LANGELLE PHOTOGRAPHY

Using the power of photojournalism to expose social, economic and ecological injustice

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Annie Lorie (left) led a delegation of Rural Coalition board members to the Forest & Climate Convergence. These board members are included in this KPFK interview that was recorded during the convergence. Photo: Langelle/photolangelle.org

This one-hour special aired Tuesday 12 November on the nationally syndicated Sojourner Truth show on Pacifica’s flagship KPFK live from The Resurgence: North American Forest & Climate Movement Convergence at the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois.

The convergence was organized by the Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP), Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) and Shawnee Forest Defense! as a call to action to plan for the future.

Panelists include members from the Rural Coalition, a partner in the effort to stop the release of genetically engineered trees into forests.

GJEP partners with the Sojourner Truth show every Wednesday on Earth Minute and every Thursday on Earth Watch.

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Caption: The passing of the Forest Ordinance 701 (Decreto Ley 701) in 1974, during the reign of General Augusto Pinochet, subsidized the expansion of tree plantations, giving away the National Forestry Corporation. This initiated the quick expansion of monoculture plantations of pine and eucalyptus trees for paper manufacturing and timber. Since then, many corporations have bought land and destroyed the once abundant native forests.  Photo: Langelle/GJEP

Note: The following piece was written by GJEP ally Biofuelwatch to explain the deep connections between the massive popular uprising in Chile against the countries crushing neoliberal policies, land grabs and repressive laws left over from the Pinochet Dictatorship–policies that still govern the nation.  Chile was to be the perfect host for the UN Climate COP which has as its focus the expansion and further legitimization of market-based policies based on the neoliberal commodification of the earth, an expansion of industrial tree plantations as a “natural climate solution” and more unjust forest carbon offsets.

Today Chile announced it will not host the COP due to the peoples’ uprising. – Anne Petermann published the following at the GJEP SITE

¡El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido!

Chile and COP 25: Prioritizing Equity Means Addressing Injustice of Monoculture Tree Plantations

Biofuelwatch staff members have been watching recent events in Chile very closely in preparation for participation in events around COP 25, planned for Santiago in early December. Here is the first in what we hope to have as a series of brief postings on the extremely fluid and rapidly changing political landscape in Chile and how it impacts the substance and dynamics of the United Nations climate meetings.

by Gary Hughes, Biofuelwatch

Recent events in Chile have put the upcoming United Nations climate meetings in Santiago de Chile in doubt. In a fully unexpected convulsion of street action and spontaneous mass protest, the nation of Chile has passed from being a global symbol celebrating corporate globalization and economic modernity into a bonfire of disturbance at the center of a continent wide fever of social unrest. In little more than a week the actions in Chile progressed from an animated and aggressive student protest against subway fare hikes to a nationwide mobilization demanding structural changes in what is one of the most economically unequal societies on the planet.

This unrest in Chile has taken the global climate policy establishment by total surprise. No one thought that in the weeks immediately previous to international climate meetings Chile would enter an unprecedented phase of political action dedicated to exposing the erroneous assumptions underpinning the glitter and shine facade of a predatory economic model.

Plans for holding the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 25th Conference of Parties in Santiago de Chile only arose because of the climate denying Bolsonaro regime in Brazil discarding their opportunity to hold the COP 25. Holding COP 25 in Santiago de Chile was received as an exciting solution by the United Nations. Current Chilean President Sebastian Piñera, always the salesman, who was looking for another opportunity to sell the world on the Chilean economic miracle, proposed the option.

And, “why not?” thought the global economic elite that controls the UNFCCC process. Chile is after all a country that has long been held up as a success story for the new global economy, the “tiger” of Latin America. Holding COP 25 in Santiago de Chile, the capitol of free market ideology, was going to be an opportunity to highlight the future of markets-based climate policy and the supposed role of the private sector in raising “ambition” for climate “action.”

Yet, the harsh reality of a free market economic system that benefits a small elite with immeasurable wealth while relegating multitudes of vulnerable and marginalized communities to a permanent state of precariousness raised it’s head and upended not only normality in Chile, but also in the UNFCCC process.

Chile is now living its most serious political crisis in decades, since the departure of the military government in 1990. A ‘state of exception’ was declared, a curfew implemented in many regions through out the length of the country, and the military was called into the streets of a nation understandably traumatized by the violence of an unrepentant military dictatorship. Police and army troops have been indiscriminate in their use of violence against the people on the streets. Thousands of people have been detained, hundreds of people shot and injured, and at least 20 people have died, including fatalities due to the repressive actions of the authorities. The United Nations has sent a mission to Chile to investigate the reports of human rights abuses.

The Chilean people responded to the violence and the suspension of their basic rights by coming out in droves on Friday Oct 25 in what was by far the largest street demonstration in the history of the country, with as many as 1.5 million people filling the main boulevard of Santiago demanding structural changes to address severe economic inequity and the injustice of a political constitution written and established during the military government.

Front and center to this historic uprising are the demands of those communities, especially the indigenous Mapuche peoples of the south of the country, who are living on a daily basis with environmental injustice. For the Mapuche nation it is the reversal of the land grabbing and usurpation of territory perpetuated by the highly monopolized monoculture tree plantation industry that is central to their demands for structural change. It is this festering sore of environmental injustice and how COP25 should respond to inequity that has now been raised to a level of importance that would have been nearly impossible without this organic uprising in Chile against a predatory economic model.

