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Turning Point

mpan1's picture

People’s identities affect the environment as much as the environment affects people’s identities. If a person’s belief is to protect the environment then part of their identity is that they are an environmentalist. Likewise the environment can shape people’s identities because if they are given many resources they can either choose to use it respectfully or take advantage of it. Despite the interconnected ideas of the environment and people the relationship is largely not a mutual relationship from what I’ve seen. Starting from the colonists who arrived to the Americas, people have continued to take more resources from the environment than needed to sell for a profit. Although people have made efforts to alleviate the damage that has been done to the environment there is a drastic amount of destruction despite people’s efforts to relieve some of this damage. People have taken advantage of the earth so much that they now rely on the bioengineering ways that they have adopted. Because of this heavy reliance on unnatural processes of accumulating produce, it is impossible reverse the damage.

In All Over Creation, by Ruth Ozeki, focuses on the environmental issue of the use of GMOs in plants and crops. The Seeds of Resistance, a group of hippies protesting against the use of GMOs, have staged many public disturbances in order to get more people informed and aware of this issue. Despite all their effort I believe it is impossible to fully irradiate a widely accepted substance by farmers that many consumers don’t even know are in the foods they eat. So far the response they have received in the supermarket and when talking to Yumi’s kids has been mostly positive overall. Despite that, if I had been approached about the issue of GMOs I most likely will not think much of it and think that these kids are full of it. My reaction would be very much like Yumi’s in that “you can’t believe everything people tell you, especially some guy dressed up in a cow suit”(135). Furthermore, the Seeds of Resistance do not list any cons about the use of GMOs besides the fact that a food, for example a potato, which consists of GMOs is no longer a potato and contains things like poison but they have no proof of it. Also, there are no side effects that are alarming enough to pay closer attention to this issue. The main argument to protest against genetic engineering is that it “is changing the semantics, the meaning of life itself. We’re trying to usurp the plant’s choice”(124). Basically they are against unnatural, foreign practices. But their argument is not sufficient enough to gain enough support for real change to happen. The hopelessness of eliminating GMOs is seen throughout the novel such as when Elliot interviews someone who works for Pinkerton. Elliot learns that farmers are mostly poor and “can’t afford to go up against a corporation” so they settle. They are “so far in debt a court case would bankrupt them(221). This shows how little power farmers have that these big businesses have the power to shut them down. Even if a group of farmers gets together to protest, the big corporations will always win just because they have the ability to counteract the actions of the activists because of the resources available to big businesses. They end their conversation with The Pinkerton telling Elliot that there is sugar and beef flavoring in the fries he is eating and says,” Never used to let my kids eat that crap. But my grandkids, forget about it” (222) which conveys the evolution of how unnatural things are becoming more accepted in consumer foods. Just like the flavoring and sugar, GMOs are also looked past upon. It is getting harder to avoid the consumptions of foods made with GMOs.

Furthermore, people change. Elliot used to be vocal about issues he cared about. Now when he visits Yumi Yumi has notices that he has changed. Elliot responds, “It was different than I thought. Like I said, I was naïve”(226). Something that he used to be passionate about is now something of his past. He gave up on what he cared about. This could very well happen to the Seeds. Once they really discover the real world and face hurtles along the way they may discover that their efforts are hopeless which may cause them to abandon their cause of eliminating GMOs.

Moreover, there will always be a barrier in the way of performing such radical effects. In this case, there are many people who resist the movement such as Will. Because what used to be Lloyd’s property now belongs to Will, Will gets to decide to not let the movement happen and kick the people off his property. He is uncomfortable with the idea of the Seeds along with other protestors destroying their crops. He claims “What they’re doing is wrong… I thought I’d feel angry, but it just hurts me to see. How can they be so disrespectful of all those plants? (306). When later interviewed he adds “But this field is private property, and they got no right to trespass and undo all our hard work and interfere with my family’s livelihood”(307). Also evidenced at the Potato Party launch are neighbors who protested against the presence of the Seeds along with the hate mail they get. The sheriff and state troops were even involved stopping the disturbance. There are people also willing to work with big businesses who are trying to get rid of activists like the Seeds such as Elliot has he works for Cynaco.

Lloyd’s death also represents the hopelessness of the Seed’s revolution. He was the beacon of hope at the Potato Party launch as he passionately delivers his speech and symbolically pulls out a NuLife crop. He gives hope to the those who support the movement. Before passing away Lloyd he says, “‘My seeds. I have to save them!’ then ‘the delirium subsided, and he fell back. ‘It’s too late,’ he whispered. ‘Too late.’ His eyelids fluttered shut again, and for a while he just lay there’”(351). Slowly, people like Lloyd are starting to lose hope and without hope there is no motivation to do anything to proceed and work towards the goal. The dream is dead without hope.

