The Trouble with Progress

By Madronna Holden

In his classic work, The Death of Ramón González, Angus Wright analyzes how contemporary corporate agriculture undermines human health, local economies, and the environment. He points out that even short term productivity of modern “super” crops relies on extensive pesticide, fertilizer and water inputs that are unsustainable in most global climates.  According to the World Health Organization, the pesticides used in this type of farming are responsible for 20,000 reported fatal poisonings a year –and many times that which are not reported. They are also a prominent  cause of the current cancer epidemic.

But even as Wright details the ruthlessness with which agri-business maintains its profits in the face of unfortunate technological strategies, he observes that there are alternative technologies that do not poison our air, food, and water, erode soil, or undermine ecological and economic systems.  Agri-business might just as well profit from these.

So why make bad choices—and pursue them with vehemence?  The crux of the issue, Wright proposes, is the worldview that holds progress in such esteem.  “Progress”, the GE saying famously had it, “Is our most important product”.  But the same worldview that elevates progress in this way never critically examines it. It loosely equates “progress”  with “advancement”, continuing the legacy of Francis Bacon, who asserted that humanity’s purpose is to control nature through science—and anything that humans invent to do this is good.

But when we equate progress with anything humans come up with, we wind up with methods of food production that have so many disastrous results.

Indeed, there is considerable tragedy to unexamined notions of advancement. Throughout history, conquerors asserted they were bringing progress to “backward” societies as they took over their lands.

Today the notion that industrial technologies are progressive as a matter of course licenses one-size-fits-all development that too often subjects third world peoples to debt, cultural disintegration, and ecological ruin. The assumption that industrial nations are more advanced than others inhibits both our partnerships with non-industrialized peoples and our acceptance of alternative technologies tested for centuries on local landscapes.

The destructive consequences of this logic haunts our own society us as well.  According to social historian Ulrech Beck, technology becomes our fate when we accept it without evaluation. That is, when undefined “progress” is considered good per se, we don’t get to choose it, we just have to figure out how to deal with its results.

This lack of critical perspective on progress and the technologies under its umbrella twists perceptions of reality—as in Monsanto’s response to the decimation of its BT corn from pests gaining resistance to its  engineered corn within three generations.  Responding to reports from scientists in Iowa that BT corn fell over in the fields from root damage, Monsanto denied it happened. There is a parallel dynamic with Monsanto’s assertion that its gmo seeds are “high yield”, in spite of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ report, “Failure to Yield”, which shows just how far such crops fall short of the mark.

Biotech ads asserting that we can’t feed the world without their technologies only work in the context of a worldview which assumes new technologies yield positive results without seriously evaluating them.  Farmers are not the only ones to whom such bogus progress is sold.  Consumer gadgetry hawked on the basis of its being new technology adds to the burgeoning consumerism that is ravaging our planet.

And tragically, a worldview that sets up unexamined “progress” as its shining light also gives its manufacturers dispensation from moral responsibilities. This is an essential historical lesson derived from Wright’s analysis of industrialized agriculture.  If our worldview did not sanction progress in the way that it does, agribusiness would not have this ground with which to license their attacks on presumably “backward” forces that challenge their profits.

The logic involved in fighting such challenges is exhibited in Monsanto’s decades-long battle against the labeling of genetically engineered foods.  Labeling gmo foods, the head of a Monsanto subsidiary stated in 1994, is tantamount to putting  a skull and crossbones on them. (Kansas City Star, March 7).

Such an argument only carries weight if one assumes that manufacturers have the right to impose a new technology on consumers in spite of their resistance—that is, if biotech “advances” override democratic choice.

Monsanto’s fight against the public right to know parallels numerous other violations of justice, public health and the environment in the name of progress.  Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner document such egregious industry practices in their rigorously peer-reviewed Deceit and Denial, using industry’s own internal documents.

For instance, they detail how the lead industry used notions of progress to create an Orwellian double think, in which the very thing that is supposed to make our children’s lives better—progress—winds up destroying their intelligence as well as their health.  Thus there were those ads claiming that lead solder used to seal baby formula cans was a modern technology supporting babies’ health.  Even though industry knew better from its own research, the assertion of progress–and protection of profit–  trumped their ethical choices.

Indeed, when a worldview with an unexamined idea of progress operates in an economic system that rewards profit however it is gained, there results moral as well as environmental disasters. There is, for instance, the case of plastics manufacturers in the 1950s.   At the same time that they boasted that their plastics were the wave of the future, industry leaders had in hand x-rays of the dissolving bones of the workers who manufactured them. Their response was to hide this data not only from the public in general but from the effected workers.

Historically, coal mining, asbestos, steel smelting, lead, vinyl chloride and pesticides industries, among others, have likewise hidden data documenting the disastrous effects of their products on workers, local communities and the environment—sometimes for decades. When such information finally did become public and irrefutable, these industries told the public such negative effects were the necessary price of progress.

I would assert, however, that no society can call itself advanced if its “progress” undercuts justice, community power, quality of life and self-determination for some in order to create profit for others.  Nor can any technology that undercuts the sources of all life by destroying natural systems rightly be termed advanced.

The European Union has a better handle on technological advancement. It puts  health before profit through the precautionary principle which mandates that manufacturers certify a new chemical harmless before it is released into the public domain.  If we were to institute this principle in the US, industry might attend to more land-friendly food production,  just as historically they might have paid attention to a non-toxic gasoline additive discovered—and ignored– as ethyl lead became the additive they pursued.

Indeed, if we had more of an eye to the social and environmental effects of our choices, we might not now be getting around in gas-fueled vehicles with all the attendant problems of climate change. There have been alternatives to this single-car system from the start– alternatives attacked by General Motors, who was only belatedly fined for undermining the street car systems in major cities.

Progress becomes our most destructive product when we don’t critically examine it—but it might be our most beneficial product if we hold it to standards of social and economic justice and sustainability.  The GE commercial was right.  “Progress is our most important product”. This is the very reason it must not be our most unexamined product as well.

Please feel to pass on the information in this essay in whatever way you see fit.


178 Responses

  1. This reminds me of a lot of stories I have heard before. In my international environmental policy class we watched a video about big agri-businesses and their effects on the local landscape and people. This big company came in and looked around and just saw the kind of profit that could be made from such vast land, and so they started their crops in the name of progress for the local people. It was much like you stated “bringing progress to ‘backward’ societies as they took over their land.” In the local communities women started to miscarry, livestock started to die, and the general health of the people and land went down. The company denied that they had anything to do with it. ‘Progress’ shouldn’t be more important than the lives of people or the ecosystem, and to many times it is and one reason why we see so much degradation everywhere.

    In America we create new and wonderful chemicals and products all the time. This is because the companies know how hazardous these things are but are to concerned with profits and how well the stocks are doing that they release them to the public anyways. Eventually, people start to notice negative consequences that are happening as a result of using this new chemical and product, and so once the evidence becomes to much those companies just make another new and “better” product. It’s sickening how greed can be so much more important then the people and the land, and as you said “industries told the public such negative effects were the necessary price of progress.”

    How can this be? How can very few people making money be more important then the rest of the people? I will never understand this. I have also wondered how some of these company owners and head officers can knowingly do most of what they do. Especially since most of these people have families of their own and children or grandchildren. How can they knowingly screw up the future for their families? If not care about other people at least I would think they would care about their own, but that doesn’t even seem to be true.

    • Hi Laura. You pose an essential question that Wright attempts to get at with his discussion of worldview and progress.
      To frame it in terms you pose, it seems that the idea of “progress” allows these industry folks to lie to themselves: they tell themselves they are doing good, moral, progressive work and this allows them to ignore or deny– or diminish– the negative consequences of their actions on others.
      Since the unexamined notion of progress allows them to convince themselves they are acting morally. if we demanded a critical definition of progress and what it does and does not entail, perhaps these folks would begin to look at their own actions differently. Interestingly, there are a number of cases in which their sick children convinced commercial farmers to switch to organic methods– as in the case of the grape grower in Bill Moyers’ “Pesticides and Children”. He tells the interviewer that when his son got sick, he said to himself, “What am I going to tell him? It was more important to spray the grapes (than to protect his health)?”

  2. Humans have created a situation where there is feeling of urgency of the need to fix things (our mistakes) and often science and technological assistance is accepted without critical evaluation because of this. It is disturbing that after so many errors in judgment we would continue in this manner. The technological advances have caused our modern society an inability to slow down enough to consider these things. Also, the necessity to earn income to feed a family often limits people (due to time constraints) from becoming knowledgeable about what is going on in the scientific world enough to evaluate and consider any possible consequences. People are just busy day-to-day trying to get through the very basics of the current living situation. Because of this, I think people feel like there is no time to consider an alternative worldview. It comes up against those who are financially gaining from the “progress” and the deep-rooted ideas in American culture, and there is no time to argue.

    An example of this is the feedback my “hippie” parents (and many others) receive from their purposely avoiding the use of computers and microwaves. They have found the time to consider an alternative worldview in some areas, but in return, they are often teased for their lack of “tech savvy-ness.”

    Often the disagreement about a worldview leads to disharmony between people and it is the effort to avoid that disharmony that causes people to be quiet.

    • Thanks for sharing your points for consideration here, Julia. One thing that flows from your comment is the idea that if we don’t evaluate the negative consequences of some technologies, those who are just getting by, living their lives, as you note, may decide either to accept everything out of weariness– or, like your “hippie” parents, to reject all new technology– an understandable response given the problems of unevaluated technology in the past– but not an entirely pragmatic one.
      It would be great it the precautionary principle allowed some evaluation of our modern technology, as it does in the EU– in the absence of this, I am grateful for those who volunteer to do this analysis on the public’s behalf, as does, for instance, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Environmental Working Group.

    • Your parents sound a little bit like my Mom, although she will use computers she does it with care, as she is very concerned with privacy. She will use a cell phone but works with teenagers and feels that kids being as tied to handheld technology as they are is a huge downfall for our society.
      The way you expressed yourself in this response really shows balance. I admire that it easy to get caught up in how things should be, and ignore the realities that humans face everyday trying to survive in a materialistic society.

      • Hi Erin, it actually sounds like your mom has a bit of balance in her responses, as well– since she does not reject computers, only uses them and cell phones with care. Thanks for the comment.

  3. A fundamental point that the “progress” worldview ignores is personal responsibility. It takes a huge base of consumers willing to work 40 hours a week and ready to spend their earnings at a moment’s notice to support a small group of people who profit from them. Each of us have been educated to believe in the “progress” worldview through a carefully crafted system that starts when we are infants. We are told what to wear, what to eat and what to enjoy. For decades, maybe even our whole lives, we are unconscious participants in this human social cycle of use and misuse. It isn’t until we each plateau in our consciousness that we can become critically aware of what is going on around us and how we are actively contributing to it.

    If we are to become a more intelligent species in regards to our relationship with the planet and its ecosystems, I believe that it is each of our personal responsibilities to educate ourselves and others, and end the perpetuation of consumerism, misuse of resources, and the seemingly voluntary ignorance on the part of the masses.

    What can I or you do? We can each start by buying our food locally, have a more vegetarian diet, and understand that every time we spend a $1 we are casting a vote for or against big corporations that do not have our best interests in mind.

    • You mean, I take it, that the unexamined “progress worldview” that is the problem– or the assumption that whatever we do is progress? I would not argue against those who assert we need to progress: I just want some agreement on what progress is. For instance, I think we need to make progress in feeding all the hungry children in our society–and in protecting our air and water– not to mention, climate.
      I do have a problem with statements about the “human species”– which overrides cultural differences–and the influences of contrasting historical, economic and cultural contexts.
      Exercising personal choice is essential, as you indicate; however, I am not sure all consumers are so “willing to work” the hours they do. Unless one is born into privilege, we must work to live in this culture.
      How do you respond to Beck’s idea that the notion of progress obliterates social choice? It is a key question as to how we accede to giving up our freedom and how we might get it back–and how we share that task with others.
      I think we cannot do this, in turn, without taking back our responsibility: as your example of voting with our dollars indicates, responsibility and freedom are intertwined. Certainly, responsibility is key to a functioning democracy, which is based on citizens’ exercising informed choices.

