Monday, July 30, 2007

Genetic Engineering Goats Plus Humans

In response to an article in today's New York Times, I sent this letter to the editor:


One proposed genetically engineered product awaiting federal rules is anti-bacterial goat milk, made by splicing the human gene that creates the anti-bacterial protein found in human tears and milk into a goat. ("Without US Rules, Biotech Food Lacks Investors," July 30)

But if we overuse this anti-bacterial protein by putting it in milk, bacteria will evolve a resistance to it, just as our general overuse of antibiotics has caused drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis and E coli to evolve. As a result, humans will permanently be more vulnerable to infection.

This is a particularly dangerous example of the short-sightedness that is typical of the biotech industry. One of the most popular genetically engineered crops, Roundup Ready soybeans, have led to such massive use of the herbicide Roundup that weeds have evolved that are resistant to it.

And consider the ethical issues involved in using human genes in farm animals. This milk would not sell very well if it had to be labeled honestly: "produced by animals that are genetically part goat and part human."

Charles Siegel

Friday, July 20, 2007

Extreme Sprawl

Robert Steuteville has an excellent opinion piece in the current New Urban Newspointing out just how extreme suburban sprawl is in the United States:

"The suburbs of Phoenix and Atlanta have 1,600 to 1,700 people per square mile, according to the book Boomburbs by Robert Lang and Jennifer LeFurgy. .... US urbanized areas now consist overwhelmingly of sprawl, which contributes to a low average density of 2,670 per square mile - less than two units per acre. This US suburban development pattern is the main reason why we use twice as much energy per capita as European countries that enjoy the same standard of living as ours. Energy use is the driver of greenhouse gases, which is why the US is the cause of a disproportionate share of global warming."

Imagine how different the country would be if we had built streetcar suburbs instead of all this sprawl. The average density of all our urbanized areas is 2,670 people per square mile, which is very slightly over 4 people per acre. By contrast, streetcar suburbs typically average 10 people per acre, and if we averaged in cities, the overall densities of our urbanized areas would be over 12 people per acre even if almost everyone lived in suburbs.

Urban areas would take up only about one-third of the land they do now. People would still have their own houses, but they would also have farmland or parkland nearby, instead of drowning in an endless sea of suburbs. We would consume much less gasoline than we do now, reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and our dependence on imported oil. The financial savings would let Americans work shorter hours and have more time for theirfamilies and their own interests.

We would get all these benefits by living in streetcar suburbs rather than sprawl - on top of the fact that streetcar suburbs are more livable than sprawl.

Steuteville's opinion piece is at