Anti abundance is common link between anti GMO and anti nuclear

A couple of days ago, Mark Lynas, author of The God Species, gave an impassioned speech to the Oxford Farming Conference during which he apologized profusely for his former actions against genetically modified organisms (GMO). He stated that he now deeply regretted his participation in organized protests and direct actions to destroy experimental crops. He now recognizes that the approach that he and others took to genetic engineering was actively anti science and probably caused a substantial amount of environmental damage.

Though many non-government organizations (NGOs) and prominent leaders of the Environmental Movement apparently ignored Lynas’s talk, Vandana Shiva, a prominent leader of the anti GMO movement, started a bit of a Twitter firestorm by issuing the following statement on her Twitter feed:



Robert Wilson at Carbon Counter wrote an interesting response to the situation titled Vandana Shiva: Fanatic or Fantasist? that included a paragraph talking about how Dr. Shiva, who has an undergraduate degree in physics, often touts her scientific credentials as she pursues a decidedly anti science posture with regard to research aimed at providing an abundance of healthy food for a growing world population.

Robert included an embedded video of Lynas’s speech, which I have taken the liberty of including below. If you would prefer to read the speech, Mark has a transcript on his blog titled Lecture to Oxford Farming Conference, 3 January 2013

07 Mark Lynas from Oxford Farming Conference on Vimeo.

As I watched and listened, I kept thinking about the similarities between anti-GMO activism and anti-nuclear activism. Not only are there many of the same players in the drama, but they use the same techniques and have experienced similar degrees of success.

Just as there are some jurisdictions that have declared themselves to be nuclear-free zones, some of the same political entities have declared themselves to be GMO-free. The protest techniques include sit-ins, campouts, trespass, and sign-waving along with a good deal of legal and political actions. In both cases, one of the results of the focused opposition has been a tremendous increase in the regulatory overhead cost of the technology along with a substantial decrease in its availability to the people who need it the most.

There is even a similar amount of demonization of the practitioners; though I have not yet been compared to a rapist, I have been accused of engaging in an action that is comparable to designing concentration camp gas chambers because I work on a team that is designing new nuclear power plants. I quickly blocked that particular twitter user.

In my analysis, another thing that the movements opposed to GMO and nuclear energy have in common is that they are fundamentally movements that are battling abundance. They both cloak themselves in anti-progress, naturalistic garb, but their true mission is to slow the introduction of new science and technology that can eliminate shortages, reduce prices, and reduce the consumption of other supporting commodities.

Lynas and many other observers have noted that these movements are often populated by people who have plenty themselves and who say that they are seeking the return of a long-lost utopian existence. They claim to be seeking a simpler life, more in harmony with nature, but they appear to be okay with some degree of technology – just not the newest technology.

Lynas compares the natural food movement to the Pennsylvania Amish except they have chosen a different base period for freezing their technology. Many observers of these two movements have called them modern Luddites, fearful of technology and seeking to turn back the clock.

My observation is a slight refinement. I believe there is a strong human tendency to look to the past with rose-colored glasses, but I also recognize that there are skilled marketers and propagandists who know how to manipulate that tendency for their own benefit.

In the case of both food and energy, there are hugely powerful interests that do not want their commodities to be abundantly available. Unlimited supply would lower the market prices and thus lower their profitability. There are also influential interests that have invested a large amount of capital in certain kinds of technology; they do not want newer, better technology to render those investments worthless (or at least worth less than they are currently).

As Lynas admitted, part of his motivation in helping to lead the anti-GMO movement was a predisposition to fighting large corporations. He mentioned that his own parents are organic farmers and that he accepted the often repeated mantra that Monsanto was worth fighting because it is a huge corporation with an evil history.

During his speech, he expressed a bit of disappointment and even confusion as he realized that the actions that he and his friends had taken to increase regulations and delay introduction of genetically modified products had resulted in a market where only the very largest and most profitable corporations could afford to overcome the barriers to entry that the NGOs have helped to erect.

My opinion is that at least some of the financial supporters of the anti-GMO (and anti-nuclear) non-governmental organizations have received exactly the result that they desired. They have effectively restrained supplies, slowed the introduction of competitive new technologies and raised the barriers high enough to allow only well-established entities to participate in development.

Those establishment participants have already been indoctrinated in the technique of prospering by constraining supply; truly new entrants might take a tack that is similar to the one taken in the high tech world. In that industry, many are prospering through rapid innovation in a market where prices continuously fall.

