Boring Words and Scary Barcodes: Everybody Whines about the Mandatory GMO Labeling Bill

IMG_1201The U.S. Senate passed a mandatory GMO labeling bill this week based on a compromise (gasp) and everybody is unhappy so, hooray for bipartisanship! The bill lets companies disclose genetically engineered ingredients through a QR code, words, or pictures. The reactions from anti-GMO activists and various parties involved in the GMO Labeling Wankfest have been great:

Anti-GMO Activists: *whining* We have spent one gazillion dollars and all the years of our lives demanding a mandatory GMO label. But we don’t want that one – it has boring old words.

Organic Consumer Association:  But we wanted skulls and crossbones! A GMO label is supposed to say ‘CONTAINS TOXIC SLUDGE’, goddammit!

Center for Food Safety: QR Codes? Labels with boring words? Poor people and mothers are too stupid to read boring words or use phones. This is discrimination!

US Right to Know: *hisses* They will reap what they have sown. I will FOIA you all. And, um, here’s my resume.

The Non-GMO Project:  *Tries to sell butterfly logo on Craigslist*

Stonyfield Yogurt:  *crying* Why does everybody hate us? We just wanted to sell more yogurt.

Whole Foods: We do not care if anyone hates us because we have 14 billion dollars.

The Food Babe:  How does this affect me? I am bored. I will blackmail Stevia now. *tweezes eyebrows*

Bernie Sanders: *channels Glenn Close* I’m not gonna be ignored, Dan. *tweets pictures of Coke and M&Ms*

Pro-GMO Activists: *frowny faces* But we wanted to see Vermont become Venezuela. Boo.

Science Journalists: *teary-eyed* You mean this wasn’t about a consumer’s right to know stuff? This is so confusing.

Amy:  Ha ha. Taste it, Bitches.

Just kidding about the last. Sort of. I like compromise and bipartisanship so I think it’s awesome when everyone is miserable. Labeling is useless but this issue isn’t going away so let’s just get it over with, move on, and enjoy watching people act like they’re too stupid for QR codes. It’ll be fun! It’ll also be fun to see how the antis will play this. Mandatory labeling was never about a consumer’s right to know what’s in their food – that was just the way it was marketed. Who would argue against consumer’s wanting to know stuff, right? Well, now they will know and guess what? It’s not enough. This label was always about either an outright ban or just, you know, selling some yogurt at Whole Foods.

So, here’s the breakdown of misery:

The Gardening with Goats and Hoes Anti-GMOers

The Gardening with Goats people aren’t going to be happy until there’s no such thing as agricultural technology. Tech is an affront to Jesus, Princess GAIA, Fran Drescher’s husband, random deities – no matter who or what they worship – Labels with Boring Words and QR codes are, like, totally insulting to their dreams of ancient grains and gingham jam jars. One of these Goat People is Bernie Sander’s pal, Jeffrey Smith (the genius behind the Vermont labeling law) and he thinks seeds grow better if you talk dirty to them plus he literally thinks he can fly. (Yes, a serious contender for president consulted a flying carpet guy on legislation – 2016 is so weird.) Doesn’t matter though because QR codes and boring old labels with words are not going to get it done for these guys. They want that icky shit banned. Science be damned. Speaking of Bernie:

Bernie Sanders Accidentally Demonstrates Why GMO Labeling is Stupid

Bernie’s picture of M&Ms and Coke on Twitter this week says everything you need to know about why GMO labeling is stupid. He’s all, “Waaah! Look how hard these labels are to understand!” Let me try to slow this down for stubborn old Bernie:

The genetically engineered ingredients in your Coke and M&Ms are not the problem with your Coke and M&Ms. The problem is that they are COKE AND M&Ms. Even if they did not contain genetically engineered ingredients, they would still be the exact same COKE and M&Ms. In other words, you’re still eating shit.

Still confused? The label doesn’t tell you anything. Also, NOBODY CARES. The people who are running around, slobbering about their right to know, don’t eat that shit anyway. And they don’t actually care about the environment or they wouldn’t be fighting against GMOs in the first place. Environmental concern, just like the right-to-know bullshit, is just another way to market the idea of labeling – then banning – GMOs. (By the way, the sugarcane industry here in Florida thanks anti-GMOers for throwing business their way by vilifying the GMO sugar beet. We love our green algae beaches.)

Anti-GMO Activists with Skin(Cash) in the Game

Finally,  we have the good ol’ U.S.A. capitalist anti-GMOers like Whole Foods and Stonyfield Yogurt who just wanted to gain some market share. These antis are the organic industry folks who sold out to the Big Food companies behind the new bill. Or something. It’s kind of boring. Anyway, these poor slobs aligned themselves with the Goats and Hoes crew to try to make GMO labels mandatory so that they could scare people into buying more organic cookies and yogurt. I think their bosses at Big Food were finally like, “Yo, lose the crazypants friends,” so they sucked it up and compromised on the Labels with Boring Words and QR Codes. They’re not happy. Goats and Hoes hate them – they’re calling them traitors. It’s sad. Not really. Taste it, bitches.

 

 

Amy and Julie Celebrate Nobel Laureates Day

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This is a (mostly) true story about how Julie and I reacted to the exciting news that Nobel Laureates were uniting to tell Greenpeace to knock it off with their GMO opposition:

Julie:  *bounces* I have scoop. Over 100 Nobel laureates are getting together to tell Greenpeace to stop being assholes about GMOs and Golden Rice.