Furthermore, by the end of the novel there are two deaths yet only one birth. This could symbolize that while there is rebirth or change for the better there will also be losses and setbacks. In this case there were two setbacks, or deaths, yet only one change for the better, the birth, which could stand for the fact that destruction always outweighs positive change. Once activists take one step forwards, events will occur that will set them two steps backwards. This way there is no progress. Despite activists trying to move forwards there will be obstacles to set them backwards which will be a lot more severe and harder to change. The destruction and change for the better will never equalize which is why the environment will always be at a state of despair.

Moreover, even activists who dedicate their lives to a cause can lose hope. After the New York Times ran an article about the fact that a company had stopped selling unnatural seeds Geek angrily says, “It’s a total lie… They’ll just quietly continue with the R&D, and when they’re ready to take to market, they’ll announce they’ve changed their minds again.” Geek is viewing what seems like a success pessimistically. After losing hope even the triumphs seem to come with downfalls. He claims they have “lost the war” despite Y reminding him that “little victories count” also (399). Despite his claim Geek does not give up on fighting for natural foods and seeds.

Having a positive approach to successes no matter how small is just as important as performing the actions to achieve a goal. Near the end of the novel there are events that demonstrate that the novel might just have a positive turning point. First of all Will “drop[s] the lawsuit out of consideration for [Cass]”(353). Even though Will is not fully on board with the movement this little action helps the Seeds continue to dedicate their efforts to the cause. For example, the Seeds come up with a plan to keep the legacy of Lloyd and Momoko’s seeds alive with the New Garden of Earthly Delights website. This way, long after Lloyd and Momoko have passed, their seeds will continue to prosper in natural environments. Lastly, although Elliot never learns from his unmoral ways he does try to make amends. After learning about Charmey’s death he calls in an anonymous tip hoping that it would provide the Seeds with some answers and closure, which goes to show that people can change for the better instead of for worse and that change can be used to do some good.

All in all there may be determents along the road that may prevent any change from happening. There are many obstacles in the way such as losing passion as one learns more about the world, and big businesses being a determent in making sure the farmers such as Lloyd and Momoko continue to use their resources so that they don’t go bankrupt. Perhaps it may be impossible erase all the damage but with little steps, progress can be made. People can change for the better as evidenced through Will and Elliot. Many people do have good hearts and want to help others as evidenced through the Seeds. The results may not always be significant and may still be overshadowed by the damage that continues to happen in the world but at least there are people giving it their all in trying to make a difference for the better. If people continue to persevere despite the many obstacles that occurs in the way, the change they seek just might happen. As long as they learn that they can change to do good for the world and activists continue to keep a positive approach there is still a possibly that these advocates can, as Cass put it, “save the world”(417).


Anne Dalke's picture

I’m appreciating your shifting this revision from the “mutual” relationship of identity and environment to focus on the uni-directional dimensions here: how much harm humans have done, and the difficulties of stopping the long-term effects of those actions. When you wrote, for instance, that “the environment will always be at a state of despair,” I thought of MadamPresident’s counterargument, on the role we all play as “seeds”: /oneworld/changing-our-story-2016/your-role-seed And/but/then I saw how your own draft moves from a belief that progress is not possible—that “destruction and change for the better will never equalize”—to the hope that “if people continue to persevere,” “the change they seek just might happen.”

One particular change you don’t note is the way in which market forces might be used for good. See esp. p. 411 of Ozeki’s novel:

“Will was anticipating some problems selling off his NuLifes, Cass had told me. There were boycotts of genetically engineered products in Europe that were eroding the market, and prices were down. McCain, the largest Canadian potato processor, had decided to go GE free, and Frito-Lay had followed suit. Will was saying to Geek, ‘I’m not going to plant them if people don’t want to buy them… Don’t get me wrong, it’s a solid potato but, but I ran the data, and I can’t see any appreciable gain in yields. I’m betting there won’t be much savings in inputs either’”….

“‘Heard there’s an organic dairy moving in over by Idaho Falls that might mean a new market for hay. Thought I might check it out.’ He was saying, ‘Philosophically speaking, I’ve got nothing against growing organic, you know. Problem is, you can’t eat philosophy.’”

I’ll be interested to see what happens when you turn, this week, to a comparative analysis of our next two collaboratively written (!) texts, by Oreskes/Conway and Jensen/McMillan. You end this draft with an emphasis on the need for activists “to keep a positive approach.” Our sci-fi text, The Collapse of Western Civilization, focuses on governmental actions (and inaction!); the graphic novel, As the World Burns, is directed not at anti-environmentalists, but at environmentalists who have fallen for popular rhetoric about how their individual actions (recycling, buying new light bulbs, driving a hybrid, etc.) may actually make a major difference in the health of the planet. The book argues that casual environmentalism detracts attention from the true causes of the world's problems. Like Oreskes and Conway, Jensen and McMillan say that, to save the planet, we might just need a revolutionary structural overhaul of modern civilization.

I’m eager to see how you’ll take up these further challenges….