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TOPIC: ENVIRONMENTAL ALARMISM
Created by: maritimers
Original Starting post for this thread:
In another SLS forum some members are debating the dangers of genetically modified organisms (GMO's) in our food chain. It is good that our society critically analyzes the potential consequences of introducing and spreading GMO's in our bodies and in the environment. The debate, however, seems kind of silly without a corresponding focus on the potential benefits of GMO's.

I take issue with knee-jerk reactionaries of any political stripe. Even if I accept the premise that GMO's will increase the risk of certain ailments and impact "normal" evolutionary processes, I can not consider these concerns without also recognizing that the development of GMO's has the potential to reduce food costs, feed millions of impoverished people and open the doors to future technology breakthroughs that can change life on this planet for the better.

For those interested in venturing beyond the confines of SLS forums on this subject, the July/Aug issue of Foreign Affairs included a controversial article by Bjorn Lomborg about the "spectacularly wrong" predictions made by the Club of Rome in its famed 1970 report on the conflict supposedly inherent between unlimited economic growth and finite natural resources. On the Foreign Affairs website, the critics are already countering Lomborg's piece, though they seem unable to counter his basic premises and instead point out all the nice progress that has been made on the environment front since the 1970's because of the warnings issued at that time.

Few would deny that our world is a better place when we try not to waste and pollute and if this is a legacy of the 1970's green movement, then great. But the idea that false-alarmism is an appropriate way to encourage change is flawed and dangerous, indeed. Rachel Carson is considered a hero to many for turning our nation's attention to the problems of DDT in the 1960's. But the millions of people who died from malaria after DDT was banned might have had a different opinion.

American soccer mom's might look askance at a bowl of GMO cereal in milk that comes from a GMO cow. But to a mother in Malawi trying to keep her children from starving, that might be the best meal she has ever seen.

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And to those that claim we have no arable land available are also mistaken. America has pulled nearly 75% of it's arable land out of production in the last 100 years. Much of it remains in the form of 'new' forest and regrown woods. Look around you.

I personally know that farms in upstate NY and all over the northeast have significant percentages fallow land due to lack of market. Seems the major growing areas of the country are very powerful and control much of that market.

It's NOT that it can't get done....

East Fishkill NY
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But the organic systems have further benefits. Soils on organic farms in which a mixture of crops are grown are healthier and have better structure than on conventional one-crop farms. They are better at retaining nitrogen and carbon in a variety of different forms. Because nitrogen fertilizers are not added all at once - as they are in a conventional farm - but released from soil stores throughout the year, less nitrogen is needed, less energy is used, and less nitrogen is washed out of the soil to end up polluting rivers. Over a five-year period, 60% more nitrogen (as nitrate) was washed into groundwater from the conventional system than from either of the two organic systems. These results show that the passage of nutrients through a patch of ground is influenced by the plants grown in it, and how they are grown.

And the benefits don't end there - the greater ability of a soil in an organic farm to sequester carbon than soil in a conventional farm could, if these practices were applied over the entire maize-soybean growing region of the United States, account for up to 2% of the carbon released annually in that country from the combustion of fossil fuels. Given that the United States has agreed to reduce average carbon dioxide concentrations to 7% below 1990 levels by 2008-2012, organic farming could make a significant dent in global warming.

The sad thing is that these results seem so remarkable. The 'green revolution' in which the use of cheap fertilizers and pesticides has kept the world's burgeoning population fed, despite a doubling in the past four decades, has had such immense success that we think it can go on forever and that nothing else is possible.

But the green revolution has exacted a considerable toll. The use of mineral fertilizer now amounts to the annual addition of 70 million tonnes of nitrogen to the soil - the equivalent to all natural additions of nitrogen - and the ecological consequences are being felt. Old-fashioned farms grew a variety of plants and livestock in a kind of interdependent ecosystem, where there was little waste and few deleterious effects outside the farm. Intensive agriculture has led to a decoupling of sources from sinks - it is easier to dump the manure from a million-strong chicken farm into the river than to cart it many miles to spread on another farmer's wheat-only farm. This would never happen in a natural ecosystem. As ecologist David Tilman of the University of Minnesota writes in Nature, "sustainable and productive ecosystems have tight internal cycling of nutrients, a lesson that agriculture must relearn."

East Fishkill NY
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Many insist that organic farming is less expensive, more sustainable and yields similar results over time with far less impact on the environment.

"

Organic farming is not only kinder to the environment than conventional, intensive agriculture - but it has comparable yields of both products and profits. Without loss of production, organic farming can rebuild spent soils, prevent pollution and even combat the greenhouse effect. An extract from a radical 'green' manifesto? No - these are the implications of a sober report in Nature the result of a 15-year study to compare the performance of organic with conventional farming.

In the report, Laurie Drinkwater and colleagues from the Rodale Institute, Kutztown, Pennsylvania, sought to test the contention - a tenet in land management for decades - that the amounts of carbon and nitrogen in the soil are controlled by their net inputs, irrespective of their sources, artificial or organic. This seems odd to ecologists, who have long known that the passage of carbon and nitrogen through an ecosystem is profoundly affected by the numbers and types of species present, the quality of the organic 'litter' available for decomposition, and so on.

