Vandana Shiva: 'We Must End Monsanto's Colonization, Its Enslavement of Farmers'
Citizens of the U.S. are being denied the right to know what they are feeding their families. Despite the fact that 90 percent of American citizens want GMO labeling on their food, big business is doing everything it can to prevent people from accessing their rights. Representative Pompeo's bill, popularly known as the DARK Act (Denying Americans the Right to Know), has been written almost entirely by the biotech industry lobby. While American citizens are advocating for their rights to knowledge and healthy, affordable food, Monsanto's legal team is busy on every legislative level trying to prevent this from happening.
Monsanto's subversion of democratic legal processes is not new. In fact, it is their modus operandi, be it the subversion of LA's decision to be GMO free by amending the California Seed Law—equating corporations with persons and making seed libraries and exchange of seed beyond 3 miles illegal—or suing Maui County for passing a law banning GMOs.
Decades before there was a “debate" over GMOs and Monsanto's PR and law firms became the busiest of bees, India was introduced to this corrupting, corporate giant that had no respect for the laws of the land. When this massive company did speak of laws, these laws had been framed, essentially, by their own lawyers.
Today, Indian cotton farmers are facing a genocide that has resulted in the death of at least 300,000 of their brothers and sisters between 1995 and 2013, averaging 14,462 per year (1995-2000) and 16,743 per year (2001-2011). This epidemic began in the cotton belt, in Maharashtra, where 53,818 farmers have taken their lives. Monsanto, on it's own website, admits that pink bollworm “resistance [to Bt] is natural and expected" and that the resistance to Bt “posed a significant threat to the nearly 5 million farmers who were planting the product in India." Eighty four percent of the farmer suicides have been attributed to Monsanto's Bt Cotton, placing the corporation's greed and lawlessness at the heart of India's agrarian crisis.
There are three outright illegalities to Monsanto's existence in India.
First, Monsanto undemocratically imposed the false idea of “manufacturing" and “inventing" a seed, undermining robust Indian laws—that do not allow patents on life—and by taking patents on life through international trade law. Since 1999, Monsanto has had the U.S. government do its dirty work, blocking the mandatory review of the Monsanto Law in TRIPS (the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement implemented through the WTO).
Second, since they do not have a patent for Bt-Cotton, Monsanto's collection of royalties as “trait value" or as a “fee for technology traits" (IPR category that does not exist in any legal framework and was concocted by Monsanto lawyers to work outside of the laws of the land) is illegal. These illegal royalty collections have been collected from the most marginal farmers, pushing them to take their own lives.
Third, the smuggling of a controlled substance without approvals (and thus Monsanto's very entry into India) is a violation and subversion of India's Biosafety Regulations. This includes the illegal introduction of GMOs into the food system in India, which poses grave risks to the health of ordinary Indian citizens.
Illegal entry of Bt Cotton into India
The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the apex body constituted in the Ministry of Environment and Forests, is solely entrusted with the responsibility of approving field trials of any genetically modified organisms (GMOs). India's biosafety framework—one of the strongest in the world—is governed by The Rules for the Manufacture, Use, Import, Export and Storage of Hazardous Micro Organisms, Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells (notified under the Environment Protection Act, 1986).
ARTICLE (7) OF THE RULES STIPULATES:
APPROVAL AND PROHIBITIONS ETC.
(1) NO PERSON SHALL IMPORT, EXPORT, TRANSPORT, MANUFACTURE, PROCESS, USE OR SELL ANY HAZARDOUS MICROORGANISMS OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERED ORGANISMS/SUBSTANCES OR CELLS EXCEPT WITH THE APPROVAL OF THE GENETIC ENGINEERING APPROVAL COMMITTEE.
On 10 March 1995, MAHYCO (which became Monsanto-Mahyco in 1998) imported 100 grams of cottonseed that contained the MON531-Bt Gene into India without approval from the GEAC. MAHYCO, under undisclosed circumstances, had obtained permission from the RCGM (Review Committee of Genetic Manipulation under the Department of Biotechnology (DBT)), which does not have the authority to approve such an import. Without the approval of the governing body responsible for the approval of the import (GEAC) Monsanto had smuggled a controlled substance into India.
ARTICLE (4) OF THE RULES STIPULATES:
(4) GENETIC ENGINEERING APPROVAL COMMITTEE (GEAC)
THIS COMMITTEE SHALL FUNCTION AS A BODY UNDER THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT FORESTS AND WILDLIFE FOR APPROVAL OF ACTIVITIES INVOLVING LARGE SCALE USE OF HAZARDOUS MICROORGANISMS AND RECOMBINANTS IN RESEARCH AND INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION FROM THE ENVIRONMENTAL ANGLE. THE COMMITTEE SHALL ALSO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR APPROVAL OF PROPOSALS RELATING TO RELEASE OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERED ORGANISMS AND PRODUCTS INTO THE ENVIRONMENT.
Open field trials are a deliberate release of GMOs into the environment and, under the above Indian law, require approval by the GEAC. Eager to get to market and establish a monopoly in the cotton sector of India in 1998, Monsanto-Mahyco, without the approval of the sole agency allowed to grant permission for open field trials—the GEAC—started large scale, multi-centric, open field trials of Bt Cotton in 40 locations spread across nine states of India.
The eventual clearance, long after the commencement of these field trials, came once again from the Review Committee of Genetic Manipulation (RCGM), which is not authorized to grant clearance for field trials. RCGM's mandate is restricted to guidelines for lab research. Without approval from the GEAC, Monsanto's open field trials of Bt Cotton in 1998 were blatantly illegal and an act of biological warfare against India through genetic pollution.
Furthermore, no post harvest management and safety was ensured in these trials by Monsanto-Mahyco. Monsanto was not concerned with the findings of the trials at all; they just wanted GM seeds to be introduced into Indian soil and they did so without due process. GMO traits, once released into the environment, cannot be contained or recalled. In fact, genetically engineered cotton was sold in open markets. In some states, the trial fields were replanted the very next season with crops including wheat, turmeric, and groundnut, violating Para-9 on “Post harvest handling of the transgenic plants" of the Biosafety Guidelines (1994), according to which,the fields on which GMO trials were conducted should be left fallow for at least one year.
It was in the face of these violations of Indian laws and the risks of genetic pollution India faced, that the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) filed a petition in the Supreme Court of India in 1999 against Monsanto and MAHYCO. Clearly, Monsanto and MAHYCO had violated the 1989 rules for the use of GMOs under the Environmental Protection Act (1986). The government had allowed Monsanto to carry out field trials without the mandatory scientific biosafety tests.
Without waiting for the outcome of the petition pending in the Supreme Court—around President Bill Clinton's visit to India—in March 2000 the Department of Biotechnology gave biosafety clearance to Monsanto's Bt Cotton and in July 2000 the GEAC cleared large-scale field trials of Bt Cotton despite the pending Supreme Court case. This was two years after Monsanto first started illegal trials. CD Mayee, Co-Chairman of the GEAC, also became the first Indian board member of ISAAA, a biotech evangelist group, in 2006. He is the chairman of the sub-committee on Bt Cotton of the GEAC and interestingly, also sits of on the Agriculture Ministry's Committee on Endosulfan, an insecticide with acute neurotoxin properties developed by Bayer CropScience, which is a major funder—along with Monsanto—of ISAAA.
