The Breakdown of the Family
June 10, 2019
“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” – Rachel Carson
Money Does Grow Some Trees
100 years ago farmers who grew our food did so from a grand diversity of grains and vegetables. Through experiment and exchange farmers improved their crops, saving the best seeds, roots, etc. for replanting the next year. 50 years ago there were about 1,000 small and family-owned seed companies producing and distributing seeds in the US, but by 2009 there were fewer than 100.
In the last decade a flurry of mergers and acquisitions enabled chemical and pharmaceutical companies with no historical interest in seeds to gobble up most of those small seed companies. Today, four giant multinational agrochemical companies — Corteva, ChemChina, Bayer and BASF — control more than 60 percent of the world’s seed sales.
What propelled this race to corner the seed market? Companies see seeds as part of a profitable package. They already made herbicides and pesticides, so they set about engineering seeds to produce crops that could survive an onslaught of their chemicals. The same seed companies that control more than 60 percent of seed sales also sell more than 60 percent of the pesticides.
Corporate mentality doesn’t care about biodiversity and small farmers — it cares about profit. In 1980 the Supreme Court delivered big business a big gift — the utility patent. Their ruling allowed patents on living organisms, and by extension, crops. Advances in genetic engineering then permitted companies to claim seeds as proprietary inventions, restricting the type of seeds farmers could access.
By lessening diversity and engineering seeds to ensure crop uniformity, corporations can dictate the fertilizer, pesticide and fungicide regime, and lock in harvesting rates, the machinery used, shipping crate sizes, shelf space etc. etc. Seed privatization increases corporate profitability, but curtails innovation, narrows choices for farmers and consumers, and especially hobbles organic farmers, which explains why organic food is so expensive.
- Sowing for Apocalypse: The quest for a global seed bank (New Yorker, 2007)
- Arctic stronghold of world’s seeds flooded after permafrost melts: No seeds were lost but the ability of the rock vault to provide failsafe protection against all disasters is now threatened by climate change (Guardian, 2017)
- A movie about seeds and agrochemicals, Michael Clayton trailer
This Is A No Dumping Country
- In 2017 China abruptly imposed restrictions on “foreign garbage,” and countries across Southeast Asia began taking in the West’s plastic waste.
- Last week government officials in Telok Gong, Malaysia raided an illegal dump. It was just the latest effort by authorities to shut down unlicensed dumps holding plastic scrap imported from the US and other rich nations.
- One shopkeeper said nobody likes the illegal dumps and they should be shut down. But the UN Environment Program’s coordinator on chemicals and waste in the Asia-Pacific region said by imposing blanket bans on imported waste officials were “risking damaging the good recyclers’ business.” Other experts worry a permanent ban on plastic waste imports raises the possibility the plastic scrap will wind up in rivers, oceans dumps and illegal burn sites. (NYT)
- Microplastics Have Invaded The Deep Ocean — And The Food Chain (NPR)
- Canada Agrees to Take Back Trash Sent to Philippines Years Ago (NYT)
Breaking Bread At The Border
- North Korea is suffering from one of the worst harvests in a decade, with severe food shortages affecting 40 percent of the population. Last week South Korea approved $8 million in food aid, the first such gesture since 2015.
- US-North Korean nuclear negotiations have been stalled, and many saw the South’s donation as an attempt by President Moon Jae-in to coax the North back to the negotiating table. Pyongyang was not impressed with the donation, calling it “non-essential” to ties between the two Koreas. (NPR)
- Daily Pnut on North Korea’s slaves
See You Venezuelater
- According to the UN more than 4 million refugees and migrants have left Venezuela amid political chaos, food shortages and hyperinflation. A joint statement from the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration called the outflow “staggering.”
- Colombia and Peru are taking in the largest numbers of refugees, with smaller numbers going to Chile, Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina. Venezuela’s authoritarian President Nicolas Maduro is being challenged by opposition leader Juan Guaido; the latter has been recognized by the US and many other countries as the legitimate head of state. (NPR)
- ‘I Can No Longer Continue to Live Here’: What’s driving so many Honduran women to the U.S. border? The reality is worse than you’ve heard (Politico)
We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Amount Of Boats
- Libya is mired in war and inundated with floods, which is causing thousands of people to attempt crossing the Mediterranean Sea. But the UN is warning that a lack of rescue boats puts refugees at the highest risk ever of shipwreck and drowning.
