Opinion » Maxed Out

Maxed out

The voices that disagree



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But the wisdom of knowing when not to do something just because you can do it remains an elusive commodity. Especially where money is involved.

A couple of decades ago, when Monsanto began selling genetically modified seeds - Roundup ready seeds - naysayers issued Cassandra warnings about the Rumsfeldian unknown unknowns. I'm not talking about the Frankenfood fringe, who reacted to GM foods like frightened cave dwellers reacted to fire, but the few scientists and ecologists who warned that genetic mutation weeds would evolve to combat the attack on their survival.

For its part, Monsanto belittled, derided and generally dismissed the critics. "No f'ing way; it'll never happen." was pretty much their response.

Their response now is, "Okay, we were wrong. But let's not make too big a case out of it. It's not that big a problem."

"It" is robust variants of Roundup-resistant weeds that have popped up in North America and several other countries. As reported in the New York Times, farmers who've been growing Monsanto's seeds are having to add more, and more toxic, herbicides to the brew they spray to deal with super weeds. Don't get excited; that's super weeds, not super weed.

How super? "Pigweed can grow three inches a day and reach seven feet or more, choking out crops; it is so sturdy that it can damage harvesting equipment." Damage harvesting equipment? Who needs IEDs.

Okay, so one example doesn't prove the point. Which sounds vaguely similar to BP's mea culpa over the Deepwater Horizon gusher at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. "It wasn't our accident, but we are absolutely responsible for the oil, for cleaning it up," say company spokesfolks. Huh?

Critics of deep ocean oil drilling have warned about this since engineers made the concept feasible. Companies like BP have dismissed their concerns. "Our technology is failsafe. Such a thing couldn't happen." Which is why they and other oil companies so vigorously lobbied the Bush/Cheney White House to reduce safety standards and cap potential liability in the event their pipedreams of safety were just that.

If we search our collective memories, we'd realize this most recent example of failsafe technology failing has a certain déjà vu quality to it. In 1979, under the same ocean in the same gulf with the same kind of pressure-related blowout preventer, quelle surprise, the same thing happened. Ixtoc 1, the second worst crude oil catastrophe, gushed 140 million gallons. The same fixes were tried then as now... unsuccessfully. It took two relief wells and 10 months to staunch the flow. Obviously, the safety technology's come a long way in the past 20 years and we're all 20 years wiser.