Tracey Barnett

Tracey Barnett is a Herald columnist

Tracey Barnett: Time to revisit small stories posing big questions

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Weather engineering, suicidal soldiers and inconvenient truth for governments.

If money doesn't buy happiness, what kind of growth policies would we expect to see in election campaigns? Photo / Thinkstock
If money doesn't buy happiness, what kind of growth policies would we expect to see in election campaigns? Photo / Thinkstock

Voila - here's my annual list of under-reported stories that deserve greater due, despite burial in obscure pages. No great conspiracies at work here. Most languish with small print headlines because I believe they raise questions too big and too hard to shrink into sound-bite solutions. Here's a taste:

What if wealth really meant unhappiness?

I know, your mother always told you, "money doesn't buy happiness".

But author and psychologist David Meyers cited some stats that would throw every government on its head if we actually did something about them.

In countries where nearly everyone can afford life's necessities, the correlation of happiness to income is "surprisingly weak", according to a University of Michigan 16-nation study. Even lottery winners and the top 100 people on Forbes' wealthiest list are only slightly happier than the average Joe.

The real kicker; once comfortable, we don't seem to get happier.

Here's where the idea gets dangerous. What if you told National and Labour they should actually campaign on little growth? What if you could prove that catching up to Australia would make us a personally less enriched nation instead?

Money may not buy happiness but it probably doesn't buy good government policy either. So why won't we buy it?

Global saviour or weather weaponry?

For some, it's the solution to global warming. For others, it's a weapon too frightening to contemplate. China is particularly good at it and the US has been developing it for over half a century in programmes such as HAARP. Cloud seeding, or making chemtrails, is a form of geo-engineering that most governments and industry refuse to admit publicly.

This environment-modifying technology can potentially trigger floods, droughts, hurricanes and earthquakes. Aircraft contrails create special cirrus clouds that can last from several hours to several days, unlike regular contrails that dissolve in minutes. Once made, they can reflect solar or manmade radiation.

In 2007, China announced the creation of its first artificial snowfall over the city of Nagqu, Tibet. They now conduct more cloud seeding projects than any other nation.

As a weapon for good, it may turn out to be a saviour from global warming. As a weapon in the wrong hands, it could endanger food supplies, destabilise ecosystems and turn weather patterns against one's enemies in war.

Enter SPICE, a UK project that was due to set off a small test that would mimic the effect of a volcano last month. That is, until it was delayed. The delay came after 60 organisations from around the world signed a petition calling for the British Secretary to cancel tests. SPICE is far from dead. Indeed, it has just been rescheduled for the northern spring.

Suicide trumps combat

If statistics could speak their real tragedy. For the second year in a row, more US soldiers killed themselves than died in combat. The staggering number of former service personnel committing suicide every year, according to US Department of Veteran Affairs estimates? Over 6000. Indeed, this figure is likely to be low, as it doesn't include averages in 16 states with large veteran populations.

Even the military's reticently published stats can't hide the broken men and women coming home.

Half of US vets checking into military facilities need mental health care. Of all callers to the National Suicide Prevention lifeline, a whopping 61 per cent are veterans. America sent its young men and women off to war and they are killing themselves by the thousands just trying to live with that fact.

Giving until it hurts

The good folks of Monsanto made what seemed like a magnanimous gesture to the people of Haiti ravaged by an earthquake that left 300,000 dead and destroyed around a million homes last year.

Monsanto generously donated 60,000 sacks of vegetable hybrid seed to Haitian farmers, some coated with chemicals so toxic US officials forbid their home use, according to Haitienne Magazine.

There was just one small catch. Monsanto's seeds can't be reused every year.

This means the Western hemisphere's poorest farmers need to re-buy new seed each season instead of being able to reuse seeds from last year's crop. Once planted, Haitian farmers would likely be dependent on the giant multinational's fertilisers and herbicides developed to accompany their seeds. Worldwide, Monsanto controls almost 90 per cent of agricultural biotechnological patents and is now the world's biggest seed company.

A month after the seed distribution, 10,000 Haitian farmers demonstrated, threatening to burn the seeds, with farm leaders calling it "a new earthquake" and a "land grab endangering local agricultural sovereignty".

Monsanto's former motto, "Without chemicals life itself would be impossible" has been replaced by the snappier, "Imagine".

Imagine a world where one multinational controls the world's supply of seeds and you've just about nailed today's reality. What we can't seem to imagine is where that leaves us now.

* traceybarnett.co.nz or Twitter@TraceyBarnett

- NZ Herald

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