Michael Riordon

the view from where I live


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“The cradle of conservation”

Everywhere on this earth we have plundered, blasted, torn, drilled, stripped and otherwise devastated “beautiful, quiet, complicated” landscapes that sustained us for millennia. Add destruction of the other two life support systems, water and air, and we dig our own graves.

North Dakota shale landscapeNorth Dakota oil drill pads. Photo: National Parks Conservation Association

One such fragile landscape is the badlands region of North Dakota. Unfortunately it’s also the centre of the decade-long Bakken shale oil boom.  In The cradle of conservation, a touching – literally, touching – account in Earth Island Journal, conservation writer Taylor Brorby revisits the state where he grew up, and wonders what might still be recovered here after the boom has died.

As in the northern Alberta tar sands, enormous profits have been extracted here, and incalculable harm done.  Now oil prices have plummeted, but still, with lavish government subsidies the plunder goes on.  So does resistance on the ground.  One way or another, eventually the plunder – or the oil – must come to an end.  And as in any disaster, those who remain will recover what they can.

For further insight into the nature, value and recovery of living landscapes, check out Bold Scientists, here.  Scroll down to chapter 3, A dialogue with the world.


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Science is objective: true or false?

After teaching plant agriculture for 32 years at Guelph University, Associate Professor Ann Clark ‘retired’ in 2010 to a farm in eastern Ontario.  It would be her refuge and her lab.

Clark designed the farm to be “post-oil.”  Here she can try out experiments for which research Monsanto Business Incubatorfunding always eluded her.  Since neither of her teaching specialties, grasses and organic agriculture, tends to generate proprietary profits, the corporate funders that increasingly dominate research funding were not interested.

From the late 1990s on, Ann Clark became an eloquent critic of the impacts that GMOs (genetically modified organisms) can have on livestock, farm survival and the environment.  Unsought by her and unpaid, this new public role did not foster Clark’s career.  “Academic suicide, some of my colleagues called it,” she says.  “By their standards I’m not a very good scientist.”

By what standards can they judge as ‘not good’ a scientist who has inspired countless students, farmers and citizens with her knowledge and integrity?  “The problem is,” she replied, “I can’t accept one of the central tenets of their dogma: that science is objective.  When I got my PhD I fully believed that it is.  But then one of my PhD examiners backed me into a corner where I had to acknowledge that personal values will inevitably determine what questions you ask as a scientist, and the questions you ask will inevitably pre-determine the range of answers you’ll get.”

This view is powerfully confirmed by the ongoing battle over a study by French scientist Gilles-Eric Séralini & his co-researchers, on impacts of Monsanto’s genetically modified maize and its associated herbicide Roundup.

Hours after the study was published in 2012, a vicious, well-orchestrated assault erupted against Séralini.  “This is so disturbing,” says Ann Clark.  “Very often industry research doesn’t ask the right questions.  He  asked some of the right questions, and for that he’s under attack.”

In response, Clark joined with eight other scientists to publish an open letter supporting Séralini, and to “raise the profile of fundamental challenges faced by science in a world increasingly dominated by corporate influence.”  Signed by an impressive roster of scientists in many countries, the October 2012 letter cites other researchers who’ve been attacked for studies questioning GMOs and Monsanto.

Read more:

Ann Clark’s vision of post-carbon farming and food production is here:  The future is organic: But it’s more than organic!

Corporate Push for GMO Food Puts Independent Science in Jeopardy.  Vandana Shiva, The Asian Age, December 2012.

Growing Maize Disaster (in Mexico).  ETC Group, December 2012.

FDA [Food and Drug Administration, US] Quietly Pushes Through Genetically Modified Salmon.  Anthony Gucciardi, Natural Society, December 2012.