Monsanto Bt Cotton seeds had not yet been cleared for commercial release. While the RFSTE case against Monsanto was still in the Supreme Court of India, Monsanto reported to the GEAC, in 2001, that Navbharat Seeds Pvt. Ltd., a company in Gujarat, was selling Navbharat 151 seeds, which had the MON531 Bt gene. This was not a cowboy company selling on the black market. This was a company with enough Bt Cotton seeds for the 10,000 Hectares of Navbharat 151 planted at the time. On Monsanto's complaint, the GEAC started an investigation, carried out by the two-member team of CD Mayee and T.V. Ramanaiah (from the Department of Biotechnology (DBT)), who found Bt traits in the cotton. A case was filed in Gujarat against Navbharat Seeds Pvt. Ltd.
Post investigation, the GEAC ordered all standing crops of Navbharat 151 to be uprooted and destroyed along with seed production plots due to the major risks posed by Bt. In a submission to the court, the GEAC stated:
“12 (I) THE CROP WHICH IS STANDING MAY PASS TO THE SOIL THAT MODIFIED GENES WHICH IT CONTAINS. THE EFFECT ON SOIL MICROORGANISMS CAN NOT BE ESTIMATED AND MAY CAUSE AN IRREVERSIBLE CHANGE IN THE ENVIRONMENT STRUCTURE OF THE SOIL. IT IS A STANDARD PRACTICE TO UPROOT CROPS WHICH POSE SUCH A THREAT. THE DESTRUCTION BY BURNING IS TO ENSURE SAFETY TO ENVIRONMENT AND HUMAN HEALTH AND TO OBVIATE ANY POSSIBILITY OF CROSS-POLLINATION.
(II) THE DESTRUCTION OF THE COTTON PRODUCE AS WELL AS SEEDS HARVESTED FROM THIS PLANT IS ALSO EQUALLY NECESSARY. THE COTTON WHICH HAS BEEN PRODUCED IS GENETICALLY MODIFIED COTTON, THE EFFECT OF WHICH I.E. ALLERGENICITY AND OTHER FACTORS ON MAMMALS ARE NOT TESTED. THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLES WOULD REQUIRE THAT NO PRODUCT, THE EFFECT OF WHICH IS UNKNOWN BE PUT INTO THE MARKET STREAM. THIS COTTON WHICH IN APPEARANCE IS NO DIFFERENT FROM ANY OTHER COTTON WILL INTERMINGLE WITH ORDINARY COTTON AND IT WILL BECOME IMPOSSIBLE TO CONTAIN ITS ADVERSE AFFECT. THE ONLY REMEDY IS TO DESTROY THE COTTON AS WELL AS THE SEEDS PRODUCED AND HARVESTED IN THIS MANNER.
(III) SINCE THE FARMERS ARE BEING PUT TO A LOSS, THE FURTHER PROCESS TO DETERMINE THE COMPENSATION PAYABLE TO FARMERS, WHO HAVE UNWITTINGLY USED THIS PRODUCT HAS TO BE DETERMINED AND UNDERTAKEN.
13. I WOULD RESPECTFULLY SUBMIT THAT EVERY DAY OF DELAY IN THIS MATTER POSES A THREAT TO THE ENVIRONMENT."
Having just concluded that Bt was dangerous and all of it had to be uprooted and burned, a few weeks later the GEAC approved the commercial release of Monsanto-Mahyco Biotech (MMB) Bt Cotton.
The national farmers unions made a joint petition to the GEAC and asked for an inquiry committee to be set up and liability and compensation fixed on the basis of the “polluter pays" principle. Since Monsanto-Mahyco is admittedly the source of the GM pollution, they, along with Navbharat Seeds Pvt. Ltd, which has further spread the pollution, are jointly liable for the pollution caused.
Monsanto's Bt Cotton has also found its way into edible vegetable oils in India.
In a government document, the Department of Biotechnology states:
COTTON SEEDS CAN BE TOXIC IF INGESTED IN EXCESSIVE QUANTITIES BECAUSE OF THE PRESENCE OF ANTI-NUTRITIONAL AND TOXIC FACTORS INCLUDING GOSSYPOL AND CYCLOPROPENOID FATTY ACIDS.
but then goes on to say in the next sentence:
THE OIL AND LINTERS ARE USED AS PREMIUM VEGETABLE OILS AND AS CELLULOSE DIETARY ADDITIVES FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION, RESPECTIVELY. TRADITIONALLY, WHOLE COTTON SEED IS USED AS CATTLE FEED IN INDIA. HOWEVER, THE INCREASE IN DEMAND OF EDIBLE OILS HAS NECESSITATED PROCESSING OF COTTON SEED FOR ITS OIL. THEREFORE, COTTON SEED OILCAKE/MEAL AFTER EXTRACTION IS NOW USED AS CATTLE FEED.
Monsanto's Bt Cotton, without the support of necessary precautions and scientific studies, has illegally found its way into the Indian food chain, endangering the health of 1.26 billion Indians. The health effects of Bt Cotton seed oil in “premium vegetable oil" (as the DBT calls it) must be investigated and the damage to people's health must be compensated by Monsanto.
Monsanto's illegal collection of super-profits as royalties
India's laws do not permit patents on seeds and in agriculture. But that hasn't stopped Monsanto from collecting close to USD 900 million from small farmers in India, pushing them into crushing debt. This is roughly the same amount of money Monsanto spent buying The Climate Corporation—a weather big data company—in a bid to control climate data access in the future.
Monsanto-Mahyco Biotech Ltd collected royalties for Bt Cotton by going outside the law and charging “technology fees" and “trait value". These are just clever names for royalty collection. In 2006, out of the INR 1600 (per 450 grams) price tag, INR 1250—almost 80 percent—was charged by MMB as the trait value. Compared to Bt Cotton, local seeds used to cost INR 5-9 per kg before Monsanto destroyed alternatives, including local hybrid seed supply, through licensing arrangements and acquisitions.
In January 2006, the Andhra Pradesh Government filed a complaint with the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) against Monsato-Mahyco Biotech (MMB), accusing MMB of overpricing genetically modified Bt Cotton seeds. The Research Foundation for Science Technology and Ecology had to intervene in the MRTPC case. In its submission, the Andhra Pradesh Government pointed out that Monsanto charged only about INR 400 for the same packet of seeds in China and only about INR 200 in the U.S.—9 times less than the amount they were forcing Andhra Pradesh farmers to pay. MMB said the royalty it charged reflected its research and development costs for Bt Cotton, admitting that they were charging Indian farmers royalty and that for some reason, Indian farmers owed them more for their research and development than farmers in the U.S..
On May 10, 2006, the MRTPC ruled in favor of the Andhra Pradesh government and directed MMB to reduce the trait value it was unfairly charging the farmers of Andhra Pradesh. Following this, on May 29, 2006, the Andhra Pradesh Agricultural Commissioner fixed the price of Bt Cotton seeds at INR 750 for a 450-gram packet and directed MMB and its sub-licensees to comply with its order. Monsanto challenged the Andhra Pradesh Government and the MRTPC's decision in the Supreme Court, saying that the government's move was illegal and arbitrary. The Supreme Court did not stay the MRTPC's order, but while the appeal was pending before it, five states— Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, West Bengal, and Madhya Pradesh (now Maharashtra as well)—followed Andhra Pradesh's lead and ordered that Bt Cotton should be sold at a reduced price, dealing a blow to the inflated profits Monsanto was taking from Indian peasants and repatriating to their headquarters in St. Louis.
