All posts by Julian Sanchez

David Goodall’s Death Reaffirms How Important the “Right to Die” Is

As many of you may have heard by now, renowned ecologist David Goodall has passed away. While it is of course extremely unfortunate to hear about the death of somebody who was well-loved, I think the details surrounding his passing make for an interesting philosophical discussion.

The cause of his death was suicide, however it was not suicide in a way that society would consider “conventional.” Rather, he ended his own life by a method known assisted suicide. Assisted suicides differ from conventional suicides as they occur under the care, supervision, and judgement of physicians, therapists, and psychologists.

Goodall’s death seems to have reignited the discussion surrounding assisted suicide, especially regarding its philosophy and ethics, so I decided I would like to weigh in on this issue since it is something that I have personally thought, read, and talked about for a long time.

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To paraphrase a quote by Daniel Defoe, “There are only two things certain in life: death and taxes.” If the statement is true, then we should have the right to determine how death and taxes occur and play out.

We have the ability to vote for our government officials who will then go on to enact legislation and policies regarding how much tax we will have to pay and how those taxes will be used. If you dislike taxation, you may likely vote for the candidate who supports lower taxes. If you find that paying more taxes is beneficial, you may likely vote for the person who takes that platform as well.

What I find so egregious however, is the fact that we don’t have a system set up which allows us to decide how we die. At the very least, one of the last decisions we ever make in our life should be how we depart this world. We write our wills, hopefully pick our nursing homes, and prepare our end-of-life care as much as we possibly can, however the vast majority of us still don’t have the ability to preferentiate when and how we die.

To die with dignity is a noble and novel concept. For someone to die on their own terms can be one of the most empowering choices they will ever make. It’s almost definitely how I will choose to go. I have been a personal supporter of the right to die for as long as I can remember. And I don’t mean just for terminally ill people. If someone wants to die and perhaps therapy, drugs, etc have all failed, then why should they be stopped from seeking assisted suicide as an option? It is their life, their body, and they have a fundamental right to seek this method of suicide.

Mr. Goodall had to fly all the way from Australia to Switzerland in order to end his life in the closest way possible to how he wanted. He said he would have rather died in Australia, but Australia’s laws made the prospect of finding a safe assisted suicide clinic impossible. While I’m glad he was able to find a facility in Switzerland, it is still slightly depressing to me that he could not die in his home country as he wanted.

We need to give people safe and effective ways to end their life. Doctors, therapists, psychologists, facilities, and equipment dedicated to assisted suicide.

David spent his last hours with his friends and family while enjoying his favorite food and activities. During his final moments, as he listened to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, the last movement ‘Ode to Joy’ began. David flicked a switch which would administer the drug that would stop his heart and his eyes closed for the final time just two minutes later.

Much like the debate surrounding Planned Parenthood, women who want or need abortions will seek alternative and dangerous methods if they are not given easier access to safe abortion facilities. If people want to kill themselves, they’re going to do it. We should at least give them a space which is safe and dignifying.

A Beginner’s Guide to David Avocado Wolfe

 

I put this video together because I don’t think enough people truly understand who and what David Avocado Wolfe is. He has somehow amassed over 7,000,000 Facebook followers, and I’m sure many of those followers aren’t aware that they’re essentially supporting dangerous ideas that border lunacy. Some may argue that he’s just a guy who has strange beliefs and we should leave him alone, but the ideas he pushes become hazardous and have real-world consequences when he starts giving ‘medical advice’ to people who are suffering from diseases that require real medical treatment.

Daniel Bennett of AAPN has also written a great article that completely dismantles David’s claims on salt.

#DontCryWolfe

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Here is a great explanation on the David Avocado Wolfe phenomenon.

Here is another great article on David Wolfe.

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Video clips taken from:

JonasSunshine

Chris Rathouz

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Music: CFCF – Oil

Are GMOs Necessary? Or Can Organic & Traditional Farming Feed the World Alone?

Does the world really need GMOs? This is a question often asked by anti-GMO activists.