Amy: *seal claps* I love Golden Rice. Maybe Greenpeace will finally stop being assholes about it.

Julie: *rolls eyes* Greenpeace will never stop being assholes about GMOs and Golden Rice.

Amy:  *cries*

Julie:  Buck up, Buttercup. This will be huge news.

Amy:  Yes! Nobel laureates telling Greenpeace to stop being assholes about Golden Rice will be the biggest story ever!

Julie:  The laureates are even giving a press conference in D.C.!

Amy:  Oh my god. This is so huge.

Amy and Julie:  Hooray for Nobel laureates! This will change everything!

Day of Nobel Laureate Announcement…

Amy:  *wakes up early* It is Nobel Laureate Day! It is just like Christmas!

Julie:  *calls Amy* Happy Nobel Laureate Day!

Amy and Julie:  *Stream press conference*

Amy:  I cannot wait to see Twitter reactions.

Julie:  I cannot wait to read all of the front page stories.

Amy:  *refreshes Twitter*

Julie:  *refreshes Twitter*

Amy:  *refresh*

Julie:  *refresh*

Amy:  Maybe reporters are busy writing their stories.

Julie:  Yes! There will be 100 front page stories tomorrow.

The Next Day…

Amy:  Where are the front page stories?

Julie:  There are no stories.

Amy:  *cries* The is the worst Nobel Laureate Day ever.

Julie:  I am going to go fight with people on Twitter.

Amy:  I am going to go write passive-aggressive satire about Greenpeace.

The End

In other words, it was just another day in the world of GMO drama. We were naive to think this day would be any different, after all, the National Academy of Sciences came out with a report a few weeks ago that should have put an end to the nonsense coming out of the anti-GMO camps but it didn’t. The usual suspects just followed the same old script:

Most Prestigious Scientific Organization Ever in Existence: GMOs are fine. This argument is stupid. Knock it the fuck off.

Anti-GMO Activists: *rend garments* Seralini! Lumpy Rats! Monoculture!

Scientists: *massive collective sigh*

Anti-GMO Activists:  *foam at mouth* Shills! Monsanto! Bleeaaarrrrgh! *hack up hairballs*

News Organizations: *snore* This again?

Why we thought the Nobel Laureate announcement would be some huge breakthrough is the big mystery. God himself could come down from a mountain holding an ancient tablet carved with the words “GMOs are fine. Knock it the Fuck Off.” and these people would not care. Here’s how the big Nobel laureate announcement basically went:

109 Nobel Laureates: GMOs are fine. Knock it the fuck off. Oh, and this bullshit of yours could be killing people. Love, Literally the Smartest People Alive

Anti-GMO Activists: *yank out eyelashes* Nobel Laureates are stupid! Shills! Monsanto!

Nobel Laureates:  *massive collective sigh*

News Organizations:  109 Nobel laureates? Never heard of ‘em.

Julie and I cried (not really) but there was a silver lining because the only rebuttal that anti-GMO activists had besides the “Monsanto Shill Slow Jam” was a press release which claimed that an academic paper by a known GMO-skeptic had shown that Greenpeace and other GMO opponents had nothing to do with stalling Golden Rice. (It didn’t show that at all but that’s another story.)

Greenpeace:  *whining* This paper proves that our massive, well-funded campaign against Golden Rice was meaningless.

Paper’s Cited Sources: That’s not what we said.

Greenpeace:  Yeah huh. The one gazillion dollars we’ve spent fighting GMOs and Golden Rice have totes been a waste. *sticks out tongue*

At least it’s been amusing to watch these people pass around an article that tells the world how fucking useless they are. So, there’s that.

In spite of our disappointment that this wasn’t nearly as exciting to other people (or news outlets) as it was to us, the laureates did an incredible thing in using their influence to shed light on an important humanitarian issue (Vitamin A Deficiency) and calling out the organizations making it more difficult to address.  It’s still early so maybe this story will get some traction; maybe a breakthrough in the GMO debate will still happen because they took a stand. No matter what, the laureates have our deepest admiration. And we were just kidding, it was actually a pretty great Nobel Laureate Day, even if it didn’t get the parade it deserved..

The Unofficial Recap of Dialogue 2016: Great Transformations

I just got to spend 3 days inside of a Tom Robbins’ novel, the Breakthrough Institute’s Dialogue 2016: Great Transformations. Like a Robbins novel, it was brilliant, inspiring, and unexpectedly sweet at times. It was also occasionally Still Life with Woodpecker weird (in a good way) with environmentalist royalty and real-life anarchists. Robbins isn’t a fan of technology so he might hate this comparison.

The conference was held in Sausalito, California which might be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. There were all of these gorgeous eucalyptus trees scattered around and I heard someone complain about them being an invasive species that needed to be removed which is so California. Here in Florida, our best invasive species is the python somebody dumped in the Everglades after it snacked on the family pitbull.

Dialogue 2016 was a gathering of academic heavy-hitters, scientists, journalists, economists, and activists. And me.

Random Brilliant Person: I have a Ph.D in Everything. What did you study?

Amy:  Psychological Approaches to Literature.

Random Brilliant Person: *blinks*

Amy:  I know how to write stupid shit about boring books.

