I traveled to Europe a few years ago for the first time. I was surprised to see a debate on something I hadn’t thought too much about. It regarded Genetically Modified crops, or GMO (genetically modified organism) crops. The newspapers discussed the pros and cons, and government parliaments were involved in heated debates. Some nations were refusing GMO to be allowed into their agricultural systems.
I thought perhaps this public debate had just begun during my travels, but when I got back to the US, I was equally shocked to see virtually no debate or discussion of the pros and cons of GMO crops. In fact, with a little research I was disturbed to learn that GMO crops were already wide spread in the US. Companies had spread them across America with virtually no public debate on the subject.
America’s lack of debate on GMO issues struck me hard a few nights ago, as I was out with a couple of friends dining on Indian food. The subject came up when I remarked on a rumour I’d heard about human DNA being inserted into pigs, and another one I’d actually read myself about human DNA being inserted into rice.
My fellow diners got irritated by my negative view of Genetically Modified Organisms and its dire possibilities. I became frustrated with them because I felt they were willing to gamble with our future, and put way too much confidence in men in white lab coats.
I explained that in past decades less and less money is provided for pure research in our universities from the public fund, and more and more is coming from corporate funding sources who have an economic interest in profitable results. They replied, “Well the funding has to come from somewhere.”
My concern is that if our media is supported by the mega corporations that profit from GMO , and our university research funding is provided by the corporations that profit from GMO . . . then who’d be looking out for the interests of the average citizen?
I struggled to find an image that conveyed my sense of bloated human hubris, to think we could outsmart thousands of millions of years of evolution. I suggested that our generation was playing the role of someone standing at a roulette table in a casino, putting everything on the line, and shaking the dice saying, “I feel lucky.” My point was that once life forms are released into the biosphere they cannot be contained, and how they play out is anyone’s guess. My friends felt that I was an old frightened, alarmist fuddy duddy.
They said, why do you always have to look at things so negatively? Why couldn’t it happen that these guys come up with something good, that can help humanity? Why do you have to see it as dangerous?
Since that night, the issue of GMO crops, and gene spliced animals, has rolled around in my mind. I needed a metaphor to explain why I was concerned. Last night, in my sleep, a metaphor came to me that illuminated my position, so I got up to do the math.
Life on planet earth began about 4,000 million years ago. Humans, or Homo Sapien Sapiens appeared about 100,000 years ago. This means that humans have been on the scene in Earth’s evolution of life for about .000025 percent of the lifespan of our planet’s biosphere. To see this in human terms, given that the average human’s life expectancy today is 67 years, the time humans have been on Earth is equal to 50,073 seconds, or 835 minutes, or in other words we as a species are about 14 hours old in human terms.
It has taken 4,000 million years of evolution to create the complex web of life that involves thousands of species interacting to create a biosphere that is an interconnected net of highly sophisticated endless links of interdependent relationships. Small changes can have great effects. We know that as we scratch our heads and wonder why the bees are dying in huge numbers. According to an article in Germany’s Der Kritischer Agrarbericht (Critical Agricultural Report), Albert Einstein once said, “”If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”
It is as if the biosphere or web of life on our planet is now going in for surgery, and the nurse wheels in a 14-hour-old-infant, and places a scalpel in his pudgy little trembling hand. The infant’s newborn eyes struggle to open in the operating room’s bright light, and its hand recoils at the cold steel scalpel the nurse is forcing into its trembling hand, as she struggles to close those tiny infant pasty fingers around the scalpel, so that the infant can begin the surgery on the body of Earth’s web of life.
The shocked patient, representing everything we know of as life, looks up in horror and disbelief, as the nurse pats the patient’s colorless sweat beaded forehead and soothingly murmurs, “Calm down, don’t be so negative, he might get in there and actually do you some good.”