I am often reminded of a illuminating tale buried in the midst of nearly 800 pages of Daniel Yergin’s signature work, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power. The situation described is a poignant reminder of how people at the top of the heap think about investing in developments that increase the supply of a commodity (energy or food) to a point of abundance.

At one point during those years, Oman, at the southeast corner of the Arabian peninsula, emerged as a very interesting oil play. Standard Oil of New Jersey, as might be expected, had a chance to get in. But when the issue came up in the company’s executive committee, Howard Page recommended against it. He had spent so much time negotiating with the Saudis and Iranians that it required little effort on his part to conceive of how furious they would be. He could well imagine, in particular, what Yamani would say to him if Jersey and Aramco sought to restrain Saudi output to make room for production from a new concession in a neighboring country. That would surely contradict Jersey’s principle number one, which was not to do anything that “would endanger our Aramco concession.”

But the members of Jersey’s production department disagree with Page. After all, they were geologists, and as far as they were concerned, discovering and developing new reserves were what the game was all about. Their ambition was to find new elephants, and they were very excited about Oman. “I am sure there is a 10 billion barrel oil field there,” a geologist who had just returned from Oman told the executive committee.

“Well then,” replied Page, “I am absolutely sure we don’t want to go into it, and that settles it. I might put some money in if I was sure we weren’t going to get some oil, but not if we are going to get oil because we are liable to lose the Aramco concession.” With that logic, Jersey stayed out of Oman. The geologists, however, were right. Oman did become a significant oil producer, with Shell in the lead.

(Yergin, Daniel, The Prize. Touchstone (Simon and Schuster), New York. 1992, page 535.)

There is a substantial correlation between the energy industry’s desire to restrain supply and prevent overcapacity and the same desire among the agriculture industry. Both farmers and energy producers have a long history of experiencing unprofitable pricing situations when the market believes that there is plenty of supply and that there is always more supply available.

I believe that one of the main reasons that both anti nuclear activism and anti GMO activism have been so successful is that they are doing work that helps to protect the status quo and the position of the elites in our society. There is a good reason why major participants in those movements have become $100 million per year multinational “non-profit” “environmental” organizations. (That’s Lynas’s description of Greenpeace.)
(Note: I put both non-profit and environmental in quotes because the groups are certainly not immune to the need to attract ever growing quantities of income and because the results of their actions in the area of fighting both genetic engineered food and nuclear energy actually damage the environment.)

I’ll grant that many of the foot soldiers in the overlapping “anti” movements are sincere but misguided. However, I am quite confident that at least some of the leaders have no desire at all for others to become self-sufficient. They do not have a burning desire to live in a prosperous, equitable world where everyone has enough to eat, enough power to remain comfortable and enough spare time to become truly educated. Such a world not only threatens their income because of commodity price reductions, but it also threatens their privileged positions.

As a life long member of the American middle class, I grew up in a world with cheap energy and plenty of good food. However, I have struggled financially at times and have family members who still struggle to pay their monthly bills.

I do not fully understand the mentality that judges accomplishments, possessions, and lifestyles only in comparison to other people. I enjoy a good meal, but that meal does not taste any better because I know that it is a better, more expensive meal than others can afford. I enjoy driving comfortable, reliable cars, but my enjoyment is neither enhanced by seeing someone in a clunker nor reduced by seeing someone driving a far more expensive car. I enjoy living in a comfortable house with a spectacular view, but that enjoyment is not enhanced because I know first hand how some people live in cardboard shacks in the middle of densely packed barrios.

My goal is to try to reach the foot soldiers in the anti abundance movement to help them to understand that their actions are actually serving the very corporations and elite, vested interests that they oppose. Increased supply that results from better scientific understanding and technological applications of that understanding reduces prices, spreads prosperity, and enhances lifestyles. It is a situation worth striving to achieve.

Additional reading

Discover Magazine Blog January 5, 2013 Vandana Shiva Compares GMOs to Rape

About Rod Adams

32 Responses to “Anti abundance is common link between anti GMO and anti nuclear”

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  1. SteveK9 says:

    Stewart Brand also lumps together the anti-GMO and anti-nuclear movements.

    Whole Earth Discipline: Why Dense Cities, Nuclear Power, Transgenic Crops, RestoredWildlands, and Geoengineering Are Necessary

  2. Daniel says:

    @ Rod,

    We also have to remind ourselves of the density dimension of GMO crops. Today, Guatemalans are hungrier than ever because of the demand for bio fuels, which tightens the global supply of food.

    OK, so bio fuel is stupid at the core. But GMO could alleviate the problem.

    GMO and food density. Worth remembering.

