Thursday, May 25, 2006

Organic Cavemen Die Before Age of Thirty

This insightful cartoon was brought to my attention by Dr. Prakash's wonderful AgBioview eNewsletter. It has been getting a lot of comments over at Reason:

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Breaking News: Speculators Push Arctic Sea Ice to $20 per Ton

Be sure to visit EcoEnquirer.com for the latest breaking Eco-News.

Here's the latest headline over at EcoEnquirer: Speculators Push Arctic Sea Ice to $20 per Ton

"(Fairbanks, Alaska) Speculators on the Arctic Natural Commodities Exchange (ANCE) pushed the price of virgin Arctic sea ice (ANCE symbol CICE) to $20/ton yesterday, continuing a price surge that hasn't been seen since the mosquito futures peak of $4 set during the drought of 1988.

"It's been crazy on the floor of the exchange", said native Inuit trader Nootaikok Sedna, locally known as "No-kok", wiping the frost from his nostrils. "Ever since the sea ice started receding twenty years ago, speculators have been pushing up the price in anticipation of a complete meltdown of the sea ice stock within the next few years.""

Friday, May 19, 2006

GMOs - Change for the Better

We have widespread use of genetically modified crops such as cotton and corn. But the ag-biotech revolution is just begining - check out the incredible environmental advantages from genetically engineered aspens, tailored specifically to the needs of paper manufacturers...

Changing for the Better - What's Up with Genetically Modified Organisms?

You’re holding a magazine made of paper. No duh. Maybe you don’t know how tough on the environment making paper is--or how altering aspen trees could help the situation.

Separating the useful tree fibers--the cellulose--from the stuff that binds them together, called lignin, requires harsh alkaline chemicals and high heat. It’s surprisingly expensive, pollutes the air, takes enormous amounts of water that reduce fresh water sources for fish and other organisms, and raises the temperature that they live in to unsafe levels.

But modifying the output (expression) of two genes in aspen trees can reduce the lignin by about half, produce more cellulose, and make the trees grow faster. Producing fast-growing, low-lignin trees as 'crops' would also help conservationists save existing forests.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Ten Points to Defame Biotech - Part 1

Wild Duck Review, a publication of "Literature, Necessary Mischief, & News," dedicated its October 2000 issue, Made Not Born: The Troubling World of Biotechnology to, "extend[ing] the critique of new, transformative technologies beyond issues of safety, efficacy, and rights."

The editor of Wild Duck Review, Casey Walker, wrote the Letter from the Editor for that issue, in which she stated: "even if each new engineering technique were proven safe to all donors, recipients, and succeeding generations; even if each were guaranteed to do its job precisely and accurately; and even if all concerns for democratic process and equal rights were met and approved by a unanimous, global culture, still such standards would not in themselves prevent the creation of a world devoid of human or wild nature-the creation of a technohive in a technosphere."

Who wants to live in a technohive!? A technosphere doesn't sound so bad, though - does it come with indoor plumbing? I've kind of grown to like indoor plumbing, personally.


It would appear that Ms. Walker will not be persuaded by scientific evidence of safety or proofs of the efficacy of transgenic crops, and will not consider persuasive arguments concerning the intellectual property rights of the scientists who create transgenic organisms. It's not about such things anymore. It's about power - the power to instill fear through emotional rhetoric.

Let's take a look at some of Ms. Walker's rhetoric. Her editorial, Ten Points to Introduce Biotechnology, is a bizarre, abstruse polemic that is more of a lamentation with numbered paragraphs (verse numbers would have been handy) than a "list."

Here is chapter -- that is, paragraph -- one:

"I. Biotechnology creates living things. It is not like any other technology—automobiles, nuclear energy, computers, or satellite telecommunication."
This is completely false - on several levels. Ms. Walker, as we will witness repeatedly throughout this canard, is gifted at squeezing an amazing amount of sophism in every sentence.

First of all, biotechnology does not "create" life, it uses recombinant DNA technologies, such as Biolistics or Agrobacterium tumefaciens bacteria, to insert a desired gene sequence into target cells where it will hopefully integrate with the cells' DNA and be expressed - that is, produce the desired protein, etc.

Second, biotechnology is not some alien magic that is completely different than all other technologies. It uses techniques that have been shown by careful observation and experimentation to effectively and efficiently accomplish a specific, practical goal - usually as part of a larger commercial initiative. All technologies work this way.

Just because biotech involves the manipulation of living organisms, this doesn't make it "not like any other technology." What about medical technology - just because it alters living organisms is it also, "not like any other technology?" Nuclear engineering involves the manipulation of radioactive substances -- does this one unique trait make it "not like any other technology?"

Of course not. This is just a transparent attempt to single out biotech for non-rational (i.e., non-factual/emotional) treatment because it is "not like any other technology."

For a definition of Transgenic plants, see What Are Transgenic Plants?

For a description of the process of recombinant gene splicing technologies, see How Do You Make A Transgenic Plant?

