I am a convert to organic gardening. My reasons for trying it were a combination of trying to improve my landscape and thinking to myself "Hmmm... I just sprayed XYZ yesterday and I am barefoot in the lawn... I wonder?" and more importantly, my daughter follows my habit of walking barefoot...
I have a scientific background as well as a technology sales background and have published peer-reviewed research and i know the game back to front so I think I will just go ahead and piss everyone off by pointing out where both the chemical companies and the organic church are often on the one hand irresponsible and on the other foolish.
I'll go in reverse order first and slam those of us who believe in going organic because we do a wonderful job of marginalizing a fabulous argument by presenting it stupidly very often, not always, but far too often.
Big multinational corporations are not inherently evil. That is foolish and idealistic to the point of absurdity. A corporation that is beholden to it's shareholders to turn a profit has a job to do. They should be doing so within the rules, they should be doing so responsibly and when they find out or suspect that their product is dangerous they need to take the lead in cleaning up thier own mess. When they do not, we should immediately deliver them to the ninth concentric circle of class-action lawsuit hell. (Can I get an amen Phillip Morriss et al???). Forget conspiracy theories, focus on their actual screwups to beat them.
However, when the Organic lobby leads with "Corporations are evil, all chemicals are evil, yada, yada and etcetera" we may as well organically raise free range Unicorns because we are not dealing with reality.
The part that pisses me off? You only have to resort to that nonsensical, off-point conspiracy theory stuff when you have a lousy argument and we have a wonderful argument. (I loved the Fluorine story - perfect example of reason over emotion and a great example of how we accept the norm as fact without evidence)
It is quite well documented that using natural predators of undesirable insects has a better long-term cost effectiveness and overall effectiveness than using chemicals that did not quite make the grade in the germ warfare Ph.D. program. If we can show that a compound breaks down into the soil and groundwater into elementss that are either proven or suspected to be unsafe the argument is at an end - if we show an alternative that works without the same dangers.
I worked tobacco fields as a high school kid in Kentucky (yes, still go barefoot but relented and conformed on the whole 'No matter how cute cousins are, they are still off limits' notion - that was tough, I have some hot cousins) and got sick a few times after they sprayed and we had to work in the fields. OK, poor example when they use poison for healthier tobacco but at least the tobacco is optional. I would politely invite the chemical companies to examine my (and your own!) local water quality report or ahve it tested - see those lovely, unregulated but damned sure in your water treats like the lovely garbage in my 'superior' water supply. Please tell me how wonderful it is that my local water has unregulated amounts of Simazine from herbicide runoff in addition to such tasty treats as Bromodichloromethane and it's delightful cousin Dibromochlormethane. Yum! Just toss in some Vodka and an olive and you have a Martini you can't pronounce.
How about fertilizer? You can document what chicken manure slurry ferts do for a poor soil cornfield and it By-God works. You can compare yields and show that a natural alternative works equally well in comparison to chemical alternatives. Funny how that chicken-poop results in worms incrasing 400% in a year while the the chemi's seem to drive them out (what do worms know, they miss the commercials).
Likewise a million other examples - check my formerly blackspot and thrip infested roses on the ornamentals board and tell me that switching to organic after years of systemic pesticide/fungicide didn't work....
You resort to calling the other side names and proclaiming that the other side is evil if and only if your argument sucks and you can't win on facts.
Wake up - 90% of people are pragmatic, show them something that works and they will use it, show them two that work and explain with FACTS that one is less likely to cause funny looking children and they will be responsible. If you expect everyone to do the thing you deem right because it is moral without demonstrating effectiveness then well... you are going to be a very depressed person.
Organic proponents need only calmly and reasonably explain easily documented, common-sense, scientifically sound biological ecosystem principles such as the soil food web, the importance of biological pest controls in any natural ecosystem and other biologically sound, been around for a billion years concepts whose longrange effects are well known. Or we can be emotional and lose the middle 80% who has no clue why we are concerned and views us as moderately dangerous.