Random Brilliant Person: I have written 6 boring books.

Amy:  I have a blog.

The people at this conference really were brilliant and I mean brilliant as in “Let’s Gossip about Nobel Laureates” rather than the “Hugh Grant Enjoys That Salad” kind of brilliant. Esoteric conversations over turkey sandwiches are a given. (Calling conversations “esoteric” is my new thing after hanging with this crowd.)

My favorite part of the whole event was the tribute to Sir David MacKay, a man who made me look at renewable energy differently. Check that – a man who made me think about renewable energy at all. I’ve written about him here but it’s better to watch his Ted Talk or read his book, Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air. MacKay passed away this year and I’m so sorry I didn’t get to meet him in person. The Breakthrough Institute honored him with the 2016 Paradigm Award for his contribution to the global conversation about energy. It was obvious by the emotion in the room how much he was admired and loved by the people who knew him and worked with him. I felt honored to witness it.

On a side note, Oliver Morton, a senior editor at the Economist, made some touching remarks about MacKay. Before he spoke, he used rhythmic snapping for a really long time to get everyone’s attention and it seemed like most people in the room knew what the hell he was doing. Maybe that’s an ecomodernist thing. Snapping. I should try it with my kids. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet Morton and have this conversation:

Amy: I’m sorry for talking during your snapping. It was very rhythmic.

Morton: I am an editor at the Economist. I am used to people not understanding me.

Amy: I am also sorry for staring at your mutton chops. They are so interesting.

Morton:  I am busy being sad about Brexit. Please do not bother me about my interesting facial hair.

The next day was jam-packed and the highlight was definitely listening to Dan Kahan who is a Professor of Law and a Professor of Psychology at Yale because…why not? He talks about 500 mph so I’m assuming that’s how fast he thinks and how he had time to become Professor of All of the Subjects. It was a blast to listen to him talk about group identities and tribes and biases. I left his session feeling slightly immobilized and wrong about everything.  I’ll have to read more of Kahan’s work because there wasn’t enough time to process. I also got distracted with figuring out who he reminded me of which is sort of a Dark Crystal version of Conan O’Brien, Superman, and Jim Carrey. In a good way.

The next thing, the reason I was there, was my panel, Ecomodernism and the Left which should have been called Ecomodernism and the European Left with Snarky Asides from Amy. The 2 guys on my panel were science writer, Leigh Phillips, and Swedish professor, Rasmus Karlsson. They are uber-intellectuals and I could listen to them debate equality all day long but I didn’t have a whole lot to contribute to that conversation. I satirize anti-vaxxers and mock corporations with imaginary marketing meetings – I don’t spend a lot of time considering the relationship between economic growth and equality. Maybe I should but it’s hard to make that funny.

Q. Does economic growth drive equality or does equality drive economic growth?

A. Zzzzzz…?

The panel got a little dicey during the Q&A when a slightly rage(y) man yelled at Leigh and me to stop “trashing the left” which…oops. Yeah, we’ve done that. Leigh kind of apologized for calling people “Granola Druids” which is hilarious and way better than when I called them “dicks.” I understand what Ragey Guy is saying and he’s probably right – trashing someone’s beliefs may not be an effective way to win them over. I’ll have to circle back to Superman O’Brien to analyze that further but the next session got me fired up and ready to start trashing again so sorry, Ragey Guy, some of these Granola Druids are dicks.

The session following mine was a discussion about industrialization in the 21st century. Lack of access to cheap energy is one of the obstacles to overcoming global poverty – it’s difficult to operate a factory and create jobs if you don’t have electricity or if electricity is a huge percentage of your costs. On the flip side, growing energy demands negatively affect the climate so how is that addressed? That’s the billion dollar question but one of the panelists, Samir Saran, vice president of the Observer Research Foundation, made a comment that global poverty was a climate change mitigation strategy. That’s a strong statement (and accusation) – keeping people poor, without access to energy, is one of the ways to address climate change? I doubt anyone on the Green Left would agree with this and maybe it’s not true (Dan Kahan has ruined all of my convictions) but the idea that that anyone, especially on the left, would intentionally adopt policies to keep people poor is abhorrent. So, brace yourself, Ragey Guy, if I decide I agree with Saran.

I can’t recap everything because it would take forever but I have to mention my friend and co-writer, Julie Kelly, and her panel. It was basically about ecomodernism and the political right which was the mirror image of my panel. The contrast was awesome.

Audience Members: Please be philosophical and tell us how you truly care about environmental issues.

Conservatives: Fuck that. We’re doing a cost-benefit analysis first.

Also, I think that someone gave the poor guys on Julie’s panel some bad information because they thought she was just a “housewife” so they apologized for getting too wonky. They obviously didn’t understand her political background or the fact that she can write a Wall Street Journal article at the same time she kicks your ass. She has the Vermont GMO labeling bill memorized and she might be the only person on the planet to read the National Academy of Science report on GMOs, cover to cover. So, wonky is not a problem for her. The guys were also lost when she offered to get the executive editor of National Review a glass of water if he’d publish one of her pieces. Funny women are confusing. The panel was interesting though and oddly enough, Julie and my socialist co-panelist, Leigh Phillips, found some areas of agreement when it comes to energy poverty. This is why I find ecomodernism hopeful.

