Let's make the world a better place. *Props to Urban Octopus for the artwork ^
What do Monsanto, Philip Morris, the IMF, and Argentine farmers have in common?
Agricultural giant Monsanto continues to ruin the lives of agricultural producers and consumers - this time with a partner-in-crime, Philip Morris USA. This week in Delaware, a suit was filed against Monsanto and Philip Morris USA, among its subsidiaries, on behalf of Argentine farmers, who claim the alleged culprits “knowingly poison[ed] farmers” giving the plaintiffs “devastating birth defects.”
The tag team of Monsanto and Philip Morris urged Argentine farmers to use Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready herbicide to clear tobacco fields. However, these farmers were neither informed on the dangers of the herbicide nor trained on how to handle it. What’s more, the farmers claim “leftover pesticides were discarded in locations where they leached into the water supply,” due to ineffective disposal training (which, is actually an oxymoron - there is no way to safely dispose of the herbicide). Rampant birth defects ensued, including “cerebral palsy, psychomotor retardation, epilepsy, spina bifida, intellectual disabilities, metabolic disorders, congenital heart defects, Down syndrome, missing fingers and blindness.”
In addition to these horrendous human defects, native Argentine tobacco fields are being replaced by genetically engineered tobacco crops. According to the plaintiffs, Philip Morris and its subsidiaries urged the farmers to stop growing native tobacco in favor of a new type, which requires more pesticides. This new type of tobacco has not been disclosed.
This is a classic case of economic bullying of a first world corporation over a third world raw material producer. Although Monsanto and Philip Morris may claim they did not demand or directly force the farmers to start growing the new pesticide-intensive tobacco crop and applying RoundUp Ready herbicide, the farmers risked Philip Morris moving business elsewhere had they not complied.
This case of bullying can be opened a bit more. Argentina underwent a massive economic crisis at the turn of the millennium. As a result of the crisis, the IMF and World Bank stepped in to aid the country towards economic recovery. In the case of Argentina’s crisis, debt restructuring called for a devaluation of the Argentine Peso, in the hopes of increasing foreign investment, because well, the economy was so bad that there was little-to-no opportunity for immediate domestic investment. What’s more, the Argentine government and the IMF awarded export credits to industries like manufacturing and agriculture to jump-start recovery.
Enter Philip Morris and Monsanto. In 1984, Philip Morris created Tabacos Norte, a tobacco subsidiary based in the Argentine province of Misiones, in which Tabacos Norte is a primary employer. As the Peso is devalued, Philip Morris can purchase more exported Argentine tobacco for less. In addition, its subsidiary can take advantage of export credits from the government that incentivize even cheaper selling of its tobacco. On top of those incentives, the Argentine government also supports a Tobacco Special Fund that subsidizes the tobacco industry.
Large multinational corporations can take advantage of debt restructuring in countries that produce the raw materials needed for first world consumption. These attempts to benefit the struggling country end up incentivizing predatory economic tactics and harm individual producers economically and, as in the recent lawsuit, with respect to their health.
We need to be aware of the deep scars that exist in our world system. Seemingly unrelated nodes in the global socio-politico-economic network can be connected.
Monsanto and Philip Morris have more than enough legal firepower to put up a fight against Argentine farmers. We will learn more in the days to come…
Are humans culpable in climate change? Are the problems human-induced?
The following is a video from 2008 by Greg Craven, who challenges us to dissect the climate change debate and acknowledge we only have one decision: to try our best to counteract it.
The video is a phenomenally simple diagram of cognitive reasoning. However, I’d like to come to a similar conclusion, but from a wider lens. Since this video was made, millions of dollars in research have concluded that the planet’s climate is changing. So, I’d like to amend the discussion a bit by supplanting Craven’s question of whether climate change is going on, with is climate change the fault of humanity?
I propose the idea that instead of using climate change as a zero-sum doomsday scenario to influence policy and lifestyle change, we should emphasize fundamental socio-politico-economic shifts that must happen in our modern society regardless of climate change. What’s more, I believe using climate change as an argument may prove a disservice to real change.
With respect to climate change, whichever set of beliefs you have on the subject, it simply doesn’t matter. Beliefs should not determine action.
Why? Because regardless of culpability, the very political and economic systems in place that may or may not be causing catastrophic climate change are the very political economic systems that negatively effect our human society and perpetuate our failed attempt at human self-determination and happiness.
I can’t say for certain humans are causing rising sea levels and a hotter (in some places cooler) planet - and no one can, not even scientists can be completely sure. However, for the sake of this segment of my argument, let’s say we are. Humans are 100% the cause of global climate change.
If so, what’s causing this climate shift?: 1) Emissions from fossil fuels, 2) deforestation, desertification 3) methane emissions from landfill waste (among others).
Who are the main culprits in this scenario?: 1) Oil usage in planes, trains, and automobiles, 2) Coal and natural gas power plants, 3) Petrochemicals used in many ways (namely agriculture), 4) international logging (clear-cutting, burning), 5) large-scale farming conglomerates, 6) waste management (or lack thereof).
