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Degenerating Environment

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, the environmental issue focused on is 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.

           All in all these determents prevent any change from happening. There is no going back despite the efforts that have been made by resistance groups such as the Seeds of Resistance. There are too many obstacles in the way such as losing passion as one learns more about the world, big businesses being a determent in making sure the farmers such as Lloyd and Momoko continue to use the resources provided by these big businesses so that they don’t go bankrupt. Also, a group of kids are unable to gather enough support even with help of Lloyd and Momoko since they do not have a sufficient argument. Ultimately, it is impossible for activists to actually achieve any change due to too many obstacles in the way.

Ruth Ozeki. Parts I-III. All Over Creation. New York: Penguin, 2004.


Anne Dalke's picture


I like your beginning this draft with an acknowledgement of the bidirectional effect that “identity and environment” have on one another (certainly the key tenet of this course!);  you go on to say that these are “largely not mutual,” however, that capitalism has trumped any concern about environmental effects. If you want to learn more about other folks’ thinking along these lines, see Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (we’ll read one of her newspaper pieces later in the semester), and Elizabeth Kolbert’s review of Klein’s work, Can Climate Change Cure Capitalism?

Your argument in this essay is very clear: it’s a two-part claim that “because of heavy reliance on unnatural processes of accumulating produce, it is impossible to reverse the damage”; and also that “ultimately, it is impossible for activists to actually achieve any change due to too many obstacles in the way…all these determents prevent any change from happening.”

In developing that argument, you cite lots of good evidence in support of that argument; what I’d like to discuss, in our conference this week, is what gets left out of Ozeki’s novel when you do so (are you arguing that it’s a “Trojan Horse” after all?). When you say that “there are no side effects that are alarming enough to pay closer attention to this issue,” I wonder about Cass’s cancers and infertility. When you say that “unnatural things are becoming more accepted,” I wonder about those in the novel who trace a different trajectory, like Yumi’s kids, and her father. When you talk about “losing passion as one learns more about the world,” I wonder about Frankie’s ongoing education, and increasing passion about activism. When you say that “there are many people who resist the movement such as Will,” I’m wanting you to keep on reading, and track how-and-why his views change.

As you finish the novel, I’ll ask you to keep on reading not just for more evidence in support of your claim, but also for any counter-evidence. You’ll also be interested to know (and I hope will actively participate in!) our upcoming class discussion on environmental activism, which will begin with Frank’s letter to his baby daughter, pp. 416-7:"it's a class war, Tibet, and we're fighting for the planet...Daddy's going to save the world." Will your classmates agree or disagree that he is going to do this...? How might Teju Cole ("this is not about justice; it is about having a big emotional experience") read that letter? What about the authors of Take Back the Market, who want us all to “honor the survival needs of those we share the planet with”? Come to class with your responses to these questions…

And come to conference with some ideas about your next paper: having finished Ozeki’s novel, how might you revise this draft? How might it grow and change?

P.S. please re-write this sentence for our conference, shifting it from passive to active voice:
“In All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki, the environmental issue focused on is the use of GMOs in plants and crops.”