Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Three stories: People fight the system and win

Andrea Germanos: ‘Victory for Farmers’ as Jury Awards Grower $265 Million in Damages From Drift of Monsanto’s Dicamba

Brad Rose looks at rows of soybean plants that show signs of having been affected by Dicamba use on Aug 9, 2017
Brad Rose looks at rows of soybean plants that show signs of having been affected by Dicamba use on Aug 9, 2017. He doesn’t use it on his crops and he’s assured by neighbors within a mile and a half that they haven’t used it either. According to him, that means that the chemical had to travel about two miles to reach his crops. Dicamba, a weed killer that has been used for over 50 years, is having a devastating impact in Arkansas and neighboring states because Monsanto is now selling new soybean and cotton varieties that have been genetically altered to tolerate dicamba. (Photo: The Washington Post)

German chemicals giant Bayer announced Monday its intention to “swiftly appeal” a U.S. jury’s decision to award a Missouri peach farmer over $265 million in compensation for years of crop losses as a result of drifting dicamba weedkiller.

The legal challenge was the first dicamba suit to go to trial and was brought forth by Bill and Denise Bader, owners of Bader farms. Dicamba is produced by Monsanto, which Bayer acquired in 2018.

Mr. Bader’s suit challenged (pdf) Monsanto’s “willful and negligent release of a defective crop system—namely its genetically modified Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans and Bollgard II Xtend cotton seeds (“Xtend crops”)—without an accompanying, EPA-approved dicamba herbicide.” 

“Monsanto sold the seeds before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the herbicides for market,” said the complaint.

The Baders, who did not use dicamba, said they lost over 30,000 trees due to Monsanto’s actions, as journlist Carey Gillam wrote earlier this month:

Bader claims Monsanto sold GMO dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton seeds despite knowing the actions would trigger chemical damage to farm fields that were not planted with the new seeds. The intent, the Bader Farms’ lawsuit alleges, was to induce farmers to buy the specialty seeds as a means to prevent crop damage from herbicide drift coming from neighboring farmers who were planting the GMO crops and spraying them with dicamba.

Testing showed that leaves of his dying peach trees carried traces of dicamba. The 5,000-acre family farm, which produced 5 million to 6 million pounds of peaches annually along with corn, soybeans, various berries, apples, and tomatoes, is now struggling to survive, according to Bader.

The jury sided with Bader Farms on Friday and awarded them $15 million in damages, as St. Louis Public Radio reported:

Monsanto and BASF were found liable for negligent design of the products and negligent failure to warn regarding the products.  The jury also found that the two companies created a joint venture to manufacture and sell dicamba-resistant seed and low-volatility herbicides, and that they conspired to create an “ecological disaster” to increase profits.

The jury followed up Saturday with a determination that Monsanto and BASF pay $250 million in punitive damages.

The National Family Farm Coalition wondered if the verdict represented the “start of dicamba demise.”

In a Saturday tweet, the group called the decision a “victory for farmers which courts will hopefully uphold. Bayer bought #Monsanto with knowledge of these issues and should pay for #dicamba damage.” 

Pesticide Action Network welcomed the development as well.

“This verdict is just the tip of the iceberg — there is a long queue of farmers who have been impacted by dicamba drift and deserve their day in court,” said Linda Wells, Pesticide Action Network organizing director. “The internal Monsanto (now Bayer) documents uncovered in this case show that the company released a highly destructive and intentionally untested product onto the market, and used its influence to cheat the regulatory system.”

“While farmers who don’t use the Xtend system are hit with crop damage and yield loss from dicamba drift, Bayer and BASF are reaping the financial gains of an increase in acreage planted to dicamba resistant soybeans, and an increase in use of dicamba formulations,” Wells continued. “Bader Farms’ victory in this case signals a turning tide, and opens opportunities for farmers to hold Bayer and BASF legally accountable for the dicamba drift crisis more broadly.”

As Bloomberg noted Monday, Bayer’s legal woes continue “in the face of a hurricane of lawsuits claiming that best-selling weed killer Roundup causes cancer,” over 140 cases related to dicamba, upcoming suits related to safety risks of its Essure birth control device, and challenges over PCB-contaminated waterways.


