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Widely considered the most important environmental book of the 20th century, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring has been reissued after 50 years. Margaret Atwood considers its impact and legacy
'No informed person now would seriously advocate deploying pesticides or herbicides or any other chemical agent in the wholesale manner of the 1940s and 50s.' Photograph: Andy Sacks/Getty Images
In my 2009 novel, The Year of the Flood – set in that always-available patch of real estate, the Near Future – Rachel Carson is a saint.
Of course many people think she's a saint anyway, but in this book it's official. The God's Gardeners – members of a fictional cult that reveres both nature and scripture – needed some saints. The Gardeners would choose them for their devotion to the divine natural world, and their saintly deeds could range from the writing of creature-friendly poetry – like that of Saint Robert Burns of Mice – to the saving of a species, like the efforts of Saint Diane Fosse of the mountain gorillas.
But my first choice was Rachel Carson. She fully deserved beatification, and now she has it: in the God's Gardeners hagiography, she is Saint Rachel of All Birds.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson's momentous book, Silent Spring, considered by many the most important environmental book of the 20th century. Its subject was the human poisoning of the biosphere through the wholesale deployment of a myriad new 20th-century chemicals aimed at pest and disease control. Carson was already the most respected nature writer in the United States, and a pioneer in that field. She knew how to explain science to ordinary readers in a way that they could understand; she knew also that if you don't love a thing you won't save it, and her love for the natural world shines through everything she wrote. For Silent Spring – which she already knew would be her last tilt at the windmill – she polished all her rhetorical weapons, and synthesised a wide range of research. She was able to combine a simple and dramatic presentation with a formidable array of backup statistics, and to forge a call to specific action. The impact was enormous – many groups, pieces of legislation, and government agencies were inspired by it – and both its main insights remain central today.
The book also met with furious resistance, chiefly from the big chemical companies and the scientists in their employ. Multiple attempts were made to destroy not only Carson's scientific credibility but also her personal reputation: she was a fanatic, she was a "bunny hugger", she was a dangerous reactionary who would drag modern society backwards into a new Middle Ages filled with pests, vermin, crop destruction and lethal diseases. Yet Silent Spring never advocated an outright ban on pesticides: only careful testing and informed use, in contrast to the scorched-earth policies that had been pursued, with many disastrous outcomes.
Posted By jrlatham On September 10, 2012 @ 12:15 am
The plutocratic remaking of America has a parallel in the countryside. In rural America less than 3 percent of farmers make more than 63 percent of the money, including government subsidies.
Evaggelos Vallianatos (Photo Credit: Homini:)
The results of this emerging feudal economy are everywhere. Large areas of the United States are becoming impoverished farm towns with abandoned farmhouses and deserted land. More and more of the countryside has been devoted to massive factory farms and plantations. The consequences, though worse now than ever, have been there for all to see and feel, for decades.
Walter Goldschmidt, an anthropologist with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) was already documenting the deleterious effects of agribusiness on small communities in California’s Central Valley as long ago as the 1940s (1).
He revealed that a community (he studied the town of Dinuba in northern Tulare County) with small family farmers thrived. Its economy and cultural life were vigorous and democratic. Thus the Dinuba of 1940 was a middle-class town whose residents were not divided in any significant manner by differences in wealth. They had a stable income and strong interest in the life of their community.
By Tom Burridge BBC News, Arrasate, Spain
Many students at a local university find jobs at the Mondragon enterprise
Economic success stories are rare in recession-hit Spain these days but one can be found in the small northern Basque town of Arrasate, nestling in rolling green hills.
Here lies the headquarters of Mondragon, reckoned to be the world's largest worker co-operative. The name is the same as the town's, when translated from Basque into Spanish.
The unemployment rate in the Basque Country is 15%, and lower in the province of Guipuzcoa, where Mondragon is based. The rate in Spain as a whole is now 25%.
The Mondragon co-operative is a collective of around 250 companies and organisations. They include Mondragon Assembly in Guipuzcoa, which employs some 85 people.
The firm produces machines for making industrial components, for example the room-sized plant for making solar panels.
According to the company's commercial director, Inaki Legarda, government subsidies for renewable energy have dried up in much of crisis-hit Europe, and therefore, so has much of the company's business closer to home.
A worker at a Mondragon plant, Spain Workers have been protected from the worst of the financial crisis by the co-operative system
"We used to sell a lot in Spain and in Europe," says Mr Legarda, but the company is now targeting places like South Africa, Brazil, China and North Africa.
Their two biggest projects at the moment are in Kazakhstan and Lithuania.
Partly because of falling sales closer to home, Mondragon Assembly had to lay off several workers throughout 2008 and 2009.
But those workers who lost their jobs were taken on by other companies within the co-operative.
By 2010, the company's fortunes were on the up again, and those people were able to return to their former jobs.
