This is point of inquiry from Monday, March 4th, 2013, and this week we talked to Mark Linus about science and the left.
Welcome to Point of Inquiry. I’m Chris Mooney. One of inquiry is the radio show and the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs. And at the grassroots, if you don’t already, please follow us on Twitter at point of inquiry and also on Facebook at slash point of inquiry.
As many of you undoubtedly already know, I’m a pretty big defender of the proposition then when it comes to abusing science. The political left and the political right are just very different animals. But that does not mean that the left is entirely innocent of science abuse. And one man who knows that quite well is Mark Linus. He’s a British environmentalist and author.
And he recently gained pretty dramatic attention for making a kind of public conversion on the issue of GM crops in the process, denouncing some of his prior allies and also his prior self on the issue.
Linus had been an anti GM activist and even a destroyer of crops. Now he thinks science leads to a very different conclusion. And he’s also a defender of science on other issues where you can make a pretty serious case that the left gets it wrong, such as nuclear power. So I wanted to bring Mark on to discuss anti science sentiments on the political left and then also to weigh the irrationality of both political polls and kind of see whether the scales are really balanced or whether they’re not.
Mark Linus is a British journalist and environmental activist. He is the author of three books, most recently The God Species How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans. Mark Linus, welcome to Point of Inquiry.
Thank you very much, Chris. It’s great to be here.
I wanted to start by just asking you to tell your story a little bit. I mean, I’ve read it, but I want to hear it. In your words, you say you spent several years, quote, ripping up GM crops. In fact, you helped start the movement. Explain.
Well, ripping up GM crops wasn’t the only thing I did. It was sort of a sideline activity. But I was involved in cofounding a magazine called Corporate Watch, which was very much about opposing the intrusion of corporations onto onto everyday life, on and onto freedom, as we saw it at the time.
And one of the things that we got into very quickly, and I think it was in about 1996, was was was Monsanto. And I’d never heard of Monsanto before. But the first I knew was that they were bringing GM soy, which had been untested and which was potentially unsafe, and they were going to force it into Europe without any separation, without any trials, any of that kind of stuff. And so this very quickly became a hot potato, not just for ourselves, but for really the whole of the environmental movement. And I was for several years involved in the sort of the direct action side of that. So as well as writing the pieces in corporate watch or in other magazines like The Ecologist, I was also involved in some nighttime what we call decontamination activities, which involves going out in a van with other activists, with masks over your face and basically chopping down maize or sugar beets or whatever it was. That was whether genetically engineered crops need to in some things as well.
I mean, if you remember way, let me just ask you one thing that I just cannot resist. This is a show listened to by many skeptics, and this is the U.K. So was ever a night where, like, you guys ran into the guys who make crop circles and you both, like, sort of back the way slow, you know, but the police did it catch us at one point and there you go.
Yeah. Because, you know, suddenly they were just torches flashing everywhere and we could hear police dogs barking. And, you know, I should lay down lay face down in the dirt for about half an hour and until they went away. But no. Probably the most weird, weirdest thing I did, if I remember Dolly the sheep who was cloned sheep up in Scotland, you know, we spent a whole night sort of lying in the bushes outside with the with the aim of kidnaping that sheep. It didn’t happen. But, you know, that was the thing that was into it, that, you know, this was. I also helped organize and I think was the first office occupation of Monsanto. I can’t buy those 97. 98 were, you know, a couple of busloads of activists went in and somebody very kindly held the door open, actually. And we all went into the offices and, you know, hung banners and did all that kind of usual stuff. So, you know, I was I was very much a part of that of that scene as it was really getting going and really exploded on a global sense. And, you know, this was this was of a broad alliance. You know, it included the right wing press with the tabloid headlines about Frankenfood, you know, Prince Charles and, of course, many elements in the environmental movement.
And you guys, you say that this was one of the most successful campaigns you were involved in. Don’t you explain that? But also you were involved in coming up with the Frankenfood Foods imagery or that came from somewhere else because that was very powerful. I mean, it went everywhere.
No, I think I was skeptical of that. Even then, I never really felt that food safety was particularly an issue on this here. And I certainly didn’t coined the term Frankenfood the first time. I remember seeing if it was in the right wing tabloids. But I’ve since seen people doing some research on this. And I think it goes back right to the early 90s. And they were letters written into The New York Times or the L.A. Times using this term Frankenfood. But it did very quickly catch currency because it does have this sort of sort of ring to it about some scary and about the inappropriate use of technology and alliterations.
So, you know, powerful, powerful stuff.
What we know, as you recall, what were your motivations? You just you didn’t trust corporations. And then what changed for you?
