2016: Hell yeah, Let’s Do This!

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Julie’s Resolutions for 2016

As 2015 comes to a close, I am routinely cursing myself for not paying more attention in science class. I have become somewhat obsessed with CRISPR-Cas9, this really cool process where the smarty pants people who did pay attention in science class are fixing screwed-up genes in plants, animals and people. That meteorology class I took in college isn’t really coming in handy (I thought it would help me get a job as a weather girl) so now I’m immersed in step-by-step videos, articles and interviews.

Apparently, I’m not the only person excited about CRISPR. It was just named 2015’s Breakthrough of the Year by Science magazine. Even my husband – who has perfected the technique of rolling his eyes without actually doing so whenever I talk about genetic engineering – showed some genuine interest in the topic. I must be on to something.

My top resolution for 2016 is to be able to explain CRISPR in less than 30 seconds, just before the “oh shit, she’s talking about GMOs again” look starts to cloud the faces of my friends and family as they reach for their iPhone. I might even design a little cocktail napkin illustration with Cas9 as a mini pair of scissors. This is a far cry from my resolution last year, which was to improve my short game from 70 yards, although I’d say they both have the same degree of difficulty.

I have a few other resolutions to share:

Start a podcast with Amy: I’m pretty sure we can get an audience just by reading aloud our daily texts. Especially the drunk texts when we whine about how the world doesn’t understand us, and why do we have to listen to people yammer about college visits and soccer tournaments when we want to talk about nukes and GMOs, dammit!

We joke that we are trying to dumb down the world of science. A little humor, snark, and profanity wouldn’t hurt either.

Read Calestous Juma’s new book: This Harvard professor is kind of a rock star. When he followed me on Twitter, I couldn’t help but brag (to Amy, the only person who would’ve cared). I’ve learned a ton from him and he has a new book coming out this year – Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies. I hope he has an entire chapter devoted to organic assholes like Gary Hirshberg. Speaking of which….

Bring some amount of misery to the Garys: Two people who really deserve some comeuppance in 2016 are Gary Ruskin and Gary Hirshberg (who we loving refer to as Gary Doucheberg). Gary Hirshberg has gotten away with too much shit for too long. Not only does he get glowing coverage from the media (Google his name, you’ll find nothing but fawning profiles and bullshit quotes from him in “objective” news articles) but the guy also gets honorary degrees and speaking engagements where bobble-headed audiences nod in agreement and admiration. The media has totally failed to fairly cover this guy, not one word about how much money he’s spent lobbying to get food labeled as GMO. Still trying to get a serious reporter to write that story.

Gary Ruskin is a soulless turd of a man who spent 2015 trying to destroy the reputation of “pro-GMO” scientists and journalists. His character assassination campaign is backed by the Organic Consumers Association; I have no clue how that group maintains a non-profit status while maliciously attacking good people. Hey, there’s another idea for a news story! I won’t hold my breath for the media to report on that either, but it won’t stop me from trying in 2016.

Try not to end any friendships over the presidential election: Nothing ruins a friendship faster than a presidential election year and 2016 will be no exception. Most of my real-life friends are Republicans like me, but most of my tweeps are liberals. I’ve learned there are days you need to stay off Twitter entirely, because people you otherwise admire and respect are posting some really stupid shit. Those are days that my daytime sober self tells my evening wine-drinking self, “avoid the blue bird tonight.” It’s relatively easy now because my party doesn’t have a candidate. But once we do and they gloves come off even more, it’ll be a shit show. I will try to hold my tongue and my trigger finger (very tough for me to do, as some of you already know).

Keep writing, learning, engaging and listening: This year has been amazing. I’ve learned so much from so many smart, passionate people. I feel truly blessed to be a small part of the conversation about food, science, policy and progress.  I’m really excited to do more of the same in 2016…while laughing the whole time at Amy’s texts.

Amy’s Resolutions for 2016 

My new Republican friend, Julie, is all Type A ambitious with her goal-setting so now I’m going to scramble around and try to think of something that makes me sound like a person with a game plan. Last year worked out pretty well when my goal was something along the lines of Watch 10 Seasons of Friends in One Sitting without Getting a Blood Clot. A fixation on global poverty and clean energy issues wasn’t really on my radar last January.

So, here it goes but I reserve the right to change course because that’s how I roll: 

Keep Reading and Learning:  The more I learn about global issues like hunger or energy poverty, the more I realize how little I know. Every new piece of information leads to more questions, new problems, and different points of view. Sometimes it feels like I’m playing Information Whack-a-Mole so all I can do is keep reading. Professor Juma’s book is on the list for sure but so are a couple of Naomi Klein’s books. Which leads me to…

Avoid the Echo Chamber: One of the greatest things about this year on a personal level is that I’ve found my tribe. They’re rationalists, realists, and optimists but most of all, they’re pro-human. I’m so grateful to have found my people but I want to constantly remind myself that it’s okay to go against the tribe. Admitting I was wrong about GMOs being dangerous has taught me a good lesson – that being wrong is okay and admitting it actually feels pretty great even if it pisses off family and friends.

