One of the primary reasons I am sharing the above video is that it has an analog in the multi-decade effort to restrict the growth of nuclear technology. Though not the topic of this talk, Mark pointed out the similarity between the anti GMO and antinuclear movements. At minute 15:30 he said:
Indeed, in many related areas like nuclear power, the environmental movement has already done great harm to the planet, even as it has rightly helped raise awareness in other areas such as deforestation, pollution and biodiversity loss.
In addition to his recent conversion from an anti GMO activist, Mark Lynas has also altered his position on nuclear energy from opposition to support. It is pretty clear that Lynas now supports genetic engineering for the same reason that he supports nuclear energy – science indicates that both are incredible tools for serving the needs of human beings. Like most of the nuclear professionals I know, Lynas apparently loves the human species and wants to help more of us live abundant lives. In fact, he called us The God Species in a recent book.
Lynas recognizes a common thread among the vocal opponents to both nuclear energy and genetically modified crops; they tend to be somewhat misanthropic followers of the ideas of Thomas Robert Malthus (An Essay on the Principle of Population), Paul Ehrlich (Population Bomb), and The Club of Rome (Limits to Growth)
But remember, everything is changing. Food demand will inevitably skyrocket this half-century because of the twin pressures of population growth and economic development. We need to sustainably increase food production by at least 100% by 2050 to feed a larger and increasingly affluent global population.
This is where the eco-Malthusians tend to pop up, illustrating another uncomfortable aspect of the anti-GMO philosophy. Let me share with you a rather revealing quote I read just a couple of weeks ago on Yale 360, from the US environmental writer Paul Greenberg, where he is lamenting the supposed wrongs of genetically engineered salmon. But forget the fish – when it comes to humans he says the following:
“If we continue to bend the rules of nature so that we can provide more and more food for an open-ended expansion of humans on the planet, something eventually will have to give. Would you like to live in a world of 15 billion people? 20 billion? I would not. And while it’s possible you will label my response as New Age-ish, I feel that GE food distracts us from the real question of the carrying capacity of the planet.”
Well, I think that calling these sentiments New Age-ish is to give them far too much credit. I would actually call them misanthropic. What Greenberg seems to be suggesting here, as Paul Ehrlich did before him, is the denial of food to hungry people in order to prevent them breeding more children and contributing to overpopulation.
Luckily this modern-day Malthusianism is wrong in point of fact as well as by moral implication. Firstly, the human population is never going to reach 20 billion. Instead, it is forecast to peak at 9-10 billion and then slowly decline.
Mark is one of the stars of Pandora’s Promise, a Robert Stone-produced documentary that was well-received at Sundance 2013. That film, which will debut in theaters around the US in June, describes the conversion of four former antinuclear campaigners to ardent supporters of nuclear energy. Here is the official trailer of that exciting new contribution to the energy conversation.
I love Stewart Brand’s concluding remark to that trailer:
Can you be an environmentalist and pro-nuclear? In light of climate change, can you be an environmentalist and not be pro-nuclear?
Of course, I would not be true to my core philosophies if I did not point out that there is an alignment in interest between people who want to restrict access to food and power and the people who sell both food and power. The traditional way to prosper as a commodity supplier is to raise the barriers to entry for new production so that the supply of your product is always a little less than the demand. That situation results in high prices and increased profits.
In other words, I think that the political success of the Malthusians has been abetted by the policial clout of the Establishment suppliers in both food and energy.