More than half of the corn, soybeans and cotton grown in the U.S. these days starts as genetically engineered seed. The best-known are produced by Monsanto and called "Roundup-Ready," Roundup being the name of an herbicide also produced by Monsanto. The idea is that the GE crops can be doused with Roundup to kill off weeds without damaging the crops themselves.
Well, someone forgot to tell Monsanto that nature is pretty slick about adapting to change: Weeds have evolved resistance to Roundup, requiring farmers to apply great quantities of different herbicides to kill them, which is expensive and dangerous.
I met Tom Graff in about 1970 or so. I was at the brand-new Friends of the Earth. Tom had come out from New York to open an office for the slightly older Environmental Defense Fund near the Berkeley campus. He immediately dove (pun intended) into the fractious, messy and endless battles over water in California, the place where, Mark Twain supposedly said, “water flows uphill toward money.”
The California Water Project had been built by then, a maze of canals and pumping stations to divert water from the wet north to the dry south and San Joaquin Valley. Not satisfied with what they had, big ag proposed a “peripheral canal” to route water from the Sacramento River around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a proposal Tom Graff called a rifle pointed at the heart of the Sacramento Valley, or words to that effect. The proposal was resoundingly defeated, in large part owing to Tom's efforts. He went on to help George Miller pass the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, which belatedly guaranteed water for fish and wildlife.
Tom died the other day at the too-young age of 65. He leaves a legacy we can only admire and learn from—especially as a brand-new proposal for a kinder, gentler peripheral canal is likely to come bearing down on us soon and the CVPIA is under continuous attack.
A heartening sight in my old Peace Corps village (in Turkey) was all the solar water heaters on top of the houses. It only makes sense, but then sensible things don't always prevail. Fritz Schumacher, coiner of the term 'appropriate technology' would be proud.
Less attractive was a trip up to the yayla—high-mountain pasture—where the villagers take their livestock to graze in the summer months. When I lived here and heard about the yayla I pictured the Sound of Music—lush green alpine meadows, leiderhosen and all that—but these pastures have been badly overgrazed and signs of erosion are everywhere. It's still wild and beautiful this time of year with most of the koyun (sheep) and inek (cattle) gone, but not the paradise I had thought.
Finally, on the way to an old abandoned monastery, we passed the site of a brand-new hydroelectric dam that will wipe out miles of trout streams, several houses, even a mosque. Think about that for a minute.
The Obama magic is everywhere. The other day in the Covered Bazaar a natty gentleman of a certain age dragged us into his back room to show off a photograph of himself and Laura Bush, who had visited the market on some no-doubt well orchestrated tour when W was hanging with his G-8 buddies or someone.
I said that Laura was OK, her husband not so much, and the old dude agreed. Bush NO! O-Ba-Ma YES! Seems to be universal. . .They've just banned smoking in public places in Turkey, and it seems to be working fine. This in a country where cigarette smoking was virtually universal. I've heard grumbling in a restaurant or two, but no outright defiance so far. . .I'm off to the eastern Black Sea this afternoon to visit a village I lived in in the '60s as a Peace Corps volunteer. We'll see how the ban is playing there. . .Finally, virtually the only cars you see here are compact taxis, which may be the result of gas that costs more than 12 dollars a gallon. At that there are too many cars, but if gas were as cheap as it is in the U.S. I'd hate to think.
The signs of greening are everywhere. Paris has thousands of bicycles for rent—with the first half hour free (Velolib, it's called), and there's hardly anywhere in the city you can't get to in a half-hour. There are bike lanes as well, though they're in the middle of the sidewalks, so you must be alert. Almost no bike riders wear helmets for some reason ; maybe it's the great health-care system. Cars in general are tiny, though there are way too many. Stores are full of « bio » (organic) products of all sorts.
The talk is all of Obama's Nobel prize, with people here as preplexed as everywhere else at the timing. Obama himself is wildly popular, seemingly with nearly everybody. It's quite refreshing not to be ashamed of being an American again after the past eight years' nightmare. We send the best and will try to write again (from Turkey next time) soon.
Boosters of nuclear power plants usually depend on the fact that the facilities emit no greenhouse gases for their rationale, and a powerful one it is. They generally ignore problems of proliferation, terrorist vulnerability, the need to isolate and store waste products essentially forever, the expense of building the plants (once they're built they're relatively cheap to operate, but building them is very expensive), and the lack of capacity to enrich and manufacture their fuel.
As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the water buffaloes try to use our drought crisis to pave the way for diverting more precious Sacramento River water to Los Angeles and, especially, San Joaquin Valley growers with their lovely subsidies, some of the same interests are asking Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to empanel the God Squad.
The Squad, formally known as the Endangered Species Committee, can override the Endangered Species Act in time of great emergency, and the Pacific Legal Foundation argues that the biological opinions that order more water for salmon and smelt, constitute just such an emergency for agriculture. The salmon opinion, in fact, says that not only are protected salmon at risk from not enough water--but Puget Sound killer whales are,too, since the salmon are an important part of theiir diet. PLF has its work cut out for it.
In the 'seventies, when nuclear power plants prompted demonstrations from San Luis Obispo to Upstate New York, the concerns were all about accidents (Chernobyl, Three Mile Island), low-level radiation from normal operation of the plants, what to do with the waste, and the fact that the federal government had to underwrite liability insurance. In the end, it was simple economics that was largely responsible for the demise of the industry (no new plant has been built for more than 25 years).
Things involving climate change are getting decidedly bizarre. The three-million-member U.S. Chamber of Commerce is demanding that the Environmental Protection Agency hold a trial—witnesses, cross-examination, the whole nine yards—to challenge climate science. The Chamber's purpose is to head off regulations that EPA may adopt based on an upcoming "finding" that CO2 emissions "endanger" human (Americans' in this case) health.