What’s unfortunate in the anti-GMO movement, however, is that it is often difficult to get a dialogue started on this topic purely due to the fact that there is so much misinformation surrounding genetic modification. Attempting to respond to their denialist questions and claims on GMOs oftentimes leads them to commit logical fallacies such as moving the goalposts, appealing to nature or tradition, or special pleading. To be fair though, I would expect anyone who is not well steeped in biology, chemistry, or agriculture in general, to be overwhelmed and confused just by the sheer amount of information that’s available on GM technology. And not only is there a tsunami of information available online, but the vast majority of it is either factually wrong or grossly misleading. I have even attempted to dispel some of the most common claims made by the anti-GMO movement, although I would probably be in the same boat as them if I didn’t have my skeptical background in science.

But besides the fact that GMOs have been shown to be safe for the ecosystem, as well as animal and human consumption, the question of whether or not they are necessary has taken more of an ideological standpoint. The argument has slowly shifted from “Are GMOs necessary?” to “Organic, traditional farming, and other methods can get the job done of feeding the world without the help of GMOs.” For the anti-GMO movement, the reasoning has become “why on Earth would we need transgenic GM crops if our other methods are perfectly capable of sustaining the world food supply?” (Additional source). Besides the false assumption that organic and traditional crops are ecologically and nutritionally superior to GM crops, as there is little to no evidence to support that notion, I think it’s a legitimate question. What do GMOs offer that organic and traditional farming do not? Well, let’s look into it.

Anti GMO

I first want to address right off the bat that regardless how you feel about GMOs, we have to share some middle-ground here. For instance, I think everyone would agree that eliminating or lowering food waste would be hugely beneficial to a truly sustainable food supply. I don’t think that all the other methods anti-GMO activists list — like better use of fertilizers, eliminating food-based biofuels, and cutting global meat consumption (which I actually think addresses another issue entirely, but I will write about that another time and update this article with a hyperlink once I have it written) — are enough to sustain a growing global population, but they may all be considered to be helpful ideas. What I think is important for everyone to focus on, however, is that food waste is the most prevalent of those issues; and everyone, regardless of their stance on GMOs, should come together to solve this problem.

I also think it’s important to address climate change. The world is beginning to feel the real effects of global warming, especially in third-world countries. In America alone, farmland has been decreasing. It’s even worse in impoverished nations like Africa. But despite the looming threat of climate change and future food shortage, the human population is projected to reach nearly 10 billion by the year 2050. In other words, about 2.5 billion people are going to be added to the world’s food supply in just 34 years. This could potentially end in a situation that not even Dr. Norman Borlaug could prevent. To further put it into perspective, we will need to produce more food in the next 34 years than we have in the entire history of the world. If nothing is done to avoid this situation, billions of people could potentially die due to starvation. There are many ideas of how to avoid this horrible catastrophe, as I have mentioned above, and it’s a daunting challenge, but it is plausible that we can accomplish this feat if scientists and farmers work together and use all the tools available to them. While many anti-GMO activists tend to claim that tackling food shortage can, should, and will be done solely through traditional and organic farming, many experts believe that is simply not feasible. In the face of climate change and water shortage, traditional and organic farming simply do not possess the necessary tools it would take to feed it would be near impossible to feed 10 billion people. Organic yields are about 1/4 the size of conventionally grown yields, organic pesticides and herbicides are far more toxic than their non-organic counterparts, and traditional breeding will take too long to produce the amount of food we will need by 2050. I’m not saying these methods of plant breeding are bad by any means, I’m just saying that there is room for GMOs to pick up where those methods are lacking. Eliminating food shortage, along with the other methods I listed, would not be enough to remedy the situation either. Yet the purveyors of those industries maintain the position that they will in fact be able to sustain a growing global population, especially in third-world countries, using their methods.

But let me explain the extremely valuable benefits GMOs offer that organically and traditionally grown crops do not. For starters, GM crops have shown to be very helpful in growing more food with less farmland and resources, which is more important than ever due to climate change and water shortage. Also, what we have now been able to do with herbicide resistant crops, like RoundUp-ready crops, is basically eliminate tillage. In the old days, and what is still practiced in many organic farms today, farmers would get on their tractors and they would plow all the fields and turn all the dirt over — that was the method farmers used to kill weeds. But we don’t need to plow fields anymore with GM crops. We don’t expose that dirt to evaporation of the moisture. We don’t have nearly as bad erosion as we did. We don’t have the instantaneous release of greenhouse gasses when the soil is flipped over. And since the adoption of herbicide tolerant crops in this country in the mid ’90s, the rate of not plowing, of using conservation tillage has more than doubled. It’s great that organic & traditional farmers are optimistic about their methods and products, and they do offer great benefits, but I don’t think their solutions of feeding the world are fully based in reality because they’re still stuck using these old methods of tilling and plowing the land. So it’s especially wrong to claim GMOs are not necessary for issues such as these. Farmers should be working together with all the tools available to them in order to overcome the challenges of feeding 10 billion people. The examples I just offered are just a few of the many ways that GM technology, in collaboration with other breeding methods, should be considered as necessary for a sustainable future. Further, genetically modified crops have decreased pesticide use by up to 27%. That is another huge benefit. But what I think are the biggest reasons for why GMOs should be considered necessary are because of what they have done, and what they will do, for developing nations.

