies to the weapon industry as well. And the list can go and on. People around the globe deserve freedom and deserve governments that protect unconditionally their liberties from private actors. Otherwise politicians lose purpose of existence; and this kind of delegitimization leads always, with mathematical accuracy, to armed revolutions. Maybe Monsanto is not to blame after all; when the elected guardians of the peoples and the peoples best interests, not only turn their face away, but actually concur in the modern slavery imposed upon us by transnational conglomerates, which decide on a global scale, what people shall harvest and eat with no deviation. That is modern time tyranny, and to the best of my knowledge tyranny starts and ends with political decisions.

Green Planet

Thanksgiving Also Means Giving Thanks for Our Planet

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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It is Thanksgiving holiday in the US.  The Europeans do not celebrate Thanksgiving and the European Parliament has held an election.  It has chosen former German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen as the new President of the European Commission.  Hailing from a political family of conservatives — her father narrowly lost a party leadership election to Franz Josef Strauss — she is the first woman to hold the EU’s top executive job.

Conservative or not, there is unanimity in the EU about climate change, and how the EU has to lead the transition to a healthier planet by planning the necessary upgrading of its social market economy.

If the Europeans are increasingly aware of the environmental challenges ahead, the UN Environment Programme has just issued its flagship Emissions Gap Report.  As one might surmise, the ‘gap’ refers to the difference between what the world is doing to tackle climate change and what it needs to do to limit temperature increase to 1.5C.  Our present ambitions of structural change from a fossil fuel economy is forecast in the report to lead to a catastrophic 3.2C rise.

Present California fires and coastal flooding of the eastern seaboard from the Carolinas down to Florida are just the top of the iceberg as are the European floods in Spain, Italy and France — and the temperature rise so far is a single degree Celsius.

The window to act is closing rapidly.  As the UN report clarifies in stark terms, emissions will have to peak by 2020 to limit global warming to 1.5C without affecting economic growth.  It turns out that of the 43 developed and emerging economies, all with the sole exception of Turkey will have peaked their emissions by 2020.  Be 2030, 57 countries will have peaked.  That is the good news.

By far the greatest emitters are China, the US, and then India and the EU.  Together they account for 56 percent of greenhouse gasses emitted over the last decade.  These therefore bear a heavy responsibility.

The bad news is that while these and other emitters have pledged to follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement — except for the US because Trump withdrew from it — it is not enough.  According to the UN report, their efforts will still result in a 3.2C rise by century’s end to devastating effect.

It is logical then that efforts have to be intensified, and countries need to be more ambitious in their goals.  A focus on innovation and domestic policies to encourage non-fossil fuel power generation would be clearly to their advantage.  For example, energy produced from solar panels has soared from 50 Gigawatts in 2010 to 400 GW in 2015 with an expectation of 450+ GW by 2020.

The strong message of the report is for all sectors and their principals — national, state and local governments, mayors, corporations, their executives, civil society and civic leaders — to come together and act in concert if they are to avert a problem affecting our common home before it is too late.  It is one way of giving thanks for what we have.  The last five years have already been the warmest on record, the future can be expected to be worse if we do not act.

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Green Planet

Venice Is Flooded: A Look at Our Coastal Future

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Authors: Arshad M. Khan and Meena Miriam Yust

If humans have been lucky, basking in the comforting warmth of an inter-glacial period for the last 10,000 years, that luck may be about to turn.  Rest assured we are not entering a glacial period.  No, our quest for greater comfort has us pumping fossil fuel residues in the air—particularly CO2—warming the earth beyond its natural trajectory.  One consequence is melting Arctic (especially Greenland) ice and coastal flooding.

Problematic as that might be, new research holds worse in store… much worse, for the Antarctic has not been a passive bystander.  It melted when the north was taking a rest allowing no let up.

The previous glacial age lasted from 125,000 to 118,000 years ago.  A paper published November 6, 2019 in Nature Communications (Vol. 10, Article # 5040) has found the Greenland ice sheet melt insufficient to explain the highs of the rise then.  In fact, it was the Antarctic ice sheet, previously thought to be inconsequential, that was key.  It turns out the Southern Ocean warmed first at the start of the inter-glacial, leading to a change in the circulation pattern of the oceans and to a warming of the northern polar areas to start the ice melt in Greenland.

Temperatures then were up to 1°C higher than now but the same has been estimated for us in the future.  However, this time climate changes on earth have been accelerated by greenhouse gas emissions over the industrial period, resulting in more extreme climate changes than in the last inter-glacial. 

The research has also revealed that ice melt caused a 10 meter sea level rise above the present level at a rate of 3 meters (about 10 feet) per century, a rate that is 10 times higher than the rise observed in the last 150 years.  If 10 ft. per century has a remote feel, try a foot every 10 years!   

This is far greater than current projections of sea level rise that anticipate an increase at the most to about 3 feet above 2000 levels by 2100.  The predictions, however, do not account for an important natural outcome of ice sheet melt, that of ice cliff instability.  The ice cliffs form as the warm water melts their ice under the water, eating away until the cliff shears off and collapses into the sea. 

The collapse is a sudden and unpredictable addition to the gradual melt in the ocean.  It also means that polar ice sheet melt can affect sea levels far more intensely than has been projected so far, and it could account at least in part for the much higher rise found by the researchers in the prior inter-glacial. Are we in for a surprise! 

