Tuesday, November 30, 2004

"War resistors welcome here!"

Jenny and I walked down to Parliament Hill tonight to check out what all the fuss was about. Apparently some guy named Bush was in town and people were angry about it.

In all seriousness, the protests were a lot smaller than we anticipated. There were as many cops around as protesters. But the crazy, whacked out hippies dancing to the drum beats were pretty cool. Rogue MP Carolyn Parrish was giving her speech as we arrived - and people were somewhat fired up. Then chants of "War resistors welcome here!" started. All in all though, I thought there would be more anger.

My favourite sign? "Mess With Texas."

Of course, the protests could have been mellow due to the fact that everyone there was stoned. What is it with protesting and pot? "Hey, Bush is in town - let's head up to the Hill and smoke a bowl!"

I think protesters do their cause a disservice when they pour paint on a cop (as did happen, apparently) or show up drunk or stoned. The way I see it, if you can't take your cause seriously enough to show up to your protest sober, why should anyone else take your cause seriously? You know, these hippies hurt their own case sometimes.

Anyway, supper was waiting and Ellie was starting to get freaked out, so we had to split.

On a related note, I read (somewhere) that Bush has spent 13 billion dollars this year - alone! - on his Star Wars missle defense program.

I can think of a bunch of better ways to spend 13 billion - investing in green energy alternatives comes to mind. I wonder when the leader of the most influential country in the world will actually start to lead his people in a meaningful way.

Imagine that - a world leader actually leading the way on something.

Those are my rambling thoughts for tonight.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

The Take

Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis have a movie out now called "The Take," which is about a town in Argentina who refuses to allow its factory to close. The people who live in the town take over operation of the plant and begin to self-manage and even self-govern. The story is kind of a metaphor for the type of society that Klein and Lews believe is good.

Steve Maich wrote an article in MacLean's about why the movie was untruthful and down-right crappy.

So I wrote him asking him what his views were, and we're now having an exchange, shown below:

Andrew wrote:

"I have not seen The Take, nor do I know a lot about Argetina's political situation, but I was under the impression that at the heartof Klein and Lewis' message was this:

the more the wealth is spread around, the higher the standard ofliving is for all. Or more succinctly, power to the people. Don't read this as communist drivel. I'm no communist, and I like privatization. I like smaller government, too.

But what I don't like is the growing disparity of rich and poor, and the constant shift towards monopolized industries, particularly if those industries make a habit out of exploiting environmental laws in poor countries.
So despite her perhaps flawed packaging, I think Naomi's got a grand vision. And I'm curious to know where you stand on the issue. As it were, your column was effective in slicing up Klein and Lewis, but it did little to shed any light on your position."

Steve wrote:

"Andrew,

Thanks for the note. I agree that growing disparities between rich and poor, and environmental degredation are serious problems. But you say you like smaller government and privatization, but the goal of spreading wealth more equitably through public and cooperative ownership is is diametrically opposed to those goals. You may not want it to be so, but the economic model Klein and Lewis propose IS communism. they are smart and saavy enough to know not to label it that way, but that's what it is. Its appeal has been the same throughout its history - it seems so fair and just. the trouble is, it doesn't fit with our conception of individual rights, and it totally ignores thhe role of human nature.

It's true that I didn't explain my basic perspective, so here it is: The left has always attacked capitalism as the root of all evil and injustice in the world. I believe that it is actually the corruption of capitalist principles that are the problem. Menem in Argentina called himself a capitalist and yet he skimmed money, rigged contracts and continued to feed the massive public sector unions that allowed him to maintain power. Even after what Klein calls a "massive privatization campaign" more than one third of the country's workforce was employed by the government. (By comparison - Canada's workforce is 19% public - and we have a big public service compared to most countries).

I believe that the best way to alleviate poverty is for developing nations to modernize, use their resources to support their economies, with the help of corporations and honest politicians supporting sustainable growth and a sane fiscal policy. In places where this has worked (places like Ecuador and Botswana) the results are impressive. I believe Klein wants to drag us back into an economic model that has failed everywhere (from the Soviet Union, to Cuba, to Yugoslavia), rather than reforming and working to improve a system that has the potential to work. You're right that the private sector's record in the developing world is not a good one - but that's a failure of politicians as much as CEOs.

In short, the way to alleviate poverty and move toward more equitable living conditions around the world is not to demonize capitalism and corporations, but to harness their power.

That's where I'm coming from.
Steve Maich"

And Andrew wrote back:

"Thanks for your response, Steve.
Like I said, I'm not a fan of communism but where I see the problem is not in the "corruption of capitalism," but a very flaw in the nature of capitalism itself.

