Today's Topics in AgBioView.
* Responses to Tony Trewavas's Posting
* Now For GM Weapons by Rifkin; Responses
* CAST - Regulation And Testing of Biotech Crops
* German Senate: Opportunities and Risks of GM Food
* Protesters Ask Right Questions, Yet They Lack The Right Answers
* Is Globalisation Doomed?
* Economic Man, Cleaner Planet
* Fighting Against Terrorism, Engaging With Islamic Science
* Craig Sams: Don't you know there's a war on?
* Terry Hopkins: Small things lead to big things
Responses to Tony Trewavas's Posting
From: Virginia Walbot
Subject: Re: Re:reference?
The calculations are very interesting.
One feature that is not mentioned is that genetic engineering can take a local population to 100% fixation for a new trait in a single step, i.e. by human selection for a particular status. This extreme selection means that the "time frame" for selection is incredibly compressed and that most likely selection occurs mainly around a single trait, i.e. herbicide resistance, without regard to the genotype at other loci, provided the combination is viable.
Such a bottleneck selection is unusual in the real world. Fixation for a single allele type -- as Tony calculates the diversity of alleles -- cannot occur if "each individual can be distinguished from all others." In my mind genetic engineering is the limit n = 1 allele diversity for a single locus, whereas most loci will have very large numbers of alleles (many of which do not apparently confer a different phenotype).
Reduction of allelic diversity is a real possibility when any trait is highly selected and progeny are recovered from several rounds of selfing. After 7 rounds, almost all loci are homozygous. This is different from the usual population structure in the wild.
Recognition of the possibility of a reduction in allelic diversity for plants that introduced into natural ecosystems make it incumbent on researchers to generate multiple (if not many) distinct populations carrying the single transgene of interest.
From: "John W. Cross"
Subject: Viable evolutionary pathways a problem.
I see some problems with this argument. The biggest one is that your argument depends on the idea that any DNA sequence can be approached by a series of possible mutations. That is not always practically possible, since there must be a viable organism at each evolutionary step with the necessary fitness to pass on its genes for the next step. One can imagine as a metaphor something like a contour map of a mountain trail with an avalanche blocking the way. The trail is theoretically there on the other side, but there is no practical way to walk it without extraordinary means. Genetic engineering is the extraordinary means to cross such inviable gaps.
The mechanisms of evolution involve to a great extent not just the random mutation of sequences within individual genes but the movements of blocks of DNA representing such functionality as protein domains, homeoboxes, promotor sequences, etc. Such block movements and recombination events are important because natural selection has brought such components to a degree of functionality, and organisms that retain that functionality are able to use the components as units, much as an engineer can more rapidly create new functional circuits by plugging together standard components, like capacitors, resistors and ICs than by randomly changing the properties of each component. The possible genomic sequences that can be rapidly obtained by such rearrangements of biologically functional components is very large, but much smaller than the changes that are theoretically possible from random accumulation of single-base changes.
From: Chris Somerville
Subject: Tonys letter
Hello Prakash: I have a few questions about Tonys letter.
Tony writes: I estimate that there are 10 (raised) to the 15 individual plants of Arabidopsis thaliana currently alive with on average three generations/year.
How did he arrive at this number?
Tony writes: With a mutation rate of 1 in a million that makes 10 to the 9 mutant plants presently extant. I think he is confusing the per locus mutation rate and the "per plant" mutation rate. The per locus mutation rate for plants is about 1 per 10-7. Since the plant has 25,000 genes, the number of "mutant plants" would be about three orders of magnitude higher than calculated - depending on what the correct number of Arabidopsis plants is.
Tony writes: Assuming that only the 150,000 bases are what figures in mutation, every base will have received full variation
What 150,000 bases is he referring to?
I have a few more questions but I hope these convey my impression that the letter needs quite a bit of tightening up in order to withstand scientific scrutiny. I suggest that he enlist a colleague who works in population genetics to help develop the analysis. I don't think he should publish it as is. Having said that, I basically agree with the fundamental premise which is that Nature had already tried many combinations and it is a bit silly to think that adding one or a few genes is going to make a huge difference. I am in the camp that thinks that the 50,000 introduced species in North America (for example) pose a hugely more serious threat than anything that can be done by genetic engineering. The list of problems caused by such introductions is legion. The probability of one of these species (should I mention kudzu) taking over the environment is no joke.
Best wishes, Chris
>From: Tony Trewavas
>I wonder if you can float out the following calculation for criticism.
>I estimate that there are 10 15 individual plants of Arabidopsis
Now For GM Weapons
- Jeremy Rifkin The Guardian, September 27, 2001 (Source: Agnet)
'Jeremy Rifkin, the author of The Biotech Century (Penguin, 1998) and president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, DC writes that it's time to get tough with the biotech firms over germ warfare.'