This issue of Wild Duck Review was brought to you by the letters F E A R M O N G E R I N and G, and by a grant from the JENIFER ALTMAN FOUNDATION, who want to remind us that, "it is not a bad thing, we believe, to focus our grantmaking on efforts to end this Age of Extinctions and to help bring the birth of a new Age of Interbeing, to borrow an expression from the great Buddhist teacher and activist Thich Nhat Hanh, in which a deep consciousness of the interdependence of all life will fundamentally transform the primitive death-dealing technologies that we thoughtlessly deploy today into fully conscious technologies that support and sustain the tree of life rather than weaken it."

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

American Meat Eaters Cause Third World Hunger?

Question: How does America's meat consumption impact our ability to feed an increasing world population?

1. Americans eat a lot of meat because it's cheap compared to our incomes.

2. Meat is cheap in America because the corn used to feed most cattle is cheap. This is a direct result of American farmers having access to inexpensive and highly efficient technologies like artificial fertilizers, hybrid seeds, harvest machinery, inexpensive fuel, effective and (when used properly) safe insecticides, and good infrastructure (roads, transportation, warehouses, etc.).

3. If Americans decided to eat less meat, American farmers would grow less livestock feed (corn). They might grow some other grain for human consumption, but we already export tons of grain. Countries that can't produce enough food for themselves can't afford to buy our current excess grain production, so they wouldn't be helped by a farmer switching from livestock feed to something humans could eat.

4. The U.S. government already buys tons of grain every year and gives it away. However, such aid does not help a country to develop their own agriculture. In fact, it may very well be harming countries when we giving them long-term food aide (which is very different from immediate assistance in response to dire food emergencies). When a country is flooded with free food for an extended period of time, it undermines the local agricultural economy.

5. American consumption of beef is just Americans eating excess (cheap) corn in another form. Not eating meat in America will just remove the economic incentive for American farmers to grow that crop, so they'll switch to something else. Regardless, it will do nothing to help the malnourished of the world.

6. Meat consumption always increases in countries as they grow economically. People like meat. And we know that it is harmful for young children to live on a vegan diet, so increasing meat consumption -- from a third-world level -- should correlate with increased health. And that appears to be the case: more wealthy countries, which eat more meat than poorer countries, have much longer life spans.

7. In third-world countries, domestic livestock is not normally fed grain that could feed humans. This is for a very good reason: it is too expensive. Most livestock in developing countries eat plant fibre humans cannot consume, like grass and woody plants. In fact, worldwide, goats provide more meat for human consumption than any other type of livestock.

8. Livestock perform important functions in third-world agriculture: they produce the highest quality protein from marginal land -- that is, land that is not suitable for growing human consumable crops -- and they provide valuable fertilizers for crops.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Hoot: eco-terrorism for kids

New Movie Called 'Soft Core Eco-terrorism' for Kids - CNSNews attended an advance screening of the movie in Washington DC and interviewed some of the kids who came to see it: "'If it's a really, really good cause and you aren't like really hurting someone, it's sort of like it works out okay,' responded 12-year old Alex Kacher, when asked by Cybercast News Service whether he was troubled by the kids' criminal behavior in the movie." Looks like Walden is right on track helping Earth First and ALF/ELF with their recruiting efforts.

The CNSNews article reports the reaction of Ron Arnold, author of "EcoTerror: The Violent Agenda to Save Nature: The World of the Unabomber: "Hoot is not just pushing eco-terrorism. It's pushing social and political terrorism as well. ... Hoot's so-called harmless 'mischief' is training a generation to look cute while burning homes and cars and stores. Eco-terrorism is serious. Eco-terrorism is arson and pipe bombs and hate that hurts people and destroys lives."

I am very disappointed in Walden Media. The movie "Hoot" is sending the wrong message to kids. Getting kids started in eco-terrorism early is not a good thing. Encouraging children to break the law will not help the environment - it will only send kids into violent anti-capitalist groups like Earth First and ALF/ELF.

This is not the kind of movie I would ever take my family to see, and I know I'm not speaking only for my family. We see a lot of movies, but this one won't be one of them. We wouldn't even rent this.

Walden Media should stick with classic books and leave the law-breaking eco-terrorist activism to others in Hollywood. It does not send a "we're for wholesome family entertainment" message at all. In fact, I suspect this movie will damage Walden Media's image tremendously with precisely the demographic they were targeting with "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

I wonder how Walden Media employees who participated in the making of this movie will feel a decade from now when they read about the arrest of an eco-terrorist who was inspired to start his eco-terrorism career by their movie hoot? An eco-terrorist who has participated in the destruction of millons of dollars in property, threatened violence to land developers and scientists, and maybe even killed a scientist for experimenting on animals?

Not something I'd want on my conscience.

Encouraging reading is a good thing - but what kids read is far more important. There's a lot of good classic children's literature that Walden could have selected. What's next - an adaptation of "Mein Kampf" for kids?