Author Archives: Charles W. Elliott

There’s No Debate about Climate Change Denial

Charles W. Elliott

Originally published at DeSmogBlog

First Phase Digital

Fact and fantasy took the stage at this past Sunday’s CBS “Meet the Press”. Bill Nye and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R. Tenn.) appeared for a so-called “debate” on climate change. Bill Nye is best known for his educational science program “Bill Nye the Science Guy”.  Climate change-denier Blackburn is known, among other things, for echoing Sarah Palin’s claims that the Affordable Care Act included “death panels.” Somewhat less known is Blackburn’s role as vice-chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, responsible for legislative oversight on matters of public health, air quality and environmental health, and energy.

One would think that a person in such an important role would have a clear, if not advanced, understanding of the science of energy and climate change in order to guide policy to further the public interest and protect our children’s future.

Sadly, one would be wrong.
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Super-Typhoon Devastates the Philippines – Emergency Aid Needed Now

World Food Programme Emergency Aid for the PhilippinesTyphoon Haiyan has caused massive loss of life and destruction in the Philippine Islands. The typhoon - described as perhaps the largest tropical storm ever to hit land in recorded history – has left nearly half a million people in the Philippines homeless and without basic necessities.  Those children and families need your help.  Please consider making a donation to the United Nations World Food Programme – the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger. You can make a donation at: https://www.wfp.org/donate/typhoon

Oxfam International is accepting donations for emergency relief at: http://www.oxfam.org/en/emergencies/typhoon-haiyan

You can also make a $10 donation to UNICEF USA by texting “RELIEF” to 864233

A Buddhist teaching  from the Tibetan Mahayana tradition is to think of all beings as our mothers. Recognizing that all of these suffering beings have been our mothers and in every other close relationship with us since beginningless time, we urge you to help as generously as possible.

The Costs of Economic Inequality: Social, Political, and Moral

by Charles W. Elliott

U.S. is most wealth unequal Gandhi once famously said: “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” Over the past decade, we have witnessed an unprecedented grab of wealth—with its associated power and influence—by a few at the expense of everyone else. This increasing concentration of wealth for a few in the face of continuing struggles of poor and middle class families just to make ends meet is the consequence of public and economic policies that favor private interests over the public good. This inequality corrupts our political system.  And it ultimately corrodes social cohesion and threatens widespread unrest.

Most people do not have a true perspective of the gross inequality in our economic systems. Fewer still understand its corrosive effects. As writer Michael Lind observed in his article “To Have and to Have Not”[1]:

 The American oligarchy spares no pains in promoting the belief that it does not exist, but the success of its disappearing act depends on equally strenuous efforts on the part of an American public anxious to believe in egalitarian fictions and unwilling to see what is hidden in plain sight.

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More Food or New Colonialism for Africa?

Charles W. Elliott

Obama Africa TripIn a recent (June 30, 2013) speech in Cape Town, South Africa, U.S. President Obama announced new overtures to support agriculture in Africa.  But the people of Africa need to be on their guard lest these renewed efforts to “help farmers” in Africa become mere Trojan horses for corporate colonialism.

President Obama declared that “Governments and businesses from around the world are sizing up the continent, and they’re making decisions themselves about where to invest their own time and their own energy.”  With phrases invoking American generosity, he proclaimed that:

Instead of shipping food to Africa, we’re now helping millions of small farmers in Africa make use of new technologies and farm more land.  And through a new alliance of governments and the private sector, we’re investing billions of dollars in agriculture that grows more crops, brings more food to market, give farmers better prices[.]

No one would complain if the United States and its corporate partners would help “millions of small farmers” grow more food.  But we wonder: what kind of agriculture is the beneficiary of billions of dollars of investment?  And what are the “new technologies” that purportedly will help those millions of small farmers?
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A Bad Month for Monsanto; A Good Month for Food and Farmers

MONSANTO-1 It’s been a rough month for biotech and chemical industrial giant Monsanto. On May 25, 2013, millions of people in 250 cities in 52 countries around the world protested against Monsanto’s GMO activities and its corrupting influence in governments. Investigations confirmed that Monsanto’s unapproved GMO wheat has inexplicably escaped into the wild and now contaminates wheat fields in Oregon, even though the field trial experiments for that GMO wheat took place long ago and far away. Monsanto finally abandoned its intensive lobbying efforts to strong-arm European governments to approve its GMO plant varieties. And Connecticut became the first state in the United States to pass a bill that would require food manufacturers to label products that contain genetically modified ingredients. (For the Connecticut labeling requirement to take effect, additional states totaling at least 20 million in population must also pass similar legislation, and one of the states must border Connecticut.)
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GMOs: Food, Money & Control: Part III