    • Dwayne,

      I really like what you said about what happens when we reach “our plateau in our consciousness” to become aware of the state of things and how it affects us. It seems we cannot do much about how we consume when we are small, but as we grow older there is little excuse for the way in which we consume and affect things. An example that comes to mind for me is Johnson and Johnson Baby Oil, (weird, I know). When I was little my mom used this baby oil on me all the time. So much so that the smell is soothing to me because it’s so familiar and nostalgic. Because it is for babies, I always assumed that it was more of a natural product, (a mistake I no longer make). Now that I am about to have my own baby, I have been doing a lot of research on baby product and was horrified to find that it fell into the category of “moderately hazardous/toxic” on the website “Skin Deep.” I would never have known this had it not been for my own research and would have most likely used it for my own child.

      I think that you make a great point in saying that all we can do is start to take accountability for ourselves and out own purchases/intake. Over the past few years, I have learned so many things and deterred from consuming so many bad products merely by googling them before I buy them. It really is so important for every person to take responsibility for themselves, their health, and our environment by merely adjusting our intake of bad products and supporting the better companies that provide better/less toxic products.

      • Good for you in your “taking responsibility for yourself and your purchases”, Amanda. That is a very large step– and not an easy one in a consumerist society in which the stories of how consumer products and what is in them are so readily obscured.
        There is sadness in your baby oil story: my hope is that our children will inherit a world in which their memories of nurturance are linked to health for themselves and the natural world.

  4. The way our society has been structured, awareness of the environment has not been an initiative that most people feel is essential to sustain them. The importance of having a well managed ecology should be emphasized to everyone from a very young age. The wisdom of how important nature is to our well being needs to be extended from religious beliefs and specific college classes to the common knowledge of everyday living ritual. So that as we keep advancing technologically we can incorporate the ethical values of regulating natural resources and ecology into the core design of any new development.
    Also, more companies, maybe more nonprofit/NGOs should be created to test and monitor products and assess ecological health so that the general public as well as the regulatory agencies can benefit from these readily available information.
    We can make drastic changes effectively because we do have a fairly good governmental regulatory infrastructure that can help fight big corporation bullies but the policies and procedures need to be updated to heavily enforce conservation and environmental ethics.

    • Thanks for sharing some thoughtful as well as pragmatic points, Shailesh. We might indeed use the regulatory infrastructure we have to care for our commons– and corporate “bullies” (as you aptly put it), certainly do not deserve monetary rewards for such behavior as hiding the destructive effects of their products.
      That means we should not undermine that infrastructure– or allow lobbyists to do this. And I think we need to re-establish the EPA labs and ability to do independent testing that Reagan did away with. I am also concerned with Obama’s recent directive to Lisa Jackson of the EPA to drop the concern over air pollution guidelines and the proposed new guidelines that would save 20,000 lives a year, so as not to interfere with the “economy”– this is definitely on the wrong track. As you also point out, there is much to be done by business moving in right direction– as those in are doing.
      My hope is that the crises we all face in healing the environment that sustains us might take us beyond our differences to work for the health of future generations.

  5. When I’ve heard of genetically engineered foods or ways that people are working towards making barren lands fertile using technology, I’ve bought into the notion that perhaps this will be a way to end devastating hunger and widespread starvation in our world As I’ve gotten older I have also realized that much poverty and starvation issues are political and the countries involved could possibly help their people but food and wealth is distributed in such a corrupt manner that the strongest and cruelest do survive. In a book I’m reading for class it mentions hydroponic farming but for many areas with limited water supply I don’t think this is possible.
    I have more of a problem with the technology that serves no useful purpose than with technology that is aiming to solve serious world problems, but it seems simple that we would test new innovations first to make sure they are safe before putting them in the soil, air and water. Greed is the corrupter, because to keep making things that are known to harm people and poison land, as many chemical companies in the US have done is just wrong, and they place these type of pesticide and fertilizer plants in the poorest areas and people will work their even though they are getting sick because they have to survive.

    • Hi Erin, thank for your comment. You bring up an important observation in the fact that the poor (and certain third world communities) have less power in the modern industrial system–and thus fewer economic choices– which is why the issue of environmental justice is so important. If we assured these communities of more choice, they might not accept such dangerous technologies– and be subject to less tragic desperation, as in the spate of suicides from the disempowerment caused “new” farming techniques in India– where farmers have also burned gmo fields (see the essay here, “Why Gmos won’t feed the world”).
      As you rightly state, there is no reason that new technology should not be tested before it is released– and I think this certainly applies to new manners of food production in which there is so much at stake.

  6. I am a big believer in the idea that ‘the end does NOT justify the means.’ I also think that public policy, in general, needs to be based upon unanimous vote, as opposed to majority. This means that progress would be grounded, but perhaps it would improve a leaders ability to compromise…or perhaps encourage deception. There are so many things in our world that just don’t make sense to me, that is simply accepted. That the dominate society’s current method of survival is based upon poisoning the earth. Pesticides, exhaust, industrial waste. Nuclear power is propagated as “clean energy”… except when there is some type of unforeseen disaster, then we have a dead zone of highly toxic radiation that takes hundreds of thousands of years to dissipate. Oh, but don’t worry, there won’t be a disaster because we have all this great technology that would prevent it. When I was visiting my dad in Fresno last, there was an air alert, where the air was unhealthy for everyone (not just ‘sensitive types’) and the news people were encouraging everyone to stay inside and wait for the weekend (and cooler weather) to do their errand and drive, etc. Not once was public transportation mentioned. This is because public transportation more or less doesn’t exist outside of a very small area of the city and, obviously, no one thinks it’s a viable investment. Because our society lives in complete and utter denial. We are addicted to our lifestyles, our cars, our technologies…I don’t even know. I just know that people do not want to believe how bad things are. I refuse to live in Fresno because the air is poisoned. It is unhealthy to breathe in Fresno, and to me, that’s a deal breaker (I have other issues with Fresno and most of them deal with it’s toxicity). And people think I’m silly, that I’m being overly dramatic. Because people die slowly, over time and children develop asthma and allergies instead of simply dropping dead in a mass extinction. And I just don’t get it. Like I live in a whole other reality, dimension. And I read these articles and I wonder why we are trying to develop these crazy, mass production farms to feed the whole world instead of creating small, sustainable communities. It creates dependence and powerlessness of developing countries on industrialized countries (and encourages toxic exploitation of the earth, for survival), which did not exist until the last few hundred years (if that). And that we allow powerful people to lie to us, repeatedly, and harm us, repeatedly, without much happening outside of a minor fine or one guy (who is generally just a pawn) going to jail with all us crazy radicals, frothing at the mouth at the injustice of it all, looking crazy.

    • You have an excellent point, Amy, that such abuses of the idea of “progress” are an example of the thinking in which the “end justifies the means”. Your sense of the necessity of the “unanimous vote” also jives with the fact that indigenous societies characteristically used consensus rather than majority decision making. The problem you right lydiscern with the “majority” system is what happens to the minority in its wake–and the way that system can concentrate more and more power in the hands of fewer and fewer who become a minority of the powerful.
      I agree with you that it is totally irrational that our method of survival is based on “poisoning the earth.”
      Those who think differently from the mainstream are liable to be labeled “crazy radicals” in the attempt to marginalize those who have something very important to say to us– so important that it might change our way of doing things if we were to listen and think for ourselves.
      And on that point, there are those who ARE growing food in the small mixed crop farms adapted to place (including urban places) all over the world.
      I appreciate your passion with respect to your values. You are not alone. And here is an interesting point. As Al Gore said in a recent speech, he finds so much “push back” on climate change a hopeful point, since this indicates that many are taking the idea seriously enough to worry about–and such push back is often a stage on the way to acceptance.
      There is much to change to makes ours a thriving (and rational) world, but if we don’t begin the changes you suggest in our lives and communities it will never happen. I also think we cannot forget that those we label “just a pawn” may also have something to teach us. We need as many bridges and allies as we can get to create a thriving world for those who will follow us– of all species.

  7. I was particularly struck by the part that mentioned labeling of genetically modified foods. I was unaware that this has ever come up as an issue. As I try to eat as natural and organic as possible, I am always researching different providers of my foods and reading the labels at the supermarket. So many times I question the claims of “ALL NATURAL” or “ORGANIC” that I rarely feel like I am getting the full story. When I finally see that “USDA Certified Organic” seal, I almost jump for joy because that is really the only time my mind is at ease about a food or product that I am purchasing. I am always analyzing what I read on the packaging of products and imagining the process by which they are yielded. It would be so amazing to just read about the process or have a disclaimer about how altered or natural a food is.

    Something that I think would be very interesting to find out is how much things would change if this kind of disclosure WERE required on foods. If a food had a big “GMO” stamped on it, I wonder how many people would ACTUALLY avoid it, and how many people would purchase it regardless. I think we might all be surprised about how many people would still purchase GMO foods even with a disclosure, (remember that Oregon/the West Coast tends to be far more conscientious about this kind of thing than, say, the South or the Midwest).

    I think it is obvious that we, as a society, need to reevaluate the effect that these new “advancements” are having on us and our Earth. The problem is that, even with a raised awareness, there is a tremendous amount of apathy about health and the chemicals/hormones in foods today. So many people eat what they like regardless of what is packed into those foods because they do not see the immediate effect that is is having on them, their families, and our communities – much less the overall health of our nations.

    • Great write up Amanda, college has taught me many things and healthy food is one of them! I have been making a conscious effort over the last couple of years to read labels more and pay a little more money if need be for products that are healthier for my family and I. I recently visited an alternative medicine office and found out that I have a high amount of chemical toxins in my body, so now I’m working towards cleaning house on my body.

    • Thanks for your comment, Amanda. I know that it is frustrating to see the evident lack of decision-making — and apparent lapses of memory- on the part of many– but when can always make decisions in our own lives.
      And I want to nominate the words of Jose Fernandez, the State Department’s assistant secretary for economic, energy and business affairs, who said that labeling genetically engineered food would scare consumers away. “If you label something, there’s an implication there’s something wrong with it.” He neglected to notice that labeling something “organic” does not scare anyone away; there is very particular reason why labeling something GMO might scare consumers, and it is not the fact of labeling per se.

    • I was in college for my bachelor’s degree in the mid-1990’s when the first big fights over labeling GMO’s began. We worked really hard, yelled really loudly but at some point I dropped away from it to fight elsewhere. The fight seemed like such a strong one, especially because it’s logical, I assumed we’d win. I was really amazed last spring when in another class for F&W we had to look at GMO’s and I discovered that we’d lost the fight! GMO’s don’t have to be listed at all! Nearly all soybeans grown around the world are GMO, including those used in organic soymilk! AGH! It’s interesting to me that “they” did such a good job of shutting down the argument that someone who (I’m assuming) is only 10-15 years younger than me wasn’t aware that the debate had ever been. Or, perhaps, as you point out, Amanda, the argument only seemed loud to me because I was in it.

      • I didn’t know that about soybeans! I’d just like to add that the same goes for corn. I was so upset to learn that last year, as it is one of my favorite foods. I went on a raw foods diet last year to see how my health would change/improve and was eating a lot of raw corn. I then discovered there was such a big controversy with the corn/organic corn that I started to steer clear from it. Eventually I got back on the bandwagon, though – it’s just so delicious! Anyways… thought I’d share an interesting article I found:,8599,1599110,00.html

      • Thanks for setting the gmo labeling issue in a bit of historical context here, Neyssa–and bringing up another important issue here and related to the enchantment with progess-and that is, our forgetfulness (or simple ignorance) of the past as experience. My father (who is hale and hearty at 89) is aghast that so many campaign ads out there today seem to rely on their audience’s totally forgetting not just what happened a few decades ago, but what happened in the last presidency.
        It is my strong sense that one of the most truly progressive things we can do is to honor our memory–and past that memory on to others.

  8. It amazes me every time I read or hear information like in this article. It truly saddens me how consumptive and consumer driven our( the United States and other western cultures) society is. Part of the reason our society is so consumer driven is because of our need for progress. The idea that all progress is good progress, doesn’t take into account many important societal and biological needs. This ideal doesn’t make room for the thought, is this advancement needed, wanted or even useful. Greed is the ever driving force behind this philosophy, not progress for the greater good of man kind.

    • You bring up an important point with respect to the drive for progress and the necessity of defining “need” in this context– as you indicate, we must begin to ask questions of such “advancements” as are they “needed, wanted, or even useful”.
      Thanks for your comment.

  9. In the name of progress ‘at any cost’ should be added to the end of the slogan. One question I ask myself, could different companies be under a bigger umbrella. Say one company produces fruits and vegetables at the fastest rate, highest bulk density and for the cheapest price. Another company produces medical supplies to combat illness and diseases caused by unconscious growing practices. Is it it possible for these two companies to have the same parent company?