Hosting COP25 in Chile was from the moment it was announced a concern for communities, in Chile and around the world, that advocate bringing an end to the ecological damage and cultural genocide that are embedded in the exotic tree species plantation model. Communities were facing head on the dilemma of whether COP25 would be leveraged to greenwash inequality in Chile and elsewhere by not only ignoring the realities on the ground of the “green desert” of the destructive monoculture plantation model, but in advancing policy that would perpetuate and further expand this model as a climate “solution.”

The sad truth is that due to the incessant policy and rhetorical focus on “natural climate solutions,” and the prevalence of “markets-based mechanisms” embedded in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, there are still many indications from the global climate establishment that exotic trees species plantations are actually considered a climate solution – contesting these perverse assumptions about plantations was going to be an imperative for civil society engaging with COP25 and parallel activities.

The uprising in Chile has now raised the issue of equity and social justice in the UNFCCC process to a level that would have been impossible in status-quo conditions. In that sense the recent “despertar” (awakening) in Chile could very well be the best thing that could have ever happened for affected communities to hold COP25 accountable, regardless of whether the meetings actually happen in Chile or not – now the question of equity is clearly nested in the question of whether or not the social unrest makes even holding the COP25 in Santiago de Chile a viable option.

It is untenable that holding COP25 in Chile be used to “greenwash” the recent human rights abuses of the current government of Chilean President Sebastian Piñera. It is also untenable to consider holding COP25 in Santiago de Chile if the rights to free speech, movement and assembly are at risk because of so-called “security” concerns. If COP25 is to be held in Santiago in this political moment there have to be guarantees that civil society and especially the communities of Chile that are subject to environmental racism and climate injustice are allowed to gather, organize and congregate freely. Equity cannot be a word that is thrown about with carelessness and as a rhetorical tool to disguise the business as usual tendencies of climate agreements that still sell the world on exotic tree species plantations as a “natural climate solution.”

Chile has set the standard now with the society wide organic awakening against inequality. In the spirit of this moment if COP25 is to be hosted in Chile the proceedings must respond to the growing demands of Chile and the rest of the world that true climate action must be centered on equity. Anything less is window dressing. Is the global climate establishment prepared to rise to the occasion? The next days and weeks will determine to what extent equity is truly a priority in climate action and to what extent the defense of human rights is considered a top level priority – or, if indeed the UNFCCC process really is designed to protect business as usual under the guise of global climate diplomacy. Without a doubt, it is the recent unrest in Chile that has assisted in elevating these questions to the front of the discussion.

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Workers erecting Circus Tent for the Convergence. The Resurgence: 2019 Forest & Climate Movement Convergence begins October 11 and culminates on Indigenous Peoples’ Day October 14, 2019 in southern Illinois’ Shawnee National Forest. photo: Langelle

Forests, communities and the Earth are under attack. Governments, corporations and elites in North America are collaborating with others to consolidate power, profit and control on a global scale. Their actions are driving climate change and destruction of forests, causing mass-extinction of species, devastating communities, and threatening whole peoples and the entire biosphere.

It has never been more critical to build a broad, united movement that can resist the wholesale war against the Earth.

This convergence will provide space to:

• Build capacity to analyze, expose and confront the root causes of climate change & forest destruction

• Challenge false solutions and amplify real, community-based alternatives

•Create momentum to build and broaden strategies and tactics of resistance for effective action

• Develop concrete plans, strategies and actions to carry forward after the event

Call to action here

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Clearcut in the Shawnee National Forest during songbird mating season, May, 2019 Photo: Langelle

Southern Illinois’ Paper of Record Questions the United States Forest Services Credibility and Validity Days Before North American Forest and Climate Convergence in Shawnee National Forest

Carbondale, IL- In an editorial five days before a major convergence of activists in the Shawnee National Forest, the region’s daily paper of record questions both the credibility of the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the validity of its management prescriptions.

https://thesouthern.com/opinion/editorial/voice-of-the-southern-finding-middle-ground-in-the-shawnee/article_c4f52164-8191-5633-ba33-a8ddc3805355.html

The convergence, which is bringing activists from North America to the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois, will focus both on forest health and the current climate crises. Almost thirty years after environmentalists won an unprecedented victory that stopped logging in southern Illinois for nearly two decades, activists and grassroots organizations from across the continent are converging there to develop cutting edge strategies targeted at the increasingly urgent climate and deforestation crises.

https://globaljusticeecology.org/occupation-and-uprising-in-the-shawnee-national-forest/

However, the USFS recently proposed a project that will reopen the national forest to commercial logging of a mature oak/hickory forest under the same rationale of promoting oak regeneration that they used thirty years ago.

“As we can see from results of past logging that it did not work then, and I can assure you it won’t work now, if they are allowed to exploit it again,” said John Wallace a member of the Convergence Coordinating Committee who was active in the fight to stop commercial logging in the Shawnee in the 1990s.

The editorial board of The Southern Illinoisan echoed that sentiment in its 10/6/2019 editorial by stating that, “the environmental community claims the Forest Service can’t be trusted. There is some validity to that claim. It’s not that the Forest Service’s science is faulty – we’re not in a position to make that statement.  It’s that areas previously ‘restored’ don’t exactly fit the description of a healthy oak-hickory forest.”

