Article for Heinrich Boell Foundation

Thursday 30th 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

Thursday 9th 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.

Saturday 31st May 2008

Issue: The world’s largest seed and agrochemical corporations are stockpiling hundreds of monopoly patents on genes in plants that the companies will market as crops genetically engineered to withstand environmental stresses such as drought, heat, cold, floods, saline soils, and more. BASF, Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Dupont and biotech partners have filed 532 patent documents (a total of 55 patent families) on so-called “climate ready” genes at patent offices around the world. In the face of climate chaos and a deepening world food crisis, the Gene Giants are gearing up for a PR offensive to re-brand themselves as climate saviours. The focus on so-called climate-ready genes is a golden opportunity to push genetically engineered crops as a silver bullet solution to climate change. But patented techno-fix seeds will not provide the adaptation strategies that small farmers need to cope with climate change. These proprietary technologies will ultimately concentrate corporate power, drive up costs, inhibit independent research, and further undermine the rights of farmers to save and exchange seeds.

The Global Seed Vault Raises Political/Conservation Debate

Thursday 31st January 2008

The swarm of media attention focusing on today's opening of the Global Seed Vault in Norway's high Arctic may overshadow an even bigger news story. The Norwegian government pledged to give 0.1% of money spent on commercial seed sales to support Farmers' Rights, and challenged other governments to do the same. The critical message is that even the most secure gene bank storage is not the ultimate solution. Governments must provide support to farmers to improve local conservation and breeding, and help them obtain access to far away seed accessions.

Food Sovereignty – à la Cartel?

Monday 14th January 2008

Because governments have failed to govern, the leading multilateral institutions involved in food and agriculture are in deep trouble. Unless governments and international secretariats cooperate, these institutions will be irreparably damaged and the power vacuum OECD states have created over recent decades will continue to be filled by multinational agribusiness and the new philanthro-capitalists.

Friday 30th November 2007

In the name of moving “beyond petroleum,” Big Oil, Gene Giants, governments, start-ups and others are forming partnerships that will extend corporate control over more resources in every part of the globe – while keeping the root causes of climate change intact. With grudging recognition that first-generation agrofuels are neither economical nor ecological, investors turn to other life-based technologies, including synthetic biology, for the next alternative fuel fix.

J. Craig Venter Institute Seeks Monopoly Patents on the World's First-Ever Human-Made Life Form

Wednesday 6th June 2007

Ten years after Dolly the cloned sheep made her stunning debut, the J. Craig Venter Institute is applying for a patent on a new biological bombshell - the world's first-ever human-made species. The novel bacterium is made entirely with synthetic DNA in the laboratory.

Wednesday 23rd May 2007

Despite the fact that governments re-affirmed and strengthened the United Nations’ moratorium on Terminator technology (a.k.a. genetic use restriction technology [GURTs]) in March 2006, public and private sector researchers are developing a new generation of suicide seeds – using chemically induced “switches” to turn a genetically modified (GM) plant’s fertility on or off.

Issue: Under the guise of biosafety, the European Union’s 3-year Transcontainer Project is investing millions of euros in strategies that cannot promise fail-safe containment of transgenes from GM crops, but could nonetheless function as Terminator, posing unacceptable threats to farmers, biodiversity and food sovereignty. Terminator technology – genetic seed sterilization – was initially developed by the multinational seed/agrochemical industry and the US government to maximize seed industry profits by preventing farmers from re-planting harvested seed. Researchers are also developing new techniques to excise transgenes from GM plants at a specific time in the plant’s development, and methods to kill a plant with “conditionally lethal” genes. This new generation of GURTs will shift the burden of trait control to the farmer. Under some scenarios, farmers will be obliged to pay for the privilege of restoring seed fertility every year – a new form of perpetual monopoly for the seed industry.

This time the “silver bullet” has a gun

Sunday 29th April 2007

Issue: Everybody’s trying to jump-start science – and, especially, agricultural science – in Africa. Starting with the G8 meeting in Canada five years ago – and pledges by four of its members to build new centers of scientific excellence in Africa – the Syngenta Foundation, CGIAR, Jeffrey Sachs’s Earth Institute, and now, Google, Gates, and Rockefeller are all pushing new initiatives for the continent. While there is no denying that Africans deserve support in their struggle to address hunger, disease and climate change, science and technology are no “silver bullet” to resolve Africa’s problems. Yet, when the G8 meets this June in Germany they are expected to announce a new research agenda that will again propose scientific solutions to the world’s – and, particularly Africa’s – social problems.

With hopes for Kyoto dimming, some governments may conclude that massive earth restructuring is the only feasible way out

Wednesday 31st January 2007

Issue: Kyoto is fading and carbon trading is a farce. Recognizing this, OECD states can either “bite the bullet” and adopt socially-responsible policies to dramatically cut fossil fuel use and useless consumption or, they can hope for a “silver bullet” – some new techno-fix that might let them have their cake and eat it too. The silver bullet may be winning. At the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the US government is lobbying for “geoengineering” activities such as deliberately polluting the stratosphere to deflect sunlight and lower temperatures. At least 9 national governments and the European Union have supported experiments to spread iron filings on the ocean surface to nurture plankton and sequester carbon dioxide. At least a dozen additional countries are involved in stratospheric weather/climate modification. Commercial carbon traders are engaging in ocean fertilization as well. The scientific debate and the government/commercial experimentation is taking place, once again, in the absence of public discussion.


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