Abby Zimet: Brilliant New $5.34 Ladder Defeats Not So Brilliant $2.5 Billion Trump Fever Dream 

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Triumphant caravan members arriving at a less-than-impressive spot of the wall. Photo by Mike Blake/Reuters. Front photo by AFP.

Thanks to his ineffable stupidity – cue hilariously skewered tweet about kings and Ralph Waldo Emerson, who he probably thinks is that guy in kids’ books always hiding in crowds – Trump has proposed spending another $3.8 billion for his “beautiful” and “impregnable” border wall – the estimated$21.7 billion one that Mexico was gonna pay for, that so far has seen just 100 miles refurbished, that he once claimed couldn’t be climbed by world-class climbers who charged he was “full of shit as usual,” and that has prompted savvy observers to note, “The day they build a 10-foot wall on the Texan border, the 11-foot ladder business in Mexico will boom.” Just so: Over time, scores of aspiring migrants have successfully breached the stupidity with an array of unsurprising tools.

They’ve scrambled up it singly or in pairs with cheap rope and wood ladders, shimmying down fireman-style; they’ve scaled it in groups, with Border Patrol video to prove it; they’ve both sliced through it with $100 power saws and then learned to slyly leave the severed posts in place for up-and-coming fellow-travelers, a trick border agents now check for by kicking the fence (but only, of course, after they’re through); they’ve welcomed Mother Nature’s windy help; and they’ve gotten at least one Jeep atop the wall by ramp, but then got it stuck. Last year, their supporters also campaigned to Make Tacos Not Walls, and raised over $160,000 for “Ladders Not Walls,” which in fact went to the Texas-based RAICES.

Now, Mexicans still determined to come here despite our national mayhem have discovered a new, cheap, go-to method of scaling Dear Leader’s pesky, pointless pet project. Using two lengths of light, cubed, readily available rebar called castillo – ubiquitous in Mexican construction and LOL the wall itself – they’re fashioning hook-and-ladder rigs; the rebar is fitted with steps, and connected to four thinner poles bent into a U-shape to hug the top of the wall. The rust-colored rebar is naturally, fortuitouslycamouflaged, barely visible against the rust brown wall. And it’s dirt cheap: Six meters of castillo cost 99 pesos, about $5.34, at Juárez’ Hágalo – or Do It Yourself – True Value hardware store.

Last spring, the new ladders started turning up near the El Paso section of wall, where the number of single male migrants who mostly use them has nearly doubled in recent months; border agents say the level of “evading activity” has likewise soared. Last week, they found 9 ladders in one spot. Meanwhile, the whole stretch of border is littered with rusted rebar – waiting on the Mexican side, yanked down on the U.S. side, poking from dumpsters, their users long gone. Outwitted and conscripted into ludicrous service, agents say all they can do is pull abandoned ladders off the wall, cut them up, and hope they can’t be used again. “It’s a very powerful, very powerful wall,” Trump brayed at a September rally there, “the likes of which, probably, to this extent, has not been built before.”

“A wise man lets a fool build a wall before choosing the height of his ladder.” – Socrates

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Rebar abandoned, job done. Photo by Briana Sanchez/El Paso Times

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Photo by Guillermo Arias/AFP/Getty


Alex Kirby: Cities turn to freewheeling public transport

Cities worldwide are making their public transport free to use. As passenger numbers rise, car use falls. What’s not to like?

LONDON, 12 February, 2020 − In the United States, once the home of car culture, cities are increasingly experimenting with free public transport. But the idea is not an American preserve: it’s catching on fast across the globe.

In the French capital, Paris, the mayor is removing 72% of city car parking spaces. Birmingham in the UK is encouraging drivers to leave their cars at home and use public transport instead, or to walk or cycle. More public transport use means less toxic urban air, fewer greenhouse gas emissions − and happier citizens better equipped to escape one key aspect of poverty.

Transport is one of the big polluters. Cities in particular want more efficient, cleaner ways of moving people. The good news is that recent innovations suggest an effective answer: if public transport is free, more people are likely to use it, instantly cutting car use and pollution.