The paper went on to question the USFS’s transparency and credibility. It stated, “frankly the Forest Service didn’t help its credibility earlier this summer when a Southern Illinois reporter was removed from an objection resolution meeting.  Babete Anderson, the U.S. Forest Service’s national press officer, later stated the reporter should have been allowed to attend, but the initial action casts doubt on the agency’s transparency.”

https://forestclimateconvergence.org/

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Gary Graham Hughes, our friend and colleague from Biofuelwatch, writes below:

Indigenous Peoples march with an anti-REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestion and Forest Degradation) banner in Durban, South Africa to protest the UN Climate Conference. Indigenous Peoples are especially at risk in carbon off-set schemes like REDD. Photo: Langelle for GJEP (2011)

Watch out! Pollution traders are coming for the worlds forests, a land grab disguised as climate “action.” The California Air Resources Board is working with the fossil fuel and aviation industries to greenwash their climate damage with scientifically dubious, socially unjust and ungovernable tropical forest offsets. Be in Sacramento for the ARB hearing on Sept 19, another legacy moment for resisting the capture of the environmental movement by industry friendly market-based schemes. #OffsetsPollute #NoTFS #MarketsWillNotSaveUs #ProtectPeopleProtectForests

Listen to Gary Hughes from Biofuelwatch on Sojourner Truth with Margaret Precod as he reports on the California Tropical Forest Standards and Carbon Offsets.

We really want folks to be aware of the dangers of these market-based schemes because they are protecting polluters more than they are protecting people and the planet….We are saying no more offsets, that we need real emissions reductions at the source. – Gary Hughes.

Hughes will be in Santiago, Chile later this year for events surrounding the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Sojourner Truth with Margaret Prescod is broadcast on Pacifica KPFK Los Angeles. Since the 2009 UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, Global Justice Ecology Project has been doing a weekly fifteen minute Earth Watch on Sojourner Truth with Margaret Prescod. For many years GJEP has also been doing a weekly Earth Minute for Sojourner Truth.

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The following report from GJEP features photos by Orin Langelle and links to many more of his photos.

GJEP Communications Director Orin Langelle discusses his Portraits of Struggle exhibit, while it was on display at Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio over Earth Week. Photo: Petermann/GJEP

This has been an amazing three months for all of GJEP’s programs, and for the Campaign to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees, the international network coordinated by GJEP that is dedicated to ensuring that communities and forests are protected from the risks of releasing of GE trees into the environment.  We made great strides both nationally and internationally.

GE Trees: Keeping them out of wild forests in the U.S.

U.S. Researchers are seeking unprecedented USDA, EPA and FDA permission to plant GE trees throughout eastern forests with no monitoring or regulation.

Once planted in the forests, these GE American chestnut trees, which can live over 200 years, would spread uncontrollably.  Their GE pollen would contaminate wild American chestnuts and could even contaminate cultivated chestnut orchards.

There are no long-term assessments of the risks they pose. How they will impact soils, insects, birds, wildlife or even human health is simply not known.

It is a massive and irreversible experiment with the forests. That is why we are working so hard to stop it.

Visit our new GE chestnut action page at stopgetrees.org/chestnut to get involved.

There you will find our White Paper on the risks of GE chestnuts, our petition to the USDA, a media webinar summarizing the issues with these GE trees, a STOP GE Trees Campaign interview on NPR’s On Point Radio, and articles written by the report’s co-authors published in Independent Science News, The Ecologist, Earth Island Journal and Counterpunch.

New GE American Chestnut White PaperGE Trees White Paper Cover Image

Biotechnology For Forest Health?

The Test Case of the Genetically Engineered American Chestnut

(Download here)

 

Meeting to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees in Brazil

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Quilombola woman describes the resistance of her village against the timber industry. Photo: Petermann

In Porto Alegre Brazil, over April 7-12, GJEP Executive Director Anne Petermann attended a national meeting of communities and groups strategizing to stop the spread of industrial timber plantations and future GE tree plantations. The meeting was co-convened by GJEP, World Rainforest Movement and Friends of the Earth Brazil.

During the meeting, strategies and plans were developed for greater collaboration, including a joint media work to link the efforts to legalize GE trees in both the US and Brazil– crucial since many of the same GE tree companies and researchers work in both countries.

2019 Tree Biotechnology Conference: GJEP in Raleigh, NC

We kicked off our US-Brazil GE trees media effort when we attended and monitored the IUFRO 2019 Tree Biotechnology Conference in Raleigh, NC, and distributed press releases in EnglishSpanish and Portuguese.
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Rudolphe Barrangou keynoted the 2019 IUFRO Tree Biotechnology Conference with a hard-sell presentation on how the gene editing technique CRISPR will revolutionize science and the forestry industry with a brand new generation of risky and potentially disastrous GE trees. Photo: Langelle/ GJEP

In addition to monitoring the conference, and reminding participants of the decades of militant opposition to GE trees all over the world, we met with local and regional groups and delivered a report back from the proceedings that we developed into a mini-video in 3 languages.

Ultimately, the Tree Biotechnology Conference ended in confusion. Their obsession with public opposition was evident both by the constant police presence at the event, and by a lengthy session devoted to the topic.  The underlying anxiety was palpable and left a pall over the event.

At the end, the conference descended into disarray, without confirmation of when or where their next event would be, who would take the top three leadership roles in it, or whether they should continue to use the term “biotechnology” due to its controversial nature.