And I'm talking about the Ayn Rand sort of capitalism - you know, lassaiz-faire, what's-good-for-the-market-is-good-for-the-people sort of concept.

And my problem is that this sort of capitalist structure has no respect for preservation of resources and no forethought withsustainable development in mind.

I used to hate the institution where a few people who thought theywere smart could decide for those who weren't as smart - this, ofcourse, is analagous to saying that governments can decide for the people what is best for them because they are in power and therefore smarter.

I used to hate the idea of government and its restrictions. Problem is, with capitalism (unfettered), the goal is most often simply to make money, to "improve" the economy. I don't think this attitude is evil, but I just don't think it is smart. Frankly, I have too much respect for life and this planet to support that kind of attitude, since that kind of attitude often neglects any semblance of ecological responsibility.

I see a trend where "improving our economy" equates to "buying more stuff" which equates to "producing more stuff" which equates to"destroying this planet."

At least in Klein and Lewis' vision, they preach local production andconsumption, with an awareness of the consequences to this consumption.

That's where I'm coming from.

Thanks for reading."

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Shunning the family empire

John Robbins was heir to the Baskin-Robbins ice cream empire. He shunned it all (every penny of it) and set out across America to investigate eating habits and how they affect the animals, the earth, and the people who consume meat.

I just watched his movie. It was excellent. And here's one of John's quotes that stuck out at me:

"As a concerned citizen, I am someone who wants my life to be a statement of compassion, in some respects, for the world. When I see what's done to the animals, it makes me look at my food choices in a whole new way. I have to question, 'is this what I want my contribution to the world to involve?'"

A great question. What is it we want our contribution to the world to involve?

John's book, Diet For A New America (which shares the title with his movie), can be discovered at Amazon.com

I wonder how he felt when he told his father that the places with the highest consumption of milk are those with the highest population rates of osteoporosis.

The fact that the lie of milk - "it does a body good" - has been forced down our throat (literally) for so long must have made John sick and his father angry with denial.

I wish my family had an empire. I'd shun the hell out of it.

Monday, November 22, 2004

The 13 provinces of Canada

I thought I'd throw this up here because it's interesting, but it's the kind of news that will appear on the front page of a paper and then we'll never hear of it again.

I hope to someday see the day when we have 13 provinces. That would a great thing for the people of the north.

Also, I think this is kind of funny: about half way down the article, it mentions that due to global warming, we'll have easier access to the north's vast resources...... so we can burn them and contribute to more global warming.

Anyway, here you are.

Paul Martin: Territories will be provinces
Canadian Press

SAO PAULO, Brazil — The three territories of Canada will ultimately become new provinces, Prime Minister Paul Martin predicted today, as he gave an impromptu geography lesson to a state governor here.

"They will eventually become provinces," Martin replied bluntly in a conversation with Sao Paulo state governor Geraldo Alckmin, who had asked what status the northern territories held.
"I would say they're one stage below (now)."

At a later news conference Martin said he couldn't guess a time frame for when Nunavut, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories would be added to the roster of provinces.

He could not say if it might happen during his reign as prime minister and emphasized he was only expressing a personal belief, not official government policy.

The prime minister said his focus for now is on devolving additional powers to the three territorial governments in areas like revenue-sharing, health care and education.

But Martin again stated his belief they should not remain territories forever.

"I believe that ultimately this should be the case," he told reporters. "I'm not in a position to give dates but I believe it has always been the expectation (for) the territories."

Canada has had 10 provinces since 1949, when Newfoundland joined Confederation. Any changes to the arrangement would require potentially complicated constitutional negotiations.

"I think that it'll happen when the territories and the country is ready for it."

But the country is ready for more modest transfers of power to northern governments, he said, adding that Canadians also expect their leaders to play a greater role in the north.

At stake is Canadian sovereignty over the massive, sparsely populated land. Maintaining control of it could pay lucrative dividends as global warming makes it easier to navigate the region's waters and exploit its vast resources.

A diplomatic flap surfaced last year after a news report said Danes had placed their flag on Hans Island, an isolated island midway between Ellesmere Island and Greenland.

"It is very important, to Canadians, and certainly to me, that we demonstrate unequivocally to the world: the Arctic is Canadian territory and it's part of our sovereignty," Martin said.

Canada can demonstrate its sovereignty by handing regional governments greater control, by spreading better education facilities throughout the territory, by protecting the environment and by flying airplanes or drone patrols over the Arctic.

One federal official agreed greater powers for the territories could feed into Canada's Arctic sovereignty strategy but added that doesn't necessarily mean territories need to become provinces.