  3. seth says:

    Lynas used to be a nonuker as well and somewhere back published a meia culpa. He’s now a big supporter of nuclear.

    Unfortunately he stupidly still supports wind power. Can’t wait for that Mia Culpa.

    • Daniel says:

      @ Seth,

      Just ran across this regarding wind and Lynas. He seemed to have conceded.

      Below is an extract from:

      http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/mark-lynas-challenges-a-green-orthodoxy.aspx

      Here’s Mark Lynas on wind power: “Matt Ridley’s massive Spectator anti-wind rant seems completely fact-free. Any references to back this up, @mattwridley?” [There were scores of facts and references, starting with my assertion that wind power provides 0.3% of the UK's total energy, a fact that Lynas challenged, then called specious, then conceded].

  4. John Tjostem says:

    I agree that anti abundance is the common link between anti GMO and anti nuclear power. I wrote a paper which is published it the magazine, Agora, that suggests modern American agriculture is the most sustainable and the most environmentally friendly form of agriculture on the planet. (“A recipe for a sustainable future, part I”, Agora, Fall, 2011). In part II, Agora, Spring 2012 evidence is put forward that prosperity and urbanization causes birth rates to drop. The secret to wealth is energy. Energy is basic. The only clean energy source that is abundant and cheap is nuclear fission. It is not a sin to embrace nuclear fission power or to have a growing economy.

  5. John Tucker says:

    Its kinda sad – as both of his parents work in organic farming I imagine he sees just how difficult it is and how impractical and destructive it would be in its purest form on a large scale.

    I think anti abundance/anti consumption is a symptom but this kinda thing works on a near religious level. Indeed going back through American Transcendentalism with roots in Sensualism and indeed sourced and reactionary to every other philosophical movement before it.

    Thats another sad aspect of it also, as complex as life can be and to fit in to some part of society we are probably hardwired to create/accept all encompassing philosophies that necessitate the use of mistrust/conspiracy and sometimes outright fabrication to reinforce belief and smooth out the parts that really dont work.

    Depressing stuff.

  6. donb says:

    Interesting to see how the food starvationists and energy starvationists are two sides of the same coin.

    There is a commonality that both groups share: The members of these groups, by their wealth or social position, have their supplies of food and energy at prices they can afford. One doesn’t see anti-abundance attitudes among those who cannot afford the food and/or energy they need.

  7. DV82XL says:

    At the core of both of these movements is a hatred of Mankind and little else. Oh they dress it up as concern over population size, or saving ‘natural systems’ but in the end it is simply a very deep dislike for their own species. I hold them in contempt.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @DV82XL

      What I am trying to do is to explain why these movements have experienced such a surprising level of success. I’ve had the opportunity to meet thousands (maybe tens of thousands) of people because of my varied assignments and frequent moves. I have met very few who fall into the category of being haters of Mankind, though I admit they exist. If that group is as small of a minority as I think they are, why haven’t they been relegated to the fringes of society? Instead, they have developed an impressive (depressingly so) amount of political clout.

      From my experience, that means that they say and do things that stimulate powerful people to open their checkbooks, to invite them into meetings, and to appoint them to powerful positions. Though it has taken me years worth of deep thinking and research to begin to understand the underlying “attraction” of Malthusian thinking that actually likes to try to make scarcity a partial reality.

  8. Septeus7 says:

    I’m as pro-nuclear as they come but I oppose GMOs. I’m for food density, abundance and verticle farming which inherently reduces the argument for GMOs which are front issues for the petro-chemical cartel and extending Imperialist IP regimes. I can show you that very same PR people pushing “Fracking” and others parts of petro-chemical Imperial cartels are the drivers behind the GMOs “technology.”

    You cannot be for “free markets” and pro_GMOs as the Industry currently exists.

    I’d be happy to debunk the biotech industry’s bogus claims and more bogus research (see India’s Bt cotton fraud) and make the general argument against gmos from an evolutionary stand point but most biologist’s do not understand the issues of adaptive rates for metabolic evolution and the big picture of pollution ecology and focus on the whether this or that foods ingredrient is safe.

    I suggest you watch this video including the the Q&A which gives a brief property rights argument against gmos as well the vastly superior scaling potential of polyculture over any monoculture based system… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8fnQOSz8QY&feature=player_embedded.

    I will also argue that climate change is directly tired to fossil fuel driven monoculture which all currently GMO research is aimed at extending and no amount of nuclear energy will help stop climate change if the fundamental issues of habit and carbon sink destruction for the planting of GMO crops continue.