To side-step price control measures and avoid any regulation that had been applied to Bt Cotton, which was marketed in India as Bollgard, Monsanto introduced Bollgard II, its apparently 'upgraded' version with two Bt proteins. Monsanto's intentional scientific ignorance (despite the availability of scientific studies at the time) is obvious. GMOs which release the Bt toxin in high doses in every cell of every plant are highly toxic to pollinators and friendly insects and are a recipe for creating super pests through the emergence of resistance. The pink bollworm underwent what every intelligent being does—it evolved—it became resistant to Bt. On it's website, Monsanto admits, “Measures to delay resistance are critically important" and “application of insecticide sprays during the crop season and proper management of crop residue and unopened bolls after harvest will help limit insects in cotton fields". What are farmers being made to pay for if normal bollworm control measures are still required, they are still expected to buy and spray insecticides and 80 percent of the cost of the seed goes for failed R&D?
Monsanto admitted that the pink bollworm was resistant to Bollgard and claimed Bollgard II, with it's two Bt proteins would control the bollworm epidemic. This allowed Monsanto to continue looting marginalised small farmers. By claiming Bollgard II was better technology than the first version, Monsanto was able to mislead farmers and charge even higher prices. (Oblivious to it's earlier Bt failures, Monsanto is currently working on a 3-protein Bt variety to continue it's looting)
And Monsanto still claims Bt Cotton is resistant to Bollworm and have all their hired mouthpieces claim that there is reduced pesticide usage due to this inherent trait. In reality, requirements of pesticide increase every year with Bt Cotton. Clearly misrepresenting their lacklustre product, the only reason for the existence of Bt Cotton is royalties. Monsanto itself is on record at the 52nd Meeting of the GEAC (held on 4 March 2005) saying that Bt is not resistant to Bollworm.
“TO A QUERY ON WHETHER THE BT VARIETY IS RESISTANT TO BOLLWORM COMPLEX OR ONLY EFFECTIVE AGAINST AMERICAN BOLLWORM IT WAS CLARIFIED THAT BT COTTON IS TOLERANT TO BOLLWORM AND NOT RESISTANT."
SOURCE: MINUTES OF THE 52ND MEETING OF THE GEAC
This ruthlessness is central to the crisis Indian farmers are facing. Farmers leveraged their land holdings to buy Bt Cotton seeds and the chemicals it demanded, but the golden promise of higher yield and lower input costs failed to deliver. They were left with no option but to take their own lives. (Incidentally, CD Mayee was the chair of the GEAC subcommittee on Bt Cotton, which still monitors the performance of Bt Cotton and his reports on the performance of Bt Cotton were and still are, very different from the real experiences of the farmers driven to suicide by failed harvests and inferior quality cotton yield.)
In 2007 Andhra Pradesh was forced to introduce the Andhra Pradesh Cotton Seeds Act to control the price of cottonseed, since Bollgard II prices were still astronomically high due to a majority royalty component.
The following Act of the Andhra Pradesh Legislature received the assent of the Governor in August 2007:
ACT NO.29 OF 2007
SHORT TITLE AND COMMENCEMENT
AN ACT TO REGULATE THE SUPPLY, DISTRIBUTION, SALE AND FIXATION OF SALE PRICE OF COTTON SEEDS AND FOR THE MATTERS CONNECTED THEREWITH OR INCIDENTAL THERETO.
WHEREAS, COTTON SEEDS OF CERTAIN VARIETIES ARE NOT NOTIFIED UNDER SECTION 5 AND CONSEQUENTLY NO SALE OF SUCH SEEDS ARE REGULATED UNDER SECTION 7 OF THE SEEDS ACT, 1966;
AND WHEREAS, COTTON SEED IS NOT AN ESSENTIAL COMMODITY WITHIN THE MEANING OF THE ESSENTIAL COMMODITIES ACT, 1955 AS AMENDED BY THE ESSENTIAL COMMODITIES (AMENDMENT) ACT, 2006;
AND WHEREAS, THE PROVISIONS OF THE SEEDS (CONTROL) ORDER, 1983 ISSUED UNDER SECTION 3 OF THE ESSENTIAL COMMODITIES ACT, 1955 ARE NOT APPLICABLE IN SO FAR AS THEY RELATE TO THE COTTON SEEDS W.E.F. 12.2.2007;
AND WHEREAS, THERE IS NO PROVISION IN THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION ACT, 1986 TO REGULATE THE SUPPLY, DISTRIBUTION AND SALE OF TRANSGENIC AND GENETICALLY MODIFIED COTTON SEED AND TO CONTROL THE SALE PRICE OF SUCH COTTON SEED IN THE STATE;
AND WHEREAS, THE TRADERS IN COTTON SEED INCLUDING TRANSGENIC COTTON SEED ARE EXPLOITING POOR FARMERS BY COLLECTING EXORBITANT PRICES;
AND WHEREAS, THERE IS NO PROVISION TO REGULATE THE SUPPLY, DISTRIBUTION, SALE OF COTTON SEEDS AND TO CONTROL THE SALE PRICES OF SUCH COTTON SEEDS IN THE STATE;
AND WHEREAS, IT HAS BECOME IMPERATIVE ON THE PART OF THE STATE TO REGULATE THE SUPPLY, DISTRIBUTION AND SALE OF COTTON SEEDS BY FIXING THE SALE PRICE IN THE INTERESTS OF THE FARMERS IN THE STATE;
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF ANDHRA PRADESH IN THE FIFTY-EIGHTH YEAR OF THE REPUBLIC OF INDIA AS FOLLOWS :- 1. (1) THIS ACT MAY BE CALLED THE ANDHRA PRADESH COTTON SEEDS
(REGULATION OF SUPPLY, DISTRIBUTION, SALE AND FIXATION OF SALE PRICE) ACT, 2007.
(2) IT SHALL BE DEEMED TO HAVE COME INTO FORCE ON AND FROM THE 28TH JUNE, 2007.
This restriction on their profits did not sit well with Monsanto, which then challenged the Andhra Pradesh Cotton Seeds Act. The Research Foundation for Science Technology and Ecology had to intervene in the case once more, which is still before the Andhra Pradesh High Court.
While Monsanto does not have a patent on Bt cotton in India, it goes outside the law to collect royalties as “technology fees". Most of the 300,000 farmers suicides in India since 1995 (when the WTO came into force) are concentrated in the cotton belt. And 95 percent of the cotton in India is controlled by Monsanto.
Out of India's 29 states, those with Bt Cotton have the highest suicide rates.
Correlation is the first step to understanding causation. Monsanto does not see the above correlation because the next logical step would be to plead guilty for the deaths of all the farmers whose lives have been reduced to numbers on a table, or a bank account in St Louis.
Additionally, Monsanto knows that Bt Cotton is dependent on irrigation. Despite this knowledge, Monsanto has pushed its Bt Cotton into regions that depend solely on rainfall, as opposed to irrigation. These include Vidarbha in Maharashtra, where most cotton farms are less than 1 hectare and are dependent solely on rainfall. The costs of Bt cottonseed and insecticide increase the risk of farmer bankruptcy in low-yield rainfed cotton. The criminal negligence of knowingly setting up marginal farmers—who can't afford to irrigate and whose options for obtaining seeds have been acquired by Monsanto—for dire failure, cannot be ignored.