"Is it a matter of aggressive government policy to turn them into provinces? The answer's no," said the federal official.

"(But) the prime minister's personal view is we're on a path that in all likelihood will lead there."
In his chat with the Brazilian official, Martin pointed out that the northern territories are an intrinsic part of the Canadian identity. He described Nunavut as an area much bigger than France, but with a population of just 30,000.

"It's a village with a lot of territory," he said.

"But it's a very important territory because it represents the Inuit. And they will eventually get full provincial powers."

The left knee joint Posted by Hello

"If equal means sh!tty, then count me out."

I got this email from good friend Darian, who decided to rant about Canada's Health Care.

"It’s long, but there is a point to it.

Yesterday around 4pm I felt like I had something in my eye. I said no biggy, I’m sure tat it will flush it’s self out soon. I headed into Toronto for the weekly jam and it was still there, but is was not bothering me much. During the jam my eye started watering profusely, I washed it out with water and things seemed well again.

Later that night I am still in discomfort so I went to the drug store to get some eye drops. When I am putting the eye drops in I see the culprit…. A little black dot on my retina. I try to flush it out, but mo luck. I am still in Toronto at this point I try to I look up on the web which Hospitals in Toronto have emergency services. This is not an easy task., It is not listed on the hospitals home pages and I eventually find it no some lame ass Toronto best of webpage. I think about it a bit, and I decide to head back to Kitchener and go to the hospital; there. I arrive around 11pm. I wait. And I wait. The the waiting rooms air was evry dry and was irritating my eye. So I waited most of the time outside in the cool fresh air. It was about -10 and I only had a wind breaker, but it was much better to freeze then have my eye bothering me. I eventually start talking to a few of the people there. One guy has been there since 9, another 9:30. It is around 1:30 at this point. I’m thinking this is not good. I eventually get in to the inside waiting area around, check this …5:15am… , that is over 6 hours of waiting in excruciating pain I was cold, in pain, hungry, and tired. It was everything I could do to keep my eyes open. If I closed my left, the pain was too much to great to stand. When I got in I waited for another 45 min or so for the doctor. He looks at my eye and tried to dab it out with a cotton swab. No luck. Then he breaks out this dremmel like device and tries to drill it out. He gets most of it and then says “the skin on the eye is starting to over grow it”. “It is because you waited too long to get here.” I’m thinking what? I was here for seven hours. If we looked at it then I’m sure we could have fixed the problem. He tells me to comeback in 24 hours and they will try again to get the rest. By that point perhaps the object will have lifted it’s self to the surface more. I’m not sure how that works, but is that not the opposite of what he said before? Skin growing over it makes it deeper, no? So I am off tonight to wait for another 7 hours or so to see the doctor again.

Because of this experience I have been thinking about the health care system in Canada. I am a firm believer that everyone has a right to free health care. But is waiting seven hours to see a doctor health care? Especially because of the long wait the doctor could not fix the problem..

If I had known that the wait would be seven hours last night, and there was a private clinic available, I would have forked out $500 or or more to get this thing solved promptly. Even after waiting for 2 hours and seeing the progress in the waiting room I would have opted for that option. So why can’t I do that?

Well everyone deserves equal health care. I agree to that. But why can’t equal also mean “prompt”, “the best”. If Equal means “sh!ttly” then count me out.

Thanks for listening,
Dar"



That's some good stuff.

I had the same thing happen to me. In October 2002 I partially tore my Anterior Cruciate Ligament, and in March 2003 I finished it off for good. I had to wait until August for an MRI, and then I had to wait until December to see a knee specialist. Then I had to wait until the following August (we're talking 2004 here) to actually have the knee reconstructed through surgery.

Now, more than two years later, I'm finally on the road to playing hockey again. If equal means sh!tty, then count me out.

For people who like really gross stuff, here's a step-by-step description of the surgery, complete with pictures.

http://www.arthroscopy.com/sp05025.htm

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Ratios and proportions

This is kind of dated now, but it really puts a lot of things into perspective. Give it a read one more time:

If we could shrink the earth’s population to a village of 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look like this:

57 Asian
21 European
14 from the Western Hemisphere (north and south)
8 African

52 would be female
48 would be male

70 would be non-white, 30 white

70 would be non-Christian, 30 would be Christian

59 percent of the entire world’s wealth would be in the hands of only 6 citizens of the United States

80 would live in (what North Americans would consider) substandard housing

70 would be unable to read

50 would suffer from malnutrition

1 would be near death, 1 would be near birth

Only 1 would have a college education
And only 1 would own a computer

Who is left and who is leaving?