    • Great post, Will. My first instinct is to day yes, but honestly, I don’t know. I tried finding some info on it. In doing so, I was shocked to see that “Burt’s Bees” is under The Clorox Company umbrella. Here’s a story about it:
      So, while Clorox on the one hand is making money hand-over-fist convincing people that they must rid themselves of all “bugs” they’re also making money with the other hand using people’s love for some of those same bugs.

      • Interesting connection, Neyssa, I had not known this about Burts Bees– this is new–and part of a trend of corporate takeover of many formerly small environmentalist companies.

    • Progress “at any cost” is a great addition to this value, Wil. It is precisely that which makes progress be of a higher priority than, say, the health of humans or the environment– or even truth. Thanks for putting this aptly.
      These kinds of interlocking corporate interests are far reaching: many share overlapping board members, for instance. And in the historical case of the plastics manufacturers, several companies joined forces to prevent the release of the data on injured workers. Classic today is the chemical companies that produce both chemotherapy drugs and pesticides that cause cancer. There are a number of studies of interlocking interests of these types. And here is a link to an essay on the ways in which big pharm uses doctors to do its bidding:

  10. When I read “Salmon Without Rivers,” one of the MOST infuriating realizations was just how long we have known that what we’re doing is harmful, but we’ve chosen to do it anyway usually because someone stood to make a profit from it. I saw a news clip a couple of weeks ago about some American company’s plan to claim the untapped resources of Mongolia because the profit margin was so big. Not once during the whole story did the reporter ask the talking head of the company whether they’d considered the long-term effects of what they were proposing. My eye was twitching by the time I was done watching it, but I feel so helpless. Those of us who care are so often dismissed as being crazy or, as you say, “backward,” it’s nearly impossible to be heard through the laughter even when we’re brave enough to speak.
    For most of my life I’ve questioned the constant need for “growth and progress.” Companies, cities, GNP’s, personal revenue that are holding steady, not declining but also not growing are viewed poorly. Why? Why is supporting yourself and simply maintaining at a healthy level considered bad?
    The biotech ads also only work in a worldview of constant, unstoppable, and exponential human population growth. I know I’m beating the population control drum pretty repetitively, but only because I really believe it is the necessary antidote to most of our woes. I’ve noted that very few people discuss this issue and I can’t help but wonder why. Why are those with a voice NOT talking about empowering women to make good, healthy personal, social, and ecological decisions regarding reproduction? Are the biotech companies or others keeping people quiet because lower populations will mean less use of their products? I don’t mean violently keeping people quiet, but perhaps pressure in other ways. Conspiracy theory crazy talk? Maybe.
    As so often has been pointed out, if gmo producers are so sure and proud of their product, shouldn’t they be putting big stickers on it that proclaim it for what it is? Organic/green producers have been doing this for years, and because they truly have a product that people value as being higher quality they can demand a price that is more in line with the amount of work involved, and put more people to work in the process.
    If we are not allowed to make educated choices because things are hidden from us, can we really call ourselves democratic? If people unwittingly wearing blinders are “voting with their dollars” to buy products that profit ONLY those in the highest echelon while harming others, is this truly capitalism?

    • It is sad that such destruction in the name of progress not only took place– but that it was a matter of intent rather than ignorance.
      You are obviously becoming perceptive about evaluating the nature of progress in your Mongolian example: much tragedy results from the view that whatever land/people are “out there” and “undeveloped” are simply there for our use! I think your perception of this inappropriate way of looking at other lands and peoples is directly linked to the failure to publicize, much less actualize, the fact that the best way to control population is to empower women economically and politically– very different from the notion that we somehow have to fix their backward ideas!
      Great point about gmo researchers and labeling– that is they are “so proud and sure of their product” why not proclaim it to the world in labeling? Excellent response to the “labeling will scare consumers away” argument! Did you see my reply to Amanda in this respect?
      I think it is an important point indeed that we cannot have a functioning democracy if citizens do not have the information to make decisions within it: And as for your last question, it could certainly not be called a free market.

  11. Is it bad I automatically thought of the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and when Dolores Umbridge said, “..progress for the sake of progress must be discouraged. Let us preserve what must be preserved, perfect what can be perfected and prune practices that ought to be prohibited.”?? Well, I did. Then my immediate thought after it was the Pixar movie, Wall-E. With its “futuresque” ideology and how the world is in shambles due to all the progress they had made, etc. I watch too many movies.

    Anyway, I’ve heard that a lot of progress comes through disobedience. I won’t fault all deeds (I do enjoy the internet, for example) however I will agree that progress can be a burden and needs to be filtered. I believe you can advance without hurting the earth; people only need to realize and commit to it. Folks also need to stop justifying their development with nonsense, tricking themselves into thinking what they are doing is always well sought out and for the better cause.

    The article pointed out info relative to cars. Personally, I’ve always been annoyed by certain vehicles. (What are you compensating for with your large trucks?) And I have always said that the more gadgets you have on something (which happens with progression), the more that can go wrong.

    I realize a lot of this “evil” stems with greed. In the USA, the majority seem to want the best or the “coolest” out there and worry little about the result(s) of their tinkering. I actually perceive the USA to occasionally think they are in a tiny bubble, immune to what is really going on. People should focus some on advancing in ways to help the earth and improve their understanding of one another. I’m also all for finding a way to deal with overpopulation. Nonetheless, as I mentioned before, new ideas should be processed completely first – although this should not be decided on by merely polling the masses. Besides, if we begin to depend upon the top dogs for everything and rely only on the progress they shove out, we will forget how to truly survive.

    Extra tidbit: supposedly “Prosophobia” is the fear of progress..

    • Not being a Harry Potter watcher myself, I am not sure what attitude toward progress is expressed in this quote.
      The range of ideas about progress you express here (ending with the “supposed prosophobia”) indicates one of the reasons why its should be evaluated, yes?
      How do you feel about the precautionary principle? Do you think society has a right to impose ethical constrains on “progress” such that it does not become, as Wil Sando has said here, “progress at any cost?” At what point are ethics (and what kind of ethics) more important than change for change’s sake? These are hard questions to which, I think, we should all give some thought.
      Thanks for your own thoughtful response here.

  12. As a new parent over 10 years ago, I’d say I was pretty ignorant. Even before that, I was never really educated in environmental issues. Somehow all of this information started creeping into my life shortly after having children, and I was filled with regret at all the choices I’d made that could have potential impacts on them and the rest of the world in the future. I also was deeply saddened that nobody had ever shared this information with me. As I started watching documentary after documentary, it became suddenly clear to me that scientists have been telling the world about the grave realities of our poor choices for decades. I would have been old enough to be told this information 30 years ago, but I wondered if my parents chose not to tell me or didn’t know themselves. I suppose at that time, it was just a whisper in the scientific field. And I’m sure there were many large corporations that had enough money to silence those scientists anyway.
    But now I know. And even though my kids are still pretty young, I tell them what I know. I help them understand the consequences of their consumerism, and I ask them on a regular basis to think about all the lives they might be touching when they purchase something. We talk about where things come from and how they got here. We talk about the kinds of people who are making the things we buy and whether they are probably taken advantage of by large corporations or whether they are empowered by companies who have a vested interest in their well-being and the planet’s health. We talk about advertising, and I ask them to think about the perspective of the company selling the product. They understand that people want to make money, but they also know there’s a cost to someone somewhere. Before they make a purchase, I ask them to think about where that product will end up when it breaks or they don’t want it anymore. They know what the landfill is and how stuff does really go somewhere (sometimes permanently). They know what organic, fair trade, and local means, and they’ve heard the term genetically modified. At the risk of overwhelming them, I do it because the risk of not telling them can cause far greater harm.
    I read somewhere that it was important not to talk to your kids about all the bad things in the world. They needed to hear about all the good things so they would have hope. And hope is good. But what is hope without knowledge and the tools to change things? Hope is only the direction, but the rest is how we’ll get there.

    • But now, as you state, Staci, you know–and you are obviously teaching your children not only by what you tell them and how you enact your personal values for the sake of their future.
      Thanks for the reminder that we also do not need to burden our young children with all the crises we have created in the world they will inherit– we can instead model our care for that world in our actions–and perhaps tell stories and point out local “heroes” (as the author of our “quote of the week does”) that express our values as well as a vision for the future, that, as Paul Hawken says, will make them feel welcome in this world.
      Thanks for sharing your struggle as a mother to give your children what they and our world both need.

  13. This essay discussed an issue that I myself very much stuck in the middle of. I have been raised for so long on the practices that harm this planet that it is hard to change your ways and not always the easiest either. On top of that I have issues with feeling trapped and claustrophobic so I drive a lot. I am aware of what it does to our planet but it seems like my only escape at times that I can do with four children, living in Washington; where it rains all the time. During the summer I try and walk as much as possible. Our lives are so hectic with school as well that we have a hard time getting our kids to recycle properly, so many things get thrown away that shouldn’t. I am very passionate about this essay though. It is very maddening how behind the US is when it comes to taking care of this planet and doing safer practices. It is sad that the primary deciding factor is always money with people and corporations as well as convenience. An what all these scientist still haven’t figured out is all their laboratory constructed super produce does nothing but create super bugs that can withstand them. The same goes for all of the antibiotics they come up with. They find one cure and the a resistant strand of the same disease appears. That is evolution in the works. Nature will always find a way, even if it means wiping the slate and starting a new.

    • Hi Adina, it is not up to us to judge your personal environmental choices.
      Just speaking for myself, I long ago learned to love the Oregon rain and Washington rain (where my family lives) — or at least not let it stop me from getting out and walking. Good raingear is cheaper than car upkeep and driving-=- being cooped up in a car– makes me feel truly claustrophobic.
      But then I have a great model: my dad (now ninety) walks his dog a mile a day, rain, shine, ice (he has cleats to put on his shoes to keep from slipping)– or snow. Though he did get stopped by the recent snowstorm that dumped forty inches of snow on his road (he lives south of Olympia).
      That is not to say that I go out in torrential downpours–or drag children out in it, though it does make me smile when the daycare center a few blocks away walks their children (all under four) by my window daily in their bright colored slickers and rainhats to play in the park down the street.
      It is true that we are conditioned to do things in particular ways and indeed sad when money becomes the deciding factor for anything in our lives. It is asking something of each of us to reevaluate these things. But it can even be a bit of fun sometimes.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    • I feel the same way, the US has led the world in so many things, yet treating our planet and the people that live in it properly always seems to be the Achilles tendon of our country. One day we will stop caring so much about what the oil companies want and more on what is best for our country. Great comment!

      • Indeed, seems about time to get back to real democracy (one vote/one person) as well–as one of our new links points out.
        I would love to see us exercising the leadership we are capable of as well!

  14. We assume that industrial nations are more advanced than others because we are taught to believe it by a system of misinformation and deceit. We are taught to distrust anything that did not have it’s origins in the U.S. and anything produced in the U.S. is good. Not only does “…technology become our fate when we accept it without evaluation…”, as Ulrech Beck maintains, but if the evaluation exposes liabilities in that technology and we do not actively oppose it, it will be crammed down our throats anyway.
    All that companies, like Monsanto, have to do is to get their technologies a foothold in the environment, often with the help of elected officials, and by the time a conscientious citizenry can mount any opposition to it the damage is already done.
    I recall a film from one of my college courses years ago in which the narrator was extolling the virtues of DDT as a mosquito repellant while spraying a swimming pool full of splashing children.
    We see the same thing in any industry, such as plastic. As long as there has been plastics there has been those who would warn of the dangers we are exposed to. With any technology, utilized improperly, we risk great hazards and there is always somebody willing to profit without regard for the dangers they would expose us all to and look at the environmental and health mess that has resulted from that.
    When it comes down to it, the people don’t have to accept “progress”. As long as corporations have access to our elected officials we are going to have it one way or another and any notion of “…social and economic justice and sustainability.” can go right out the window.

    • This is a good argument not only for the precautionary principle, William–but for the fact that we need to educate ourselves about daily choices AND work to get the corporate money out of Washington.

    • We do not trust food products that come from other places because we have some very high standards, or so we believe. I for one do not trust anything else made in America. For example, automobiles are built much more efficient and at a cheaper price than American made vehicles. I would never buy an American made car because they have to cut the price of the materials and use all their money to pay their employees. We have become a buy and sell nation. When you have that mentality you have little regard for how and where it comes from.

      • Thoughtful, Andrew. I do think that there are particular manufacturers who still do care about how (and how well) their products are made– but in a profit first system, this is far from the norm.