A recent research paper published by Environmental Sciences Europe concluded:
“[THE] INABILITY TO USE SAVED SEED AND INADEQUATE AGRONOMIC INFORMATION TRAP COTTON FARMERS ON BIOTECHNOLOGY AND INSECTICIDE TREADMILLS. ANNUAL SUICIDE RATES IN RAINFED AREAS ARE INVERSELY RELATED TO FARM SIZE AND YIELD, AND DIRECTLY RELATED TO INCREASES IN BT COTTON ADOPTION (I.E., COSTS). HIGH-DENSITY SHORT-SEASON COTTONS COULD INCREASE YIELDS AND REDUCE INPUT COSTS IN IRRIGATED AND RAINFED COTTON. POLICY MAKERS NEED HOLISTIC ANALYSIS BEFORE NEW TECHNOLOGIES ARE IMPLEMENTED IN AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT."
“Fourteen years after U.S. multinational Monsanto brought the genetically modified (GM) Bt Cotton (Bollgard) to India, there is no clarity on the discovery having ever been patented in the country," states a recent Times of India article. India does not recognize patents on life, including seeds. The royalties Monsanto has collected over the last 14 years are based on a patent that does not exist and is therefore, quite simply, theft. Monsanto is robbing the people who have the least, of the very last thing they can give—their lives.
Illegal patents on life through Monsanto's laws in the WTO
In 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case that is now famous for being the point in world history where life forms were first allowed to be patented—not only in the US, but through the WTO, in many other parts of the world. Ananda Mohan Chakrabarty, a General Electric employee, had applied for a patent for a process of producing a bacterium capable of eating crude oil spills and on the bacteria itself. The claim was rejected by the U.S. Patent office, but on appeal, was granted by a 5-4 majority in the Supreme Court.
“The decision of the Supreme Court in Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. 303, 206 USPQ 193 (1980), held that microorganisms produced by genetic engineering are not excluded from patent protection by 35 U.S.C. 101"
4. “This is not to suggest that § 101 has no limits or that it embraces every discovery. The laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas have been held not patentable."
5. “Thus, a new mineral discovered in the earth or a new plant found in the wild is not patentable subject matter. Likewise, Einstein could not patent his celebrated law that E=mc2; nor could Newton have patented the law of gravity."
Genetic engineering has not been able to deliver on its promises—it is just a tool of ownership. Bt Cotton is not resistant to Bollworm, RoundUp Resistant varieties have only given rise to super weeds and the new promises being made by biotech corporations of bio-fortification are laughable. There is no benefit to things like Golden Rice. By adding one new gene to the cell of a plant, corporations claimed they had invented and created the seed, the plant, and all future seeds, which were now their property. Monsanto does not care if your cotton field has Bollworm infestations, just so long as the crop can be identified as theirs and royalty payments keep flowing in. This is why the failure of Bt Cotton as a reflection of bad science does not bother them—the cash is still coming into St Louis. At its core, genetic modification is about ownership.
In 1981, shortly after the precedence of life forms being patented had been set in the U.S., Monsanto, which was a chemical company at the time, decided—as it lays out on it's own website—that biotechnology would be its strategic research focus in the future. Selling chemicals requires raw materials that eat into profit. Intellectual Property, on the other hand, just pays. In the decade and a half since 1981, with this new “strategic research focus" and all the R&D dollars you can imagine, Monsanto has only been able to produce failures—failures that pay royalties from all across the world.
Monsanto saw that by claiming ownership of life forms, especially seed—the first step in the food chain—and destroying alternatives or making them illegal, would allow them to charge royalties for the source of food, fibre and fuel. It was easy money and a lot of it. The limited achievements of Monsanto's research focus have not given us better cotton, corn, canola or soya—they've merely made it all theirs.
Monsanto required new forms of property rights, inspired by the U.S. Supreme Court, to be able to claim as an invention that which is not invented by them—seed and life forms. This was achieved through the World Trade Organization (WTO), working closely with the U.S. Government and with the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement.
Patents are granted for inventions and give the patent holder the right to exclude everyone from the use or marketing of a patented product or process. Over the last two decades, patent laws have taken a different direction under the influence of corporations like Monsanto, from protecting the interests of genuine inventions and ideas to ownership of life and control over survival essentials like seed and medicine.
JAMES ENYART OF MONSANTO IS ON RECORD ILLUSTRATING JUST HOW DEEPLY THE TRIPS AGREEMENT IS ALIGNED TO CORPORATE INTEREST AND AGAINST THE INTERESTS OF NATIONS AND THEIR CITIZENS:
“INDUSTRY HAS IDENTIFIED A MAJOR PROBLEM FOR INTERNATIONAL TRADE. IT CRAFTED A SOLUTION, REDUCED IT TO A CONCRETE PROPOSAL AND SOLD IT TO OUR OWN AND OTHER GOVERNMENTS… THE INDUSTRIES AND TRADERS OF WORLD COMMERCE HAVE PLAYED SIMULTANEOUSLY THE ROLE OF PATIENTS, THE DIAGNOSTICIANS AND THE PRESCRIBING PHYSICIANS."
Corporations defined a problem—farmers saving seed—so that they could forcefully open the market. In turn, they offered a solution and the solution was the introduction of patents and intellectual property rights on seed, making it illegal for farmers to save their seed. This is how the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) Agreement of the WTO was born. For the U.S. Government, with an economy where the manufacturing industry was slowing, the idea of royalties coming in to fuel the economy was perfect.
ARTICLE 27.3 OF THE TRIPS AGREEMENT STATES:
3. MEMBERS MAY ALSO EXCLUDE FROM PATENTABILITY:
(A) DIAGNOSTIC, THERAPEUTIC AND SURGICAL METHODS FOR THE TREATMENT OF HUMANS OR ANIMALS;
(B) PLANTS AND ANIMALS OTHER THAN MICRO-ORGANISMS, AND ESSENTIALLY BIOLOGICAL PROCESSES FOR THE PRODUCTION OF PLANTS OR ANIMALS OTHER THAN NON-BIOLOGICAL AND MICROBIOLOGICAL PROCESSES. HOWEVER, MEMBERS SHALL PROVIDE FOR THE PROTECTION OF PLANT VARIETIES EITHER BY PATENTS OR BY AN EFFECTIVE SUI GENERIS SYSTEM OR BY ANY COMBINATION THEREOF. THE PROVISIONS OF THIS SUBPARAGRAPH SHALL BE REVIEWED FOUR YEARS AFTER THE DATE OF ENTRY INTO FORCE OF THE WTO AGREEMENT.
This is the Monsanto Law of the TRIPS Agreement. Drafted by Monsanto lawyers and riding on the U.S. taxpayer's dollar, it bulldozes the world leaving behind nothing but royalty liabilities.
Section 3(b) of Article 27 is what is cleverly designed to be a trojan horse and to prohibit the free exchange of seeds between farmers, threatening their subsistence and their ability to save and exchange seeds. Shooting a gene into an organism through a gene gun is not a biological process. A seed growing into a plant that gives seed is a biological process. But the non-biological process of the insertion of a gene is patentable according to Article 27.3(b). Genetic engineering has been defined as “non-biological" and/or “microbiological" by the same lawyers that put the Monsanto Law into the TRIPS agreement, allowing the patentability of seeds and other life forms through genetic manipulation.
