Authors Posts by Annie Spiegelman

Annie Spiegelman


Stand up for facts on Earth Day

This Earth Day, Saturday, April 22, the scientific community—and its supporters—will hit the streets to break the silence.

By Annie Spiegelman, the Dirt Diva

Out of the swamp and smack into a cesspool. It seems every day is alt-day with the new, wildcard administration in the White House. Policymakers and an assortment of fake, farcical and fanatical news organizations keep spewing alternative facts on a plethora of important issues but they’re hitting especially hard on science. You know, that class in high school you never showed up for? Seems like evidence seekers, critical thinkers and fact-checkers are so yesterday!

When scientists continue to be doubted, disregarded, insulted and silenced, it’s impossible to remain silent or apolitical any longer. Vital scientific research is under attack by wealthy extremists who have made their fortunes in industries that continue to poison humanity, pollute our environment and squander our natural resources. Pick your poison: Oil, coal, fracking, chemical pesticides, factory farming. It’s all fine with Trump. Funding for basic scientific research, environmental protections and public health are all in jeopardy while the EPA’s authority is deteriorating as fast as the Arctic ice cap.

Am I freaking out? Well, yes. Where are my people!? The ones that conclude, by scientific method, that my hypothesis “we’re all doomed,” is true or not.

This Earth Day, Saturday, April 22, 2017, the scientific community will march in Washington, D.C. and around the globe. There will be upward of 400 sister marches across the earth, including in San Francisco, where citizens from all walks of life, along with formal scientists, will march in support of science. Bill Nye, the Science Guy, will serve as honorary co-chair along with official partner The Planetary Society, a nonprofit organization with more than 50,000 members that promotes the exploration of space through education, advocacy and innovative projects.

“We march to celebrate science,” Nye says. “We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policymakers to enact evidence-based policies in the public interest.”

Why is this march so essential? Scientific data shows 2016 as being the warmest year on record since modern record-keeping began in 1880. In 2012, Trump tweeted, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” Last month, the president invited a group of coal miners and coal industry executives to be present at the signing of a sweeping executive order to curb climate regulations at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He said that this order will be “putting American jobs above addressing climate change,” and “putting an end to the war on coal.” He also said, “We are going to put our coal miners back to work.” Due to the growth of natural gas, renewable power, outside suppliers and mine mechanization, coal mining jobs have gone from 250,000 in 1980 to 53,000 today.

Could it get any worse? Why, yes it can. Last month Trump’s “terrific” new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, reversed the Obama administration’s effort to ban a pesticide linked to nervous system damage in kids. Chlorpyrifos, manufactured by Dow Chemical (trade name Lorsban) has been banned from consumer products and residential use nationwide but is still widely used on farms. A recent UC Berkeley study showed that 7-year-old children in the Salinas Valley who were exposed to high levels of the pesticide, while still in the womb, had slightly lower IQ scores than their classmates.

“EPA turned a blind-eye to extensive scientific evidence and peer reviews documenting serious harm to children and their developing brains, including increased risk of learning disabilities, reductions in IQ, developmental delay, autism, and ADHD,” said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, senior scientist at the Natural Resource Defense Council in a Pesticide Action Network news release.

“Today’s decision means children across the country will continue to be exposed to unsafe pesticide residues in their food and drinking water.”

Tom Steyer, president of the Bay Area’s NexGen Climate, believes that these latest environmental actions are an assault on American values and “endanger the health, safety and prosperity of every American.”

“Trump is deliberately destroying programs that create jobs and safeguards that protect our air and water, all for the sake of allowing corporate polluters to profit at our expense,” Steyer said in a statement.

This is why we all need to stop playing mind-numbing games on the internet and become informed citizens of science. If we want clean air, water and food, we have to fight powerful biotech, pesticide companies and now—the head of the EPA, who has sued the EPA 14 times in the past. Yes, it’s disgraceful and shameful, but it’s just the way it is. This is why we need to march.

March for Science, Saturday, April 22; marchforsciencesf.com.