  15. It always seems to me that progress always seems to leave something or someone out. In the case of this article it is the health of the earth and sometimes the health of the humans in it. One example that sticks out to me is the pesticide issue. Pesticides were created to save crops and investments, but somehow the step that made sure that it was safe to those who were using it in their fields or eating it for dinner was skipped. This “progress” leaves some hurting and dying due to a greedy need to prevent a natural part of nature from occurring.

    Progress is an important part of the natural order, but it cannot be rushed or it can harm more than it helps.

    • My sense would be that we need to define what we adhere to as progress so that we don’t “leave something out” such as the health of humans and the earth. Progress that overlooks that does not seem to me to be real progress.
      I wonder how your idea of progress as a “part of the natural order” compared with the idea most of those in modern industrial society have of progress. Something so important and yet so stereotyped deserves a closer definition.
      Thanks for your comment.

    • Elizabeth,
      I have to respectfully disagree about progress being “an important part of the natural order”. The progress that we need is a return to a more natural time when people realized that the earth will provide us with the things we need for life and that as long as we work with what it has to give instead of inventing new ways to coax more than what is natural out of it we will be better able to sustain the life of the earth and our own lives. You had it right when you said that pesticides, which can be used as a euphemism for progress, is an invention to protect investments.

      • There is much to consider in your response, William, thanks.

      • Progress is important in every aspect of our lives. A lot of our progress has helped with our health such as disease control, aqueducts, plumbing, We Without progress we wouldn’t live as long as we do or have the commodity’s that we are all a accustomed to. Companies need a check and balance system to determine if their “progress” is better for all or just their pockets

  16. Wow! This article really hits home for me. My neice, is 13 years old now, and she has been battling a unique form of Cancer, if there is such a thing. She was diagnosed when she was 10. Among her are several children in our city battling this same Cancer. Unique. I think not. I’ve heard the saying “there’s something in the water” too many times to count! Unfortunately there is no link to anything she has put into her body as of yet that points to why she or these other children have this Cancer.

    The point made throughout this article are shocking. Several times I thought, I should post this..or that..on facebook! My friends and family need to know this.

    The part that sticks out to me the most is the final paragraphs discussing General Motors. Why wouldn’t they put their money to a positive task, such as building street car systems and pocketing the fees people pay? Sure up front the earnings would be less; but over time, I bet their earnings would increase. And we all know money is the reason they acted in the first place.

    This artcile also makes me wonder if there is a program local to me that would teach me how to grow seasonal foods organically. I have a garden, but here in Oregon that is limited to maybe three months a year. I do grow a couple of plants in my garage, but the cost of the grow lights is high and we use electricity which doesn’t really help the environment overall.

    I will also be looking into the company, liberty health, thanks to the prompt to view the “skull and crossbones” comment above.

    • Hi Danielle, I am sorry to hear about your niece. It is so sad when children suffer in this way.
      Please feel free to pass on any information you find here– we can all help inform one another.
      Steve Solomon has a classic book out on winter gardening in the Pacific Northwest–and I think there are others that have come out recently.
      Check out your local OSU extension agent (if there is one is Salem– funding was cut for these, but Eugene found a way to raise the money to keep them)– they also have a website with resources. In Eugene (I don’t know about Salem) they have a phone line staffed by volunteers who have earned their Master Gardener certificates from the extension service and may steer callers in the right direction for winter gardening info.
      Good luck!
      And my best wishes for your niece.

  17. The only worldview that modern agribusiness or manufacturers have is making money. They will usually take many risks just to profit the most off of their products. Even though they may have lawsuits in the end as a result of their production, they still operate in the cheapest way possible. Sometimes they can afford to do things the right way but why should they? They may not even have to pay for the damages it causes to the health of the population or the environment. This goes back to the fact that people will use the first piece of new technology or the cheapest form technology. Since research is constantly ongoing, they try and get the newest ideas out there instead of waiting for the break through discovery. The problem with the term progress is that we end up going to quickly without properly planning our actions. This is why we are a spill first clean up later society. That’s why we have so many lawsuits every year in this country.

  18. Industries record seems dismal. Tobacco, plastics, asbestos and more recently baby food, pet food and toys, contaminated with heavy metals and toxins. I agree that if our standard of “advancement” is to develop and exploit all of our natural resources, than corporations and society are essentially conding behavior that is acceptable even though the ethics may be questionable. The other interesting concpet to me was that third world people are suffering from “debt, cultural disintegration, and ecological ruin”, when in actually all us (even in US) are now suffering from these things.

    • Though we are not suffering nearly as much as the poorest countries, one might hope that the fact that we are all in the same boat as you point out would urge us to see that this idea of “progress” without ethics is not exactly serving us.
      A “dismal record” as you well put it, indicates time for a change. Thanks for your comment.

  19. This article makes me wonder what else consumers are not being told. This proves that just because we think we made something better in fact it isn’t true. I found the part about adding lead seal to baby formula was considered better but it was actually harming children.

    • The lead history is tragic: and what else we are not being told is a key question–and why I think it is important that there are so many doing research on this and making it publicly available even if government regulators are not.

    • Fransisco, I would have to agree. Hearing it brought up in this context makes me want to seek out more information. The example of the baby formula motivated me to know more about the things I plan to feed my children when I raise them. It’s crazy that the things like that that we assume are completely safe (of all the things… baby formula, really??) might have harmful consequences.

      • Indeed, it is a sad circumstance that necessitates checking such things out– you might look at the website of the Environmental Working Group– I think they have a section on products for children.

  20. I have a difficult time understanding everything that is implied with genetically modified foods, or seed. Last term I took a course in Population Geography that touched briefly on the topic of genetically modified foods, but seemed to advocate for it as a means with which developing countries could better feed their populations. I understood it to be a good thing. People could use less space, and less money to grow more.
    I also read that these genetically modified foods could be bred to be pest resistent which seemed like a good thing to me because that would eliminate the need for toxic chemicals, and fertilizers. It also said that these crops needed less water to produce.
    I do not like “playing God” especially in regards to doing the job of nature. But, as far as I had learned (granted my education on the topic is only about 3 months old, and based on one source of knowledge) it seemed like genetically modified foods might be a sound solution to over-populated, poverty stricken, and developing countries.
    This article, along with some other recent readings, has opened my eyes to seeing that there is another side to the story. I will certainly be educating myself more!

    • Congratulations on educating yourself more, Rebecca. You might begin with the Union of Concerned Scientists’ report on genetically engineered soy, “Failure to Yield”– which presents the data that indicates the poor production record of gm soy. It seems that one thing “playing God” does is make us fall in love with our own inventions– beyond the greed of profiting from these– so that we fail to look clearly at how they actually perform.

      • I think I’ll add Failure to Yield to my reading list too! I was having a discussion with a friend the other day discussing some of the issues with GM food – he had been taught what you had Rebecca, that GM foods were awesome for developing countries (not aware of how the majority of corn products and many crops in the US are gm). I tried to discuss some of the problematic elements of genetically modifying foods – both environmentally and for humans – but I found that the academic research he wanted to be rather lacking. I’m excited to potentially have some new material to send his way.

        • Great, Anna– it is important to spread such research around. And I would not say that research on gam foods are lacking– only that the results are not necessarily well published, given where the money is in this type of research. The essay here, “Why GM foods won’t feed the world’ has some other references.
          And we cannot feed the world and degrade our soil at the same time.

        • Dr. Holden – Thanks for the clarification. I think I *incorrectly* tend to assume if it is not widely distributed research than it doesn’t exist (or doesn’t count) – I’ll head over to “Why GM foods won’t feed the world” and check out the additional references. Thanks!

        • You are certainly welcome, Anna. I hope you find something useful there.

  21. I think my favorite quote from this essay is the Beck one “technology becomes our fate when we accept it without evaluation.” Oftentimes, it seems that as we take steps in a direction, we forget that we could back up and go another way. Part of this may be that we can’t really “unlearn” things once we know them, so as a group we just keep going. The current direction being taken by some in agriculture makes this a frightening concept. The genetic modification happening with some crops (soy, corn, cotton, and canola) is disturbing enough to some consumers. Then to have Monsanto blatantly deny reports of these crops failing gives rise to even greater concern. I didn’t trust what these people were doing to our food anyway, but now they even get caught out in false statements or at least grosssly misleading- and we still can’t get our food adequately labeled in this country. It seems that many in government have just accepted that this technology is the way we are moving forward and we should all just accept it. Even our judicial system is not currently protecting us. I heard recently that the farmers who were suing Monsanto to stop the company from suing farmers or seed dealers whose crops get contaminated by the patented GMO’s was thrown out. I heard it was because the judge said the farmers were just trying to create a controversy where none exists. Wait a minute- I thought there was a controversy! But if too many people just accept progress, I guess there won’t be too many controversies…

    • Thoughtful points to consider, Jennifer. Certainly, we are stuck (and had better use the precautionary principle) if we never can turn around or find a way out of some course we set out on. But that is the stereotype of the “progress” that just keeps moving forward– no matter what it brings. We really need some critical thinking on this point: just because we were able to do something does not make it progressive. And here again, is the hubris you brought up in your last comment in the sense that anything humans can invent must be progressive.
      As to Monsanto, there are a number of suits here and abroad that they are fighting. To me one of the suits that says the most about their duplicity is the suit Monsanto has brought against the state of Vermont to stop its new gmo labeling law. If a corporation really stood by its products, don’t you think they would want it shouted from the rooftops that this was one– rather than bringing suit to try to hide the fact from the consumers who are purchasing it? My next disgusting Monsanto legal (at least from my perspective) is the case they brought to WTO to force the European Union to start allowing their gmo goods in.

  22. It is interesting to think about how progress affects our society and whether we are actually better off as a result of such progress. For instance, there were many vehicles that were produced in the mid 1980’s that got better fuel mileage than cars produced today. In this instance technology and progress have not made our lives better, simplier perhaps, but they have also damaged our ecosystems in the process. The cars we drive today are equipped with GPS systems, satellite radio, and park assist, but many operate less efficient, pollute more, and manufacturing them has a devastating effect on our natural resources, when compared to cars produced 20 or 30 years ago. Just because we can build something more advanced, doesn’t mean we should, or that the new technology will be better for our planet or ourselves.

  23. The quote, “The assumption that industrial nations are more advanced than others inhibits both our partnerships with non-industrialized peoples and our acceptance of alternative technologies tested for centuries on local landscapes” meant a lot to me for a lot of reasons. Personally, I have lived in multiple developing countries in my lifetime and I would argue in favor of what the above quote said.
    It is definitely something that inhibits the partnership between non-industrialized nations because people assume that nations that are more materialistic are better off. What I found when I lived there, though, is that there are things that every country is lacking, and whether or not they are industrialized does not determine their well-being.
    The topic of progress is discussed here quite a bit, and after reading I came to the conclusion that it is an abstract idea full of misconceptions. “Progress” is thought by so many to be synonymous with technological and economically advanced, but I don’t think that is necessarily its meaning. Progress to me means moving forward, improvement, if you will. So just because a country is full of corporate success and huge skyscrapers does not mean it is on the road toward progress.

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective in terms of your own perspective with developing countries, Joce.
      As you note, there are things that every nation could improve upon and this is more in line with real progress than is the idea that progress equals industrialization.

    • Joce, I agree with you on the idea of what progress means and doesn’t necessarily mean. In fact when I hear others talk about people they’ve met, or talk to people myself, who have come to the United States to live after living in a less developed country, I always wonder, and often ask, if they really feel like they are better off, and if so, in what ways. Always it comes down to more earning opportunities, and in many cases better personal security. They are usually people who are responsible for many family members left behind, and don’t seem to consider technology’s effects, either.

      • Thoughtful point, Kendra. Seems to we need to take up ways of ensuring personal security to our citizens without trashing the natural sources of our subsistence– which is a bit counter-productive in the security arena.

  24. As I read this I felt shocked at the rational used by science and technology as being progressive and safe. It is scary to think of all of the poisons, contaminants, and mislabeled products we’ve been exposed to in the name of “technology” and ultimately money. What has happened to mankind when profit comes before life, nature and health? How can anyone call this “progression and advancement”, when these types of production are destructive to our land, air and water? The new technology, chemicals and pesticides being used by big manufacturers are the sure demise of living creatures and ultimately the planet. The cases of the lead in baby formula and employees dying of cancer from working with plastics is a tragedy that should not continue to happen. I really worry about the foods we buy and the water we drink and how it is affecting my children’s health and future. It is so hard to believe that even though there is so much evidence of irreversible destruction caused by overuse of natural resources and over production of “things”, the people in power continue to produce. It seems morals and ethics and the future of our planet are not in question when a business can make a profit from it.

