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The Final Leaked TPP Text Is All That We Feared

thumb73By Jeremy Malcolm

Today’s release by WikiLeaks of what is believed to be the current and essentially final version of the intellectual property (IP) chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) confirms our worst fears about the agreement, and dashes the few hopes that we held out that its most onerous provisions wouldn’t survive to the end of the negotiations.

Since we now have the agreed text, we’ll be including some paragraph references that you can cross-reference for yourself—but be aware that some of them contain placeholders like “x” that may change in the cleaned-up text. Also, our analysis here is limited to the copyright and Internet-related provisions of the chapter, but analyses of the impacts of other parts of the chapter have been published byWikiLeaks and others.

Binding Rules for Rightsholders, Soft Guidelines for Users

If you skim the chapter without knowing what you’re looking for, it may come across as being quite balanced, including references to the need for IP rules to further the “mutual advantage of producers and users” (QQ.A.X), to “facilitate the diffusion of information” (QQ.A.Z), and recognizing the “importance of a rich and accessible public domain” (QQ.B.x). But that’s how it’s meant to look, and taking this at face value would be a big mistake.

If you dig deeper, you’ll notice that all of the provisions that recognize the rights of the public are non-binding, whereas almost everything that benefits rightsholders is binding. That paragraph on the public domain, for example, used to be much stronger in the first leaked draft, with specific obligations to identify, preserve and promote access to public domain material. All of that has now been lost in favor of a feeble, feel-good platitude that imposes no concrete obligations on the TPP parties whatsoever.

Another, and perhaps the most egregious example of this bias against users is the important provision on limitations and exceptions to copyright (QQ.G.17). In a pitifully ineffectual nod towards users, it suggests that parties “endeavor to achieve an appropriate balance in its copyright and related rights system,” but imposes no hard obligations for them to do so, nor even offers U.S.-style fair use as a template that they might follow. The fact that even big tech was ultimately unable to move the USTR on this issue speaks volumes about how utterly captured by Hollywood the agency is.

Expansion of Copyright Terms

Perhaps the biggest overall defeat for users is the extension of the copyright term to life plus 70 years (QQ.G.6), despite a broad consensus that this makes no economic sense, and simply amounts to a transfer of wealth from users to large, rights-holding corporations. The extension will make life more difficult for libraries and archives, for journalists, and for ordinary users seeking to make use of works from long-dead authors that rightfully belong in the public domain.

Could it have been worse? In fact, yes it could have; we were spared a 120-year copyright term for corporate works, as earlier drafts foreshadowed. In the end corporate works are to be protected for 70 years after publication or performance, or if they are not published within 25 years after they were created, for 70 years after their creation. This could make a big difference in practice. It means that the film Casablanca, probably protected in the United States until 2038, would already be in the public domain in other TPP countries, even under a life plus 70 year copyright term.

New to the latest text are the transition periods in Section J, which allow some countries a longer period for complying with some of their obligations, including copyright term. For example, Malaysia has been allowed two years to extend its copyright term to life plus 70 years. For Vietnam, the transition period is five years. New Zealand is the country receiving the most “generous” allowance; its term will increase to life plus 60 years initially, rising to the full life plus 70 year term within eight years. Yet Canada, on the other hand, has not been given any transition period at all.

Ban on Circumventing Digital Rights Management (DRM)

The provisions in QQ.G.10 that prohibit the circumvention of DRM or the supply of devices for doing so are little changed from earlier drafts, other than that the opposition of some countries to the most onerous provisions of those drafts was evidently to no avail. For example, Chile earlier opposed the provision that the offense of DRM circumvention is to be “independent of any infringement that might occur under the Party’s law on copyright and related rights,” yet the final text includes just that requirement.

The odd effect of this is that someone tinkering with a file or device that contains a copyrighted work can be made liable (criminally so, if wilfullness and a commercial motive can be shown), for doing so even when no copyright infringement is committed. Although the TPP text does allow countries to pass exceptions that allow DRM circumvention for non-infringing uses, such exceptions are not mandatory, as they ought to be.