Objections to the Monsanto Law were raised owing to the basic idea that life cannot be patented.
India, in its submission, stated:
Clearly, there is a case for re-examining the need to grant patents on lifeforms anywhere in the world. Until such systems are in place, it may be advisable to:- (a) exclude patents on all lifeforms
The African group stated:
The African Group maintains its reservations about patenting any life forms as explained on previous occasions by the Group and several other delegations. In this regard, the Group proposes that Article 27.3(b) be revised to prohibit patents on plants, animals, micro-organisms, essentially biological processes for the production of plants or animals, and non-biological and microbiological processes for the production of plants or animals. For plant varieties to be protected under the TRIPS Agreement, the protection must clearly and not just implicitly or by way of exception, strike a good balance with the interests of the community as a whole and protect farmers' rights and traditional knowledge and ensure the preservation of biological diversity.
Due to the strong objections raised at the WTO it was decided that the Monsanto Law (TRIPs clause on patents on life) would be due for a mandatory review within the first 4 years of the WTO—by 1999. The review of the clause on patents on life has been blocked and subverted for the last 16 years by Monsanto and the Monsanto-friendly government of the United States, to protect the royalties that are moving money from impoverished farmers world over to the United States of America.
This is not for the benefit of the U.S. as a nation. The illegal royalties collected do not benefit citizens of the U.S.. In fact, the liberties and basic human rights of the citizens of the U.S. are being restricted by this royalty-hungry monster, just like those of the Indian cotton farmer. There is an attempt, in the U.S., by Monsanto and the aiding U.S. Government, to deem all non-patented seed illegal—even the tomato you have in your garden. And all this is being done in the name of “protecting and maintaining the food sources of America."
Since 1991, when the draft text of the WTO agreements was leaked, the National Working Group on Indian Patent Law worked with Parliament and the government to ensure that public interest was protected in any amendment made in India's patent laws in order to make India's IPR regime TRIPS-compliant. Methods of agriculture and plants were excluded from patentability in the Indian Patent Act to ensure that seed, the first link in the food chain, was held as a common property resource in the public domain and farmers' inalienable right to save, exchange and improve seed was not violated. And only process patents (patents on processes) were allowed in medicine.
When India amended her Patent Act, safeguards consistent with TRIPS were introduced based on a scientific definition of “invention".
ARTICLE 3 DEFINES WHAT IS NOT PATENTABLE SUBJECT MATTER.
ARTICLE 3(D) EXCLUDES AS INVENTIONS “THE MERE DISCOVERY OF ANY NEW PROPERTY OR NEW USE FOR A KNOWN SUBSTANCE".
This was the article under which Novartis's patent claim to a known cancer drug was rejected. This is the article that Novartis tried to challenge in the Supreme Court and lost.
ARTICLE 3(J) EXCLUDES FROM PATENTABILITY “PLANTS AND ANIMALS IN WHOLE OR IN ANY PART THEREOF OTHER THAN MICROORGANISMS; BUT INCLUDING SEEDS, VARIETIES, AND SPECIES, AND ESSENTIALLY BIOLOGICAL PROCESSES FOR PRODUCTION OR PROPAGATION OF PLANTS AND ANIMALS".
This was the article used by the Indian Patent Office to reject a Monsanto patent on climate resilient seeds and is also why farmers in India are, at the very least, safe from Monsanto lawyers, unlike the thousands of farmers across the world like Bowman, Steve Marsh and Percy Schmeiser being sued by Monsanto for being farmers.
India's patent laws, based on good science and drafted by conscientious people, get in the way of Monsanto's royalty collections, if only on paper. The U.S. Government, under the influence of Monsanto, has been pressurizing countries like India to change their patent regimes to fit into Monsanto's plan, meanwhile subverting the review of the Monsanto Law, though it has legally been obligated to do since 1999.
In 1996 the U.S. Government brought a case in the WTO against India due to the “alleged absence of patent protection for pharmaceutical and agricultural chemical products in India." It was to ensure protection of Monsanto's royalties on seeds and its carcinogenic Glyphosate molecule. Monsanto was attempting to subvert the democratic laws of India using the U.S. Government to strong arm India, as it is doing even today. U.S. President Obama's recent trip to meet Indian Prime Minister Modi in India was, aside from a show of wardrobe, intended to pressurize India into changing its IPR regime to better suit American industry. The proposed changes are in no way designed to foster innovation within India, for which Indian laws are quite good.
India's sovereignty is under attack by Monsanto. American citizens' rights to garden in their backyards with seeds they freely exchange with one another are under attack by Monsanto. African farmers' livelihoods are under attack by Monsanto. The world's food system is under attack by Monsanto. Hundreds of thousands of Indian cotton farmers have died under attack from Monsanto. It is a war being waged to profit from every grain of corn and soya, rice or banana you eat. The citizens of the world are victims of this war, from the U.S. and Argentina to India, across the Pacific through the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and across the Atlantic through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
If a country other than the U.S. was blocking and subverting the review of the Monsanto Law, that country would have been bombed by drones a long time ago. It is time to tell the U.S. Government to stop being a Monsanto Government writing laws on behalf of Monsanto at home and imposing them worldwide. It is time for the U.S. government to stop being a rogue nation and stop blocking the mandatory review of TRIPS, the International Monsanto Law—even if it's 16 years late. It is time to tell the U.S. government to stop criminalizing farmers who save seeds or whose seeds are contaminated by Monsanto.
Monsanto should be tried for its smuggling of a controlled substance into India and allowing genetically modified cottonseed oil into the premium vegetable oils of India, a country where GM is not allowed in the food system.
Monsanto must compensate farmers for royalties collected on the basis of an imaginary patent and the reparations due for the hundreds of thousands of farmers it has killed by collecting illegitimate and illegal royalties. Life is priceless. Monsanto can never return the father or the husband it pushed to suicide. Corporations like Monsanto will never really understand the value of life unless we put a dollar figure to the debt the widows and the children of the dead are owed. Insurance statisticians have put the life of a “prime aged worker", in the U.S., at a median value of USD 7 million. Eighty-four percent of 300,000 suicides, 252,000, are directly attributed to Monsanto's Bt-Cotton. By this calculation, Monsanto, in addition to the illegal royalties collected, owes the families of 'prime aged' working farmers in India an amount of USD 1.764 Trillion. We must ensure reparations are made and Monsanto does not shrug it's responsibilities by changing it's name, buying Syngenta, or through any other corporate tax evasion/liability reducing tricks it's lawyers conjure up.
Internationally Monsanto must be tried for its crimes against nature, people, science and knowledge, freedom and democracy. Our governments need to start working for their citizens instead of Monsanto and the mandatory review of the Monsanto Law of the TRIPS agreement must be done if the U.S. values 'freedom'.
We need to have reverence for nature and ecological justice must be served. Reparations, for the genocide in India, in accordance with International Law, are due.
VII. VICTIMS' RIGHT TO REMEDIES
11. REMEDIES FOR GROSS VIOLATIONS OF INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS LAW AND SERIOUS VIOLATIONS OF INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW INCLUDE THE VICTIM'S RIGHT TO THE FOLLOWING AS PROVIDED FOR UNDER INTERNATIONAL LAW:
(A) EQUAL AND EFFECTIVE ACCESS TO JUSTICE;
(B) ADEQUATE, EFFECTIVE AND PROMPT REPARATION FOR HARM SUFFERED;
(C) ACCESS TO RELEVANT INFORMATION CONCERNING VIOLATIONS AND REPARATION MECHANISMS.