For the first 10 days we worried about commercial aeroplanes being hijacked and used as missiles. Now, the American people are worried about a new, even more deadly threat: bacteria and viruses raining from the sky over populated areas, infecting and killing millions of people.
Rifkin says that unfortunately, to date, the politicians, military experts and media have skirted a far more troubling reality about bio-terrorism. The fact is, the new genomic information being discovered and used for commercial genetic engineering in the fields of agriculture, animal husbandry and medicine is potentially convertible to the development of a wide range of novel pathogens that can attack plant, animal and human populations.
Moreover, unlike nuclear bombs, the materials and tools required to create biological warfare agents are easily accessible and cheap, which is why this kind of weapon is often referred to as the "poor man's nuclear bomb". A state-of-the-art biological laboratory could be built and made operational with as little as $10,000-worth of off-the-shelf equipment and could be housed in a room as small as 15ft by 15ft. All you really need is a beer fermenter, a protein-based culture, plastic clothing and a gas mask.
Equally frightening, thousands of graduate students in laboratories around the world are knowledgeable enough in the rudimentary uses of recombinant DNA and cloning technology to design and mass-produce such weapons. Rifkin says that biological warfare involves the use of living organisms for military purposes. Biological weapons can be viral, bacterial, fungal, rickettsial, and protozoan. Biological agents can mutate, reproduce, multiply, and spread over a large geographic terrain by wind, water, insect, animal, and human transmission.
Once released, many biological pathogens are capable of developing viable niches and maintaining themselves in the environment indefinitely. Conventional biological agents include Yersinia pestis (plague), tularemia, rift valley fever, Coxiella burnetii (Q fever), eastern equine encephalitis, anthrax and smallpox.
Subject: GM weapons,
From: Rick Roush
Can anyone explain to me exactly what Rifkin wants us to do? How can forcing western companies to be inspected reduce the threat of biological weapons? The problem is clearly one of inspecting the labs no one is ever going to know anything about.
How is the following claim from Rifkin valid? "The fact is, the new genomic information being discovered and used for commercial genetic engineering in the fields of agriculture, animal husbandry and medicine is potentially convertible to the development of a wide range of novel pathogens that can attack plant, animal and human populations." What you would really need is information on pathogens; info on crops, for example, would be a poor place to look.
The fact is that non-GM anthrax would be a pretty effective bioweapon in its own right. Terrorists need GM about as much as they need a military plane to destroy a tall building.
Posted to: email@example.com
Why would anyone want to go to the expense (despite what Rifkin claims, it is fairly expensive to equip and run a biotechnology lab) to make GE bioterrist agents when any good microbiologist could easily isolate and produce anthrax from a cup of soil from his or her back yard? Proper safeguards are essential to mininimze accidental esscape of GE material, in fact many are so benign that they cannot survive outside of their artifical world in a test tube.
I am more concerned with the possibility of a disgruntled lab technician from a hospital or clinic who might decide to join forces with a terrorist cell. They would have easy access to some very nasty microorganisms or viruses and could easily infect patients and send them on their merry way to infect anyone they meet. That is more a reality than the scenario painted by Rifkin.
I realize that both you and Rifkin have a major ax to grind with biotechnology companies, however, I think they may end up being our saving grace since they do have the financial resources to make antibodies against the major potential biological agents. It is clear from reports coming out of Washington that we do not have an adequate supply of antibodies against any of the potential biological agents. I for one hope that the US government askes the biotechnology companies to begin mass producing antibodies to resupply our stockpile.
In my opinion, bioterrorism is only a matter of time away.
From: Andrew Apel
Subject: Re: Jeremy Rifkin's Fear Mongering
Being "of faith" makes some challenges easier to answer than otherwise. Though I realize that being "of faith" inherently invites bigotry and small-mindedness, it can also cast a bit of light into odd corners. And make it easier to see that Rifkin is perverting a perversion. Call it meta-perversion.
Many of those of faith believe that science uncovers the ingenuity of the Creator, and that the use of these discoveries continues the unfolding of creation. And if DNA is properly described as "the language of God," then it is equally true that this language has been left there for us to read.
It is of course true that discoveries have been turned to evil uses, perverting creation and what we learn of it. Rifkin is not the first to notice this. He is, however, among a minority who want us to turn our faces from the ingenuity of the Creator, for fear of what those of evil intent may do. A perversion built on perversion. In this way, evil urges us to turn our faces away from the Creator, on the excuse of evil. In this way, evil perpetuates itself.
I insist, as I have insisted before, that a difference between doing right and wrong must be recognized. Violence in the name of "free speech" blashphemes against free speech. Turning our faces from the ingenuity of the Creator in the name of what we may do with our discoveries blasphemes against creation. And it blasphemes against us, the created, the most responsible of all creatures. We are most distinguished from the others by bearing not merely a metabolic, but also a moral, burden.
