A good friend of mine and I have frequent debates about the future of ‘green.’ We both believe that humanity’s survival depends a great deal on how we cope with our non-sustainability today, and that we need to change certain aspects of our lives in order to make those changes (though we also both think that we needn’t make sacrifices to our standards of living; just adjust our standards so that they are equally high, but consuming different resources).
The biggest point of contention between us, however, is where we both stand on genetically modified foods.
A little background on the man opposite me in this argument, Mischa Hedges. He is a very prolific environmentalist, filmmaker (his documentary, Sustainable Table has won a handful of awards and has been shown in many solid film festivals), amazing vegan chef and all around ‘green’ guy. He composts and rides public transportation and is making a movie about living without a car in Los Angeles (he sold his car to make the movie…that’s dedication, people!). He doesn’t live in a tree or converse with squirrels, but he’s about a close to that as you can get without standing out as a deviant in everyday society.
Where I differ with Mischa is my approach to being green, which reflects my philosophy on the subject. I recycle, and I have been slowly reducing my carbon footprint over the past few years, significantly decreasing the amount of paper both myself and my clients use. My main tool in this effort, however, is technology. I reduce paper usage by doing more business online. I seldom drive my car because I take on more projects that allow me to work remotely. I purchase products that are well-made and sustainable, and reduce the number of consumables I purchase each year by consolidating and buying second-hand when possible.
Based on the above, you can see why our approaches to finding a ‘green solution’ to the world’s food and water problems are very different. I propose that we invest more money to increase our understanding of plants, ecosystems and wildlife so that we might create super-foods that can be grown in sky scrapers in urban areas. These so-called ‘skyfarms‘ would be strategically positioned so that each would provide enough fresh food for the people living in the surrounding area. This would significantly reduce the cost and pollution created from interstate (and international) transport of produce, and would allow for much fresher, healthier foods.
Even better if the plants can be genetically engineered so that each stalk of corn would providing 4 times as much as a normal stalk of corn! This would leave each skyfarm with a surplus of food, which could then be exported to any area in the United States that is suffering from a deficit of food (for whatever reason…think natural disasters), or overseas so that more international money would be brought to the area, supporting local food, education and environmental efforts.
It is on this last point that Mischa strongly disagrees with me, and to a certain point, I can see his logic. He argues that the creation of genetically modified foods is a barely-understood science, the practice of which could destroy all-natural crops, denying farmers their use and potentially risking the loss of the vegetable species as a whole if something goes terribly wrong with the genetically modified version. He also references a good point made by the movie The Future of Food, a documentary that lambastes the company behind ‘Roundup Ready’ seeds, Monsanto for their business practices. In essence, Monsanto created a seed that 1) is patented, 2) is suicidal (it kills itself after one crop, so a new bag of seed will have to be purchased next season), and 3) is slowly spreading to their neighbor’s farms, who Monsanto then sues for possessing their seed without paying for it.
To me, these problems seem to be more an issue of economics and legalities than science. If we have the ability to manipulate seeds to limit them in such a way, just imagine what we could do to improve upon them? All we need are smarter laws about the patenting of genetically modified life (which shouldn’t be possible to begin with, in my opinion) and a business model that allows them to profit off the seed without having to cripple it to do so.
Think about it: if we do not continue to improve crops, then we are limited by what nature produces doesn’t choose to produce each season, which greatly limits the scope of what humanity is able to achieve. With better, smarter technology and the right amount of oversight on the industry (watch your back, Monsanto), we could potentially eliminate starvation worldwide, not to mention making sure that the food we consume contains the healthiest possible balance of vitamins, nutrients and such. Plus, if we start to produce too little or too much in a given year, creating more or less the next year will be as simple as adjusting a thermostat…the technology behind the skyfarms would regulate that.
What do you think? Is technology a savior to the green movement, or a wolf in sheep’s clothes? Let me know by commenting below!
Update: April 22, 2016
It’s remarkable — looking back this far into the past, all the way to my blogging origin post — how many of the topics of the day are still being discussed. And — despite the many advances that have been made along the way — how many of the arguments are the same.
I still believe that ‘going green’ (a term that’s fallen out of favor over the past seven years, largely in part to all the ‘green-washing’ that’s been utilized by brands to sell more whatevers to well-intentioned people) is going to be primarily about a massive shift in how we operate, including a change in how we work and do business, how we organize transportation, and how we see ourselves as part of society as a whole.
I also still think that GMOs are (and will increasingly be) an excellent solution to a lot of the issues we have with feeding the planet, coping with the too-quick impacts of global climate change, and many other problems that don’t have simple solutions (though I also think that the rise of metanationals like Monsanto is going to be a growing problem in the coming years, separate from the work they do). Thankfully, studies have shown that we’ve got little to be concerned about with GMOs thus far, and due to some fascinating happenings since I wrote this original piece (like the discovery and utilization of CRISPR) we’ve got a lot to look forward to, regardless of how cringe-worthy the whole undertaking might seem to some.
A few other points, unrelated to the topic, more related to the time period when it was written.
At this point I hadn’t yet left LA: that would be four months in the future. So I was writing this and slowly discovering that I’d need to minimize my possessions and scale my business if I was going to make the travel thing work logistically.
It also strikes me that the post is a lot longer compared to a lot of the other writing I did for years, due in part to my being told by pro-bloggers that shorter was better and people wouldn’t pay attention long enough to read more than 500 words (which, thankfully, turned out not to be the case — but we all believed anything we were told back then, in the Wild West period of blogging).
And if you’re keen to check up on Mischa, he’s doing incredibly well, and just as dedicated to improving the planet as ever: mischahedges.com