Right now I'm listening to The Weakerthans, who are perhaps the best band ever:


Left & Leaving

My city's still breathing (but barely it's true) through buildings gone missing like teeth. The sidewalks are watching me think about you, all sparkled with broken glass. I'm back with scars to show. Back with the streets I know. They never take me anywhere but here. Those stains in the carpet, this drink in my hand, these strangers whose faces I know. We meet here for our dress-rehearsal to say " I wanted it this way" and wait for the year to drown. Spring forward, fall back down. I'm trying not to wonder where you are. All this time lingers, undefined. Someone choose who's left and who's leaving. Memory will rust and erode into lists of all that you gave me: some matches, a blanket, this pain in my chest, the best parts of Lonely, duct-tape and soldered wires, new words for old desires, and every birthday card I threw away. I wait in 4/4 time. Count yellow highway lines that you're relying on to lead you home

John K Samson

www.theweakerthans.org

Monday, November 15, 2004

Water! Water everywhere! But not a drop to drink!

The following three pictures are copyright of the Oxford Canadian
World Atlas for Schools.

(I scanned 'em and threw 'em up here)

Canadians should consider themselves lucky. We've got a lot of water.
We never even think about where it comes from. Explore Canada's
water with me, will you?

Zoom on down to the third picture - Water Consumption - Various Countries.

It says there that Canada consumes only 1% of its fresh water supply.
Peanuts. We need never worry about where we're getting out water
from, cause we haven't even touched 99% of it. But thank GOD we're
not living in Qatar or Saudi Arabia. Qatar has to 85% of its water
(or, according to the graph, Qatar uses 660% of the water it has
available in its country... it's a net importer by a long shot).

But even more interesting is United Kingdom. The Brits have a similar
quality of life that Canadians have, yet they only use 507 cubic
metres per person per year, and Canadians use 1750 cubic metres per
person per year.

(And for a real kicker, check out Iceland. They have vast, untapped
glaciers and they still only use 350 cubic metres per person per year.
Of course, Iceland is a progressive country that uses geothermal
energy for most of its needs. But still... their conservation is
amazing)

What is the UK doing that's so different? Why does it need so much
less water? Hard to say, but zoom over to the 1st picture for a
minute. It shows some water-consuming sectors and how much water they
naturally give back to the water tables.

A whopping 75% of water used in agriculture never returns to the water
table. That's pretty crazy. Based on these two graphs - is it safe
to say that Canada consumes so much water per capita due to our
farming practices? Maybe.... maybe.....

And for the scare factor - check out the middle picture - pollution.
If you click on it, it will open up a little bigger. Just make sure
you come back, though.

This map shows the various ways in which Canada and the US are
poisoning the Great Lakes. I especially like the option of "other
toxins." (Can I have some "other toxins" please? What? You're all
out? OK then, I'll take some pesticides.)

Unfortunately, this map doesn't show the extent to which the lakes and
rivers are polluted, just what is dumped (or flowing) into them.

Safe to say, though, that I'd rather not swim in Niagara river. Ugh.

Water Consumption - Canada (by sector) Posted by Hello

Great Lakes Pollution Posted by Hello

Water Consumption - Various Countries Posted by Hello

Friday, November 12, 2004

Notice the fancy pictures

Due to popular demand, I have posted some pictures of Ellie (and
Jenny, and Rex).

Ellie is a 4 month old Shiba Inu. Shibas are a Japanese breed, hence
the Akita look. I could go on and on about how amazing Ellie is, but
I'll just let you enjoy the pictures.

One of Rex, just so he doesn't feel left out. Posted by Hello

Play time. Posted by Hello

The best looking girls in the world. Posted by Hello

Who could possibly enjoy wearing a leash and collar? Posted by Hello

This was a good day Posted by Hello

Does the US need Iraq's oil?

I don't want to toot my own horn, but my blog must be half-interesting
if I've got Jason writing in it.

This is what he wrote:

"Funny thing about the US needing middle east oil. They don't. True,
it is the richest oil reserve in the world, but consider this; the
permian basin, Gulf of Mexico, Texas and Alberta oil and gas fields
provide North America most of its oil and gas needs. Some would argue
that those reserves are depleted. However, 20 years ago "experts" said
that North American reserves would be exausted in 10 years. Well today
those same fields are producing more than they have since the last
"big Boom" in the early 80's. The truth is that you can drill a hole
anywhere in Texas and produce oil or gas. So when you think about it,
why does the US (and when I say the US I mean the Bush regime) need or
want control of middle east Hydrocarbons? Because they can. They can
flex their muscles and take what they want. Thousands of Iraqi
civilians have died so that the US (and when I say the US I mean the
Bush regime) can feel in control for the next 4 years or longer. And
let's hope that doesn't happen."