CAST Issue Paper on Regulation And Testing of Biotech Crops
(From: "Cindy Lynn Richard, CIH" )
Regulators need adequate resources to make more information available to the public about how decisions on biotechnology are made, according to a new Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) issue paper. CAST submitted the paper, "Evaluation of the U.S. Regulatory Process for Crops Developed through Biotechnology", to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday in the form of public comments. The paper is particularly timely as EPA prepares to make a Mid-October announcement regarding the registration fate of two biotechnology-derived crops, Bt corn and cotton. A group of nine science and policy experts prepared the issue paper for CAST, which represents 37 food and agricultural scientific organizations. ìHaving accepted the unenviable task of evaluating how U.S. regulatory agencies determine the safety of biotech crops, we decided to describe the process, then comment on how the process can be improved,î explained food safety expert Bruce Chassy of the University of Illinois.
The papers authors found that the U.S. regulatory process evaluating biotechnology-derived crops is comprehensive and meets its charge of insuring that biotechnology-derived foods are at least as safe as foods derived using traditional breeding techniques. ìThe greatest challenge is not having access to the documentation on how regulators come to their decisions,î said Chassy. ì We believe the public would have more confidence in the process if they knew the rationale for regulatory decisions to accept or reject new biotech crops. Safety testing data are available to the public. Now we need to provide adequate resources, so the regulators can explain their decision-making rationale.î According to CAST Executive Vice President Teresa Gruber, ìWhile CAST would not normally submit a pre-publication paper as a public comment, the CAST Board of Directors felt strongly that this paper provides information that may be useful to EPA in its deliberations. This issue paper has undergone the formal review process, inc
Four key questions evaluated: The authors address (1) How are safety assessment and regulatory reviews conducted? (2) Can obvious strengths and weaknesses of that process be identified? (3) Can improvements be made in conduct and direction of independent research, in performance of safety assessments, in opportunities for consumer participation, or in any other aspects of the regulatory process that will both enhance the quality of the assessments and further ensure the ultimate safety of biotechnology-derived crop products? and (4) Are there improvements to the regulatory review process for biotechnology-derived plants that will enhance public confidence in the process?
1. Retain the current case-by-case safety assessment approach and continue to emphasize regulatory conditions carefully tailored to address risks identified for individual biotechnology-derived plant products. Agencies must maintain the flexibility to assure that rigorous, science-based safety assessments are conducted for each new product or product category. Agencies should strive to coordinate their activities to form a seamless and consistent regulatory system.
2. Finalize the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) current proposal for a mandatory, premarket notification in lieu of the present policy of voluntary consultation for all food products of agricultural biotechnology. The FDA should be commended for proposing a mandatory premarket notification process. The need for and functioning of the mandatory premarket notification policy should be reevaluated in five years. We encourage the FDA to publish the submitted data summaries and to develop a process for publishing a detailed rationale for its decision making at the completion of its process.
3. Provide the public with rapid, comprehensive accessibility to applications and supporting health and safety data submitted to regulatory agencies for biotechnology-derived products. Increased transparency of the regulatory process, particularly at the FDA, could increase opportunities for public input and strengthen consumer confidence in the safety evaluation process. Efforts should be made to determine whether increased access to information and regulatory decision criteria would be sufficient to increase consumer confidence in the regulatory review process and the safety of the food supply in the United States.
4. Issue approvals for both food and feed use for crops that are intended to enter commodity streams. There should be no split approvals for commodity crops, as occurred with StarLink corn. In the future, products intended exclusively for special food, feed, veterinary, medical, or industrial uses may be developed. A robust identity preservation system or some alternative means of channeling the product exclusively to the correct use should be in place prior to the product's approval and commercialization. Before such products are introduced, validated testing methods must be available.
5. Provide the additional resources sorely needed for key regulatory review functions. Resources must be allocated to agency staff and organizational needs, especially at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs, the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine. These resources should be used for timely scientific review of data submissions and efforts to improve the transparency of the review process. Resources also should be allocated to greatly expand outreach and consumer information programs offered by the regulatory agencies.
1. Conduct additional research on selected topics to ensure that present-day questions can be answered and that future developments will be assessed adequately. Additional support for evaluative research could come either from government agency programs, such as the National Research Initiative Biotechnology Risk Assessment Program, from joint government/industry projects, or from consortia of sponsors. Research conducted independently will enhance confidence in the validity of data submitted to government agencies.
2. Develop rapid screening methods for biotechnology-derived crop proteins in raw agricultural commodities, such as grain and vegetables. Routine complianc methodologies need to be improved and made publicly available. Protein detection methods must be rapid, robust, and available for use under actual field conditions. These methods should be standardized, validated, and available prior to market entry of a biotechnology-derived crop.
3. Conduct additional research to support regulatory oversight and product stewardship of biotechnology-derived crops currently on the market. Research topics would include improvements to insect resistance management practices for Bt crops as well as agronomic practices for biotechnology-derived crops that would enhance identity preservation efforts.