The parties’ flexibility to allow DRM circumvention also requires them to consider whether rightsholders have already taken measures to allow those non-infringing uses to be made. This might mean that rightsholders will rely on the walled-garden sharing capabilities built in to their DRM systems, such as Ultraviolet, to oppose users being granted broader rights to circumvent DRM.

Alongside the prohibition on circumvention of DRM is a similar prohibition (QQ.G.13) on the removal of rights management information, with equivalent civil and criminal penalties. Since this offense is, once again, independent of the infringement of copyright, it could implicate a user who crops out an identifying watermark from an image, even if they are using that image for fair use purposes and even if they otherwise provide attribution of the original author by some other means.

The distribution of devices for decrypting encrypted satellite and cable signals is also separately proscribed (QQ.H.9), posing a further hazard to hackers wishing to experiment with or to repurpose broadcast media.

Criminal Enforcement and Civil Damages

On damages, the text (QQ.H.4) remains as bad as ever: rightsholders can submit “any legitimate measure of value” to a judicial authority for determination of damages, including the suggested retail price of infringing goods. Additionally, judges must have the power to order pre-established damages (at the rightsholder’s election), or additional damages, each of which may go beyond compensating the rightsholder for its actual loss, and thereby create a disproportionate chilling effect for users and innovators.

No exception to these damages provisions is made in cases where the rightsholder cannot be found after a diligent search, which puts the kibosh on ideas for the introduction of an orphan works regime that would cap remedies available against those who reproduce these otherwise-unavailable works.

One of the scariest parts of the TPP is that not only can you be made liable to fines and criminal penalties, but that any materials and implements used in the creation of infringing copies can also be destroyed (QQ.H.4(12)). The same applies to devices and products used for circumventing DRM or removing rights management information (QQ.H.4(17)). Because multi-use devices such as computers are used for a diverse range of purposes, this is once again a disproportionate penalty. This could lead to a family’s home computer becoming seized simply because of its use in sharing files online, or for ripping Blu-Ray movies to a media center.

In some cases (QQ.H.7), the penalties for copyright infringement can even include jail time. Traditionally, this has because the infringer is operating a business of commercial piracy. But under the TPP, any act of willful copyright infringement on a commercial scale renders the infringer liable to criminal penalties, even if they were not carried out for financial gain, provided that they have a substantial prejudicial impact on the rightsholder. The copying of films that are still playing in movie theaters is also subject to separate criminal penalties, regardless of the scale of the infringement.

Trade Secrets

The severity of the earlier language on trade secrets protection has not been abated in the final text. It continues to criminalize those who gain “unauthorized, willful access to a trade secret held in a computer system,” without any mandatory exception for cases where the information is accessed or disclosed in the public interest, such as by investigative journalists or whistleblowers.

There is no evident explanation for the differential treatment given to trade secrets accessed or misappropriated by means of a computer system, as opposed to by other means; but it is no surprise to find the U.S. pushing such a technophobic provision, which mirrors equivalent provisions of U.S. law that have been used to persecute hackers for offenses that would otherwise have been considered much more minor.

Top-Down Control of the Internet

ICANN, the global domain name authority, provoked a furor earlier this year over proposals that could limit the ability for owners of domain names to shield their personal information from copyright and trademark trolls, identity thieves, scammers and harassers.

The TPP has just ridden roughshod over that entire debate (at least for country-code top-level domains such as .us, .au and .jp), by cementing in place rules (QQ.C.12) that countries must provide “online public access to a reliable and accurate database of contact information concerning domain-name registrants.”

The same provision also requires countries to adopt an equivalent to ICANN’s flawed Uniform Domain-Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP), despite the fact that this controversial policy is overdue for a formal review by ICANN, which might result in the significant revision of this policy. Where would this leave the TPP countries, that are locked in to upholding a UDRP-like policy for their own domains for the indefinite future?

The TPP’s prescription of rules for domain names completely disregards the fact that most country code domain registries have their own, open, community-driven processes for determining rules for managing domain name disputes. More than that, this top-down rulemaking on domain names is in direct contravention of the U.S. administration’s own firmly-stated commitment to uphold the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance. Obviously, Internet users cannot trust the administration that it means what it says when it gives lip-service to multi-stakeholder governance—and that has ramifications that go even even deeper than this terrible TPP deal.

