Natural Resources

Fall 2011 Natural Resources Law Class at UB

Glyphosate’s Gradual Trespass September 14, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — rickahrens2 @ 3:45 pm

In her seminal book Silent Spring, Rachel Carson warned a pesticide-happy America about the ill effects of rampant DDT usage. Carson understood the pervasive influence of pesticide manufacturers and the ability to influence public debate, writing, “When the public protests, confronted with some obvious evidence of damaging results of pesticide applications, it is fed little tranquilizing pills of truth. We urgently need an end to these false assurances . . . .”

Carson’s observations ring true today. Glyphosate, marketed by Monsanto under the name “Round-Up,” an herbicide, has saturated agribusiness through a near-monopoly of glyphosate-resistant seeds. These seeds include major U.S. cash crops, like corn and soy.

While there has been plenty of noise surrounding Monsanto’s intellectual property lawsuits against farmers whose land is inadvertently germinated by glyphosate-resistant seeds, there is a growing uproar over the infiltration of glyphosate-resistant weeds.

To the extent we value our forests, parks, and undeveloped land, the widespread use of glyphosate and the resistant plant species it promotes should concern anyone interested in conserving those natural resources.

Some of these plants, like ragweed, aggravate allergies. Others, like Palmer’s pigweed, spread so quickly and diffusely that they crowd out local biodiversity in undeveloped land as much as any industrial farm. Farmers have now moved to other herbicides specifically focused on destroying these weeds, and the cycle continues. Agriculture is painting itself into a corner. Our arable land and pristine parks suffer as a result.

We may disagree whether farmland is a natural resource itself. However, the environmental impact of blanket applications of Round-Up invite scrutiny wherever our natural resources are valued. Monsanto has aggressively pushed for greater use of glyphosate and has been modifying the formula to account for resistant weeds. The public must demand the reduction of glyphosate resistant crops to encourage more judicious use of chemicals that only serve to eat away at our soil’s vivacity and our environment’s beauty.

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Buffalo’s Natural Resources Economy September 12, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — rickahrens2 @ 10:31 pm

Solyndra, a solar panel company that received federal subsidies from the 2009 stimulus bill, filed for bankruptcy in August. Solyndra executives cited a number of reasons for the business’s failure: aggressive competition from China; the high manufacturing cost of their innovative solar arrays; and depressed demand for the expensive arrays from the ongoing recession.

Conservatives saw things differently. Washington Post contributor Jennifer Rubin, in a September 5 blog post, said the failure of the company proved the “green-jobs fetish . . . was mostly hype.” When it was revealed that a billionaire Obama campaign contributor, George Kaiser, had invested in Solyndra, Republicans were quick to hail the downfall of “crony capitalism.”

Western New York disproves the notion that green jobs are just “hype.” In fact, our community is already reaping the benefits of green investment. The Steel Winds wind farm in Lackawanna brought jobs to our region with the help of government subsidies and currently provides enough energy to power 6,000 homes. As the fourth windiest city in the nation, Buffalo’s wind energy potential suggests those subsidies were not misplaced.

Granted, similar initiatives have not sailed through the democratic process. The Cape Wind project in Massachusetts faced public criticism from a small but extremely vocal “NIMBY” contingent. A 2010 poll by the Boston Globe revealed just 20% of those polled objected to the wind farm’s construction; in contrast, 68% approved. Still, the opposition has managed to keep the project tied up in state court.

Wind farms certainly affect other natural resources. New turbines are seen as eyesores by some, affecting the aesthetic value of coastal areas- particularly tourist hotspots like Cape Cod.

However, from a utilitarian standpoint we must consider the local benefits of wind farms. A community like Buffalo, sorely in need of jobs and cheap energy, must take advantage of the abundant renewable resources in our backyard. The net effect of moving toward green technology will make us better stewards of the environment than if we passively accept a world of high emissions and fossil fuel consumption.