control of life
In Episode Six of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg reads and discusses selections from CS Lewis' classic work The Abolition of Man, and explores its relevance in light of the contemporary dilemmas posed by biotech and artificial intelligence. Conservative Christian moralist Lewis paradoxically developed a quasi-anarchist critique of technological society, with ideas closely mirroring those of his contemporary George Orwell—despite the fact that the two were on opposite sides of the political divide. But Lewis went beyond even Orwell's dark vision in foreseeing an actual end to humanity itself, as it has been understood for millennia, and its replacement by a conditioned post-humanity stripped of all dignity and reason. Recent technological "advances" have made this possible more literally and completely than Lewis could have imagined. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Thousands of Uighurs, members of the indigenous Muslim and Turkic people of China's far-western Xinjiang region, are currently being detained in "political education camps," according to international rights observers. "Every household, every family had three or four people taken away," said Omer Kanat, executive committee chairman of the World Uyghur Congress, based in Germany. "In some villages, you can't see men on the streets anymore—only women and children—all the men have been sent to the camps." One recent report put the number of Uighurs confined in "overcrowded and squalid" conditions at 120,000 just in Xinjiang's Kashgar prefecture. (CNN, Feb. 2; RFA, Jan. 22)
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on May 11 signed the Fairbanks Declaration, affirming the neeed for protection of the Arctic's climate. The move, at the 10th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting held in the Alaska city, came after much speculation that the US would decline to sign, or even use the occasion to announce its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. The Fairbanks Declaration notes the importance of the Paris Agreement, while stating that "the Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of the global average." The US getting on board was apparently the fruit of behind-the-scenes diplomatic pressure. "I think we were able to push the US back as much as possible," Rene Solderman, Finland's senior adviser on Arctic affairs, told reporters after the ministerial session.
A grimly telling story in the news this week. The Aleppo-based International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), with an extensive collection of indigenous seed stock from Syria and the Fertile Crescent, took refuge in Beiirut in 2012. ICARDA director Dr. Mahmoud Solh told Radio Australia that rebel forces allowed his team to depart with some 140,000 seed packets from freezer storage as Aleppo descended into war. "The center was occupied unfortunately by armed forces... but some of them are farmers and they had received seeds from us," he said. "They understood the value of the center and they know we are apolitical and have nothing to do with the government." But not all of ICARDA's seed samples made it out, and now Dr. Solh is requesting a withdrawl from a remote Arctic "doomsday" seed bank with samples from around the world to be safeguarded in the event of global catastrophe. Reuters reports that ICARDA wants some 130 boxes out of 325 it had deposited with the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, containing a total of 116,000 samples.
The Missouri-based biotech giant Monsanto Company announced on Jan. 7 that its revenues for September through November 2014, the first quarter of the company's current fiscal year, fell to $2.87 billion from $3.14 billion for the same period the year before. The decline was less than analysts had expected. According to Bloomberg News, this was because the losses, including a 12% drop in corn seed sales, were partly offset by sales of Monsanto's new Intacta soybeans, which the company says are genetically modified to withstand pests in South America. But the losses themselves were "in part, due to the reduction in sowing areas in South America," the Spanish agricultural news site agroinformación.com reported. Agroinformación.com also cited resistance to the construction of a seed processing plant in Malvinas Argentinas in Argentina's central Córdoba province. (Bloomberg, Jan. 7; agroinformación.com, Jan. 8)
The UN Climate Change Conference, officially the Conference of the Parties (COP 20) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, closed its 14-day meeting in Lima, Peru, late Dec. 14, two days after its scheduled end. The 196 parties to the UNFCCC approved a draft of a new treaty, to be formally approved next year in Paris, and to take effect by 2020. An earlier draft was rejected by developing nations, who accused rich bations of dodging their responsibilities to fight climate change and pay for its impacts. Peru's environment minister, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who chaired the summit, told reporters: "As a text it's not perfect, but it includes the positions of the parties." Friends of the Earth's Asad Rehman took a darker view: "The only thing these talks have achieved is to reduce the chances of a fair and effective agreement to tackle climate change in Paris next year. Once again poorer nations have been bullied by the industrialized world into accepting an outcome which leaves many of their citizens facing the grim prospect of catastrophic climate change." (BBC News, ENS, Dec. 14)
Guatemala's unicameral Congress voted 117-111 on Sept. 4 to repeal Decree 19-2014, the Law for Protection of Procurement of Plants, in response to a lawsuit and mass protests by campesinos and environmentalists. The law, which was to take full effect on Sept. 26, provided for granting patents of 25 years for new plants, including hybrid and genetically modified (GM) varieties; unauthorized use of the plants or seeds could result in one to four years in prison and a fine of $130 to $1,300. The law had already been weakened by the Court of Constitutionality; acting on an Aug. 25 legal challenge from the Guatemalan Union, Indigenous and Campesino Movement (MSICG), the court suspended the law's Articles 46 and 55. The law was originally passed to comply with an intellectual property requirement in the 2004 Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), and it was unclear whether Guatemala might now be excluded from the US-promoted trade bloc.
A district court judge in the eastern Mexican state of Yucatán ruled in July against a license that the federal Agriculture Secretariat (Sagarpa) had granted the Missouri-based multinational Monsanto Company in 2012 for sowing 253,500 hectares with genetically modified (GM) soy in Yucatán and six other states. A group of campesinos from the Maya indigenous group filed a suit charging that the license endangered the traditional production of organic honey in a region including the Yucatán communities of Ticul, Santa Elena, Oxkutzcab, Tzucacab, Tekax, Peto and Tizimin. The judge's ruling was "a great achievement because there is recognition of our legitimate right to make decisions about our territory and our livelihood," Maya farmer Lorenzo Itzá Ek said. "[B]eekeeping is the main traditional economic activity we carry out, and we don't want our honey contaminated with transgenics or with toxic products like agrochemicals that kill our bees."