If incoming solar radiation was greater in the last inter-glacial because of the earth’s position relative to the sun, the CO2 levels were lower, at 280 parts per million as opposed to 410 plus today.  Worse, in the former inter-glacial the two polar areas did not warm up simultaneously.  Today’s intensive climate change is propelled by greenhouse gases, and the warming is bipolar with the ice melting in  both polar regions at the same time. 

Another paper also published in Nature Communications a week earlier (Vol. 10, Article # 4844 October 29, 2019) examines global vulnerability to coastal flooding from rising sea levels given new metrics for measuring land elevation.  The model currently in use for this measurement, developed by NASA, has a 2 meter vertical bias.  Using a new Coastal DEM (Digital Elevation Model) and a mean estimate of sea level rise this century, the authors estimate 190 million people live below projected high tide lines at present.  This rises to 630 million by century’s end in the extreme case of high emissions.  Increase the sea level rise to 3 meters (10 feet) projected in the other paper above and a billion people could be in jeopardy.

What can one expect?  Well, the first signs of trouble will be when coastal flooding that used to happen once a decade becomes an annual event, or when unprecedented events occur.  Venice is a current example.  In a rare historic flood its iconic St. Mark’s Square is hip-deep in water.  The church itself and its priceless frescoes could be in danger if the water rises further. 

The increased coastal flooding will be gradual of course.  Our children, their children, and so on down the line will be the real innocent victims of our legacy/profligacy.  

Note:  This article appeared originally on CommonDreams.org

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Green Planet

Thirty years on, what is the Montreal Protocol doing to protect the ozone?

MD Staff

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The Montreal Protocol to protect the Earth’s ozone layer is to date the only United Nations environmental agreement to be ratified by every country in the world. It is also one of the most successful. With the parties to the Protocol having phased out 98 per cent of their ozone-depleting substances, they saved an estimated two million people from skin cancer every year.

Following the thirty-first meeting of the parties in Rome during 4–8 November, Stephanie Haysmith, the communications officer for the Ozone Secretariat, explained why the Montreal Protocol has been so successful and what lies ahead for the treaty.

The 2019 ozone hole is the smallest on record since its discovery. How does the ozone repair and how long will it take?

The Montreal Protocol has been successful in reducing ozone-depleting substances and reactive chlorine and bromine in the stratosphere. As a result, the ozone layer is showing the first signs of recovery. It is expected that the ozone layer will return to pre-1980s levels by the middle of the century and the Antarctic ozone hole by around 2060s. This is because once released, ozone-depleting substances stay in the atmosphere for many years and continue to cause damage. The 2019 hole is indeed the smallest since recording of its size began in 1982 but the ozone is also influenced by temperature shifts and dynamics in the atmosphere through climate change. In 2019, the stratosphere was particularly warm during the Antarctic winter and spring.

The Kigali Amendment, which came into force January 2019, requires countries to limit hydrofluorocarbons in refrigerators and air-conditioners by more than 80 percent.  Yet, there is a growing demand for cooling. How can the two needs be met?

While there is a growing global demand for cooling systems for personal well-being and in the commercial sector, improving energy efficiency with low or zero global-warming-potential will be needed to meet needs while minimizing adverse impacts on climate and environment. Research and development have kept pace: equipment design has changed and improved with the ozone-depleting substances phase-out.

At the Rome meeting, parties were made aware of an unexpected increase in global emissions of trichlorofluoromethane, or CFC-11. Why is that, and what is being planned to address it?

The issue of unexpected emissions of CFC-11 was brought to the attention of the parties in 2018. Global emissions of CFC-11 had increased in the period after 2012. This unexpected trend suggests that there is illegal production and consumption of CFC-11. The exact sources of these emissions have yet to be found. The parties take this very seriously and a decision was made at the MOP30 [30th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol] to cooperate in further scientific research. In addition, the parties will assess the mechanisms of monitoring for the Montreal Protocol and the Multilateral Fund. 

What is meant by “a sustainable cold chain” and how does it reduce food loss?

A cold chain is a connected set of temperature-controlled facilities (pack houses, cold stores, refrigerated transportation, etc.) that ensures perishable foods maintain their freshness and quality while in transit. Access to cold chain allows local producers to link with high-value markets locally, nationally and internationally. By enabling perishable food commodities to be stored and transported in a temperature-controlled environment not only ensures quality and safety, but reduces overall food loss, while improving economic gains and increasing sustainability.

From an environmental perspective, it is important that increasing demand for cold chain is sustainable with increased use of green fuels, energy efficiency and low or zero global warming potential technologies.

What do you hope the Montreal Protocol will inspire?

The Montreal Protocol is one of the world’s most successful environmental treaties and since its adoption, it has encouraged countries to commit to phasing out the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances. The parties to the Protocol, on realizing that the alternatives, known as hydrofluorocarbons, are potent greenhouse gases contributing to global warming, agreed to address this. After protracted discussions, in 2016 the parties adopted the Kigali Amendment. The global partnership, stakeholder involvement and overall commitment of the countries lent to the success of the ozone protection regime. A successful hydrofluorocarbon phasedown is expected to avoid up to 0.4°C of global temperature rise by 2100, while continuing to protect the ozone layer.

UN Environment

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