    • It is especially scary to think that we are exposed to such toxins in cases where their manufacturers clearly had information on their dangers–and ignored them for the sake of profit.
      Could point indicating the need to re-assess our values when “money comes before life, nature, and health”.
      It is very sad that your mothering is burdened with so many concerns about what your children are ingesting or exposed to: but this is also good news for them, since your care means they are that much safer and your choices for their benefit aid all of us in their support of a vital environment.
      It does indeed seem that the “profit first” dictum becomes an all too ready at hand excuse to set outside ethics. Thoughtful perceptions that also indicate a model for doing better– by placing ethics before profit, that is.

  25. When I discuss the causes of climate change with people I know, both highly educated and otherwise, there is so much unawareness. At first I thought it was denial, but I have come to believe that it is just easy for us, as a modernized country, that isn’t really suffering the effects of climate change in noticeable ways, to continue to use technology that is not sustainable for our planet and its resources. As this essay states, if people could see the effects of our (as a whole) actions, it might affect our use of technology, and lead to a more conservative lifestyle.

    • Thoughtful point, Kendra. It is only to our detriment as well as that of future generations that we continue to behave as if climate change will never effect us.
      We are suffering effects now from unprecedented storms and hot and dry weather in some areas and flooding in others. I just heard from a member of an expedition that spent some time studying icefish in the Antarctic that the temperature there has risen 11 degrees in a decade.
      It is not just rising seas that are the resultant problem (though that is tragic for island nations), but this melting ice is already interfering with things like the Gulf Stream that moderate and balance European and Pacific Northwestern weather.
      At some point, we will be forced to pay attention– perhaps sooner than we think.
      Thanks for your comment.

    • Kendra, it seems that unawareness has become endemic in our society. Many take such a laissez faire attitude with ideas like climate change, gmo’s, and other pressing ecological concerns. If it doesn’t prevent them from missing their sports, or t.v. programs from their couch, they are not going to think about it. Until the inconviences to people warrant some sort of discussion, many times long after the affects have set in, do people begin to take notice and act. It is the proverbial locking the barn door after the horses have been stolen.

      • Perhaps climate change, which former NASA director Jim Hanson recently spoke of as an “ethical issue on a par with slavery” might galvanize us, as weather patterns in the US become more and more unstable?
        I think our media also propagates apathy, but that is too often because people do not feel their actions count. I believe that if (or when?) people truly believe that what they do in their lives makes a difference to others, they will act accordingly.

    • In our busy lives, we seem to be on a linear path towards whatever we seek to achieve. We may or may not be aware of the consequences of our actions but they are real. I think you are correct in that if we are not feeling the effects and not “really suffering,” we may be slow to change. We may feel a sense of empathy towards those who suffer but real change must be sustained. I think we accomplish little towards sustainability if our actions are fleeting and not consistent towards lifestyle changes.

      • Good point, Chris– you have reminded us of precisely the point I brought up in response to your last comment here– that we need somehow to mesh those who act in certain ways with those who feel the negative consequences of their actions. And certainly, we need to stop rewarding them monetarily.
        It seems to me that each of us who make our lifestyle choices according to our values as working, step by step, to help place a system with more integrity in place– a system in which profit is not the be all and end all of goals.

        • I could not agree more in that we need to stop rewarding monetarily to those who create suffering. Bt toxic crops are horrible to pollinators yet these crops are still being planted. These developers of toxic seed should not be exempt from the proven damaging costs to others especially when they state in the beginning how safe their products are.

  26. Technology is, as the essay stated, simply a tool but progress however is an entirely subjective idea which has strong effects on consumer and public acceptance of certain uses of technological tools and the impacts on human and environmental health. Numerous examples such as the use of DDT, asbestos, lead, and mercury, show the failure of technological progress to determine future detrimental repercussions. The use of the precautionary principle would be very helpful in the determination of progress through technology.

    • Indeed, Paul. Good summary of key points that underscore the usefulness of the precautionary principle and the distinction between progress and technology– and the subjectivity that underlies the former,even while it justifies so much of what we choose as individuals and societies.

  27. The cost of progress seems to never really add up. Cancers, poisonings, recalls and lawsuits are a neverending addition to many of the products that are produced, marketed and sold to consumers in the United States. It is the one size fits all belief that is partially to blame, the other is the fact that businesses put the bottom line ahead of the concumer’s personal well being. Our self-destructive tendencies, which lead to the reduction of our well being all for profit is truly a head scratcher. I am curious as to how many more lawsuits, deaths, and preventable diseases will occur until people will have had enough? Maybe our culture has become to complacent and accepting of this facet of life and just consider it part of the status quo. In any event, it is sad that it continues and it is just as bad that we continue to allow businesses free passes to create these materials.

    • Very thoughtful posing of the issue of our self-destructive choices here, Travis. It seems to me that the problem is often based on the “profit above all” standard, which allows a few to justify and others to accept such irrational behavior.
      Perhaps if we had a stronger sense of community, which conceived of harm to one as harm to all, we would not allow such abuses, much less reward them.
      I do think it hopeful that so much information about abuse is being exposed–and this tells me something else hopeful, as well– many of us are not ready to accept the status quo no matter what. In fact, this is why so many businesses worked so hard to keep their harms secret (or even label their products, as in the case of Monsanto), since once they were exposed, they would pay a price for them.
      This is also why some wise businesses support the precautionary principle– since such foresight might keep them out of this quicksand. A few (like those at CSRwire) even seem to think they live on the same planet as the rest of us!
      Thanks for your comment.

  28. I have often thought about the way we view progress through the Western worldview. Progress that translates into bad decisions, as Wright points, is not sustainable. In fact it seems that we use the word progress even if it harms us in the end. I think of open space and wonder if we see progress in sustaining it and leaving it along. It may take greater restraint to leave it as it is than to build a grocery store in the name of “progress.” Just because we feel that our way is the correct does not mean that it will work for another group.
    It is scary to think of all the products produced by corporations for the sake of progress or monetary gain. Things that were created to increase our health turned out to be toxic. Who really knows the health cost due to our insatiable appetite for the all mighty dollar. Are profits really worth the health risk we have put ourselves and the planet in?

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Chris. I am glad you have done some personal thinking on the definition of true “progress”– we certainly need more of us to do the same, rather than just responding to wherever this buzz word leads us.
      Indeed, progress that “translates into bad decisions” is not progress in any real sense of the word– not is simple profit. And I think, unfortunately, part of the answer to your last question about whether the health risks really measure up to the benefits of monetary profit, is addressed by looking at our system, whose economic structure leads to the health risks being suffered, by and large, by different people who get the profit from these asks. Until we can heal that separation, we are bound to bumble along on this dangerous path.

  29. I discuss GMO’s and bovine growth hormones (rBGH) to my friends and family and to everyone on Facebook. Do any of them read or listen or am I’m looked at as a quack? Before I started school and before it was vogue I have eaten and used organic products. However, it bothers me when my own family laughs and makes poor jokes about me being financially taken by a so called movement. Even after a decade or more they still listen to the doctor first, for example I told them about partially hydrogenated oils way before the media and doctors touted them bad, but did they hear me … no. I tire of hearing how expensive organic food is when people opt to instead pop pills for high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, etc.
    The so called advancements of agriculture are damaging to every part of earth and her ecosystems. Yet few people seem to care how animals, plants or even themselves are effected.

    • Debora, you couldn’t of said it any better! It seems like a lot of people who complain about healthy food and how expensive it is, visit the doctor much more than you and I would in a given cold season or for medicine for easy fixes to our health. I’m not too thrilled about doctor’s and their easy prescription giving of pills either. It fustrates me actually because they are part of the problem with American obesity. I also think it is just easier to take a pill than to develop a new lifestyle.

      • And interestingly, it is also true that particular chemical “obsegens” are part of the problem– these predispose children effected by them in their mother’s wombs to obesity.
        Organophosphates are the most implicated in this regard– since these are also solidly implicated in cancer, we ought to take them off the market (DDT was in this class of chemicals–and though we have outlawed that, we now use plenty more in the same class).
        There is also some research being done on the intentionally addictive use of salt, sugar, and oil proportions in fast food– very hard for children to resist– or those on low incomes.

  30. I thought that it was interesting that a representative for Monsanto said that labeling GMO foods was “tantamount to putting a skull and crossbones on them.” I strongly maintain that people have a right to know what is in the products that they are purchasing. Furthermore, I think that Monsanto’s products, as well as their company name, deserve a skull and crossbones. Of course, personally, I would ban all GMOs.

    I was horrified that the plastics industry knew that x-rays revealed the dissolving bones of the workers who manufactured them. Since the Supreme Court has declared corporations people, why isn’t the corporations on trial for murder and attempted murder?

    I went on the link reporting on the President’s Cancer Panel findings. I was horrified to read that CT scans were performed 69 million times in 2007. The article reported that “Patients who have a chest CT scan receive a dose of radiation in the same range as survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bomb attacks who were less than half a mile from ground zero. The panel also said that the U.S. military “is a major source of toxic occupational and environmental exposures that can increase cancer risk.”

    • And I think that Monsanto’s thinking the gmo label is tantamount to a skull and crossbones says something about their relationship to their own prodcut.
      On the issue of CT scans– check out the latest Women’s Health Network Newsletter: there is an essay on CT scans and steps to take to limit individual radiation exposure to these.
      Thanks for your comment. I appreciate the follow ups.

    • I agree that people have a right to knowledge, whether that’s knowledge of what they’re purchasing, knowledge of the effects their actions have on themselves and others, or knowledge of possible dangers from treatments, foods, or other exposures.
      I don’t necessarily think that GMO foods or CT scans should be banned, but I certainly think that they should be used with care and an eye to improving them or finding safer alternatives. And I strongly believe that people should have open access to information concerning those things and their potential consequences, so that they can make informed decisions.

      • An essential point, Samantha and Lenore. We have the right to choose such things, but that right can be undercut by lack of information– which is why we have a right to know.

    • Lenore – I, too, think GMOs should be banned until the science is better perfected and adequate studies have been done to prove they are a safe sustainable resource. In the meantime, adequate labeling is the only way to ensure the consumer has the information in hand. What they do with it from there is up to them.

  31. It’s certainly sobering to hear about this kind of greed and corruption in any setting, but particularly when it is in organizations that people depend on for their livelihoods (for example, the workers in plastic and other industries) and for the necessities of life (like organizations that provide crops).
    As long as we have individuals who are more interested in their own gain than the lives of others, we will always have problems like this. Progress for the sake of progress has, in many ways, become the norm. But I agree that if we hold progress to a high ethical standard, we can use it as a powerful tool in improving lives.
    I believe this begins by holding ourselves to high standards. It can be difficult to see how we could possibly change the policy of governments or huge organizations, but if individuals are living in such a way that their lives reflect care for themselves, other people, and the earth, then I think change can be brought about on larger, more visible levels.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Samantha. It is tragic when large for-profit corporations have power that is tantamount to blackmail over their workers and our food supply. Monsanto, for instance, had a concerted business plan that entailed replacing all seeds with genetically engineered seed by a particular date. They are being thwarted by consumer resistance– especially in the EU, where consumer information about GMOs recently crashed the market for these products. In this context, consumers have a good deal of power– since 5 per cent market share decline in purchasing can turn corporate buying priorities around.
      Of course, they can’t exercise this power if they do not have information about the products they are purchasing– one sad result of the disinformation campaigns on the part of corporations outlined here.
      I do want to make the point that not all corporations are out to make money no matter the ethical cost… but those who do have this priority have substantially damaged our health and environment, which is why we need both good research and regulation.
      We need the latter, for instance, to protects scientists being threatened with court battles if they publish data that cuts into profit– this is inexcusable. The truth is the truth and scientists must be able to freely publish it.
      As for “progress for progress’s sake”– I think what is really meant there is newness or development for the sake of newness– but that is not necessarily progress– which, as you point out, we need to hold to a higher standard.

  32. I know that there are harmful chemicals that are used on crops, but I wonder if we can actually “trust” when it is labeled. This has me thinking about a class I took related to the foods we buy. If we buy locally, we could garantee that the foods- whether meat products or fruits and veggies are the least likely to contain chemicals compared to Fred Myer products where the majority of the food is packed with chemicals that are harmful. We can’t live without eating, but who would eat knowing that the food itself increases our risk for cancer? Too bad the government doesn’t propose that every American, whether living in an apartment or their own home, grow their own produce just to make sure that no chemicals have been added to it.