    Rod, I really like your work and your site but you are simply wrong on this issue.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Sepeus7

      Did you watch Lynas’s talk? I’m certainly no expert in this field, but it sounded to me like a lot of the work being done in genetic engineering is aimed at solving many of the issues that you bring up. There are certainly problems and challenges in ensuring that the technology is no used to further embed The Establishment, but that was part of Lynas’s point. The battle against generalized GMO, tainting all of the technology with the same brush, raising approval barriers to very high levels, demonizing all of the practitioners, and even aiming for a total ban on technology with some very real benefits has had the end result of keeping good technology out of the hands of people who really could benefit.

      • Septeus7 says:

        I’m not against GE as technology in the experimental sense but I’m for labeling and against the pushing of IP laws for seeds which centralize control and attack the independence of small farms. I’m more for synthetic biology which being developed in a open fashion rather the out dated GMO commercial business model which is currently based on Monsanto’s absolute refusal to conduct science open and honestly and instead hides pr networks and IP laws.

        Mark Lynas makes so many absolutely false claims about organics and polyculture that I don’t know where to begin. He falsely claims that organics will mean less production which completely wrong just type in “organic farming could double food supply.” The Joe Salatin lecture I liked to shows that his properly done polyculture farming is 500% more food dense than traditional and it’s not a theory it’s an actual business.

        The simple facts are the GMO is currently not performing the miracle that Mark LYnas claims they are. It’s not the 1990s anymore and you can’t go around and make claims that are against the actual record of practice which is failure on Bt cotton, failure in drought, failure in promised yields, and failure in less chemical use.

        The reason Monsanto uses IP is because it’s and outmoded 1980s tech to save monoculture can’t completed with the coming vertical robot farms and high intensity polyculture which is actually really high tech and high density which isn’t currently competitive because high man hour cost which the robots and information tech are rapidly changing.

        It’s an old old debate. It all the way to the to the destruction of the bow tenure by the Babylonian Empire to always push out small farmers and force everyone to use a centralize seed bank and plant cash monoculture crops which destroys the top soil, habitats, and begin the classic process of human made desertification. It has destroyed six civilization and I’d be damned to let happen again.

        The claim is always made “new technology” will save the Empire and it is always and so 6000 years this Bullshit has always proven wrong and it will again.

        GMO will fail because it is centralizing and anti-National unlike Nuclear Power which in my mind is modular and promote National energy independence unlike commercial GMO which requires complex international trade treaties which “harmonize” IP and farming regulations which absolute destroys alternative business model in both the tech and farming sectors.

        It is not about the tech. It is about the idea behide the tech i.e. that there can be technical solutions to the problems cause by cartel driven fossil powered cash crop driven monoculture Imperialism and the system of slavery that it always produces.

        If you don’t believe that is issue is slavery plantation versus independent farming then I suggest you read the book Tomatoland which is story how the very idiots now promoting GMOs bought you the tasteless supermarket tomato and ended up recreating conditions of slavery in the third world to do it.

        This issue isn’t like Energy issue where we have an absolute poverty of physical means of producing fungible, reliable, high density power.

        We have many technological options in food production and GMOs actually close down the system and contaminates not only crops but business competition via the regulator framework needed to apply the technology. It requires that the public not have open information on label, it requires farms to sign long term contracts from central seed banks, it forbids synthetic biology tinkering from patented genetic code. , it make conservation of the old genetic stains impossible, etc..

        GMO is argicultural TINA which why Neoliberal frontmen like Mark Lynas support it.

        • Joris van Dorp says:

          I can agree with your list of atrocities committed by big agribusiness and the problem of unfair trade deals, etc, which cause social and environmental strife. But GMO is not part-and-parcel to this. This problem has been around far longer than GMO. It is also there today in sectors of the agribusiness where GMO is not involved.

          Monoculture farming will always be more efficient than polyculture, it seems to me. Even in a hypothetical robotic farming situation (where robots do the weeding and pest control, making chemicals obsolete) the robots will always be more efficiently applied in a monoculture project. And this is assuming such robots exist and are economic, which is not the case and appears farfetched to me (mechanical engineer by education).

          It therefore seems to me that GMO in principle *is* useful and bona fide, because it can improve the yields of specific crops under specific conditions. Improving farming yields while reducing environmental impact and costs seems positive to further human development.

          I’m not so concerned about ‘old genetic strains’ getting lost due to GMO, because as I understand it, GMO crops are in fact not very fit when they need to compete in nature – i.e. without the help of chemical pest/weedcontrol – so that whenever GMO crops are abandoned they will be quickly eliminated by competing ‘old genetic’ strains.