Learn More about Nuclear Energy: I’m what you’d call cautiously optimistic on nuclear power. It makes the most sense in terms of a clean energy source that’s capable of scaling up quickly but I’m not ready to go to the mat for it just yet since I still have a lot to learn. I will say though that the more I learn, the less afraid I am. I’ve learned enough to understand that even a worst case scenario with nuclear power won’t lead to an On the Beach world where there’s nothing left but the sound of a rolling Coke bottle.

I bought a little Geiger counter for my Learn about Radiation project and I’m having a blast hunting for radioactive stuff.  I get really excited when I find something “clicky.” My husband might be looking for a nice facility where I can eat pudding and talk about my feelings but I’m enjoying my new toy. I’m trading in my Beg Me for Seeds t-shirt for one that says Radiation is My Bitch.

Fight Pretend Science: Pseudoscience isn’t cute anymore. It used to be kind of a fun, quirky thing that your weird aunt with all the bracelets was into. Your weird aunt wasn’t hurting anyone even if she smelled funky. Now though, it’s every-fucking-where and it’s causing real world harm – like babies dying from not getting vaccinated sort of harm. And one of the reasons it’s everywhere is that mommy bloggers have been scammed by fear-mongering Internet quacks into becoming true believers of their fake science bullshit.

I’m not a scientist but I love reading and I love writing so I’m going to keep trying to wade through the muck to add a voice against pseudoscience even though I’m getting called a shill on a regular basis now. (Note to the person screaming shill: You sound so stupid that I’m tempted to feel sorry for you but you’re an asshole so, you know…fuck off.)

On that note of rage, I’m looking forward to seeing what this year brings. Getting involved with the ecomodernist movement has given me hope that real progress can be made on climate change and poverty. Shifting the focus toward making energy clean, abundant, and affordable seems like an approach that has better odds of success than the old Let’s Turn the World into a Bunch of Itty Bitty Communes with Windmills and Goats strategy.

If that hope can energize me enough to trade in Netflix for climate books and motivate Julie to give up her short game and study CRISPR, there’s a good chance that others could feel the same way so feel free to jump on board with us.

Julie and I are coming from different political perspectives but we’ve been able to find common ground by looking at issues through the lens of evidence and common sense rather than ideology. As we head into what’s destined to be a nasty election year, we’ll continue to fist bump when we agree, laugh when we don’t, and maybe throw in a safe word (Doucheberg?) in case it gets ugly.  We wish everyone a happy, hopeful new year and we hope you’ll join us in saying to 2016 –

Hell Yeah, Let’s Do this!

Nuclear Power: The Most Advanced Way to Boil Water

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Here is a great explainer on how nuclear power works written by Finnish Ecomodernist, Rauli Partanen:

Rauli co-authored Climate Gamble – Is Anti-Nuclear Activism Endangering Our Future? You can follow Rauli on Twitter @Kaikenhuippu

The basic idea of nuclear power is simple. It’s boiling water. The current generation of light water reactors, and even more the new generations being built now, can be said to be the most advanced and safe ways to boil water to make electricity.

Nearly all electricity in the world is produced by turbines that spin generators . Most of this spinning is generated by boiling water in a power plant , where roughly one third of the energy used to boil the water can be turned in to electricity. There are two main ways to boil water . The first is by burning fuels, such as coal, wood or oil. The second is by splitting certain atoms in a controlled chain reaction in a nuclear reactor.

There was a big push to develop electricity producing civilian reactors after the Second World War. Back then, there were many different types of reactors being tested. In the United States, there was even a reactor-project that aimed to power aeroplanes . Due to various developments and even some chance, the world ended up building mostly two types of reactors. The Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) was originally designed to run nuclear submarines and was simply scaled to a bigger size, and the simpler Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) that was developed from the PWR a few years later. We have both of these types in Finland. Olkiluoto 1 and 2 are BWR’s, while the OL3 being built is a PWR. Both reactors in Loviisa nuclear power plant are PWR’s, as is the Hanhikivi 1 now being prepared by Fennovoima. There are other reactor types around the world, but they are currently not very common.

What makes nuclear power plant a different way to boil water is the amazing energy density of the fuel it uses. In a reactor, a small amount of mass is turned in to energy (heat), with the well-known formula  that Einstein is most known for: e=mc2. The scale is hard to grasp, but let’s take a few examples. There is so much energy stored in uranium that roughly a coffee cup full of it would be enough to produce all the energy a human with a western lifestyle uses in her entire lifetime . How far can one drive with a coffee cup of gasoline?