ISP Liability

The provisions on ISP liability (Appendix Section I), as we previously found in the last leaked text, are not quite as permissive as we hoped. It will still require most countries to adopt a version of the flawed U.S. DMCA notice-and-takedown system, albeit with a few safeguards such as penalties for those who issue wrongful takedown notices, and allowing (but not requiring) a Japanese-style system of verification of takedown notices by an independent body of ISPs and rightsholders.

It is true that Canada’s notice-and-notice regime is also allowed, but effectively only for Canada—no other country that did not have an equivalent system as of the date of the agreement is allowed to benefit from that flexibility. Even in Canada’s case, this largesse is only afforded because of the other enforcement measures that rightsholders enjoy there—such as a tough regime of secondary liability for authorization of copyright infringement.

Similarly Chile’s system under which ISPs are not required to take down content without a judicial order is explicitly grandfathered in, but no other country joining the TPP in the future will be allowed to have a similar system.

In addition, although there is no explicit requirement for a graduated response regime of copyright penalties against users, ISPs are still roped in as copyright enforcers with the vague requirement (Appendix Section 1) that they be given “legal incentives…to cooperate with copyright owners to deter the unauthorized storage and transmission of copyrighted materials or, in the alternative, to take other action to deter the unauthorized storage and transmission of copyright materials.”

Good Points?

Quite honestly there are no parts of this agreement that are positively good for users. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it’s not improved over the earlier, horrendous demands of the U.S. negotiators. Some of the areas in which countries rightly pushed back against the U.S., and which are reflected in the final text are:

  • The exhaustion of rights provision (QQ.A.11) that upholds the first sale doctrine of U.S. law, preventing copyright owners from extending their control over the resale of copyright works once they have first been placed in the market. In particular, this makes parallel importation of cheaper versions of copyright works lawful—and complementing this is an explicit authorization of devices that bypass region-coding on physical copies of such works (QQ.G.10, though this does not extend to bypassing geoblocking of streaming services).
  • A thoroughly-misguided provision that would have extended copyright protection to temporary or “buffer” copies in a computer system was one of the earliest rightsholder demands dropped by the USTR, and rightfully so, given the damage this would have wreaked to tech companies and users alike.

But we have struggled to come up with more than two positive points about the TPP, and even then the absence of these tragic mistakes is a pretty poor example of a positive point. If you look for provisions in the TPP that actually afford new benefits to users, rather than to large, rights-holding corporations, you will look in vain. The TPP is the archetype of an agreement that exists only for the benefit of the entitled, politically powerfully lobbyists who have pushed it through to completion over the last eight years.

There is nothing in here for users and innovators to support, and much for us to fear—the ratcheting up of the copyright term across the Pacific rim, the punitive sanctions for DRM circumvention, and the full frontal attack on hackers and journalists in the trade secrets provision, just to mention three. This latest leak has confirmed our greatest fears—and strengthened our resolve to kill this agreement for good once it reaches Congress.

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Multiple species wiped out in days — Mortality rate of 99.99% over large region — “No documented event has been so severe”

Univ. of California (Davis), Jun 3, 2015 (emphasis added): In August 2011, scientists at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory walked into their labs to a strange, disturbing sight: Thousands of purple sea urchins and other marine invertebrates were dead in their tanks, which are fed directly by seawater. [The] ocean washed up carcasses of red abalone, large sea stars, and football-sized, snail-like chitons… even more heavily impacted as a population were the millions of purple sea urchins and tiny sea stars that died along a 62-mile stretch of coast… “We might not have known urchins and six-armed sea stars were affected if lab-held animals hadn’t died right in front of us,” said the study’s lead author Laura Jurgens… “We’re expecting real ecological changes in how these tide pools operate”… this die-off was fast, wiping out these two species in as little as a few days. The die-off also occurred about two years before [observance of] sea star wasting syndrome

Santa Cruz Sentinel, Jun 3, 2015: [It was] a grim scene, with dead red abalone, purple sea urchins and tiny sea stars rotting across the Northern California shoreline… the same carnage [took place] at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab… scientists tallied almost 100 percent mortality of purple sea urchins and six-armed sea stars throughout the 62-mile study area… Researchers found only 10 purple sea urchins in the area once home to millions