Well, I think what changed was realizing it wasn’t just about corporations and certainly most of the anti GM activism, which still continues. It really does focus on the food safety issue and that is amenable to scientific inquiry. So we can’t use sense to have an evidence based approach to whether or not this stuff is safe, whether it’s safe. And in terms of herbicide tolerance or insect resistance or any of the other applications which have so far been developed or in the pipeline. So the corporations aspect, I think, is only one angle and it doesn’t apply specifically to GM crops. And I was I didn’t realize that at the time. I don’t think I even knew about hybrid seeds, which, of course, don’t breed. True. You need to go back to the company every single year to buy them to so on. Just about every issue that’s of concern to anti GM activists. It applies in some other area. So there isn’t any any any particular reason to oppose the technology of GMO in a a priori sense, particularly not for corporations.
Let me in the mind of somebody who hopefully can get close to this mindset, although it’s not years anymore, they’re worried about climate change. They consider themselves someone who cares about the environment, but they also are worried about genetically modified foods. I mean, to me, this seems like contradictory positions because agriculture, as you know, traditional agriculture is not good for the warming situation and especially certain kinds like the meat industry. So most people I would think you care about.
Climate change would want us to be feeding more people with less. Right. Right.
I think agriculture, if you include deforestation, accounts for something like 30 percent of greenhouse emissions. It’s a huge, huge issue. And the only way to improve on it is to produce food more efficiently without using more land. So without chopping down more forests and doing so with hopefully diminishing amounts of freshwater and nitrogen and pesticide use as well. So for all of those things, you’ve got to improve the efficiency of agriculture, make it more more sustainable. I think that but A.J., I’m activists and certainly how I was at the time, this was pre my sort of conversion to science, if you like. So I didn’t make a habit of reading peer reviewed journals or taking much trouble with references. And so I see this a lot with the A.G. I’m seeing as it currently exists, is very, very selective in terms of just there’s one or two things which are unjustly cited, or it’s just information from Campagna organizations, which is cited by other campaigning organizations in a very sort of circuit, a way. And in many ways that’s that’s pretty much how the climate change denier, less movement, if you can term it, that operates as well, where they really have their own very separate set of facts and figures, which they keep going to all the time.
And they’re non representative. In other words, you find a couple things, but it isn’t like they’ve looked at the body of the literature, which ends up two way towards a different conclusion. You’re seeing the same effect is in both places.
So it’s really just a matter of selective siting and confirmation bias. I mean, if you only if you want to prove something and you have an ideological predisposition towards a particular way of looking at something or frame, if you lie, then you’re only going to look at the sources which confirm what you already think. So. And you can see this pretty much with all of the literature. And unless you are of a 30 sort of questioning nature, there’s no particular reason why you should go against that particular. If you think ultimately this this does come down to assertions really of conspiracies that there is some kind of a conspiracy between really hundreds, perhaps thousands of scientists around the world who are all supposedly faking that food safety studies about GMO is presumably to benefit the profits of these of these large corporations. And they have to do that in tandem. Don’t forget, with the food safety agencies of of of the United States, of the EU and other regulatory national authorities as well. So it’s this that this is and again, there’s a real resemblance, I think, to climate denialism where there’s this assume conspiracy between the U.N., thousands of scientists doing work on climate change modeling and observations and and, of course, the world’s governments as well.
I wanna remind our listeners that you can get Mark Linus’s latest book, The God Species How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans through our website point of inquiry dot org. So let’s talk about the science. What do you view as consensus established science on genetically modified foods either?
And I guess there’s two areas. There’s human safety and there’s environmental impacts.
Right. I think human safety is probably the most well established. And I could refer you to statements by the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, the Royal Society in the U.K. and the American Medical Association. And they’ve made pretty strong statements, of course, of a sort of consensus type and saying that’s that genetically modified foods are no less safe than foods which come from crops which are bred by conventional selective breeding. So I think if you’re going to accept that the concept of scientific consensus, as in climate change, has any relevance and you have to accept those positions. But I noticed that environmental organizations don’t do that. And the Union of Concerned Scientists, for example, opposes the triple s position statement on GMO, which is very much like being the climate change deniers do incent in the sense of opposing the IPCC.
I want to ask you more about the arguments you’ve had about the science. But first, let’s also sketch the environmental like this stuff will get loose and wreak havoc kind of concern. What about that one?
I think there’s more justification to that particular concern. Obviously, you’re dealing with living organisms here, and that’s why there is a regulatory approach, which is, I think probably to strongly apply, but as apply applicable nonetheless. And what worth testing new crops before they’re released onto the market? But don’t forget, if you’re using a conventional approach that might include mutagenesis, either chemical or via radiation, where you’re essentially blasting apart the genome, waiting for mutations to happen and seeing whether they whether they bring useful traits or not.
And you don’t actually know what the effect on the genome has been and you don’t know what the new proteins are which are bringing these traits in. So they might be allergenic. They might not. But I just brought straight onto the market anyway without any testing. So in an a priori sense, because it’s understood what the genes are that are being transferred with. DNA. It’s Dale. It’s actually Jay, and those are probably safer than conventionally bred crops. So I think it’s important to bear in mind, just at the fundamental level, what the differences are between these these different technologies.