We call that a victory!

The Resurgence: North American Forest & Climate Movement Convergence

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“This is not another conference. This is a call to action to radically transform the economic and political systems that drive climate change, forest destruction & the commodification of life.”

forestclimateconvergence.org

GJEP is co-convening this important event with Indigenous Environmental Network and Shawnee Forest Defense! as well as an organizing committee composed of groups from across the US and Canada.

Listen to our 24 May radio interview about the convergence with our Board member Karen Pickett, which commemorated Judi Bari Day, on KPFA Radio in Berkeley!

GJEP Global Justice Media Program:

¡Buen Vivir! Gallery, Langelle Photography & Earth Radio

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GJEP’s Ruddy Turnstone (right) speaks to artist Sara Tang (left) during the In Between the Middle Opening Reception on April 5th at GJEP’s ¡Buen Vivir! Gallery in Buffalo. Photo courtesy #notwhitecollective

GJEP’s ¡Buen Vivir! Gallery featured the Buffalo, NY premiere of the #notwhite collective’s exhibit In Between the Middle. This exhibit explored the politics of race in the U.S. and included art, photography and spoken word. The all-woman artist collective received rave reviews and we look forward to working with them again!

Langelle Concerned Photography

Langelle Photography, is the global justice photography program directed by GJEP co-founder and documentary photographer Orin Langelle. The PhotoLangelle.org websitefeatures photo essays, photos of the month and other posts linking art and activism.

Langelle’s Portraits of Struggle Exhibit Hits the Road

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From Portraits of Struggle: Women healers prepare traditional medicines in Amador Hernandez, an Indigenous village in the Lacandon Jungle of Chiapas, Mexico that was threatened with forced relocation for a forest carbon offset deal between Chiapas and California.  Photolangelle.org

Orin has been taking his acclaimed Portraits of Struggle exhibit on the road, and in April it was featured at Mt. Union College in Ohio, where Langelle was a visiting artist and guest lecturer over Earth Week.

Logging vs. Songbirds: Photojournalism in Action

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Mud caked tires and the tracks that covered them on a forwarder used to haul out lumber at the industrial Lee Mine logging project in the Shawnee National Forest (SNF). (April 2019) PhotoLangelle.org

While in Southern Illinois in April, Langelle was alerted to a logging operation in the Shawnee National Forest in the middle of songbird nesting season. He took this photo above which was widely publicized and caused outrage at the actions of the Forest Service.

More photos and article Shawnee Mud and Ruts

GJEP Earth Radio

GJEP’s Earth Radio segments, the Earth Minute and the Earth Watch Interview, happen each week in partnership with Margaret Prescod’s nationally syndicated Sojourner Truth Radio show on KPFK Pacifica Los Angeles. 2019 marks ten years since we started this important collaboration!

You can find all the shows here: https://globaljusticeecology.org/category/earth-radio/

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New GE Tree Concepts Would Exacerbate Impacts of Tree Plantations

Video by Ruddy Turstone – GJEP

To find the subtitles, click the settings gear icon on the bottom right corner of the video and select “subtitles”.

Desplácese hacia abajo para Español

Role para baixo para o Português

Global Justice Ecology Project and the Campaign to STOP GE Trees attended the presentations of the IUFRO 2019 Tree Biotechnology Conference in Raleigh beginning on 23 June 2019 to learn from researchers and industry what the latest plans are for researching, developing and commercializing genetically engineered trees.

The Campaign has repeatedly raised the alarm about the risk of genetically engineered tree plantations worsening the already severe social and ecological impacts of existing industrial tree monocultures.

On Tuesday, 25 June, researcher Matthias Fladung, of the Thünen Institute of Forest Genetics in Germany presented his research on using the genetic engineering process known as CRISPR/Cas9 to change the branching of poplar trees to be vertical rather than horizontal. He found that this modification dramatically increased the number of trees that could be grown per hectare—in one experiment, the production increase was 300%.

The implications of this in the real world, to communities, biodiversity and water, are quite serious.

 

Español: Representantes del Global Justice Ecology Project y de la Campaña para DETENER los Árboles Transgénicos asistieron a las presentaciones de la Conferencia sobre Biotecnología de Árboles IUFRO 2019 en Raleigh (EUA) -que comenzó el 23 de junio de 2019- para aprender de los investigadores y de la industria cuáles son los últimos planes para investigar, desarrollar y comercializar árboles transgénicos.

La Campaña ha levantado repetidamente la alarma sobre el riesgo de que las plantaciones de árboles transgénicos empeoren los graves impactos sociales y ecológicos ya existentes de los monocultivos industriales de árboles.

El martes 25 de junio, el investigador Matthias Fladung, del Instituto Thünen de Genética Forestal en Alemania, presentó su investigación sobre el uso del proceso de ingeniería genética conocido como CRISPR/Cas9 para cambiar la ramificación de los árboles de álamo para que sea vertical en lugar de horizontal. Encontró que esta modificación incrementó drásticamente el número de árboles que se podían cultivar por hectárea, en un experimento el aumento de producción fue del 300%.

Las implicaciones de esto en el mundo real, para las comunidades, la biodiversidad y el agua, son bastante serias.