Study by scientists from CA Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, Bodega Marine Lab, UC Davis/Santa Cruz/Merced, Jun 3, 2015: Patterns of Mass Mortality among Rocky Shore Invertebrates across 100 km of Northeastern Pacific Coastline— In late August 2011, formerly abundant intertidal populations of the purple sea urchin [and] six-armed sea star were functionally extirpated from ~100 km of coastline… studies by others indicated moderate to severe impacts on… red sea urchin… and red abalone… There were no obvious physical stressors (e.g., a storm, heavy rainfall)… we did not find a single six-armed star at these six locations… Ochre sea stars and gumboot chitons also experienced elevated mortality… We found only ten surviving intertidal purple urchins out of a prior regional population we estimate at many millions…. [The] mortality rate was therefore >99.99% over 100 km[N]o previously documented mortality event has been so severe over such a large region… its sudden onset [is] a pattern that israre in marine systems… typically [it takes] several months or years… [W]e cannot unambiguously ascribe the current die-off to a particular cause or set of causes… A disease outbreak is plausible… The most likely cause…appears to be a toxin produced by phytoplankton… yes so toxins have not previously been known as lethal… the possibility remains that unidentified species and/or toxin(s) were responsible.

Press Democrat (Sonoma), Feb 2014: Biologists were initially stumped by the die-off, which stunned local divers and was erroneously attributed to a red tide. The cause has since been identified as a bloom of microscopic algae called Gonyaulax membranacea, which produce a toxin called yessotoxin…

Watch a video documenting the 2011 mass mortality event here

Related Posts

  1. Reports: Sea stars decimated on West Coast — SoCal ravaged as mystery disease spreads south; Saw hundreds last year, now none… got hit really hard — Mortality event like this never before documented — “Uncharted waters… likes of which we haven’t seen” — Turning to ‘bacterial goop’ (RADIO) April 5, 2014
  2. Gov’t reports “big, big decline” in Alaska caribou — “Mortality very high” after Fukushima releases began — “Low survival rate” for calves also in 2011 and 2012 — Official: “Worrisome” how quickly this happened… In truth, we don’t have an answer why (AUDIO) July 23, 2014
  3. “Sea creatures sick, dying or disappearing at alarming rate all along Pacific coast… Some wonder if it’s fallout from Fukushima” — New York Times: “Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction” — Study: “We may be on precipice of major extinction event” in marine wildlife (VIDEO)January 18, 2015
  4. CBS: This is really disturbing, sea stars dying by the millions on West Coast — Like the Black Death, only faster and deadlier — ‘Mystery plague’ affecting 20+ species — TV: Disappears from Orange County coast over 2 week period — Expert: “Largest epidemic ever in ocean… Something has changed in marine environment to lead to this” (VIDEO)July 29, 2014
  5. ‘Marine Mystery’ in California: “Toxic outbreak threatening marine life” — Birds falling from sky, sea lions convulsing — “Worst they’ve ever seen” — Toxin hits record level, almost 1,000% above gov’t limit — Heart lesions, severe shrinking in part of brain, nervous system failure (VIDEO) May 3, 2014

KSBW, May 29, 2015 (emphasis added): Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary: Mass die-off could happen – “We are beginning with continuing coverage of that algae bloom in the Monterey Bay. Scientists say they’re seeing the highest levels of red tide in more than a decade, and they’reworried it will have grave impacts on marine life… [It] spreads all up and down the West Coast. Researchers in Santa Cruz have alreadyrecorded a mass die-off of anchovies and they expected more species could follow.”

KSBW, May 29, 2015: Scientists with the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary are predicting a mass die-off on the Central Coast… Up and down the West Coast, a large algal bloom of Pseudo-nitzschia is growing rapidly.

Chris Scholin, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), May 28, 2015: Very Toxic Algal Bloom in Monterey Bay — I wanted to let you know we have been following a very big bloom of Pseudo-nitzschia over the past couple of weeks here in the bay, and the amount of associated domoic acid is really extraordinary… Yesterday I noticed anchovies washing upon the beach in front of MBARI as far as I could see. There’s also lines of fish scales (anchovy?) marking the high tide line… One of the staff went snorkeling off the beach here, and saw the seafloor littered with anchovies… keep an eye out for seizuring sealions, sick birds, maybe sick otters… We think this is a very large event… Don’t eat shellfish or forage fish from MB — very nasty right now!!!

