The Bitter Seeds of Monsanto’s Legacy

Debt, Death, and Global Destruction

by Dr Mercola (October 27 2012)

Story at a Glance

Bitter Seeds looks at the beginning of the consumer goods’ supply chain – the raw materials – shedding much-needed light on the crisis created by Monsanto’s genetically engineered Bt cotton
Buried in debt and struggling against the rising cost of GE [genetically engineered] seeds and the chemicals required, combined with failing yields and GE-created super weeds and resistant pests, one Indian farmer now commits suicide every thirty minutes. One-quarter million farmers have been driven to suicide by Monsanto’s false promises and ruthless global monopolization tactics
Bitter Seeds raises critical questions about the human cost of genetically modified agriculture and the future of how we grow our food and other essential crops
The film couldn’t be more timely, as California stands poised to vote on Proposition 37, which would require genetically engineered foods to be labeled, on November 6


Bitter Seeds is the last film in the Trilogy produced by Teddy Bear Films. The first two, Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town, and China Blue were released in 2001 and 2005 respectively. So far, the films have won twenty international awards, aired on over thirty television channels and screened in more than 100 film festivals.

The aim of the trilogy is to generate debate about public policy and consumer choices in the face of overpowering global economic forces. Says the films’ Director, Micha X Peled:

I believe Globalization has become the overarching theme of our times. It clearly has many positive aspects that have improved our lives. But mostly, the dynamics of Globalization are working for the rich and powerful, for those who make the rules, enabling multinational corporations to expand their reach and governments to extend their control.

My Globalization Trilogy focuses on the current and emerging economic superpowers: US, China and India. The Trilogy begins with us here in the West, and then journeys back down the production-consumption chain, each film peeling off another layer.

Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town focused on consumerism in the US, while China Blue investigated the sweatshop labor conditions in the manufacturing of the clothes we all buy. Bitter Seeds looks at the beginning of the supply chain – the raw materials – shedding much-needed light on the crisis created by Monsanto’s genetically engineered Bt cotton.

Buried in debt and struggling against the rising cost of GE seeds and the chemicals required, combined with failing yields and GE-created super weeds and resistant pests, Indian farmers have taken to suicide at a frightening rate. Over the past sixteen years, a quarter-million of India’s farmers have been driven to suicide by Monsanto’s false promises and ruthless global monopolization tactics. It’s estimated that one Indian farmer now commits suicide every thirty minutes. Most end their lives by drinking pesticide …

Rounding out his ‘Globalization Trilogy’ with another affecting, character-driven portrait designed to indict corporate opportunism, Micha X Peled exposes the issues underlying a rash of farmer suicides in ‘Bitter Seeds‘.

Variety (September 05 2011)

A Timely Reminder: Educated Consumers Can Make a Big Difference, But First We Must Be Allowed to Know the Truth!

Bitter Seeds raises critical questions about the human cost of genetically modified agriculture and the future of how we grow our food and other essential crops. The film couldn’t be more timely, as California stands poised to decide the fate of Proposition 37, which would require genetically engineered foods to be identified on the label, on November 6.

A major problem facing Americans is forced ignorance. Even though many are undoubtedly concerned about the environment and the future of their children, they can’t opt to avoid GE foods even if they want to, simply because the US refuses to label them.

This must change.

And while GE food labels may seem unrelated to the plight of India’s GE cotton farmers, it’s really not, because the US is a major consumer of all manner of GE crops, and Americans cannot alter their consumer habits unless they’re informed about what they’re buying. Many still don’t even know that genetically engineered crops exist, let alone that they’re in the food supply, or that these crops are decimating soils and destroying the livelihood of farmers across the globe.

While labels for GE cotton in clothing may be a long way out, you can ensure you’re not buying GE cotton by making sure it’s certified organic cotton. Clothing manufacturers virtually never keep certified organic a secret! While you will probably pay a bit more, you’re actively participating in a movement to support traditional, sustainable farming that does not involve the death and destruction of the environment and its inhabitants in the process.

‘Here is a documentary that shows what is really happening because of GMOs’, VonBreck says. ‘When I saw it, I knew this is such an important issue to raise awareness on. I knew we were doing important work.’

Boulder Weekly (February 16 2012)

Similarly, without GE labeling, the only way to avoid GE foods is to only buy certified organic foods. You cannot settle for “all-natural”. The “natural” label is worthless – many all-natural brands are actually using GE ingredients, and are now donating millions of dollars to the campaign to defeat Proposition 37, to keep you in the dark about what’s really in your favorite all-natural brands!

We only have less than two short weeks left to really shift the tide against genetically engineered foods in the US, and we need your help. Monsanto and their minions have raised $40 million to defeat Proposition 37, which has bought them a big swing in the polls. The pro-labeling side has shrunk from 68 to 48 percent – a testament to the power of well-crafted, misleading propaganda. But 48 percent is holding fast to the principle that we have the right to know what’s in the food we buy, and it only takes 51 percent to win the vote.

We need your contributions now more than ever, so please, make a donation today!

Donate Today!

When the Price of False Advertising Means the Death of Millions …

The film features Manjusha Amberwar, an eighteen-year-old Indian village girl who wants to become a journalist in order to expose the severity of the problems caused by Monsanto’s seed monopoly scheme. Farming debts claimed the life of her own father, a respected village leader. Manjusha interviews several families of local farmers who resorted to drinking pesticide. One of the village elders tells her:

In my time there were no suicides. Even the poor could survive by working hard. But there are no other seeds available now. Traditional seeds have disappeared. We farmers are illiterates. We follow false advertising like a dog follows bread.

What many still do not know is that farming has changed dramatically over the past few decades. Seeds have traditionally been saved and shared between farmers from one harvest season to the next. You rarely ever had to buy new seed. Nature, when left alone, provides you with the means to propagate the next harvest in a never-ending cycle.