How far can one drive with a coffee cup of gasoline?

In a nuclear reaction an unstable (fissile) atom, like Uranium isotope U235, splits, releasing a large amount of heat and a couple of neutrons from the nucleus. Some of these neutrons hit other unstable atoms nearby, splitting them. More heat and neutrons are released, and the chain reaction continues. We can then use various neutron catchers, like the control rods placed inside the nuclear reactor, to control the amount of neutrons hitting and splitting new atoms, and make the amount of reactions happening stable. Water boils, turbine spins the generator and at home we can turn on the lights, keep the fridge cool and the electric stove hot. Animated picture of PWR

Nuclear power plant is also different from other ways to boil water for electricity in another important way. This is the release of pollution to the environment. More precisely, it is the lack of pollution released. When we burn fuels (other than natural gas), there is always some small particles and other toxic substances released to the environment, as well as greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which also get released from natural gas. Sure, a nuclear reaction releases lots of dangerous and radioactive isotopes, but they and their radioactivity remain mainly inside the reactor. The amount of radiation released to people from nuclear reactors amounts to roughly the same dose one can get from eating a few bananas  every year.

Nuclear reaction does not release any greenhouse gases. This means that it has a very low carbon footprint . Spent nuclear fuel is of course dangerous due to its radioactivity. After it has been cooled down however, it is not much more dangerous than many other everyday substances. It is in a solid form, so it is also relatively easy to store in a safe and secure way.

The current generation of light water reactors, and even more the new generations being built now, can be said to be the most advanced and safe ways to boil water to make electricity. It is just a way to boil water.

Pandora’s Promise: A Recap

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This is an unwieldy recap that I wrote after watching Pandora’s Promise with my writing buddy, Julie Kelly. It might be meaningless to anyone who hasn’t seen the movie and there’s probably no point in reading a recap of a movie you’ve already seen but I had fun writing it.

Translation: Not even my husband should feel obligated to read this.

There’s nothing better than putting the kids to bed on Christmas night after a long day that starts with pre-dawn Santa hysteria and ends with wondering if it’s okay to throw away a fully decorated tree. With the kids asleep, it’s time to open a bottle of wine and your Netflix app so that you can find a cozy post-holiday movie.

This year, I’m recommending that you take a break from Love, Actually and curl up with Pandora’s Promise, the heart-warming story of brave environmental activists who go on a soul-searching journey that leads them to into the loving arms of…nuclear energy.

That’s right, these huggers of trees and shunners of shoes stop worrying and learn to love their friend, the atom. So, grab your cat and a box of tissues(not really) and prepare for a sweeping cinematic treat full of intrigue, pensive stares, and a musical score that will make you want to sleep with the light on.

As someone who grew up in the Age of Reagan, I am in touch with nuclear anxiety. Images of mushroom clouds and Jason Robbards’ flapping scalp are seared into my brain thanks to The Day After. I was only able to sleep at night after that movie because my dad assured me that nobody on the planet, especially Russians, cared about Atlanta.

So, I’ll admit to being anti-nuclear until a few years ago. I will also admit to a little apprehension the first time I watched Pandora’s Promise but mostly because of the musical score which was cool but oddly sinister. After shaking up the world of environmental activism when it was released in 2013, it once again sparked a debate over nuclear power after its sold-out screening during the UN climate change conference in Paris this month.

The movie opens with a protest and a woman yelling something about the nuclear Death-Bomb-Cancer Industry. There’s also a wild-eyed guy hollering about “Solartopia” which sounds kind of hot and shiny. We’re then introduced to our movie stars, lifelong environmentalists and former anti-nuclear activists who have made the difficult journey to a pro-nuclear position.

We have Stewart Brand (pensive ocean gazer and founder of Whole Earth Catalog), Richard Rhodes (Pulitzer Prize winning author of “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” – he even looks like a Pulitzer Prize winner), Gwyneth Cravens (obvious badass and author of “Power to Save the World”), Mark Lynas (also a badass and author of “The God Species”), and Michael Shellenberger (barefoot so possibly not a badass, co-founder and senior fellow at The Breakthrough Institute).

In the first story, Mark Lynas, clad in a Tyvek onesie and shower cap (withdrawing badass status for the moment), takes us to visit Fukushima where an earthquake and tsunami have leveled everything for miles and caused a nuclear accident. He admits to “a bit of a wobble” and says he can see why we’d want to do without nuclear energy.

He and the rest of the group hadn’t been pro-nuclear all that long when Fukushima happened so they had to force themselves not to panic. We’re starting now to understand that the panic during the evacuation may ultimately end up being the deadly part of the nuclear accident.