Insightful. And Jason should know, because he worked in oil drilling
for 4 years.

Some experts believe that the US doesn't need middle-eastern oil, as
US and Canadian oil production is still strong. However, most experts
believe that a global oil crisis is looming (anywhere from 20 to 50
years, as the predictions go).

So why does the US want middle eastern oil? As Jason said, power is a
good reason. And how about this one: stockpiling oil reserves.

It'd be "expensive" to speed up our transition from fossil fuel
dependency to green alternatives today, so let's make it someone
else's (i.e. our grandchildren's) responsibility.

Bush and the US are simply buying themselves time - time to ignore
cimate change warnings, time to keep Republican friendlys happy, time
to run a "successful" adminstration.

But time will catch up on Bush. It's catching up on all of us.

Monday, November 08, 2004

There's never been a better time to move North

Despite the ignorance of a few (world leaders), global warming does exist.

Since the end of the last ice age (about 11,000 to 6,000 ago in North
America), scientists believe that the earth is in a natural state of
warming. However, scientists also believe that human activity is
pushing the natural warming rate far beyond its natural boundaries -
hence human-instigated climate change.

It has long been suspected that the polar regions are most
dramatically affected by climate change. In an article today in the
Globe and Mail (written by the Canadian Press), all our suspicions are
found to be true:

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Global warming worst in Arctic, report says

Edmonton - A comprehensive scientific study of the Arctic climate has
confirmed that the North is melting, and faster all the time.

The four-year study produced by 250 scientists from eight circumpolar
countries and released on Monday concludes that global warming is
affecting the Arctic more heavily than any other region on earth.

"Earth's climate is changing, with the global temperature now rising
at a rate unprecedented in the experience of modern human society,"
the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report says. "These climate
changes are being experienced particularly intensely in the Arctic."

The long-awaited report, to be discussed at this month's meeting in
Iceland of the eight-country Arctic Council, lists 10 key findings:

- The average Arctic temperature has increased twice as much as that
of the rest of the world over the past few decades, likely bringing
heavier precipitation, shorter and warmer winters and much reduced
snow and ice cover that will last centuries.

- Arctic climatic changes will affect the rest of the world, as the
melting of highly reflective snow and ice increases the overall heat
absorption of the planet and glacial meltwater raises the sea levels
and disrupts ocean currents.

- The treeline will move northward.

- Habitat for marine animals will shrink, threatening some species
such as polar bears with extinction by the end of the century, while
other species will move north. Arctic fisheries may become more
productive.

- Coastal communities will face increasing erosion from heavier storm
seasons and melting permafrost.

- Reduced sea ice could lead to heavier marine traffic and increased
access to some resources.

- Thawing permafrost will damage northern roads, buildings and infrastructure.

- Aboriginal lifestyles will face major economic and cultural adjustments.

- Increased ultraviolet radiation will affect people, animals and
plants, with the current Arctic generation expected to receive about
30 per cent more UV than their mothers and fathers.

- Climate change is occurring in a context of increasing chemical
pollution, land overuse and population increases.

The report is full of alarming statistics.

Temperatures in Canada's western Arctic have already increased by
three to four degrees Celsius over the past 50 years, with larger
increases projected. Snow cover across the Arctic has decreased by
about 10 per cent over the last three decades, with another 10-to-20
per cent decline expected.

Permafrost has warmed up by two degrees, and to an increasing depth.
The southern permafrost limit is expected to shift northward by
hundreds of kilometres this century.

The past 30 years has seen sea ice decline by 15 to 20 per cent -
equivalent to an area almost the size of Ontario. The area of melting
of the Greenland ice cap surpassed all previous records last year, and
Alaskan glaciers have retreated so rapidly that they make up about
half the glacier melting for the entire world.

Despite the attention likely to be focused on the report, little of it
will come as a surprise to the Inuvialuit, Dene and Inuit of Canada's
North.

From Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories, where melting
permafrost is washing a community into the ocean, to Baffin Island,
where elders can no longer predict weather or follow ancient hunting
routes, they are already living with climate change.

The member countries of the Arctic Council - Canada, the United
States, Russia, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland - will
officially receive the report on Tuesday at their meeting in
Reykjavik.

The council's official response is expected on Nov. 24.

Most climate scientists believe global warming is at least hastened by
the increased concentration of greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere.
Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are produced in the burning of
fossil fuels, the source of about 80 per cent of the world's energy.