    • I think it would be great, Mary, if everyone who could grow a garden of produce, would; and then share what they grow with those who can’t.

      • Indeed! It seems that this is happening more and more– I am especially happy to see it happening in urban environments. And we can always do better in this respect.

      • Cheryl I love your comment about sharing produce with those that can’t. I feel like we depend far too often on importing and exporting products, which is really disappointing when we have great produce right in our towns! I feel like if we had a greater interdependence in our communities that perhaps we could figure out how to share produce and create a healthier community.

    • Hi Mary,
      I completely agree with you. I think that knowledge about what is really in our food would make people think twice about where they shop and what they eat. The idea of everyone growing their produce is nice, I think it would also teach people a great lesson about where our food comes from and the process involved.

    • You are so right Mary. It is very frustrating to be limited of how we shop for groceries. Anywhere we go, it seems like organic foods are most expensive and the foods that are full of chemicals are the most affordable for people, especially college students. I’m very busy and it is hard for me to keep a garden. Last year, I lived in an apartment and a garden was not a choice for me. Like you, I wish the government would force farmers to not use as many chemicals on our “healthy” foods.

      • We could follow the model of the EU and New Zealand and prohibit well known carcinogens. We might also withdraw some of our “perverse subsidies”– if the government did not give these subsidies to chemical farming (and perhaps even gave them to organic farmers instead?), consumers would not suffer the dilemma you point out.
        One solution is to grow your own– which many urban garden/community garden projects are doing in more and more numbers.

    • Though some labels do have particular standards attached, the government cannot check them all– you have a good point about personal (local) knowledge of what we buy. Growing your own is of course the best way to be assured what went into what you are eating.

    • Hi Mary!
      I found your comment so insightful! I’m a nutrition major and we often discuss the use of pesticides and GMOs in my classes and the adverse health affects that some of these have. I agree that it’s hard to know where your food is coming from when you buy it from Freddies or to even know if your food has been altered in some way. I also find, however, as a college student that I don’t really have the luxury of buying organic foods even though I’m a strong advocate of them. I love the idea of growing your own produce though! Now if I could just get past killing all the plants I touch I’d be good to go….
      Thanks for such a great comment.

      • And thank you for your comment in turn, Cassandra. There are creative ways to get less expensive organic food– if you are in Corvallis, the Coop has some very good sales. I find it sad when young women who wish to nurture their healthy bodies see roadblocks to buying organic. Here we also have a local Food for Lane County garden that needs volunteers now at harvest time (they will show you exactly what to do) and you can walk away with armloads of organic produce (and in this case, flowers) in return for no cost.
        In Eugene, they also used have a gleaners group that took advantage of all the fruit and nut trees planted but not harvested in urban neighborhoods. It is a shame to buy expensive organic apples (and these are one of the most dangerous fruits to buy inorganic, given chemical use on them) when apples are falling off the trees everywhere in this season.
        As a nutrition major, perhaps you know one of my favorite publications, the Nutrition Action Healthletter published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Their last issue includes an excellent interview on the reasons to support organic produce.

  33. Thank you for writing about this sort of information! I feel like not many people pay attention to how pesticides and other harmful poisons are put into our “healthy” food. There is a quote in this short essay that I felt was very interesting. Holden claimed, “If our worldview did not sanction progress in the way that it does, agribusiness would not have this ground with which to license their attacks on presumably “backward” forces that challenge their profits.” I feel like this quote illustrates how companies are more concerned with the amount of profit they can get, rather than making the country healthier and more function able. Also, I’m not sure if this could be off topic or in the general idea of pesticides, but I feel like cancers are related to environment hazards. But, it seems like the environment is neglected from being studied or why government doesn’t force laws to make the environment healthier for people to live in. It’s like there is a lot of prevention research with cancers, but not enough research with pesticides linked to cancer. Just a thought.

    • Interesting ideas Kayla! I like the quote you highlighted and I also feel that companies are concerned with profit instead of a better world for everyone. There are however some companies that are now looking at being more sustainable and have stronger morals, I am going to make an effort to support brands that emphasize sustainability from now on.

    • You have hit on a key point in repeating this quote, Kayla–which Wright substantiates in his historical analysis. And perhaps it goes to the point as to why so many ignore the harms in pesticides– after all, they can’t be harmful– or at least we don’t have to think about this– if they are part of progress.
      I think you are right about more research needed on all human made chemicals before they are released into the environment.
      A substantial problem arises as in the case of current pesticides when there is research data which is either ignored, neglected– or consciously hidden. The Union of Concerned Scientists did a survey which indicated that at least 50 per cent of government scientists were pressured by their superiors not to release their data whenever the results were negative toward business– this was especially bad during the Bush administration.

  34. Progress: an onward/forward movement towards a destination.
    Two problems I have with this:
    1. Does progress really qualify if we’re killing ourselves with it? It is scary to think that we are exposed toxins and are destroying both ourselves and the world around us just because manufacturers want to make a profit/progress.
    2. The manufacturers don’t really have an idea of where their destinations are, other than a destination of profit. So is it progress if the manufacturers don’t know where they’re going?
    Are we really making progress at all or are we just chasing after a cancerous illusion? It’s greed that strives for progress while forgetting about the consequences of using pesticides, too many antibiotics, or using toxic paint.
    Is it really progress if we’re sick?

    • I think you have nailed down the point in question when you ask if progress is really progress if we are “killing ourselves with it”– well said! We certainly need to reevaluate what we term progress at that point!
      Your second point is well taken as well– the manufacturers of these dangerous products have no destination in mind. Greed, as you indicate, is no such destination, though it is a driving and dangerous force to lead us into blind alleys.
      Is it, indeed, really progress if it sickens us either emotionally or physically?

    • Nice point questioning progress if we’re killing ourselves with it, it really got me thinking about products I use and the potential harm it could be doing me since manufacturers are not looking out for us! Consumer awareness has led to numerous companies forming around “green” ideals or mainstream brands offering “green” alternatives. I found a website called and it provides ratings of products to help consumers find safe, green products to purchase, hope you find it useful.

      • One thing to consider is the funding sources of particular sites: It seems that Good Guide is funded by a corporation that produces some of the products featured.
        I prefer sites that are run by non-profits or volunteers with no monetary investment in their results.
        On the other hand, CSWire is a great group of ethical businesses who are ready to critique themselves in an honest way– at least as far as I have seen so far.

  35. This was an interesting article. It reminded me of how blindly the majority of people accept new technology and progress. Very few people question whether we even need the new product or technology or if it will have negative unintended side effects that would make it better to not produce or utilize. Companies are driven by profits and consumers are not asking the right questions. Consumers need to start becoming more educated and using their dollars to promote companies that are sustainable.

    • Thoughtful points: it is also important to add that consumers cannot find any answers– or perhaps even ask the right questions– if knowledge about the products they buy is hidden from them.
      I find it heartening that certain non-profits are dedicated to finding key information on consumer products–and as your comment indicates, we could take more advantage of the information they offer. We do have to be careful that sometimes on the internet is not just selling us something else instead–and evaluation our sources carefully.

      • I wanted to add a few thoughts to our discussion after doing some further research. Your point on being careful on the internet is a very good one, often companies will write about their own product on very carefully designed websites so it looks like a 3rd party has done it, or they will release skewed information on a competitor product. It is very important as to who funded the scientific research so there is no bias in the end reported results. I have found that the website has a greener products section that shows companies that are environmentally conscious for a variety of products and categories. I also found a great website called and it provides a health, environment, and society rating to a large variety of household items and even has short bio of the goodguide scientist and their backgrounds. I recommend it to anyone who is trying to go green to help themselves and the environment!

  36. I really enjoyed the quote from Ulrech Beck, stating “technology becomes our fate when we accept it without evaluation.” I believe the quote illustrates how men can have ecofeminist perspectives too. For, as I learned last week, ecofeminism suggests that elite knowledge should be questioned with regards to its methods, reliability, social results, and historical/social context. Therefore, creating ‘super’ crops that utilize pesticides (resulting in 20,000 reported fatal poisonings each year) ought to be questioned (for its effects on society alone)! Of course, if we had the same health standards that were implemented by the European Union, this would not be an issue. It really says something about what Americans seem to value most though.

    • Good points, Leah. Good example of how we need to assess our technological choices on these grounds lest we-and the natural world we share and rely on– be overrun with results we have not foresee and finally cannot ignore.
      The pesticide example is an important one of displaced risks and rewards: that is, those who bear the risks of these chemicals (often agricultural workers) are not the ones who profit from their use.
      This disjunction, however, should be undermined in understanding the interdependence of our world.

    • Yes, I agree if only the United States had the same health standards as the European Union, we would be doing much better. Third world countries have even more problems with the pesticides use. In Nicaragua the Dole Company owned a banana plantation and used toxic pesticides that were banned in the United States in 1977, the workers at this plantation were unable to father children and women were losing their children to the pesticide poisoning. Next the Dole Company ships the bananas sprayed with outlawed pesticides to the US and now the consumers are eating these toxic bananas.

      • On the point of the European Union, the European Union has put out two volumes of research on problems arising from new technologies, called “Late Lessons from Early Warnings” that we might certainly learn something from.
        The issue of sterility in these workers is a tragic one: it is important to note that the pesticide in question was manufactured in the US and though it is banned here, corporations were allowed to sell off their stocks to other countries. And in fact, I haven’t seen info to indicate whether first world nations are still manufacturing it for sale elsewhere. In this interdependent world, there is no “away”– we need to protect everyone’s health or we won’t protect our own.

    • It shows that Americans value money over health. If this were a case of 20,000 people dieing due to this then people may finally realize whats going on, but instead it’s just fatal poisionings. What really affects us is that as Americans, GMO really isn’t displayed as a big topic in the news, magazines, etc. It is only found when such articles as these come up and only the people who chose to read them are the only people who are really informed. This topic isn’t one of those that can travel by word of mouth and people believe it. It’s simply something that they have to chose to believe in and then really see for themselves how serious it truly is and could become!

      • Setting money up as a value over such priceless things are health indicates how skewed our values are, I think. And we need to spread the word to share knowledge, as you indicate– I am not sure it does not start with grass roots/word of mouth. What about things like the internet. We can hardly take what is here at face value, but our links page offers a good many informative resources developed by those without monetary interests in the outcome and some sophistication in analyzing such things.
        And you are right that media does not say much about such things, though we need this information to make good decisions as individuals and as citizens.

    • It is so sad to find out that we do not have something similar to the European Union that would monitor products and companies that we so freely subscribe to. Like you said, it does show what Americans value and that is convenience and technology. We are so outdated when it comes to protecting the land that will sustain us and the products that will provide stability for future generations. Instead we have to buy that new computer, save for the big screen tv, and pay 4 bucks a gallon for gas. By allowing technology to overrun our life we letting it come before nature and creating a dualistic relationship between the two. I really thought all of these new gadgets and gizmos were leading us to a more environmentally conscious future, but it seems like we’ve been duped into believing a lie. Hopefully we can begin working towards a change by supporting companies who do have what’s best for the environment in mind, instead of in theory.

      • It is true that we don’t have the sophisticated governmental protections of the EU in its emphasis on the precautionary principle for the sake of future generations. I might add a note that the EU is not perfect either– it has lately come under fire for leaning too close to certain corporate interests. I hope it is not losing its objectivity.
        Technology is a tool–and there are many kinds. Perhaps you or your classmates will be one of the creative ones who helps design (or push for) technology that supports the resilience and vitality of the natural world rather than overrunning it.

  37. “Better Living Through Chemistry”-DuPont.
    The use of pesticides is a big step backwards, with 20,000 deaths a year from poisoning. We must put a stop to pesticides in our environment and our food. Many corporations are only looking out for their own interests and their stockholders interest. In November California voted on Proposition 37, the labeling of foods containing GMO. I was disappointed in the outcome of the vote it was defeated by 51.5%. During the campaign there were so many commercials against the labeling of GMO with the largest supporter were Monsanto and Dupont. Monsanto is the largest producers of GMO seeds, of corn, soybean, sugar beet and cotton and continuing. The European Union is smart on labeling foods containing GMO, this needs to happen here and now, stop letting companies control our environment and our food we consume. Many people are uninformed about GMO or do not want to know. We do not know the health factors on the long-term effect on GMO. Consumers can make a change in our health and environment by purchasing organic foods and contact food companies to voice your opinion on GMO products.

