I awoke to loud rumblings and booms, a sound that elicits a bit of dread in a place like Alamagordo, New Mexico, home to Hollman Air Force Base and the White Sands Missile Range. But then I walked outside and smelled the distinctively wonderful fragrance of rain in the desert, and knew it was thunder, not a bomb.
I'm here not for the military, but for the amazing natural beauty of White Sands National Monument. It's the world's largest gypsum dune field, 275 square miles of shimmering, glistening, sparkling white standing in brilliant contrast to the blue New Mexico sky. We hiked five miles through those shifting dunes, where we saw only the endemic earless ghost lizard, a fluttering black butterfly that was perhaps migrating from Mexico, a few ants and a small swarm of gnats. It is not a place conducive to much life, but it does not feel desolate or dead.
At two points during our hike formations of sleek Air Force jets streaked overhead, creating sonic booms that brought back early childhood memories of Stead Air Force Base in Nevada, where screaming jets and sonic booms were rather thrilling to kids too young to understand their chilling purpose.
Afterward, at the visitor center, I read about how the world's first atomic bomb was tested at the Trinity site, just 110 miles to the north, in 1945. It had been developed at the Los Alamos Laboratory, in the northern part of the state.
New Mexico has a long atomic heritage that continues to this day, with rural communities in the southeast part of the state now considering whether they're willing to host the nation's growing stockpile of nuclear waste, buried in shallow storage caverns carved from the ground.
Some worry about accidents, contamination of groundwater, the loss of a rural lifestyle practiced in wide-open spaces. Others see benefits for New Mexico's struggling economy, the development of jobs in a state with the nation's highest unemployment rate. A few politicians even speak with pride about New Mexico's opportunity to serve the entire country by taking on its nuclear waste burden.
Meanwhile, billboards near the capital city of Albuquerque advertise legal services to the uranium miners, Cold War veterans and “downwinders” who are suffering health problems as a result of radiation exposure. Residents of four counties in the Tularosa Basin, near the Trinity test site, recently completed their own health impact assessment in an effort to be included in the federal Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, which is already helping downwinders in Nevada and Arizona.
Coincidentally, The Garden Island yesterday carried a story about a “downwinder” who now lives in Poipu and his extensive health problems.
Reading about his very real health problems, and those suffered by others who were exposed to radiation, got me thinking about the claims that have been leveled against the seed companies in Hawaii. None of those claims have been documented. Indeed, assertions of higher cancer rates have been disproven.
And though defeated state House candidate Fern Rosenstiel is quoted in the March Against Syngenta e-book as saying she was prompted to join the anti-GMO movement after a friend of hers “had a baby with an abdominal wall defect through which part of its small intestine protruded,” there's no evidence that ag pesticides caused that birth defect, or that Kauai babies are disproportionately affected.
The antis also have repeatedly asserted that the Hawaii Department of Health is ignoring their health concerns in favor of catering to corporate interests.
It was rather ironic, then, to see a recent report that ranked Hawaii #1 in the country for public health, #3 in health care quality and #2 in health care access. That's pretty good, considering all the hysterical assertions about how people and “paradise” are being poisoned by pesticides — but only the agricultural kind.
Meanwhile, the antis have been surprisingly mum about the rat lungworm disease that actually is making people seriously ill in Hawaii. You'd think a group that calls itself Center for Food Safety would be issuing public service announcements about how people can protect themselves from contracting rat lungworm disease, especially since it appears to be especially prevalent on the organic produce that group promotes.
But then, the whole anti-movement in Hawaii has never been about safety and health. It's all and only about trying to destroy GMO crops and conventional agriculture.
Still, it diminishes the real suffering of people like the downwinders when false claims are made about adverse health impacts to advance a political agenda.
And despite all the money that's been poured into the Hawaii anti-GMO movement, we have yet to see any "evidence" — save for the very questionable hair samples provided by anti-GMO activist Malia Chun — that Hawaii folks are even being exposed to pesticides, much less harmed. Surely, if it's actually happening, they would have been able to produce one set of test results or some other smoking gun.