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

Posts by photolangelle

Sentiment during the uprising. Photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP

Orin Langelle-23 November 2019

Photographer’s note: Upon arriving at our hotel in Santiago, Anne Petermann and I hooked up with Biofuelwatch’s Gary Hughes. We headed toward the mass action up the street. Even though thousands of people have been detained, over twenty killed and over 200 people with serious injuries to their eyes, yesterday afternoon was energizing to say the least.

Not too far down the street I smelled tear gas and also smelled the smoke of marijuana. People, some masked, walked with a defiance that was amazing. Streets were clogged with protesters. In areas of green space people rested, played music, sang and others formed a circle dance.

This is a revolution. Grim but with a sense of humor and high spirits. Emma Golman came to my mind with her famous comment, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution.”

And this is a revolution without single leaders.

Police vehicle. Photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP

Vendors. Photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP

Remembering a person who was killed. Photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP

Police vehicle shooting water at protesters. Note the person on the left who just threw the bottle that can be seen headed towards police vehicle. Photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP

Protesters scatter from water spray. Photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP

Headed toward major confrontation. Photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP

The almost ever present tear gas rises in the upper right hand corner of the photo. Photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP

Person climbing to try and pry sheet metal from building to use for shields against “rubber” bullets. Photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP

Masked person looks toward the street. Photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP

Vendors continue as tear gas wafts. Photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP




Slider photo of Volcan Villarrica shot from Parque Nacional Huerquehue, Chile. photo: Langelle/

Listen to Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project, talk about COP 25 and recent events in Chile here.

Stay tuned for the latest news from the Global Justice Ecology Project and Biofuelwatch’s joint team going that will be reporting on current events from uprising on Chile Climate News.

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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/

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.

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.

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.”

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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 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


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.
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


“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.”

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


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 websitefeatures photo essays, photos of the month and other posts linking art and activism.

Langelle’s Portraits of Struggle Exhibit Hits the Road


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.

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


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)

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:

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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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