          I think there are more important issues that threaten the environment than GMO. I think focusing on GMO runs the risk of allowing these real issues – some of which you have noted in your post – to move to the background. There is no question I think that broadly eliminating GMO will not of itself lead to any improvement in environmental, economic or social performance of farming. To the contrary, I think.

          Just my two cents.

    • John Tucker says:

      GMOs are a vast field of organisms and technologies now. What is your specific grief?

      Bt Cotton’s first gen has issues with a organism in the wild with resistance. It doesnt mean anything to me but that a organism with resistance likes it. GM cotton is still India’s best hope in lieu of worsening conditions for agriculture – IMHO.

      • Septeus7 says:

        Quote: “GMOs are a vast field of organisms and technologies now. What is your specific grief?”

        See? This is small mindedness of the specialist that we see with the biologist and many scientists that result in a failure to understand why most people have a problem with GMOs. The problem isn’t a specific but the corporate culture embed in the technology i.e. a culture of fraud, manipulation, and abuse. I recently watched an excellent lecture by Professor Jamies Davies on Synthetic biology and in it he talks about a case where the scientists and specialist where wrong the uneducated public was more preceptive.

        I used Bt as an example of such corruption. It not about an organism in the wild that that scientist didn’t see coming it was about the the fraud and faking research to claim that created something that they didn’t… see http://www.farming.co.uk/news/article/7685 and http://www.chinadialogue.net/blog/5503-Golden-rice-scandal-undermines-China-s-GM-food-push/en.

        Now do you understand why I want this expletive deleted labeled? I want avoid supporting the corporations and these demeaning adjective deleted scientists who are in a habit of lying and faking research and pretend to know more than they actually do to manipulate regulators.

        In public mind, fool me thrice (i.e. dioxin, PCBS, agent Orange) shame on me fool me 4 times and shame on you. How many times do we have to wait decades to finally falsify claims about a product from a group of known and convicted corporation criminals that will always be a group of corporate criminals and nothing they say is reliable because they exist in a culture of deception and even self deception about what they are doing.

        • Cyril R. says:

          Is it fair to oppose a technology because of the way it’s misused/abused by corporate interests?

          TEPCO and the Japanese regulator clearly abused the safety of their BWRs at Fukushima Daiichi.

          Does that mean we can oppose BWR technology in general? What about just LWRs altogether? How fair is this?

          Every technology is abused to some level by corporate players. Organic agriculture is NOT free of this, and there is no reason to believe it is inherently more resistant to such malevolence than other forms of agriculture, including GMO.

          Banning a technology because of this is debilitating to modern society. We’d all have to go and live in caves.

          If there’s a problem with the corporate abuse, bureaucracies, curruption etc. then you must fix that rather than banning the technology.

          This reminds me of the whole nuclear proliferation debate. It’s a political problem, not one of technology, so the anti’s that suggest we should stop building nuclear plants over proliferation concerns have it wrong.

      • Septeus7 says:

        I had written a piece about your request for specifics ignored the large context and reflex the habit of scientific specialist who are often wrong precisely for that reason as well linking to example fraud in GE research demonstrate the culture of self deception that is the pro-GMO bubble but sense you asked specifics I’ll give you a link to a blog which thrashes Lynas’s 22 outright lies… see http://www.gmfreecymru.org/pivotal_papers/lynas_school.html. So that should keep you busy…

        • Joris van Dorp says:

          I read the blog, and I note that it is stating that glyphosate is dangerous to humans at all levels. But research does not show this, despite 35 year history of glyphosate use (and research). So the so-called thrashing of Lynas does not appear to be there.

          I think I am beginning to see the link between anti-nuclear and anti-GMO more clearly. Both rely heavily on LNT theory. Anti-nuclear uses radiation as a proxy, while anti-GMO uses glyphosate. Neither are strong claims at all, with the glyphosate claim seeming even more farfetched to me than the radiation claim.

          I did my personal evaluation of the claims against glyphosate years ago, when warned by a friend of mine who is in the farming business. But I could not find anything serious then. Glyphosate and GMO is well researched and does not pose a risk to humans or animals health. There is even no mechanism in theory that could cause the negative health effects claimed by glyphosate and GMO detractors. And many years of experiments have not shown negative health effects either at the doses and uses of glyphosate and GMO that is typical today.

          Am I missing something, or are claims of negative health effects of glyphosate and/or GMO crops overblown?

  9. Don Cox says:

    “I’ll grant that many of the foot soldiers in the overlapping “anti” movements are sincere but misguided. However, I am quite confident that at least some of the leaders have no desire at all for others to become self-sufficient.”