Friday, November 05, 2004

The Green Revolution

The Green Revolution has had a profound impact on the lives of the
people around the world. It may be the most important agricultural
shift in the history of human kind. And most of us have never heard
of it.

In the 1940s, Mexico was struggling to feed itself. Many people were
suffering from Chronic Persistent Hunger (CPH), either through
Undernutrition (not enough to eat) or Malnutrition (not enough variety
in the diet).

(When we think of starving kids in Ethiopia, we think of famine
conditions. Famine is the terrible condition where sudden changes
(ecological pollution, severe drought or flooding) cause drastic food
shortages. Famine is sad and does kill people, but CPH is much more
widespread and and serious condition. An estimated 800 million
worldwide suffer from CPH.)

As a result, Mexican agriculturalists decided to experiment with with
new techniques in cross-pollinating grain seeds to bring out their
desired genetic traits and suppress the less desired. As I understand
it, the process is akin to, for example, breeding the stubby nose, bug
eyes, and all-around alien appearance of a Pug (which is a dog).

As a result of this grain cross-breeding, Mexico went from a net
importer in the 1940s to feeding its population in the 1950s to being
a net grain exporter in the 60s. Frankly, it looked ingenious.

Similarly, during the 60s, India tried the same thing with its five
staples - wheat, rice, sorghum, maize, millet. The results were
amazing: India quadrupled its grain production in 20 years.

The key to the process is breeding seeds that grow larger, funnel more
of the water and nutrients to the grain itself rather than the stalk,
and have a shorter harvesting period.

It sounds like heaven, right? But there's always a "but." Here's
what's wrong with the Green Revolution:

1) Monocropping.... this revolution has largely led to the
corporatizing of the agriculture industry. "Bigger, faster, better"
led to companies buying up cropland and then implementing a practice
of planting only one crop on a plot of land. Having only one crop
allows for less skilled labour and easier harvesting, but also is a
major contributor to degrading soil quality and advancing erosion.
Essentially, the greater diversity of crops in a field, the more
healthy the land is.

2) Exploitation of environmental laws in developing nations...
"Bigger, faster, better, more cropping" has, again, led big
agri-business to search the globe looking for the nations with the
slackest environmental laws. These companies love doing business with
developing nations who would rather take the quick buck and allow the
pesticide use and erosional practices to continue. Dangerous
ecological practices.

3) Decreased plant diversity.... Cross-breeding and monocropping has
*drastically* reduced plant diversity around the world. This
contributes to degraded soil and increased resistance to pesticide
use. For an example of our loss of diversity, check this: 100 years
ago, there were bout 7000 different types of apples on earth. Now
there are only 1000. Foodwatch.org suggests we've lost up to 50% of
plant diversity over the last few hundred years.

4) Water.... Some of these new super-kick-ass seeds require 3 times as
much water and fertilizer as their ancient (by today's standards)
cousins.

5) Widening poverty gap.... these new seeds (combined with
monocropping) are easier to harvest with machines, which put
traditional farm labourers out of work. As well, the practice of
monocropping and profiteering on food has encouraged big Agri-business
to purchase land in developing nations - land that was traditionally
farmed by the native peoples of the land. This is cause a big
increase in landless poor, those who used to farm the land they were
born on, but have been pushed out by business and harvesting machines.

The reality is that even though the Green Revolution has dramatically
increased food production worldwide, there is still a huge number of
people who don't eat. So where is all this grain (that the developing
world is growing) going?

To North America, of course. To feed our cows, pigs, and chickens, to
sit on our grocery store shelves, and to get thrown out when we waste
it.

It's a crazy situation!

Hopefully, my next few blogs will include the topics of the New Green
Revolution (it's upon us now) and an emerging concept of sustainable
food production and consumption.

12 myths about hunger

This is from foodfirst.org, a global anti-poverty and anti-unchecked
globalization organization.

Myth 1
Not Enough Food to Go Around

Reality: Abundance, not scarcity, best describes the world's food
supply. Enough wheat, rice and other grains are produced to provide
every human being with 3,500 calories a day. That doesn't even count
many other commonly eaten foods-vegetables, beans, nuts, root crops,
fruits, grass-fed meats, and fish. Enough food is available to provide
at least 4.3 pounds of food per person a day worldwide: two and half
pounds of grain, beans and nuts, about a pound of fruits and
vegetables, and nearly another pound of meat, milk and eggs-enough to
make most people fat! The problem is that many people are too poor to
buy readily available food. Even most "hungry countries" have enough
food for all their people right now. Many are net exporters of food
and other agricultural products.