Their new report is dramatic proof that what works in a rainforest holds true down on the farm. The researchers simulated three kinds of farm: the first was a conventional farm, in which maize and soybeans were rotated, a mineral nitrogen fertilizer was applied before the maize was planted, and pesticides were freely used.

The other two 'farms' were organic. In one, legumes and grasses were grown to feed beef cattle, and the resulting manure was used as fertilizer for a maize crop. In the other, legumes were grown and then ploughed back, to provide a source of nutrition for a maize crop. Legumes, such as clover, peas and beans, harbour bacteria in their roots that extract nitrogen from the atmosphere, returning it to the soil.

The conventional farm grew just maize and soybeans. The other two systems were less intensive, as other grains and legumes were grown in addition. The conventional farm produced more crops - in terms of the amount of available carbon turned into plant material - than either of the other two systems. On the face of it, the conventional farm seemed more productive. But was it? between 1986 and 1995, the average annual maize yields from all three systems were very similar: 7,140, 7,100 and 7,170 kilograms per hectare in the manure-based, ploughed-in-legumes and conventional systems respectively. Over the past ten years, the economic profitability of the three systems has been comparable.

East Fishkill NY
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I have IBS and I can tell you for a fact that GMO corn affects me badly, as does GMO wheat. I don't even have to know where it came from, I can tell within an hour. For this reason alone, I eat local (I know the farmer and what he uses on his crops) or organic. I'd rather not need to do that....

The loudest yelling about GMO is a demand for labeling. Why is Monsanto blocking labeling, to the tune of hundreds of millions in lobbying and advertising to defeat citizen referendums.

Why fight labeling if your product is sound?

I agree, INDEPENDENT research is sorely needed. Not gunna happen because Monsanto won't allow it. What research DOES happen comes primarily from Europe, which has in many instances banned GMO crops completely based on the science.

Again, if your product is so good, why fight labeling?

East Fishkill NY
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Some toxic waste cite decisions are a perfectmatch for certain families who prefer toxic waste in their air, yard, and water supply.

Treasure Is FL
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"When we have rabid anti-science mobs trying to hijack the US government, that's pretty good reason to be alarmed. "

Beware of blind faith is science, especially when it's handed down from a Government. People who don't understand history are doomed to repeat it.

Pittsburgh PA
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One should properly be alarmed if a dump truck should start backing across your yard with a load of trash or toxic waste to drop at your doorstep.

Science undeniably reveals that all ecosystems on Earth are connected, and all trashing of the environment is everyone's problem.

The understanding of scientific principles leaves little leeway for how concerned we should be about environmental degradation.

When we have rabid anti-science mobs trying to hijack the US government, that's pretty good reason to be alarmed.

Flat Rock NC
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Plenty of green sheeple are taught dogmas that distrust and deny science and the evolution of the human condition.

All the prophets are well-represented on both sides of this particular fence.

Amherst Canada
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Since most political/religious sheeple are taught conservative dogmas that dismiss and attempt to repress science and the evolution of the human brain, any thought that contradicts their pope or prophets would be disregarded as heresy.

Food science is a distinct element of advanced intelligence, but the descendants of Israel and Ishmael would fight holy wars to defend their beliefs in atavistic forms of doctrinal superiority.

Treasure Is FL
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In another SLS forum some members are debating the dangers of genetically modified organisms (GMO's) in our food chain. It is good that our society critically analyzes the potential consequences of introducing and spreading GMO's in our bodies and in the environment. The debate, however, seems kind of silly without a corresponding focus on the potential benefits of GMO's.

I take issue with knee-jerk reactionaries of any political stripe. Even if I accept the premise that GMO's will increase the risk of certain ailments and impact "normal" evolutionary processes, I can not consider these concerns without also recognizing that the development of GMO's has the potential to reduce food costs, feed millions of impoverished people and open the doors to future technology breakthroughs that can change life on this planet for the better.

For those interested in venturing beyond the confines of SLS forums on this subject, the July/Aug issue of Foreign Affairs included a controversial article by Bjorn Lomborg about the "spectacularly wrong" predictions made by the Club of Rome in its famed 1970 report on the conflict supposedly inherent between unlimited economic growth and finite natural resources. On the Foreign Affairs website, the critics are already countering Lomborg's piece, though they seem unable to counter his basic premises and instead point out all the nice progress that has been made on the environment front since the 1970's because of the warnings issued at that time.

Few would deny that our world is a better place when we try not to waste and pollute and if this is a legacy of the 1970's green movement, then great. But the idea that false-alarmism is an appropriate way to encourage change is flawed and dangerous, indeed. Rachel Carson is considered a hero to many for turning our nation's attention to the problems of DDT in the 1960's. But the millions of people who died from malaria after DDT was banned might have had a different opinion.

American soccer mom's might look askance at a bowl of GMO cereal in milk that comes from a GMO cow. But to a mother in Malawi trying to keep her children from starving, that might be the best meal she has ever seen.

Amherst Canada
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TOPIC: ENVIRONMENTAL ALARMISM