16 January 2013

Environmentalist reveals anti-science attitudes at heart of the movement

Whether you call it GE or GM, the debate about genetic engineering has been overwhelmed by vehement opposition from the environmental movement from day one.   Former NZ Green MP Jeanette Fitzsimons said in 1998 that that Christmas was the last one when you could "trust a potato" and since then the rhetoric around GMOs has been simple:

- Genetic engineering shouldn't be allowed outside laboratories because once released into the environment anything can happen (visions of plants and animals overrunning the landscape);

- GM food is "Frankenfood"(visions of it coming from monsters, as if it involves something half fish/half pineapple) and so everyone has the right to know if there is any trace of GMO in it, so they know they are "safe";

- Organic food is safe and healthy and wonderful, and is not only the best for one's health, but is great for the economy.

Mark Lynas is an environmentalist, his credentials are here.  He was an activist against GMOs, and he has come out to admit he was wrong.  He gave a lecture on 3 January 2013 to the Oxford Farming Conference where he said so.   It tears at the heart of the rhetoric of the Green movement on genetic engineering and as a result gives good reason to question any time any of them try to quote science.

Here was a big American corporation with a nasty track record, putting something new and experimental into our food without telling us. Mixing genes between species seemed to be about as unnatural as you can get – here was humankind acquiring too much technological power; something was bound to go horribly wrong. These genes would spread like some kind of living pollution. It was the stuff of nightmares.

These fears spread like wildfire, and within a few years GM was essentially banned in Europe, and our worries were exported by NGOs like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to Africa, India and the rest of Asia, where GM is still banned today. This was the most successful campaign I have ever been involved with.

This was also explicitly an anti-science movement. We employed a lot of imagery about scientists in their labs cackling demonically as they tinkered with the very building blocks of life. Hence the Frankenstein food tag – this absolutely was about deep-seated fears of scientific powers being used secretly for unnatural ends. What we didn’t realise at the time was that the real Frankenstein’s monster was not GM technology, but our reaction against it.

It is damning about the environmental movement, about Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.  Some of the choice quotes are:

I’d assumed that it would increase the use of chemicals. It turned out that pest-resistant cotton and maize needed less insecticide.

I’d assumed that GM benefited only the big companies. It turned out that billions of dollars of benefits were accruing to farmers needing fewer inputs.

I’d assumed that no-one wanted GM. Actually what happened was that Bt cotton was pirated into India and roundup ready soya into Brazil because farmers were so eager to use them.

I’d assumed that GM was dangerous. It turned out that it was safer and more precise than conventional breeding using mutagenesis for example; GM just moves a couple of genes, whereas conventional breeding mucks about with the entire genome in a trial and error way.

He eviscerates organic farming as having some merit, but is seen by some as a way of freezing innovation:

As Borlaug was saying, perhaps the most pernicious myth of all is that organic production is better, either for people or the environment. The idea that it is healthier has been repeatedly disproved in the scientific literature. We also know from many studies that organic is much less productive, with up to 40-50% lower yields in terms of land area. The Soil Association went to great lengths in a recent report on feeding the world with organic not to mention this productivity gap.Nor did it mention that overall, if you take into account land displacement effects, organic is also likely worse for biodiversity. Instead they talk about an ideal world where people in the west eat less meat and fewer calories overall so that people in developing countries can have more. This is simplistic nonsense.If you think about it, the organic movement is at its heart a rejectionist one. It doesn’t accept many modern technologies on principle. Like the Amish in Pennsylvania, who froze their technology with the horse and cart in 1850, the organic movement essentially freezes its technology in somewhere around 1950, and for no better reason.

Then he demonstrates what he calls the immorality and inhumanity of Greenpeace:

Last year Greenpeace destroyed a GM wheat crop in Australia, for all the traditional reasons, which I am very familiar with having done it myself. This was publicly funded research carried out by the Commonwealth Scientific Research institute, but no matter. They were against it because it was GM and unnatural.What few people have since heard is that one of the other trials being undertaken, which Greenpeace activists with their strimmers luckily did not manage to destroy, accidentally found a wheat yield increase of an extraordinary 30%. Just think. This knowledge might never have been produced at all, if Greenpeace had succeeded in destroying this innovation. As the president of the NFU Peter Kendall recently suggested, this is analogous to burning books in a library before anyone has been able to read them.

The second example comes from China, where Greenpeace managed to trigger a national media panic by claiming that two dozen children had been used as human guinea pigs in a trial of GM golden rice. They gave no consideration to the fact that this rice is healthier, and could save thousands of children from vitamin A deficiency-related blindness and death each year.What happened was that the three Chinese scientists named in the Greenpeace press release were publicly hounded and have since lost their jobs, and in an autocratic country like China they are at serious personal risk. 

The full contents are on his blog here.  It is also available in five other languages on the same site, in French, German, Spanish, Italian and Vietnamese.

Read it and ask yourself how much this reflects not only Green Parties in multiple countries, but Green activists and the multi-national corporations like Greenpeace, which tout an explicitly anti-science, armageddon like agenda of fear.

Then ask yourself why the mainstream media hasn't confronted the hoards of politicians who have hopped on this bandwagon and asked them to justify their views, which have the intellectual credibility of the Spanish Inquisition's views on heliocentrism.

I'm not naive.  Mark Lynas is a strong advocate of action on climate change, much that I disagree with. However, he does understand exactly what the Green movement's propensity to lie about science does about the debate on climate change (he is an advocate of nuclear power, for example) - it harms it.

For the Green movement consists of people who are at best a naive well meaning but wrong, but at worst carefully concealed Marxists, luddites, conspiracy theorists, scaremongers and misanthropes (check out the reaction of one activist equating supporters of genetic engineering as being equivalent to rapists).

Regardless of the individuals within it, it represents perhaps the centre of the most influential irrational movement in the Western world today.


Tony said...

Excellent article. And an astonishing about face too - plenty of guts and honesty on his part.

Anonymous said...


Libertyscott said...

Anonymous: Given the Institute for Responsible Technology was founded by a man who has a degree in management from what was Maharishi International University, you can pardon me for thinking that this simply reinforces my view that the anti-GMO movement is a quasi-religious movement that is anti-science.

Believing a man who is a professional dance instructor, a believer that yogic flying affects crime rates for your advice on science, is like using astrology to predict the future.