Myth 2
Nature's to Blame for Famine

Reality: It's too easy to blame nature. Human-made forces are making
people increasingly vulnerable to nature's vagaries. Food is always
available for those who can afford it - starvation during hard times
hits only the poorest. Millions live on the brink of disaster in south
Asia, Africa and elsewhere, because they are deprived of land by a
powerful few, trapped in the unremitting grip of debt, or miserably
paid. Natural events rarely explain deaths; they are simply the final
push over the brink. Human institutions and policies determine who
eats and who starves during hard times. Likewise, in America many
homeless die from the cold every winter, yet ultimate responsibility
doesn't lie with the weather. The real culprits are an economy that
fails to offer everyone opportunities, and a society that places
economic efficiency over compassion.

Myth 3
Too Many People

Reality: Birth rates are falling rapidly worldwide as remaining
regions of the Third World begin the demographic transition - when birth
rates drop in response to an earlier decline in death rates. Although
rapid population growth remains a serious concern in many countries,
nowhere does population density explain hunger. For every Bangladesh,
a densely populated and hungry country, we find a Nigeria, Brazil or
Bolivia, where abundant food resources coexist with hunger. Costa
Rica, with only half of Honduras' cropped acres per person, boasts a
life expectancy - one indicator of nutrition - 11 years longer than that
of Honduras and close to that of developed countries. Rapid population
growth is not the root cause of hunger. Like hunger itself, it results
from underlying inequities that deprive people, especially poor women,
of economic opportunity and security. Rapid population growth and
hunger are endemic to societies where land ownership, jobs, education,
health care, and old age security are beyond the reach of most people.
Those Third World societies with dramatically successful early and
rapid reductions of population growth rates-China, Sri Lanka,
Colombia, Cuba and the Indian state of Kerala-prove that the lives of
the poor, especially poor women, must improve before they can choose
to have fewer children.

Myth 4
The Environment vs. More Food?

Reality: We should be alarmed that an environmental crisis is
undercutting our food-production resources, but a tradeoff between our
environment and the world's need for food is not inevitable. Efforts
to feed the hungry are not causing the environmental crisis. Large
corporations are mainly responsible for deforestation-creating and
profiting from developed-country consumer demand for tropical
hardwoods and exotic or out-of-season food items. Most pesticides used
in the Third World are applied to export crops, playing little role in
feeding the hungry, while in the U.S. they are used to give a
blemish-free cosmetic appearance to produce, with no improvement in
nutritional value.

Alternatives exist now and many more are possible. The success of
organic farmers in the U.S. gives a glimpse of the possibilities.
Cuba's recent success in overcoming a food crisis through
self-reliance and sustainable, virtually pesticide-free agriculture is
another good example. Indeed, environmentally sound agricultural
alternatives can be more productive than environmentally destructive
ones.

Myth 5
The Green Revolution is the Answer

Reality: The production advances of the Green Revolution are no myth.
Thanks to the new seeds, million of tons more grain a year are being
harvested. But focusing narrowly on increasing production cannot
alleviate hunger because it fails to alter the tightly concentrated
distribution of economic power that determines who can buy the
additional food. That's why in several of the biggest Green Revolution
successes - India, Mexico, and the Philippines - grain production and in
some cases, exports, have climbed, while hunger has persisted and the
long-term productive capacity of the soil is degraded. Now we must
fight the prospect of a 'New Green Revolution' based on biotechnology,
which threatens to further accentuate inequality.

Myth 6
We Need Large Farms

Reality: Large landowners who control most of the best land often
leave much of it idle. Unjust farming systems leave farmland in the
hands of the most inefficient producers. By contrast, small farmers
typically achieve at least four to five times greater output per acre,
in part because they work their land more intensively and use
integrated, and often more sustainable, production systems. Without
secure tenure, the many millions of tenant farmers in the Third World
have little incentive to invest in land improvements, to rotate crops,
or to leave land fallow for the sake of long-term soil fertility.
Future food production is undermined. On the other hand,
redistribution of land can favor production. Comprehensive land reform
has markedly increased production in countries as diverse as Japan,
Zimbabwe, and Taiwan. A World Bank study of northeast Brazil estimates
that redistributing farmland into smaller holdings would raise output
an astonishing 80 percent.

Myth 7
The Free Market Can End Hunger

Reality: Unfortunately, such a "market-is-good, government-is-bad"
formula can never help address the causes of hunger. Such a dogmatic
stance misleads us that a society can opt for one or the other, when
in fact every economy on earth combines the market and government in
allocating resources and distributing goods. The market's marvelous
efficiencies can only work to eliminate hunger, however, when
purchasing power is widely dispersed.
So all those who believe in the usefulness of the market and the
necessity of ending hunger must concentrate on promoting not the
market, but the consumers! In this task, government has a vital role
to play in countering the tendency toward economic concentration,
through genuine tax, credit, and land reforms to disperse buying power
toward the poor. Recent trends toward privatization and de-regulation
are most definitely not the answer.

