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Climate denial, science and Genetic Engineering

Greenpeace have been strongly criticised in recent weeks over the destruction of a trial crop of genetically engineered wheat. Some critics have labelled the organisation ‘anti-science’ and claim that opposition to GM crops somehow contradicts the support of climate science.

Firstly, it is useful to revisit what ‘science’ actually is, and what it isn’t.

Science is broadly defined as the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment. The scientific method involves observing the world, putting forward a hypothesis (theory), and then attempting to disprove that hypothesis. Theories that can’t be disproved become accepted, until they are disproved and replaced by a theory that is more robust.

So, contrary to much popular opinion, science really isn’t about ‘proof’ at all. It is about ‘disproof’.

In relation to global warming, after many years of observing trends in nature (rising CO2 levels in the ocean and atmosphere, slow but steady increases in global average temperatures etc.), scientists put forward the theory of ‘man made global warming’. Scientists have been trying to disprove this theory, but so far they haven’t succeeded – it remains the best theory to describe what is happening to the global climate system.

What climate deniers and so-called ‘climate sceptics’ seem to misunderstand amid their attempts to discredit climate science, is that the mainstream scientific process that they are railing against is actually geared around trying to ‘disprove’ the theory of man-made global warming. The reason that I call them ‘climate deniers’ rather than ‘climate sceptics’ is that all climate scientists are sceptical of the theory of global warming as a result of the scientific method they use, but what we see from the deniers is just that – outright denial.

But the scientific method does not stand alone in our decision making about science and technological development. Science is, and must be, guided by values and principles, one of which is the ‘precautionary principle’. The application of the precautionary principle helps to determine where the burden of proof or the burden of disproof should lie.

In the case of climate change, the burden of proof, or the burden of disproof is clear. There is an obvious trend happening in the world that is widely regarded as potentially dangerous. A theory has been identified to describe what is happening, this theory has withstood enormous scientific scrutiny and is therefore widely accepted by the scientific community with a high level of confidence.  The negative consequences of global warming happening are enormous compared to cost of doing something about it. The burden of proof clearly rests upon climate deniers (or indeed climate scientists) to disprove the theory of human induced global warming. I hope they manage to do it because the implications of global warming are almost too disturbing to contemplate.

In the case of genetically engineered foods however, the issues are less straightforward and reveal the political and values based judgements that are also made as part of the scientific process. But firstly, it is important to be clear that genetically engineered foods are not science. Nuclear power isn’t ‘science either. Neither are pop-up toasters. They are the commercial products that rely on scientific understanding for their development.

The ‘science’ involved in genetic engineering is the theory of the genome and the relationships between DNA, RNA and proteins. One of the technological spin-offs of these scientific theories (which thus far have not been disproven) is a technique of inserting genes from one species into the genome of another in order to achieve a beneficial trait in the recipient organism.  The body of scientific evidence suggests that the relationships between DNA, RNA and proteins are extremely complex and the implications of inserting a foreign gene are likely to be many and unpredictable.

For example, the Human Genome Project revealed that we humans have far fewer genes than previously expected – around 20,500 genes that encode the proteins for all the parts of our bodies. On the other hand, the tiny roundworm (Caenorhabditis elegans) has nearly as many genes as we do—approximately 20,100—but far fewer body parts.  It is estimated that some 650,000 protein interactions occur in humans, approximately three times more than that in the roundworm. Moreover, it seems that a single protein can have dozens, if not hundreds, of different interactions.

We need to remember this complexity in the relationships between DNA, RNA and proteins when it comes to how we regulate genetically engineered organisms.

The problem, and a root cause of the controversy over the regulation of GM foods, is that determining where the burden of proof should lie for safety of new products not a scientific ‘given’. It is actually a value judgement based largely on an assessment of costs and benefits. The proponents of GM (biotech companies, chemical companies and some scientists) argue in favour of the doctrine of ‘substantial equivalence’. In effect, it assumes that genetically engineered foods are substantially equivalent to traditionally bred varieties of the same food because only a small number of extra genes have been inserted. As a result of this assumption, GM foods are assumed to be safe until proven otherwise.

On the other hand, many public health organisations, environmental groups and some scientists argue that ‘substantial equivalence’ does not account for the complexity of possible results arising from the insertion of novel genes into organisms, and that unexpected effects are likely. Accordingly, if a precautionary approach is taken, then the burden of proof should be on the proponents of GM to demonstrate that GM foods are safe in much the same way that new pharmaceuticals need to be demonstrated to be safe.

Ultimately, this debate is not about science, it is about politics. It is about evaluating who benefits from GM crops, and who should bear the risks. Greenpeace’s position is influenced by the simple observation that most of the GM crops that have been developed have been done so for the private benefit of agro-chemical companies that wish to extend their control over the food chain.

From our discussions with public health experts around the world, a common view emerges: If the potential risks of negative health impacts from GM foods became manifest, then the impacts could be significant, would be spread widely within the community and would be difficult to detect (in part due to poor labelling requirements).

The high profile public debate about genetically engineered foods has been mischaracterised as a pro vs. anti science debate, but it is really a debate about the politics of technology, and about the risks and benefits of one particular technology. A similar parallel in the climate change debate would not be about whether or not climate change is happening, it would be about whether nuclear power is an appropriate solution to climate change, or whether a particular geo-engineering application should be deployed to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

Whenever you have a cost/benefit equation, you need to deal with value judgements and vested interests. In cases where the people taking a risk are the people benefitting, you are likely to see widespread acceptance. A good example of this is the mobile phones which offer clear benefits to people even though there are concerns over a possible increased incidence of brain cancer. With GM foods, the companies benefit, consumers bear the health risks, and the risks of GM crops are ‘externalised’ upon the wider environment.