 

Português: O Global Justice Ecology Project e a Campanha para Deter as Árvores Transgênicas (STOP GE Trees), participaram das apresentações da Conferência de Biotecnologia das Árvores IUFRO 2019 em Raleigh que começou em 23 de junho de 2019.

Obteve-se assim informação de pesquisadores e indústria sobre os planos para a pesquisa, desenvolvimento e comercialização de árvores geneticamente modificadas. A Campanha tem alertado repetidamente sobre o risco que representam as plantações de árvores geneticamente modificadas e que agravam os já severos impactos sociais e ecológicos das atuais monoculturas de árvores industriais.

Na terça-feira, 25 de junho, o pesquisador Matthias Fladung, do Instituto Thünen de Genética Florestal da Alemanha, apresentou sua pesquisa sobre o uso do processo de engenharia genética conhecido como CRISPR/Cas9 para alterar a ramificação das árvores de álamo de modo que estas sejam verticais e não horizontais. O pesquisador descobriu que essa modificação aumentou drasticamente o número de árvores que poderiam ser cultivadas por hectare – em um experimento, o aumento na produção foi de 300%.

No entanto, as implicações disso no mundo real, para as comunidades, a biodiversidade e a biodiversidade e a água, são bem sérias.

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Rodolphe Barrangou reveals the nightmare of his CRISPR world. photo: Langelle/GJEP

The CRISPR Craze?  Or CRISPR Crazed?

24 June 2019 by Anne Petermann posted online. For more updates on the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) tree biotech conference in Raleigh, NC please watch The Campaign to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees through 28 June 2019.

“Should we really be manipulating the heredity of future generations given our lack of knowledge about so many things.”

“Humans are very good at inventing things, but they are very, very bad at looking at what the implications are.”  (from the trailer for the movie Human Nature)

The IUFRO take on CRISPR:

The opening plenary presentation for IUFRO was by Rodolphe Barrangou, faculty of NCSU, which revealed a very interesting motivation for selecting NCSU for the IUFRO event: launching a new CRISPR startup focused on bringing CRISPR to forestry.

Barrangou’s assaulting high velocity hi-tech presentation on the wonders of the “6 year-old” CRISPR technology was at once mesmerizing and horrifying.  He referred to the time in human history as “BC” – Before CRISPR” vs “AD – after the death of the other recombinant technologies.”  He compared CRISPR to a 6-year old child. Which was a bit of an odd choice since he also insisted that, “the science, we know…the science is not in question.”  Not too many 6 year old children are so fully formed.

I found the speed of his delivery combined with his huge wide screen presentation and his fantastical ravings of the miracles of CRISPR to be an all-out assault on the senses.

At one point, he showed a slide containing a diverse array of species, from domesticated animals, to chimpanzees, to crop plants, announcing proudly that “we can edit the genome or epigenome of any species on Earth!” Pointing to a pig he said “We can make CRISPR bacon!”

He also delighted in explaining how they can even change the color in the very complicated wing pattern of a butterfly, which he demonstrated on the screen with horrifying before and after makeovers of two species of butterfly.

He did add a few words on the work still needed to be done.  CRISPR is not, he said, always reliable.  Getting back to the child metaphor, he explained it occasionally “has tantrums,” and “still does not work 100% of the time in 100% of the cells in 100% of patients.” Undeterred, he proudly explained that thousands of labs across the world are “mining biodiversity” to improve it.

Which revealed the real reason his entire presentation sounded like a high-pressure sales pitch.  It was.

Halfway through his presentation he announced, with great aplomb, the launch of his new CRISPR startup, which he was launching right then and there at IUFRO in partnership with four other faculty from NCSU and one from Duke University.  Its purpose—bring gene editing technology into the forestry sector. CRISPR would not, he admitted, solve the demand side problem.  Commercialization, he said, is the limiting factor, because “the science, we know… the bottleneck [is] acceptance by regulators and society.”

It is a public perception problem.  But they are on it!  He showed a trailer for the movie Human Nature scheduled to premiere this September at the same time as the upcoming IUFRO World Congress (a coincidence??) – a film designed explicitly to convince a wary public that CRISPR is the best thing since sliced bread (or, was that the OxO gene).

Another public relations strategy, he explained, was a CRISPR process that uses “DNA free RNPs, and that’s the path to a non-transgenic, transgene-free, non-GMO approval, and that’s what I think is going to change the game,” and be the perfect antidote to regulation and the anti-GMO movement.

He neglected to explain how a process designed to engineer genomes would not be genetic engineering.  In fact, he feared this would be the downfall of the CRISPR movement–if people perceived it as genetic engineering.  Which it is, so he should be concerned.

He wrapped up his talk explaining how the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning could be used to “predict what genomes, sequences and pathways should be targeted—and once you understand this you can knock them out, turn them on, turn them off, whatever you want to do and hopefully eventually get to the relevant trait that is of interest to the industry.”

Again: genetic engineering.

His fanatical worship of the CRISPR God was tempered slightly at the end of his talk when he admitted that CRISPR scientists are nowhere near understanding tree genomics as well as we understand human genomics due to the fact that tree genomes are so much bigger and more complex.

Not all Fertilizer and Roses

His stunningly depressing presentation, interestingly, was followed by James Holland, a USDA/NCSU corn researcher who provided comic relief with his explanations of everything that can and will go wrong in the pursuit of genetic knowledge. His honesty was like a breath of fresh air after the hard pitch CRISPR advertisement that proceeded him.