    This is the same social structure as the big organised religions, such as the Catholic Church, which are designed to make ordinary people dependent on the Priests. There is a deep human instinct to be the leader of the pack, and to be a leader you have to have followers who need you. (A pack leader can be of either sex.)

  10. Jason C says:

    There certainly are some interesting parallels between nuclear energy and GM crops. But there are some differences.

    Though with food commodities I think we can see some possibilities by looking at production output for certain key crops around the world.

    See this reference: http://www.pecad.fas.usda.gov/

    There are certain key players that dominate certain markets for corn, wheat, cotton, and oilseeds. Some have abundances to spread as exports, while others are highly dependent on those supplies for consumption and refinement.

    The market competitors in the food arena seems to be the organics vs. the GMO’s. Or, new crops with larger crop yields could change a medium supplier into a large supplier. However, most foods produced are consumed and there definitely seems like room for the market to grow. I think the case is more likely the smaller higher priced organic food market players would diminish in value if the consumer no longer perceived their product to be “better”. Many tests have shown organics are no more nutritional and sometimes less so than “non-organics”. But the Anti-GMO movement has definitely rode the coattails of the anti-nuclear movement and the two anti-movements are cross-reinforced by cultural groupthink.

    There will always be someone who will pay for a $5 head of organic lettuce. But no one wants to pay an extra dime for electricity coming out of the wall if they don’t have to. Food markets depend on consumer value choice, electricity production depends market positions – territory, cost, dispatchability. Appealing to consumers seems like an easier job.

  11. John Tjostem says:

    Some of the greatly improved farm yields and reduction in erosion are a result of no till and minimum till thanks to Monsanto’s Roundup and Roundup Ready seeds, commercial fertilizer, plant breeding and genetically modified crops (GMO’s). This modern agriculture is producing abundant yields that can feed the world’s population, which has mushroomed to 7 billion. If we were to return to practice the organic farming techniques of the past it would cause massive starvation. Those practices were adequate when the world’s inhabitants counted 1.6 billion in 1900 or even 2.55 billion in 1950. Besides not being able to attain the high yield rates brought about by modern agricultural practices, organic farming also involves tilling, which leads to soil erosion and is therefore not a sustainable practice.

    Despite the fears many of us have of GMO crops, they are actually safer than conventional crops. Conventional crops have over the ages evolved poisonous molecules to combat plant eating pests, and hence they may cause serious allergies in humans. If seeds have not been genetically modified to produce resistance to fungi, the fungal diseases that they harbor may result in crops containing cancer causing carcinogens.

    A vital role that genetic engineers must play is to speed up the process of biological evolution through the production of genetically engineered crops. Given the reality of global warming it will be essential to have plants that can survive in a warmer world. Our Creator gave us an intellect that He expects us to use in order to make the world a better place.

    Here is something to think globally about, we may find solace in our small organic garden plots in our backyards, but this gardening practice isn’t likely to work on a larger scale in order to adequately feed the 7 billion residents with whom we share the planet.

    • Jeff Walther says:

      Heh. Your last paragraph brought back memories…

      About 20 years ago my roommate and I were living in what was formerly his grandfather’s house in an older suburban neighborhood. One day, shortly after moving in, we were in the backyard, looking it over, trying to decide where to put a vegetable garden. We looked at the northeast corner, full of wild onions and no grass. We looked at the southeast corner, full of wild onions and no grass. We looked at each other, “Plow the whole thing?” we both said in unison. And the whole backyard became a vegetable garden with all the joys, headaches, disappointments and back aches that entails –but we were young and strong back then.

      Now the relevant part… After we had been farming that back yard for a couple of years he and I and his newish girlfriend were having dinner at a restaurant and some kind of economic or political topic came up. She piped up with something like, “I don’t see why people can’t just do whatever they enjoy and not have to struggle so much.”

      We both pointed out that wouldn’t work out so well if no one felt like raising food. To which she replied, “Well people could just form communes and raise their own food.”

      To which we both responded with belly laughs, the trevails of our backyard plot fresh in our minds. Unfortunately, he didn’t take this as a warning. Sigh.

      Most folks just don’t have any idea how difficult and heartbreaking it is to try to raise your own food. When it’s a back yard plot and racoons get all the tomatoes, it’s disappointing. If you’re expecting to live off of that food, it would be disastrous and deadly. They just don’t understand that.

      I think most of these “green” folks have never done the things they advocate. I have little but contempt for the “green” movement, but I’ve been raising vegetables and composting all my life, because I learned it from my Dad who grew up on a farm and is emphatically not “green”. But he probably practices more “green” lifestyles than they ever manage — at least the parts that make some sense.