KSBW, May 29, 2015: “New tonight… researchers say a large algae bloom has taken over the Monterey Bay“… Jim Birch, MBARI: “We’re seeing these really high domoic acid levels in both locations, which is very, very unusual“… “Scientists with MBARI say the toxins from the algae bloom are going to have a chain reaction on marine animals, and they’ve already seen more dead seabirds on Central Coast beaches… It has started to really grow in the last few days.

KSBW, May 29, 2015: Raphael Kudela, a researcher at [UCSC] said the bloom… is being found from Washington to Santa Barbara… reports of dead seabirds are already coming in.

Monterey Herald, May 28, 2015: A mysterious neurotoxin… returned with a vengeance… “This is an unusual one,” said Raphael Kudela… “We haven’t seen a bloom this big in 15 years.”… why the toxin periodically blooms in Monterey Bay is still a marine mystery… scientists are getting closer to pinning down the reason for the blooms, with human impacts among the range of possibilities… Domoic acid is also suspected in a recentspate of bird deaths.

UC Santa Cruz, June 2, 2015: The toxin was first detected in early May, and by the end of the month researchers had detected some of the highest concentrations of domoic acid ever observed in Monterey Bay. “It’s a pretty massive bloom. The domoic acid levels are extremely high right now… the event is occurring as far north as Washington state. So it appears this will be one of the most toxic and spatially largest events we’ve had in at least a decade,” said Raphael Kudela, [UCSC] professor of ocean sciences.

MBARI, Jun 1, 2015: Researchers measured some of the highest concentrations of harmful algae and their toxin ever observed in Monterey Bay… During a normal [bloom] 1,000 nanograms per liter would be considered high… [It’s] reached 10 to 30 times this level. On May 27, 2015, very high levels… were found in dead anchovies… The researchers do not know if the anchovies died because of domoic acid poisoning.

Watch: KSBW’s broadcast | San Diego 6 News broadcast

How the Red Cross Raised Half a Billion Dollars For Haiti and Built 6 Homes

Even as the group has publicly celebrated its work, insider accounts detail a string of failures.

How the Wealthy Rob Our Most Productive People

Lives are being trashed by klepto-remuneration: theft through excess rewards to rapacious bosses.

There is an inverse relationship between utility and reward. The most lucrative, prestigious jobs tend to cause the greatest harm. The most useful workers tend to be paid least and treated worst.

I was reminded of this while listening last week to a care worker describing her job. Carole’s company gives her a rota of, er, three half-hour visits an hour. It takes no account of the time required to travel between jobs, and doesn’t pay her for it either, which means she makes less than the minimum wage. During the few minutes she spends with a client, she may have to get them out of bed, help them on the toilet, wash them, dress them, make breakfast and give them their medicines. If she ever gets a break, she told the BBC radio programme You and Yours, she spends it with her clients. For some, she is the only person they see all day.

Is there more difficult or worthwhile employment? Yet she is paid in criticism and insults as well as pennies. She is shouted at by family members for being late and not spending enough time with each client, then upbraided by the company because of the complaints it receives. Her profession is assailed in the media as the problems created by the corporate model are blamed on the workers. “I love going to people; I love helping them, but the constant criticism is depressing,” she says. “It’s like always being in the wrong.”

Her experience is unexceptional. A report by the Resolution Foundationreveals that two-thirds of frontline care workers receive less than the living wage. Ten percent, like Carole, are illegally paid less than the minimum wage. This abuse is not confined to the UK: in the US, 27% of care workers who make home visits are paid less than the legal minimum.

Let’s imagine the lives of those who own or run the company. We have to imagine it because, for good reasons, neither the care worker’s real name nor the company she works for were revealed. The more costs and corners they cut, the more profitable their business will be. In other words, the less they care, the better they will do. The perfect chief executive, from the point of view of shareholders, is a fully fledged sociopath.