End day one…

For more updates on the IUFRO tree biotech conference in Raleigh, NC please watch The Campaign to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees through 28 June 2019.

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Rachel Smolker and Anne Petermann    13 June 2019    Editors’ Pick

Photolangelle.org

The American chestnut is being used as a PR tool for winning over public opinion on the use of biotechnology as a ‘tool of conservation’.

The American chestnut tree was attacked by the fungal pathogen (Cryphonectria parasitica) about a century ago, driving it to functional extinction.

Now, scientists at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) claim to have created, through biotechnology, a resistant American chestnut variety.

They aim to petition the required regulatory agencies (USDA, FDA, EPA) for deregulation of their genetically engineered chestnut in the near future, with the stated goal of “restoring” the species to nature.  

Forest ecosystems

If it is deregulated, the GE chestnut would be the first GE forest tree species to be planted out in forests with the deliberate intention of spreading freely. Monitoring or reversing their spread, once released, would likely be impossible.

Performing valid risk assessments of the potential impacts of GE American chestnut on forests, wildlife, water, soils, pollinators or people, is hampered by our lack of knowledge about both the ecology of the American chestnut and forest ecosystems.  

Furthermore, since American chestnuts can live for more than 200 years, risk factors may change over the tree’s lifetime in unpredictable ways. 

Critically, the choices we make about the GE American chestnut will set a precedent for the future use of biotechnology on other forest tree species and even more broadly, on the use of biotechnology, including new technologies such as gene editing, gene drives etc as “tools for conservation”. 

It is therefore critical that we carefully evaluate the case of the GE American chestnut. Towards that end, we recently published “Biotechnology for Forest Health? The Test Case of the Genetically Engineered American Chestnut”.

Biotechnology in conservation

Our paper was inspired by previous experience with a 2018 National Academy of Sciences study group on “The Potential of Biotechnology to Address Forest Health”. 

The case for using genetically engineered American chestnut for species restoration featured within the NAS study group.  Similarly, GE chestnut has also been featured in other contexts where the potential for using biotechnology in conservation has been evaluated.  

For example, it is presented as a “case study” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature 2019 report “Genetic Frontiers for Conservation: An assessment of synthetic biology and biodiversity conservation”.

We felt compelled to clearly articulate and share our reasons for opposing the GE American chestnut.

Perfect tree

The American chestnut is a much beloved and iconic“perfect tree”. It was once a dominant species along the eastern USA and into Canada.  Prolific nuts reliably provided nutritious and delicious food, and fodder for livestock.

The wood is rot resistant, easy to work with and pleasing to the eye was prized by the timber industry.  

Cryphonectria, “the blight”, was a catastrophe – for the forests and wildlife, and for the human economies, especially those of rural Appalachia, where the seasonal nut harvest was key source of income, and sustenance. 

Restoring the American chestnut is a long-held dream for some people, even as our collective memory of chestnut-filled forests grows dim with the passage of time.  

The American Chestnut Foundation has worked to implement a breeding program that would hybridize American chestnut with the naturally blight resistant Asian chestnut, and then backcross to produce a blight resistance tree that nonetheless preserved the growth characteristics of the American chestnut. 

Hundreds of thousands of hours of painstaking work across many years has gone into this breeding program – a long process that has slowly progressed, albeit with some setbacks along the way. 

Engineering resistance 

The SUNY ESF scientists claim that genetic engineering will provide a faster solution.

After experimenting with various genes and combinations of genes, they have settled on using a gene sequence derived from wheat that causes the tree to produce an enzyme, oxalate oxidase, (aka OxO) (Nelson et al., 2014).  This enzyme inhibits the spread of the fungus once established, making it less lethal to the tree.  

OxO is not uncommon in nature, and has been experimented with in a variety of common crops. In their promotional materials, the scientists are careful to highlight that OxO is common, and that the gene comes from ordinary wheat – conjuring images of saving the chestnut with nothing more dangerous than a tasty slice of buttered toast. 

But will the OxO trait really enable restoration of the species?  This is highly unlikely.  

First of all, engineering resistance to fungal pathogens in general has proven extremely challenging.  Biotechnologists have long struggled to do so with familiar common crops with which, unlike forest tree species, we have plenty of prior experience. 

New defenses

In spite of many, many efforts, only a single fungal pathogen resistant crop is commercially available (the Simplot potato, resistant to late blight).  The problem is that fungi are very good at finding new ways to evade plant defenses.

There is a virtual arms race going on between plants, evolving new defenses, and fungal pathogens, evolving new ways around those defenses. Hence making durable effective resistance is extremely difficult.  

As well, when plants invest in defending against a pathogen, their growth is often stunted or otherwise compromised and they can become more susceptible to other pathogens or stresses they encounter (Collinge et al., 2010).

SUNY ESF’s OxO engineered chestnut trees appear to be resistant to the blight – but only young trees in controlled lab and field trial conditions have been tested. The oldest trees tested to date are only about 15 years old – other more recently developed lines are even younger. 

Yet chestnuts can live for over two hundred years during which time they may experience many diverse conditions – weather extremes, insects and pathogens etc. that could affect the expression of the OxO trait, or other characteristics of the trees.

Unlikely restoration 

We cannot reasonably assume long term durable blight resistance in natural forests based on extrapolation from results on very young trees under controlled and laboratory conditions.  

