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Articles by Meredith Niles

Meredith Niles is a PhD student in Ecology at the University of California, Davis. Her research examines the variables that influence the adoption of climate change mitigation and adaptation practices in agriculture. Her work focuses in California at the farm level and New Zealand with agricultural processors, which is implementing the world's first greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme to include agriculture. At UC Davis she is a board member of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute and on the Executive Board of the Russell Ranch Long-Term Agricultural Research Center. She is the former coordinator of the Cool Foods campaign at the Center for Food Safety.

All Articles

  • Americans care about global warming, but don’t see how it connects to other environmental problems

    A new poll shows that Americans do care about global warming, but don’t seem to realize how prevalent it really is. This week Gallup released data from its latest poll on global warming indicating that more Americans — 41 percent, the highest number since 1998 — believe that global warming is exaggerated. This sounds like […]

  • How biotech companies control research on GMO crops

    Recently I wrote about the dwindling faith the American people seem to have in science, seemingly choosing to either ignore or disregard the latest research on global warming. Why has science lost its place in the hearts and minds of America? Has the media been a culprit? Did the Bush administration dismiss one too many scientific reports? But now, a recent article leaves me wondering if science has not only taken a backseat to American thoughts, but a backseat to industry influence as well.

    In Thursday's New York Times, Andrew Pollack reported on how crop scientists throughout the country have been unable to perform adequate testing and research on biotech crops, because of the strong hand of biotechnology companies. Pollack was likely alerted to the story after a group of 26 corn insect scientists from 16 different states anonymously submitted a statement to the EPA on a docket regarding the evaluation of insect resistance risks with a brand of Pioneer Hi-Bred biotech corn. In their statement the scientists noted that they chose to remain anonymous because "virtually all of us require cooperation from industry at some level to conduct our research."

    Remaining anonymous allowed the scientists to fully express their real concern with biotech crop research controlled by the industry through technology and stewardship agreements, required to be signed for the purchase of genetically modified seeds. Such agreements are the same that farmers must sign before purchasing seeds, which prevent them from replanting seeds or thus risk legal action. The scientist coalition noted that such agreements "explicitly prohibit research" and "inhibit public scientists from pursuing their mandated role on behalf of the public good unless the research is approved by industry." The effects were clearly stated -- "no truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions regarding the technology." Yet the scientific research community has not always been this way. Before patents were granted for life forms, the Plant Variety Protection Act passed by Congress in 1970 allowed farmers to save and replant protected seeds and gave scientists the right to research protected varieties.

  • Poll shows more Americans do not believe global warming is result of man-made activity

    Amidst the chaos of the Inauguration events and Obama administration's transition, Rasmussen Reports conducted a global warming poll late last week. As I perused through the poll questions and responses I could barely believe what was reported: An increasing number of people do not think global warming is caused by human activity.

    According to the poll, 44 percent of all people polled thought long-term planetary trends were the primary cause of global warming as opposed to the 41 percent of people who blamed human activity. In 2006, only 35 percent of people believed that global warming was caused by planetary trends. Overall, 41 percent of people polled stated global warming was a very serious problem, and 23 percent of people polled thought that it was a somewhat serious problem. Interesting though, according to Rasmussen Reports, 64 percent of Democrats think global warming is a serious problem while only 18 percent of Republicans believe the same.

    Affiliations aside, this news is not only disheartening, but it is also downright disturbing.

  • Organic farming beats genetically engineered corn as response to rising global temperatures

    This week Science published research ($ub. req'd) detailing the vast, global food-security implications of warming temperatures. The colored graphics are nothing short of terrifying when you realize the blotches of red and orange covering the better part of the globe indicate significantly warmer summers in coming decades.

    The implications of the article are clear -- we need to be utilizing agricultural methods and crops that can withstand the potential myriad impacts of global climate change, especially warmer temperatures. The article significantly notes, "The probability exceeds 90 percent that by the end of the century, the summer average temperature will exceed the hottest summer on record throughout the tropics and subtropics. Because these regions are home to about half of the world's population, the human consequences of global climate change could be enormous."

    Whether you believe global warming is part of a "natural cycle" or a man-made phenomenon is irrelevant. The bottom line is that our earth is rapidly warming, and this is going to drastically affect our food supply. We must undertake both the enormous task of reducing our carbon emissions now to avert the worst, while at the same time adapting our society to the vast and multitudinous effects of unavoidable global climate change. Failing to do either will, as the Science article indicates, have dire effects on a large portion of our world's population.

    Determining the best course of action for ensuring food security in the face of global climate change remains a challenging task. Recognizing that climate change is slated to affect developing countries and small-scale farmers the most is a crucial point. Such understanding enables people to realize that viable solutions must be accessible, affordable, and relevant to the billions of small-scale farmers in the developing world. Unfortunately, it appears that some of the solutions on the table fail to meet these criteria.

    Last week, Monsanto made a big public relations splash by filing documents with the FDA regarding a drought-tolerant GM corn variety it is developing with a German company, BASF. Monsanto claims that in field trials, the corn got 6-10 percent higher yields in drought-prone areas last year, but the release is extremely short on details. Regardless of the reality, Monsanto is presenting the corn as a way to help improve on-farm productivity in other parts of the world, notably Africa.

    Yet, absent from the media hype were the many technical and social problems with Monsanto's corn.