Charles W. Elliott

RoundUp Ready Soybeans(In Parts I and II of “GMOs: Food, Money & Control,” we explored the failure of the leading U.S. state proposal to require labeling of GMO foods (California Proposition 37), the control of crop seeds through GMO patents and licensing, the loss of seed and crop diversity, and the increasing domination of the seed industry by biotechnology firms.  In this post, we examine GMO contamination of other food crops and the impacts of GMO technologies on pesticide use.)

“When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe. —John Muir

Despite pervasive human intervention, the dynamism of the natural world overcomes virtually all artificial boundaries and limits.  We directly experience nature’s refusal to stay within the lines we draw. Plants penetrate concrete sidewalks; moving water inexorably surmounts or breaks through barriers; nature retakes land abandoned by humans.
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Buddhist Global Relief Makes Emergency Donation To Feed Syrian Refugees

Syria-Jan2013Moved by the plight of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled the ongoing conflict in Syria, Buddhist Global Relief has made an emergency donation of $10,000 to the World Food Programme (“WFP”) to help feed families forced from their homes.

According to the WFP, over 1.2 million people are displaced inside Syria and some 250,000 people have fled the country and become refugees in neighboring countries. Many fled the conflict zones with their families under shelling and gunfire from both government and rebel forces, often able to bring along only the clothes that they were wearing. Harsh conditions in refugee camps—including plummeting temperatures and flooding—are making for a life of intense suffering. Many families living in tents lack heaters and winter clothing.

Syrian child refugee campFood for these families is the most critical need. It takes only $72 to provide a month’s worth of food for a Syrian refugee family. BGR’s donation will feed 138 families for an entire month during the difficult winter season.

The WFP is the food assistance branch of the United Nations, and it is the world’s largest humanitarian organization addressing global hunger. It is funded entirely by voluntary donations.  To read more about the humanitarian crisis in Syria, and to make a personal  donation, go here.

We are thankful to BGR’s generous donors who are making this emergency food donation possible.

GMOs: Food, Money & Control: Part II

Charles W. Elliott

soybeansIt’s All About the Patents. And Control. And Money.

“Seeds are the most basic thing that we got. Everybody has to eat. We want to have a healthy planet with healthy people, we have to have good seeds.” – Seed Farmer, Dan Jason

For more than 10,000 years, humans have engaged in the simple free act of saving natural seeds from a season’s crop and replanting them in the next season. The primeval cycle of planting crops, saving seeds and replanting them in the next season is the practice of agriculture itself.  But we are now witnessing the passing away, in a single generation, “this ancient ritual as old as civilization, a ritual in many ways responsible for civilization.” [1]  This is due to the use of genetically engineered plants, protected by patents and contracts, which make saving seed and replanting them in the next season illegal. The replacement of nature’s bounty with increased sale of genetically engineered crops under such restrictions leads inexorably to expanded corporate control of our food supply.  This problem is exacerbated by the loss of crop diversity and increasing market concentration in the seed business.

Seeds and Patents

A patent is the exclusive right, granted by law, to commercialize a new invention for a limited period of time. Thus, patent law confers upon the patent holder a monopoly on the “exploitation” of the invention. Thanks to U.S. Supreme Court decisions that recognized the right to patent life forms[2], crop seeds and other agricultural products produced from genetic engineering are subject to patent rights.

In the context of crop seeds, this monopoly grants companies the exclusive right to sell the seeds and allows them to charge higher prices for them. As applied in most countries, such seed patents prohibit farmers from saving seeds from their own harvest. As a result, they must either buy new seeds each year or pay for a license to use the patented seeds they have saved. [3]