That kind of behaviour change can happen surprisingly fast. Around 100 cities worldwide currently run fare-free transit, most of them in Europe. Even in the US, home of the motor car, cities are showing increasing interest.

Sharing costs

Kansas City in Missouri and Olympia in Washington state have both said their buses will become fare-free this year. Worcester, Massachusetts’ second-largest city, has expressed strong support for waiving bus fares – a move that would cost $2-3 million a year in fares foregone.

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”.

It says: “A rapid change is under way, bringing into question the role of the car and promoting public transport that is available for all.”

Fare-free transit can also help to cut poverty. The benefits of maintaining a transit system that drives the economy and helps residents at all income levels to get to their jobs, while keeping commuters off the roads, are so great that some urban leaders say the costs should be shared fairly by taxpayers.

Pollution cut

Birmingham and Paris both aim to increase the space for cyclists and walkers by taking it away from car owners, traditionally privileged by planners. Does cutting road space, far from increasing congestion, actually cut pollution instead? The RTA thinks it can.

The Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, is basing her re-election campaign on ensuring that “you can find everything you need within 15 minutes from home.” She wants to see the return of the more self-sufficient neighbourhood, and aims to make all roads safe for cyclists by 2024.

Birmingham will introduce incentives for businesses to remove parking spaces through the introduction of an annual workplace parking levy, and the city will build 12,800 new homes on former car parks. Freight deliveries will be restricted to out-of-hours times, and there will be a blanket 20 mile an hour (32 kph) speed limit on the city’s local roads.

Free mass transit offers a practical, fast option for change − and a relatively cheap one. It can boost the local economy. The deputy mayor of Ghent, in Belgium, Filip Watteeuw, has said that since the provision of free city transit there “has been a 17% increase in restaurant and bar startups, and the number of empty shops has been arrested”.

Ghent’s plan cost just €4m (£3.4m) to implement. By contrast it costs an estimated £20m-£30m to build just one mile of motorway. The city also has significantly cleaner air – nitrogen oxide levels have dropped by 20% since 2017.

Unlike many major infrastructure projects, making public transport free is easy to implement in stages if, for example, planners are unsure how it will affect particular communities. In Salt Lake City public transport was declared free for one day a week as an experiment – Fare Free Friday.

Health and city design are not the only reasons behind moves toward free mass transit. Poverty in inner city areas, with long commutes on older buses, is the norm for many at the bottom of society.

Free transport can make an immediate and disproportionate difference to the money in people’s pockets at a time when many developed societies are seeing the income equality gap grow.

Not car owners

Experiments in the US cities of Denver and Austin were initially viewed as unsuccessful, because there was little evidence that they removed cars from the road; that was because new passengers tended to be poor people who did not own cars, according to a 2012 review by the National Academies Press.

But they were successful in a different sense; they increased passenger use right away, with rises of between 20 and 60% in the first few months.

Car sales are tumbling as people look for alternatives, and as rural populations – who are most dependent on cars – continue to fall. Figures for January to September 2019 showed car sales lower in all major car markets in the world except for Brazil and Japan.

Integrated transport brings impressive reductions in pollution, congestion and accidents  and sometimes more. in Colombia’s second city, Medellin, a combination of rethinking public space and public transport has contributed to a reduction in crime.

Finding public transport

The US Center for Climate and Energy Solutions suggests that Americans can save more than $9,738 annually by using public transport instead of driving. However, access, a problem for many, is the key to reducing emissions – 45% of Americans have no access to public transport.

Many UK cities, towns and villages are also very poorly served by public services. Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, recently built a new and very expensive tram system, with fares higher than on the city’s bus network. Passengers numbers faltered, dashing hopes that the trams could pay their way.

But Edinburgh is renowned for its summer arts festival, which brings visitors flocking in. There is now talk of fare-free trams, at least from the airport to the city centre, which could help to increase overall festival visitor numbers and boost the city’s economy.

Carrots can often work better than sticks. Perhaps fare-free public transport schemes should offer something along the lines of frequent-flyer rewards? 

First published in Climate News Network


These three stories are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.

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