By the way, it’s almost impossible to overstate what a big deal it is for traditional greens to break ranks from their tribe where being anti-nuclear is part of the ideology. As Lynas states:

“I was under no doubt that my whole career and my whole reputation as an environmental activist/communicator was at risk if I talked publicly about having changed my mind about nuclear power. It would have been easier to keep my mouth shut.”

Gwyneth Cravens then gives us a little backstory about the early days of nuclear power along with a bit of nostalgia for Boomers and Gen-Xers. Remember the Disney move, Our Friend, the Atom? The one with the creepy guy throwing the ping pong ball neutron to set off a chain reaction? I have a case of the Olds now.

Then we move on to a nuclear engineer at Argonne National Laboratory who educates us a little – a piece of uranium the size of his finger tip is the equivalent to about 5,000 barrels of oil. Amazing. He tells us how reactors work to produce electricity but this is the part where I would have gotten in trouble for talking in class. He makes the point that the atomic energy business was started for bomb-making so it caused a negative association. Ya think?

Now we have Stewart Brand (he’s awesome – check him out) showing us Hiroshima footage and discussing this negative association as well as the fact that the nuclear weapons testing went on and on back in the 50s. Those images from Hiroshima and Nagasaki are impossible to shake. It’s common sense to want to stuff this genie back in the bottle. Drinking during this movie may have been a bad idea.

Thank god we shift over to Michael Shellenberger and his trip to a nuclear power plant in high school because the Connecticut (Vermont?) Yankee promotional video is hilarious. No joke – one of the guys in the video is chilling with a cigarette while he tries to sell us on nuclear plant landscaping.

More on the journey of Mark Lynas and Richard Rhodes and then a lesson from a nuclear physicist on reactors which means it’s a good time for me to pour another glass of wine.

A little history lesson on the commercialization of the reactors with footage of…men golfing.

Maybe the nuclear industry’s image problem isn’t giant balls of fire so much as middle-aged white guys in golf sweaters. Just a thought.

Remember Three Mile Island and everybody freaking out? Me either because that would make me sound old.  Jane Fonda is shouting about radiation and a cancer epidemic at a huge 1979 No Nukes rally in New York.  Everyone looks vaguely like Son of Sam. Ralph Nader yells that stopping atomic energy will stop inflation – huh? James Taylor and Carly Simon sing something about the restless nature of the wind which makes me want to punch someone. This movie has ruined James Taylor for me.

New protest but this time it’s mothers freaking out about radiation getting into the food supply. This is sort of a 1980’s version of March Against Monsanto. Same arguments, different hair.

Oh, there’s Margaret Thatcher, being awesome at the U.N. and taking everyone to school about climate change. “We can’t just do nothing!” Hold up. That was Margaret Thatcher, conservative darling, talking about climate change. What the hell happened there?

Now Shellenberger and Lynas give us reality checks they’ve had to face on the huge gap between fossil fuels and renewable energy sources as well as the unfortunate problem of intermittency with wind and solar. Also, humans are just finding more and more ways to consume energy.

The idea of us all agreeing to use less energy is a nice one but perhaps it’s time to give up on that fairytale? Cutting back is only a good idea when it’s someone else doing the cutting. Admit it.

Brand and Cravens bring up the great point about human quality of life being inextricably linked to electricity.

If you’re one of the 10 people who are reading this, you probably take lights, refrigeration, and air-conditioning completely for granted. Hell, you probably even get mad when your WiFi goes out. Many people in the world don’t have electricity or if they do, it’s only enough to power a fan and a few lightbulbs. A recent trip to the ER with my son drove home just how incredibly important energy is to our well-being.

Shellenberger also reminds us that we’re finding more and more uses for electricity. How many times have you wandered around a hotel room, trying to find enough outlets for everybody’s devices?

The whole next part is basically a lecture set to background music so I’ll try to sum it up.

  • We’re probably going to double our energy use by 2050 and triple it by the end of the century.
  • If we’re going to stabilize our emissions to a reasonable level, we’re going to need a clean energy infrastructure.
  • Coal is the most widely-used energy source worldwide and it’s the fastest growing. That’s not good because…
  • Coal kills lots of people every year.
  • 3,000,000 per year are killed by fossil fuels
  • Guess what is the second safest after wind? That’s right, nuclear. It’s even safer than solar panels which involve a toxic process.
  • There hasn’t been one death associated with nuclear power plants in the United States.

There’s a fun scene next about radiation. No, really – it’s interesting. It points out how we’re all clueless about how much natural radiation is around us (a lot in some places). It makes you want to carry a Geiger counter around which is exactly what one of these guys does when he takes it into an airplane bathroom where there is lots of radiation. Gross. Okay, now the scene isn’t fun anymore because Lynas brings up cancer.