Greenpeace is not opposed to the science of genetics. We are not opposed to research into new and innovative forms of plant breeding. What Greenpeace are opposed to is the widespread release of genetically engineered organisms into the environment and the food chain without due diligence being done on the risk of long-term negative impacts. Our position is based on the precautionary principle, on respect for science, and on critical analysis of the environmental and social risks of new technologies.

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  • 1
    Mark Duffett
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    …most of the GM crops that have been developed have been done so for the private benefit of agro-chemical companies…

    No kidding. That’s how (and why) private enterprise works (in every sense). It doesn’t mean that you discount (or outright ignore, as here) the possibility that genetic engineering just might make the difference between starvation and survival for billions of people in the resource-constrained 21st century. If you’re one of those people, you’re not going to care two hoots whether someone’s made a profit along the way.

    But I applaud you for your honesty in discussing Greenpeace’s motives. Anyone seeking evidence of ‘watermelon Greens’ need look no further than here.

    How do you propose ‘due diligence’ be done if scientific trials are likely to be vandalised by luddites? Do you support this sort of action, or not? You never quite got around to saying.

  • 2
    John Hepburn
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Mark, thanks for your comment. You are right, I didn’t go into the question of feeding the world in this blog post. I do discount the possibility that genetic engineering ‘just might make the difference between starvation and survival for billions of people’ because that is not what genetically engineered crops are being designed for and, in any case, it is not what is needed to solve problems of starvation and malnutrition.

    Lack of access to food is caused by poverty, and by the breakdown of localised food production – often exaccerbated by the industrial agricultural model. It isn’t caused by a lack of global food production. A good example of this is from 2001 when the Indian Government was sued for letting grain rot in granaries while people were starving across the country, but there are countless other examples as it is a systemic problem.

    I wrote a piece a few years ago about why GE foods are largely irrelevant to solving problems of starvation http://www.zcommunications.org/gm-rice-no-solution-to-poverty-and-starvation-by-john-hepburn It focusses on rice – as ‘golden rice’ was the poster child of the GM industry for many years.

    As for Greenpeace’s motives, it isn’t a secret that Greenpeace or other parts of the environmental movement are concerned about issues of social justice. Environmental problems almost always have social and political dimensions that you can’t ignore.

  • 3
    Mark Duffett
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Even if feeding the starving millions is not what GE crops are designed for, there is every chance that this will be their effect. Irrespective of who’s doing the R&D, no one is going actually adopt the technology if it doesn’t improve productivity. Irrespective of distribution issues, how does improving productivity not help?

    I suggest that supporting and facilitating an open-source approach, where the benefits of GM technology could be developed within, and for the benefit of, poorer countries (drought-tolerant, more nutritious and nitrogen-fixing subsistence crops are some examples under development) would be a much more constructive approach for Greenpeace to take.

  • 4
    Scott
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    What about the Applied sciences? Food science, Agriculture science etc. They don’t count?

    Or is Greenpeace not anti-science, just anti-scientific method (as this was basically an Applied Science experiment)?

  • 5
    lindsayb
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Good article John.
    It is a shame that Greenpeace took out a CSIRO GM crop that was probably one of the few that are being developed specifically to have some benefit for the consumer, but 100% agree with you regarding the complexity of the one-gene-many-proteins complexity (without even considering the gene regulation aspects or the stability of the insertion) making GM crops a pretty unpredictable thing to be releasing into our food supply and environment.
    Even if adequate testing was performed, the ability of plants to cross breed with wild plants makes it practically impossible to test for all possible situations. And it is clear that testing has been completely inadequate to date, and unclear whether adequate testing can actually be conducted in a real world setting.
    For instance, can Monsanto prove that its roundup ready soy has not been responsible for the explosion in allergies over the last decade? Its soy is ubiquitous in processed food, and they knew it was more allergenic and cross reactive to peanut allergens than non-GM soy before they released it, and its presence in the food supply seems to track the rise in allergies pretty well.
    Does Monsanto know what effect Bt toxin has on foetal development and human health? They told the regulators that it would never get into the bloodstream, but now we know it does (a Canadian study found it in 70% of people and 50% of placental cord blood). Whose job is it to find out what the consequences of that are? It is in so much of our processed food how would you do a recall if it was found to be a problem?
    US farmers have reported big increases in miscarriage and foetal abnormality in livestock fed GM crops. Can this be independently confirmed? Whose job is it to follow this up? Can the producers of the GM seed be sued if it turns out that their product is causing financial loss for livestock farmers? Or will it be the Government’s fault for approving the crops?
    What does Monsanto say about the contamination of Mexican wild type corn with their GM variety? They destroyed the career of the scientists who showed this had occurred 10 years back, and it has been independently confirmed again. Are they going to sue the Mexican government for growing GM corn without paying royalties, as they would with other farmers whose seed they have contaminated?
    The agrichemical companies have effectively shielded their GM products from independent research for some time now, and there are significant questions about the adequacy of the data provided to the regulators when applying for their release.
    Cudos to Greenpeace for not just letting this disappear from public debate

  • 6
    SBH
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Thomas Jefferson said:
    “Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.”

    Mark Duffet asks two important questions:
    ‘How do you propose ‘due diligence’ be done if scientific trials are likely to be vandalised by luddites? Do you support this sort of action, or not?’
    Neither was answered.

    This article is anti-scientific anti-intellectual claptrap. It advances nothing that would further the debate about GM and attempts to scare the reader with irrelvant comparisons. Readers should note that Greenpeace is not a democratic organisations and Greenpeace members and contributors have almost no ability to influence the organisations direction. That’s all fine. It’s a private organisation and can say and do as it pleases but this article is just outrageous.

    The opening line of this piece leads one to think that there will be some investigation of why Greenpeace did what it did, that is, why did Greenpeace activists break and enter, destroy public property and attempt to derail an expeirment but the author never gets within a bulls roar of that issue.