OK - now that I owe all my friends here the first round next time we go out for a beer...
Chemical companies, thy shall be shat upon as well.
First, Kudos. There have been good things done by the Monsanto's of the world and there are very surely many folks working for and investing in such companies who truly would like to see world food production equal world food needs. There have been advances in agriculture over the past century where such firms intended to do great good, succeeded, and truly did not anticipate the negative consequences that occur when you screw with a perfect biological ecosystem. Improving on God always seems possible and always involves an "OOOPS, missed that!" later on. Fair enough? (Hint, God is smarter, piss Him off and he generally whacks you over the head pretty hard)
DDT was too rough on Eagles, they are pretty cute unless you are a trout so we outlawed that and got safe pesticides like Dursban. OOOOPS, sh!t, we missed a few nasty side effects on that one too. Okay, we'll pull that and now here is a safe pesticide you can use and we are pretty sure it won't kill you since nobody has proved it will or can for another 10 years, try it! Heck, it took $300M to develope it for DOD and they decided it killed too slow but was hell on skeeters.
I do not believe that large corporations are inherently evil. I do believe they are inherently irresponsible and that may be just as bad. Been there, done that OK? When you have to meet a number to make your quarter and you are in sales then by-God you sell the new product and proclaim that it kicks the snot out of sliced bread and whatever was considered wonderful before that. When it flops, you brush it off and sell the next new product. It is a nasty, no-win business when you are selling and frankly I am glad to be out of it. I've been there - not in Chemis but I sold to chemical firms and helped them figure out how to get their product to market as efficiently as possible and I went out and drank with their sales guys - they had the same pressures I did and I promise you - they were given a very carefully edited script to turn to when negatives came up, that is sales, that is why I quit and got the hell out and started my own company and why I am happy having a few million less in stock options and a lot more ability to look my kid in the eye.
Here is why the chemical companies are a problem - they have to be very selective in what they say because they are accountable to shareholders wallets before shareholder's health. Wrong? He!! yes it's wrong but it is fact.
How do we change it? Well, there are two approaches I see frequently:
1. Use poor science and lots of emotion and make an empassioned appeal that the evil chemical companies are out to take over the world and are Satanic demons. I do not advocate that approach.
2. Kill them with logic, attack them with truth, bug the ever-lovin sh!t out of them at every turn when they are irresponsible and call them on it when they don't do right.
I'm not sure if anyone is reading this rant any longer but i'll illustrate some examples of how intelligent, pragmatic, calm reason can beat 8 figure marketing budgets. I can sum it up in 1 word. ASK!
Pesticide XYZ is unveiled. What do you do? Screaming and yelling will fail and make you look stupid and any halfway decent marketing person will be able to marginalize you as a slightly deranged 'environmental whacko' who is off his/her meds.
"Well, that is interesting, this new compound kills bug ABC at a 95% rate resulting in a 21.2374% increase in crop yield, wow that is great! ...but i am curious. (Good debater's codephrase for 'I am about to pull your pants down and whip you like you stole in front of God and everyone')
What happens to the numbers of that pest in year 10 of that regimen? (If they have 10 years of data, ask about year 15) ...their response is "We are not sure yet but we EXPECT.... Ok, fine, I expected to be taller and better looking and that did not work out either.
"What does this compound do to populations of (insert good bug here) ?"
"What does that compound metabolize into over time and how persistent are those compounds in the soil and groundwater that i have to drink???"
"Golly, isn't that metabolite shown to have a distinct correlation to 3-headed kids?"
"Isn't that metabolite chemically very similar to compund Q that has been shown to accumulate in the liver and has been linked to shrinking of the male genitalia?" (OK, sales guy in me isn't dead - that one can be complete horse-puckey but makes all the tripods in the audience listen).
Hmmmmm... so in your 4 years of data it has not been proven that this chemical is carcinogenic and you are not sure what the toxic level in groundwater is but thus far nobody has proven conclusively that it kills people in a direct causal relationship?"