In the 1970s, hybrid seeds were introduced into India, promising better yields using chemical fertilizers and insecticides. But it didn’t take long before yields began to drop as the agricultural chemicals took their toll on the soils. Farm debts began driving Indian farmers to suicide in 1997, and it hasn’t stopped since. In fact, matters have quickly gotten worse in the decade since Monsanto introduced its revolutionary genetically engineered Bt cotton, which cannot be saved or shared from season to season, but must be continually repurchased. Genetically engineered seeds also require expensive agricultural chemicals, and more water – a commodity few farmers have access to unless it rains.

Poignant and insightful look into the human suffering caused by agricultural bioengineering, features an unlikely but appealing protagonist to tell its story about a global phenomenon … One of my favorite things about the movie is that director Micha Peled does not resort to doomsday talk or hysterics. This is not a dreary film: Underneath it all is a strong sense of humanity.

San Francisco Chronicle (October 04 2012)

Films like this can change the world.

— Alice Waters

India Supreme Court Recommends Ten Year Moratorium

Recent news is encouraging, however. On October 18, Mail Online India {1} reported that “the fate of genetically modified (GM) food crops in India has been virtually sealed”, as a panel of experts appointed by the Supreme Court of India has recommended placing a decade-long moratorium on field trials of all genetically engineered foods, and the termination of all currently ongoing field trials.

Additionally, the panel has asked that the safety of all GE crops either being considered or already approved for field trials be reviewed by independent biosafety experts. According to Mail Online India:

At present, several food crops are being tested in open fields by an array of Indian and multinational companies. All such trials will have to end if the court accepts recommendations of the technical panel which was appointed with concurrence of the government.

Jairam Ramesh as environment minister had imposed an indefinite moratorium on the commercial release of the first transgenic food crop, Bt brinjal, in February 2010 … Representatives of both pro and anti-GM lobbies were heard by the panel. The committee’s recommendations fly in the face of the stand taken by the scientific advisory committee to the PM in favour of the current regulatory system.

Passing Prop 37 is Key to Expanding Sustainable Agriculture in North America

It’s quite evident that we have no real champions for food safety and labeling of genetically engineered foods within the federal government. But right now we do have a great opportunity to change this situation by circumventing Monsanto’s posse entirely.

Although many organic consumers and natural health activists already understand the importance of Proposition 37, it cannot be overemphasized that winning the battle over Proposition 37 is perhaps the most important food fight Americans – not just Californians – have faced so far. But in order to win this fight for the right to know what’s in our food, we need your help, as the biotech industry is spending tens of millions of dollars for their propaganda.

Please remember, the ONLY reason they’re spending this amount of cash to “inform” you in this debate is because they want to PREVENT you from ever knowing that the foods you buy contain genetically engineered ingredients – and this includes trusted organic and all-natural brands! Ask yourself WHY?

Could it be because dozens of studies have now provided scientific evidence that GE foods cause severe health problems, including multiple organ damage, and massive cancerous tumors in the first-ever lifetime feeding study?

The failure or success of this ballot initiative is wholly dependent on your support and funding! There are no major industry pockets funding this endeavor. In order to have a chance against the deep pockets of Big Biotech and transnational food corporations, it needs donations from average citizens.

So please, I strongly encourage you to make a donation to this cause. You can also contact EVERY person you know that lives in California and encourage them to view some of these videos and get educated on the issues so they can avoid succumbing to the propaganda, as Monsanto and company are paying tens of millions of dollars to deceive the voters in California. We need EVERY vote we can to win next month.

The election is only TWO weeks away.

It’s important to realize that getting this law passed in California would have the same overall effect as a national law, as large companies are not likely going to label their products as genetically engineered when sold in California (the eighth largest economy in the world), but not when sold in other states. Doing so would be a costly PR disaster. So please, I urge you to get involved and help in any way you can, regardless of what state you live in.

Whether you live in California or not, please donate money to this historic effort, through the Organic Consumers Fund {2].

If you live in California and want to get involved, please contact They will go through all volunteer requests to put you into a position that is suitable for you, based on your stated interests and location.

No matter where you live, please help spread the word in your personal networks, on Facebook, and Twitter. For help with the messaging, please see

Talk to organic producers and stores and ask them to actively support the California Ballot. It may be the only chance we have to label genetically engineered foods.

For timely updates, please join the Organic Consumers Association on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.

Donate Today!




The original version of this article, at the URL below, contains additional links not included here.

Corporations Profiting Out of Food Crisis

by Simon Butler

Green Left Weekly (October 21 2012)

ZNet (October 27 2012)

The United Nations has warned that world grain reserves have fallen to critically low levels as world food prices have risen to levels close to that of 2008 – a year in which food riots took place in more than thirty countries.

UN Food and Agriculture Organisation economist Abdolreza Abbassian told the October 13 Observer:


We’ve not been producing as much as we are consuming. That is why stocks are being run down. Supplies are now very tight across the world and reserves are at a very low level, leaving no room for unexpected events next year.


Today, about one in eight people around the world do not have enough to eat and 2.5 million children die of hunger every year. The UN released its report State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012 on October 9. The report said fifteen percent of those in poor countries – about 850 million people – are hungry. A further fifteen million people in developed countries are also undernourished.

The report said some gains were made in reducing hunger since the early 1990s, but admitted:


Most of the progress, however, was achieved before 2007 and 2008. Since then, global progress in reducing hunger has slowed and levelled off.


The latest food price hikes threaten to drive more people back into hunger.

The small group of food multinationals that monopolise the world food market are positioning themselves to take full advantage of the crisis.

Hunger and food insecurity is great for big business. During the “Great Hunger of 2008”, big food corporations such as Monsanto, ADM [Archer Daniels Midland Company], Bunge and Cargill posted huge profits.

