Tuesday, May 27, 2008

So This Blog is Supposed to be About Books...

...but every time I think of a great book-related topic to blog about, I read something which makes my blood boil and it trumps the book post. Sorry.

Last weekend I did something I don't do nearly enough, and that was to read the movie reviews in the paper, pick a movie, and actually go see it. I was very happily surprised to see lots of documentaries out, and one in particular caught my eye: The World According to Monsanto.

Its format is more PBS than blockbuster, but the message was chilling nonetheless. It was about genetically engineered (GE) crops, what's supposed to be so great about them, how, like a whole lot of those fancy schmancy nouveau weapons they keep making grand promises about, they turn out to be crap, and how no one can really do much about it right now. Here's what Monsanto did, in as few words as possible:

1) They invented a really groovy pesticide that killed JUST ABOUT ANYTHING you could think of! It's called "Roundup" (disclaimer: I don't have a green cell in my whole body, much less a green thumb, but apparently this Roundup thing was da bomb for the weed-battling masses).

2) Then, in a stroke of genius, they invented the only plants (well... Franken-plants) that could survive Roundup, called "Roundup Ready". (recap: everything gets coated in a lovely, glossy Roundup sheen, causing everything to die, except for the stuff destined for our plates)

3) Roundup turns out to be a carcinogen, which is a fancy word for "gives you cancer". Well... not so much of a carcinogen as a cancer-enabler. So, it's not so much like an abusive husband, as the mother who tells her daughter to go back to the abusive husband and give him another chance. Roundup messes up your cells enough that down the line, they are that much more vulnerable to cancer.

So far there isn't anything truly Franken-like about this tale. We all know pesticides are bad. But here's the hilarious thing - if you were to walk through a Roundup-sprayed field on a regular basis, your skin would start to fester very unbecomingly, almost like you'd dipped it in acid.

Yes, yes, but think about all the masses of poor who can at least eat! Well... and this was the part that did it for me, it seems that when you mess with nature, nature finds innovative (and deadly) ways to mess with you back. While the Franken-plants were not killed by Roundup, they were vulnerable to pretty much everything else that nature had previously equipped plants to withstand. I'm sure Monsanto isn't terribly bothered by this... it's license to keep coming up with pesticides to kill these old-new plant diseases, perpetuating an eternal circle of treat-kill-treat-kill-treat-kill until human beings start spontaneously com busting when they come into contact with anything sprouting from the Earth. And poor people don't seem that stupid either... Indian cotton farmers figured out, all on their own, that they were getting a better yield (and at far better prices) using non-genetically engineered seeds. So basically, the same stuff humans have been using for millennia. But, in one last shocking twist, when they started requesting the good old regular stuff back... there was none left on the market! Somehow, regular seeds are no longer readily available. I know this sounds kinda kooky, but think about how expensive "organic" food is compared to your run-of-the-mill, icky-yucky-mad-cow-disease-riddled stuff all over the supermarket.

You'd think something grown using old technology (ie: an ox on grandpa's ranch) versus new technology (ie: a humungous factory in Sri Lanka) would cost less. But no - it's all about volume baby, and Monsanto has got volume.

What impressed me the most about this movie was (partly) the sort-of sleuthing-around-for-Dummies approach it took, coupled with some uncomfortable interviews with some high-placed people (Ali-G-meets-mousy-librarian style).

The reporter would type questions into the Google search bar, and all kinds of golden information nuggets would pop up.

I decided to use this approach to try and figure out why oil was so damned expensive. I don't have a car, so I don't care all that much, but since it seems like people are starting to make food-vs-gas decisions, I think this is as good a question as any to pose. Here are my starting points:

1) Iraq is supposed to lie atop the world's second largest reserve of easily-extractable oil (after Saudi Arabia) - how come we mighty westerners can't seem to get a piece of that action and must resort to playing suck-up to the Saudis, who stopped caring what we say or how much we threaten? Don't they know we could pull an Iraq on them and bomb their country back to the Stone Age???

2) Why are we sucking up to Saudi Arabia and not bombing them back to the Stone Age? King Faisal was assassinated for being an oil-snob back in the 70s - what, are we suddenly above callous assassination, or something?

3) No one was making a fuss over this a mere three years ago. What changed? Not Iraq - that happened 5 years ago, and it was pretty clear from the get-go that no one was going to be greeted with any flowers or rice or whatever carb they were expecting. 9/11 happened more than 7 years ago. I remember learning about the notion of "peak oil" back when I was a wee high-school-attending lass, and yet, the idea of "peak oil" was just as popular as "global warming" was a few years ago. Again - what changed?

I Googled "Iraqi Oil" for fun. And then perused some articles about what's happening with oil this week. It was very enlightening.

My favorite was a 2004 USA Today article where the author is freaking out over the idea of "prices far above $50 a barrel, perhaps $60 or more".

Well, it's early 2008 and the current price of a barrel of oil is set to reach... "an average of $141 in the second half of 2008 and to $148 in 2009. OPEC no longer rules out $200".

Wow. That sure put things into perspective for me. You can have fun googling yourself, or check this, this, and this out and see a big picture emerge.

1 comment:

neoinileias said...

you have nice blog