Even the SUNY scientist most involved with developing the OxO engineered chestnuts, William Powell, openly acknowledges that long term stable resistance to Cryphonectria, based on the OxO trait alone, is unlikely to succeed.  

Powell stated: “Eventually we hope to fortify American chestnuts with many different genes that confer resistance in distinct ways. Then, even if the fungus evolves new weapons against one of the engineered defenses, the trees will not be helpless.”

Another pathogen, Phytophthora cinnamomi, (aka root rot or ink disease) had been killing off American chestnuts in the southern part of their range even before Cryphonectria arrived.  

That pathogen is meanwhile spreading northwards under a warming climate. Scientists agree that restoration of the chestnut would require stacking of multiple traits including for resistance to Phytophthora. The OxO trait alone will not restore American chestnuts.   

Public relations 

So why claim otherwise?  Why rush the GE chestnut into regulatory review when even its own creators recognize it cannot fulfill the goal of species restoration?  

Because the OxO engineered chestnut – using “nothing but a wheat gene” to “restore a beloved iconic species” – is being used as a public relations tool for winning over public opinion toward GE trees more generally, and for the use of biotechnology as a “tool of conservation”.

This is a strategy that biotechnology industry proponents expect will soften public opposition and open up the potential for commercializing a wide array of GE trees.

The GE American chestnut is in fact very explicitly referred to in terms of its value for public relations, and as a “test case”.  

For example, Maud Hinchee, former chief technology officer at tree biotechnology company, ArborGen, and formerly from Monsanto, stated: “We like to support projects that we think might not have commercial value but have huge value to society, like rescuing the chestnut.  It allows the public to see the use of the technology and understand the benefits and risks in something they care about. Chestnuts are a noble cause.”

Test case

Scott Wallinger of paper company MeadWestvaco (now Westrock) stated back in 2005: “This pathway [promoting the GE chestnut as forest restoration] can begin to provide the public with a much more personal sense of the value of forest biotechnology and receptivity to other aspects of genetic engineering.”

The Forest Health Initiative which funds the SUNY ESF GE chestnut project states their aim is to“Advance the country’s understanding and the role of biotechnology to address some of today’s most pressing forest health challenges. The initiative will initially focus on a “test species” and an icon of eastern US forests–the American chestnut.”

And even the American Chestnut Foundation stated“If SUNY ESF is successful in obtaining regulatory approval for its transgenic blight resistant American chestnut trees, then that would pave the way for broader use of transgenic trees in the landscape.”

What “broader use of transgenic trees” can we foresee?  A review of the literature on forest biotechnology reveals that most tree biotechnology research is focused not on addressing “forest health” for the public good, but on ways to engineer trees for commercial and industrial processes and profitability.  

Forest health

A review of forest biotechnology published in 2018 states: “Genetic engineering of trees to improve productivity, wood quality and resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses has been the primary goal of the forest biotechnology community for decades.

“Examples include novel methods for lignin modification, solutions for long-standing problems related to pathogen resistance, modifications to flowering onset and fertility and drought and freeze tolerance.” (Chang et al., 2018)

Most efforts to address “forest health” are focused on species of commercial interest, which are often grown in industrial monoculture plantations, and therefore more vulnerable to a variety of pests, pathogens and health threats.

For example, there has been considerable research focussed on engineering resistance to insect pests in commercially important species such as pine, poplar and eucalyptus (Balestrazzi et al., 2006).

Meanwhile, with increasing awareness of the dangers inherent to using fossil fuels, burning wood is heavily subsidized (alongside solar panels and wind turbines) as renewable energy, and falsely accounted as “carbon neutral”.

Biofuels

Efforts to convert wood into liquid transportation fuels have so far largely failed to attain commercial scale in spite of massive investments.

Turning trees into biofuels, bioplastics etc. largely depends not only on genetically engineering specific characteristics into the trees, but also on engineering microbes that produce enzymes needed to break down, access and ferment the sugars in wood.  

A 2017 review, titled Biotechnology for bioenergy dedicated trees: meeting future energy needs points to eucalyptus, pine, poplar and willow as the species of most commercial interest, with biotechnology research focused on enhanced growth and yield, altered wood properties, side adaptability and stress tolerance, and the alteration of lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose for effective biorefinery conversion to cellulosic biofuels (Al-Ahmad, 2018).

In sum, there is much riding on winning over public opinion on GE trees.     

This is why such entities as Duke Energy, ArborGen and Monsanto, as well as various multinational timber corporations, are among those funding or promoting the GE chestnut.

Idealism and integrity

The Forest Health Initiative, which receives funding from some of the above, and in turn has provided large grants to the SUNY ESF research, stated: “Biotech trees will find their place in this world, providing fiber, fuel, and even sustainable comfort food (e.g. biotech chestnuts roasting on an open fire).

“This is an industry to watch as it evolves toward responsible use and takes its place in the pipeline of sustainable biotech products.” 

Enthusiasm for GE American chestnuts has so far been underwhelming. Recently, board members of the Massachusetts/Rhode Island chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation, Lois Breault-Melican and her husband, Denis M. Melican resigned in protest against the organizations’ embrace of SUNY ESF’s GE American chestnut. 

The couple had worked for over 16 years on backcross breeding of resistant American chestnuts.  

