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Environmental groups should admit mistakes

By Max Rheese - posted Monday, 8 November 2010

The U.K. Telegraph reported on October 31st that "Leading environmental campaigners have performed a u-turn on two key technologies they have opposed for decades by openly calling for greater use of nuclear power and genetically modified crops to help the world tackle climate change".

Mark Lynas who currently writes for the Guardian newspaper highlighting the need to deal with the issue of man-made globe warming claiming "the climate denial crowd had been reduced to an embarrassing rump lurking in the darker corners of the internet" is described as "a campaigner who has been a member of action groups on GM foods and climate change". Mr Lynas said "the environmental lobby was losing the battle for public opinion on climate change because it had made too many apocalyptic prophecies and exaggerated claims". Really?

Another long time environmental campaigner who saw the error of his ways, Stewart Brand an American activist and former editor of Whole Earth Catalog, said: "I would like to see an environmental movement that says, it turns out our fears about genetically engineered food crops were exaggerated and we are glad about that. It is a humble and modest stance to take to the real world."


"Environmentalists did harm by being ignorant and ideological and unwilling to change their mind based on actual evidence. As a result we have done harm and I regret it."

The battle for acceptance of GM technology to improve the prospects of feeding the globe has raged around the developed world for decades, principally opposed in Australia by environmental campaigners and groups such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Australian Conservation Foundation.

In defiance of mounting scientific evidence that GM crops reduce pesticide use, improve water efficiency and generally provide higher yields leading to better environmental outcomes than conventional crops, these environment groups continue their ideological opposition to the use of GM technology.

The Australian Environment Foundation from its inception supported GM technology on the basis that the science and evidence for adopting GM practices demonstrated an overwhelmingly positive environmental outcome. The AEF was derided by long established environment groups for its stance in supporting "Frankenstein food" and was the only environment group in Australia to go on the public record supporting the adoption of GM technology.

In 2006, when the moratorium on growing GM crops in Victoria and New South Wales was due to expire, the Commonwealth Chief Scientist, the Victorian Chief Scientist, the Victorian government and Opposition, the NSW government and Opposition all supported the introduction of GM crops, which occurred in those two states. Not long after Western Australia followed suit.

Now these long time campaigners in the U.K., to their credit have capitulated, with Mr Lynas, who along with other activists ripped up trial GM crops in the 1990s, saying that GM food had now been consumed by millions of people in the U.S. for more than 10 years without harm, and this had convinced him to change his views.


The other key technology these campaigners say should be adopted is nuclear energy and they are joined by Patrick Moore, one of the founding members of environmental campaign group Greenpeace, who added: "We were right that the nuclear industry had problems, but that didn't mean we should be against nuclear energy completely."

"We have caused extra gigatons of greenhouse gases to be released into the atmosphere by being so precious about nuclear."

The holy grail of environmental activism for decades - opposition to the productive use of nuclear energy - is overturned in the bid to stop "dangerous global warming." One ideological principle conveniently cast aside in pursuit of another, with neither principle robustly supported by empirical evidence.

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About the Author

Max Rheese is the Executive Director of the Australian Environment Foundation.

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