Which brings us to…Chernobyl. This looks like one of the coolest places to visit. Did you know there are people still living in Chernobyl? They even have perfectly healthy chickens running around. (Atomic Chicken will be the name of my book.) The movie points out that the WHO reports of how many people died as a result of radiation from Chernobyl is vastly different than the public’s perception.

The activist we saw in the opening scene, Helen Caldicott, is hollering that a million people were killed by Chernobyl and millions more will die which would mean there was a massive cover-up by the World Health Organization. An interviewer confronts her and confuses her and it’s a little sad because she’s old and has a frog brooch. Stop picking on dodgy old ladies, you guys.

More radiation chat and Geiger counters so it’s time to pour a little more wine and take a trip to Idaho where we meet another white guy in a sweater vest. Wait. Are we back at Argonne? Okay, yes, a nuclear plant that can’t melt down. We see an experiment where they scare everyone with a test to see if the reactor really is meltdown proof which is a fun party trick.

We’re going to fast forward through this lesson about an integral fast reactor because…we can. It’s cool. It works. I’m still bored.

Cut to John Kerry and his spectacles shutting the fast reactor program down and Larry “Touch My Balls” Craig is mad about it.  More Kerry yammering and then the camera rests on the nice, sweater-vested nuclear guy sitting all alone in his big old reactor control room. God, that’s depressing. Maybe the frog brooch lady could cheer him up.

Brand, Craven, and Lynas try to teach us about nuclear waste. It’s basically just sitting there and hopefully can be used one day as fuel in future generations of nuclear reactors. How incredible would that be? To repeat, all of that nuclear waste that’s sitting around (and it’s not nearly as much as I thought) could be used as fuel – the ultimate renewable.

Now we touch on the success the French have had with nuclear energy. 80% of their electricity is from nuclear so I assume the French are very smug about how “green” they are.

Richard Rhodes (the one with the Pulitzer) admits that the knowledge of the technology can be used for weapons. Yeah, that’s a bit of a hiccup. Rhodes says:

“We won’t get rid of nuclear weapons by forgetting how to make them; we will get rid of nuclear weapons by deciding that we don’t want them around anymore.”

Not sure that mutually assured destruction thing is going away anytime soon but it’s a hopeful thought.

Brand tells us that the U.S. has been buying up nuclear warheads from the Russians and recycling them into nuclear power which is really cool. There’s actually something a little poetic about the things that we feared would blow up our cities, now lighting up them up instead. Let’s turn all warheads into electricity and sing James Taylor/Carly Simon songs.

As we approach the end of the movie, here’s my takeaway:

The idea of nuclear power is scary to a lot of us but that could be because a) we’ve conflated it with weapons and b)we’re terrified of another Fukushima or Chernobyl. Both things are understandable but it might be worth it to step back to make sure we’re looking at it realistically. When you’re talking about 3,000,000 people a year dying from burning fossil fuels plus the likelihood of the planet warming an alarming amount in our children’s lifetimes, the risk of doing nothing (or not doing enough) could be much greater. Nuclear is a clean energy source that we can’t afford to reject out of hand.

Michael Shellenberger wraps up the movie with a speech about the next generation. People who came of age in the 60s may never change their minds about nuclear energy but younger generations may put nuclear energy in its proper context and lead high energy lives without killing the climate.

And he might be right. A high-energy world with clean air sounds like a hopeful, beautiful thing. It’s in our reach. It’s a moonshot for sure but we might just be sitting on technology that could help us get there.

Thanks for hanging out. You can get back to Hugh Grant movies now. Have a wonderful holiday and a hopeful 2016. – Love, Amy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GMO Labeling: Bring It

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I have something to say about the GMO labeling issue and my pro-science friends aren’t going to like it but here it is:  JUST LABEL THE FUCKING THINGS. Yes, I know about the Garys – Doucheberg and Ruskin- and their whole whiney little Just Label It bullshit and I do think it’s just that – bullshit. I get that the whole thing is an organic industry push to demonize biotech so that they can grab a fatter share of the market.

But let’s be realistic – labeling is going to happen one way or another whether we like it or not, just as the genetic modification of crops and animals is going to move forward whether the anti weenies like it or not. So, you (you being the biotech/food company people I guess) need to strap on a pair and take charge of this conversation.

And, no, that little QR code idea will never fly with these people. First of all, it’s too complicated for that crowd. These are people who think they can kill insects by empowering their seeds with positive thoughts. They hate technology. It’s scary to them. They want tiny little singing children, dressed in burlap sacks to hand-pick their vegetables. These are people who think that whole farm-to-table thing where you can go cuddle a baby lamb before you eat its mother is fun. That doesn’t seem barcode-friendly to me.