  12. Simit Patel says:

    the analogy does not apply. I am pro-nuclear but anti-GMO. i am not anti-GMO the technology, but rather that the current incumbents who utilize the technology do not do so in a manner that benefits much of anything aside from their bottom line. GE technology has potential, fantastic potential, but I would advise everyone to look deeper before supporting it in its current state or eating any of that stuff (although avoiding it is quite a challenge).

    the science that nuclear energy = energy abundance is quite clear and difficult for any intellectually honest person to dispute. the same cannot be said for GE technology in its current state of production. the data is highly murky as to whether or not GE increases food abundance and based on what i’ve seen i would say it more often than not does not increase the quantity of food and actually decreases it — let alone the quality of the food in terms of its impact on health and its taste.

    • Joris van Dorp says:

      “the data is highly murky as to whether or not GE increases food abundance and based on what i’ve seen i would say it more often than not does not increase the quantity of food and actually decreases it — let alone the quality of the food in terms of its impact on health and its taste.”

      Do you have any evidence for this? I have been looking for such evidence years ago and couldn’t find it then, although there were plenty of (malicious) insinuations and suggestions of evidence circulating, as there are today.

      Concerning the reduction of taste of food for example, there are multiple reasons for it, not just GMO. Reduced sulphur content of farmsoil in my country (due to improved scrubbing of coal plant smoke) reduced the taste of radishes and other vegetables in my country. Obviously, this has nothing to do with GMO or anything else like that. At my home, I grew some radishes and added some sulphur to the soil, which indeed yielded a far better tasting radish then I could get from the shop. Also, the taste of crops is altered not only by GMO, but my other types of genetic change resulting from crop ‘improvement’ though hybridisation and selection. I see no one-to-one relationship with GMO.

      Concerning the so-called negative health effects of GMO, this is very far fetched at the outset. The human digestive system is rather good at breaking down plant (or animal) material, and it is very easy to predict and/or test how it will react to altered crops. In order to endanger human health, GMO would have to be applied specifically to make crops (more) poisonous, which would then easily be detected in trials.

      By the way, most foods contain different kinds of poisons naturally. Our digestive system has evolved to take care of this. Popular claims by anti-GMO advocates that GMO foods ’cause cell damage’ don’t add to the discussion unless the so-called damage is compared to the damage of regular foods. Every-day foods like tomato’s, potato’s, kitchen salt, cow-milk, certain grains, certain types of fats, other kinds of vegetables like spinach, (fruit)sugars, various kinds of popular savoury herbs, etc, all have health effects that are ‘detrimental’ to various organs in the human body in a strict sense, but healthy human digestive system deals with that damage quite effectively, and the *net-health* effect of eating such foods (in moderation) is positive.

      Anyway, I’ve spent already too much time years ago to check out some of the popular claims contra GMO, and having found nothing of substance I am satisfied. If there is any new, good research that shows clearly that GMO does more harm than good to humanity, as compared to regular farming, I’ll have a look, and I look forward to that, but for what it’s worth the topic is closed as far as I’m concerned.

      • Simit Patel says:

        Here is a good paper debunking the greater yields myth: http://responsibletechnology.org/docs/gm-crops-do-not-increase-yields.pdf

        Many of the stories arguing GMO increases yields are funded by corporations that profit from selling GMO.

        as for health, GM food has been linked to lower fertility rates — search the web and you’ll see plenty of articles that offer more information. as i noted i don’t dispute the idea that this technology could very well do the opposite — increase yields and create food that is more nutritious than ever — but in its current manifestation in the hands of food industry incumbents, the results are not particularly positive.

        • Joris van Dorp says:

          It doesn’t debunk anything in my (non-expert) opinion. The performance of GMO in agriculture depends on a number of basic factors which can be misused by propagandist to create false impressions. I think that is what has happened in the leaflet you linked to.

          Herbicide tolerant (HT) GMO only improves yields when applied in areas with high weed pressure (obviously). Anti-GMO propagandists use this basic fact to cook the numbers. They seek out and compare the yield of HT GMO crops inadvertently grown on land with low pest pressure (or during a season with unusually low pest pressure) with conventional crops yield and then claim ‘no increased yield’.

          Bt GMO on the other hand is designed to reduce or eliminate the use of insecticide. So whenever there is a season of anomalously low pest pressure in a particular region, anti-GMO propagandists will pounce on the yields data in order to calculate the desired ‘no yield increase’ result. Along the same vein, they will seek out (poorly managed) farms that use Bt crops without reducing their application of pesticide, which of course eliminates much of the economic benefit of Bt crops. Anti-GMO groups will then go and use this result to claim ‘no economic benefit’.