4. Carry out additional research on the potential health, safety, and environmental effects of biotechnology-derived products that are not designed to be substantially equivalent to their conventional counterparts (sometimes referred to as next generation biotechnology-derived crops). Such crops would include those having improved competitiveness, enhanced tolerance to stress, or enhanced nutritional value.
5. Conduct additional research on food allergies and identification and characterization of allergenic food proteins. Such research should include the development of representative, reproducible, and validated animal models for identification of probable allergens as well as the determination of the dose and exposure necessary for sensitization and elicitation of food-allergic reactions. A centralized, publicly accessible, searchable database of known allergens should be created and maintained.
Opportunities and Risks of Genetically Modified Food
In its new publication, the (German) Senate of DFG commission deals with issues concerning the objectives, application and legal framework of green genetic engineering. It comments on conceivable risks resulting from the cultivation and consumption of genetically modified plants or food and refers to safety precautions to protect the consumer. The statement focuses on food from transgenic plants. Animal food is to be dealt with at a later point in a separate publication. The publication is available as PDF-file (252kB) in german and english language.
Belgian PM: Protesters Ask Right Questions, Yet They Lack The Right Answers
Guy Verhofstadt, Business Day (South Africa), Sep 26 2001, http://www.businessday.co.za/bday/content/direct/1,3523,935023-6078-0,00.html
Verhofstadt is Belgian prime minister and European Union president, in which capacity he attended the G-7/G-8 summit in Genoa.
Open letter to opponents of globalisation asks what the message was of recent violence at G-8 summit
IN SEATTLE, Gothenburg and Genoa tens of thousands of people took to the streets to express their views. A real breath of fresh air in this post-ideological age. If only there had not been all that meaningless violence, we could almost have applauded them.
Antiglobalisation protests are a welcome cross-current at a time when political life has become rather dull, sterile and technocratic. Indeed, this cross-current is good for democracy. But what is your actual message?
What is suddenly so wrong with globalisation? Until recently even progressive intellectuals were singing the praises of a worldwide market, which, they said, would bring prosperity and well-being to countries where before there was only poverty and decline. And they were right. Experience has shown the per capita income of a country's population rises 1% for every 1% it opens up its economy. This explains the wealth of Singapore, which contrasts so sharply with the poverty of a closed economy such as Myanmar. In short, prior to Seattle, globalisation was not a sin but a blessing for mankind.
Of course, globalisation, as a movement that disregards national borders, can easily deteriorate into a form of "selfishness without frontiers". For the rich west, free trade is naturally something that should be embraced wholeheartedly as long as it is not in products that can harm western economies.
No sugar from third world countries. No textiles or manufactured garments from North Africa. In this regard your antiglobalisation protests are well founded. Free world trade moves largely in one direction: from the rich northern countries to the poor south.
However, I would also like to point out several contradictions in your way of thinking. You oppose US hamburger chains, reject soya genetically modified by multinational corporations and condemn worldwide brand names that influence buying habits. Many of you feel that everything must return to a small, local scale.
And yet not when it comes to migration. Then, globalisation suddenly becomes an aim. Large numbers of homeless people drift along the borders of Europe and North America, staring wide-eyed into the shop windows of a prosperous society. Millions of illegal immigrants live as homeless pariahs, in pitiful conditions, hoping against hope that somehow they can tap into western riches. But it is precisely the absence of free trade and investment that drives them to the west in the first place.
Another contradiction resides in the fact that, while opposing globalisation, you strongly urge tolerance towards lifestyle diversity. Surely, we owe the fact that we live in a multicultural and tolerant society to the process of globalisation? I thought that nostalgia for the narrow-minded societies of our forefathers was the sole domain of conservatives who glorify the past, of extreme rightwingers who believe in the superiority of their own race, and of religious fanatics who live and die by the Bible or the Koran.
In this way, antiglobalisation protests unwittingly veer dangerously towards extremist, "populist" right-wing views. The only difference is you oppose multinationals because of the alleged harm they cause to the south, whereas the extreme right, such as Le Pen in France, condemns multinationals as he wants to retain control over his own economy.
You are asking many of the right questions. But do you have the right answers? Nobody now denies the existence of climate change and global warming. Such issues, though, can only be dealt with by global commitments. Everybody recognises the importance of free world trade for the poorest countries. But this also requires global social and ecological standards. Look at the immoral speculation that preyed on weak currencies like the Mexican peso and Malaysian ringgit.
The most effective way of combating this kind of speculation is through the creation of larger monetary zones (another form of globalisation). The prospect of coming up against the dollar or the euro will scare off speculators more than any tax.