Such people will soon become very rich. They will be praised by the government as wealth creators. If they donate enough money to party funds,they have a high chance of becoming peers of the realm. Gushing profiles in the press will commend their entrepreneurial chutzpah and flair.

They’ll acquire a wide investment portfolio, perhaps including a few properties, so that – even if they cease to do anything resembling work – they can continue living off the labour of people such as Carole as she struggles to pay extortionate rents. Their descendants, perhaps for many generations, need never take a job of the kind she does.

Care workers function as a human loom, shuttling from one home to another, stitching the social fabric back together while many of their employers and shareholders, and government ministers, slash blindly at the cloth, downsizing, outsourcing and deregulating in the cause of profit.

It doesn’t matter how many times the myth of meritocracy is debunked. It keeps re-emerging, as you can see in the current election campaign. How else, after all, can the government justify stupendous inequality?

One of the most painful lessons a young adult learns is that the wrong traits are rewarded. We celebrate originality and courage, but those who rise to the top are often conformists and sycophants. We are taught that cheats never prosper, yet the country is run by spivs. A study testing British senior managers and chief executives found that on certain indicators of psychopathy their scores exceeded those of patients diagnosed with psychopathic personality disorders in the Broadmoor special hospital.

If you possess the one indispensable skill – battering and blustering your way to the top – incompetence in other areas is no impediment. The former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina features prominently on lists of the worst US bosses: quite an achievement when you consider the competition. She fired 30,000 workers in the name of efficiency yet oversaw a halving of the company’s stock price. Morale and communication became so bad that she was booed at company meetings. She was forced out, with a $42m severance package. Where is she now? About to launch her campaign as presidential candidate for the Republican party, where, apparently, she is considered a serious contender. It’s the Mitt Romney story all over again.

At university I watched in horror as the grand plans of my ambitious friends dissolved. It took them about a minute, on walking into the corporate recruitment fair, to see that the careers they had pictured – working for Oxfam, becoming a photographer, defending the living world – paid about one fiftieth of what they might earn in the City. They all swore they would leave to follow their dreams after two or three years of making money; none did. They soon adjusted their morality to their circumstances. One, a firebrand who wanted to nationalise the banks and overthrow capitalism, plunged first into banking, then into politics. Claire Perry now sits on the frontbench of the Conservative party.Flinch once, at the beginning of your career, and they will have you for life. The world is wrecked by clever young people making apparently sensible choices.

The inverse relationship doesn’t always hold. There are plenty of useless, badly paid jobs, and a few useful, well-paid jobs. But surgeons and film directors are greatly outnumbered by corporate lawyers, lobbyists, advertisers, management consultants, financiers and parasitic bosses consuming the utility their workers provide. As the pay gap widens – chief executives in the UK took 60 times as much as the average worker in the 1990s and 180 times as much today – the uselessness ratio is going through the roof I propose a name for this phenomenon: klepto-remuneration.

There is no end to this theft except robust government intervention: a redistribution of wages through maximum ratios and enhanced taxation. But this won’t happen until we challenge the infrastructure of justification, built so carefully by politicians and the press. Our lives are damaged not by the undeserving poor but by the undeserving rich.

Are GMOs Doomed on the Global Market?

Farmers in the U.S. are beginning to wake-up to the fact that genetically modified crops are poor business indeed. With countries around the world taking a firm stand against GM imports, not only are farmers who grow GMOs suffering from dwindling export opportunities, but also those whose crops have been cross-contaminated with genetically modified pollen.

A striking example is when China took a tough stance in November 2013 and declared an import ban on U.S. corn following the detection of genetically modified Bt protein (MIR162). According to industry economic studies, this little mishap cost upwards of $4 billion in revenue losses for U.S. corn and soybean industries. As of August 2014, the Biosafety Committee also revoked the permits for GM rice and corn that were being developed in China. This last part is largely attributed to mounting public outcry about the safety of GMOs.

And Russia has taken their anti-GMO position to the next level with legislation that would make the illegal introduction of genetically modified crops into the country a crime that is treated in a similar manner as terrorism. As geopolitical analyst William Engdahl told RT.com:

“The direction of this is anything that stops, and puts the genie back in the bottle called genetic manipulation of plants and organisms is to the good for the future of the mankind. The comment about 20 percent of harvest increase in some GMOs is absolute rubbish. There is no long-term harvest gain that has been proven for GMO crops anywhere in the world because they are not modified to get harvest increases. So this is just soap bubbles that Monsanto, Syngenta and GMO giants are putting out to loll the public into thinking it is something good.”

