Greenpeace splits on GM sabotage
Andrew Revkin of the NY Times has an interesting interview [Youtube with no transcript ] with Phil Radford, departing chief executive of the US branch of Greenpeace. The main focus is on the energy issues that have been debated at length in this blog, and on these issues I broadly agree with Radford’s take. Two points of interest
* While correctly arguing that new nuclear power is uneconomic, he concedes that a transition to 100 per cent renewable energy may involve some nuclear plants continuing to operate over future decades
* He gives an unequivocal condemnation of the Greenpeace Australia sabotage attack on CSIRO GM foods, which I discuss here.
The interview doesn’t cover the substantive policy issue on GM – I assume Greenpeace remains firmly anti-GM worldwide, even if the criminal vandalism seen in some countries is not widely supported.
For the record, I support compulsory labelling, on the basis that consumers are entitled to know how and where their food was produced, regardless of whether food from one source is, or isn’t) objectively different from food from another.
On the other hand, I see no case for banning or substantially restricting GM food production for those who are happy to consume it. It would be more effective and more honest for GM opponents to come out and say “we don’t like the idea of tinkering with DNA. We don’t care what the evidence is, or whether there is any observable difference from ‘natural’ foods, we just don’t want to eat this stuff”.
The use of anti-science arguments by anyone in the environmental movement is damaging to the movement as a whole, and particularly to efforts to combat the uniformly anti-science views of the political right. When called on their anti-science position, rightwingers rarely defend it, instead preferring tu quoque argument that the left is just as bad.
The only really good example of this is the anti-GM movement. The arguments presented against GM food are unconvincing in themselves, and strikingly reminiscent of anti-evolution and climate denialists. It’s clear that, as in these other cases, purported scientific arguments are a cover for cultural/religious beliefs. In the case of GM foods, opponents typically mix bogus claims about health risks with arguments about capitalist control of agriculture. But, when presented with a clearly beneficial, royalty-free proposal like Golden Rice, they change the subject.
The other two examples standardly used by the right are antivaxerism (there are a handful of lefties with antivaxer views, but very few, and counterbalanced by prominent rightwingers like Michelle Bachmann) and nuclear power, where it is, in reality, the right who are denying the overwhelming evidence. Experience around the world shows that nuclear power can’t compete with coal in the absence of a carbon price, and is beaten by renewables when carbon is priced correctly. It’s notable that Radford focuses on this point rather than on the overstated claims about radiation dangers belatedly refuted in, for example, Pandora’s Promise.