I do not think it makes any sense to be unreservedly for or against globalisation. The question is rather how everybody, including the poor, can benefit from the manifest advantages of globalisation without suffering from any of its disadvantages. When can we be sure that globalisation will benefit not only the happy few but also the massed ranks of the third world's poor? Again, your concerns as antiglobalists are valid. But to find the right solutions to these valid questions we need more globalisation, not less. That was exactly the point of James Tobin. That is the paradox of antiglobalisation. Globalisation can serve the cause of good just as much as it can serve the cause of evil. What we need is a global ethical approach to the environment, labour relations and monetary policy.
The challenge we face today is not how to thwart globalisation but instead how to give it an ethical foundation. I would call this "ethical globalisation", a triangle consisting of free trade, knowledge and democracy; alternatively trade, aid and conflict prevention. Democracy and respect for human rights are the only sustainable ways of avoiding violence and war and of achieving trade and prosperity. The international community has still not managed to impose a worldwide ban on small arms or set up a permanent international criminal court.
Moreover, increased aid is needed from the rich west. It is shameful that more than 1,2-billion people still do not have access to medical care or a decent education. Trade alone will not be enough to solve the problems of the least developed nations. Even with more trade there is still a need for increased development co-operation to build harbours and roads, schools and hospitals, and to construct a stable legal system.
Finally, world trade needs to be further liberalised. If all world markets were opened up to competition then the total income of developing countries would be boosted by 700bn a year, or 14 times the total development aid they currently get. No more dumping of western agricultural surpluses on third world markets. No more exceptions for bananas, rice or sugar. The only trade ban would be on arms. "Everything but arms" must be the motto of all future World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiating rounds.
More free trade, more democracy, greater respect for human rights and more development aid: is that enough to make ethical globalisation a reality? Certainly not! What is missing is a powerful instrument to enforce it. We need a global political body as powerful as the globalised market in which we already live. The Group of Eight (G-8) of the rich countries must be replaced by a G-8 of existing regional partnerships, a G-8 where the south is given an important and deserved place at the table to ensure that the globalisation of the economy is headed in the right direction.
We need to create a forum where the leading continental partnerships can all speak on an equal footing: the European Union, the African Union, Mercosur, Asean, the North American Free Trade Agreement, etc. This new G-8 can and must be a place where binding agreements on global ethical standards on working conditions, intellectual property and good governance can be entered into. This renewed G-8 could lay down the guidelines and give encouragement to the major international organisations and negotiating bodies such as the WTO, the World Bank and Kyoto. This G-8 would no longer be dominated by the big wealthy countries; instead, everyone in our world community would be represented. In this way it could provide an answer to global problems such as international trafficking in human beings.
We saw such a process emerge in an embryonic stage at the Kyoto Protocol talks in Bonn, where finally a breakthrough was made thanks to agreements between the Umbrella Group, the European Union (EU) and the group of less developed nations, against the wishes of the greatest power on earth, the US. But of course we do not need to wait for the first meeting of the new G-8 to begin the process of ethical globalism. We could start in our own European backyard. Why shouldn't we systematically test every decision made in the EU for its effect on the weakest societies on earth? Does it widen or narrow the gulf between the rich northern countries and the poor south? What is the result of this decision or of the lack of a decision on worldwide ecological problems? And why shouldn't we call for an opinion from a high-level non-European body?
Because in this respect you are absolutely right. Even when we are driven by the very best intentions, it is only natural for us to be more concerned with the interests of a multinational oil firm or European sugar beet farmers than with the fate of the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta or the meagre incomes of workers on sugar plantations in Costa Rica.
Verhofstadt is Belgian prime minister and European Union president, in which capacity he attended the G-7/G-8 summit in Genoa.
Is Globalisation Doomed?
- The Economist Sep 27, 2001. Excerpts here. Full Text at http://www.economist.com/opinion/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=797603
'According to its critics, globalisation has a lot to answer for'
In choosing the World Trade Centre for their principal target, the terrorists were striving not merely to kill as many Americans as they could, but also to tear down a potent symbol of America's economic might, of its ideas and values, of capitalism. If the shock of the attacks and the war on terrorism that is just beginning do lead to global recession, as many fear, the West's faith in market economics may indeed be tested. If this happens, will it be right to see it as merely a brief swerve in sentiment, as one would expect in any severe economic slowdown? Or does the terrorist “backlash” against the ideology of America and the West, if that is what it was, demand a deeper response—a reappraisal, even, of that very ideology?
Some in the West are arguing that it does. John Gray, a professor at the London School of Economics and a much-quoted thinker on these matters, spoke for many last week when he declared that the era of globalisation is over. “The entire view of the world that supported the markets' faith in globalisation has melted down...Led by the United States, the world's richest states have acted on the assumption that people everywhere want to live as they do. As a result, they failed to recognise the deadly mixture of emotions—cultural resentment, the sense of injustice and a genuine rejection of western modernity—that lies behind the attacks on New York and Washington...The ideal of a universal civilisation is a recipe for unending conflict, and it is time it was given up.”