Other notable/embarrassing moments for me were exchanges with Pandora’s Promise director, Robert Stone, and then later with Environmental Progress’ founder, Michael Shellenberger.

Amy:  Hi, Robert Stone. I’ve been dying to meet you. I am the one who wrote the ridiculous review of Pandora’s Promise.

Robert Stone:  There were exactly 1000 ridiculous reviews of my movie. How much wine have you had?

Amy: I have had all of the wine. I am the one who said nuclear energy has a White Guys with Sweater Vests problem.

Robert Stone: *blinks*

Amy:  I should look for more wine.

Later that night…

Amy: I have had all of the wine. I am an environmental activist. *cries*

Michael Shellenberger:  We are going to commit civil disobedience tomorrow and have a sit-in in front of Greenpeace offices.

Amy:  I did not bring an outfit for a sit-in plus I need to go to the spa for a scalp massage.

Michael Shellenberger:  *blinks*

Amy:  I am the worst environmental activist so I better drink the rest of this wine. *cries*

The trip went by too quickly and I’m still processing so I may do a follow-up piece. I also need to write a second, more serious article about a couple of the scientists I met there and the work these women are doing.

I’ve spent most of my time since Friday trying to figure out where ecomodernism is going as a movement – if it’s even a movement at all. It’s a difficult thing to define because there are so many competing viewpoints and philosophies, which is one of the things I find appealing, the lack of dogma. The common threads though are humanism and optimism. Everyone who attended Dialogue cares about the environment, most are concerned with climate change, many are optimistic, but everyone involved cares deeply about the welfare and future of humanity. I think this is ecomodernism’s strength and appeal and why it will continue to grow as a movement – or whatever it is.

Tom Robbins said:

“To achieve the impossible; it is precisely the unthinkable that must be thought.”

To me that’s what this gathering was about – a group of people who are stretching their thinking to solve impossible world problems; problems that many are refusing to even acknowledge, much less trying to solve. Imagine what we could achieve if more people were thinking the unthinkable…

So, thanks for having me. It was wonderful and weird and I can’t wait to do it again.

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The Ubiquitous Uranium

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Guest Post from Rauli Partanen – trying to demystify uranium a bit. Original post here. Thanks Rauli!

We all are stars of yesterday. You and me both are made of matter that was created in ancient stars and supernovas. Carbon, and all heavier atoms, were created in these explosions which also spread them around the universe. Uranium, the mineral used as fuel in nuclear power reactors, is one of these.

Uranium is a toxic and radioactive heavy metal. It is spread in small and even smaller concentrations everywhere. It is in our bedrock and soil, in stone walls and in the pillars and statues in front of many government buildings. We also find uranium in coal ash, phosphate fertilizers and even in the sands of sunny beaches [1]. Rivers constantly carry uranium to the oceans, which have a concentration of 3.3 parts per billion. Even if uranium is often found in rather small concentrations, the total amount of uranium earth’s crust and the oceans have is immense.

Uranium is the 51st most common element. As an example, it’s 40 times as common as silver. We extract Uranium in various ways. More than half of current supply is produced with in-situ leaching, without significant mining operations. The rest comes from uranium mines and as side product from other mining activities [2].

Elements have different isotopes, depending on the amount of neutrons that they have in their core. Uranium comes mainly in two isotopes, U238 and U235 [3]. U238 is the more common one, and represents about 99.3 percent of all uranium. U235 is much rarer, representing about 0.7 percent.

More than half of all uranium has disappeared

Both of the uranium isotopes are unstable. This means that with time, they turn into other elements. The speed at which this happens is called half-life. The duration of a certain elements half-life tells us how long it takes for half of the certain atom’s isotope to turn into other elements.

The isotope U238 has a half-life of around 4.47 billion years. When compared with the estimated age of our planet Earth, 4.54 billion years, we can say that we still have roughly half of the uranium we had back when our planet was created. The other isotope, U235, has a shorter half-life of 704 million years. It has managed to go through more than six half-lives, which mean that we have less than 1.5 per cent left from what the Earth had originally.

Radon is one of the elements that results after uranium

Uranium ore in itself is not very dangerous, even though it is weakly radioactive[4] and toxic. Despite the dangerous image we often have of uranium, it is comparable to many everyday substances when it comes to actual danger. Take table salt or caffeine. It is not a good idea to eat substantial amounts of uranium ore, and the same holds for table salt [5]. Caffeine, in addition to its refreshing attribute, is also highly dangerous if digested in even rather small quantities. The dose makes the poison. One substance that is certainly not safe to drink at all is gasoline. Yet we often deal with gasoline daily as part of our normal life.

Natural uranium causes us trouble and health problems because of the elements that are created after uranium atom decays. Some of them are much more radioactive and hazardous to our health. The most significant of these is radon. It is a gas and as such it often finds its way to houses in certain areas and tends to concentrate to the air we breathe, especially if proper ventilation or other countermeasures are not present [6]. When people breathe, radon is inhaled to their lungs, where it easily sticks, staying and emitting rather strong alpha radiation. Radon increases the risk for lung cancer slightly on its own, but does so especially when combined with smoking [7].

The one, special isotope

The main source for the controversy and strong emotions surrounding uranium is because of the quite unique quality one of its isotopes, U235, has. It is fissile. It is the only element present in nature that can – when enriched to a high enough concentration and present in large enough quantity – start and sustain a chain reaction of splitting atoms. It is due to this chain reaction, and the large amount of thermal energy that is released when the nucleus of an atom undergoes fission (splits), that we can produce nuclear energy.

