Briefings

Thursday 3rd December 2009

Technology transfer is one of the four key topics being discussed under negotiations on Long-Term Cooperative Actions in Copenhagen (the others are mitigation, adaptation and financing). The inter-governmental negotiating text that is under discussion contemplates various measures for accelerating the diffusion of technologies.

Rome’s Food Summit may determine who decides who will eat

Monday 16th November 2009

The declaration coming out of the World Food Summit for Food Security in Rome is even worse than the “shameful” document adopted by world leaders in 1996, so famously criticized by Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Governments won’t promise anything to anybody. The only issue really being debated in Rome is whether control of the UN’s “Department of Agriculture” will be wrested from the UN’s Rome-based agencies and surrendered to an amorphous, G8 conjured, public-private compact called the Global Partnership for Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition. If the Partnership prevails, national sovereignty fails, and civil society's hopes for Food Sovereignty will suffer.

Thursday 5th November 2009

At the beginning of October 2009, the Córdoba Group -- a small gathering of independent food and agrocultural specialists (including the first and current UN Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Food) that have been meeting over the past two years -- published a brief (two-page) analysis of the state of global governance around food and agriculture and of the need to place the Right to Food and the interests of peasant producers at the center of the food and climate debate. The Group’s report was widely distributed at the UN Committee on World Food Security that met in mid-October and is influencing deliberations around both the World Food Summit in November and the December Conference in Copenhagen on Climate Change.

The Cordoba Group is formed by senior experts on hunger, agriculture, agrobiodiversity and human rights, convened in his/her personal capacities by the Chair of Hunger and Poverty Studies, a joint initiative by the University and the Diputacion of Cordoba, Spain.

Questions for the Food and Climate Crises

Sunday 1st November 2009

By 2050, or much sooner, we will be growing food under climatic conditions we’ve never seen before and learning that “normal” weather is an illusive fiction. Yet, we are told that global land grabs and plantations of agrofuels are a “win-win.” The truth is that policymakers don’t know enough about our food supply. We don’t know where our food comes from and we don’t know who is feeding the hungry today. We have absolutely no idea who will feed us in 2050. This report raises more questions than answers. It begins with a comparison of the likelihood of the industrial food chain and the peasant food web getting us through climate chaos.

Geoengineering as 21st century fairytale

Friday 2nd October 2009

The idea of re-engineering the entire planet (geoengineering) used to be the stuff of science fiction, but in the past few years a small group of geoengineering enthusiasts has worked hard to give it a veneer of respectability. On 1st September, they will have succeeded in getting the world’s oldest scientific academy, the UK’s Royal Society, to legitimize dangerous planet-tinkering schemes with minimal transparency and even less public participation.

What is nanotechnology?

Saturday 4th July 2009

Nano-scale technology is a suite of techniques used to manipulate matter at the scale of atoms and molecules. “Nano” is a measurement – not an object. Unlike “biotechnology,” where you know that bios (life) is being manipulated, “nanotechnology” speaks solely to scale. A “nanometre” (nm) equals one billionth of a metre. One human hair is about 80,000 nanometres thick. It takes ten atoms of hydrogen side-by-side to equal one nanometre. A DNA molecule is about 2.5 nm wide. A red blood cell is vast in comparison: about 5,000 nm in diameter. Everything on the nano-scale is invisible to the unaided eye and even to all but the most powerful microscopes.

Monday 6th April 2009

We are grateful that the Royal Society is willing to accept a submission at this late stage in its proceedings. We regard this submission as an urgent matter, for we are alarmed at the apparent emergence of an "official view", most recently articulated by the UK House of Commons Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills, which is prepared to sanction real-world geoengineering experiments despite complete absence of any global rules or regulations. We find that emerging view complacent, irresponsible and dangerous. This short note outlines six points on the question of geoengineering governance that no study concerned with policy-making in this critical area should ignore:
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Saturday 20th December 2008

Issue: The main (and much-needed) goal of the Madrid High-Level meeting is to reorganize the intergovernmental management of food and agriculture. At the last food crisis in 1974, OECD states savaged the UN’s unified system and carved it into four warring factions. In the midst of today's food crisis, the four remain underfunded, weakly governed and dismayingly competitive. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the biggest “loner” in the crowd, the World Food Program (WFP), are all either suffering from harsh external reviews or major program reorganization. Complicating the problem, UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon’s High-Level Taskforce on the food crisis sees Madrid as an opportunity to segue into the secretariat for the G-8's proposed Global Partnership for Food and Agriculture. This top-down Partnership would substantially weaken G-77 policy influence in UN food fora by constructing an amorphous “compact” dominated by major governments, agribusiness, mega foundations, and multilateral food and financial institutions with just enough CSOs to mute protests against the presence of Monsanto and Gates. Also in Madrid, at the invitation of the Spanish premier, Jeffrey Sachs will be pedalling his proposal for a new vertical fund to draw down corporate and foundation money.

Article for Heinrich Boell Foundation

Friday 31st October 2008

You can fool some of the people all of the time; and, all of the people some of the time; but, you can't fool all of the people all of the time... However, you may be able to persuade enough of the people to monitor everyone all of the time.

Over 30 years ago, Oxford ethologist, Dr. Richard Dawkins, took sabbatical leave to write The Selfish Gene, one of the most disturbing books in a time of many disturbing books. Dawkins espoused the theory that human evolution is nurtured by numerous forces -- the gene, or DNA -- being only one. Human beings, Dawkins speculated, could evolve cultural memes capable of Darwinian replication. It was an outlandish concept without "coat tails" -- at least that chapter of his book didn't attract many followers.

ETC Group would have given the idea of cultural memetics a pass were it not for a high-level meeting of US government officials, scientists, and industry held in Washington three months after 9/11 that made research into cultural memetics a priority. Then, two years later, a book by Britain's much-respected Astronomer Royal brought us back to memetics with his concern that it may be possible to medicate social attitudes and manipulate human nature.

But, the most compelling reason to track this potentiality is because it makes sense. If, as the UN University‘s 2005 State of the Future Report suggest, we are entering the era of the Massively Destructive Individual - where anyone, anywhere could be devastatingly violent, using anything - then massive surveillance is, at best, a partial response. Aggressive surveillance will elicit a massive social reaction. Better than surveillance is surrender. If society can be cajoled into surrendering its information than the likelihood of a successful defense increases. Better still, if society can be convinced to surrender control over its own actions, then the world's dominating corporate/government partnership can sleep at night. Civil society needs to dissect the logic and the feasibility of all this...

Extreme Genetic Engineering and the Post-Petroleum Sugar Economy

Friday 10th October 2008

Peak oil, skyrocketing fuel costs and climate crisis are driving corporate enthusiasm for a “biological engineering revolution” that some predict will dramatically transform industrial production of food, energy, materials, medicine and all of nature. Advocates of converging technologies promise a greener, cleaner post-petroleum future where the production of economically important compounds depends not on fossil fuels – but on biological manufacturing platforms fueled by plant sugars. It may sound sweet and clean, but the so-called “sugar economy” will also be the catalyst for a corporate grab on all plant matter – and destruction of biodiversity on a massive scale.

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