"Today we fortunately have work for everybody," says Mr Legarda.
"We are actually recruiting people from other companies within the group because they are now having tougher times than us."
Fagor Arrasate is another company within Mondragon, which employs around 600 people. They make house-sized machines which manufacture parts for cars.
The majority of the firm's workers are "socios", which translates literally as "members", but also means they are all shareholders in the business.
The socios, some of whom are managers, all have one vote in a general assembly, which makes important decisions affecting the business.
Other decisions have to be approved by a governing council, elected by the assembly.
Anoitz, a 34-year-old engineer working at Fagor Arrasate, argues that "if many people are thinking about a problem, then the solution is better".
An example he gives is that if the business is not doing well, the employees can vote to reduce their own salaries.
Interestingly, the pay of bosses working at Mondragon is capped at six times that of the average worker.
Oskar Goitia, head of Mondragon Automocion, a conglomerate of Mondragon firms which do business in the automotive sector, says that for the business model to work it requires "consensus".
Machine that makes parts for cars at Fagor Arrasate None of the firms in the Mondragon co-operative have gone out of business
He admits it "takes a little bit more time to explain what the plans and projects are.
"But once we agree… it's much easier because everyone pushes in the same direction."
Firms within Mondragon are not immune to the eurozone crisis, but none of its companies has gone out of business.
And although the Basque economy is expected to shrink by around 1.2% of GDP this year, and the Spanish economy by approximately 1.5-1.8%, many of the co-operative's companies are doing more of their business further away from home.
However, according to Manuel Escudero, an economist at the prestigious Deusto business school in Bilbao, the Mondragon model is difficult to export.
He argues the region enjoys "a deep culture of egalitarianism".
And that is why, he believes, so far people who have travelled to Mondragon to learn about the co-operative have been unable to replicate this particular business model elsewhere.
Rio+20: Declaration of Kari-Oca II Adopted by Five Hundred Indigenous Representatives in Sacred CeremonySubmitted by admin on Sun, 07/15/2012 - 09:22
Written by Jeff Conant
Thursday, 21 June 2012 08:54
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 19, 2012 – Over five hundred Indigenous Peoples from Brazil and throughout the world gathered at Kari-Oca II, an encampment seated at the foot of a mountain near Rio Centro, to sign a declaration demanding respect for Indigenous Peoples’ role in maintaining a stable world environment, and condemning the dominant economic approach toward ecology, development, human rights and the rights of Mother Earth.
“We see the goals of UNCSD Rio+20, the “Green Economy”, and its premise that the world can only ‘save’ nature by commodifying its life-giving and life-sustaining capacities as a continuation of the colonialism that Indigenous Peoples and our Mother Earth have faced and resisted for 520 years”, the declaration states.
Global survey reveals differing attitudes on green living..
Commuters on bicycles, electric bikes, and mopeds buzz through Shanghai, China, in 2008.
Photograph by Eugene Hoshiko, AP
Americans are the the least likely to suffer from "green guilt" about their environmental impact, despite trailing the rest of the world in sustainable behavior, according to a new National Geographic survey.
This year's Greendex report, conducted by the National Geographic Society and the research consultancy GlobeScan, also found that Americans are the most confident that their individual actions can help the environment. (National Geographic News is a division of the Society.)
"There's a disconnect there, and we hope the Greendex helps shed light on it," said Eric Whan, GlobeScan's director of sustainability.
"In our culture of consumption, we've sort of been indoctrinated to believe that we can buy ourselves out of environmental problems," said Whan, who's based in Toronto, Canada, another country ranked low in the survey.
"But what people need to realize is that the sheer volume of consumption is relevant as well." (Listen to NPR's coverage of Greendex.)
Conducted by the National Geographic Society and GlobeScan since 2008, the Greendex report explored environmental attitudes and behaviors among 17,000 consumers in 17 countries through an online survey that asks questions relating to housing, transportation, food, and consumer goods. (Learn more about how Greendex is created.)
This year Americans ranked last in sustainable behavior, as they have every year since 2008. Just 21 percent of Americans reported feeling guilty about the impact they have on the environment, among the lowest of those surveyed.
Yet they had the most faith in an individual's ability to protect the environment, at 47 percent.
Why are we told a broken system that creates vast inequality is the only choice? Spain's amazing co-op is living proof otherwise
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 24 June 2012 10.13 EDT
Dani Martinez, innovation director at Orbea bicycles, part of Mondragon Co-operative Corporation, in Mallabia, 2011. Photograph: Vincent West/Westphoto for the Guardian
There is no alternative ("Tina") to capitalism?
Really? We are to believe, with Margaret Thatcher, that an economic system with endlessly repeated cycles, costly bailouts for financiers and now austerity for most people is the best human beings can do? Capitalism's recurring tendencies toward extreme and deepening inequalities of income, wealth, and political and cultural power require resignation and acceptance – because there is no alternative?