" OK, how does this control method compare to releasing Trichogramma, Delphastus, and various Hippodamia species of predatory insects (which yer stuff kills, Bubba) in the crop since we know that those insects are safe? Oh, no data? Hmmmmmm"
Ok, enough ranting.
My point, in summary, is this...
If we want to win the debate then there are realities we need to accept.
1. The average schmoe can't, and would not want to be able to even pronounce the ingredients in most chemical compounds. He also could give a crud what you or I think is harmonious with nature - he has a critter and wants it to die.
2. The same Schmoe, while completely devoid of proper organic idealogy does have an IQ in excess of room temperature - give him an option that works and tell him he is making the planet safer and he'll go for it, spray something safer and go back to his 5th beer for the second half - don't confuse him with a political debate, tell him "This stuff will kill yer critter and keep little Sally from giving you grandkids who are uglier than you". He'll understand that, he is fond of Sally.
3. Recognize that we live in a world where investors demand performance, empty bellies demand food and disinterested third parties demand facts. Our argument is gold-friggen-plated guys, argue on the merits and save the idealogy for people who care - yes everyone should, no they really won't. Want to win? Present a specific plan that works acceptably well and ask questions - the other guy has a crummy argument and the best marketing people in the world. Argue emotionally and they will eat you up like a ladybug on an all-you-care-to-eat aphid buffet, stick to the facts, ask the right questions and stay cool and you may as well drop fireants in their shorts - they are screwed because their argument has more holes than the digestive tract of a milky spore infested grub.
Last, but certainly not least - there are a lot of facts out there that are tremendously embarassing for the chem producers. Call them on it! When they say "Product QXY is safe!" do not get upset... politely, calmly, reasonably ask them "I understand that this is not proven to kill people yet, but isn't your data and research the same as it was for Dursban 5 years before you discovered the problems with that?" Then fill a glass with their stuff, the other with blended lady bugs, hand them their glass, smile, offer a toast and drink up. Being right is nice, that and $3.50 will get you a coffee at Starbucks (which is okay since you went there for the coffee grounds as a nitrogen source for your compost and the triple latte was a charade). Want to see your neighborhood organic? Have the best yard, teach your neighbors what works and research the hell out of the negative effects of artificial 'cures' on your ecosystem and spread the word carefully.
FWIW I have neighbors who come to me for lawn/garden care suggestions because their wife is pissed about their mess of a yard and want one like mine. THAT is someone who Monsanto can't touch when i get hold of them - I can point out each issue, explain a cure, why it works and throw in "Oh, by the way, little Tommie will be able to play in the yard and be completely safe!" (until the little monster hits puberty, looks at my daughter and discovers that the biological control for such pests is 200 pounds of me - my vermicomposting bin will leave no trace).
THAT is how we win.
So my challenge to every organic gardner is this: Go do the homework, find out what the actual, documented, factual problems are with the chem companies mistakes over the past 50 years and then compare an organic cure. KNOW why you argue the point you argue and if you don't know ASK and find out. You will find that the facts - not politics, not theory and not opinion - back the argument for organics. THEN TELL SOMEONE! Most importantly, make darned sure you have the best looking landscaping on your street and POLITELY and nicely reach out to your neighbors to help them solve thier yard issues with organics - leave the politics home, our methods work better so focus on the effectiveness first and let the goodness be a side benefit and people will listen.
Do I have any friends left or did I piss off everyone?
Free beer at Chuck's place for the next organic gardening party - just be sure the beer winds up in my compost pile and not the perfectly biologically filtered Koi pond.
I absolutely would love it if some of the chem companies reps would come here and scientifically debate who is right. If they do so, treat them with respect and stick to facts - a Chem-rep coming here is like a French guy wearing a peace symbol walking into a Marine bar and shouting "Vive le France!!!!!" Be kind and polite in your words, brutal in your logic and let's see who wins on the merits.
(I am sooooooooooooooo willing to debate this one devoid of emotion or politics.)
Monsanto et al - I dare you. Present each and every agricultural product you sell and why you think it is best and let's see who can PROVE they are right.