Soapbox.

Tuesday, January 30th, 2001

A few observations on current affairs from the lofty heights of my soapbox:

First of all, the idea that someone could patent a human gene is utterly absurd to me. I know that this was a topic of conversation a while back, but I just read something about it again today in the paper, and the ludicrousness of it overwhelmed me. As far as I understand it, if a private biotech company puts a patent on breast cancer genes that they’ve discovered (I’m referring to Myriad Genetics of Salt Lake City, Utah, by the way, which did just that), they are effectively precluding anyone else in the world from doing research on those genes to work towards a cure for cancer - unless, of course, the other researchers pay hefty fees to said biotech company. I mean, I know that everyone has to make a buck, etc.etc. But it seems to me that, the more researchers all over the world who have access to this genetic information, the more likely it would be that big breakthroughs would be made at a quicker pace. Blocking access to information like this seems extremely callous and makes me seriously wonder if companies like Myriad Genetics are in it for the greater good or the greater profit. Hackers are right: information wants to be free.

Topic two for today is the Galapagos Islands. All I have to say is, of all the places in the world for an oil tanker to run aground, why did it have to be the Galapagos? (Well, why Alaska for that matter - why anywhere?) It’s like some cruel, bored Fate of Environmental Disasters has looked down upon the world and said, “Hmm… oil… places of great natural beauty and diversity… oil… endangered species… oil…HA HA HA HA!” Luckily, it seems that a very big disaster has been averted, but it was a close call. And why did the tanker have to be called “Jessica"?

And finally, let us combine the subjects of oil and Alaska for a minute. To be specific, let’s mention the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska. So, there’s an energy crisis looming in America (not in Alaska at the moment, mind you, in California). Unsurprisingly, the demand for energy in America has surpassed the supply. And according to our new president, the issue that this raises is (and I quote G.W.B.): “How do we find more energy supplies?” And how do we find more energy supplies? Well, according to our new president, we go drilling for oil in national wildlife refuges. I quote again: “A good place to look [for gas and oil] is going to be ANWR.”

“Taken aback” does not even begin to describe the feeling I had when I read this this morning. First of all, as far as I’m concerned, the issue is not how we find more energy supplies (and just so we’re clear on this, we’re talking about gas and oil here), the first issue is how we conserve the limited energy supplies we have. The second issue is how we find new types of energy supplies that don’t involve drilling around all over the place and draining off a world supply of oil that is, in fact, running out, though nobody likes to talk about that. I simply cannot believe that we are still going along thinking that if we just keep sucking up oil, we’re all going to be okay. I can’t believe that people really think that this is an alright thing to do, that this is the answer to our problems. The short-sightedness of this boggles the mind.

I am not a complete idealist. I’m not even a member of Greenpeace. I realize that environmentally friendly ways of producing energy - through wind and water, for example - are expensive and difficult to realize, take a long time to implement, and are not necessarily feasible all over the world. But for pity’s sake, if it’s at all feasible, we have to at least try. I give the Germans a lot of credit for trying. I, and a lot of other people in Freiburg, voluntarily paid higher electricity bills to have electricity supplied by local, environmentally friendly energy suppliers. It wasn’t much, it certainly didn’t kill me, and it made me realize that there is simply no excuse for not trying. There is no excuse for being completely wasteful and careless, and just sitting back and expecting the world to deliver. There is no excuse for not thinking things through to their logical consequences.

And as for drilling in Alaska, let me say this: the minute an oilman from Texas got elected president, I thought, “There goes Alaska.” Then I told myself that I was just being cynical and that I shouldn’t jump to such hasty conclusions. Now we’re about 10 days into the Bush II presidency, and I’m thinking, “There goes Alaska” - only this time it’s not cynical, it’s incredulous, because I can’t believe the speed with which my prediction has come true.

I’m just glad that I got the chance to actually visit Alaska before it was turned into an oil field.

End of rant. End of story.

Comments

1

I noticed that there were no comments on this one. So I felt obligated to say something. (Besides, it’s been a long time… I’ve enjoyed reading the latest, and I thought I’d drop you a line.)

To tell you the truth, all I really want to say about this entry is "Me Too." I agree with you on all of it, really. Biotech companies: Don’t get me started. :) Galapagos: Sad. Yes, an Exxon-Valdez style disaster was averted, but there was still damage done - strange how these things always happen in just the right place. Dubya: When he first mentioned the drilling in Alaska during the campaign, I said "He can’t be serious." It sounded so ridiculous that I didn’t take it seriously. Then he won the election and I realized just how serious he was. Granted, both he and Gore were very mediocre choices, but Bush seems particularly short-sighted. The recent Kyoto Agreement decision is also very disturbing. I’m not a member of Greenpeace either. But like you I agree that we must at least try. You should pick up Carl Sagan’s book "Billions & Billions." Among other things, there are a few insightful chapters about energy, global warming?, etc. It’s quite interesting, and also very easily read.

Ok. I’ll finally shut up now. :)

Take care.

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