Wicked and dangerous
Is there no limit to the crimes for which globalisation must be held to account? Not only does it oppress the consumers of the rich West, undermine the welfare state, emasculate democracy, despoil the environment, and entrench poverty in the third world; we knew all that already. In addition, we now find, it is a utopian scheme for global ideological conquest—like Stalinism, minus the compassion. Truly, the idea that people should be left free to trade with each other in peace must be the most wicked and dangerous doctrine ever devised.
Either that, or a lot of people are talking nonsense. In fact, this is a distinct possibility. Western governments do a poor job of explaining and defending globalisation—so poor as to breed disaffection with democratic politics. This does not alter the fact that the substantive charges of the anti-globalists fail to stand up. This week, we publish a survey reviewing their arguments. We had intended it to coincide with the annual meetings of the IMF and the World Bank, scheduled for this weekend but cancelled after the attacks; the article was written (for the most part) before September 11th, but in view of the links that are being drawn between the perils of globalisation and anti-western rage, we believe it remains relevant. Globalisation undermines neither the welfare state nor democracy, our survey argues; it is entirely consistent with sound environmental policies (see article); above all, far from increasing poverty in the third world, it is the most effective force for reducing poverty known to mank
But what about the view that globalisation is a kind of cultural conquest? This too is plainly wrong. Under a market system, economic interaction is voluntary. This is the market's greatest virtue, greater by far than its superior productivity. So there is no reason to fear that globalisation itself threatens traditional non-western cultures, such as Islam, except in so far as individual freedom threatens them. McDonald's does not march people into its outlets at the point of a gun. Nike does not require people to wear its trainers on pain of imprisonment. If people buy those things, it is because they choose to, not because globalisation is forcing them to.
In some countries, governments may see globalisation as a threat to their power as tyrants. They probably overstate the danger, but in any case we leave Mr Gray to speak for them. Where governments reflect the preferences and beliefs of most citizens, democratically or otherwise, and where those preferences call for cultural distinctness and non-western values, economic integration does not militate against diversity, least of all against religious diversity. In the West, globalisation has been running at full power for years. Has it mashed the United States, France, Italy, Germany, Sweden and Japan into a homogeneous cultural putty? It has not, and there is no reason why it ever should.
This is not to say that the future of globalisation is assured. Far from it. Economic liberty suffered a terrible reverse in the 1930s, thanks to war, financial breakdown and bad government. That brought one era of globalisation to an end, and history could repeat itself. Let us at least agree, however, that if governments allow this to happen it would be a tragedy—and not for the rich West, first and foremost, but for all the poor of the developing world.
Economic Man, Cleaner Planet
- The Economist, Sept 27 2001
Full article at http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=797431
Shocking as it may seem to most anti-globalists, market forces can help the environment. In fits and starts, they are already starting to
“The foresighted utilisation, preservation, and/or renewal of forests, waters, lands and minerals, for the greatest good of the greatest number for the longest time.” That, insisted Gifford Pinchot, a founder of America's conservation movement, should be the proper goal of greenery. Decades after he penned those words, his sentiments still inspire.
Sadly, that is because the world's approach to environmental protection has mostly failed to heed Pinchot's call for wise use of resources. Instead, governments everywhere have tended to follow a heavy-handed “command-and-control” approach that sets impossibly lofty environmental goals and requires needlessly expensive responses or rigid technological fixes. In America, these came in the shape of a wave of federal environmental laws passed three decades ago, around the time of the first Earth Day. Most of the world then followed the same path.
The legacy of this “mandate, regulate and litigate” approach is mixed. It is true that it has helped to bring about environmental gains: by most measures, air and water in the rich world are cleaner than they were three decades ago. Yet, even as the actual air has got cleaner, the metaphorical atmosphere has been poisoned by the confrontational approach enshrined in such laws. For decades, the prevailing attitude of governments' environmental agencies, especially in America, seems mostly to have been one of hostility to industry. The resulting policies encouraged litigation and stifled innovation.
Dan Esty, a professor of environmental law at Yale University, says that the laws “often looked disapprovingly at human activities and economic growth because of their harmful pollution side-effects, which were thought inescapable...prospects for further progress on the same path are limited.” He has been developing “next generation” reforms, which favour incentive-based, market-oriented policies. Greens and anti-globalisers may not like this; but the result could hugely improve the environment, at much less cost. ..........
Anti-globalists also worry that liberalisation will lead to a “race to the bottom”, as poor countries lower their environmental standards in a contest to attract foreign investment or to set up sweatshops. That is wrong, on two counts. First, trade agreements (and the World Trade Organisation, for that matter) do not stop countries from pursuing whatever levels of greenery they wish; in fact, there is great variation, even among countries at comparable levels of economic development. Second, as the World Bank recently concluded after six years of study, “pollution havens—developing countries that provide a permanent home to dirty industries—have failed to materialise. Instead, poorer nations and communities are acting to reduce pollution because they have decided that the benefits of abatement outweigh the costs.”......