In August, the director of agriculture trading at giant commodities trading firm Glencore Chris Mahoney said:


The environment is a good one. High prices, lots of volatility, a lot of dislocation, tightness, a lot of arbitrage opportunities.


Oxfam UK’s Jodie Thorpe told the Independent Glencore was


profiting from the misery and suffering of poor people who are worst hit by high and volatile food prices … Glencore’s comment that ‘high prices and lots of volatility and dislocation’ was ‘good’ gives us a rare glimpse into the little-known world of companies that dominate the global food system.


The UN said world food prices leapt six percent in July and rose a further 1.4% in September. Food giant Cargill announced on October 11 that it had quadrupled its July to August quarter result compared with last year, posting earnings of $975 million.

Consulting firm Maplecroft released its Food Security Risk Index on October 10, saying three quarters of African countries faced a high or extreme risk of widespread hunger next year. Somalia, Burundi, Chad, Ethiopia and South Sudan were among the African nations in the extreme risk category.

The report said Haiti and Afghanistan were also at extreme risk of “famine and societal unrest stemming from food shortages and price fluctuations”. Maplecroft’s Helen Hodge told Al Jazeera: “Food price forecasts for 2013 provide a worrying picture”.

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released its Global Hunger Index on October 11. It said twenty countries had “extremely alarming” levels of hunger. Top of the list were Burundi, Eritrea and Haiti.

This year’s record-breaking heatwave in the US – the world’s biggest corn producer – together with low grain harvests in western Europe (due to heavy rains), and Russia and the Ukraine (due to drought), partly explain the recent food price hikes.

Extreme weather events, such as this year’s US drought will become increasingly common in a warmer world. The spread of industrial agriculture, which consumes huge amounts of fossil fuels and greenhouse gas-producing fertilisers, is itself a big driver of climate change.

In this way, the modern food system is helping to undermine the world’s future food security.

Another big factor explaining high food prices is the ongoing use of food to feed cars instead of people.

Despite the heatwave wiping out so much of this year’s corn crop, the US government has made no move to reduce the amount of corn – about forty percent of the yield – that will be used to produce biofuel.

In July 2008, The Guardian published a leaked internal World Bank document that said biofuel production had led to a seventy percent rise in food prices.

Financial speculation on global food markets also helps keep food out of reach of the poor. After the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage bubble in 2008, panicked dealers shifted trillions out of real estate and into the food commodity market, which pushed prices up.

Friends of the Earth Europe said in a report released in January that banks and financial traders have increasingly turned to gambling with food commodity futures since the global economic crisis began.


The huge growth in financial speculation has led to prices no longer being solely driven by supply and demand, but also increasingly by the actions of financial speculators and the performance of their investments. Excessive speculation has forced food prices to rise in recent years and has increased the frequency and scale of price volatility.


Food loss and wastage is another big issue. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation says about 45% of all fruit, vegetables, roots and tubers are wasted each year. Losses run to about thirty percent for cereals and seafood, twenty percent for meat products and about fifteen percent for dairy foods.

Food First executive director Eric Holt Gimenez wrote in The Huffington Post in May that the world’s food crisis is not due to there being not enough food to go around. In fact, food production has outstripped global population growth for the past twenty years.


The world already produces more than 1.5 times enough food to feed everyone on the planet. That’s enough to feed ten billion people, the population peak we expect by 2050. But the people making less than $2 a day – most of whom are resource-poor farmers cultivating unviably small plots of land – can’t afford to buy this food.


Put these factors together and the picture is clear. Modern hunger is not a consequence of food scarcity, but of poverty, inequality and corporate control of the food system.


Simon Butler’s ZSpace Page:

The Best Ad Campaign on the Web?

by Ali Partovi

TechCrunch (October 28 2012)

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been involved in a Facebook ad campaign whose results are astonishing.  It’s a political campaign supporting California’s Proposition 37 (Label Genetically Engineered Foods).

Our Facebook sales rep was ecstatic when she first saw the numbers. She’d never seen anything like it in her career. But before I share the details, let me explain why I’m passionate about this.

Level Playing Field

Since 1995, the web has been heralded as the great leveler. When I was 23, I joined the founding team of LinkExchange, a startup trying to level the playing field for websites that wanted traffic. (LinkExchange, the web’s first ad network, coined the acronym “CTR” for Click-Through Ratio – more on that in a bit). Some years after LinkExchange was acquired, I ran, a startup trying to level the playing field for indie bands.

Throughout my career, I’ve been drawn by the web’s potential to help the little guy and democratize industries. Today AirBnB is disrupting hospitality; 99Designs the design business; Uber the taxi and limousine business; the list goes on.

The Internet is also democratizing democracy.

Fifteen years ago, political fundraisers were lavish events for the wealthy.  Then we saw the rise of $25 donations via the web. Now, as social media replace traditional media, the influence of ordinary people may replace the influence of money. Facebook, including a new feature introduced last week, may change the fate of the Proposition 37 vote on November 6, and with it herald a new face of politics in America.

Transparency In The Food System

Proposition 37 is a proposed California law that would mandate the labeling of foods with genetically engineered ingredients, and bar marketing them as “natural”. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are experimental life forms invented by splicing DNA from different species: for example, salmon spliced with eel. These invented beings are patented on the basis that they’re unlike anything ever seen in nature; yet they’re labeled “natural” and they’ve quietly invaded America’s food system over the past two decades.

Are GMO foods safe?  We don’t know, but that’s not the question: the law is not for a “warning” label. Do GMOs improve crop yields? Not yet, but that’s not the question either. Will GMOs help “feed the world”? UN scientists say no, but nobody’s asking California voters to decide how the world is fed. In America, we believe free markets should make decisions like that. Free markets are based on transparency and information, not government intervention.

In some other country, say China, one might imagine a government secretly introducing experimental life forms into the food system in the name of increasing output. But in fact, China, along with Russia, India, Brazil, all of Europe – 62 countries in total – require labeling GMO foods. It’s in America that they’ve been covertly introduced.