    Instead we get a basic error that equates hypothesis and theory, a somewhat narrow approach to scientific theory and the sort of scare mongering you’d expect to see from Lord Monkton.

    Like this “From our discussions with public health experts around the world, a common view emerges: If the potential risks of negative health impacts from GM foods became manifest, then the impacts could be significant, would be spread widely within the community and would be difficult to detect (in part due to poor labelling requirements).

    translation. In discussions with people I won’t name here (you’ll just have to trust me) something might (potentially, but no on really knows) happen but it would be not very noticable.

    You’re kidding, right?

    Then we have the cause de jour, mobile phones. Why not be honest and say that the risks of getting cancer from mobile phones is a high as getting it from eating pickled vegetables (absolutely true). There is NO conclusive evidence that they cause cancer! Where’s you science there?

    Where’s the straw man argument I hear you say? well how about the this is all about private profit? So what? so are most things in this life. Kenny’s bakery did not sell me my chicken schnitzel roll because they wanted to alieviate my hunger or because they thought it would be good for me. They did so because theres money in it. What on earth has that got to do with science or whether GM is good or bad?

    A pile of specious, tendencious rubbish. Bilndfolded fear indeed.

  • 7
    John Newton
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    At the end of Marie- Monique Robin’s book The World According to Monsanto , Ignacio Chapela, a Mexican biologist and one of the authors of a paper on the genetic contamination of traditional Mexican corn crop who subsequently lost his position at Berkley University (as have many Monsanto critics) sums up the central issue with the way genetic modification is being foisted on the world.

    “There was a time” Chapela told Robin, “when science and the university loudly proclaimed their independence from governmental, military and industrial institutions. That’s over, not only because scientists depend on industry to survive, but because they themselves are part of industry.”

    The industrial takeover of science and scientists in an age when public funding is being withdrawn is a very dangerous phenomenon. Australia is not immune.

  • 8
    Don Matthews
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    In my 35 years in Agriculture I have seen the intruduction of over a 100 new varieties of cereals to Australian growers. All of them have come from the so called traditional breeding system, supported by CSIRO and Dpt’s of Ag.and were widly growen, and consumed. I would like John Hepburn to produce the Food Safty data generated before the release of them. Would he also produce the safety data for fruit and Veg. on sale in Supermarkets today.

  • 9
    mattsui
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Actually, I thought it was quite good. Fairly rational, unlike a couple of the responses here.
    I have never been a supporter of Greenpeace, at first that was because of their ‘rock star’ mentality of doing anything to get attention. Latterly I’ve come to question their corporate model – which is now being copied by almost all NGO’s.
    High profile stunts are a good way of selling subscriptions. The problem is that, as in this case, they can severly backfire. If greenpeace has to explain it’s actions to an environmental blog, then it’s safe to say those actions were not only ineffective but counterproductve. Greenpeace should just admit it and move on.
    Personally I agree that GM foods should face rigouruos examination and trial before being fed to unwary consumers. That’s the point of the campaign but in the days of climate change debate, there’s just no oxygen for other issues.

  • 10
    Simon Mansfield
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Complete junk. The weasel words of someone who has been sent out to try and spin the news and turn around the overwhelming disgust so many people have at what Greenpeace did in destroying a government science facility.

    If you can support an action like that – then really there is nothing off limits and the slippery slope of where one action begets another begins.

    Be afraid – very afraid – Greenpeace is increasingly a leftwing fascist organization that will decide for you what is right and what is wrong and reserves the right to use property violence to promote and enforce such.

    That Crikey associates itself with Greenpeace in anyway is a serious blemish on Crikey and directly undermines its position on Climate Science.

  • 11
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Great read – someone finally putting the debate into perspective and bypassing the trash expounded by both sides of the argument. I have maintained a very similar position for sometime, but I made the differentiation between science (Discovery of knowledge) and technology (application of knowledge). Then without the right wing capitalist ideology that thinks the artifice of humanity (the market) has magical qualities. I do not find it difficult to keep an open mind, and accept that the technology (application of knowledge) is exposed to far more of human kinds inbuilt weaknesses of greed and self interest, of over simplification and self imposed ignorance. Where as science keeps been tested for validity against the reality of nature, the markets keep been tested by the profits of those who hold technology copy-write/patents. Science trends towards truth, technology tends towards profits (Increased incomes / reduced costs).

    I have not formed an view on the Greenpeace action, but if it acts to open the eyes to the issues rather than a blind faith in money, I would tend to add weight to action rather than inaction.

    And before someone starts accusing me of communist, anti-democratic or anti-capitalist sentiments – They may be the best methods we have found so far but it does not mean we cant improve them.

  • 12
    Simon Mansfield
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Go back to the trees Anthony. Technology is what makes us human and is the only possible way we will ever solve the problems of climate change, over population, energy supply and anything else you might want to improve upon. Hepburn’s article does nothing to explain the issues and is simply aimed at giving Greenpeace cover for their anti-science, anti-democratic and anti-human fascism they have clearly decided to embrace as their new mission in life.

  • 13
    mattsui
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    @Simon M.
    “Be afraid – very afraid – Greenpeace is increasingly a leftwing fascist organization that will decide for you what is right and what is wrong and reserves the right to use property violence to promote and enforce such. ”

    I’ll take “weasel words” over hate speach any day.
    Lets keep it rational, after all, the core of this action was the mowing of some grass. Something millions of us do on a regular basis.

  • 14
    Mark Duffett
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    @mattsui, it’s a sure sign that one is defending the indefensible when one resorts to trivialisation. Only scale separates the Greenpeace whippersnippers from the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria. Both acts of knowledge destruction, both acts of barbarism.

  • 15
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Simon, You are as I expected too quick to assume. I am a technologist. Trained and experienced as one. I too see the value of science and technology in our future, I also see the value in learning from the past as well.

    Your ideology is exposed when you use “leftwing” as an insult even is there is some merit in complaining about Greenpeace management hierarchy, but fascist ?