- The spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR said: “If we do not intervene soon, there will be a sea of blood.”
- Data from UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration shows 1,940 people have reached Italy from North Africa since the beginning of 2019. Almost 350 have died en route – a death rate of more than 15 percent. (Guardian)
Additional World News
- Thousands Fill Hong Kong’s Streets To Protest China Extradition Bill (NPR)
- Candidate Seeks Closer China Ties, Shaking Up Taiwan’s Presidential Race (NYT, $)
- Asia’s Longhorned Tick Takes Its First Documented Bite In The U.S. (NPR)
Everyone Is The Loneliest Number That You’ll Ever Do
- It was true in 1969 when the Guess Who recorded No Sugar Tonight, and it’s even truer 50 years on — people are lonely.
- A study released last spring by the insurance company Cigna made headlines with its announcement: “Only around half of Americans say they have meaningful, daily face-to-face social interactions.” Loneliness, public-health experts tell us, is killing as many people as obesity and smoking.
- Americans aren’t alone being lonely — Europeans are lonely, too. Even Scandinavians are lonely and they’re the happiest people in the world. British Prime Minister Theresa May lost her job so she could soon be lonely — fortunately she recently appointed a “Minister of Loneliness.”
- Why is there so much loneliness? Some blame social media, technology, discrimination, genetic bad luck. But foundering social trust, collapsing heartland communities, an opioid epidemic, and rising numbers of “deaths of despair” suggest a profound, collective discontent.
- Experts believe the root of modern-day loneliness is the breakdown of the family. Those deep changes in family life over the past half-century are intertwined with the flagging well-being of so many adults and communities. Fewer and fewer people can relate to The Waltons. (City Journal)
- Daily Pnut on Generation Addiction and the underlying article ‘Become My Mom Again’: What It’s Like to Grow Up Amid the Opioid Crisis: Call them Generation O, the children growing up in families trapped in a relentless grip of addiction, rehab and prison. (NYT, $)
- Meanwhile, how one family benefited from the pain of a nation: The Family That Built an Empire of Pain: The Sackler dynasty’s ruthless marketing of painkillers has generated billions of dollars—and millions of addicts. (New Yorker)
- Homeless Populations Are Surging in Los Angeles. Here’s Why. (NYT, $)
- “The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only – and that is to support the ultimate career. ” – C.S. Lewis
Additional USA News
- Watching Elizabeth Warren Come Alive: After the heartbreak of 2016, Elizabeth Warren is giving women new reasons to hope. (Slate)
- How Old Should a President Be? With So Many Choices, Democrats Are Sharply Divided (NYT, $)
- Trump: U.S., Mexico Reach Deal To Avoid New Tariffs (NPR)
- Even as Floods Worsen With Climate Change, Fewer People Insure Against Disaster (NYT, $)
- Can you really have a plastic-free kitchen? (BBC)
- How fish and shrimps could be recruited as underwater spies: We have a long history of trying to use animals as spies, weapons and warning systems, but the latest plans to use marine organisms as motion sensors may be the strangest yet. (BBC)
- Caleb Cain was a college dropout looking for direction. He turned to YouTube. (NYT, $)
- How A.I. Could Be Weaponized to Spread Disinformation (NYT, $)
- What a ‘Living Wage’ Actually Means: If you ask a dozen lawmakers what constitutes a “living wage,” you’ll get a dozen answers. Where does the term come from? And is it even accurate? (NYT, $)
- A mentalist’s guide to being happy: The illusionist Derren Brown has studied the philosophy and psychology of happiness – and he argues that many of us could take a radical new approach to improving our wellbeing. (BBC)
LAST QUOTES & SONGS
“Nothing captures the biological argument better than the famous New Age slogan: ‘Happiness begins within.’ Money, social status, plastic surgery, beautiful houses, powerful positions – none of these will bring you happiness. Lasting happiness comes only from serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin.” – Yuval Noah Harari
“Happiness [is] only real when shared” – Jon Krakauer
Hootie & The Blowfish – I Go Blind (Hootie’s most underrated but perhaps best song)
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