The issue is not whether GMO foods are safe or productive. It’s that they’re new and different; yet they look deceptively natural, and they’re deceptively labeled “all natural”.  In America, we trust the labels. We don’t expect our government to sneak new inventions into our food without telling us, no matter how wonderful they might be.

Deception like this distorts prices, which particularly harms the poor.  Low-income people care what they feed their kids too.  When I was a teenager, my parents worked multiple jobs to pay for my education and put food on the table: healthy, natural food. Today, anybody buying “all natural” food is likely overpaying, unaware that it may contain genetically engineered ingredients.

Most Americans react with alarm when they learn about GMOs, and the advocates of Proposition 37 may come across as alarmist.  (One renegade went so far as to make a homemade video featuring a mutant monkey and dead rats!)

However, that’s better than lying, which is what GMO companies are doing to confuse voters. $35 million from the likes of Monsanto has flooded California with misleading messages. Their ads feature a “Stanford professor” who is actually not a professor and not from Stanford; a fabricated FDA quote, forged seal and all; and so on. They decry Proposition 37 as created by a trial lawyer, when it was actually started by a California farmer and mom (although she did get a lawyer to help with the, uh, law part).

The Best Advertising

One might think Californians would succumb to this drumbeat of deceptive corporate commercials. But here’s where Facebook enters the picture. On Facebook, the voices of ordinary people speak louder than big corporations.  On Facebook, the conversation may be messy and unpredictable, but the truth rises above the noise.

As every businessman knows, the best advertising is word of mouth. You can’t buy that; but on Facebook, you can amplify it. That’s why, when I decided to help Proposition 37, I focused on Facebook.

The Proposition 37 team had already cultivated a vibrant fan community on Facebook, which made all the difference. I helped start a promotion encouraging these fans to speak out for GMO labeling in their own words, and asking them to use the new “Promoted Posts” feature, where anybody can pay $7 to increase the visibility of what they say. Although some businesses on Facebook are complaining about paying to reach their own fans, we embraced this feature as a way of leveling the playing field for the little guy, and our fans have responded positively.

I also began spending my own money and soliciting donations on Indiegogo to fund ads on Facebook.  Ten days later, the results have been stunning.  Is it the best ad campaign of all time? Possibly. Some of the ads have a CTR as high as ten percent; on the whole they are twenty times better than average.  They have a cost-per-click of $0.18, about five times better than average.  With only $33,000, they’ve reached 3.3 million Californians of voting age. The reach is more than doubled because people are clicking “Like” and forwarding the message along.

Fueled by popular support, every dollar this campaign spends on Facebook has as much impact as ten dollars spent on TV ads. What’s more, the ads are literally the voices of ordinary people.  Our most effective ad units are not clever slogans or graphics, but fan comments.  The message is replete with typos and errors, but it has one thing the opposition lacks: authenticity.

What happens in California doesn’t stay in California.

I’m passionate about Proposition 37 because its impact goes beyond California, and beyond GMOs. The Proposition 37 vote is a referendum on all food reform, from corn subsidies to antibiotics in meat.  If it passes, it signals to Congress and the White House that food issues sway votes.  If it fails, it signals business as usual: that the influence of agribusiness corporations is still greater than the voice of ordinary people.


The original version of this article, at the URL below, contains several links to further information not included here.


Ali Partovi is an Internet entrepreneur (LinkExchange, iLike) and investor (Dropbox, OPower, Zappos). In recent years he has turned his attention to opportunities in food and agriculture.

India May Ban GMO Crop Field Trials for Ten Years

by Anthony Gucciardi

Natural Society (October 22 2012)

It has been a devastating month for Monsanto as nations around the globe continue to enact bans and restraints on the company’s genetically modified crop varieties. India, the same country that hit Monsanto with ‘biopiracy’ charges {1} for patenting life on the planet, is the latest nation to take a stand. The nation’s new expert committee appointed by the Supreme Court of India is now calling {2} upon the Indian government to enact a ten year ban on all GMO crop field trials for the next ten years.

The new law would forbid any biotech agencies from testing their latest GMO crops on India’s soil, therefore preventing the serious issue of contamination and environmental damage. Contamination that is much more than an unlikely but problematic scenario. Monsanto has been caught in the past {3} contaminating even organic seed varieties, and has gone as far as to plant their experimental crops before the USDA allowed them to. Thankfully, the organic farmers were able to catch the contamination before it spread.

If the contamination was not caught, however, it could have gone anywhere and compromised the very genetic integrity of non-GMO farming grounds. It is for this reason that many companies outside of the United States generally dislike purchasing from US farmers, as they sometimes contain even trace levels of GMO contaminants. More and more we receive reports of farmers being completely cut off from other nations after being found to contain trace levels of GMO contamination.

India is looking to stop this before it becomes much of an issue. At least the expert panel is. Known as the Technical Expert Committee, said that {4} the trials should be stopped immediately until an independent committee made up of experts and stakeholders took a closer look at the serious risks associated with the use of herbicide resistant crops. More specifically, the committee was concerned about their real sustainability. After all, Monsanto’s GMOs are consistently becoming more resistant to {5} chemical herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides.

It has even led a panel of expert scientists to call upon {6} the EPA to take action, fearing that resistant bugs known as rootworms will soon ruin the GMO corn industry as a whole.

Whether or not India will adhere to the recommendations of this committee is not yet known, but other nations certainly have listened to their own panels and experts over the past few weeks. India may soon join the ranks of Russia, Poland, France, Hungary, and Peru in taking a direct stand against Monsanto and GMOs as a whole.