Increased profit linked with non-GMO crops

At the Beijing food conference held earlier this year, the focus was on protecting human survival. Not surprisingly, genetically modified food was looked upon with a wary eye by both the public and Chinese agricultural officials.

Bob Streit, an Iowa crop consultant, presented an agronomic overview of GMO corn and soybean production issues in the Midwest — including early die down, resistant weeds and disease vulnerability.

“Streit expects that the number of nations willing to import GMO grains, or grow them at home, will continue shrinking as more facts about GMO-linked human and animal health pathologies are documented. About 50 nations curb growth or imports of GMOs. The remaining big overseas market for the U.S. is China — precisely the location of this conference,” reports RenewableFarming.com.

Streit also believes that, as more nations resist GMO imports, the price of genetically modified corn and soybeans will fall, while the price of conventional, non-GMO crops will rise. He predicts the price per bushel for non-GMO corn will increase to $1.50, with soybeans climbing to $3.50. The lower seed cost for conventional corn and soybeans, compared to their GMO counterparts, will widen profit margins as well.

Future hope

Renewable Farming also notes:

“The intensity and unity of the 350 participants in the Beijing conference presents a strong signal that leading scientists, human health experts and a wide range of global consumers will soon overpower U.S. corporate and government defense of genetically engineered crops. That happened in Europe — and BASF discontinued its GMO research and marketing efforts there.”

You can read the full text of the “Beijing Declaration” here.

China’s new development bank is becoming a massive embarrassment for Obama

Obama Chinese flag USREUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

China’s new development bank, which was announced just five months ago, is becoming a massive headache for the US. Try as it might, the US government can’t persuade its allies to stop joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

The bank will be a bit like the World Bank, providing loans to developing countries in Asia for infrastructure projects.

Unlike the World Bank, China will hold the reins of the AIIB. The US administration is publicly worried that the institution will not meet high governance standards, but it really seems opposed to the move because it signals a growing Chinese influence in the region and in global politics.

The US has already endured a series of embarrassments over the bank. It might have been expected that some European countries with a cooler relationship with the US would join, which they did. India and Singapore, however, were quick to sign up despite having decent relationships with the US. And several other countries have started joining, leaving the US almost completely isolated in its position.

Britain is one of the US’ closest allies, but the government has been pursuing an unashamedly warmer relationship with China for several years and was one of the first countries to say it wanted a role in the AIIB.

The front page of the Financial Times the next day, in which anonymous White House sources attacked the British government for “constant accommodation” of China, might have been intended as a warning to others, but it doesn’t seem to have worked.

South Korea has applied, and America’s other major allies in the region, Japan and Australia, have been warming to the idea of joining.

Tuesday, however, brought the most embarrassing event of all. Taiwan, which has no formal relationship with mainland China, is a former enemy of China, and basically survived the 20th century with its independence only through assistance from the United States, applied to join the AIIB.

The infrastructure bank isn’t going to be a massive boom for the UK economy, or even for nearer nations like Japan, and the US will not retaliate. The point is that the UK is willing to take a very modest improvement in economic and political ties with China in exchange for a small deterioration in ties with the US. Pretty much every country has decided that this is the right move.

The AIIB is a part of the wider “new Silk Road” initiative by China to deepen trade and investment both in the rest of Asia and the wider world. According to Barclays, it could actually be a positive thing for the region’s stability:

We believe through the building of interdependent relationships based on shared economic interests, this New Silk Road plan should deepen political linkages, improve mutual understanding and foster long-term stability in the region. The agreement to set up the AIIB by countries that have territorial disputes with China suggests potentially lower geopolitical risks and lower probability for military conflicts, in our view.

But the move goes beyond that — it’s a major PR push for China, which the American administration has positioned itself opposite from. So far, that strategy is failing spectacularly for the US.