We must end Monsanto's colonization, its enslavement of farmers—for whom the only escape from the Monsanto treadmill is suicide. We must not allow Monsanto to profit from the loss of innocent lives. Private enterprise cannot be allowed to profit from global public risk. Real lives are more valuable than fake patents.This illegal takeover of our food, our seeds and our democracies and the killing of farmers must be stopped.
Sign the Declaration on Seed Freedom
And you can sign the open letter to President Obama and PM Modi here.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
Next week marks the second Earth Day of the coronavirus pandemic. While a year of lockdowns and travel restrictions has limited our ability to explore the natural world and gather with others for its defense, it is still possible to experience the wonder and inspiration from the safety of your home.
Here are three new films to watch this Earth Week that will transport you from pole to pole and introduce you to the scientists and activists working to save our shared home.
Where to Watch: Apple TV+
When to Watch: From April 16
The coronavirus pandemic has brought home the stakes of humanity's impact on the environment. But the lockdowns also proved how quickly nature can recover when humans give it the space. Birds sang in empty cities, whales surfaced in Glacier Bay and capybara roamed the South American suburbs.
The Year Earth Changed captures this unique year with footage from more than 30 lockdowned cities between May 2020 to January 2021. Narrated by renowned wildlife broadcaster David Attenborough, the film explores what positive lessons we can take from the experience of a quieter, less trafficked world.
"What the film shows is that the natural world can bounce back remarkably quickly when we take a step back and reduce our impact as we did during lockdown," executive producer Alice Keens-Soper of BBC Studios Natural History Unit told EcoWatch. "If we are willing to make even small changes to our habits, the natural world can flourish. We need to learn how to co-exist with nature and understand that we are not separate from it- for example if we closed some of our beaches at for a few weeks during the turtle breeding we see that it can make a huge difference to their success. There are many ways that we can adapt our behavior to allow the natural world to thrive as it did in lockdown."
Where to Watch: San Francisco International Film Festival
In 1989, Will Steger led an international team of six scientists and explorers to be the first humans to cross Antarctica by dogsled. Steger and his team weren't just in it for the adventure. They also wanted to draw attention to the ways in which the climate crisis was already transforming the icy continent and to rally support for the renewal of the Antarctic Treaty, which would keep the continent safe from extractive industries.
In After Antarctica, award-winning filmmaker Tasha Van Zandt follows Steger 30 years later as he travels the Arctic this time, reflecting on his original journey and once again bringing awareness to changes in a polar landscape. The film intersperses this contemporary journey with footage from the original expedition, some of which has never been seen before.
"Will's life journey as an explorer and climate activist has led him not only to see more of the polar world than anyone else alive today, but to being an eyewitness to the changes occurring across both poles," Van Zandt told EcoWatch. "But now, these changes are happening in all of our own backyards and we have all become eyewitnesses. Through my journey with Will, I have learned that although we cannot always control change, we can change our response. I feel strongly that this is a message that resonates when we look at the current state of the world, as we each have power and control over how we choose to respond to hardships, and we all have the power to unite with others through collective action around a common goal."
After Antarctica is available to stream once you purchase a ticket to the San Francisco International Film Festival. If you miss it this weekend, it will screen again at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival from May 13 to May 23.
Tasha Van Zandt
Where to Watch: Virtual Cinema
While many films about the climate crisis seek to raise awareness about the extent of the problem, The Race to Save the World focuses on the people who are trying to stop it. The film tells the story of climate activists ranging from 15-year-old Aji to 72-year-old Miriam who are working to create a sustainable future. It follows them from the streets to the courtroom to their homes, and explores the impact of their advocacy on their personal lives and relationships.
Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker Joe Gantz told EcoWatch that he wanted to make a film about climate change, but did not want to depress viewers with overwhelming statistics. Instead, he chose to inspire them by sharing the stories of people trying to make a difference.
"Unless millions of people take to the streets and make their voices heard for a livable future, the politicians are not going to get on board to help make the changes needed for a sustainable future," Gantz told Ecowatch. "I think that The Race To Save The World will energize and inspire people to take action so that future generations, as well as the plants, animals and ecosystems, can survive and thrive on this planet."
Check back with EcoWatch on the morning of Earth Day for a special preview of this inspiring film!
By Michael Svoboda
For April's bookshelf we take a cue from Earth Day and step back to look at the bigger picture. It wasn't climate change that motivated people to attend the teach-ins and protests that marked that first observance in 1970; it was pollution, the destruction of wild lands and habitats, and the consequent deaths of species.
The earliest Earth Days raised awareness, led to passage of new laws, and spurred conservation. But the original problems are still with us. And now they intersect with climate change, making it impossible to address one problem without affecting the others.
The 12 books listed below remind us about these defining interconnections.
The first three focus on biodiversity and on humanity's fractured relationships with the animals we live with on land.
The second trio explores the oceans and, at the same time, considers social and cultural factors that determine what we know – and don't know – about the 75% of our planet that is covered by water, perhaps the least well understood part of the climate system.
Agriculture and food security are examined by the third tranche of titles. This set includes a biography that may challenge what you think was/is possible, culturally and politically, in the American system.
Finally, there is the problem of waste, the problem of single-use plastics in particular. These three titles offer practical advice and qualified hope. Reducing litter might also reduce emissions – and vice versa.
As always, the descriptions of the works listed below are drawn from copy provided by the publishers or organizations that released them. When two dates of publication are included, the latter is for the paperback edition.
A Life on Our Planet My Witness Statement and Vision for the Future, by David Attenborough (Grand Central Publishing 2020, 272 pages, $26.00)
See the world. Then make it better. I am 93. I've had an extraordinary life. It's only now that I appreciate how extraordinary. As a young man, I felt I was out there in the wild, experiencing the untouched natural world – but it was an illusion. The tragedy of our time has been happening all around us, barely noticeable from day to day – the loss of our planet's wild places, its bio-diversity. I have been witness to this decline. A Life on Our Planet is my witness statement, and my vision for the future. It is the story of how we came to make this, our greatest mistake – and how, if we act now, we can yet put it right. We have one final chance to create the perfect home for ourselves and restore the wonderful world we inherited. All we need is the will to do so.
Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction, by Michelle Nijhuis (W.W. Norton 2021, 352 pages, $27.95)
In the late 19th century, as humans came to realize that our industrializing and globalizing societies were driving other animal species to extinction, a movement to conserve them was born. In Beloved Beasts, science journalist Michelle Nijhuis traces the movement's history. She describes the vital role of scientists and activists such as Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson; she reveals the origins of organizations like the Audubon Society and the World Wildlife Fund; she explores current efforts to protect species; and she confronts the darker side of conservation, long shadowed by racism and colonialism. As the destruction of other species continues and the effects of climate change escalate, Beloved Beasts charts the ways conservation is becoming a movement for the protection of all species – including our own.