These industries are directly related; however, nearly every facet of our political economy relies on these industries - multinational corporations, military-industrial complexes, energy sectors, manufacturing, et cetera.
Now, I have written before on the dangers of these industries and the need for more local ideas and industries to benefit people, planet, and profit.
Why? Because these industries perpetuate what be altered in our society - overdependence on personal and dirty transportation, mass-produced and centralized food production, top-down economic order, a growing divide between first world and third world, reliance on harmful and finite energy resources, negligence to all waste issues, and toxicity levels in our air and water, just to name a few.
What we should be striving for is emphasis on walkability, denser and more vibrant communities, local and healthy foods, fair and mutually beneficial economies, global collaboration and unity, cleaner and more renewable energy, closed-loop and holistic waste systems, and insistence on making our environment cleaner, healthier, more diverse.
The socially harmful industries make billions of dollars. Whether they wake up every morning and decide to do their darnedest to pollute and continue society down a dangerous path is up for debate (I’m pretty sure they don’t). However, they are waking up every morning wanting to do their darnedest for their company, and in turn, for themselves. They want to maximize the company’s profit so they can maximize their income to pay for their food, shelter, family, and the leisure activities they’ve been accustomed to enjoying. A cog in a well-oiled machine will not change the way it works. Any one of us, given that opportunity would do the same thing - it’s a product of our current society, which incentivizes capital accumulation and a narrow systems perspective.
To counteract this, we must utilize our wide, global perspective on the socio-political-economic world order and attempt to improve humanity’s quality of life. Focus outside energy toward changing the system, not toward the blinded individual cogs that reside inside the system.
Everything that these industries do is supported by political economic dogma and policies that reward maximized profits and higher yields.
Our addiction to finite fossil fuels, and the political economic systems on which our addiction thrives, perpetuates deeply harmful global problems.
Locally, multinational corporations out-price local competition and concentrate wealth. A process that governments incentivize.
International MNCs have the money to manufacture in third world countries - a process which mires the third world in poverty due to wealth concentration, mostly due to involvement in economic restructuring programs and domestic political-economic corruption, which encourages short-term thinking. The more powerful MNCs get, the more resources they exploit. From political backing, to legal council, to technological investment, to public relations, to natural resources, global behemoths emerge that can act without restraint and without remorse.
Their influence can be felt throughout each community. On a local level, a town or city will invest in a strip mall or tax breaks for a certain industry over public transportation or other community building initiatives. While looking good in the short term with slight “job growth” or capital investment, these community investments do just the opposite - funnel capital to a select few and burden the rest. We must investigate the pros and cons of reliance on these investments, not just over one political election cycle, but over the lifetime of the community.
In Brazil, among other countries, slash and burn clear-cutting is incentivized by a global industry that demands the cheapest logging possible. Regardless of the emissions created by the practice, it contributes to huge losses in biodiversity as well as poor labor conditions. In fact, as of 2006, the Brazilian government acknowledged at least 25000 Brazilian laborers worked under “conditions analogous to slavery” when clearing Amazon land for farming and logging conglomerates.
Take sweatshop labor. Many acknowledge that worldwide shipping via container ships and planes contributes to a large amount of emissions that may resulting in human-induced climate change. But are the risks involved with harmful emissions more insidious than the ramifications of the frenzied pursuit of cheap resources, which causes the third world to prostitute itself with cheap labor and textiles? Or the complementary hyperconsumerism that destroys the first world through credit addiction and loss of cultural identity? Or the hegemonic power enjoyed by MNCs and the politicians who are rewarded for maintaining and growing that power? These poignant issues will cause change.
From Greg Craven’s video there’s a decision between “guessing” and “choosing” our future. If we accept that climate change is happening, regardless of culpability, human action must be to choose an alteration of the current systems to benefit humanity.
So, when we take away the climate change negatives from evaluating harmful industries, we are still left with deeply cutting global problems. As such, moving away from the these types of industries that control our world and sustain global injustices should have nothing to do with climate change. In my view, the negative effects of these industries are abundantly more pernicious to human society than to climate change. If we tackle the harmful practices and systems that plague our society, potential human-induced climate change will take care of itself, because the necessary changes are inherent in a paradigm shift that focuses on a local, sustainable, pluralistic socio-politico-economic system.
Using climate change as an argument to shift political economic policies turns a simple and all-inclusive idea of a better, more just world into an abstract, zero-sum game where there are believers vs. non-believers. When it comes to belief systems, people rarely change. So, instead of forcing a belief change, we can take it out of the equation altogether.
Whether you believe in human-induced climate change or not, it doesn’t matter. Choose whether we should continue down a road with more obesity, dirtier air, diminished connection to fellow man and its planet, less biodiversity, but maybe a little more money for a select few in power… or will we live in a more just world, with vibrant, happy, prosperous communities, a cleaner planet to inhabit, and a healthier population, with respect and integrity.