Other Important Stories

Monsanto’s Fading Grasp – Group Calls on South Africa to Ban GMO CornMonsanto’s Fading Grasp – Group Calls on South Africa to Ban GMO Corn

Russia Bans Use and Import of Monsanto’s GMO Corn Following StudyRussia Bans Use and Import of Monsanto’s GMO Corn Following Study

France Maintains Key Ban on Monsanto’s GMO Maize CropsFrance Maintains Key Ban on Monsanto’s GMO Maize Crops

Breaking: Monsanto Forced Out of UK by ActivistsBreaking: Monsanto Forced Out of UK by Activists

India Slams Monsanto with Unprecedented ‘Biopiracy’ ChargesIndia Slams Monsanto with Unprecedented ‘Biopiracy’ Charges

The Populations Problem

by Herman Daly

Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (October 21 2012)

The population problem should be considered from the point of view of all populations  –  populations of both humans and their artifacts (cars, houses, livestock, cell phones, et cetera)  –  in short, populations of all “dissipative structures” engendered, bred, or built by humans. In other words, the populations of human bodies and of their extensions. Or in yet other words, the populations of all organs that support human life and the enjoyment thereof, both endosomatic (within the skin) and exosomatic (outside the skin) organs.

All of these organs are capital equipment that support our lives. The endosomatic equipment  –  heart, lungs, kidneys  –  support our lives quite directly. The exosomatic organs  –  farms, factories, electric grids, transportation networks  –  support our lives indirectly. One should also add “natural capital” (for example, the hydrologic cycle, carbon cycle, et cetera) which is exosomatic capital comprised of structures complementary to endosomatic organs, but not made by humans (forests, rivers, soil, atmosphere).

The reason for pluralizing the “population problem” to the populations of all dissipative structures is two-fold. First, all these populations require a metabolic throughput from low-entropy resources extracted from the environment and eventually returned to the environment as high-entropy wastes, encountering both depletion and pollution limits. In a physical sense the final product of the economic activity of converting nature into ourselves and our stuff, and then using up or wearing out what we have made, is waste. Second, what keeps this from being an idiotic activity, grinding up the world into waste, is the fact that all these populations of dissipative structures have the common purpose of supporting the maintenance and enjoyment of life.

As A J Lotka pointed out, ownership of endosomatic organs is equally distributed, while the exosomatic organs are not. Ownership of the latter may be collective or individual, equally or unequally distributed. Control of these external organs may be democratic or dictatorial. Owning one’s own kidneys is not enough to support one’s life if one does not have access to water from rivers, lakes, or rain, either because of scarcity or monopoly ownership of the complementary exosomatic organ. Likewise our lungs are of little value without the complementary natural capital of green plants and atmospheric stocks of oxygen. Therefore all life-supporting organs, including natural capital, form a unity. They have a common function, regardless of whether they are located within the boundary of human skin or outside that boundary. In addition to being united by common purpose, they are also united by their role as dissipative structures. They are all physical structures whose default tendency is to dissipate or fall apart, in accordance with the entropy law.

Our standard of living is roughly measured by the ratio of outside-skin to inside-skin capital  –  that is, the ratio of human-made artifacts to human bodies, the ratio of one kind of dissipative structure to another kind. Within-skin capital is made and maintained overwhelmingly from renewable resources, while outside-skin capital relies heavily on nonrenewable resources. The rate of evolutionary change of endosomatic organs is exceedingly slow; the rate of change of exosomatic organs has become very rapid. In fact the evolution of human beings is now overwhelmingly centered on exosomatic organs. This evolution is goal-directed, not random, and its driving purpose has become “economic growth”, and that growth has been achieved largely by the depletion of non renewable resources.

Although human evolution is now decidedly purpose-driven we continue to be enthralled by neo-Darwinist aversion to teleology and devotion to random. Economic growth, by promising “more for everyone eventually”, becomes the de facto purpose, the social glue that keeps things from falling apart. What happens when growth becomes uneconomic {1}, increasing costs faster than benefits? How do we know that this is not already the case? If one asks such questions one is told to talk about something else, like space colonies on Mars, or unlimited energy from cold fusion, or geo-engineering, or the wonders of globalization, and to remember that all these glorious purposes require growth now in order to provide still more growth in the future. Growth is good, end of discussion, now shut up!

Let us reconsider in the light of these facts, the idea of demographic transition. By definition this is the transition from a human population maintained by high birth rates equal to high death rates, to one maintained by low birth rates equal to low death rates, and consequently from a population with low life expectancy to one with high life expectancy. Statistically such transitions have been observed as standard of living (ratio of exosomatic to endosomatic capital) increases. Many studies have attempted to explain this fact, and much hope has been invested in it as an automatic cure for overpopulation. “Development is the best contraceptive” is a related slogan, partly based in fact, and partly in wishful thinking.

There are a couple of thoughts I’d like to add to the discussion of demographic transition. The first and most obvious one is that populations of artifacts can undergo an analogous transition from high rates of production and depreciation to low ones. The lower rates will maintain a constant population of longer-lived, more durable artifacts.

Our economy has a growth-oriented focus on maximizing production flows (birth rates of artifacts) that keeps us in the pre-transition mode, giving rise to growing artifact populations, low product lifetimes, high GDP, and high throughput, with consequent environmental destruction. The transition from a high-maintenance throughput to a low one applies to both human and artifact populations independently. From an environmental perspective, lower throughput is desirable in both cases, at least up to some distant limit.

The second thought I would like to add to the discussion of demographic transition is a question: does the human transition, when induced by rising standard of living, as usually assumed, increase or decrease the total load of all dissipative structures on the environment? Specifically, if Indian fertility is to fall to the Swedish level, must Indian per capita possession of artifacts (standard of living) rise to the Swedish level? If so, would this not likely increase the total load of all dissipative structures on the Indian environment, perhaps beyond capacity to sustain the required throughput?