Uranium is ubiquitous. It is not as dangerous as often thought, nor is it that remarkable. At the same time, one of its isotopes has a very unique “power” (pun intended) to fission and produce energy. It is because of this property that mankind has learned to harness what is millions of times more concentrated source of energy than the best carbon-based fuels offer. The next article will talk more about uranium as fuel for fission reactors.

Notes:

[1] The beaches of Guarapari in Brazil have one of the largest concentration of uranium and especially its more radioactive fission products. One can get 50 times (175 miilisieverts per year) the average background radiation dose simply by hanging around on the beach. More more info, see for eample: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guarapari

[2] For more info on uranium mining, see: http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Nuclear-Fuel-Cycle/Mining-of-Uranium/Uranium-Mining-Overview/

[3] There is also a third isotope of uranium present in nature, U233, but it is extremely rare at a concentration of only 0.005 per cent of all uranium.

[4] When an unstable nucleus of an atom splits, or fissions, energy and particles (essentially “radioactivity” as gamma rays and alpha & beta particles) are released. The actual amount and strength of this release to the surroundings depends on how frequent the fissions are and how much energy each fissions releases. Both of these depend on the atom undergoing the fission.

[5] one decilitre (120 g) of regular table salt ingested in a short time is lethal in around half the cases. Table salt has D50, median lethal dose, of about 3 grams per kilogram of weight. More information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Median_lethal_dose

[6] Especially during wintertime if the ground freezes, radon cannot seep through the soil to the open air, and so it seeps through small cracks and holes into houses where it tends to concentrate. Proper ventilation or other countermeasures are often recommended in high-radon areas.

[7] More information on radon from here: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/pollution/radon

The Goat and the Racehorse Talk Climate Change

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I wrote a piece published here and on Huffington Post last week where I snarked at environmentalists to stop being such dicks. I’m sort of regretting it because it’s not helpful at all even if it felt good to say. What started as a straight attempt to understand a friend I disagree with on climate change became acute frustration because, after talking to her and after reading books by people I admire (and often agree with), I started to understand why she was suspicious of environmentalists. (I was also on the receiving end of denier accusations from some activists so I wasn’t feeling warm and fuzzy about them anyway.)

So, I slipped into a sarcastic mood and whipped out what was partly a satirical rant which hasn’t gone over too well. It’s so weird that people don’t like being called a dick.

One funny thing is that the whole idea originated from an article written by David Roberts at Vox about reframing the discussion on climate change. It made me want to understand Julie better and talk about where we could “nudge” each other to “nearby framing” on climate change. The funny part? My rant really irritated him. So, sorry, dude. I actually like you a lot so that bummed me out.

I’m not an expert on anything (except maybe swearing) but I read and observe and write (and rant). And I think we can figure out ways to understand and work with people like Julie because she is awesome even if she calls me a goo goo lib (thank you for coming to my defense, Julie) and she’s not denying climate change because she’s a Koch zombie. She’s denying it because she doesn’t trust the messengers so maybe we (the messengers) could try a different tactic?

Oh, and sorry for calling you dicks. I call dogs that bark a lot dicks too –  but I still love dogs.

Here’s the original piece:

The Goat and the Racehorse Talk about Climate Change 

Climate Change Denier – that’s the name we’ve given everyone who doesn’t accept the scientific consensus on man-made climate change. In the U.S., the term is almost interchangeable with Republican. It’s uttered with derision and it’s used to imply someone is stupid or backwards. The Deniers also get all the blame for blocking action on climate change. It will be their fault when we’re all washed out to sea or living in a dust bowl with cannibals.

But it is even true? Are deniers stupid? Will it really be their fault? I have no idea but I thought I could at least try to understand the thinking better.

I’ve become friends with and started co-writing with one of these Deniers, Julie Kelly, and I can tell you that she’s one of the smartest, most quick-witted people I know. She and I have different worldviews but we’re both passionate defenders of genetic engineering technology to address global hunger and nutrition. We co-write, laugh a lot,  and talk all the time but we have opposite  ways of looking at things. It’s one of those interspecies friendships like goats and racehorses.

Getting to know Julie has given me some new insight into why someone can accept the scientific consensus of the safety of “GMOs” while rejecting the scientific consensus on man-made climate change. I’m also starting to understand why she might be suspicious of activists who are using climate change as the excuse to takedown capitalism.

Reading Naomi Klein’s, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, and Naomi Oreskes’, The Collapse of Western Civilization, was eye-opening for me but probably not in the way the authors intended. While I respect both women and enjoyed their books, my mind kept going back to Julie and thinking, “God, she’d be crazy not to be suspicious. They really do hate capitalists and corporations.”  They’re attacking the values of nearly half the people in the United States. They are essentially saying, “The end of the world is coming and it’s your fault so we’re going to take all of your money and make you change your way of life.” I’m not sure that’s an effective way to bring people on board to fight for the climate.

After reading these books and getting to know Julie, I figured it was time to hear her out on a subject we’ve more or less avoided. I’m not trying to change her mind. I just want to understand her point of view.

Questions for Julie:

The first question is obvious: Why don’t you buy climate change?

