Whole Earth Discipline

As mentioned in my last post for GMO-Skeptics Forum, one of the major influences in my journey from Dark Green Chicken-Little to pragmatic techno-optimist was Stewart Brand’s seminal Whole Earth Discipline.
This makes interesting reading for me four years later, as I was on the cusp of a new understanding on some key environmental issues: I was still in the grip of peak oil paranoia; I had not yet grasped what is really happening with population or even how fundamental the issue has been for environmentalism; and I would also be much more skeptical these days of apocalyptic climate predictions.

In particular, this book started me questioning the assumptions of my environmentalist tribe on GMOs, which I have since learned a lot more about and written many more posts on.
The review comes over to me now as wordy and long-winded, but this reflects partly the inner struggle I was going through as some of my core beliefs began to be re-aligned, so it serves as a testimony to that process as well as a hopefully useful review of a still important book.

From the Archives: First published on Zone5 March 22nd 2010

Book Review:
Whole Earth Discipline -An Ecopragmatist Manifesto
by Stewart Brand
Atlantic Books 2009 316pp


“Civilization is at risk, but civilization is the problem”.

Stewart Brand is one of the iconic founders of the environmental movement, an original old hippy whose influence on the boomer generation should not be understated. With his latest book Whole Earth Discipline he takes that same movement to task for rejecting science and getting sidetracked by ideology at the very time when the practical application of science through engineering and technology may be the only way to save ourselves.
I came across an early copy of The Whole Earth Catalog, founded by Brand in 1968, on an early visit to a small “back to the land” commune about 25 years ago. It was a thrilling introduction to the possibilities of the burgeoning “alternative” lifestyle of organic gardening and renewable energy I was joining at the time.

Over the coming years, I read about his early involvement in LSD in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and currently have a copy of his 1999 book The Clock of the Long Now on my bookshelf.
In a recent interview, I heard Brand take on the environmental movement’s anti-science stance on various issues. I have been grappling with this issue myself for some time now, particularly in the credulous acceptance by most green organisations of “alternative medicine” for which there is no evidence, and the anti-science diatribes that are inevitably summoned up in defense.

More recently I have discovered for myself how little science there is behind the health claims of organic food, and how organisations such as the Soil Association are often pseudo-scientific in their claims and their treatment of evidence.
Whole Earth Discipline challenges the greens on four more holy cows: population, urbanisation, nuclear power and Genetically Engineered crops, and in reading this compelling and fascinating book I have had to do some serious re-thinking around these issues myself. Continue Reading


Vandana Shiva admits: There is No Terminator

A few weeks ago I wrote The Truth About the Terminator questioning the dubious but influential and oft-repeated claims that Monsanto’s Terminator seeds are widely used and lead directly to widespread farmer suicides in India. Yesterday it was brought to my attention that Vandana Shiva, High Priestess of the anti-GE “keep the poor poor and hungry” movement has in fact admitted in her own publication the Navdanya “Seed Kit” that so called “Terminator” technology- properly GURT or Gene Use Restriction Technology – has never been used in a commercial crop:

Terminator Seeds

Terminator seeds are genetically modified to kill their own embryos, making them sterile at harvest. This means that if farmers save the seeds of these plants at harvest for future crops, the next generation of plants will not grow. Farmers would thus need to buy new seeds every year.

After studying these seeds, molecular biologists warned of the possibility of terminator seeds spreading to surrounding food crops or to the natural environment—the gradual spread of sterility in seeding plants would result in a global catastrophe that could eventually wipe out higher life forms, including humans. Since 2001 there has been a de facto worldwide moratorium on the use of terminator technology. {Emphasis added}

Note that she repeats the lie from her 2000 book Stolen Harvest that sterile seeds could spread sterility…through seeds. So we have a situation whereby a whole movement made up of organic farmers and permaculturalists (as well as others like “alternative health” practitioners, who we should not expect too much of anyway) who one might expect to know something about the basic facts of life such as how baby plants are made, believe this, and other nonsense about GE technology, and campaign vigorously for complete bans on the technology as a result, even on occasion going so far as to pull crops up and oppose scientific trials on the basis of a non-existent threat from a non-existent trait.

This curious phenomenon is something to take deep inside and meditate on for a while. There is nowt so queer as folk, as my mother says.

The Truth About the Terminator

The Truth About Terminator Seeds. There aren’t any, not in any crop anywhere. Yet this myth/untruth/lie is perhaps the most frequently repeated by anti-GE activists.

Vandana Shiva might be the worst offender. Here she is promoting her new campaign Occupy the Seed

the minute seeds stop being the seeds of renewal and starts being the seeds of death- like the terminator technology, creating sterile seeds, patented technology that makes it illegal for farmers to save and exchange seed, we get scarcity, that is why a quarter million Indian farmers have committed suicide. We’ve got to save the seeds of life…the seeds of freedom.

This is the same lie about Terminator seeds she has been repeating for years.

Why? My guess is, it sounds scary. “The Terminator…” it sounds just so unnatural, and, well terminal. Combined with the political implications- heartless money men using science fiction-type technology to force thousands of poor farmers into debt slavery (Ill come back to the suicides claim), taking over the seed supply, controlling the world’s food production, threatening to wipe out humanity…. you can just hear the throaty Evil Laugh in the background. What’s not to like?

Shiva’s picture of the nasty capitalist mega-villains Monsanto screwing the bejeezus out of both the defenseless farmer AND Mother Gaia herself has proved very effective at garnishing opposition to genetic engineering which, don’t forget, has been hitherto effectively banned from Europe and much of Africa.

But Shiva is not anti-capitalist. What she is really doing is protecting vested interests which are themselves just as much capitalist as the biotech companies she fights. Here she is hand in hand with Billionaire New Age King of Woo Deepak Chopra. They are pals you see; they share the same commercial interests. As discussed before, the mega-billion multi-national global capitalist alternative “health” industry is one of the big backers of the anti-GE movement.

Queen of Poo meets King of Woo: Shiva and Chopra…together..

As opposed to the life proliferating activities of cow dung, GMO seeds are “terminator seeds designed to be sterile, in a deliberate creation of food scarcity for profits,” says Shiva, who has worked with and defended the rights of farmers to store seeds for three decades…

The technological science so highly prized in our civilization has another side.

“Yes, it has given us important tools,” Chopra acknowledges, before he goes on to enumerate the ugly side of “fragmented science,” such as global warming, ecological destruction, mechanized death, nuclear weapons, GMOs, and pesticides. “Together they are risking our extinction as a species,” he says.

http://www.occupymonsanto360.org (http://s.tt/18Owy)

Water economist Dave Zetland debunks’ Shiva’s sham anti-capitalism and tendency to play loose with the facts here.

What are Terminator seeds exactly? The correct term is GURT or Gene Use Restricted Technology, and there is no doubt that one of the idea of developing them was to facilitate seed patents, to make money in other words, or recoup investment if you are slightly less anti-capitalistic. The technology developed by the USDA in conjunction with Delta and Pine Land company in the 1990s, who were awarded the patent in 2005; Delta & Pine were acquired by Monsanto in 2007. Due to concerns that this might lead to dependence by small farmers, Monsanto agreed not to use GURT, instead requiring farmers to sign declarations that they will not save and replant Monsanto’s seed. Continue Reading