Almost all African farmers are currently either living in poverty or extreme poverty. The African soil is very nitrogen-poor, meaning it’s not very effective for growing crops. On top of the soil already making success with growing crops difficult, the yields tend to be pretty small when it comes time for harvest. With genetic modification, however, scientists have been able to produce nitrogen-efficient rice that grows well in that type of soil. Not only that, but this rice contains higher levels of Vitamin A, which will help deal with the horrific epidemic of blindness and early child-hood death caused by Vitamin A deficiencies that plague these regions. And according to Alison Van Eenennaam, a specialist in
animal genomics and biotechnology at UC Davis, a genetically modified version of Cassava is being developed specifically for these regions. It will have a higher nutrient content, a better shelf life, and will be disease resistant. This is especially important because Cassava is currently a major source of carbohydrates in these parts of the world. Improved Cassava harvests could also increase the incomes of African households, helping lift poor farmers – many of whom are women – out of poverty. This brings up the next point that the champions of traditional and organic farming usually completely miss.

Are GMOs Necessary

Sustaining third-world countries by shipping food to those regions will only make them further dependent on first-world countries. And not only would millions of dollars need to be spent in order to keep that kind of operation going, it would still do absolutely nothing to address the actual problems that plague those regions, like Vitamin A deficiencies and extreme poverty. It would make much more sense to offer seeds to these farmers at very low costs, which is already being done with quite a few GMO crops, and allow these African farmers to grow higher-yielding crops with better nutritional content that they could then sell and make a better profit, thus helping to lift them out of poverty. If they don’t want the seeds, that is their choice. But to completely bar them from having access to these seeds is, in my eyes, an act of complete contempt and negligence.

What is always important to remember though, is that no form of farming should be considered the Holy Grail. Continuing to diversify crops is key. Expanding the use of precision agriculture is important, making organic farming more eco-friendly is important, and using the life-saving tools that genetic modification has to offer will allow humanity overcome these daunting challenges of feeding the world in the face of global climate change and water shortage. Banning or limiting the use of any these technologies could absolutely have catastrophic consequences. And no one should claim that one form of farming is 100% superior to another because they all have their pros and cons. What is imperative is that everyone works collectively on this issue right now for the sake of future generations.

So are GMOs necessary? I would say absolutely.

Responses to Popular Anti-GMO Arguments & Rhetoric

Responses to Popular Anti-GMO Arguments & Rhetoric

 

 

Anti GMO march

The typical rhetoric from the anti-GMO crowd can range anywhere from harmless, benign questions to malignant, ignorant claims based on complete scientific illiteracy.

There are hundreds of questions, concerns, and claims from the anti-GMO movement, some more legitimate than others, but I will only be addressing a few of their main talking points.    Continue reading Responses to Popular Anti-GMO Arguments & Rhetoric

“Burger Fear Mongering.”

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A report quickly went viral which claims to explain what happens to our bodies when we eat a McDonald’s Big Mac:

As a biology major and skeptic I was immediately intrigued by this, so I began reading through the post — and holy hell… I quickly found myself reading an article that was nothing more than a mashup of fear-mongering claims from misinformation. A lot of the scientific claims the authors made were just blatantly wrong; whether it was about biological processes or chemistry or something else. It’s especially disconcerting because these people are either completely unaware of what they’re talking about and are spreading grossly misleading information through their ignorance, or they are straight up just lying and purposefully creating fear amongst the public against McDonalds. Now don’t get me wrong, they do get a lot of stuff right but I really want to take the time to deconstruct and refute all the bullshit assertions the authors try to maintain in this article.   Continue reading “Burger Fear Mongering.”