    I also use your words “Technology is what makes us human and is [one of the] possible way[s] we will ever solve the problems of climate change, over population, energy supply and anything else you might want to improve upon.”

    John Hepburn adds a little sanity to the debate are you trying to provide some balance to that ?

  • 16
    tinman_au
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    The Science := (RS)-2-(2,6-dioxopiperidin-3-yl)-1H-isoindole-1,3(2H)-dione

    The technology:= Thalidomide

    It was a while ago, but it’s still an outstanding lesson that technology (the application of science) should never be rushed for commercial gain? I love my “tech”, but when we’re talking about the very basics/staples of life it’s self (in more ways than one), shouldn’t we be overly cautious?

  • 17
    mattsui
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    @Mark D, My trivialisation was intended as counterpoint to the hysterical rhetoric of Simon Mansfield and his ilk on this thread.
    The experiment can and no doubt will be repeated.
    I don’t think this was one of Greenpeace’s smarter ideas but it hardly ranks with the destruction of a library.

  • 18
    SBH
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    Sorry Anthony but what is added to the debate by getting things wrong. A theory is not a hypothesis, science is not soley about disproving things, there is no credible evidence that says mobile phones cause cancer, certain people say that there might be consequences that are too small to measure across a population. Not helpful just junk psuedo-logic. The same kind of ‘arguments can be seen in campaigns against climate change, immunisation and fluoride in water.

    Given Greenpeace’s strong objections to GM food I would have expected a far better articulation of their case and given the moral high ground they seek to occupy I would have thought they could have done so withou the tactics of the anti-science brigade.

    I’m still waiting for the answer to Mark Duffet’s questions

  • 19
    Simon Mansfield
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Mattsui – you clearly have no idea about the cost of conducting science projects. It takes months to set up a project like this. Do the cross checks on materials, set up the processes. Do the documentation, monitor progress. and the countless other other steps required to conduct real science.

    This costs big bucks and why science is generally conducted by organizations with deep pockets.

    It was not a simple case of a couple of mummies dressed up in their spooky white suits rolling into town armed with their whipper snippers to fight the evil patriarchal scientists.

    They were in reality a gang of anti science thugs who broke into a closed science environment and smashed up a science experiment with complete indifference as to what the consequences were of their actions – other than that they were doing it for the children.

    What’s to stop me and a bunch of mates rolling into Greenpeace HQ and inserting a virus-land USB into every computer and destroying all the files on a computer after computer in the Greenpeace HQ – no one would be physically harmed. We’d get a ton of publicity and slaps on the backs from all the usual suspects and of wouldn’t we feel so morally superior.

    That’s why actions like what Greenpeace did are a slippery slope. One action begets another and each action can be morally justified by the previous action. And step by step we become fascists who feel morally empowered to do what we are doing no matter what the consequences.

    And now we have some dope rolled out by Greenpeace to spin the story. And Crikey gives the guy a virtual soapbox from which to sprout his anti-science, anti-democratic, anti-human claptrap dressed up as reasoned debate when it’s just enviro-jihad of the worst kind.

    And let’s not pretend otherwise. Jihad is just a basic idea of raging against the machine and all too often the progressive left engages in the same crap protest process during their youthful formative years. I should know – I did plenty of it back in the 70s and 80s until I finally realised what a con the whole leftwing anti-science anti-technology philosophy was.

    That the right wing engage in the same crap – does not validate the left wing approach and clearly we all need to grow up and stop being a bunch of self indulgent middle class white people who think they know everything when in fact most of us know squat.

  • 20
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Mark – this was a research project, perhaps some knowledge that was sought was not found, but no books were burnt. No knowledge destroyed.

    I will not argue for Greenpeace, It was perhaps a bad target as it appears this research was about boosting the nutrition of the wheat not making it roundup ready and other GM manipulations that promote chemical use and intense monocultures, which is so far the majority of GM products.

    The fact is, this issue is not taken seriously enough, with too little due diligence and a lack of regard for the complexity not just of what they wish to modify but the natural environment in which they place it. In fact monocultures have the capacity to destroy more potential intellectual property yet undiscovered, than they produce.

    If you want to be a defender of what is right and good I suggest you join me in a little more humility and a healthy skepticism of what people are capable of.

  • 21
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Simon, “leftwing anti-science anti-technology philosophy” – I do get out quite a bit, I am deeply involved in the sustainability movement and never met someone with this philosophy. I have met a few people who respect (yet with skepticism) some of the age old practices that respect nature more than we do today – you could call them conservative leftwing people but anti-scientist, anti-technology not at all. A greater number of leftwing people are university educated than right wing conservatives.

    Perhaps even more so members in Greenpeace – given they come from wealthier families.

    I would love to know what little corner of the world you live in such as you a beset by neighbors with a “leftwing anti-science anti-technology philosophy”.

  • 22
    Simon Mansfield
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    @ anthony.muscio – A greater number of leftwing people are university educated than right wing conservatives. Perhaps even more so members in Greenpeace – given they come from wealthier families.

    The problem with Greenpeace and so much of the left – is that is it filled with social scientists – who haven’t a damn clue about hard science. The idiot running the Greenpeace GM campaign – has a degree in politics and practices Reiki. If that’s a scientific basis from which to campaign against agriculture science – then obviously it’s Kool Aid party we are attending and it’s a bring your own facts event.

  • 23
    greenfiend
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    @Simon Mansfield
    @ anthony – please explain how anything other than technology is going to solve global warming, over population and energy supply.

    Didn’t technology cause all of these problems?

  • 24
    Simon Mansfield
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    @Greenfiend – Didn’t technology cause all of these problems?

    Enjoy your Cave. Better yet try a Tree. They at least come with a view – which is what most Waterfront Greens seem to prefer in life. Well at least around where I live.

