By Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project
Today was the conference field trip sponsored by Veracel—the pulp giant of Bahia, Brazil. Over the course of the 11 hour field trip I snapped about 350 photos—of everything from their greenwash “forest preserve” to their stinking smoking pulp mill, to their eucalyptus nursery assembly line, to their endless eucalyptus plantations and everything in between. They were just as friendly as can be…
Now, However, it is going on 8:30pm. So I will save my blog post and photo essay from this little treasure trove until tomorrow. For now, some thoughts that demanded to be written down on Monday night—2 nights ago. I hope you enjoy this little rant of mine.
Monday, June 27, 2011
Thoughts have been pouring through my head this evening, and so I decided to try a little “Breakfast of Champions” Vonnegut-style stream of consciousness writing. Course it won’t have his cool pictures. Though I can at least draw an asshole *. But its hard to write stream of consciousness with this new computer whose keyboard is ever so slightly smaller than the one I am used to—which had a problem with the key with ? and / on it. It kept falling out at the most inopportune moments. One doesn’t realize how much one counts on the ? and / key until it falls out.
So I am here in this little “hippy” tourist town of Arraial d’Ajuda (don’t ask me to pronounce it) on the coast of Bahia, Brazil. I am here to monitor and learn from a conference of tree geneticists, tree engineers and foresters gathered from the far reaches of the planet—many to practice their English, as they listen to highly technical presentations by native English speakers reciting their powerpoints as though they were a sports announcer describing a horserace.
The one thing I have most enjoyed about this place is the nights when I can enjoy the dark and secret hammock of my balcony next to the beach resort where the conference is being held.
It is peaceful out there on the terrace and the wind makes light ruffling noises with the palm fronds that reminds me of the sound of rain dripping from maple leaves after a downpour.
The simple things are what thrill me now. The quiet secret escapes. At one time travel was thrilling—the newness of it all, the adventure of not knowing what came next. Well, that wore off a LOOONNGGG time ago. Now the idea of sitting in stale overcrowded airports or big surreal metal tubes that hurtle through the sky at some ridiculous velocity is just not something I look forward to anymore.
And this is my…hmmm…fourth, fifth time to Brazil? Which is all well and good but truth be told I’d rather be in Chile. Even though I barely understand a word of the heavily accented Spanish there and the taxicab drivers are most unpleasant, the people there—the Mapuche people—are amazing. We went there after our first trip to the bizarre and incomprehensible world of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) in Buenos Aires—where we first made the argument to UN delegates that GE trees should be banned globally. We brought over a Mapuche representative named Lorena to testify to the delegates about the impacts that tree plantations and their associated toxins were having on rural Mapuche communities—and how this would only worsen with GE trees. And we formed a partnership with them to stop GE trees. But we haven’t been back in a while. Too long.
But that trip to Buenos Aires was when we got a real taste for how the UN actually works. The reason that GE trees were permitted in carbon offset forestry projects, we found out, was because Norway had tried to get them banned. Brazil and China objected strenuously, and hence, since they could not be banned, they were de facto allowed. Welcome to the UN FCCC, boys and girls.
We then brought our demand to ban GE trees globally to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP-8) in Curitba, Brazil in 2006.
The demand got surprisingly far considering it was our first time there. We caught the industry off-guard. They would not allow that to happen again. When we confronted them a second time at the next CBD in Bonn (COP-9) in 2008, they would be there with their hench men, the PRRI—pro-industry scientists posing as public interest researchers—who would present intervention after intervention about why GE trees were the best thing since sliced bread and would surely be the salvation of the world’s forests (despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary).
Industry even wheedled their way into the delegations of governments. GE tree company ArborGen got themselves on the official delegation of Brazil. As these UN meetings are based on consensus decision-making (or so they say), when Canada, New Zealand and Brazil formed a block to reject any decision to restrict GE trees, the best we could get was a reaffirmation of language from the previous COP warning of the dangers of GE trees and urging countries to adopt precautionary measures regarding GE trees.
But because the decisions of the CBD are all voluntary in their complicity and the number one driver of GE trees—the US—isn’t even signed onto the CBD (just as they are the number one producer of greenhouse gas emissions but are not signed onto the Kyoto Protocol climate agreement; and just as they are the biggest consumer of all things crap on the planet yet will not sign on to commitments to end child labor, or landmines, or basically anything that doesn’t totally suck…) Wonderous place this ole U S of A.
And all so the rich can get richer and the poor poorer, the planet and all of its inhabitants continue to suffer. Meanwhile so-called “scientists” natter on endlessly about their findings on how the now believe they now have evidence that environmental conditions and/or environmental changes contribute to genetic changes in various lifeforms. Holy crap. Ecosystems, web of life, hello? Oh, but the web of life was covered on the first night by the main speaker. He presented it as a paradox. He said,
1) we all know everything is connected to everything else.
2) If this were true, evolution would be impossible
3) Therefore we need to understand genetic interactions.
I have to admit that he lost me on that one. From an ecological standpoint there can be no evolution without first the premise that everything is interconnected. What would drive evolution otherwise? Species evolve according to the stresses or changes in their environment–because there are inherent connections between and among those species and their environment. It ain’t called the web of life for nothin’.
Then you add onto that cellular knowledge, instinct and intuition—oh and life itself—the unmeasurable aspects to species interactions and behaviors—and, THAT my friends is the great paradox of reductionist thinking in the natural world. The natural world is the opposite of reductionist, the opposite to compartmentalization. It is encompassing, it is diverse, it is unpredictable and wild. It will never conform to the maps and equations and mathematical models that are imposed upon it. It may tolerate them for a while, but ultimately life will break free of the shackles of human thought limitations and do its thang. Anyone who doubts this has not been paying attention to the history of the rise and fall of empires throughout human history. They rise, they devastate or eat up their natural surroundings in the pursuit of their lust for more, more, more. Then they exceed the limits of their ecological boundaries, cannot adjust, and pass from existence.
Can we, as the present race of dominant humans, change this trajectory? Can we redirect our meager existences to shift the dominant paradigm to one that is harmonious with, rather than in constant conflict with, the non-dominant-human world? Now is the time to find out. There is no time to lose.
As the old Wobbly slogan demands, “Which side are you on?”
0 Responses to Wednesday Blog Post from the Tree Biotechnology 2011 Conference: Which Side Are You On?
Fortunately the conference was open to anyone–anyone that could afford to get there, that is–which excluded all of our Brazilian allies. If the conference organizers didn’t know who I was before it started (and I suspect some of them did since I have “encountered” them in other venues–UN meetings and such), they did by the time the action alert came out on Tuesday. But there were a lot of people there that I found who were strongly questioning the need to use transgenic technology or even monoculture tree plantations. So there was far from consensus there, though the “leaders” were very clear in their agenda of pushing GMO trees as the wave of the future.
Terrific report and pics so far. How were you able to attend this conf. and how were you treated? Did your fellow conferees know who and what you represented? Hiroshi
exactly, Anne. Tudo bem if we on the ecological side ‘win’ some discussions with those geeks who keep on planting gmo trees, expecting them (all) to ‘evolve’.
I’m having similar opposite-of-nostalgia in CA and thinking I’d rather be ‘fighting’ in Southern Africa again…who’s going there soon??