How to Be an Animal: A New History of What It Means to Be Human, by Melanie Challenger (Penguin Random House 2021, 272 pages, $17.00 paperback)
How to Be an Animal tells a remarkable story of what it means to be human and argues that at the heart of our existence is a profound struggle with being animal. We possess a psychology that seeks separation between humanity and the rest of nature, and we have invented grand ideologies to magnify this. In her book, nature historian Melanie Challenger explores the ways this mindset affects our lives, from our politics to our environments. She examines how technology influences our relationship with our own animal nature and with the other species with whom we share this fragile planet. Blending nature writing, history, and philosophy, How to Be an Animal both reappraises what it means to be human and robustly defends what it means to be an animal.
Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean's Biggest Secret, by Jess Keating, Illustrated by Katie Hickey (Tundra Books 2020, 34 pages, $17.99)
From a young age, Marie Tharp loved watching the world. She loved solving problems. And she loved pushing the limits of what girls and women were expected to do and be. In the mid-twentieth century, women were not welcome in the sciences, but Marie was tenacious. She got a job at a laboratory in New York. But then she faced another barrier: women were not allowed on the research ships (they were considered bad luck on boats). So Marie stayed back and dove deep into the data her colleagues recorded. At first the scientific community refused to believe her, but her evidence was irrefutable. The mid-ocean ridge that Marie discovered is the single largest geographic feature on the planet, and she mapped it all from her small, cramped office.
Science on a Mission: How Military Funding Shaped What We Do and Don't Know about the Ocean, by Naomi Oreskes (University of Chicago Press 2021, 744 pages, $40.00)
What difference does it make who pays for science? After World War II, the US military turned to a new, uncharted theater of warfare: the deep sea. The earth sciences – particularly physical oceanography and marine geophysics – became essential to the US Navy, which poured unprecedented money and logistical support into their study. In Science on a Mission, historian Naomi Oreskes delves into the role of patronage in science, what emerges is a vivid portrait of how naval oversight transformed what we know about the sea. It is a detailed, sweeping history that illuminates the ways funding shapes the subject, scope, and tenor of research, and it raises profound questions about American science. What difference does it make who pays? A lot.
Dark Side of the Ocean: The Destruction of Our Seas, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do About It, by Albert Bates (Groundswell Books 2020, 158 pages, $12.95 paperback)
Our oceans face levels of devastation previously unknown in human history due to pollution, overfishing, and damage to delicate aquatic ecosystems affected by global warming. Climate author Albert Bates explains how ocean life maintains adequate oxygen levels, prevents erosion from storms, and sustains a vital food source that factory-fishing operations cannot match. Bates also profiles organizations dedicated to changing the human impact on marine reserves, improving ocean permaculture, and putting the brakes on heat waves that destroy sea life and imperil human habitation at the ocean's edge. The Dark Side of the Ocean conveys a deep appreciation for the fragile nature of the ocean's majesty and compels us to act now to preserve it.
The Planter of Modern Life: Louis Bromfield and the Seeds of a Food Revolution, by Stephen Heyman (W.W. Norton 2020, 352 pages, $26.95)
Louis Bromfield was a World War I ambulance driver, a Paris expat, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist as famous in the 1920s as Hemingway. But he cashed in his literary success to finance a wild agrarian dream in his native Ohio. There, in 1938, Bromfield transformed 600 badly eroded acres into a thriving cooperative farm, which became a mecca for agricultural pioneers and a country retreat for celebrities like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. This sweeping biography unearths a lost icon of American culture. While Bromfield's name has faded into obscurity, his mission seems more critical today than ever before. The ideas he planted at his utopian experimental farm, Malabar, would inspire America's first generation of organic farmers and popularize the tenets of environmentalism years before Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.
Food Fights: How History Matters to Contemporary Food Debates, edited by Charles C. Ludington and Matthew Morse Booker (University of North Carolina Press 2019, 304 pages, $32.95 paperback)
What we eat, where it is from, and how it is produced are vital questions in today's America. We think seriously about food because it is freighted with the hopes, fears, and anxieties of modern life. Yet critiques of food and food systems all too often sprawl into jeremiads against modernity itself, while supporters of the status quo refuse to acknowledge the problems with today's methods of food production and distribution. Food Fights sheds new light on these crucial debates, using a historical lens. Its essays take strong positions, even arguing with one another, as they explore the many themes and tensions that define how we understand our food – from the promises and failures of agricultural technology to the politics of taste.
Our Changing Menu: Climate Change and the Foods We Love and Need, by Michael P. Hoffmann, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, and Danielle L. Eiseman (Comstock Publishing Associates 2021, 264 pages, $21.95 paperback)
Our Changing Menu unpacks the increasingly complex relationships between food and climate change. In it, Michael Hoffmann, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, and Danielle Eiseman offer an eye-opening journey through a complete menu of before-dinner drinks and salads; main courses and sides; and coffee and dessert. Along the way, they examine the escalating changes occurring to the flavors of spices and teas, the yields of wheat, the vitamins in rice, and the price of vanilla. Their story ends with a primer on the global food system, the causes and impacts of climate change, and what we can do. Our Changing Menu is a celebration of food and a call to all – from the common ground of food – to help tackle the greatest challenge of our time.
Plastic Free: The Inspiring Story of a Global Environmental Movement and Why It Matters, by Rebecca Prince-Ruiz and Joanna Atherhold Finn (Columbia University Press 2020, 272 pages, $28.00)
In July 2011, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz challenged herself and some friends to go plastic free for the whole month. Since then, the Plastic Free July movement has grown from a small group of people in the city of Perth into a 250-million strong community across 177 countries. Plastic Free tells the story of this world-leading environmental campaign. From narrating marine-debris research expeditions to tracking what actually happens to our waste to sharing insights from behavioral research, Plastic Free speaks to the massive scale of the plastic waste problem and how we can tackle it together. Interweaving interviews from participants, activists, and experts, it tells the inspiring story of how ordinary people have created change in their homes, communities, workplaces, schools, businesses, and beyond. Plastic Fee offers hope for the future.
Can I Recycle This? A Guide to Better Recycling and How to Reduce Single Use Plastics, by Jennie Romer (Penguin Books 2021, 272 pages, $22.00)
Since the dawn of the recycling system, men and women the world over have stood by their bins, holding an everyday object, wondering, "Can I recycle this?" This simple question links our concerns for the environment with how we interact with our local governments. Recycling rules seem to differ in every municipality, leaving average Americans scratching their heads at the simple act of throwing something away. Taking readers on an informative tour of how recycling actually works (setting aside the propaganda we were all taught as kids), Can I Recycle This gives straightforward answers to whether dozens of common household objects can be recycled. And it provides the information you need to make that decision for anything else you encounter.
Zero Waste Living: The 80/20 Way: The Busy Person's Guide to a Lighter Footprint, by Stephanie J. Miller (Changemaker Books 2020, 112 pages, $10.95 paperback)
Many of us feel powerless to solve the looming climate and waste crises. We have too much on our plates, and so may think these problems are better solved by governments and businesses. This book unlocks the potential in each "too busy" individual to be a crucial part of the solution. Stephanie Miller combines her climate-focused career with her own research and personal experience to show how relatively easy lifestyle changes can create significant positive impacts. Using the simplicity of the 80/20 rule, she shows us those things (the 20%) that we can do to make the biggest (80%) difference in reversing the climate and waste crises. Her book empowers busy individuals to do the easy things that have a real impact on the climate and waste crises.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
- The 10 Hottest Climate Change Books of Summer - EcoWatch ›
- 10 Best Books On Climate Change, According to Activists - EcoWatch ›
- 26 Children's Books to Nourish Growing Minds - EcoWatch ›
Over the past year, Amazon has significantly expanded its warehouses in Southern California, employing residents in communities that have suffered from high unemployment rates, The Guardian reports. But a new report shows the negative environmental impacts of the boom, highlighting its impact on low-income communities of color across Southern California.