  • 25
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    Why has this well-written article, which raises a number of valid points about the gap between knowledge and application, been followed by repeated emotive comments?

    Please, discuss the points raised in the article. Anything else breaks the chain of logic and more resembles people passing buckets to put out a fire by just tossing them in any direction.

  • 26
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    Greenfiend Depends on what you mean solve global warming.

    Given how we cant get past the politics and rent seeking and start to use evidence based policy perhaps perhaps we just wont solve it. Economic collapse, GFC mark II may “solve it”.

    There is sufficient technology to solve most of these problems and education, family planing policies to price carbon are all “soft” non technological solutions. I could say regulation but that will get the rights backs up even though they benefit from massive subsidies (Business welfare).

    But I have not suggested technology plays no part. I have my own sustainability organisation (in development) and I carefully chose “Sustainable Practices” because it includes both new technology and old technology along with the soft solutions.

    I believe we are smart enough to solve “climate change” and obtain massive social and economic benefits if we can only get past our own failings. Just imagine as we go past the price parity of renewable s, unlike our current use of fossil fuels the headroom is massive – give me a 80% efficient (Sun to electricity conversion) solar cell and I can give you unlimited energy – distributed and then see how the economy prospers. Of course except for the idiots who did not diversify there income streams and move out of fossil fuels early enough, while they hung around for government encouragement (payments and protection) to manage the risks of their business.

    Knowledge and technology are both the answers and the causes of our predicament,

  • 27
    Flower
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    1991: Internal memo of World Bank Chief Economist Lawrence Summers and leaked to the world press:

    “I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that … I’ve always thought that underpopulated countries in Africa are vastly under-polluted.”

    Free marketeers would choose to deny that the Basel and Stockholm Conventions on transboundary hazardous wastes were established because of the science behind Greenpeace and other NGO’s research coupled with community outrage. The dirty dozen persistent organic chemicals that have contaminated the entire planet for >70 years (and in perpetuity) and banned by all countries who have ratified the Stockholm Convention, were/are the products of mass murderers – Monsanto, Dow et al.

    Both these conventions triumphed over the “business as usual” mafia who chew the arse out of Momma Nature with impunity and dump their lethal products onto humanity.

    Further to ignorant comments on this thread, Greenpeace Research Laboratories happen to form the Science Unit of Greenpeace International and are based at the University of Exeter in the UK where an extensive database of scientific literature has been catalogued since 1986.

    The state of WA has held four referendums on daylight saving and not one on genetically modified crops. To add insult to injury Premier Barnett has flogged off 20% of the “publicly” owned Intergrain to Monsanto.

    Three hundred farmers in the state of WA planted Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GM canola last year and as at April this year, they were unable to find one customer. GM seeds also wiped out an organic farmers property and as a result, his organic accreditation has been withdrawn.

    This occurred after Barnett’s Liberal government truncated the incomplete research commissioned by the previous Labor government to investigate the effects of GM grains in animal feed. Agricultural Minister, the obtuse Terry Redman, defended the decision, saying “the research wasn’t worth funding.”

    Careful who you call a fascist organization Simon Mansfield. Your posts are a concrete example of the unbelievable greed, social ruthlessness and arrogant ignorance of the knuckle-dragging profiteers who have only contempt for the fragile nature of the world in which we live.

  • 28
    SBH
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    jesus, just amazing. discussion of the piece and the merits of its arguments got side-tracked into a completely different set of arguments in about 20 posts

  • 29
    Simon Mansfield
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    @Flower – fragile nature of the world in which we live.

    What a load of rubbish. The world is not fragile. It has survived and prospered throughout 4000 million years of relentless and unending cataclysm – from tectonics forces, ocean wide tsunamis, super volcanoes, ice ages, multiple asteroid and comet strikes, global fires, global ice coverage, global deserts, constant radiation exposure, gamma ray bursts, nearby supernovas, oxidizing chemicals and trillions of lifeforms. And on it goes.

    The one thing you can say about Earth is just how robust it is, and how it will continue to be a biosphere for at least another 1000 million years when the sun will get to hot and the party will be over. Humans are the only civilized lifeform on the planet, the rest of the place is a vicious nasty jungle that would chew us up and spit us out in a heartbeat if we didn’t have that big grey blob on our heads to figure out how to beat the world at its own game.

    The ignorant arrogance of Greenpeace and its increasingly anti-science, anti democratic, anti-human agenda is as much part of the problem as the stupidity of Andrew Bolt and his ilk. But his failures are in no way an excuse for Greenpeace and co to engage in the same ignorance that has dumb down the Left for the past twenty years to the point where it will cede any chance of power to the right wing for a generation.

    Greenpeace and its unilateral actions against legally conducted science is straight out of the fascist playbook and we should stop pussy footing around and call them what they are – the very definition of left wing fascists that the right wing has been calling Liberal Fascism.

    A pack of whacky mummies in their spooky white suits invade a government research station – smash it up – and you wonder why people call them thugs and fascists. It wasn’t a sit in – singing “like a tree by the waterside – we won’t be moved” – no they were a group of zealots who traded on what was once the name of a respected environmental group to engage in an act of vandalism to achieve a political outcome through violence.

  • 30
    SBH
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    you know Flower, it’s a shame that the author didn’t bolster his I’m not anti science stance by quoting anything at all from Exeter or any other uni or peer reviewed publication.

    And before you start laying about with the ugly stick, go back and read this piece. It’s sloppy. It’s a classic example of distraction starting with one issue and then spinning into supposition and accusation with no evidence.

    I’m a radical leftist, I’m an environmentalist but I won’t cop this rubbish. There are better environmental groups to support.

  • 31
    achimova1
    Posted August 3, 2011 at 2:00 am | Permalink

    Thank you John Hepburn, Muscio and Flower. “With GM foods, the companies benefit, consumers bear the health risks, and the risks of GM crops are ‘externalised’ upon the wider environment.” That sums it up for me. The 20th century has shown us that new technologies which prove to be unsafe – nuclear energy (God help us!) pesticides, many pharmaceuticals, “fracking” – continue to be used because someone wants to make a buck. Without activists we’re doomed.

