Thursday, March 11, 2010

Green posturing, reductionist science, sex-changing frogs and big waste bucks

Doing green stuff is a lot harder than posing for cameras. I wish someone would tell some of our celebrities, particularly actors and models, that instead of wasting precious newsprint (which is not an environment friendly thing to do) by going yak-yak about how important it is to care for the environment, watch out for climate change etc, it might help if they actually DID something. Stop taking so many flights, for one. Think of ways to make photo and film shoots environment friendly. Recycle. Don't drink from plastic bottles or cups. Don't insist on air-conditioning.

It does get my goat when I see the morning newspaper filled with bullcrap coming from actors and actresses and supermodels and businesspeople who are constantly taking helicoptor rides, for god's sake! And not because it is an emrgency, or even because there is no other way of getting to a certain place. Some of them do this every single day if they happen to be shooting at some distance from the city. I feel like shaking them and telling them that if you cannot deal with staying put on location for a few days, then for all our sakes, please, please do not sign up for such projects. Or, at least, shut up about the environment.

I, for one, refuse to go to the movie hall and fork over my hardearned money to enable their unsustainable lifestyles. You want to take helicopter rides, do that. Not on my money, and not with my goodwill.

Okay, now that the rant is out of the way, some interesting links.

I hadn't thought of genetic engineering in terms of 'reductionist science' but this piece made me think, and also clarified what exactly Bt Brinjal is trying to do and how it might be different from regular, non-Bt brinjal.

Genetic engineering is based on reductionist biology, the idea that living systems are machines, and you can change parts of the machine without impacting the organism. Reductionism was chosen as the preferred paradigm for economic and political control of the diversity in nature and society.... Real scientists know that mechanistic science of genetic reductionism is inaccurate and flawed. Deeper research has led to the emergent field of epigenetics. Epigenetic mechanisms can edit the read out of a gene so as to create over 30,000 different variations of proteins for the same gene blueprint. Epigenetic describes how gene activity and cellular expression are regulated by information from the environment, not by the internal matter of DNA.The limitation at a higher systems level is even more serious. Bt brinjal is being offered as a pest control solution. A gene for producing a toxin is being put into the plant, along with antibiotic resistance markers and viral promoters. This is like using an earth-mover to make a hole in the wall of your house for hanging up a painting. (emphasis mine)

Read the rest here.
And speaking of toxins and what goes into your body, here's some news about a chemical called Atrazine, a herbicide used by farmers in the US. 16 US cities are now suing Syngenta, the manufacturer of the herbicide, asking the corporation to pay for cleaning the water supply.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not banned the product yet, but has launched an investigation into possible health impact.

The Huffington Post article goes on to say that 'Atrazine has long been a controversial product. The European Union in 2004 banned its use, saying there was not enough information to prove its safety. The EPA recently announced that it would be re-evaluating the herbicide's ability to cause cancer and birth defects, as well as its potential to disrupt the hormone and reproductive systems of humans and amphibians.
Last week, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science
reported that male frogs exposed to levels of atrazine below federal limits could become functional females, with the ability to mate and lay eggs.
Citizens in all sixteen of the cities named in the lawsuit get their drinking water from sources next to or surrounded by agricultural fields where farmers use atrazine. Some of these cities sell their water in bulk to other nearby towns.'

Not nice. Citizens have had to spend millions of dollars (according to their lawyer) to put in place filters that can get the toxic stuff out of the water. And I am glad the corporation is being asked to pay up now.

And here's something on recycling in India. Mostly good news, but it does make me rethink my own stand about workers who handle potentially toxic stuff without any protection, in India, when nobody in Europe or the US would have agreed to do so. Made me think of Alang and the ghost ships.

'Remarkably, according to Of Poverty and Plastic, a book by economist Kaveri Gill, 60-80% of the plastic in Mundka is successfully recycled—far above the recycling rates in Europe and China. (Yet) Mundka exists in a tenuous state of truce with the law. It is, strictly speaking, illegal.'

Rest of the piece here.

Tnext time I drop a plastic cup into the dustbin in some office or shopping mall, I will probably be thinking of turnovers of Rs 40 lakh.


yashada said...

Brave post by a brave woman... hats off to you :)

BTW have been following the Bt debate myself, do you mind if I add a link to this post of yours on my blog?
you can check what i have written about it on and then let me know.

Did not know about the reductionist science and epigenetics and hence would like to add that aspect on the blog...

maejrus said...

I'm a new reader of your blog, Annie, and I really like it! I hope you will take the following observations in the spirit of informed criticism that they are intended to support.

I'm a fan of Vandana Shiva's efforts to protect the interests of very poor farmers in India. I approve of her stand against the immediate introduction of BT Brinjal to India, because it seems likely that the laboratory research on the consequences of this move are not robust enough...
However, she is incorrect in portraying Epigenetics as some sort of revolutionary non-reductionist approach to the genetic sciences, and even further from the truth when she presents it as evidence that genetic engineering is a fundamentally flawed pursuit based on a misunderstanding of natural processes. Instead, as you'll find in the link below, the science of genetic engineering has only been enhanced by the ongoing discoveries of the mechanisms by which the genome is seduced into its phenomic state, whose detailed description is now being supported by an equally reductionist science, known as Epigenetics.
This relatively new field of research does not present a revolution in the basically mechanistic theories of the genetic sciences, but an evolution towards an even more complex description of its mechanisms.
Vandana would do the cause of poor farmers much more good if she restricted her arguments to the ills of poorly researched business ventures, rather than trying to discredit a whole branch of perfectly healthy science, because that also happens to be the same political ground as the neo-con bible thumpers, who've hindered sensible research into these issues for almost a decade.
Surely we should all be in favour of more research, not less, and should be more careful how we approach the issues of environment, farmer and consumer welfare, while always presenting an open mind to discovery and progress. I'm afraid that it is true, that when it comes to genetic research, we all seem to have an 'inherent' mistrust which needs to be contained within the bounds of reason.

I would be happy to read anyone who presents a reasoned argument against all pursuit of genetic enhancements, based on evidence and facts rather than conjecture and the fear of the unknown... - This is the home page of the site.,2,0 - This page provides a brief look at the ethics of the research, in the words of scientists involved in it.

Tyrone Hayes said...

These particular ones were picked for two reasons. One is there is more of a hint in most cases that they might be involved with cancer," Elizabeth Ward of the American Cancer Society,

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