The snag is that the two methods are often incompatible and so cannot easily be combined. If you impose overly detailed regulations, you may make it harder, not easier, to harness the market to your ends. Dr Adler's rebuttal of such “third way” arguments is blunt: “It was the fatal conceit of socialism, in Hayek's famous phrase, that wise government bureaucrats could guide society to a better future. Substituting red aspirations with green ones does not change the undertaking's essential nature—or its likelihood of success.”
Fighting Against Terrorism, Engaging With Islamic Science
- Editorial, Nature 413, 235 (2001) 20 September 2001
Last week's attacks in New York and Washington were an offence against fundamental values that merits a well-targeted response, helped by science. But enhanced contacts with Islamic colleagues should also be pursued.
As Nature goes to press, the world is wondering how President George W. Bush, given extra powers by Congress and significant support by other nations, will respond to the barbaric killings of thousands in the United States. The impact on the scientific community has already begun to make itself felt (see page 237). Leaders of the scientific community around the world have expressed their horror and sympathy: see http://www.nationalacademies.org.
Science itself will play a critical role in the identification of the victims and in the unprecedented intelligence and military steps that the United States and others will now take to prevent such attacks in the future (see page 238). Many of the finest scientists and engineers will be called upon to channel their expertise into the defence of their countries against repetitions of last week's atrocity, and against its perpetrators and their defenders in every corner of the globe.
Appropriately, given last week's offence against fundamental values, most are likely to respond in full measure. A previous generation of scientists quietly helped to assure victory for the Allies in the Second World War, through the development of radar, code-breaking algorithms, and the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb (the last of which, as things turned out, had the least strategic significance of the three in that conflict). This time, the challenges lie in security innovations and counter-terrorism, intelligence gathering, and enhancing an already large military advantage.
Science's role: But scientists, and others engaged with science, can do more. Last week's terrible events are utterly removed from normal relations between countries and peoples. But they are not divorced from underlying political and social forces that also affect those relations. Perhaps the least to be expected of those in a position to make a difference is some reflection on the roles of science in the cultures and societies caught up in this conflict. How might contacts between scientists and between scientific organizations, of a sort that proved valuable during the cold war, play a constructive role in long-term relations?
With thousands of dead still to be identified and put to rest, engagement of any sort will be the last thing on many people's minds. But others, deeply affected by the conflict, may feel that not to explore it could be seen as a minor victory for terrorism.
Last week's terrorist violence, after all, was not the expression of a clash of civilizations: many Islamic scholars and leaders have emphasized that the murder of the innocent is as offensive to their beliefs as to anyone else's. Their societies should not stand condemned because of extremists who disagree.
Although there could be said to be a tide of Islamic activism in the Arabic world and in Asia, there is no uniformity about it. There is a common aspect, according to knowledgeable commentators, in which resurgent Islam appears to be giving a sense of values and cultural identity to populations that may see themselves as disadvantaged or repressed within their countries. But the political contexts and the consequences that follow are diverse — for example, only some activist groups are revolutionary in intent. Understanding that heterogeneity will be important.
Views of the Enlightenment: Differences in world view between most Western scientists and influential Islamic intellectuals (including scientists) can be profound. Societies in which Islamic beliefs are important include those actively importing Western science and technology, yet which have a distrust of the modernity and secularism of the West. Iranian political commentators, for example, saw the collapse of the Soviet system not as a triumph of the West but as a prelude to the total collapse of a system based on humanist beliefs fostered in the Western Enlightenment, which, in their eyes, committed the fatal error of divorcing a scientific understanding of nature from an appreciation of its divine aspects (see, for example, http://web.syr.edu/~mborouje/jpr.html). Most Western scientists, and this journal too, would consider a denial of Enlightenment values as a betrayal of everything science stands for.
In Iran and in other Islamic countries, there is no shortage of intellectual interest in the Western scientific and philosophical traditions. But questioning about the philosophical and spiritual underpinning of science can be intense. Whether only parts of Western science and culture can be imported, and whether secularization is an essential corollary of the Western Enlightenment, are important questions for Islamic scholars.
The scientist-turned-Islamic-scholar Seyyid Hossein Nasr has commented on divergent views about modern science within the Islamic world. One view, which he characterizes as 'modernist', has for over a century set about importing science without much attention to the consequences for the societies that seek to absorb it. Another view sees Western science as giving rise to ethical problems for Islam, but welcomes it nevertheless on the basis that Islam can resolve those challenges on its own ethical terms. And then there is Nasr's own view, which has been influential, and which sees science as inextricably bound up in the system of values in which it operates. It makes sense, in his terms, to identify Islamic science as related to Western science but "totally transformed into the part and parcel of the Islamic intellectual citadel" (see http://web.mit.edu/mitmsa/www/NewSite/libstuff/nasr/nasrspeech1.html).