In my view, the global warming movement is fundamentally an anti-corporate, anti-capitalist crusade, so therefore targeted at Republicans. Early on, the movement blamed suburbanites – who represented the Republican political base in the 1990s – for contributing to global warming because of our SUVs, lawnmowers and McMansions I worked for suburban legislators throughout the 90s and we were constantly on the defensive about suburban sprawl, this notion we were decimating farm land and open space to build strip malls and toll roads.

I saw firsthand how it became an urban Democrat vs. suburban Republican political battle that really had little to do with global warming. Most of them didn’t care about climate change, they carried so much animosity towards suburbanites that they would use any issue against us (I remember many Chicago Democrats, including one well-known mayor, who recoiled when I said I liked living in the suburbs). To them, we were all vapid keep-up-with-the-Joneses types with no culture or compassion.

So here we were, being scolded by urban elites who lived in overcrowded, polluted cities with rundown neighborhoods and skyscrapers. Give me a break. I was turned off early on and never turned back on.

What research have you done?

Shortly after I became involved in the GMO debate. I started getting questions about my position on climate change. It was mostly from anti-GMOers who wanted to undermine my credibility by calling me a Republican climate change denier.

So I began researching it, trying to keep an open mind. I read a few of the IPCC studies (the shorter versions for policymakers) and was surprised by some of the vagueness in the conclusions. Terms like “medium confidence” and “somewhat likely” don’t exactly sound like settled science to me.

Who or what has been the biggest influence?

Al Gore was probably my biggest influence. I always viewed him as an opportunist and I could barely get through “An Inconvenient Truth.” All the cutaways of him looking pensive, or people cheering upon his arrival somewhere? Gross. He exploited what might have been a serious issue for his own personal profit, then bought a few mansions and a private jet.

Matt Ridley’s book, The Rational Optimist, blew me away. If someone that smart can doubt climate change (I think he refers to himself as a “lukewarmist”) then I can question it, too.

Patrick Moore is another influence. I didn’t know anything about him until this past year. Even though he’s kinda out there, I think he makes a lot of sense. He has the battle scars from both sides so I trust him. And I read a lot of Robert Bryce’s stuff on energy in general.

Are you ever worried that you might be wrong?

Not really because there is nothing I could’ve done to stop it. My biggest concern is how to help people grow food in parts of the world where the climate is hostile regardless of global warming. Drought, flooding, poor soil conditions, crop diseases – none of that is new. So how do we support people who live in those inclement areas and need food security? That should be the goal, regardless of where you stand on global warming.

What would motivate you to support clean energy?

Wind and solar are fine, but have their costs and limitations. I always laugh at the extreme climate people like Bernie Sanders who love renewables and hate fossil fuels, because you still need gas as back up for intermittency problems with wind and solar.

Nuclear intrigues me. I don’t fear it and definitely see its usefulness. The work that people like Michael Shellenberger and other ecomodernists have done on this issue is really convincing. Of course, as Michael said, I like nuclear because it’s a big F-you to the lefty environmentalists. That’s probably true, too.

What annoys you about climate change activists?

I hate nothing more in life than a hypocrite. If you are going to tell someone how to run their lives, you better walk the walk. The hypocrisy in the global warming movement is laughable, if not infuriating. Al Gore is an example, so is Robert Kennedy, Jr. Movie stars are the worst. Leo DiCaprio is a total fraud. The guy travels in private jets, sunbathes on yachts (owned by – wait for it – an oil sheik) and has made a fortune in one of the most energy-intensive industries, and he wants to tell poor people in China not to burn coal? Then he gets to meet with the Pope and give a lecture at the U.N. He’s using the issue just like Gore, but not to make himself rich, to lend himself some intellectual gravitas.

Mark Ruffalo is another one, I wrote an article about him. He constantly assails the fossil fuel industry. He led an anti-fracking protest just before he boarded a plane for a transatlantic flight to collect some bullshit movie award. Maybe he doesn’t realize where jet fuel comes from, or how much carbon steel is used to build a jumbo jet. Please, just shut up.

How does it make you feel when someone calls you a denier?

Oh, I don’t give a shit. I’ve been called worse. It’s a stupid, loaded term designed to shut down a conversation. It’s like calling me a shill when I defend GMOs.

Anything you’d want people to know about your position?

I can question the science and evidence about global warming and still accept the science and evidence about GMOs just like you can believe in global warming and reject GMOs (which seems fairly more common). I do not link the two from a scientific perspective, only from an ideological perspective because they are both fundamentally anti-corporate movements. They hate Monsanto as much as they hate Exxon. I do think it’s hypocritical because genetically engineered crops have huge environmental benefits, but the antis don’t care.

Just because I don’t believe in man-made global warming doesn’t mean I don’t care about the environment. Clean air, water and land are important. Our swimming pools and golf courses need to be pristine, otherwise we’ll all be stuck at the mall! (just kidding). Once the vernacular changes a bit and the hostility toward “deniers” eases, maybe we can start to get back on the same page on these issues.

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Julie clearly has some strongly held views so I think it would be futile for me to go through her answers to point out where I think she’s wrong. It wouldn’t be good for our writing partnership plus neither of us is equipped to argue the science. Genetic engineering isn’t easy but it falls more or less under one scientific discipline we’ve been able to study. Climate science, on the other hand, is much more complicated because it involves so many disciplines – atmospheric science, soil science, geophysics, geochemistry, ecology, solar physics, economics, and on and on. So, it all boils down to a matter of trust. I trust the scientific consensus, she does not.