The Kid Who Will Clean Up The Ocean

Boyan Slat’s story is not quite that of a 20-year-old Wunderkind who magically found a potential fix to a longstanding problem. It’s perhaps more accurately described as a combination of personal dedication and trial and error. When going through his old prototypes for a technology that would passively scrub oceans of plastic, he’s almost embarrassed of his early concepts.

“But that’s what science is really,” Slat told me. “It’s a work in progress.”

The crowdfunding campaign behind Slat’s Ocean Cleanup Project was announced with strong bidding, no matter: “With two million dollars we can make a theoretical concept come true.” With just two days left in his campaign, Slat successfully collected the funding for his project, bringing him one step closer to realizing a vision of plastic-free oceans.

Boyan Slat at a plastic heap. Photo: Manuel Freudt / VICE Media

Plastic is the enduring residue of consumer society. A plastic shopping bag corrodes in approximately 20 years; a plastic bottle decays in something like 450 years. Cheap and universally applicable, 225 million tons of it are produced every year, made from a resource that is not quite as interminable as it used to be: oil.

Plastic clouds our oceans as floating particulate, sometimes forming entire islands. It is estimated that there are 150 million tons of plastic in the oceans, with 100,000 tons in the North Pacific garbage patch alone. This means that plastic is responsible for about 70 percent of all oceanic pollution. If those numbers fail to illustrate the sheer scope of the problem, just look at these people posing in the middle of their weekly production of household rubbish.

It was while diving through Greece that Slat, then 17, grasped the gravity of the problem. Ever since, the Dutch teenager, who just turned 20, has put his energy into developing a technique of harnessing the power of gyres to round up plastic.

Today, he leads a team of 100 scientists, students, and supporters. And with his latest crowdfunding success, Slat’s workload shows no sign of slowing down. He explained that he next plans to build upscaled prototypes of his floating, 100-kilometer long collectors, before anchoring the systems in polluted waters within the next three to five years.

“We don’t do free days, that’s really part of the ocean clean up,“ said Slat, who juggled a steady stream of phone calls and emails during a recent visit to his Delft workshop. Occasionally, he’d study readouts from an app that tracks donations to his project; at the time, he was nearing $2 million in crowdfunding.

“Germany is actually at the moment our second largest giver,” he said in a more relaxed moment. “Without the internet, this project wouldn’t have been here.”

Of course, the Ocean Cleanup Project is not the first concept of collecting trash from the oceans. There is the Munich-based One Earth — One Ocean project, aimed at actively collecting rubbish with its custom build ship, Seekuh. There are network-based projects like The Clean Oceans Project, which seek to educate on a global level. And of course there is the lovely Mr. Trash Wheel: A cartoon-style mill wheel rambling its way through Baltimore harbor.

What makes Slat’s project unique is that it’s premised on the idea of letting ocean currents do the heavy lifting, effectively funneling plastic into the middle of a V-shaped structure, where the trash will be collected and regularly shipped to land in larger batches. The anchored 100-kilometer barrier, Slat added, would be the largest structure ever built on the oceans.

The costs will be tremendous, but Slat still claims that the actual project would run a calculated 33 times cheaper than conventional, active collecting projects.

Rendering courtesy Ocean Cleanup Project

Not everyone is completely sold on his idea. Stiv Wilson from the 5Gyres project famously called it a fail and nothing more than an illusion. In response, Slat released a long feasibility study, in which he demonstrates, among other things, how sea life will not be affected, floating underneath the barrier.

In a recent article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, German scientists warned that the Ocean Cleanup Project would cause more harm than good. They claimed that the power of the currents has not been estimated correctly, and that Slat’s plan could be affected by microbiological growth on the barrier.

Rendering courtesy Ocean Cleanup Project

If anything, Slat is thankful that the scientific community has criticized his idea; he plans to continue working on future feasibility studies and prototypes.

“What we want to do, has never been done,” he admitted. “It is probable that we will encounter several uncertainties.“

Slat tests a prototype. Photo: Ocean Cleanup Project

In the end, fishing plastic out of the high seas is only one part of the solution. The end goal is to shut off, once and for all, the flow of trash from our consumer society into the oceans. That’s not to mention the Herculean task that would be recycling and repurposing all that plastic after it’s back on land.

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