Evidently, in comparison with the character of cold-war contacts, there may well be fewer common assumptions between scientific communities in the West and those in Islamic countries. There is much less knowledge of each others' scientific histories, and a consequent lack of mutual appreciation. But both inside and outside the Islamic world, there is also room for consideration of shared beliefs about the values of science, its history and its significance. Funding agencies should foster collaborations between Islamic and Western scientists and between those in the humanities studying science. Now may be a particularly good time to do so.
Subject: Don't you know there's a war on?
From: "craig sams"
For a year I have subscribed to AgBioView and, during that period, you have had the courtesy to publish my comments and criticisms and I hope that the sometimes lively debate that has ensued has helped enlighten both sides. The extinction of the 'organic=E.coli' myth has been one good result and I hope that my comments on the underlying insolvency of industrial agriculture and its resultant subsidy-dependency has concentrated the minds of those subscribers who mistakenly associate GM crops with free markets,free trade and human freedom.
However, I feel alarmed and disgusted on reading the comments of Andrew Apel and Dean Kleckner equating opposition to GM crops with the horrendous plane bombing of the World Trade Center. I have waited and watched in vain to read the outraged response of molecular biologists and others to this vile nonsense and am dismayed by the resounding silence. Either very few subscribers actually visit the AgBioView website or they are afraid to speak out for fear of losing research grants or they haven't the faintest idea about fundamental principles of democracy, freedom and justice. I fear it may be the latter so I hope you will indulge this contribution. The arrogance of the presumption that anyone who opposes GM crops is complicit in the causes of hunger and poverty worldwide and is an equal to the terrorists who bombed the WTC is a reflection of the narrow world view that makes so many feel impotent in the face of American global hegemony. It is also the reason why GM is going nowhere - intelligent people respon
To put the commercial interest of a handful of biotech companies above the serious nature of the true war against terrorism is to diminish the importance of the challenge that faces capitalism and the free world posed by the attack. Let's face it, lots of companies come out with products that are a flop. GM crops haven't been that brilliant. They do not bring about increased yields, they don't necessarily reduce pesticide use and they don't cost less. They present real challenges to poor farmers in that they require annual cash payments for seed and herbicides and make illegal the saving of seed. All the time the proponents of GM say that 'science' is on their side, but there are reputable scientists who express legitimate concerns. The Royal Society of Canada is one such group. The Royal Society in Britain are undertaking an in-depth review in response to legitimate concerns of their members. Recently the editors of Nature, JAMA, New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet, British Medical Journal and others h
In a nutshell, there are legitimate science-based doubts about GM that cannot be easily dismissed. This is not about world trade or about capitalism or about freedom, this is about dubious science being pushed hard by a handful of potentially bankrupt companies who are desperate to see some return on the billions of peoples' savings that they have invested in biotech research and that has borne few fruits in agriculture or medicine. The main countries that use biotech are in the biggest trouble - in the USA industrial farmers have seen their need for subsidy double and double again in the 6 years since the introduction of GM crops, Argentina is an economic basket case and Canada is backtracking furiously in the face of the problems with GM canola. Third World countries don't have rich taxpayers prepared to pick up the tab for agricultural failure, so why should they follow in America's footsteps? To say that those who express such concerns have 'blood on their hands' (Apel) or calling for the imposition of
Mr. Apel and Mr. Kleckham (or anybody out there with a shred of moral fibre), I call on you to renounce your inflammatory comments and shape up, fast. There is something very serious happening in the world and your shameless and opportunist attempts to use it as a smokescreen to harness the war against terrorism on behalf of GM agriculture is, to put it mildly, unpatriotic and a diversion from the real struggle ahead. Get real, this is no time for such nonsense.
- Craig Sams
Subject: Small things lead to big things
From: Terry Hopkin
The recent discussions as to wether, environmental groups that cause damage and violence to property should be tarred with the same brush as the other terrorist groups, has shown a misunderstanding of the situation. All such groups regardless of their aims go for effect. The more spectacular the better, whilst some groups may try not too involve loss of human life. The fact that man is involved in an illegal destructive act, how ever good the motive, and your chances to prevent loss of human life, are often restricted. That to date little or no loss of human life has occurred from the actions of these environmental groups is more down to luck than judgement. Burning crops can quickly become a devastating fire with loss of life, if the fire spreads, wind changes etc. Breaking into and doing damage to property, can easily result in fires, accidents, and loss of life. Once these occur then a barrier is breached for such organizations, the publicity and the resulting search for culprits drives them into a new
We in Europe who have lived with terrorism for the last fifty years or more know that it is not always the large that causes the worst loss of life, nor is always that which was planned to do minimum harm that in fact does so. A terrorist is a terrorist, is a terrorist, regardless of his or her cause, and just because a group's actions so far has not resulted in loss of life, does not put them outside of the 'pale', because allowed to continue they will in the end cause death and mutilation, whether by intent or by accident.