Eduardo Blumwald’s genetically modified plants don’t look much like “Frankenfood.” Filling four modest greenhouses in a concrete lot behind Blumwald’s laboratory at the University of California, Davis, the tiny seedlings, spiky grasses, alfalfa, and peanut and rice plants in plastic terracotta-colored pots look exactly like the ordinary varieties from which he and his fellow researchers created them. Blumwald’s lab lies just ten miles from Monsanto’s 90,000-square-foot vegetable seed building, a glassy edifice larger than the hangar for a 747. The Monsanto facility is one of the largest centers in the world for plant breeding and genetic engineering. But in the fourteen years that Blumwald, a professor of cell biology, has worked here studying the DNA of crop plants, he has hardly ever spoken to anyone from Monsanto.
Blue-eyed and round-faced, with a lilting Argentinian accent, Blumwald grows exasperated when he talks about the so-called “Big Ag” companies, which he says have been arrogant in dealing with the public, contributing to a distrust of biotech research. But he also doesn’t appreciate the activists who’ve been challenging not only the Monsantos of the world but the entire field of genetic engineering.
“You want to penalize the multinationals; I have no problem with that,” he tells me in his office at the university’s plant biology building. “But because of your political stance against multinationals, you are going to condemn maybe the only viable solution we have for our future? It’s wrong—absolutely wrong.” [Read more.]
Al Jazeera America
LOS ANGELES — A contractor laughed when Robin Rudisill asked, more than five years ago, if she should consider the impact of rising sea levels in her plans for remodeling her taupe-colored three-story house here on the oceanfront walk of Venice Beach. “I was serious,” she said.
Rudisill had moved into the house with her mother, grandmother and daughter a few years after leaving her job as a top financial executive at Bank of America. “I have a lot of people to take care of. I’ve got to figure out how long this place will last,” she said. “He thought that was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard.”
The science has since proved her point. [Read more.]
Lorrie Reed lives alone in a trailer on a rural road outside Frankfort, Kentucky, on two acres of land that her late husband bought more than twenty years ago. He left the property to her and their daughters when he died in a motorcycle accident. “He told me before he passed that the place was going to be mine, and the only way I’d lose it was if I let somebody mess me out of it,” Reed says.
Ever since this past summer, when land agents approached her—twice—to ask permission to survey a proposed pipeline route across her property, Reed repeats these words to herself. She walks with a limp, an injury from a collision with a dump truck during the years that she worked on road maintenance crews. She owns a pistol because she is afraid of the feral dogs that she says are common in the area. She held the gun in her palm when the pipeline consultants pulled into her gravel driveway. “You’re trespassing,” she told them. [Read more.]
Supported by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.
Even when she was a kid, Melissa Cervantes knew something was wrong with the air in Wilmington, a neighborhood next to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach where she has lived most of her life. The streets here are verdant with mango, guava and avocado trees. But a brownish haze hangs above the houses. “I kind of figured the refinery was making people sick,” she says. “But when you’re just a little kid, you don’t put it together as a puzzle.” …
It’s no secret that the refineries often break the laws that limit pollution. The Tesoro refinery in Wilmington, for instance, violated air regulations twenty-eight times from 2008 to 2009. Melissa sometimes calls the companies’ public hotlines when she notices a bad smell or a plume of smoke, but they “give you the runaround,” she says. In the fall of 2010, her boyfriend’s mother, Maria Ramos, told her that Tesoro and Valero were backing a ballot measure that would suspend Assembly Bill 32, the state’s groundbreaking attempt to rein in greenhouse gas emissions. [Read more.]
Long before the Occupy movement swept the country—more than two years ago—a revolt began in one of the reddest states in America. Farmers and ranchers in Nebraska, many of them longtime conservatives, got angry about corporate influence on a single issue that has since captivated the entire state and upset national politics: the Keystone XL pipeline. …
It takes a lot to shake polite Midwesterners out of politics as usual. Many citizens of rural Nebraska are birthright Republicans—reticent people whose conservatism is a component of their identity. Many feel their concerns are left out of national politics and media. (When Obama mentioned Nebraska in a statement on Keystone XL, rancher Susan Luebbe said she was “pretty surprised that he actually knows we have a state out here.”) [Read more.]
The first time I went to Richmond, Calif., nine years ago, my friend, who ran a punk music recording studio out of a converted warehouse, told us not to park our car on the street. The day before, vandals had walked the block and smashed several car windows.
At least a few things have started to change in Richmond since then: A berry garden sits beside a bike trail in the Iron Triangle, a neighborhood at the center of the city bordered on three sides by old rail lines. Once a month, Latino and African American families–often people who live just a few blocks from each other but rarely had a chance to meet in the past–gather at the garden and have a barbecue. Tomatoes, chard, and corn grow in raised beds across the street. Muslim families from the local mosque just a few blocks away pluck fresh mint from the garden for making traditional Arabic tea. The garden is the work of Urban Tilth, one of the dozen or so groups at the center of Richmond’s urban garden movement. …
People rarely get a say in what happens to land when their city falls apart. But in the last five years, some Richmonders have taken matters into their own hands. Often with official permission but sometimes without, they have planted more than two dozen gardens in public lots and school grounds all over the roughest parts of town. [Read more.]