When activists like Naomi Klein and Naomi Oreskes try to make the case that the destruction of capitalism is the only way to address climate change, then we shouldn’t be surprised when someone like Julie, who is pro-capitalism, doesn’t buy it. Klein and Oreskes want a social movement to be behind our solutions to climate change which I may agree with in a perfect world but here in the U.S., they’re talking about a social movement that would roll over nearly half the voting population so unless they’re talking about armed conflict, it’s not going to happen in time to arrest some of the catastrophic consequences of a warming planet. Consequences that they have both convincingly laid out in their respective books.

Where does this leave us? David Roberts of Vox had a piece this past March that struck a nerve with me and made me think of Julie. He discusses the research on whether or not “reframing” the discussion on climate change is worth the effort and resources required. The answer? Probably not. Humans are hard-wired to seek out information and believe information that reinforces their existing framework. Julie does it and so do I. As Roberts puts it,

 “The best that could be hoped for is to nudge people to a nearby framing, one that’s amenable to their priors,…”

So,  I will keep focusing on where my framing  overlaps with Julie’s – food security, clean air, nuclear energy – and attempt to move  in the same direction even if our motivations don’t jive. Because we seem to be reaching the point, at least according to both Oreskes and Klein, where it could be too late reverse the warming trajectory we’re on and unless they actually value their social movement more than solving this crisis, it might be time to work within the framework we have instead of the one we wish we had..

Edited to add:  I do get the ridiculousness of trying got build a bridge with one side while burning down my own.

 

 

 

The Struggle is Real: Scenes from a Food Prison

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A short story from Julie Kelly and Amy Levy:

Gary Hirshberg is the founder and chairman of Stonyfield Yogurt, as well as the head of a group called Just Label It that promotes GMO labeling. If there was an award for the most arrogant self-promoter in the food movement, he would win hands down and that’s saying a lot because the competition is fierce.

Several years ago, Hirshberg sold most of his company to Dannon, which was great for him but bad for everyone else because it afforded him the time and money to lecture all of us about food.  A man who has made a fortune off the American food system refers to it as an unjust system that is “food apartheid, food slavery and food prison.”

He is as smart and shrewd of a food company executive you will find. A few years ago, Hirshberg realized he could promote his organic yogurt – and himself – as the face of the GMO labeling crusade. He’s used this issue to achieve rock star status among foodies. He’s given a TED talk, appeared on Dr. Oz and even testified on Capitol Hill.

He also appears to be a frustrated actor because he loves to be in front of a camera, listening to himself talk or play a funny character. His latest video is filmed in your typical American grocery store, er food prison, when none other than Gwyneth Paltrow emerges from her jail cell in the dairy aisle to interact with an actual human being.

We can only imagine the discussion that led to the production of this video

Very Important Meeting at Just Label It Headquarters

Yogurt Executive:  I am not famous enough. Let’s make a commercial

Yogurt Lackey: I thought you wanted to label GMOs.

Yogurt Executive:  That’s what I meant.

Yogurt Lackey: What is our commercial about?

Yogurt Executive:  It is about how women are too stupid and frazzled to understand how a QR code works.

Yogurt Lackey:  That is brilliant. Women like being stupid and frazzled. Who should be in our commercial?

Yogurt Executive:  Me.

Yogurt Lackey: Of course. Who else?

Yogurt Executive:  A really white woman.

Yogurt Lackey: Naturally. You must mean Gwyneth Paltrow.

Yogurt Executive:  Yes. She is the whitest. Also, she will make me famous.

Yogurt Lackey:  Who else?

Yogurt Executive:  Another white woman, except tired and with spoiled, well-fed children.

Yogurt Lackey:  Yes, all women who are afraid of GMOS and are too stupid and frazzled to use a QR code love Gwyneth.

Yogurt Executive:  We should film the commercial in a scary American Food Prison.

Yogurt Lackey:  Walmart?

Yogurt Executive:  Gross, no.  Stupid, frazzled women and Gwyneth Paltrow do not shop at Walmart. It has to be an upscale American Food Prison.

Yogurt Lackey: What should the stupid, frazzled white woman with nasty children be doing?

Yogurt Executive:  She will walk through the American Food Prison aisles with her ungrateful children and be overwhelmed by the literally thousands of food choices all around her.

Yogurt Lackey: Having so many food choices in American Food Prisons can be very stressful. Is this where she should show how she is too stupid and frazzled to understand a QR code?

Yogurt Executive: Exactly. She will pull out her $600 smart phone to demonstrate how stupid and frazzled she is and then her psychotic children will deliberately smash food in the aisles of the food prison.

Yogurt Lackey:  This is so relatable. All women understand the struggle of being stupid, frazzled, and having awful children who throw watermelons when they are bored.

Yogurt Executive:  That’s when Gwyneth Paltrow will appear from the giant dairy section and pretend to know what a can of food is so that she can borrow the $600 phone since she left hers in her Range Rover.

Yogurt Lackey:  All women will love this commercial because they are stupid and frazzled and want Gwyneth to borrow their $600 smart phone in the aisles of an upscale American Food Prison.