The point of this speculation is to suggest that “solving” the population problem by relying on the demographic transition to lower birth rates could impose a larger burden on the environment rather than the smaller burden that would be the case with direct reduction in fertility. Of course reduction in fertility by automatic correlation with rising standard of living is politically easy, while direct fertility reduction is politically difficult. But what is politically easy may be environmentally destructive.

To put it another way, consider the I = PAT formula. P, population of human bodies, is one set of dissipative structures. A, affluence, or GDP per capita, reflects another set of dissipative structures  –  cars, buildings, ships, toasters, iPads, cell phones, et cetera (not to mention populations of livestock and agricultural plants). In a finite world some populations grow at the expense of others. Cars and humans are now competing for land, water, and sunlight to grow either food or fuel. More nonhuman dissipative structures will at some point force a reduction in other dissipative structures, namely human bodies. This forced demographic transition is less optimistic than the voluntary one induced by chasing a higher standard of living more effectively with fewer dependents. In an empty world we saw the trade-off between artifacts and people as induced by desire for a higher standard of living. In the full world {2} that trade-off seems forced by competition for limited resources.

The usual counter to such thoughts is that we can improve the efficiency by which throughput maintains dissipative structures  –  technology, T in the formula, measured as throughput per unit of GDP. For example a car that lasts longer and gets better mileage is still a dissipative structure, but with a more efficient metabolism that allows it to live on a lower rate of throughput.

Likewise, human organisms might be genetically redesigned to require less food, air, and water. Indeed smaller people would be the simplest way of increasing metabolic efficiency (measured as number of people maintained by a given resource throughput). To my knowledge no one has yet suggested breeding smaller people as a way to avoid limiting births, but that probably just reflects my ignorance. We have, however, been busy breeding and genetically engineering larger and faster-growing plants and livestock. So far, the latter dissipative structures have been complementary with populations of human bodies, but in a finite and full world, the relationship will soon become competitive.

Indeed, if we think of population as the cumulative number of people ever to live over time, then many artifact populations are already competitive with the human population. That is, more consumption today of terrestrial low entropy in non-vital uses (Cadillacs, rockets, weapons) means less terrestrial low entropy available for capturing solar energy tomorrow (plows, solar collectors, ecosystem regeneration). The solar energy that will still fall on the earth for millions of years after the material structures needed to capture it are dissipated, will be wasted, just like the solar energy that shines on the moon.

There is a limit to how many dissipative structures the ecosphere can sustain  –  more endosomatic capital must ultimately displace some exosomatic capital and vice versa. Some of our exosomatic capital is critical  –  for example, that part which can photosynthesize, the green plants. Our endosomatic capital cannot long endure without the critical exosomatic capital of green plants (along with soil and water, and of course sunlight). In sum, demographers’ interest should extend to the populations of all dissipative structures, their metabolic throughputs, and the relations of complementarity and substitutability among them. Economists should analyze the supply, demand, production, and consumption of all these populations within an ecosphere that is finite, non-growing, entropic, and open only to a fixed flow of solar energy. This reflects a paradigm shift from the empty-world vision to the full-world vision  –  a world full of human-made dissipative structures that both depend upon and displace natural structures. Growth looks very different depending on from which paradigm it is viewed.

Carrying capacity of the ecosystem depends on how many dissipative structures of all kinds have to be carried. Some will say to others, “You can’t have a glass of wine and piece of meat for dinner because I need the grain required by your fine diet to feed my three hungry children”. The answer will be, “You can’t have three children at the expense of my and my one child’s already modest standard of living”. Both have a good point. That conflict will be difficult to resolve, but we are not yet there.

Rather, now some are saying, “You can’t have three houses and fly all over the world twice a year, because I need the resources to feed my eight children”. And the current reply is, “You can’t have eight children at the expense of my small family’s luxurious standard of living”. In the second case neither side elicits much sympathy, and there is great room for compromise to limit both excessive population and per capita consumption. Better to face limits to both human and artifact populations before the terms of the trade-off get too harsh.


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{1} growth becomes uneconomic:

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Pete Peterson Has Won

by Stephanie Kelton

New Economic Perspectives (October 26 2012)

The US is broke. Government deficits are de facto evidence of a government gone wild. We’re careening toward Greece. Entitlements are the root cause of our fiscal woes, and the Chinese are coming for our grandchildren.  How many Americans believe this garbage? My guess? Most of them.

Pete Peterson {1} has won and the American people have lost.  There is no effective counter narrative, not even from the left.  Nearly all “progressives” have accepted the fundamental premise that the federal government is like a great big household. That it faces the same kinds of constraints that you and I face.  That it should spend only what it takes in and that deficits are morally and/or fiscally irresponsible.  President Obama told the nation, “We’re out of money”.  All of this is utter nonsense, as readers of this blog {2} know, and it leaves progressives in the weak position of pointing at the one percent and yelling, “Get ‘em!  They’ve got all the money!”  Want to care for seniors?  Tax the one percent. Want safe roads, good schools, investment in alternative energy?  Tax the one percent.  The problem, of course, is that the one percent tend to fight back … and win!

The truth is, we’re not broke.  The US dollar comes from the US government (not from China, as we’re led to believe).  The US government is not revenue constrained.  It is the Issuer of the currency, not the User of the currency like you and I.  It plays by a completely different set of rules, yet it behaves as if it is still bound by the shackles of a gold standard.  It behaves irresponsibly  when it proposes policies to reduce the deficit when unemployment is high and inflation is low. We’re letting millions of Americans suffer because Pete Peterson and his ilk have convinced virtuall everyone that we face a fiscal crisis in this country.  We live in fear of the Chinese, the Ratings Agencies, the Bond Vigilantes, Indentured Grandchildren, and so on.  And this fear is used by politicians on both sides of the political aisle to sell “sacrifice” to the rest of us.  And we keep buying.

And here’s the really sad part.  It will never be enough.