Myth 8
Free Trade is the Answer

Reality: The trade promotion formula has proven an abject failure at
alleviating hunger. In most Third World countries exports have boomed
while hunger has continued unabated or actually worsened. While
soybean exports boomed in Brazil-to feed Japanese and European
livestock-hunger spread from one-third to two-thirds of the
population. Where the majority of people have been made too poor to
buy the food grown on their own country's soil, those who control
productive resources will, not surprisingly, orient their production
to more lucrative markets abroad. Export crop production squeezes out
basic food production. Pro-trade policies like NAFTA and GATT pit
working people in different countries against each other in a 'race to
the bottom,' where the basis of competition is who will work for less,
without adequate health coverage or minimum environmental standards.
Mexico and the U.S. are a case in point: since NAFTA we have had a net
loss of 250,000 jobs here, while Mexico has lost 2 million, and hunger
is on the rise in both countries.

Myth 9
Too Hungry to Fight for Their Rights

Reality: Bombarded with images of poor people as weak and hungry, we
lose sight of the obvious: for those with few resources, mere survival
requires tremendous effort. If the poor were truly passive, few of
them could even survive. Around the world, from the Zapatistas in
Chiapas, Mexico, to the farmers' movement in India, wherever people
are suffering needlessly, movements for change are underway. People
will feed themselves, if allowed to do so. It's not our job to 'set
things right' for others. Our responsibility is to remove the
obstacles in their paths, obstacles often created by large
corporations and U.S. government, World Bank and IMF policies.

Myth 10
More U.S. Aid Will Help the Hungry

Reality: Most U.S. aid works directly against the hungry. Foreign aid
can only reinforce, not change, the status quo. Where governments
answer only to elites, our aid not only fails to reach hungry people,
it shores up the very forces working against them. Our aid is used to
impose free trade and free market policies, to promote exports at the
expense of food production, and to provide the armaments that
repressive governments use to stay in power. Even emergency, or
humanitarian aid, which makes up only five percent of the total, often
ends up enriching American grain companies while failing to reach the
hungry, and it can dangerously undercut local food production in the
recipient country. It would be better to use our foreign aid budget
for unconditional debt relief, as it is the foreign debt burden that
forces most Third World countries to cut back on basic health,
education and anti-poverty programs.

Myth 11
We Benefit From Their Poverty

Reality: The biggest threat to the well-being of the vast majority of
Americans is not the advancement but the continued deprivation of the
hungry. Low wages-both abroad and in inner cities at home-may mean
cheaper bananas, shirts, computers and fast food for most Americans,
but in other ways we pay heavily for hunger and poverty. Enforced
poverty in the Third World jeopardizes U.S. jobs, wages and working
conditions as corporations seek cheaper labor abroad. In a global
economy, what American workers have achieved in employment, wage
levels, and working conditions can be protected only when working
people in every country are freed from economic desperation.

Here at home, policies like welfare reform throw more people into the
job market than can be absorbed-at below minimum wage levels in the
case of 'workfare'-which puts downward pressure on the wages of those
on higher rungs of the employment ladder. The growing numbers of
'working poor' are those who have part- or full-time low wage jobs yet
cannot afford adequate nutrition or housing for their families.
Educating ourselves about the common interests most Americans share
with the poor in the Third World and at home allows us to be
compassionate without sliding into pity. In working to clear the way
for the poor to free themselves from economic oppression, we free
ourselves as well.

Myth 12
Curtail Freedom to End Hunger?

Reality: There is no theoretical or practical reason why freedom,
taken to mean civil liberties, should be incompatible with ending
hunger. Surveying the globe, we see no correlation between hunger and
civil liberties. However, one narrow definition of freedom-the right
to unlimited accumulation of wealth-producing property and the right
to use that property however one sees fit-is in fundamental conflict
with ending hunger. By contrast, a definition of freedom more
consistent with our nation's dominant founding vision holds that
economic security for all is the guarantor of our liberty. Such an
understanding of freedom is essential to ending hunger.


12 Myths About Hunger based on World Hunger: 12 Myths, 2nd Edition, by
Frances Moore Lappe, Joseph Collins and Peter Rosset, with Luis
Esparza (fully revised and updated, Grove/Atlantic and Food First
Books, Oct. 1998)