Attack of the pigweed

“Attack of the pigweed” may sound like a 1950’s B-grade horror, but the phenomenon is real. As more and more herbicide is sprayed on the genetically-modified monocultural wastelands of the world, resulting in plants developing immunity to the herbicide, the United States, where the experiment has been carried out for the longest, is suffering the worst of the consequences.

Pigweed, and other “weeds”, are rendering much of the farmland in the south of the USA inoperable. You may wonder why farmworkers don’t just pull out the pigweed. That’s just it – most of the affected farms are huge farms of 10 000 or more acres. Farms which are not feasible to farm manually – they’re normally looked after by a plane flying over dropping herbicides and the like, and a combine harvester racing around at harvest time.
The pigweed stops combine harvesters in their tracks, and owners of these mega-farms are at a loss. There’s a solution, of course. Reduce the scale of farms back to the human scale, where multiple companion crops can be grown, organically, complementing each other and supporting the soil health. Or wait for Monsanto to release it’s better, stronger, more expensive chemical cure in about 2015.

Besides encouraging superweeds such as the the pigweed, glycophosphate (the herbicide particular to Roundup, and most-widely used) is starting to be studied more, and a number of its other harmful effects are being noted, such as damaging beneficial microbes in the soil, interfering with nutrient uptake by the plan and reducing the efficiency of nitrogen fixation.

Drill, Drill Baby
About 200 000 gallons of oil a day are pouring into the ocean from the accident in the Gulf, although this is an estimate, and the rate has picked up markedly since the accident as other cracks have opened. Toxic dispersal chemicals are being poured over the oil, and the slick has hit land – islands just off the Louisiana coast. A similar deep-sea spill took 8 months to cap, and if this one takes as long to plug, the effects on the US coast will be devastating.

While this spill attracts widespread attention, thanks to its proximity to the US, it’s interesting to compare it with another oil-related event. One that resulted in up to 4 million gallons per day being dumped. Texaco (Chevron) released this into the Amazon jungle in Ecuador, not as a result of an accident, but on purpose, as it wanted to keep production costs to a minimum.

What was released wasn’t pure crude oil, it was “produced water”, a toxic cocktail that’s left over from the oil extraction process, consisting of various chemicals, and about 2% crude oil.

While BP has, under public and US government pressure, at least agreed to pay financial damages for the Gulf spill, Chevron continues with it’s litigation to try and avoid any responsible for the devastation it has caused.

As the US public outcry grows, the backlash has begun. “We need oil”, the spin-doctors say, so it’s unreasonable to restrict drilling or to “interfere with the market”.

We need oil like a junky needs the next fix. Yes, it’ll be unpleasant to stop, but it’s something we have to do, for all of our benefit.

Ice, Ice Baby
It’s not just Cape Town that’s been experiencing rain this week. And while that’s stating the obvious, there’s a rather dry part of the world that hasn’t experienced rainfall in April in recorded history. Until this week, that is.
It’s not just Cape Town that’s been experiencing rain this week. And while that’s stating the obvious, there’s a rather dry part of the world that hasn’t experienced rainfall in April in recorded history. Until last week, that is.

Rain usually begins in late June in the Canadian High Arctic, during the northern hemisphere summer, when things are warm enough to allow melted water to fall from the sky. But, as the Arctic continues to warm rapidly, the rainy season has been brought forward. One of the weather stations previously had a record of June 7 as the earliest date in the year that rain has fallen. So for things to be warm enough in late April is quite a leap.

The sacred fig
The fig tree holds a special place in most religious traditions. The oldest verified living plant is a fig, planted at a temple in Sri Lanka in 288 BC. The Buddha is traditionally thought to have achieved enlightenment under a fig tree – the Bodhi tree, or sacred fig. Ashvastha, the “world tree” of Hinduism, is the same species and figs are specifically mentioned as one of the fruits in the Promised Land in the Torah. There’s a sura named after and dealing with the fig in the Koran, and it also gets a mention in the Bible as the leaf used by Adam and Eve to cover their nakedness, and as a result was used in European art for the same purpose. Fig leaves were even painted on earlier nude artwork depending to reflect the changing mores.

While we can’t offer enlightenment or clothing, we can at least offer dried figs, available again after a long break, over at

Have a great week,
Ian and the Ethical Co-op team

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  1. Ethical Co-op » Blog Archive » La La La La NiƱa

    [...] written before about the superweeds that are emerging in the Southern USA, a result of the high levels of [...]