The most empowering thing we can do for ordinary Americans is to provide them with a counter narrative that undermines, fundamentally, the government-as-a-household malarky.  And we better do it quick, because America’s CEOs {3} are already building their case against us.





Compromising Positions

by Thomas Frank

Harper’s Magazine Easy Chair (September 2012)

Let us review. Barack Obama, who was lifted to the presidency four years ago on a great wave of progressive fantasy, likes to say that the national budget is like a family budget: that when times are tough, government has to tighten its belt. This is a Republican simile of very long standing, and the president is a Democrat. He is in fact the leader of the party that is supposed to believe in deficit spending during hard times. Yet Obama has enthusiastically adopted the belt-tightening trope, and all the terrible ideas that go with it.

Another thing the president likes to say – or liked to say, back in the days when his administration was new and “hope” hadn’t started to stink yet – was that “we should be looking forward and not backwards”. More recently, he has argued that we should not “relitigate the past”. What Obama has meant is that he and his colleagues won’t look too closely into the Bush Administration’s torture policies or the causes of the financial disaster of 2008. No, they will focus on “getting things right in the future”. It’s a kind of intellectual amnesty program that has absolved in one fell swoop the nation’s failed political leadership and pundit corps.

A truly dedicated Obama watcher could pile up dozens of similar examples. Such an observer might note that big chunks of the president’s signature health-care reform effort were borrowed from the conservative Heritage Foundation and a certain Republican governor of Massachusetts. That Obama’s bank bailouts were no different from George W Bush’s bank bailouts. That his Fed chairman was Bush’s Fed chairman. That his 2009 stimulus package was, in large part, made up of tax cuts – just like Bush’s stimulus package of the previous year. And that by February 2010, when he created the Simpson–Bowles commission, Obama had pretty much given up on stimulus anyway, choosing instead to lend his gravitas to the worldwide push for austerity.

That same observer might remind us that President Obama has pursued governmental secrecy to a degree even the Bush Administration never dared, and that he has arrogated to himself the right to kill American citizens overseas who have not been convicted of any crime. President Obama likes (or used to like) to extend the hand of kindness to the nation’s bankers: “Help me help you”, he implored them back in 2009. When he decided to go populist and snarl at the One Percent, he took care to dispatch an emissary to New York to let the finance industry know he didn’t mean it. (Just as he didn’t mean it when he badmouthed NAFTA or promised to revisit the Patriot Act.) And what of the bureaucratic red tape that haunts the Republican imagination? Obama, too, loves to moan about it. In 2011, he even launched a review of federal rule-making – one part of the past he was happy to relitigate – in order to zap the regulations that unduly impeded private-sector profit-making. {*}

{*} Obama ran afoul of the truth squad at PolitiFact for claiming this ho-hum effort was “unprecedented”. Bill Clinton did the same thing with much more fanfare, as did Ronald Reagan and both Bushes.

And yet, in the great electoral contest that has now commenced in earnest, it is Barack Obama the would-be socialist dictator who stands on trial. Back in 2010, a leaked Republican presentation identified “sav[ing] the country from trending toward Socialism” as the GOP’s strongest fund-raising appeal. Obama’s White House is “a radical left-wing administration”, says Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, “full of people who want to police all of America – the private sector, political speech”. It is a “secular-socialist machine”, per Newt Gingrich; its health-care program is “the crown jewel of socialism”, per Michele Bachmann. The s-word has become the GOP’s political talisman, spat out the window of a champagne-colored Mercedes, howled from the podium at CPAC. If the nominal Democrat Obama is beaten this fall, it is as an accused Red that he will go down to defeat.

For the Obama years to be terminated on such grounds would furnish future historians with vast deposits of irony. The president is a man whose every instinct is conciliatory. He is not merely a casual seeker of bipartisan consensus; he is an intellectually committed believer in it. He simply cannot imagine a dispute in which one antagonist is right and the other is wrong. No, there is always something honorable about both sides, some concession to be made by each. His presidency has been one long quest for a “grand bargain”, as he has sometimes put it, between red and blue.

This was the case long before he entered the White House. Bipartisan conciliation was the theme of Obama’s famous keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention. It was the theme of his best-selling 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope, a lengthy salute to consensus that is distinguished from hundreds of similarly centrist tracts only by the intellectual pirouettes its author performs around his deeply boring subject. Read the book and you will find Obama’s pronouncements to be standard-issue let’s-all-get-along stuff of the sort that Beltway thinkers have been cranking out for decades.

For example, Obama declares in Audacity that “we need a new kind of politics, one that can excavate and build upon those shared understandings that pull us together as Americans”. He takes pains to blame Democrats as well as Republicans for the sin of partisanship. (Bill Clinton, on the other hand, was really on to something with his “Third Way” and all.) The forces of globalization, Obama contends, are irresistible. He argues that education and retraining are the keys to solving just about every blue-collar problem. He explains why Robert Rubin’s economic views are worthier than those of organized labor. And also why it is daring – even audacious – for him to subscribe to these profoundly conventional ideas.

Indeed, centrism is built into the very structure of the book. Again and again, the president-to-be tells readers how he originally supposed one conventional thing, but was challenged by some other really ordinary idea, then eventually concluded that his original, trite position was correct, with a few modifications. In other words, his platitudes are hard won from the comfy clash of thesis and antithesis. It’s the sort of dialectical centrism that not only confirms the base prejudices of the Chevy Chase set but also makes them feel sophisticated in the bargain.

How have conservatives transformed this born compromiser into the Red Menace? Well, there is the fact that Obama is a politician of unusual plumage. Not only does he have a Muslim name and African ancestry – both automatic disqualifications for the presidency in olden times – but he spent several years trying to help out the extremely poor inhabitants of housing projects on the South Side of Chicago.