For non-hybrid crops that employ transgenetic biotechnology, agribusiness and seed companies use intellectual property law, tangible property common law, and strict contracts to prohibit farmers from saving seed. For example, when Monsanto sells seeds for its genetically modified crops, it requires that farmers agree to severe restrictions before they can open a bag of its GMO seed. Monsanto’s typical so-called “Technology/ Stewardship” license: (1) prohibits growers from using seeds for any purpose other than planting a single commercial crop; (2) prohibits growers from saving any crop produced from seed for planting; (3) prohibits supplying seed produced from seed to anyone for planting other than to a Monsanto-licensed seed company; and (4) prohibits transferring any seed containing patented “Monsanto Technologies” to any other person or entity for planting. The agreement also requires that the grower allow intrusive investigation of the growers’ records, including examination and copying of “any records and receipts that could be relevant to Grower’s performance of this agreement.”[4]
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GMOs: Food, Money & Control: Part I

USDA & Monsanto

Charles W. Elliott

The recent battle over California’s Proposition 37, a ballot initiative to require consumer labeling of genetically modified organism (“GMO”) food[1], has shone a harsh spotlight on the impacts of biotechnology on agriculture and our food supply, and on corporate influence over the political process and the public’s right to information. As corporate efforts to expand the use of genetic engineering in agriculture march onward, we see a counterweight in the movements for sustainable food production and support for organic and small scale farming. We’ll be taking a look at some of the issues surrounding use of genetic engineering in food production in a series of blog posts on GMOs: Food, Money & Control.

Consumers Kept in the Dark: Big Push to Label Genetically-Modified Food Fails

Proposition 37 — the ballot initiative that would have required GMO food labeling in California, the world’s ninth largest economy — drowned under the tsunami of corporate money opposing it.  Monsanto, a leading maker of genetically engineered seeds, contributed $8.1 million alone. More than $45 million was spent by large agribusiness, big processed food manufacturers, and chemical companies, including DuPont, PepsiCo, General Mills, Nestle, Conagra and Dow. It should come as no surprise that Dow, the company that brought us dioxin-laced Agent Orange, would prefer that we not know whether the food we eat contains foreign genetic material.
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Celebrate World Food Day and Help End World Hunger

Charles W. Elliott

Each October 16 is World Food Day, a celebration of the founding of the lead international agency for global efforts to combat hunger: the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). World Food Day has been observed every year since 1979, in more than 150 countries, raising awareness of global poverty and hunger. It serves as a wonderful example of international cooperation and community-building to help the poor, exemplifying our common humanity and basic goodness.

For World Food Day 2012, Buddhist Global Relief joins the FAO and our partner, Oxfam America, to both celebrate FAO’s work and to raise awareness of how much more work must be done to ensure a world in which everyone has enough food. We still confront the unacceptable: one billion people continue to suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition in a time of unprecedented plenty.

The FAO’s tireless work to end hunger is well worth an annual celebration. It has been a central driving force for worldwide fulfillment of the human right to food. It responds to soaring food prices by helping small scale farmers raise their output and providing direct aid. It supports projects in more than 100 countries to enhance food security, providing early warning and emergency response to mitigate the impact of natural disasters on food security. Its Alliance Against Hunger and Malnutrition (AAHM) creates global connections between local, regional, national and international institutions which share a common commitment to the rapid eradication of hunger and malnutrition. FAO “Goodwill Ambassadors” such as Jeremy Irons and Céline Dion attract public and media attention to the problem of hunger. Its online campaign against hunger, www.EndingHunger.org, is a vital networking campaign to build the movement through social networks, presenting world governments with more than three million signatures on a global petition to end hunger.

World Food Day is a wonderful opportunity to share your concern for the world’s poor and hungry with your family, friends and community. You can “walk the talk” and join Buddhist Global Relief’s Walks to Feed the Hungry by walking with us, or simply making a walk donation through our First Giving page.

As Oxfam America suggests, you can host a simple World Food Day dinner on October 16th that “fosters a conversation about where your food comes from, who cultivates it, and how you can take personal actions that will make the food system more just and sustainable.” You can get discussion guides and free materials from Oxfam at: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/campaigns/food-justice/world-food-day. You can organize a “food and fund drive” for local food banks and pantries. In the United States, if you don’t know where your nearest food bank is located, you can find one in the nationwide list at: http://www.feedingamerica.org/Home/foodbank-results.aspx. Food banks help feed tens of millions of people in the United States. They need your support and food donations.

Taking action can be as simple as picking up the phone. Call your political leaders and representatives and ask them: what specific, concrete steps are they taking to end hunger? Each one of us can find our own best way to help on World Food Day.  For more information, visit Buddhist Global Relief’s World Food Day page at http://www.buddhistglobalrelief.org/active/WorldFoodDay.html