  • 32
    Posted August 3, 2011 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    When I heard about Greenpeace’s action against the GM crop plantation here in Canberra I was both appalled, yet broadly supportive. I felt conflicted.

    I support science and the scientific method, and Greenpeace’s actions were roundly portrayed as anti-science. But I am broadly opposed to GM crops and believe that the risks inherent in the widespread leak of GMOs into the natural environment could be catastrophic, and are highly likely to be irreversible. So in discussing this with friends it’s been a complex issue.

    I still don’t support the way GP took their action; breaking into a Government research facility with whipper-snippers and destroying 8 years of people’s work is not how to do things. But I do believe that Greenpeace’s motives were sound and, perhaps, their action has directly saved Australian farmers from a catastrophe. Like I say, I am conflicted personally on this issue.

    But the article linked above sets out a very good argument for Greenpeace’s actions, and I find it highly persuasive.

    GM crops are not the solution to global starvation they are trumpeted to be. The solution to famine is addressing poverty, and in particular energy poverty, and is more about ensuring that food is not allowed to rot on the docks due to perverse political and financial incentives. There is enough food in the world, it’s just not fairly distributed. How can we rail against famine in Africa when we allow the majority of the food we buy from supermarkets to rot in our domestic refrigerators, and when TV shows like Masterchef encourage people to attempt to cook overly complex dishes based on poor instructions and directly stimulate an increase in food waste? Masterchef does not teach cooking, it teaches food-envy and promotes consumption and waste.

    Just because we can do something does that mean we ought to? Many years ago I read of a project where slug-eating robots were designed and built that crawl around in your garden picking up slugs and digesting them to provide the robots energy. My first thought was; have these people not read any sic-fi? What part of “don’t built flesh eating robots” don’t they understand! Some years later I read of a US defence department project wherein combat robots were being designed, built and tested, that were capable of using the corpses of (presumably enemy) soldiers as a power source. Again, there is good honest science that has gone into the making of such machines but should we be building them? Basic morality, and basic risk analysis say no, we should not, and furthermore people who work on such projects pretty much fit the caricature of mad scientists.

    The record of GM experimenters is not that good; I recall reading some years back about farmers who had been sued for patent infringement by firms like Monsanto (which pretty much seems to have been designed by Central Casting to play the part of the evil agro-business in the film Damian Omen ][) because GM crops have infested their own natural crops.

    Here in Australia we’ve seen the damage the introduction of rabbits, foxes, cane-toads and other foreign species have wrought upon our native flora and fauna. If we could turn back time we’d never have brought them here, and indeed we maintain some of the strictest quarantine laws in the world now. The same must apply to the products of GMO research. Do we need wheat that provides us with insulin? Do we need “Roundup Ready” crops? Are “terminator” crops that bear no seeds something the world needs. I understand the commercial incentive here for addicting farmers to particular brands of stable crops but, really, is such predatory commercial activity in humanity’s best interests?

    Perhaps Greenpeace’s actions are not ‘luddite’ at all, much like activists who free monkeys from cruel and toxic animal research labs are not luddites, but people for whom all other legal avenues have been exhausted. I don’t know. But I know this is a complex issue that ought to be debated openly, and that, deep down, my gut sides with Greenpeace on this one.

    Dave

  • 33
    Mark Duffett
    Posted August 3, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Dave, haven’t you seen 28 Days Later? Surely you know that it’s only when the activists break in and release the monkeys that things go pear-shaped. ;)

    But seriously, my deep down discomfort is with the notion that a line of enquiry should be closed off simply because of where it might lead, especially when the potential benefits (that I would have thought were self-evident, but apparently not) are so huge. This isn’t necessarily just about food. While we’re talking gut feelings, another one of mine is that the only way biofuels are going to make a really substantial positive impact is through genetic engineering.

  • 34
    Posted August 3, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Haha Mark yes I have and thought it was great — well the first half anyway, the second half sort of went nowhere imho. :-)

    Like I said, I am conflicted. Part of me says, go for it. Like nanotechnology, machine intelligence, and all manner of other cool tech, we don’t want to suppress research just because it might go badly for us. But then again we don’t want to go building flesh-eating robots either.

  • 35
    SBH
    Posted August 3, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    “I try not to think with my gut. If I’m serious about understanding the world, thinking with anything besides my brain, as tempting as that might be, is likely to get me into trouble. Really, it’s okay to reserve judgment until the evidence is in.”

    Carl Sagan

  • 36
    Flower
    Posted August 3, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    Simon Mansfield – I endeavour at all times, to the best of my knowledge, to post only documented evidence and scientific facts while your fact-free tirades are reminiscent of last century’s ecocidal maniacs.

    The Precautionary Principle (to which the author alluded) is written into the preambles of Australia’s Environmental Protection Acts:

    ‘Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation.”

    The moral culpability of the biotech industry’s crimes against humanity are indisputable.

    UK’s Meacher Report released in 2002 and subsequently former environment minister Michael Meacher’s revelations exposes Monsanto’s et al total disregard of the evidence revealed in the papers published (and unpublished) by reputable researchers:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2004/jun/25/gm.comment

    Fred Burks who served as personal language interpreter to Clinton, Bush, Cheney, Gore, and other top dignitaries in secret meetings claims that “Monsanto executives rigged the game in the biotech industry, so that neither science nor scientists would stand in their way of promoting dangerous genetically modified (GM) food. They didn’t care that numerous studies showed many rats and other animals died when fed GM food. Monsanto executives manipulated the study reports to ignore this little detail.”