The choice is yours, but I’d prefer the latter.
As I have explored before in some posts, minimizing waste, through either cradle to cradle and/or local economies, is crucial for improving our environment and our quality of life.
Our waste problems stem from the Consumer Culture in which we live.
The idea of ‘throwing away’ has been around for a very long time. When you think of waste, you think of waste as the ‘something’ after some thing has been consumed - mainly trash and fecal matter. These wastes can pose big issues for human society. If not treated properly and removed from our living area, filth and squalor ensues, potentially creating devastating diseases and conditions. The middle ages saw the Bubonic Plague, among other diseases, rise up from the filth of European cities. In fact, our obsession with trash and throwing things away stems from an evolutionary phobia of creating filth, because 1000 years ago, what we didn’t throw away did actually kill us. Accordingly, society has done a great job of saving itself from another waste-borne epidemic by creating efficient and effective waste management.
At the heart of modern waste management is the landfill dump - a place far, far away that most first world citizens only hear about in stories. You just throw it out/away and it’s gone. This system is effective, but not sustainable. Our land resources are ever shrinking and so should not be allocated to holding old products that we can’t or don’t want to use anymore. Also, we continue to waste enormously useful resources in the products themselves that we throw away – not just the land the dumps occupy.
That’s post-consumer waste, but what about pre-consumer waste?
Often in our consumer state of mind, we neglect to consider what waste goes into creating the products we consume, and then throw away. In recent years, through recycling, composting, and conservation initiatives, we have done a good job of considering the post-consumer side, but not the pre-consumer side of waste. What goes into our products is often more harmful than what happens to them post-use. We waste so many resources (both environmental and human) in the production process. Many of the issues we know about. However, when the product is ready for our consumption, we often become blind to its production.
Why do we fail to acknowledge the inputs?
I attribute this disconnect to our passive Consumer Culture.
Ignorance is bliss, and ignorance is profit. Much more so than post-consumer waste, pre-consumer waste seems evermore daunting and impossible to fix. Producers create products that we love to use. Some products give us convenience, some efficiency, some beauty, and some give us connection to others. What’s more, supporting these products are advertising and peer pressures that drive consumption. Following the trends of the media, family, neighbors, we feel the need to have more shoes, the newest cell phone, more movies, more appliances, (the list goes on). Sure, everyone loves something new – a new item, vision, or thought - anything new – stimulates our brain. However, these new items are often a low quality at unjustly low costs, with built-in obsolescence to incentivize buying the ‘newer’ item next year.
In our modern Consumer Culture, we don’t care where it’s from or where it goes when we’re finished with it – we only care about what is in front of us.
This culture’s effects are far-reaching. We absorb information without interacting with it. We consume together instead of create together. Many families and friends spend ‘time together’ in front of a television, watching a movie, or playing a videogame. We drive in isolated automobiles instead of using public transit or walking. Long ago are the days of using physical maps to find your way, much less asking people for directions. We now plug an address into an automated GPS and follow the route. In our modern culture, creative interaction has lost out to quick, joint consumption. We are creatures consuming in the present, and neglecting to consider its cause and effect.
In reality, what we consume should be tied to where its from and where its going, not just because the stages are intrinsically connected, but because acknowledging a product’s entire life cycle can strength our relationship with the product and make us want to consume it even more.
Imagine consuming a product that you know:
a) was produced by an industry which employs workers who take pride in their product
b) did not harm the environment and in some cases helped heal our planet
c) was produced in a way that harnessed its byproducts to help create other useful products
d) was sold to you locally for a fair price
e) is a high-quality, long-lasting product
f) can be upcycled or decomposed into another high-quality, useful product to empower another industry after its current stage is finished.
Would these characteristics of a product be appealing? Notice too, that step (f) returns back to step (a) seamlessly.
You see, ignorance is bliss and profit, but knowledge is, too. Knowledge that your consumption is inherently good and contributing to a more fair, more efficient, and more complete society can be powerfully addicting and rewarding. I believe that if we take entire product loops and life cycles into consideration, leveraging efficient and benevolent production, our consumer culture can proactively benefit and not cause detriment to our society.
The phrase “People, Planet, Profit” - coined by author John Elkington - promotes the idea for businesses to succeed in a number of different ways, rather than the traditional ‘bottom line’. Elkington’s Triple Bottom Line brought on a reluctant swell of Corporate Social Responsibility - the idea that corporations should embrace the TBL to benefit themselves, as well as the greater planet. However, as all swells do, CSR and the TBL is sure to dissipate.
Why, do you ask, would CSR die? I thought it was just gaining momentum?
While some intentions may be good, CSR has an achilles’ heel - a tragic flaw - because it is tied to public relations.
Since the advent of ‘responsible’ business over the past decade and a half, thousands of companies have spent millions of dollars on ‘sustainable’ practices, through self-imposed audits and consultations.