    • I am with you on stopping the vast overuse of pesticides. We can indeed make a difference in terms of our purchasing choices. Given your thoughts here, you must see the irony in the “better living through chemistry” statement.
      Thanks for your comment. Any ideas on how we might define progress in a meaningful way?

    • K. Garren,
      What you have to understand though is that even if the proposition would have passed you know sure well that GMO seeds would still be being used in crops all over America anyways. If people are so concerned then why not grow your own corn and beans, that way you know that you helped them grow and not by seeds provided by Monsanto. If people seemed to really want to fight against this then you would imagine they would do something, but instead people continue to consume these products. However, its not all bad. Places like Africa can now grow crops due to these seeds that they wouldn’t have been able to grow before.

      • One problem with growing one’s own is the contamination of non-Gmo crops by gmo seed– not to mention, the lawsuits of Monsanto against farmers who choose to grow and sell their own non-gmo seeds, like those levied against Percy Schmesier ( Check out his story.
        In point of fact, it is also impractical (often) to grow one’s own crops entirely: and the consumer would like to at least know what they are buying.
        On the issue of feeding Africa, see my last comment. It is important to assess rather than uncritically accept the marketing line of those who make money through particular products. I would not imply that all new technology is bad– see the essay here on sustainable technology– but neither is it good, as documented in the book featured in this essay on the true costs of “progress” that is change without critical assessment of the whole of its effects in the short and long term.

  38. The idea of progress and what comes to mind when the word is spoken is what needs to evolve. The US and its ideas of innovation and progress are spread globally. Descriptions of progress are always given in the extremes, as something has to be the fastest, the smallest, ….of the century…of the millennium and so on. We have become a people of extremes and the population is on the never ending quest for perfection. In my opinion, the quest for this perceived perfection is at the driving force of many of the ills today. Unfortunately, this perfection is usually superficial. The perfectly shaped and unblemished fruit or vegetable that has no taste or nutritive value. The perfect skin that arrived that way not from health stemming from a good diet, clean water, and fresh air but from chemical treatments and surgery. These desires of perceived perfections have a dark side to them. The pesticides and fungicides that produce that ‘perfect’ food leave behind illnesses and death which lasts for generations and also affects the eco-cycle and is overall disruptive to the natural chain of events when growing food. We are eating, drinking, breathing, slathering on, washing in, bathing in, living around, and being prescribed chemicals in unprecedented levels. It shows all around us with off the charts cancers, mental illnesses, and birth defects. Yet, so many in our government and in the industries are all asking ” gee, I wonder why?”. The chemicals are building and building in our soils, air, and water systems. We have 1 in 8 children now being diagnosed with autism. Children are experiencing cancer in record numbers. Even our pets are being diagnosed with multiple disorders now. I don’t call this progress. I call this annihilation.

    • I like your point that what needs to evolve is our definition of “progress”. Good point about our emphasis on superlatives– “better”, “newer”, “smaller” (or “bigger”) or “faster”, etc. These are signs of a dualistic and competitive worldview. A cooperative one would be looking towards similarities and care instead– how we relate to our world rather than have something others do not (or did not until so-called “progress” made it available”).
      A world without blemishes is also a world without character and substance (and depth– as you indicate, it is all about surfaces). And the tragedy of short-term goals with its results of using up the world that the next generations are due to inherit.
      Some very thoughtful points to consider here, Renee.

  39. I understand that such companies such as Monsanto have done a great deal towards turning these everyday normal crops into super crops that don’t rely on lots of water, or good soil to grow. Instead they rely on the pesticides to do the work against preventing against insects and death and in turn we take the risk by consuming such products. Now just last year I did a project in biology about the use of such “steroids” in these crops. What people don’t realize is that yes they are bad, but there does come a positive with them. It allows such countries as Africa to grow crops when they wouldn’t be able to due to such warm conditions. There is little water there which in turn means hard soil which allows crops the inability to grow. With these pesticides the people of Africa have a chance to eat through they don’t realize what they may be consuming.

    • Actually, this “super crop” idea is what Monsanto would LIKE us to believe. Check out the report of the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Failure to Yield”, which assesses how miserably these crops actually perform from the standpoint of those who have no monetary investment in the outcome of their assessment.
      As per your Africa example, there are many projects that do not use pesticides but have increased crop yield without using up water resources (the “super crops” characteristically take vastly more water than the ones they replace)– see our links page for some examples. And check out the essay here,
      “The Green Revolution– Whoops!”– for problems with the “green revolution” in Bangladesh. We would very much like to market these technological wonders, but we need some very careful assessments in order to do so without just going on assumptions and stereotypes about progress. You might also be interested to note that whereas it is true that some third world areas have very little access to information about what the poisons they might be consuming, as you indicate, some areas in Africa led the fight to reject genetically engineered seed that was not performing for them– and which would have contaminated their own traditional seedstock so as to exaggerate problems with hunger. For a survey of the reasons for world hunger from a non-profit who works all over the world, check out our link to “Break for the World”.
      You might also be interested in the page here on the criteria for “Sustainable Technology”– any new products that meets those criteria would certainly be a boom to ourselves and others.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  40. When I think of progress I think of advancements in technology and I assume that those advancements take what’s best for our society into consideration. I guess I also assumed that we had something similar to the European Union in the United States that prevented “advancements” if they were actually counter-productive to our lifestyle and society. I’m more than a little shocked that we don’t have a system in place to monitor these advancements, but then again that explains why so many harmful products are being mass produced. Maybe its because I live in Oregon, but there seems to be a lot of advancements towards sustainability, recycling, reusing. (NIMBY?) If there was a system that monitored the production of products we use in the US I wonder how many microwaves, cell phones, computers, and cars we’d be left with? This only takes into consideration technical objects. If we had the same system monitoring the foods we eat, the manufacturing plants where they are produced, and the fields where they are harvested, I guarantee there would be smaller markets and fewer selections. It really does pay to learn and research the knowledge needed to understand these situations and the problems that are becoming increasingly harmful to ourselves and our future children. Without an accurate measure of checks and balances, this information is largely left up to the consumer. As a consumer, I assume we have been working to move passed harmful production towards self-sustaining ideas. As a consumer, I am sorely mistaken and will have to do even more research before buying harmful products that hurt me and my society and continue to keep neglectful companies in an unethical business.

    • You bring up a good point regarding assumptions Jamie. I think many people assume that there are proper regulations in place to protect our health. Therefore, people do not feel they have to check the label for makeup or food ingredients or know where their food came from or how it was processed. People assume there is someone looking out for them, so they do not need to look out for themselves. Unfortunately, we know that this is not the case and that everyone should be cautious of what they put on/in their body.

      • We do indeed need to take responsibility for gathering information and then making appropriate consumer choices. Our cultural values too often make it seem that “progress” must be good and therefore safe– and that our government or someone is watching over the safety of new technologies. Thanks for reminding us about the dangers of assuming too much.

    • Thoughtful perspectives about what we might actually be left with in our current technology if we truly evaluated products according to their effects on the health of the environment and humans. Good point about consumer responsibility.
      And perhaps (to think about the question you pose) we might not be “left with” much of the technology we have currently, but we might have some re-designed technology to take its place that truly benefits ourselves and our planet. See “Guidelines for Sustainable Technology” here for some ideas in that regard. Thanks for your comment.

    • Hi Jamie- After reading what you posted, part of what I read had me thinking about corporations. With the giant corporations making us the consumer on what we buy, I think we tend to trust what they have to say about the products we get instead of researching for ourselves what is behind the label. I don’t think it’s quite as shocking to read that the US doesn’t put the health of its individuals before technological advances because we are behind Europe in LGBT issues (I was learning about it this week in Sociology) as well as getting rid of the gender gap, so why not risk the health of United States citizens when it comes to “advancements” that are great? I also think that Oregon seems to be advanced as far as sustainability, recycling, and reusing to some extenet. When we can get rid of clear cutting practices all together and choose alternative ways of getting resources requiring wood, I will fully know that we definitely made advancement (I live in Clatsop County and the practice of clear cutting is rampant and I know it’s devastating wildlife).

      • As your comments indicate, though we have made some steps in the right direction, we have plenty more distance to go. The ways in which some geographical areas are ahead of others model the changes we might make. And wouldn’t it be great if our communities, wherever we are, showed leadership that others might follow?
        This thought leads me to consider what part each of us might do in leading our communities in this direction.

  41. When every kid has a cell phone, when corporate agriculture is deemed dangerous to the health of individuals who cnsume it, and when advancement in technology is put before a human life when a product has not been carefully examined, I wonder about our progress. Because it’s not really progress at all. One thing I like about the European advancement in technology is that they really do put the health of their citizens before progress: for instance, I learned this last week after watching a film about “Consuming Kids” that they put a cap on ads that target kids specifically because they know that TV and technology can be harmful to kids, especially when they want to make them grow up faster, the Eurpeans also put health before technology in the fact that everybody is covered under the universal system and nobody goes without while in this country: we can be turned down by healthcare clinics and doctors if we don’t have. We should adopt some of the standards that Europeans have regarding progress and we would definitely be making progress.

    • You point out solid reasons to wonder about if what we call “progress” is really progressive at all, Mary.
      It is sad when advertisers target those most vulnerable to their goods (as in children).
      I think we need to assess what KIND of technology we are talking about in putting “health before technology”.

  42. One statement I always think about and come back to on topics such as this, is that there are always hidden motives. A company or organization will present their ideas/motives to the public, or at least the ideas/motives that they want the public to see. As you have mentioned, companies will keep data “hidden”, we are driven by consumerism. We want money and profit, that is our goal. It seems like we often don’t care who it harms in the process or how it may affect us later on. I think progression is important, but it needs to be careful and thoughtful progression. We are powerless if we aren’t knowledgeable about how our society is “progressing”.

    • Thinking about the issue of hidden motives, wouldn’t it be a vision to work for if we had a society with an economic system in which motives were so attuned to the public good that corporations wanted to trumpet them to the world rather than hide them?

  43. An example of progress being a negative in food production that I know of occurred on a massive level in the Middle East that was discussed in one of my anthropology classes. US tractor companies decided to sell there equipment cheaply to farmers in this region so that they could being to create a surplus and then make a profit on their crops. Instead, in a matter of years the new farming techniques destroyed the soil that had been farmed for thousands of years that could sustain the farming families and a few other families. The destruction of their livelihood left the region much worse off than it had been, but the tractor company said that it was the locals’ faults for not knowing how to use the equipment, instead of theirs for not doing any research into the practices of the area, which is almost identical to what this article is discussing. Progress can be good but it must be kept in the context of each culture and molded to fit both culture and the local ecology before it can do the people or nature any good. What was considered to be the “White Man’s Burden” during the early 20th century in the US has actually done more harm than good. We have pushed what works for us onto other cultures, effectively destroying the people’s way of life, which makes them easier to take over and more dependent on the colonizing western culture. This in turn has detrimental effects on the local ecology.

    • Thanks for sharing this example, Rachel. I was not aware of it–and I always like the opportunity to learn more. Sadly, the dynamics of this instance have been repeated all too often in the name of “development”– which Mies and Shiva rightly term “mal-development”.
      This clearly illustrates the point of this essay. Progress (or technological change for its own sake) is not an automatic good– but needs some careful place-based and culture-based assessment. This make for less sweepingly dramatic impacts– but less destructive ones as well.

    • I wonder if that tractor company had known what effects its equipment would have on the soil, if they would have still gone through with the transaction. Would they have been more interested in making some money within a few years, then leave the ruined environment in search of other endeavors, or would they have left that native community alone?

      • Good question, Aften. There is ignorance of the results of one’s actions–and also a time when it is irresponsible to be so negligent that one does not follow through on the results of one’s actions. We do have worldview which partitions our world in such a way that the end results of our actions are often invisible.
        But then there are those corporations detailed in Devra Davis’ Secret History of the War on Cancer, who knew full well the consequences of their actions and continued them anything to protect their profit.

  44. This essay brings to mind a question: What are we progressing from? If we look at industrial and technological progress as spawning from the United States with the settlement of vagabond Europeans, there was a lot of progress to be made. But that was because the people involved were displaced and unsettled. Their way of life was difficult, dirty, and dangerous. They were essentially homeless outcasts avoiding over taxation and oppressive government. Their new lives consisted of nothing more than what they could bring on a boat. In this instance, much progress needed to be made for their own happiness and welfare.

    But as their progress as independent people sped up, advancement seemed to take its place, and to the detriment of Native Americans. This advancement has since spread all over the world, having the same devastating effects on other long-standing cultures and now upon modern people, as is the the case illustrated above with Monsanto.