    Monsanto is responsible for more than 50 United States Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites (contaminated lands). Attempts to remediate Monsanto’s uncontrolled hazardous waste sites has been long and arduous and at times impossible.

    While Australia’s ‘science’ institute plays musical chairs with the GM industry, the European Parliament, last month, backed plans to let member states choose whether to ban the cultivation of genetically-modified crops on their territory, giving a detailed list of grounds on which such bans could be imposed.

    The European Paliament report – adopted with 548 votes in favour, 84 against and 31 abstentions listed a number of valid environmental and socio-economic reasons to allow member states to impose bans.

    Meanwhile the evolution of Monsanto’s glyphosate (Roundup) resistance among weeds that interfere with the productivity of crops is approaching catastrophic proportions. The rapid rise in herbicide tolerant crops has increased the application of toxic herbicides to alarming levels in the US.

    One of the world’s most serious and costly weeds is ryegrass. More than 100 annual ryegrass populations in Australia have developed resistance to glyphosate. Monsanto is not engaged in finding remedies for the invasion of the resistant weeds for which they are responsible while they continue in the reckless pursuit of flogging a product that endangers human life and wrecks the environment. The only efforts to remedy the invasion of resistant weeds is being performed by the academic community aka the taxpayer.

    Insanity passed off as logic. Evil described as virtue. Ignorance spawned as wisdom. Slavery sold as liberty. Greed sold as prosperity.

    Australia’s parliamentary whore boys will fall for anything. Where is the referendum?

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/57277946/RoundupandBirthDefectsv5

    PS: Mark Duffett – Imagine if some kindly souls broke into the vivisection labs in Australia and released the >6 million critters (including whales,dolphins, porpoises and primates) that are tormented and tortured in this “morally developed” nation every year?

  • 37
    SBH
    Posted August 3, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    Flower, is there a reason why the author of this piece didn’t adopt your personal code of only publishing documented evidence and scientific facts? Before we debate the issue of the good or ill of GM can we look at an article devoid of facts and littered with half truth and inaccuracies?

  • 38
    SBH
    Posted August 3, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    And just in relation to your link and your concern only to post documented evidence and scientific facts can I ask you why the article says these two things:

    “..it is almost incredible, but true, that there have been no peer-reviewed clinical studies on the human health effects of GM food..”

    and

    “None of these results (of “a tiny number of tests), which were rubbished by the scientific establishment, have ever been followed up by further research. Where research has been done, the results are sometimes suppressed.”

    no research has been done but where it has (?) it has been suppressed.

    I’m sorry but this stuff isn’t persuasive.

    Sure, get the research, run the trials, hell smash the state and destory capitalism by all means but can we argue from a basis of fact not fear please?

  • 39
    Stephen Luntz
    Posted August 3, 2011 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry but this article completely misses the point of a lot of the criticism of Greenpeace’s actions, particularly that from people (like myself) who are allies of Greenpeace on many other issues.

    It’s not anti-science to be opposed to GM foods. There are plenty of reasons to be wary of GM, from a simple precautionary approach to concerns about the corporate power driving it.

    What is anti-science is to destroy a scientific experiment aimed at answering some (although not all) of the questions that have been raised about GM crops. Greenpeace says GM foods are unsafe as well as being problematic because of their economic effects. So here we have a trial, run by CSIRO not a for profit business, that attempts to assess some of these safety questions and Greenpeace destroys it so we can’t find out the answers. How is this not anti-science? Science is the process of learning about the world, and Greenpeace has said that on this topic we must not learn, because they’ve already made up their mind.

    Totally unacceptable, and a gift to those who want to undermine science from the other side.

  • 40
    Flower
    Posted August 4, 2011 at 2:35 am | Permalink

    CSIRO is hardly an independent, unbiased institute when they advance the interests of industry backers over the people of Australia. CSIRO’s corporate behaviour is regularly under the spotlight not least by Geoff Russell’s online book abstract of: “CSIRO Perfidy” on the meat industry and this:

    http://www.crikey.com.au/2009/07/07/why-are-csiro-scientists-spruiking-for-the-coal-industry/

    As Greenpeace advised previously, the GM wheat trials were proposed and approved while two directors of Nufarm were serving on the board of the CSIRO. Nufarm is the exclusive distributor of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready products. Doug Rathbone has been Nufarm’s Chief Executive and Managing Director since 1982. During this time, he served on the board of CSIRO from 2007 until 2010. John Stocker joined Nufarm’s board in 1998. He served simultaneous appointments as CSIRO Chief Scientist from 1996 to 1999 and returned to CSIRO as Chairman from 2007 until 2010. So now it’s our world according to Monsanto.

    Rest assured the public do not take kindly to CSIRO’s fascist buddies contaminating their lands and abusing the fundamental rights of citizens to choose what they consume.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19105591?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

    http://www.theecologist.org/green_green_living/behind_the_label/269751/roundup_weedkiller.html

    http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/other_comments/686959/revealed_the_glyphosate_research_the_gm_soy_lobby_doesnt_want_you_to_read.html

    @ SBH: “Flower, is there a reason why the author of this piece didn’t adopt your personal code of only publishing documented evidence and scientific facts? Before we debate the issue of the good or ill of GM can we look at an article devoid of facts and littered with half truth and inaccuracies?”

    SBH – The document I provided was written by eight authors not one as you fallaciously claim. Do you have a problem with English comprehension?

    The authors are trained in molecular genetics, entomology, biological control, biochemistry, cell biology, medicine, pharmaceutical sciences, agricultural food and rural developments etc etc. I imagine this may be all too hard for you to digest.

    There are nine or ten pages of references in support of the contents of the authors’ article.

    Please desist from throwing in smelly red herrings and filling your posts with sloppy half-baked pseudo-scholarship and trough loads of stupefying swill.

    “I’m a radical leftist, I’m an environmentalist but I won’t cop this rubbish.” Really? And I’m Princess Mary of Denmark and I won’t cop your rubbish.

