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Th e Breakdow n o f Climat e Human Choices or Global Disaster? Peter Bunyard El Nino, the collapse of the Gulf Stream, devastating hurricanes and floods ... Are these events part of a natural cycle or have we really reached the limits?
This book gives a clear overall picture of climate. It explains how weather systems function, how oceanic currents and tropical forests are vital in maintaining these systems, how natural systems perpetuate themselves and are essential to our planet.
In the midst of a seemingly hopeless scenario this book offers hope to all those concerned about the increased violence and occurrence of natural disasters. 256 pp; 0-86315-296-1; paperback; £9.99 15 Harrison Gardens, Edinburgh EH11 1SH
EDITORS Edward Goldsmith
Zac Goldsmith ASSISTANT EDITOR
Paul Kingsnorth NEWS EDITOR Lucinda Labes SCIENCE EDITOR Peter Bunyard EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS
Sally Snow Kate Halliday
R ESEARCH Rita Kassai Simon Retallack Stephanie Roth EDITORIAL BOARD
Steven Gorelick Helena Norberg-Hodge
DESIGN & LAYOUT 3 Counties Design Ltd
ADVISORY BOARD Marcus Colchester World Rainforest Movement
(UK) Samuel S. Epstein University of Illinois
(USA) Simon Fairlie
(UK) Sally Fallon President, The Weston A. Price
Foundation Ross Hume Hall (McMaster University, Canada, now Vermont, USA)
(UK) Martin Khor Kok Peng Director, Third World Network
(Malaysia) Smitu Kothari Lokayan Social Action Group
(India) Sigmund Kvaloy Ecopolitical Ring of Co-operation
(Norway) Jerry Mander International Forum on
(USA) Patrick McCully International Rivers Network
(USA) John Papworth Fourth World Review (UK)
(Canada) Vandana Shiva Research Centre for Science
and Ecology (India)
Robert Waller Commonwealth Human
(UK) Richard Willson The Times (UK) Tracy Worcester
ISEC (UK) Donald Worster University of Kansas (USA)
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 8, December 1999 Editorials Bob's Box of By Paul Kingsnorth
When Robert Shapiro, Monsanto 's Chief Executive Officer, addressed the Greenpeace Business Conference in mid-October, he didn't look a happy man. Beamed into a London hotel via video-link from his Head Office in Missouri, USA, he looked tired, drawn and hunted, as i f a pack of crop-pulling activists were trying to batter down the doors of his executive suite. He didn't sound happy, either. In fact, he sounded almost contrite.
Sounding contrite is Monsanto's newest public relations ploy. They need a new one, because none of the others worked. First they tried bullying people into buying everything they produced without question. But people asked questions. Undeterred, Monsanto tried the oily approach: lots of money spent on big adverts telling us that we should listen to all points of view, provided the final outcome was that we agreed with theirs. Not money well spent, as Bob Shapiro would surely now agree. On the contrary - all the money, time and corporate muscle applied by Monsanto over the last year has had the effect only of making them
Sounding contrite is Monsanto ys newest public relations ploy. They need a new one, because none of the others worked. probably the most unpopular corporation on Earth.
Hence the contrition. Bob Shapiro had a clear message for the journalists and environmentalists assembled by Greenpeace in London: Monsanto have changed. No longer, he said, are we the same nasty corporation that manufactured Agent Orange or filled the seas and many of their mammals with PCBs. No longer are we the same unscrupulous collection of technocrats who employed scientists to fabricate dioxin test results, or 'misled' farmers about the health risks of our bovine growth hormones. Not any more. No sirree! These days we're New Monsanto - nice guys with test tubes who only want to help.
According to Bob, New Monsanto recognise that "we have irritated and antagonised more people than we've per-
suaded," and "our confidence in this technology and our enthusiasm for it has I think widely been seen, and understandably so, as condescension or indeed arrogance." Not only that, but for the first time, Bob acknowledges that "there are real concerns about its [biotechnology's] use," and that, potentially, not every biotechnology product is, per se, a good one. Bob also wants 'dialogue' with his enemies, and is willing to change his mind i f he's wrong. This was almost as
LOOKALIKE: It has been drawn to our attention that
Robert Shapiro, Monsanto's Chief
Executive, bears an uncanny resemblance to Mr Burns, the evil corporate megalomaniac from the cartoon series The Simpsons/ Are they
related? Perhaps we should be told.
exciting to some environmentalists as the announcement a couple of days before, that Monsanto will not now be commercially developing terminator seeds, as a result of widespread revolt.
But before we get too excited at this brave new dawn, let's just take a brief look at the movement behind the platitudes. Let's have a look at what the corporation is actually planning to do, and what it's planning to produce, over the next few years.
A good place to start is with a copy of The Paper, Monsanto's in-house newspaper, a recent copy of which has been passed to The Ecologist by a thoughtful reader. It contains some fine nuggets about what the corporation is currently up to. Bob's boys have, for example, just opened new laboratories in Bangalore, India, where researchers are working to "bring food, health and hope to a growing world" by inventing new, patented varieties of tropical crops. Elsewhere, the company is making the buying of as many of the world's seed companies as possible a "top corporate priority". Why?
Because a global seed company will have the "financial muscle" to push Monsanto products all over the world.
The most entertaining/frightening article in The Paper is the double-page spread entitled 'Getting To Know Vietnamese Farmers.' A more accurate translation would probably read 'Throwing millions of dollars of corporate propaganda at Vietnamese farmers.' For Monsanto are up to their old tricks again; sending representatives around Vietnam's small farms with 'vibrant yellow Roundup posters' advertising the 'Roundup Clubs' the company is setting up across the country. Monsanto have managed to get the support of the country's government for these clubs, and no doubt a combination of persuasive propaganda and free meals at local restaurants for farmers has the effect of expanding the company's market in rural areas, with none of that pesky 'dialogue' that Bob is so keen to talk to Western Greens about.
So it's business-as-usual in many areas. But what of future technologies? What do New Monsanto have planned for us? Here's a small selection of what the company's last Annual Report promises us they may be marketing next year and beyond:
• 'Feed Enzymes, developed through biotechnology to increase the nutritive value of animal feed.' • 'No-till soybeans' - you don't even have to plough them. •4Insect-protected tomatoes' yummy. • 'Coloured cotton' - it grows in whatever colours the market demands, and thus "reduces the need for chemical dyeing." • 'Improved solids potatoes' - you need less oil to fry them. • 'Roundup Ready forestry products' - yes, that means trees. Whole plantations of Monsanto trees, controlled with Monsanto herbicide, coming your way after 2002.
What was that you were saying, Bob? Ah, yes - "biotechnology in itself is neither good nor bad. It can be used well or it can be used badly, and like any important new tool it creates new choices for society." Indeed. Well, I think I've made my choice already. But thanks for the 'dialogue'. Much appreciated.•
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 8, December 1999