'SEED: The Untold Story' a call the arms

Independent farmers challenging chemical companies
'SEED: The Untold Story' tells the story of independent farmers who are challenging chemical companies.

By Annie Spiegelman, the Dirt Diva

When I first heard about the idea of patenting a seed, or any kind of plant, I was absolutely horrified and I thought, surely that’ll never be allowed. You can’t own nature.”—Jane Goodall

While recently attending Grass Valley’s fabulous Wild & Scenic Film Festival (January 12-16), I had the chance to see the latest documentary from Collective Eye Films entitled SEED: The Untold Story. This is another visually gorgeous and informative film directed and produced by Taggart Siegel and Jon Betz, the Emmy-nominated, award-winning team that produced Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? and The Real Dirt on Farmer John. SEED tells the story of independent farmers globally who are fighting the immense political and corporate power of chemical companies that now control the majority of our food.

Here’s the scoop: Twelve thousand years ago humans discovered agriculture by doing something as simple as saving seeds. A vast variety of seeds were passed down and propagated from generation to generation, farmer to farmer, garden geek to garden geek. These heirloom seeds were open-pollinated so they could be saved and planted year after year, producing new generations of plants.

Today, there are seeds created in biotech labs and patented by multinational corporations who believe they have the right to own agriculture. Often these genetically modified seeds are treated with pesticides and herbicides. They cannot be saved and replanted. National Geographic reports that up to 96 percent of the vegetable seeds that were available in 1903 have disappeared. In less than a century of industrial agriculture, our once abundant seed diversity from family farms and gardens has plummeted to a group of mass-produced varieties created by 10 agrichemical companies (with Syngenta, Bayer and Monsanto being at the top of my evildoer list).

SEED explores the history of agriculture and how today’s farmers are struggling to keep seed diversity alive. Throughout the film you’ll be introduced to seed savers, scientists, botanists, farmers and indigenous communities who are fighting battles against large chemical companies that now control the majority of food. Our ancestors worshipped and treasured the magic of seeds since the dawn of humankind. A seed is a tiny time capsule holding genetic data from our past. It was planted, saved and passed on to the next generation for food. A tiny seed may appear insignificant, but its downstream potential is truly profound. Maintaining diversity in our seed stock is crucial to our survival.

Despite the film’s occasionally dour message, it’s filled with a cast of colorful characters, chock full of scientific statistics, philosophical anecdotes and remarkable farming stories. Joseph Simcox, The Botanical Explorer and his motley crew, who resemble roadies-gone-wild-in-the-woods, will have you smiling as they travel around the world identifying food plant resources focusing on underutilized crops and wild species “for all the crazy people like me who sit there at night and look at bags of beans: It leaves us a mystery … ,” says Simcox, with the genuine awe of a kindergartner.

Vandana Shiva, founder of Navdanya, her nonprofit farm organization that campaigns for biodiversity and against corporate control of food, believes it is not an investment if it is destroying the planet. “The desire to save seeds comes from an ethical urge to defend life’s evolution,” Shiva says. “Two-hundred-fifty thousand farmers in India have committed suicide in areas where seed has been destroyed … where they have to buy the seed every year from Monsanto at a very high cost.” Shiva and her team have created 40 seed banks in India. They now take the seeds they have saved and bring them to the areas where farmers have given up.

The filmmakers weave various styles of animation to explain the evolution of seeds and the growth of agribusiness, as well as breathtaking time-lapse segments showing the transformation of seeds to seedlings. “Seeds are so crafty,” Goodall says. “There is a power. To me it’s magic. Its life force is so strong. There are seeds that rely on fire. There are seeds that tangle up in the hair of an animal that get carried for miles. There are seeds that can’t germinate unless they pass through the gut of an animal.”

Close-ups of stunning varieties of corn in New Mexico fields and spotted, polka-dotted beans in many colors look more like jewels than something edible. For hortiholics like me, it is a visual feast of seeds, soil and plants.

Ready to stick it to the chemical man? Get in touch with the filmmakers to bring a screening to your town at seedthemovie.com.



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