America needs to prepare for post-oil future
Very good interview with [James Howard] Kunstler. You asked all the right questions.
Unfortunately the mainstream media and local policy makers here in the Twin Cities seem hell-bent on hitting the Peak Oil brick wall at warp speed. Read about MnDOT’s plans for highway expansion in yesterday’s [May 25] Strib and in the Skyway News. The Strib has an editorial today endorsing MnDot’s expansion plans.
The only city politician who is talking about Peak Oil is [Dean]
Zimmermann. Unfortunately, he says PRT is the answer. Since PRT is totally
Troy Pieper’s Pulse article [April 28,2004]—this can only give
the public a bad impression of the Peak Oil theory. I’ve offered to debate
PRT with Zimmermann … maybe Pulse can offer to sponsor that debate.
Stadium owners want us to pay for their risk
Let me see if I’ve got this straight … the Twins and Vikings owners
want new stadiums. The owners of these sports businesses want us to believe
that we’ll all profit from these new buildings but for some strange reason
don’t wish to do what real business people do and take the risk (and profit)
I think most intelligent people that aren’t tied to politics understand
this as a red flag. That’s probably why the franchise owners and their
political friends needed to come up with some way to make these stadiums happen
with public money, but without public approval.
I don’t believe a majority of the public favors paying for non-essential
services at a time when our leaders are telling us we have no money to spend
on services that are essential.
‘In Case You Missed It’ didn’t tell whole story
Please find enclosed two recent articles on the GMO issue, one from Pulse, [In
Case You Missed It, “Human
Genes Now Inserted into Rice Crops,” [April 20, 2005] and one from
the Science News. I feel that these are, respectively, bad and good examples
of science reporting. I am writing because I hope to convince you to take a
broader view of science issues, including controversial ones.
We have some common ground. I suspect you would agree with me that corporations
and great concentrations of wealth ought to be broken up. I further believe
that patents and copyrights have become destructive to the progress of the arts
and sciences, and should be abolished.
But I am a scientist, and I believe in the pursuit of knowledge. I also believe
that science issues should be discussed in logical terms. For instance I think
it is an error to equate “natural” with good, and “artificial”
with bad. Snake venom is natural. Agriculture, vital as it is to our survival,
is a profoundly artificial activity.
Whatever techniques we use will have consequences. Plowing to keep weeds down
risks increased erosion. Any technique at all (including organic approved ones)
will lead to selection for resistant traits in weeds and insects. It’s
an ongoing battle. GMO, it can be argued, is another technique in that ongoing
battle, and it may be an unavoidable technique if we are to feed nine billion
people with the same (or less) arable land.
It isn’t possible to discuss the morality of agricultural techniques outside
of the context of the current farming practices, fields and famine. We don’t
have the luxury of enough land or topsoil to ignore the question of yields.
Organic farming is not an option. It doesn’t have the yields to feed everyone
with the land that we have. Wealthy countries can indulge this way. I buy some
organic produce, but I do so with guilt, knowing that I am helping to take land
out of production that could feed people.
I wish you could have heard Niels Borlaug—the Nobel Prize winner for his
work on the “green revolution”—speak recently. Higher-yielding
rice varieties helped India go from famines to food exports; of course, they
have one of the worst rich/poor divides of anywhere, and they still let people
starve—deliberately as I see it. Borlaug was scathing about the political
situation in India. Still, it is important to distinguish that from the scientific
United States yields have gone up by a factor of three since 1950. If we were
trying to produce our current amount of food with the yields of 1950, we would
need arable land equivalent to the entire surface area of the U.S., plus most
of the land east of the Mississippi again. We couldn’t do it. And we would
have to cut down all our forests trying. That’s a moral issue too.
this context, I found the invocation of “cannibalism” in regard
to human genes to be inappropriate. Humans and plants already share genes and
protein—humans and mammals share more than 90 percent. So, by that logic,
eating 11 ounces of steak is the equivalent to eating 10 ounces of someone’s
leg? I hope to be more careful with logic.
I hope I have given you some ideas and I tried to avoid unnecessary provocations.
I apologize if I have given offense.
Thank you, Mr. Welsh, for your thoughtful letter.
You are right that Science News—which I read regularly—contains
more nuanced depictions of genetic engineering than our “In Case You Missed
It” column, as they write full articles instead of briefs. Also, our briefs
rarely contain original reporting, but are culled from other articles; in this
case, the reference to cannibalism was from a quotation in the London Guardian.
Speaking personally, I agree that there is a case to be made for genetic engineering,
and you bring up many good points. I would respond that the obesity in some
nations and starvation in others is a problem with our economies, not our food—a
point you said Borlaug also touched on. I would also say that many people have
legitimate moral objections to the manipulation of human genes, no matter how
much more efficient it would make our production.
Most importantly, however, we believe people should hear many sides of this
debate and know about new developments—like human genes in food—that
mainstream media do not widely report. We don’t have all the answers,
but we can spur some debate.