  • 41
    Mark Duffett
    Posted August 4, 2011 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    @Flower, even by your standards that’s a doozy of a non sequitur. It also sounds highly dubious. I’d be surprised if there is a single whale held in captivity in Australia at all, let alone in a ‘vivisection lab’. And in any case, you’re talking to a proudly unreconstructed anthropocentrist.

  • 42
    John Hepburn
    Posted August 4, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for feedback on the article.

    I’m not going to respond to all of the comments. Some are just reactionary while others are quite thought provoking – thanks for the latter.

    SBH: fair comment about conflating hypothesis and theory. Fair comment also about making a generalisation about ‘our discussions with public health experts’ without providing a reference. For example, the public health association of Australia has long held concerns over the lack of a precautionary approach to regulation of GM foods – you can find their policy online here http://www.phaa.net.au/documents/policy/GMFood.pdf

    You also imply that I said a range of things that I didn’t actually write – for example suggesting that I took up the campaign cause against mobile phones. Basically you seem to have wanted me to write a different article. Sorry to disappoint you. I wanted to deal with the supposed contradiction between opposing GE crops and supporting climate science – which is actually an issue that has been floating around for quite a while.

    John

  • 43
    Flower
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    @Mark Duffett: Even by your standards that’s a doozy of a non sequitur. It also sounds highly dubious. I’d be surprised if there is a single whale held in captivity in Australia at all, let alone in a ‘vivisection lab’.” Cringe…….

    Mark Duffett – My post is currently in moderation together with five supporting links. The evidence, alas, will again reveal your profound ignorance. Hopefully your apology is imminent?

  • 44
    kd
    Posted August 6, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    it’s a bit of a bizarre attempt at social engineering, but if you post one link in your post at blogs.crikey.com.au it seems fine. more than one you get shoved into moderation. But on the other hand you can repost what you had before with only one of the links + the subsequent four links in forur new posts, there will be no moderation problems.

    It is very anti-user, and crikey should really haul their moderation policy out of the stone age …

  • 45
    kd
    Posted August 6, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    it’s a bit of a bizarre attempt at social engineering, but if you post one link in your post at blogs.crikey.com.au it seems fine. more than one you get shoved into moderation. But on the other hand you can repost what you had before with only one of the links + the subsequent four links in fournew posts, there will be no moderation problems. Oddly on the pay site where there are are no spam issues (non-subscribers can’t comment), you can post zero links before being placed into moderation.

    It is very anti-user, and crikey should really haul their moderation policy out of the stone age …

    See, an example crikey being anti-user. please point this stupidity out to your management. http://example.com http://example.com http://example.com http://example.com http://example.com http://example.com

  • 46
    Eponymous
    Posted August 8, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    A lot of words here, so sorry if I re-hash something.

    Could it not be argued that CSIRO were trying to disprove the notion that this crop might be beneficial? Isn’t that science? I would argue Greenpeace stopped science from being able to reach a conclusion. I think that is anti-science.

    Personally, I was glad I stopped supporting Greenpeace a few years ago. While I agree with many of the notions of consevation they espouse, I think this incident has done nothing but damage Greenpeace’s credibility in Australia. How many people will have their minds changed about GM because Greenpeace destroyed something?

  • 47
    John Newton
    Posted August 8, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    That could be argued quite easily Eponymous, if CSIRO were not dependent on Monsanto for funding. Unfortunately, the biotech companies have their funding fingers in most seemingly independent pies. If you do somehow get permission to test a GM product independently, to get your sample, you have to sign an agreement to show results of such testing to the biotech company – mainly Monsanto – before releasing the results. So if a detrimental result is recorded, it suddenly becomes commercial in confidence.

    Even scientists like Rosemary Stanton who are not entirely against GM technology disapprove of the way in which the biotechs are going about releasing their products.

    The GM wheat is an interesting case. Not only has it been rejected everywhere in the world, even North America, but the wheat was being genetically modified to produce a wheat seed that would offer higher fibre and a lower GI: a result which can be obtained in bread simply by switching to wholelmeal

  • 48
    Flower
    Posted August 8, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the tip KD.

    Now that my post has been in moderation for 4 or 5 days (God now I’ve forgotten) I’ll try removing the http:// from this link:

    au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/wa/8248244/secrecy-over-animal-testing/

    and the http:// www. from the following links, to see if the post can evade moderation:

    aahr.org.au/statistics/

    aahr.org.au/case-studies/

    aahr.org.au/dangerous-drugs

    The above links are in response to Mark Duffett’s arrogant and erroneous allegations: “Even by your standards that’s a doozy of a non sequitur. It also sounds highly dubious. I’d be surprised if there is a single whale held in captivity in Australia at all, let alone in a ‘vivisection lab.”

    Eponymous – Living in a Monsanto Nation there can be no such thing as “coexistence.” It is impossible to coexist with a reckless industry that endangers public health, bribes public officials, corrupts scientists, manipulates the media, destroys biodiversity, kills the soil, pollutes the environment, tortures and poisons animals, destabilizes the climate, and economically enslaves the world’s 1.5 billion seed-saving small farmers. It’s time for a national referendum before the living web of Australia’s fragile biodiversity is terminated. Of course a referendum on the staff of life is never going to happen in a fake democracy is it even though the nation’s states can spend millions of dollars on trivial referenda such as casinos and daylight saving.

  • 49
    Don Matthews
    Posted August 8, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    CSIRO dependent on Monsanto for funding, My God has someone told the Feds so they can save money ???

  • 50
    Don Matthews
    Posted August 8, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    “The GM wheat is an interesting case. Not only has it been rejected everywhere in the world, even North America, but the wheat was being genetically modified to produce a wheat seed that would offer higher fibre and a lower GI: a result which can be obtained in bread simply by switching to wholelmeal ”

    And if you did it to Wholemeal ???

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