Breault-Melican stated: “We are unwilling to lift a finger, donate a nickel or spend one minute of our time assisting the development of genetically engineered trees or using the American chestnut to promote biotechnology in forests as any kind of benefit to the environment.

“The GE American chestnut is draining the idealism and integrity from TACF.”

Global protests 

Indeed, public opinion has long been solidly opposed to GE trees in general, and remains a significant barrier to their release.

A number of protests have taken place around the world where GE trees have been tested.  Women from social movements in Brazil including the MST (landless worker’s movement), cause the destruction of GE tree seedlings belonging to Futuragene in Brazil in 2016. 

The Campaign to Stop GE Trees was founded in 2014 and has both national and international presence.

When ArborGen sought to field test their GE eucalyptus in the US, several organizations filed a legal suit challenging the planned field trials in 2010.

And when the USDA issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement recommending approving deregulation of ArborGen’s GE eucalyptus in 2017, over 284,000 people signed onto or submitted their own comments opposing deregulation of the GE eucalyptus. To date, no final EIS has been issued by USDA and the petition for deregulation appears to be languishing.

Slippery slope

Forest certification bodies including Forest Stewardship Council, the Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative have banned the use of GE trees and their products. The 2008 decision IX/5 (1) of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity Conference of the Parties from 2008 recommended a precautionary approach to GE trees.

GE tree proponents claim that regulatory processes can ensure safety, and complain that they are overly burdensome.  But experience with common GE crops demonstrates that standard regulatory reviews, as exemplified by the escape and invasion of GE creeping bentgrass, do not preclude serious harms.

In the case of the GE American chestnut, uncontained spread is in fact intentional.  

Hence there will be no way to prevent contamination of remaining pure American chestnuts, or hybrid chestnut orchards. Nor will it be possible to prevent the spread of GE chestnuts across territorial boundaries.    

The GE American chestnut is meant to launch us down the slippery slope of tree biotechnology.  

Underlying drivers

In the wings, and waiting to follow in that newly forged path are a host of other GE forest tree species, engineered for commercial industrial purposes.

Meanwhile, natural forests are rapidly declining, even as climate science dictates that protecting and restoring forests is a crucial part of regaining carbon balance.  

Yet logging, even of the precious remaining old growth forests, continues largely unabated, often subsidized with public funding. Replacing real forests with tree plantations, and then referring to them as “planted forests”, conceals the fact that tree plantations are more akin to corn fields than forests.  

They often displace natural forests and rural communities, are monocultures lacking biodiversity, doused with herbicides and agrichemicals, rapidly drain fresh water sources, and are designated for fast growth and short rotation mechanical harvesting. 

Debates about forest health, and the potential for biotechnology to provide solutions are irrelevant when underlying drivers of forest demise are not addressed. 

If we are seriously concerned about protecting forest health, then reigning in those underlying drivers of forest destruction is the real solution – not genetically engineering trees or replacing diverse natural forests with industrial plantations.      

These Authors 

Rachel Smolker is codirector of Biofuelwatch where she works to raise awareness of the impacts of large scale bioenergy, the bioeconomy and biotechnology.  Her work has spanned from local grassroots organizing to participation in the United Nations conventions on climate and biodiversity. She is on the steering committee of the Campaign to Stop GE Trees, and is a board member of the Global Forest Coalition.

Anne Petermann is the co-Founder and Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project and the co-founder and Coordinator of the international Campaign to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees. She has presented concerns about GE trees at UN climate, biodiversity and forest conferences, and to community and grassroots groups on six continents.

This article from today’s the ECOLOGIST – The Journal for the Post-Industrial Age – appeared yesterday in Earth Island Journal with the headline, GE American Chestnut – Restoration of a Beloved Species or Trojan Horse for Tree Biotechnology? and cross-posted in Independent Science News.

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Langelle Photography is a component of Global Justice Ecology Project’s Global Justice Media Program

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Cecelia Rodriguez, then-US Representative for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation of Mexico speaks against neoliberalism and the Global Elite at a World Bank protest in Washington, DC in 1995. PhotoLangelle.org

“Human beings are not responsible for global warming,” said Secretary Víctor Manuel Toledo Manzur, but elite capitalists and industry powerbrokers are.

Mexico’s Environment Secretary Víctor Manuel Toledo Manzur speaking on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. “Human beings are not responsible for global warming, as a superficial environmentalism and uncritical science would like to tell us,” said Toledo. “The responsible are a parasitic and predatory minority, and that minority has a name: neoliberalism.”

In a scathing rebuke to the elite capitalists and politicians who largely control the global economic and energy systems, Mexico’s newly-appointed environment secretary on Wednesday pointed a stern finger at the “parasitic and predatory neoliberals” for being the key culprits behind the planetary climate crisis.

“We can defend life, or we can continue destroying it in the name of the market, technology, progress, development, [and] economic growth.”
—Mexico Environment Secretary Víctor Manuel Toledo Manzur

As the Mexico News Daily reports, the public comments by Secretary Víctor Manuel Toledo Manzur were his first since his appointment by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador earlier this week and seen as a direct challenge to previous Mexican governments which sacrificed the nation’s environment to the interests of industry.

“Human beings are not responsible for global warming, as a superficial environmentalism and uncritical science would like to tell us,” said Toledo. “The responsible are a parasitic and predatory minority, and that minority has a name: neoliberalism.”

To read the full article, click here

 

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