Yogurt Executive: I just am doing my part to change an unjust food system for stupid, frazzled women with too many choices at upscale grocery stores, I mean, food prisons. Oh, and getting famous.

The End

 

 

 

Hey, Environmentalists – Stop Being Such Dicks

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This is how the whole subject of climate change looks to someone new to the fight:

Every Discussion Ever about Climate Change

Most Scientists Everywhere: The planet is warming because we burn fossil fuels. It would be good to stop burning fossil fuels, like, really soon.

Activist:  Climate change is caused by capitalism. Capitalism must die.

Scientist:  *whispers* Well, it’s actually caused by burning fossil fuels.

Activist:  *screams* DENIER!

Scientist:  *scurries back to lab*

Republican:  How much is this going to cost me?

Activist:  It will cost you everything, Evil Capitalist Pig.

Republican:  Eh, it’s snowing. Climate’s fine. I’m outta here.

Activist:  *head spins in circles* DENIER!

New Activist:  Nuclear energy is low carbon and…

Activist:  *foams at mouth* CAPITALIST!

New Activist:  *cries* But…I feel the Bern!

Activist:  *thrashes wildly* DENIER!

Planet: *cooks*

The End

Bad news for environmentalists. According to a newly released Gallup poll, the number of Americans “worried a great deal” about climate change has only ticked up 4 percentage points in the last 25 years from 33% to 37%, in spite of environmentalists promising us that the apocalypse is right around the corner. Not only are the majority of Americans not losing much sleep over humanity’s impending doom, most of them don’t even want to call themselves environmentalists anymore. That number is down from 78% to 42% since 1991 and no one will be shocked to learn that most Republicans don’t like to call themselves the “E” word these days. That number is down from 78% to a mere 27%.

What’s happening here? There are surely a million different reasons but one of them may be that you environmentalists are scary as hell. Seriously, you’re such dicks sometimes – to each other and to anyone, really, who doesn’t bow down to your dogma.

You love to wag your fingers and call people “deniers” when they don’t agree with the ordained economic system, agricultural method, and energy policy. God help anyone who makes the case that perhaps not all weather events are due to climate change because that person isn’t just a Denier, they are a denier and a Koch-Brothers Puppet. How’s that strategy working out for you? We keep burning fossil fuels, climate change marches on and no one wants to be in your club anymore.

I cringe at how naïve I was when I first got into this, all wide-eyed and excited to save the planet (I cringe at that phrase now too.) Then, I got called a climate change denier because I suggested nuclear power should be in the clean energy mix since it’s, you know, CLEAN ENERGY. I felt like a big dumbass, holding out my hand with all the nice little stats about nuclear safety and radiation and my hooray-for-baseload-power excitement. I thought, “Oh, if people weren’t so scared of nuclear power, then we could stop burning coal and everyone could have air-conditioning as good as mine and not die from spoiled food. This is awesome!” Not so fast. Not only was I a denier but I was a…right-winger?

So, I cried and cried and couldn’t figure it out. At first, I thought people assumed I was a shill for the big, powerful Nuclear Industry Lobby until I realized that the nuclear industry is a sad, fat dinosaur with one leg dragging behind it, crying for everyone to wait up. (I think their lobby is just a few old guys in golf sweaters, handing out pamphlets.) It started to make sense though when I saw an interview with an activist I really like and admire, Naomi Klein (she’s actually not a dick). When asked about nuclear power, she rejects it and says:

“I understand why people looking at the current power configurations as they are, believe that we need these centralized solutions that are less threatening to our elites.”

Klein goes on to say that nuclear power is keeping the status quo and is an extractive industry that is tied to an unequal economic system and that she’s throwing her lot in with a social movement. Huh? I guess she agrees that nuclear is low carbon but we can’t be equal until…nobody has refrigeration? (I was thinking it would be more egalitarian for us all to not die from food poisoning.)  I see what she’s getting at but it sounds like her social movement is more important to her than not burning fossil fuels. That’s when a dim bulb went off over my head: Maybe the social movement is more important to a lot of these people than the HOT CLIMATE part. (Republicans: Duh.)

Not even a bona fide advocate of global socialism is safe from abuse if he deviates from the mandated Green script. Leigh Phillips, author of one of my favorite books last year, Austerity Ecology & the Collapse-Porn Addicts: A Defence of Growth, Progress, Industry and Stuff (as hilarious and thought-provoking as its title), received a death threat for arguing that the green left had abandoned its progressive, pro-human values in its rejection of modernity. Mean names are better than death at least.

“Oh gosh, what haven’t I been called? A shill for Monsanto, a shill for Silicon Valley, a ‘Jetsonian’, techno-utopian, a nuke-head (I don’t actually mind that too much)…” -Phillips

There is something wrong with a movement where someone can share so many of the same values and then get threatened with murder for proposing different solutions. Imagine what it’s like for those whose values don’t align very well.

 Maybe if you weren’t such assholes, trying to shove a narrow ideology down everyone’s throats, more people would trust you and we’d be making more progress on climate change.

Environmentalists can keep blaming those old coots, the Koch Bros, or they can look at the Gallup poll numbers and ask what they could do differently to make people want to do more than worry a little about climate change on rare occasions. It’s time to accept that not everyone buys the same  dogma or cares about the same social movements but everyone should want to call themselves an environmentalist.