On March 26th 2013 a legal clause takes effect in the United States which allows Monsanto and other multinational GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) producers to ignore judicial decisions to stop GMO sowing, either due to irregularities in its approval, lack of health and environmental impact evaluations, new scientific evidence that alerts health hazards or for any other reason. It is a global unprecedented exception now called “Monsanto Protection Act”.
Frankly it was all a set up. In the delightfully romantic setting of an old Cambridge college in springtime, complete with free drinks and delicious food, the organizers of last weeks 'Future of Nature' Conference smiled on conspiratorially as their contrivances to introduce two awkward strangers played out over 3 days.
The strangers in this case were not so much boy-meets-girl as naturalist-meets-geek and what they purportedly had in common was biology. The Future of Nature had been billed as an encounter between the synthetic biology community (biotech scientists practicing an extreme form of genetic engineering that builds artificial organisms) and the conservation biology community who are still trying to hold back the frontier of wildlife destruction for non-engineered nature.
The distracting allure of a technofix is a common trick deployed by those pushing risky technologies. Nuclear power we are told might just solve climate change, GM food could feed the hungry, "DDT is good for you" etc. But the latest eyecatching technofix under discussion at a conference in Cambridge this week is a real dodo: 'Synthetic Biology' we are now told will reverse extinction of species and conserve biodiversity. Really ?
Climate Drift: Geoengineers have a problem. Computer modeling suggests that blocking solar radiation in the temperate zone (to preserve Arctic ice or to forestall massive methane releases) could cool the Northern hemisphere but its impact could also drift South, creating severe climatic disruptions by dampening down Asia’s monsoon while drying out Africa’s Sahel. Not a popular proposition.
Now, geoengineers may hope they have a solution. A new study in Nature Climate Change[i] by the UK Government’s Meteorological Office suggests that some form of solar radiation management could mitigate the conventional vicissitudes of nature. According to the report, volcanic eruptions north of the equator in the 20th century either contributed to – or caused – droughts along the African equator and further South.
In the first two months of 2013, leading advocates of geoengineering have argued variously that researching geoengineering (as a Plan B to GHG emission cuts) is like helping a cancer patient manage pain while seeking a cure; or, that an accelerating gaggle of executive jets circling the equator could spray enough sulphuric acid in the stratosphere to keep the Earth’s thermostat within bounds; or, that a single island state could thumb its nose at the military might of the major powers and geoengineer the planet to its liking. So much lobbying and still months to go before the IPCC delivers its fifth assessment report – with an anticipated treatment of geoengineering.
Bees from 1.500 hives of a community in Hopelchen, Campeche, have died the 6th of February 2013 due to a fumigation of soy crops from Monsanto in a nearby area. This has had a direct impact on more than 50 rural families that after a bad maize harvest due to a drought, were hoping to recover with the sales of organic honey which is now impossible since the honey is contaminated with pesticides and genetically modified (GM) pollen. Álvaro Mena, a Mayan peasant and beekeeper who takes part in the Network in Defense of Maize has estimated that the losses amount to 10 million pesos, a year’s income for these families. Impacts have been also observed in four other communities. There is more intensive fumigation with GM crops, and since these crops are resistant to pesticides and planted in monoculture, enormous quantities of chemicals are applied. This is not a coincidence: it is the toxic avalanche that comes with transgenic farming and the threat of authorizing millions of hectares of transgenic maize.
Last week the World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth drew to a raucous conclusion in the Cochabamba football stadium as more than 35,000 people from 140+ countries cheered the adoption of their own strategic plan to address climate change around the world. Bolivia's Cochabamba gathering was neither Social Forum nor an inter-governmental meeting but a marvelous mix of the two - bringing together official government delegations from 42 countries with social movements and civil society organizations from 100 more.
Today was "Reclaim Power" day, a collaborative adventure with activists from Climate Justice Now and Climate Justice Action that had been many months (years?) in the making. There were demonstrators from the outside -- the thousands of activists who have no accreditation to get into the Bella Centre where the talks are being held, and those who had been working the process inside -- lobbying, analyzing, holding press conferences and such. The point was to hold a people's assembly on climate change when talks failed to deliver. And they are failing to deliver big time.
I am still in the Bella Centre, still tracking technology negotiations. That means I have a magical "secondary pass" unlike thousands of other NGOs who cannot get into the building today. Technology is supposed to be the "easy issue", on which there will possibly be an agreement, evoked by both the Danish Presidency and the UNFCCC head, Yvo de Boer, as the most rapidly progressing item.