Also, whose idea was that QR code? It’s a touch…aggressive. The whole proposal seems to scream, “You want a label? I’ll give you a goddamned label. Now take this label and shove it straight up your ass.” I mean, I completely respect that stance but these folks are never going to go for a QR code with all of that boring information. They don’t actually give a shit about breeding methods or sustainable farming practices.  They want pictures. Cute pictures.

The Garys and the Gang have that little butterfly thing – that was brilliant (mind you, brilliant is a very relative thing here). Food and biotech people, oh hell, I’ll just say it, Monsanto needs to come up with something adorable like maybe DNA with a face – a face with big, sweet eyes and an aw-shucks smile. They need to Disney-up some happy DNA stickers that food companies can slap on their cereal boxes with little messages like, “Genetically Improved with Vitamins. Hooray!” or “Genetically Enhanced to Save Fuzzy Bees!” (You must use exclamation points. Dumb people like exclamation points.)

Side note: The “Genetically Improved with a Process You Wouldn’t Understand” label could be an awesome thing for single people. Instead of rummaging through someone’s medicine cabinet when you’re on your 3rd date, you’d just have to glance at their pantry to see if they’re walk-of-shame worthy. It would be a good way to weed out someone with bad genes. <<Corny. I have a pun problem.

Oh, and I’m really sorry to single you out, Monsanto. Not sure what you did to make everyone think you’re a bunch of Sith lords sitting around trying to control the food supply. (You’re not, right? That seems like an exhausting mission.) I’ve interacted with a few of you on Twitter and you all seem like lovely people but can I ask you to please, please get your shit together already and do something about your image?  [Calm down. I know you’re already weeping with frustration from trying so hard.] Perhaps it would help if you embraced the labeling thing instead of fighting it. Fighting it is just giving the Garys ammunition against you.

By the way, if Hugh Grant the Actor can overcome that whole Divine Brown thing then Hugh Grant the CEO can overcome a few Bravo chefs and yogurt salesmen. (How sick are the Hugh Grants of that joke?)  I know, I know, you’re consistently ranked as one of the best companies to work for. You do a lot of good stuff I’m sure. I don’t blame you for possibly saying, “Aw, fuck it. Why bother?” but Monsanto, along with food companies and the rest of the biotech industry, needs to be proud and make it clear that they’re proud instead of skulking around. You do realize that you guys are being bullied by people who are scared of a salmon, right?

For the record, this whole rant was sort of tongue-in-cheek. I think the case against labeling is strong but the argument is going in circles. Plus, I’m going to scream if I hear another person say, “But what about mutagenesis?!?” The labeling fight is distracting from all of the great things being accomplished by the biotech industry right now. From applications that could help end animal cruelty to applications that reduce pesticide use or improve nutrition, there are so many reasons for that industry to be proud.

So, I say – bring it. Bring on a great label, market the hell out of it, and get the upper hand. Make the Garys go on the offensive for once and prove how fantastic organic is instead of letting them continue to whine about the “Dark Act” while they rest on their little fear-mongering laurels. I, for one, would love to have a kitchen filled with pictures of Dancing Dave the DNA.

Love, Amy – Third String Armchair Quarterback

 

 

Bite Me: A Black Friday Rant

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The following is a Black Friday rant by  Amy Levy and Julie Kelly, 2 moms pushed over the edge into a vat of Organic Chardonnay by anti-GMOers who think “irregardless” is a word and that Canadian gardens are exactly like African farms. Oh, and by the people who think these brain trusts deserve the same respect as public scientists. This will probably only make sense to those who are eyeballs deep in the GMO debate.

I would like to state for the record that I am not “Pro-GMO.” I am Pro-CFS (Common Fucking Sense.) Yes, it’s my blog so Julie and I can cuss if we feel like it. Move right along if it bothers you. And yes, I’m a little irritated.

I decided to insert myself into the Great American Food Fight in order to counteract some of the batshit crazy coming out of the anti-GMO movement. For the uninitiated, there are all sorts of groups out there that will just make stuff up to try to scare people into thinking that anything genetically modified will kill them. Never mind the potential benefits, the fact that humans have been genetically modifying stuff for thousands of years, or that every GMO is different – they want the technology shut down at all costs- even if that means trying to ruin the lives of scientists who teach it or journalists who write about it objectively. Not to mention trying to keep it out of the hands of people who could use it to prevent little things like starvation and blindness.

