Inconvenient Truths


Here in Thailand, there is a major smoke problem in the North every March. That’s when farmers burn the rice husks and the corn stalks. Most people who are free to do so leave for at least three weeks during the worst of the smoke. It’s dangerous to health, especially the smallest particles, which burrow deep into the lungs and stay there. Kids who are in school and parents with jobs are stuck here, shortening their lives with every breath.

No one seems to be able to solve the problem, and the government is heavily invested in not taking responsibility for it, nor in implicating the CP corporation, parent company to 7-11 and True/Move, as well as the major agricultural products company in Thailand. If anyone could get farmers to mulch or compost corn stalks it would be the company that sells them the seed and buys the final crop. But I’ve never seen that mentioned. I’ve attended forums with panels of experts, each preaching his own brand of obfuscation, explaining why the problem is intractable.

There are also campaigns to transfer the blame for deforestation, making it seems like it’s everybody’s fault. Schemes to get school children excited about planting trees. Schools collude one day a year when they do just that, the richest taking field trips to have their pictures taken of their students planting trees. We do the same thing in America when we want to deny what’s really going on. Get children to consume food products that make sicken and eventually kill them and then launch a “Got Milk?” campaign where celebrities have their pictures taken wearing a milk mustache.

Here in old Siam, the trends and fads are a few years behind the States. Thailand has lost more than sixty percent of its forests since 1950, but no one wants to talk about that. Instead, the government makes trees seeds available for free! They announce contests to come up with ideas to improve the efficacy of tree planting. These are “red herrings.” They make the Ministry in charge seem to be taking effective action. But no number of individuals can plant trees as quickly as Agribusiness can denude hillsides.

The problem is not the technology of planting, it is instead the deliberate deforestation by Agribusiness of Royal forests cleared in order to plant corn. This isn’t small scale stuff. These aren’t the random actions of poor farmers. Pretending that we each can “save the forests” by planting a seed on land we don’t own is folly. It’s like blaming the smoke in March on hill tribe people looking for mushrooms. Most people don’t own land here, certainly not most foreigners. What good does it do to plant a tree on ground that is going to mowed or paved over?

In Iowa, where I spent most of my time in America, politicians claim to be a friend of the family farm. Except there aren’t many family farms left, and those that survive are enormous operations, with millions of dollars at stake. Much bare ground is managed by corporations, and the owners of the land have retired to Florida or Arizona. You can drive for an hour in Central Iowa and not see anybody working outside. But you can sure smell the hogs when you pass an anonymous looking metal building with a lagoon out back.

Animal confinement is the rule of the day, and in Iowa there are ten times as many pigs as people, and ten to a hundred times more chickens and turkeys than pigs. Their waste is spread directly on fields as fertilizer, and when it rains, their unprocessed shit runs into creeks, then streams, then rivers. Iowa has the lowest surface water quality in the nation. In many industries, this would be considered Hazardous waste, and be dealt with as such, but not in Iowa, friend to the farmer.

Like the smoke in Thailand, the problem can’t be solved, because it’s almost illegal to even talk about it. “Farm Friendly” administrations have passed laws to limit slander and libel concerning animal confinement. A candidate for office who brings it up will certainly not be elected. Nitrates in drinking water are a state-wide public health hazard. Public rivers and reservoirs are off-limits to swimming. Clear Lake, the only natural lake in Iowa, is often closed to swimming. Algae blooms take over by mid-summer. All this runs downstream to the Gulf of Mexico, where it forms the Mother of All Algae Blooms.

We’re just now coming to grips with how often and to what degree we have been lied to by the people we thought were in charge. Nixon’s secret war in Laos and Cambodia, Reagan’s Iran/Contra scheme, Better Living Through Chemistry, Our Friend the Atom, Low-Fat Diets, Hydrogenated Cooking Oils with an infinite shelf life and which the body cannot differentiate from plastics, Sugar in everything, and when we objected to that, high fructose corn sweeteners and aspartame.


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