    Did we need all of this progress in the first place? Did we really need to come to a point where we can pick fruit off of a display at a supermarket instead of off a branch in an orchard? Yes, certain advancements are wonderful such as communication, travel, and I must add indoor plumbing. Were people unhappy or unproductive pre-progress age? I think not, for such civilizations had lasted seemingly happily for thousands of years.

    • I think you make a great point. We have replaced the idea of sustainability with an idea of ‘progress.’ Instead of learning from indigenous peoples about how to sustainability live in regions that they have been living in for thousands of years, Europeans (and Americans) move in and redo everything in the name of progress. Can this really be called progress when we are destroying the environment. Isn’t progress about increasing the standard of living, not starving some people to feed others, or giving thousands of people cancer? It seems that our idea of what progress is is majorly skewed.

      • Can this really be called progress indeed? The recent President’s Cancer Panel results indicate the extent to which environmental toxins are responsible for the cancer epidemic. Rather than searching for some magic bullet to stop this scourge, we might cut back on our toxic releases– which won’t hurt anyone, but the bottom line of a few.

    • Something to ponder in your assessment of pioneer “progress” as a flight from something… I don’t quite understand the distinction you make between progress and “advancement”– does the latter also not need some definition?
      But the essential question remains as you state is– “do we need all this progress in the first place”? And we can only answer that by understanding what exactly progress means- or should mean– to us.
      Technological inventions are not necessarily “advancements” unless we define what we mean by this term–and also, as you indicate, the costs that come with these.

  45. Sadly we are lied about out food and what is in it. We have no choice in what goes into out bodies anymore. Monsanto has had many failed crops that have devastated and robbed local farmers, from there land. They try to get local farmers to switch there seeds to Monsanto seeds. If farmers deny Monsanto, then grows a crop next the that farmers crop and when a Monsanto crop pollinates a local farmers crop. They sue them for all they have, and leave them with no land and no money. “Progress” they call it healthier foods fortified with vitamins and minerals, but they leave out the larger amounts of pesticides needed, to keep these crops alive!
    Like stated in our readings large companies are only interested in profit and have no problem with mono-crops that destroy the land. They strip the land of all its nutrients, and once the land has become a “dead zone” the move on to the next part of land. Destroying our environment, and leaving no hope for local farmers once they leave. It is sad that with progress there has to be such destruction not only of land but of peoples livelihood.

    • What was once the most fertile farmland in the world (the Midwestern US) is, as you indicate, in serious trouble with its topsoil being blown and washed away at an alarming rate–and the results of the contamination you mention (in the riverine “dead zone”) are alarming as well.
      I am heartened by the community groups who are working to make information available as to both the health and environmental impact of producing our food– so that we can choose what we buy and consume.
      This is something the FDA should be doing for us, but is not. As far as i am concerned, there is absolutely no excuse for failing to label genetically engineered products.
      And given all of this, what would you personally see as real progress?

      • To me real progress would be labeling our GM food, so people could make their own decision on whether or not they want to support GM foods. I feel that with this choice more people would choose to stay away from GM foods. Second I feel that we need to let the countries that we are trying to “help” do there own farming. What we need is to find out what they need. They way they farmed had worked for years and years. We should instead listen to these women and ask what help they need. Providing unnatural seed that is sterile is not help it is making these women become depended on others, when for years all they needed was themselves and the earth, they worked together in perfect harmony.

        • I like your idea of progress, Laura. Knowledge is certainly an important part of choice– the choice that grounds democracy.
          Listening to and learning from these women as we support them is an essential stance. Thanks for pointing this out.

        • I’m sure that people choosing to steer clear of GM foods is PRECISELY why there is such a push to NOT label them. I firmly believe that Monsanto and the like know exactly what they are doing and are going to continue doing it until they are made to stop (if even then) Until the government steps in and says NO instead of yes and let us pay you more to keep it up it will not change. Realistically, this won’t happen with more and more people in the FDA and other departments coming from Monsanto…..

        • Indeed– Monsanto did not seem to see the irony in arguing that their products should not be labeled since their research indicated that would drop their sales.
          I agree with your sense of government responsibility. I also think consumers can (and are) pushing back by refusing to buy such products– whereas there is no requirements labeling a gmo product, there are labels certifying that a produce is gmo free. We also need local activism that watchdogs such things as gmo canola and beets planned for the Willamette Valley (with dangers of cross-breeding into organics).

  46. It is definitely scary the way in which our society not only condones manufacturers actions on the basis of ‘progress,’ but in many cases rewards its. The capitalistic society that we live in means that if these people can produce and market something cheaply, they can sell it at a profit, and make tons of money. The fact that there is little to no regulation on the potential health effects on the workers, and consumers is an off putting thought. This reminds my of a link I followed off this site, discussing the lack of regulation in cosmetics. Manufacturers can put just about what ever they want into cosmetics. Consumers think that the government is regulating these types of things to promote the health of society, when in fact this is not the case. I was reading about Native California basket weavers, and the pesticides and herbicides being used to kill ‘pests’ and ‘weeds’ are causing cancers, mouth sores, and even causing teeth to rot in these women and men. These people can’t even go out and gather material that is ‘wild’ without being subjected to chemicals. It is not surprising the high amounts of cancer we hear about these days, when we are surrounded by poisons.

    • I completely know where you’re coming from with this. I wrote a paper for my english class last quarter about obesity and the things that affect it. There was this one article that I read that said that there is a chemical in couches, shampoos and other products that actually interfere with your endocrine system and can actually eventually kill you. The article didn’t give the name of the chemical but it did say that it was unregulated by the government, it’s just scary to think that the people that we thought were in office to help us really aren’t doing much at all…

      • We obviously need more research on such chemicals AND more awareness of the results given out to the general public. And our system must bend to ethics that are more important than profit.

    • I had heard by word of mouth that native gatherers in the Pacific Northwest are having such problems–it is a sad statement indeed on forest service and BLM practices in spraying such products on “wild” lands.
      Your examples are a powerful list of chemicals that are not true “progress”- but only an occasion for a few to profit.

    • I understand where you’re coming from. I personally wear little makeup, but it is still scary to think of all the unknown chemicals in it. My work actually has a cosmetics counter selling both este lauder and clinque, and there are countless amounts of people coming everyday to buy clinque makeup because its fragrance free. Rarely do I ever get asked whats in the makeup but when I do, I have to list off things I’ve never even heard of. I think that we should start carrying more about how things are produced; maybe it will help lower the amount of recalls on products we have any given year.

      • Lead found both in lipstick and children’s make up (for face painting– see the Do Not Buy List here) is not only a health danger but a sign something is very wrong with our consumer system.
        Congratulations for being a conscious consumer.

  47. I really found myself connecting with the idea that no society is ever truly advanced if the “progress” made in that society sends some other part of it reeling backwards. For instance, when America began there was this idea of progress in the way that we were getting away from an oppressive society that was Europe. However in coming here to escape that and find ourselves a new world and a new way of life, we slowly but surely took the world and life away from another group of people, the natives of this land whom we now refer to as Native “Americans”. In my eyes this is not progress because we did to another country and it’s people what we were trying to escape and build anew.

    • Thoughtful points, Kelsey. I want to point out that not ALL pioneers acted in this oppression. A few became kind and supportive neighbors to the native peoples who shared their lands with them. The latter is a story that is not often enough told.

    • There is much that could have been learned, when instead many people, as you mention, took it upon themselves to ‘fix’ the traditions of the Natives. The key now is to learn from our past mistakes, and rework our future in a way that is more thoughtful. If we think through our actions before we act, we will have a better idea of what consequences will arise from those actions. At this stage true progress will only come from learning from our past, and embracing everyone and their traditions. No one people can fix what has been done to the Earth. Everyone must work together.

    • And history repeats itself! With the same old idea that someone is always ‘better’ or ‘higher’ than someone else, there will always be this class system, the slavery that we see at least here in Florida, there will always be oppression. It’s sad, but it’s true.

  48. Our society today has become so consumer driven, that progress seems to be the only thing people care about. Most people seem to have come to the conclusion that all progress is good progress; regardless of any chemical, biological, or societal consequences that may occur. Greed, being the main driver behind this, has caused people to overlook their morals and ethics. Although some people are trying to go “green” and be more cautious of the environment its not enough. People should also apply going “green” to how we produce consumer goods. Creating less harmful and poisonous ways provide people with the same product.

    • Progress in consumerism? I would call that a contradiction in terms. All progress is not good progress– indeed, it may not even be progress (which implies going forward).
      Making good consumer choices is a real step forward from the standpoint of the environment–and in many cases, social justice as well.

  49. I like to think that progress is being made, not by genetically modifying or pest managing, but because people are saying no thanks, and are going back to basics. We grow our food, we can our own goods for later use, we make bread. We shop at the farmer’s markets and we “shop the perimeter” of the grocery store. We are buying a store actually, in the coming weeks, that supports natural parenting in our community by offering cloth diapering options and natural skin products, amber and wood necklaces for natural healing, and many other things. By society going back to the more natural options, we are making progress, and maybe someday our grand and great grand children will look at all this crazy business and just shake their heads. It will be a moment in history that shouldn’t have gone the way it went…but they can say we turned it around for them.

  50. It is interesting that much of the world will not allow the types of things into their food supply that we allow in ours. Other developed countries do not consider them to be safe at all. If we look at the European Union for example, they place heavy restrictions and bans on companies that produce and sale GMO laden products. Here in the states however, our scientific research on the health ramifications of GMOs is funded by the corporations that rely on GMO products. Obviously they will not find results that go against their own interests. Indigenous societies don’t have to worry about GMO issues because their food is grown in natural ways. They use the seasons to guide their diets. They do not rely on global markets or grocery store consumerism for food. I do think we are making progress though in the West. In California and other (mainly Western) states there has been a push for local initiatives that would force products containing GMOS to be labeled for consumers. I have followed very intricately the progress citizens are making for this legislation. Yesterday there was a great article on the debate that is still going on about labeling foods and if forcing the labels is unconstitutional or not:

    It’s not just the European Union who is concerned about GMOs. Even countries like Russia are banning foods that are genetically altered or that have growth stimulants. On Monday, Russia banned Australian beef products that contain growth stimulants. They regularly ban products that are available every day for US citizens because of the health hazards associated them. But its not just GMOS that are being fed to Americans that we have to be concerned about. Olestra (Chips), Potassium bromate (Rolls, wraps) , rBHG/rBST (Milk), Azodicarbonamide (Frozen foods/breads), BHA/BHT (cereal), Arsenic (Poultry), and hundreds of other pollutants are regularly added to American food supplies.

    I am an organic vegetarian. I strongly oppose GMO’s or other chemicals that are put into our foods. I believe in supporting organic farmers and growing/canning my own food. Now that I am in a desert climate that will be more difficult to do, but I will still support organic food by purchasing them over any chemically produced ones. I agree that our ideas of progress have supported these types of issues. We would not have genetically altered anything if our worldviews were altered. Western ideas of progress should be defined in terms of their destructive capacity. I find so much truth in the statement “that no society can call itself advanced if its “progress” undercuts justice, community power, quality of life and self-determination for some in order to create profit for others”. The issue is once again, our mindset. It is important to realize that when we step into ego and self-interest, we step away from actual human progress.

    • Thoughtful discussion. I certainly cannot find a reason why a democratic citizen should NOT know what they are purchasing– thus why GMOs should not be labeled. Except that Monsanto did a survey in the 1990s that indicated that labeling these would cause people to buy fewer of them– which seems to be a perfectly reasonable choice and in line with our right to know in a democracy. The Washington and California citizens who put initiatives on the ballot to require labeling were outspent mtuliple times over by big food processors.
      It is also true that Japan will not take US beef because it was feed GMO corn; and parts of Africa, hungry as they were, refused GMO grain because of their fear of the spread of “terminator” genes among their seed crops.
      I might also note that a number of the food ingredients you list as banned in other countries are not GMOs– but all obviously have their problems. All of these, however, raise the issue of our need to critically examine what we call progress rather than accept any new chemicals we can invent.
      In this context, I am especially concerned about the Trans Pacific Partnership now being debated in Congress that would agreement that would give corporations the legal right to sue nations that make (environmental or labor) laws interfering with corporate profit– for instance, laws regulating carbon in the atmosphere. See our “action alerts” button for more info concerning this disaster in the making– or check out an interview with Congressman Peter DeFazio here:
      And thanks for your comments.

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