          It all seems simple cherry picking / comparing apples to oranges that these anti-GMO groups are doing. We all know this tactic from the anti-nuclear campaigning. For example: the cost of nuclear power is calculated by anti-nukes by selecting the worst performing nuclear projects only, rather than doing a study of the global performance. Or they compare nuclear with coal and then ignore the cost of CO2, accidents, air pollution and other externalities for coal, while cherry picking and exagerating the morbidity from nuclear externalities by carefully selecting specific locations and periods of time that result in the highest possible cost. It is all very familiar.

          I’m still not convinced GMO is a net-loss for humanity or for the farmers, even allowing for the losses that occur due to inevitable unethical actions of (GMO) coorporations at particular locations and times. What I mean is: just because an oil well may sometimes blow-out due to poor practice, and cause a lot of damage, doesn’t mean that all oil has no net-benefit for humanity. The net-benefit of anything needs to be calculate across countries, regions and time in order for a useful result to appear. It no use comparing the worst particular performance of a GMO crop with the best particular performance of a conventional crop.

          I have here a report that at least explains what the GMO benefits are when calculated from large amounts of data across many countries and regions.

          http://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/gmo/reports_studies/docs/economic_performance_report_en.pdf

          Extract:

          “Reviews of the economic performance of GM crops have been conducted, both at the global level and for specific regions. The most recent overview study (Carpenter, 2010), which was based on 49 peer-reviewed publications reporting on farmer surveys in 12 countries worldwide, came to the conclusion that benefits from growing GM crops mainly derive from increased yields, which are greatest for small farmers in developing countries. Apart from higher yields, the adoption of GM-crops can reduce production costs by reducing pesticide use, labour and fuel costs. Barfoot and Brookes (2007) estimated that even with seed costs of GM crops being higher than for their conventional counterpart, total farm benefits are higher for GM crop adopters, amounting to about $7 billion (5.23 billion €) globally per year.”

      • George Carty says:

        Interesting comment on how a reduction in sulphur emissions from coal-fired power stations has affected the taste of vegetables. I wonder if it would be possible to sell the sulphur compounds produced by the scrubbers to vegetable farmers? (At least until the coal-fired power stations are replaced by nuclear ones, of course…)

  13. Cyril R. says:

    Somehow I don’t think that there’s any farmer who would appreciate being equated one on one to rapists. I also doubt that plants have feelings. If they do, we may have to reconsider cutting their heads off every year by the trillions.

    This is the worst ever comparison I’ve heard in my life. Calling it baseless extremism would be too kind.

  14. Eric Baumholder says:

    There is much to be said for the notion of defending the status quo against what we lately call ‘disruptive technology’. Add in a bit of nostalgia and you get neo-primitivism touted as a modern virtue.

    Interestingly, this does not happen uniformly. The availability and speed of e-mail is bankrupting the Post Office, online shopping is putting a huge dent in the shopping mall demographic, and I see no protests springing up.

    Perhaps this is because the Post Office and shopping malls haven’t discovered the popular expedient of hiring mercenary NGOs to start a new front in the culture wars.

  15. theoldtechnite says:

    I’m curious, whoever said GM crops must be monoculture crops?

  16. Engineer-Poet says:

    another thing that the movements opposed to GMO and nuclear energy have in common is that they are fundamentally movements that are battling abundance.

    I’m not sure that’s entirely true.  One of the things they’re battling is artificial scarcity, specifically produced by patented organisms, and the elimination of heritage cultivars by contamination with patented genes.

    This is a very real problem with crops like canola.  A farmer named Schmeiser in Canada simply planted his own saved seed, but farmers nearby planted Monsanto’s patented glyphosate resistant strain.  Pollen does not respect property lines, so Schmeiser’s seed soon contained the genes for glyphosate resistance.  He selected for these by using glyphosate, and was eventually sued by Monsanto to force him to stop reproducing Monsanto’s patented genes without a license.  He lost.

    There is also the question of allergens.  What happens to people who become allergic to a GMO protein that’s introduced into dozens of crop plants?  What do they eat… especially when even heritage strains can have the troublesome protein pop up without warning?

    If we are going to have patented GMOs, one of the things that’s going to have to come along with them is a prohibition on strains which make fertile offspring with other cultivars or some concept of “genetic trespass” which voids patent rights… and I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to liken such trespass to rape (even of rapeseed).

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