25 February 2015

National Geographic's Misapplication of GMOs

In the rhetoric of science, one of the following is not like the others: evolution, global warming, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The misfit is GMOs. That is unless the scientific rhetoric in question comes from National Geographic.

I recently took part in a panel discussion about the intersection of scientific rhetoric and environmental communication, and one of the topics that came up was National Geographic's most recent issue, which contains the cover story about why people have a distrust of science. (Check out the article here.) The article features an okay discussion about why so many people have doubts about things like evolution and global warming. However, in contrast to the principles of science, which seek to gain an ever-larger understanding of our situation, the article impedes and constrains itself substantially, particularly in regard to GMOs.

The article identifies the conflict between people's common sense and the scientific method as a key source of misunderstanding. That's certainly a valid point, but it's only part of the discussion. An important issue the article fails to address is that science itself created some of the distrust. As one of my colleagues on the panel pointed out, science enjoyed a "golden age," in which it aligned with industrial and political forces to create dangerous products (for example, atomic bombs and industrial chemicals) that harmed humans and the environment. Along the way, these scientific creations also harmed the reputation of science.

National Geographic says that the majority of scientific research holds that GMOs are safe for human consumption, and therefore, the case of GMOs is a defining example of people's irrational common sense trumping scientific consensus. With regard to the safety of eating GMOs, National Geographic may very well be right, but consumption is not the whole story, and the magazine does a disservice to science by leaving out key considerations.

It is in the history of science's malpractice that we find the difference between evolution, global warming, and GMOs. GMOs are scientific creations, not established theories about the planet's health and development. As scientific creations, GMOs are more like industrial chemicals and pesticides. In fact, they work in tandem with pesticides to create environmental problems. For example, the combination of GMOs and pesticides imperils monarch butterfly populations by eliminating milkweed, an important source of food for the insects. Pesticides like DDT were once said to be "safe" until we became aware of their larger environmental impacts (like the near extinction of bird species, including the bald eagle). And that is where the aspect of public doubt that National Geographic ignores comes into play. We have been misinformed about scientific creations before, and that led to the crash of science's golden age. Given that history, the control that GMO developers have placed on information regarding their products makes people even more wary.

By disregarding an important contributor to public doubt over science, National Geographic simplifies a complex issue, neglects important environmental considerations (like the possible extinction of species), and contributes to the cloud of mistrust people have for even firmly supported and comprehensive scientific facts like global warming and evolution.

I guess crop fields aren't the only places GMOs are misapplied.

19 February 2015

Love in the Time of Treatment Plants

We've long known that the struggle between fear and love is about relationships: Fear fights for isolation, and love fights for connection. 

The stakes may remain the same, but the venues of this battle have changed. Today's sites of contention can have a uniquely ugly and foul character, and they make the struggle that much more important. Most recently, that struggle played out at a water treatment plant in California. The following video shows how:

Seeing the dog at the treatment plant, I couldn't miss the presence of the neglect, suffering, and marginalization that accompany fear. Those factors enable each other, making connection rare and fragile. In such a situation, it is easy to discount love.

By contrast, the second part of the video provides a reminder of just how powerful and effective love can be. The people at Hope for Paws, the organization that rescued the dog, cleaned him up, and helped make him available for adoption, prove the fight for love is worth it. Sometimes, it takes just a little offering, and other times, it requires extra effort, but when a connection is made, the bond can overcome even the most apparently hopeless situations.

This is no time for the faint of heart, but it is most definitely a time for the heart.

08 February 2015

That's the Style

When it comes to the fashions of environmental messages, Greenpeace is a trendsetter.

Last summer, I blogged about the organization's powerful use of critical rhetoric against Royal Dutch Shell and Lego. That campaign ended in success when Lego announced it would cut ties with the oil company. Greenpeace has also taken on Shell in other fun, strategic ways, including this video recorded at a racing event sponsored by Shell:

The video Shell doesn't want you to see from Greenpeace on Vimeo.

Greenpeace's attacks on Shell represent part of the environmental group's Save the Arctic campaign. The campaign has been successful at helping delay Shell's plans to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean, demonstrating the power of Greenpeace's unique messaging strategies.

Like all good trendsetters though, Greenpeace continues to push forward with its ideas. It has decided to make the style guide for the Save the Arctic campaign open-source. The campaign's fonts, colors, images, and videos are available here to the public, which Greenpeace encourages to create content that expands the reach of the message. For example, I was able to download this logo:

Giving people access to these resources allows Greenpeace to promote its message in a cool, new way. Now, many more voices can add to the campaign, opening up creative potential and taking on Shell through a strength-in-numbers approach.

With its latest strategy, Greenpeace shows us an exciting future for environmental communication.