Because of my outrage at the dirty tactics used by anti-GMO groups, I decided to step up and advocate for Common Fucking Sense. I’ve learned the hard way though that there is a false equivalence between the Anti and the not-anti side of the GMO argument.  I want to make it clear that advocating for common sense when it comes to biotechnology does not mean I’m just the flip side of a Crazy Coin with a butterfly on one side and corn on the other.

The “Antis” are trying to completely block the use of a breeding method whereas I am saying that the technology should not be ruled out if the application makes the most sense. Got it? Every GMO is different and every application is different and I am Pro-Whatever-Works-Best. And farming practices? I have no clue about farming so I’m Pro-Let-the-Farmer Decide.

And by the way, I’m not paid by anyone and I don’t answer to anyone so I am in the position to tell every last person on the planet to bite me. I will also never have an online store to sell GMO supplements, GMO mascara, or $2000 juicers so that I can trick you into GMO cancer cures.

I might, however, write a book with Julie Kelly one day about the sheer insanity of well-heeled Americans whining about the purity of their food while they drink French wine and smoke organic weed. Julie and I will buy Monsanto with our earnings and wear t-shirts that say,

Beg Me for Seed, Bitches.

Believe it or not, I actually don’t care what breeding method is used on plants. In fact, I hate plants and don’t want them in my house. I’ve even thrown live plants in the garbage because I’m sick of their needy asses demanding water. So, I don’t care if scientists use fairy dust to create fucking plants if fairy dust means the most nutritious food with the least amount of negative impact on the environment. I might get a Fuck Yeah Fairy Dust tattoo if science pulls that one off.

Transgenic technology is an incredible tool that could be used in lots of different applications that could be good for both humans and the planet. Unlike a lot of the de-population Cull the Herd monsters who lurk inside the ranks of the anti-GMO and anti-vax movements, I like humans. And it’s flat-out ridiculous to block a technology because you’re too scared, too busy, too stubborn, or too stupid to understand it. That doesn’t mean I’m BFF! with GMOs because if something works better, go for it. Don’t care.

So stop with the false equivalence. I’m not the flipside of the Crazy Corn Coin even if it’s starting to make me sound nuts. Let me attempt a metaphor for those who are slow on the uptake – I’m saying we should keep all the nice little tools in the tool box and maybe even work on making the tools better and finding new tools whereas the other side is saying,

“The hammer scares me! It’s not natural! Make it go away or I’ll cry and tell your boss you’re a Hammer Shill!”

Not exactly flipsides of the same coin. The flipside would be me saying,

“You must hammer the shit out of everything at all times.”

Over to you Julie… 

If your head is still spinning after that, it should be. Amy Unhinged is like a mad genius, spinning out metaphors and visuals you only wished you had thought of. A Crazy Coin with a corn and a butterfly? Sheer brilliance. I will forever hate her for thinking of that before I did.

I, too, am a Common Fucking Sense adherent. The pro-science is great (yeah, yeah) but the pro-common sense prevails in my book. Would hundreds of thousands of farmers intentionally pollute their own land and use excessive amounts of costly herbicides just because Monsanto told them to? Would they risk causing miscarriages in their pregnant wives and autism in their own children with glyphosate just because they want higher yields next fall?

Would thousands of scientists work for a company hell-bent on global destruction that would also bring about their own eventual demise? Would the federal government approve a deadly chemical just because the company’s lobbyist gave a few thousand bucks to some congressman at a DC fundraiser?

Now take a deep breath. The. Answer. Is. No. And this is from one of the most skeptical people you will probably ever meet (me). Educated American scientists are not collaborating to create demon cultivars and mammoth salmons that will eventually seize control of the planet while forcing us to eat tomatoes injected with pig genomes.

Educated American farmers are not in some Monsanto-induced trance where they use pitchforks to toss their children into Round-Up Ready fields to get cancer.

And Tom Vilsack is not sleeping with Monsanto’s CEO where their idea of a post-coital smoke is signing off the USDA’s approval of Bt wheat.

If you believe any of the above scenarios, you are either ignorant or just plain dumb. Sorry, there is no nice way to describe you. Or you could be an organic industry executive whose calculated vilification of GMOs is a shrewd attempt to drive market share in your favor. If you were the head of McDonald’s, you would never get away with it. But if you are the head of a company that has green grass, happy cows and white babies on your yogurt cups, you get away with it. #Merica.

And no, all sides are not equal. The farmers and scientists who have evidence on their side are not the same as the anti-GMOers who do not. Their motives and purpose are not even close to being alike. I don’t give a flying fuck if Gary Hirshberg mentors fatherless kids in New Hampshire on the weekends or if he worked at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving morning; when you knowingly lie to moms that they have glyphosate in their breastmilk or that GMOs are causing your kids to have ADHD, you are a shit.

