Environmentalists’ double standards | COSMOS magazine
It is obviously inconsistent on the part of environmental groups such as Greenpeace to trumpet the importance of the worldwide scientific consensus on climate change while at the same time denying the validity of an equally strong scientific consensus on the safety of GMO crops. Indeed, nearly identical tactics are frequently used both by climate change deniers and anti-GMO campaigners: politically skewed misinformation is spread via the internet and social networks; science in general and individual scientists are attacked and bullied as biased or as pawns of their paymasters; and the voices of a tiny minority of contrarian academics are aggressively promoted to give the public the false impression that “experts disagree”.
To be fair, it was perhaps reasonable back in the 1990s for environmentalists to be concerned about the risks of spreading “genetic pollution”, when the techniques for inserting novel genes into plants and other life forms were first being commercialised. But after two decades during which several hundred scientific studies have uncovered not a single substantiated case of harm specifically to do with transgenics, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Society, the African Academy of Sciences, and other expert bodies have decided the jury is in. So why has the environmental movement – which professes a deep attachment to science in other areas – refused to acknowledge that the world has moved on from the “Frankenfoods” scare?
This is clearly not a battle that will be decided quickly.
Part of the answer may lie in path-dependent inertia: the natural reluctance to admit that a campaign upon which whole careers and organisational fundraising strategies have been based was a mistake. Another reason is the vested interests that have now emerged against GMOs. It is no accident that the millions of dollars of funding for pro-labelling campaigns in California and Washington State came from big organic foods interests and “natural health” internet sales quacks. This latter point reveals the likely true answer – that opposition to GMOs really acts as a conduit for opposition to modern farming in particular, and even modernity in general. Genetically modified organisms – partially artificial beings and therefore undesirable in any form – are seen as the ultimate insult to pristine nature. It is unlikely, therefore, that this opposition can be addressed with science or indeed rational debate at all. It is a values-level political denialist movement motivated by an implacable opposition to the acquisition and use of human knowledge in an important area of biology.
This is clearly not a battle that will be decided quickly. Nor is it guaranteed that Enlightenment values of empiricism and the rational assessment of evidence will win. It is just as likely that obscurantism and the autocratic prohibition of scientific research and technological development in food, agriculture and medicine will triumph. The sad irony is that this outcome would be both a disaster for human progress and the environment. Anti-GMO environmentalists are thus betraying not only progressive values, but the same environmental cause they are pledged to defend.
Mark Lynas, a former anti-GMO activist, is now a fellow at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
I heard a podcast interview of Mark Lynas last year —
It was very interesting to hear his point of view considering he’s one of the founders of the movement, especially where he denounces the so-called claims that Monsanto has destroyed small farmers financially, etc.
I’m coming to accept the fact that GMOs perhaps are not harmful, but that does not deter from the pressing issue that Mark and his ilk conveniently ignore; that GMO crops (maize in particular) are taking over the market in places like Mexico –where maize was originally developed, and slowly eliminating the natural crops that have been grown there for millenia.
GMO maize may not be hazardous to our health, but it is threatening the cultural patrimony of our people. And for that, Monsanto is still very much an unscrupulous corporation. Plus, their neo-liberal policies are behind the destruction of land and resources in places inhabited by indigenous people. So, let’s not let Monsanto and similar corps off the hook yet.
Yes, I find myself torn on this very issue. The tendency on the left is to attack GMO (without really understanding what it is), and most of their arguments ring hollow. They allow their (well deserved) mistrust of Monsanto to cloud their arguments regarding the science behind GMO itself. And I see what you mean regarding cultural patrimony. But isn’t corn a perfect example of our ancestors using GMO?
Yeah, I’ve always understood that what our ancestors did was a kind of genetic modification, and the argument can be made that all the grain, fruit, and vegetables humanity has domesticated has been ‘modified’ to some extent. I think the difference is that in the pre-GMO era, these foods were done primarily for the benefit of humanity; but the emergence of cash-crop agriculture in the late 15th century, combined with the development of capitalistic economies, have changed the nature of agriculture.
Multinational agribusiness corps are modifying crops, not necessarily for the benefit of humanity, but rather for profit and the monopolization of the industry — leading to control of the food supply. The ‘bottom line’ is what drives the market, and it usually comes at the expense of rural, traditional, and indigenous societies. That’s what makes this trend highly problematic and a threat to our global collective future.
So I think that the left needs to reframe their argument. Instead of being anti-science (which is what they always accuse the right of), they should go after the business practices you describe without demonizing what could essentially be a life-saving scientific approach.
Yeah, the so-called political left still doesn’t get it; that when it comes to indigenous issues, they’re still pretty much a part of the colonial system that they ‘want to reform.’ This was most evident during the whole Occupy movement; Native activists responded quickly that this whole continent(s) is/are occupied, but they were basically ignored. The attitude is usually something along the lines of, ‘Yes, we know that you Native people have issues that need to be addressed, but we need to clean up our own house before we can get to you.’ The irony, is that the left’s house is on stolen land and it never gets fully cleaned — there’s always some pressing issue other than indigenous rights that needs attention. This is one of the reasons why I never got the ‘Occupy’ bug and why I don’t identify with Liberals and so-called Progressives.
Re: Science — What you say about the left accusing the right of being anti-science, then turning around and falling for the anti-vax and anti-GMO conspiracies really calls into question their criticism of right-wingers. I have no problem with being cautious and skeptical, but when the scientific community comes out and disproves conspiratorial claims, you should accept the facts regardless of your feelings about the situation. This is not to say that you stop being cautious and skeptical of new claims that lack supporting evidence or that you ignore the business practices of corporations; it just means that you have to move on to the next issue and stop beating a dead horse.
I’ve actually been meaning to write something on the prevalence of conspiracy theories within modern indigenous activists. I guess I’ll do some of that here (if you don’t mind).
There is a tendency within modern indigenous activists to believe any proposition that counters the government and Western culture in general. I’m not saying that these things don’t merit scrutiny or criticism, but we should reserve judgement, be skeptical of claims (especially unsupported ones), and use FACTS –not opinions and biases– when assessing any given topic. Passing judgement without thinking critically and objectively leads to biased opinions and unfounded conclusions which usually simply stem from a hatred of the status-quo and/or out right anti-Americanism. This is clouded judgement and does nothing to move the conversation forward.
I’m totally with you when you call for the expulsion of quackery, new age-ism, and conspiracy rhetoric from Mexikayotl; the trick is to find a way to get the message out. However, that’s easier said than done, because the moment you begin to challenge preconceived opinions of what constitutes ‘ancient’ or ‘traditional’ knowledge, that’s when the push back comes. I know this from experience. Somehow, the simple act of questioning supposed sacred cows deems me a “Malinchista,” “a colonized person,” or even that “I’m always trying to make our people look bad.” How do you respond to those kinds of charges? I’m sorry, but if your standard of being indigenous means that I must sit down and shut up, or simply believe nonsense spewed by a self-proclaimed ‘elder’ or ‘teacher,’ then I’ll just have to walk down my own (Red)road. Ometeotl!
Sorry for the long rant, bro…