I understand why such a system's leaders would like us to believe in Tina. But why would others?
Of course, alternatives exist; they always do. Every society chooses – consciously or not, democratically or not – among alternative ways to organize the production and distribution of the goods and services that make individual and social life possible.
Modern societies have mostly chosen a capitalist organization of production. In capitalism, private owners establish enterprises and select their directors who decide what, how and where to produce and what to do with the net revenues from selling the output. This small handful of people makes all those economic decisions for the majority of people – who do most of the actual productive work. The majority must accept and live with the results of all the directorial decisions made by the major shareholders and the boards of directors they select. This latter also select their own replacements.
Capitalism thus entails and reproduces a highly undemocratic organization of production inside enterprises. Tina believers insist that no alternatives to such capitalist organizations of production exist or could work nearly so well, in terms of outputs, efficiency, and labor processes. The falsity of that claim is easily shown. Indeed, I was shown it a few weeks ago and would like to sketch it for you here.
In May 2012, I had occasion to visit the city of Arrasate-Mondragon, in the Basque region of Spain. It is the headquarters of the Mondragon Corporation (MC), a stunningly successful alternative to the capitalist organization of production.
MC is composed of many co-operative enterprises grouped into four areas: industry, finance, retail and knowledge. In each enterprise, the co-op members (averaging 80-85% of all workers per enterprise) collectively own and direct the enterprise. Through an annual general assembly the workers choose and employ a managing director and retain the power to make all the basic decisions of the enterprise (what, how and where to produce and what to do with the profits).
As each enterprise is a constituent of the MC as a whole, its members must confer and decide with all other enterprise members what general rules will govern MC and all its constituent enterprises. In short, MC worker-members collectively choose, hire and fire the directors, whereas in capitalist enterprises the reverse occurs. One of the co-operatively and democratically adopted rules governing the MC limits top-paid worker/members to earning 6.5 times the lowest-paid workers. Nothing more dramatically demonstrates the differences distinguishing this from the capitalist alternative organization of enterprises. (In US corporations, CEOs can expect to be paid 400 times an average worker's salary – a rate that has increased 20-fold since 1965.)
Monday, 25 June 2012 09:05 By Charlotte Silver, Inter Press Service | Report
No GMOs label(Photo: Timothy Valentine)San Francisco - As the 2012 Farm Bill continues to take shape in the halls of the United States Congress, the immense influence of corporate interests is on display.
On June 21 the United States Senate voted overwhelmingly against the Sanders Amendment that would have allowed states to pass legislation that required food and beverage products to label whether or not they contain genetically engineered ingredients.
The amendment, proposed by Independent Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, is particularly relevant as many states prepare to vote on a ballot initiatives that would require such labelling of genetically modified (GM) foods.
Lobbyists from the biotech industry have ardently opposed GMO labelling. These opponents argue that because food labelling has historically been handled by the Food and Drug Association (FDA), it is a federal issue and, therefore, individual states do not have the right to implement such legislation. Indeed, in the case of Vermont, Sanders' home state, Monsanto successfully intimidated the state legislature from voting on a bill that would have required GMO labelling.
From Rural Pennsylvania to South America, a Global Alliance is Promoting the Idea that Ecosystems Have Intrinsic Rights
By Jason Mark
Cathy Miorelli doesn’t think of herself as an environmentalist. When Miorelli decided to run for the city council of Tamaqua Borough – a small town in central Pennsylvania where she has lived her entire life – she didn’t have any sort of eco-agenda. It was 2004, and the hottest controversy in Tamaqua involved a proposal by an outside company to dump sewage sludge and coal fly ash into abandoned mining pits on the edge of town. But the main issue on Miorelli’s mind was creating more transparent governance on the council, which she says had long been dominated by an old boys’ network. “I was just concerned about everything overall, not really so much the environment,” says Miorelli, who has worked for 16 years as the nurse at the Tamaqua high school. “You know, I didn’t run on any kind of platform, saying that I was going to change the world here or anything.”
photo by Brett Weston, Corbis
She did change the world, though. Halfway through her one-term stint on the council, Miorelli spearheaded the passage of an anti-sewage sludge ordinance that included a provision recognizing the rights of “natural communities” to flourish – the first law of its kind in the world. The Tamaqua Borough ordinance inspired dozens of other communities in Vermont, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania – including the city of Pittsburgh – to adopt similar rights of nature laws. Those ordinances then helped influence the people of Ecuador to put legal rights for ecosystems in that country’s new constitution. The idea that nature, just like people, possesses inalienable rights has percolated up to the United Nations, which has considered a proposal to adopt a “Charter on the Rights of Mother Nature.”