Posted on April 19, 2009 by Colin

Going Green Means Embracing Technology, Tough Decisions

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 amoung 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 invesdt 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!