Good News/Bad News September 19, 2002

Bad News comes first, per usual:

It's been an busy week for biotech crops. The Soil Association, a UK-based organic farming group, released a report entitled "Seeds of Doubt" about the utter failure of GM crops to live up to the promises of biotech seed companies.

According to the Soil Association, the planting of GM crops has cost U.S. farmers $12 billion in lost exports to countries with bans on GM foods, as well as having a lower yield than non-GM crops, and increasing the amount of pesticides used in farming.

Simultaneous with this report were the bleatings of spinmeisters and revisionists, who are hoping to encourage the EU to lift its ban on biotech food. The American Soybean Association released a report called "Let The Facts Speak for Themselves," and an ASA representative is claiming that groups like the Soil Association are "hoodwinking" the thinking public about GM crops. (Roughly 95 percent of soybeans grown in the U.S. are GM, by the way...)

Meanwhile, a similar skirmish is developing in Brazil. Brazil has officially banned the growing and import of GM crops, and Brazil's second-largest meat exporter has announced it will export only GM-free meat, which includes, for the first time, meat from animals that were fed GM crops.

Meanwhile, the head of a biotech investment group in Brazil has made the claim that GM crops will actually be increasing production on Brazil's already-arable land instead of plowing under more rainforest. Despite the fact that GM crops are a failure, they are urging the government to remove the ban or be left behind.

Here's a really stupid idea: a Connecticut scientist is urging the production of transgenic fish, that splicing growth hormones into a fish's DNA will allow it to reach "market size" sooner. This hormone has been shown to increase growth by up to 600 percent! What will happen when one of these fish escapes into the wild? The world will be overrun by half-ton GM salmon! Moby-Dick part two, apparently.

Six-hundred pound salmon, glow-in-the-dark mice, prehensile foreheads -- why can we not stop screwing around with the genetic structure? A report this week from MIT shows that cloning creates hundreds of genetic anomalies in the cloned creature, and is, to say the least, "very inefficient."

Good old Dubya: For the first time in six years, the annual EPA report on air pollution will say nothing about climate change. The Bush Administration has pulled the chapter on global warming because the EPA has already released two reports this year about this problem. Two's enough, right? It's gonna be OK now, right? Let's all just look away . . . Hey, what's "Free Willy" up to this week?

Meanwhile, good old Gale Norton (who was recently cited for contempt of court for her dealings with Native Americans) has given us a great eco-double-whammy: First she tells us that Dubya should veto any energy bill that doesn't permit drilling in the Alaska Nat'l Wildlife Refuge, and then lets the public know that our input is not necessary in the hearings to develop a new trans-Alaska pipeline. What does the public have to do with this, anyway?

We've often felt that spending two weeks in L.A. is like spending a lifetime anywhere else; it turns out it's just the pollution. . .

Salmon trucking: an idea only a pork-barrel Republican could dream up. Apparently, the dam was started before its environmental impact could be assessed, but construction got far enough to block the river. Now, instead of cutting a notch in the dam, allowing endangered salmon to pass and spawn, Rep. Walden wants to implement a program to trap salmon, drive them in trucks past the dam, and then release them to breed. Jesus god, what kind of officials have we elected?

Good News, at Long Last:

Sometimes, the Good News snowballs out of sheer, desperate enthusiasm for it. For instance, early this week, it was reported that the ozone layer seems to be improving, although it's really fragile still. By mid-week, the story became that the ozone hole could close up, if we continue our progress. Finally, by today it became certain that the hole has started shrinking and will close by 2050. If self-fulfilling prophecies are coming true these days, then I assume it's inevitable that GN/BN will be reporting from a lush, tropical isle within six months...

California, yet again, leads the way on sustainability. Gov. Davis signed into law a strong renewable energy mandate, which requires 20 percent renewable energy in 15 years.

In pollution news, New Jersey has discovered that a scheme to allow corporations to voluntarily limit their emissions hasn't worked as well as promised. Or at all. Surprisingly, advocates of the market-based project say it was improperly implemented. That part about reducing emissions, for instance...

Meanwhile, Los Angeles has picked one of its many pollution demons to battle. Perc, a.k.a. perchloroethylene, a.k.a. the "clean" in dry cleaning, is on the hit list as a major health risk as well as an air, soil and water pollutant. Despite all the evidence, perc remains popular for its cost-effectiveness, and small businesses are rallying to keep it legal.

Last but not least, a group of over 200 restaurants, grocers and seafood distributors have just said no to the 600 pound salmon. Hopefully, biotech fish will soon go the way of the dodo. Unless they can clone dodos. They were probably really tasty...

Matt Wheeland is now an AlterNet Fellow, and should be treated accordingly.
ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

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