I’ve had this very conversation with a few journalists who buy into the moral equivalence of this debate: “Well, they (the anti-GMOers) believe what they say so it’s not wrong” is basically what I’ve been told. What-the-actual-fuck does that mean? I’ve asked why they haven’t pushed back on the organic executives, celebrity chefs, and food writers who say one asinine and untrue thing after another. And they’re all: fc,550x550,white (1)

I get that the modern-day cultural practice of painting both sides of an issue with the same broad brush is driven by two things: intellectual laziness and a refusal to offend anyone. The media – and indeed even people on “our” side of the GMO debate – are very reluctant to call bullshit on the other side. I saw this in clear view over the last few months with the FOIA controversy. Lots of futile hand-wringing on this side about Kevin Folta and absolutely nothing about the shady stuff that came out about the collaboration between the organic industry and their bought-and-paid-for “scientist.” I was even scolded by some science-minded folks that I shouldn’t have written about it because then we are “stooping to their level” and “no better than they are.” Wrong. We are better and we aren’t stooping. It’s called a fair fight. Get out from behind your rose-colored safety goggles and realize this is a political battle. And in politics, nice guys finish last.

In the meantime, Amy and I will remain on our virtual island with our laptops and a lifetime supply of wine wearing our “Beg Me for Seed, bitches” t-shirts where she forces me to listen to David Cook and I force her to listen to Def Leppard (and pretty sure I’ll be doing all the cooking). We will continue to fight for what we believe is right, even if the people on our side don’t like it.

Hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving and a strong WiFi connection for their Black Friday stampede through Amazon. Thanks for letting us get that off our chests. Oh, and we were only kidding about making people beg us for seed – only the people who say “irregardless” will be forced to do that. – Love, Amy and Julie

 

 

 

CT Scans with Teddy Bears

It’s so easy to whine about the modern world. Life can seem loud, bright, and way too plugged in sometimes but you know what will make you stop whining and sob with gratitude for modernity? Your child smashing his head open on a rock- that’s what.

That’s exactly what happened to my 8-year-old this weekend. My balls-to-the-walls, daredevil son got woozy watching me patch up the bloody knee he got from pogo-sticking and fainted, landing head first on a rock. That’s right – pogo sticks and skateboards are no problem but the sight of blood caused him to have an accident that aged me 10 years overnight.

I wasn’t thinking about the modern world or feeling grateful for electricity while we were waiting for the ambulance because I was busy holding him; stifling the urge to panic while he was bleeding from his head and his nose, asking to go to sleep. It wasn’t until we were at the children’s hospital and I was standing by him while he got a CT scan in a machine decorated with teddy bear stickers that I started to feel overwhelmed at how lucky we are.

In most of the world, emergency care doesn’t exist. Within 10 minutes of calling 911, we had 2 fire and rescue vehicles at our house along with 5 trained, very calm paramedics who quickly had my son secured on a stretcher and hooked up to machines that could monitor his vitals on the way to the hospital. This is incredible when you think about it. The paramedics, the equipment, the air-conditioned ambulance, even the paved roads are luxuries much of the world can’t imagine.

When we got to the children’s hospital (think about that for a moment – we have a huge, state-of-the-art medical facility just for children), we were hustled into a room where we were seen quickly by pediatric nurses and a pediatrician. Think about that too – we have nurses and doctors who are specially trained just to treat children. This is not how most of the world lives.

While we were waiting to be taken to radiology for the CT scan, a nurse came in and put something on the gash to completely numb it so that it wouldn’t hurt while the doctor cleaned and stitched the wound. How much of the world has access to the kind of care where you can be stitched up without even feeling it?

While we waited for the CT results, I looked around and took stock of how amazing it is that we live in a time and place where our children get medical care in facilities that most people in the world have never seen. These facilities are climate-controlled with automatic doors, computers, and security cameras. The diagnostic equipment, the lights, the vending machines, the televisions, even the thermometers and the blood pressure cuffs are powered by reliable electricity that we rarely give a second thought.

It was the CT scan machine with the teddy bears, one that must have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars (at least), sitting in a cool, dim room and making a soft blowing sound while it took pictures of my little boy’s head, that made my heart clench because I knew that I was lucky enough to live where my child had the best possible chance to be okay. By sheer luck of birth, I get to raise a family in a place where abundant energy is a given, where advanced technology is so commonplace that we feel free to decorate it, and where specialized medical care is a quick ambulance ride away.

The next time I’m feeling tempted to complain about the stress of modern life, that lights are too bright or that technology is taking over, I’ll remind myself what real stress is. Real stress is what most of the world’s mothers feel when their child is badly injured. Real stress is watching your child bleed and having no one to call, no place to go, no doctor to care for him, and no big machine with teddy bear stickers to tell you that he’s going to be okay.

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