Now, it is permissible in American political life to watch movies about the plucky doings of such beaten-down people. You may even pretend to have their interests at heart, especially if you’re proposing to “empower” them with enterprise zones or school vouchers. But to actually care about these untouchables as individuals, to immerse yourself in their lives and spend your days helping them obtain, say, better housing or access to a job-training program – this is, according to the norms of Washington, highly suspicious behavior. It marks the president as a radical, regardless of the Niagara of soggy political cliches he has spouted in the intervening years.

There is another reason the right loves to label Obama an extremist and iron partisan: because he is so manifestly the opposite. That he longs so earnestly for consensus is the precise reason consensus will be denied him. Conservative strategists learned long ago to attack an opponent at his or her point of greatest strength. The way to discredit a decorated veteran like Senator John Kerry was to depict him as a coward. Similarly, labor leaders must be referred to as “bosses”, intellectuals must be derided for their cluelessness, and figures with the sort of immense popularity Obama enjoyed in early 2008 must be mocked for being too distant, glacially disconnected from the sweating masses.

The trump card of centrism has always been its practicality. Pivoting to the magic middle, as we have all heard many thousands of times, is the way elections are won. Making reasonable concessions to the other side is the way laws are passed. Taking off the partisan blinders and looking at things as they really are is the way policy is crafted.

During the years of the Obama presidency, however, everything has gone in the opposite direction. Centrism has become a virtual guarantee of electoral defeat, thinning the ranks of moderate Republicans and “Blue Dog” Democrats alike. And even while Obama still had a Democratic Congress to work with, bipartisanship was the altar on which quality legislation was repeatedly sacrificed.

In one telling passage from Audacity, Obama inveighs against the fake, manipulative bipartisanship of conservative strategists like Karl Rove. Such lip service to opposing views allows the majority party to “begin every negotiation by asking for 100 percent of what it wants, go on to concede ten percent, and then accuse any member of the minority party who fails to support this ‘compromise’ of being ‘obstructionist’ ”. In Obama’s view, this is truly despicable, the opposite of how a statesman conducts himself.

What he fails to consider, however, is the inverse problem: the consequences of handing a vanquished but utterly intransigent foe a veto over your own agenda out of some dreamy sense of civility. By now, no doubt, Obama could write a whole book about that subject. In 2009, he diluted his stimulus package with tax cuts in order to live up to his noble ideals and woo a bloc of Republican legislators. (He got absolutely no Republican votes in the House, and three in the Senate.) He later allowed the negotiations on health-care reform to drag on for months, refusing to start from a “100 percent” position because that wouldn’t be, you know, fair, and yet still conceding point after point after point. The bill got no Republican votes in the House or Senate, and we have the highly partisan former House speaker Nancy Pelosi to thank for the fact that anything was salvaged from the disaster at all.

And then, in 2011, after his midterm shellacking, Obama got his Democrats to renew the Republicans’ precious Bush tax cuts in exchange for close to nothing. In this way he fumbled away a bargaining chip that might have proved useful several months later, when those same Republicans contrived to hold the nation’s credit rating hostage. But it was the right thing to do, I guess.

Let’s not overlook centrism’s perennial promise: that it is the only way to reach the coveted swing voter, who resides, per DC superstition, in the very middle of the political spectrum. That committing yourself heart and soul to a bipartisan approach might allow an opposing party to completely reconfigure the political spectrum is not, as far as I know, a part of accepted poli-sci game theory.

And yet that is exactly what has happened over the past four years. When the president said and did all the things I have listed here, he no doubt thought he was reaching across the aisle, as the expression goes. Everyone could see that he had adopted many of the other party’s positions, that he was using their rhetoric, that he was showing respect for their values and bowing to their household gods.

Back in the Clinton years, such moves were hailed as a kind of advanced political judo, throwing Republicans off balance. This time, though, the skills are all on the other side. Republicans have grasped that if the contest is not about issues but the relative position of the two parties, then they are free to move ever rightward, dragging the center with them, always keeping it a few inches away from the president’s anxious, conciliatory grasp.

And why not? Since what they say and demand today will probably be what he (or his centrist successor) says and demands tomorrow, the obvious choice is to keep escalating those demands and that rhetoric. And by insisting with such unanimity on the absurd charge of “socialism”, they have actually done a very canny thing: they have defined whatever Obama embraces – bank bailouts, kill lists, herding the public into the arms of private insurers – not as the Democratic mainstream, but as the outermost fringe of the party.

Historians often say of Franklin Roosevelt that he “saved capitalism” by steering the nation through the Great Depression with relatively little upheaval. Sure, he reformed the banking system, built strong regulatory agencies, and saw to it that organized labor flourished, but compared with what might have happened, FDR’s New Deal was mild.

What Barack Obama has saved is a bankrupt elite that by all rights should have met its end back in 2009. He came to the White House amid circumstances similar to those of 1933, but proceeded to rule like Herbert Hoover. Today the banks are as big as ever, and he has done precious little about it. The regulatory system is falling apart, and he is too ideologically demure to tell us why. Organized labor is crumbling, and he has done almost nothing to help it recover. Meanwhile, the people who told us that finance was king, that the “new economy” changed all the rules, that we didn’t really need a strong supervisory state – those people are still riding high, still making their pronouncements from the heights of the op-ed page and the executive branch.

And while Obama and his fellow Democrats have been off chasing postpartisan soap bubbles, the right has seized the opportunity to make itself into the great expression of hard-times protest. When unemployment is high this time around, it is the right – with its mythology of heroic “job creators” – that we ask to rescue us. It is the right that talks about the little people, about smashing the cozy Beltway consensus, about bringing in a whole new crop of leaders.

As I watched this upside-down unrest emerge, I used to wonder how long it would take Obama to switch on his inner FDR and start grappling with the nation’s problems the way they obviously needed to be grappled with. The years passed, and I finally realized that this was never going to happen. Then a different possibility started to dawn on me: Maybe a second New Deal is precisely what Obama was here to prevent. Maybe that was the hope all along.