The report, from the People's Collective for Environmental Justice (PCEJ) and students from the University of Redlands, shared with The Guardian, is meant to serve as an "advocacy tool to help raise awareness related to the warehouse industry's impacts on Southern California's air pollution issues," Earthjustice noted.
California's Inland Empire, 60 miles east of Los Angeles, has emerged as one of the largest "warehousing hubs" in the world in just the past few decades, according to Grist. Since establishing its first warehouse in the region in 2012, Amazon has become the largest private employer in the region, where 40,000 people now work in Amazon warehouses, picking, packing, sorting and unloading, as well as driving trucks and operating aircrafts, The New York Times Magazine reported.
"The company is so enmeshed in the community that it can simultaneously be a TV channel, grocery store, home security system, boss, personal data collector, high school career track, internet cloud provider and personal assistant," The New York Times Magazine added.
In just the last year, Amazon has tripled its delivery hubs in the region due to the demand for online shopping during the COVID-19 crisis. But despite the economic boom, heavy air pollution mainly from trucks going in and out of the warehouses infects nearby communities, the new research showed, according to The Guardian.
The research found, for example, that the populations living within a half-mile of the warehouses are 85 percent people of color, while California's overall population is 64 percent people of color, The Guardian reported. The research also found that communities with the most Amazon warehouses nearby have the lowest rates of Amazon sales per household.
"Amazon has boomed in 2020 and tripled the amount of money it's making, and it is happening at a cost to the folks who live in these communities," Ivette Torres, a PCEJ environmental science researcher and analyst, who helped put the research together, told The Guardian.
The research also demonstrated that the top 10 communities with the most warehouses in the region also experience pollution from other facilities, like gas plants and oil refineries, Earthjustice wrote in a statement.
"The Inland Empire, probably more than any region in the United States, has disproportionately [borne] the brunt of the environmental and economic impact of goods movement, and Amazon is driving that now in the Inland Empire," Jake Wilson, a California State University, Long Beach, professor of sociology, told Grist.
Last year, the San Bernardino International Airport Authority ratified a decision to allow an air cargo facility development at the airport, allowing Amazon to operate more flights out of the region, Grist reported.
Among the local residents to oppose the decision was Jorge Osvaldo Heredia, a resident of San Bernadino in Southern California since 2005. "This whole region has been taken over by warehouses," Heredia told Grist, and commented on the "horrible" air quality in the city on most days. "It's really reaching that apex point where you can't avoid the warehouses, you can't avoid the trucks," he added.
Advocates who published the research are pushing on the South Coast Air Quality Management District, a local air pollution regulatory agency, to move forward with the Warehouse Indirect Source Rule, which would require new and existing warehouses to take action to reduce emissions locally each year, The Guardian reported. Some solutions include moving towards zero-emissions trucks and mitigation fees.
"Last year, we saw some of the worst air quality, with wildfires adding to it, and the trucks were still in and out of our communities. So this is a huge change that we need right now, and that we actually needed yesterday," Torres concluded, according to The Guardian.
Scientists at the University of Purdue have developed the whitest and coolest paint on record.
Painting buildings white to help cool down cities has long been touted as a climate solution. However, the white paints currently on the market reflect only 80 to 90 percent of sunlight and cannot actually cool a roof to below air temperature, The Guardian reported. However, this new paint can.
"Our paint can help fight against global warming by helping to cool the Earth – that's the cool point," University of Purdue Professor Xiulin Ruan told The Guardian. "Producing the whitest white means the paint can reflect the maximum amount of sunlight back to space."
The new paint, introduced in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces on Thursday, can reflect up to 98.1 percent of sunlight and cool surfaces by 4.5 degrees Celsius. This means it could be an effective replacement for air conditioning.
"If you were to use this paint to cover a roof area of about 1,000 square feet, we estimate that you could get a cooling power of 10 kilowatts. That's more powerful than the central air conditioners used by most houses," Ruan said in a University of Purdue press release.
The new paint improves upon a previous paint by the same research team that reflected 95.5 percent of sunlight. Researchers say it is likely the closest counterpart to the blackest black, "Vantablack," which can absorb as much as 99.9 percent of visible light. The new paint is so white for two main reasons: It uses a high concentration of a reflective chemical compound called barium sulfate, and the barium sulfate particles are all different sizes, meaning they scatter different parts of the light spectrum.
White paint is already being used to combat the climate crisis. New York has painted more than 10 million square feet of rooftops white, BBC News reported. Project Drawdown calculated that white or plant-covered roofs could sequester between 0.6 and 1.1 gigatons of carbon between 2020 and 2050. The researchers hope their paint will enhance these efforts.
"We did a very rough calculation," Ruan told BBC News. "And we estimate we would only need to paint one percent of the Earth's surface with this paint — perhaps an area where no people live that is covered in rocks — and that could help fight the climate change trend."
The research team has filed a patent for the paint and hope it will be on the market within two years, according to The Guardian. However, Andrew Parnell, who develops sustainable coatings at the University of Sheffield, said it would be important to calculate the emissions produced from mining barium sulphate and compare those with the emissions saved from using the paint instead of air conditioning.
"The principle is very exciting and the science [in the new study] is good. But I think there might be logistical problems that are not trivial," Parnell told The Guardian. "How many million tons [of barium sulphate] would you need?"
Parnell thought green roofs, or roofs on which plants grow, might prove to be a more ecologically friendly alternative.
- Researchers Develop Solar Paint That Turns Water Vapor Into ... ›
- Paint: The Big Source of Ocean Microplastics You Didn't Know ... ›
- This White Paint Could Reduce the Need for Air Conditioning ... ›
Less than three years after California governor Jerry Brown said the state would launch "our own damn satellite" to track pollution in the face of the Trump administration's climate denial, California, NASA, and a constellation of private companies, nonprofits, and foundations are teaming up to do just that.
Under the umbrella of the newly-formed group Carbon Mapper, two satellites are on track to launch in 2023. The satellites will target, among other pollution, methane emissions from oil and gas and agriculture operations that account for a disproportionate amount of pollution.
Between 2016 and 2018, using airplane-based instruments, scientists found 600 "super-emitters" (accounting for less than 0.5% of California's infrastructure) were to blame for more than one-third of the state's methane pollution. Now, the satellite-based systems will be able to perform similar monitoring, continuously and globally, and be able to attribute pollution to its source with previously impossible precision.
"These sort of methane emissions are kind of like invisible wildfires across the landscape," Carbon Mapper CEO and University of Arizona research scientist Riley Duren said. "No one can see them or smell them, and yet they're incredibly damaging, not just to the local environment, but more importantly, globally."
For a deeper dive:
- Scientists Alarmed at Surging Atmospheric Methane, CO2 - EcoWatch ›
- New 3D Methane Models Help NASA to Track Global Trends ... ›
- New Satellite Data Reveals One of the Largest Methane Leaks in ... ›
- Environmental Defense Fund to Launch a Satellite That Will Monitor ... ›