Verlyn Klinkenborg is a member of the editorial board at the New York Times. His books include Timothy; Or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, The Rural Life, and Making Hay. In previous articles for Yale Environment 360, Klinkenborg reflected on the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth and explained why he continues to oppose genetically modified crops.
Large-scale industrial agriculture depends on engineering the land to ensure the absence of natural diversity. Nature ultimately finds a way to subvert uniformity and assert itself.
In its short, shameless history, big agriculture has had only one big idea: uniformity. The obvious example is corn. The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts that American farmers — big farmers — will plant 94 million acres of corn this year. That’s the equivalent of planting corn on every inch of Montana. To do that you’d have to make sure that every inch of Montana fell within corn-growing parameters. That would mean leveling the high spots, irrigating the dry spots, draining the wet spots, fertilizing the infertile spots, and so on. Corn is usually grown where the terrain is less rigorous than it is in Montana. But even in Iowa that has meant leveling, irrigating, draining, fertilizing, and, of course, spraying.
If we could speed up time a little and become a lot more perceptive, we would see that nature’s big idea is to try out life wherever and however it can be tried, which means everywhere and anyhow. The result — over time and at this instant — is diversity, complexity, particularity, and inventiveness to an extent our minds are almost unfitted to conceive.
A reasonable agriculture would do its best to emulate nature. Rather than change the earth to suit a crop — which is what we do with corn and soybeans and a handful of other agricultural commodities — it would diversify its crops to suit the earth. This is not going to happen in big agriculture, because big agriculture is irrational.
To a uniform crop like corn, farmers have been encouraged to apply a uniform herbicide to kill weeds. Modern corn is genetically engineered to not be killed by the herbicide in ubiquitous use. Mostly, that herbicide has been glyphosate, marketed under the Monsanto trade name Roundup. Farmers have sprayed and over-sprayed billions of gallons of Roundup thanks to an economic and moral premise: corn good, weeds bad. And yet you can’t help noticing that it has done nothing to stop the endless inventiveness of nature.
To broadleaf weeds, Roundup is not the apocalypse. It is simply a modest, temporal challenge; which is why, 15 years after genetically-engineered, Roundup-tolerant crops were widely introduced, it’s no longer working against spontaneous new generations of Roundup-tolerant weeds, especially in cotton fields. This is because research, in nature’s laboratory, never stops. It explores every possibility. It never lacks funding. It is never demoralized by failed experiments. It cannot be lobbied.
While the USDA hasn’t decided whether to approve Dow’s 2,4-D-tolerant soybeans yet, it has decided to speed up the process of reviewing genetically-engineered crops, mainly to help deal with the spread of so-called superweeds caused by the nearly universal application of glyphosate for the last decade and a half. According to Dow’s numbers, superweeds affected some 60 million acres of crops last year. If things go right, bureaucratically, that is just so much cash in Dow’s pocket.
Instead of urging farmers away from uniformity and toward greater diversity, the USDA is helping them do the same old wrong thing faster. When an idea goes bad, the USDA seems to think, the way to fix it is to speed up the introduction of ideas that will go bad for exactly the same reason. And it’s always, somehow, the same bad idea: the uniform application of an anti-biological agent, whether it’s a pesticide in crops or an antibiotic on factory farms. The result is always the same. Nature finds a way around it, and quickly.
Thursday April 12, 2012, 3:13 pm
This article is by a New York Times Editorial Board member who opposes genetically modified crops.
In a short articel easily understood, he uses news and examples to explain why human genetic modification won't work.
To those who can perceive a larger issue, his commentary points to the ongoing failure of human exploitation using every means that can be devised to support economic and population growth. He's right: Nature will always win.
What's necessary for us to understand is that nature 's response is slow enough that technology will keep plugging the erosion of our overexploitation until we take down most of the present remaining kinds of life and ecosystems with us.
The folly of big ag is only part of the folly, which is using our minds only for growth and economic enhancement, for you see that these are the only real issues given credence by elected officials and their constituents.
That fact is one for each person to spend significant time meditating over. The Hopi are agriculturalists who know that humans are out of balance, and have generally retreated from the greedy quest. Their ancestors were the people of the great Southwestern Pueblos of a millennium ago. They always had to watch climate, exploitation, population, weather, and so passed on oral wisdom which literate cultures fail to respect.
Yes, nature will win, and the ridiculous contest (and you will notice that our culture is ridiculously contest-oriented) in which this culture is engaged will once again, only take down the wise and innocent other beings now at human mercy. Mercy appears to be an attribute in short supply: so many care2 members are only here to promote human growth and human issues.
Without taking a larger view, such are a part of the demise of each free being, animal or plant whose light is extinguished by this growth and speciesism.
Thursday April 19, 2012, 4:53 pm
Thank you ****** info from Care2 members home blogs was posted Aug 13 2009 at opitslinkfest.blogspot.com and is listed as part of the Topical File on Corporate Farming ( an oxymoron BTW ) found in the Topical Index at Opit's LinkFest! ... my oldest online alias - being an acronymn for Olde Phartte In Training