OK. Let’s get into the debate that is occasioned by your sort of your coming out. And you’re saying that you’ve you’ve really changed your view, which, you know, sort of circulated all over the place. You got support from Nina Federoff. She’s the chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Board of Directors. She was the president of the organization last year. And she found one little detail to fault you on, but she basically said your big picture is right. Is that a fair assessment?
Well, she said two things to me, actually, which made me smile. One was, I don’t know why you’re getting all this attention, because I’ve been saying the same thing for the last decade, because you converted.
That’s the whole difference. People care about story. They don’t care about facts. But go ahead.
And the thing that she said was that she’s had huge amounts of hate mail and that and every time she’s made a speech about GMO, she’s you know, I know I think I was complaining on Twitter that people are sending me, you know, and just saying welcome to my world, basically.
And I’ve had that kind of response from many scientists who are who are also well-known globally on this issue.
Yeah, there’s so much emotion. I mean, I remember some meeting. I was at some GM meeting and they had a Monsanto person there was ten years ago and they had activists there and they were in the same room. And usually being in the proximity, physical proximity of a human being makes you more civil. But I do remember when the environmental activists saying to the Monsanto guy, you are evil or something to that effect. And I was like, what? You’re saying that like he’s right there. He doesn’t seem able to me.
I can actually do better than that. I mean, I met Danto person recent at an agricultural conference and then over coffee, he told me that he’d been on a plane ride recently, domestic flight within the U.S. and he’d been wearing a shirt which said Monsanto on it. And they hostess came up and said, You worked for Monsanto. He said, I said, well, she said, in that case, I can’t serve you because of what your company does. And there was several who were also involved, you know, who who are basically who are farmers, who balkan’s into products. And she she actually threatened to deplane all of them. And then he was like, you know, I’m a middle class, middle aged white guy. I’m not used to discrimination. You know, this is an issue which is extraordinarily how how just how deep and how deeply this idea of Monsanto is. It kind of almost a substitute for sort of everything that’s evil about the modern day world has become established.
Let’s be fair here. Monsanto didn’t manage this issue. Well, if I recall meeting in terms of how I mean, I’m not saying they’re guilty of what some people think, but, you know, in terms of how they they came into the market, is that’s that fair?
I think it probably is fair in a public relations sense. And in retrospect, I’m sure they do things completely differently.
And but, you know, most of the things that people accuse Monsanto of doing or having done a mythological even even this technology agreement which farmers who are using their herbicide tolerant crops have to sign. Almost everyone thinks that this somehow ties them into a package of using Roundup along with Monsanto seeds, and actually that can use any glyphosate formulation they want. So, you know, if you actually look at the accusations that are made and try and find the evidence for them, they are either half truths or complete myths. And, you know, in a world where we have to try and get to the heart of things, it’s important to recognize that.
So you had an argument online with I forget who from the Union of Concerned Scientists, an organization that, you know, I really like. And we’ve had some of their folks on the show before. My my colleague at Mother Jones hope for Mother Jones. Tom Philpott, you argue with him.
Give us a little bit of the substance of this back and forth. And did they have any good points or.
Not so much.
They not so much. I mean, from my perspective, it really was just about the selective sighting of evidence again.
I think the Mother Jones piece talked about increased use of of of chemicals, citing one single study, which has really been fairly widely debunked. And you can just see this conflation going on actually, when you look at it, this arguably some increase in glyphosate, but that’s still more benign than most of the herbicides that were being used beforehand. So you’ve got to compare like with like and when it comes to the insect resistant ChipMOS, the Beattie crops. There’s no doubt it’s vastly reduced applications of insecticides.
So, you know, you ultimately you’re allowed to have your own opinions, but you’re not allowed to have your own facts. And I think that’s really what some environmental objections. Well, the object, as we’re trying to say when they heard about my speech.
Well, I don’t know the issue well enough to go into the nuances. So I guess I’ll just say, I mean, is there anything that you heard since there’s got so much attention that you thought that made you go, huh? Well, I got to maybe step back on that.
Certainly my role in the in the founding of the GM movement has been hyped. And some of the coverage calling me The Godfather or if you if you hate GMO, as you probably got Linus to thank. That’s true. You know, I was. I mean, it’s been argued that I was a marginal figure and it’s difficult for me to to justify my role because these people I work with who still don’t want to speak publicly about it. But some you know, I certainly wasn’t the leader. And it was a leaderless sort of movement. You know, I was I was one of the people initially, key people initially. But, you know, I didn’t even do this for that long. It was a matter of two or three years probably. So it’s important to keep that in perspective. And also some of the things. Had I known that this speech was going to go viral and be read by other than half a million people, I would have made things such certain things more subtle. I might not have compared the organic movement to the Amish, for example, in its rejection of technology. That wasn’t nice. And, you know, I got some some specific details wrong about two trials being abandoned in Ireland with potato and also with the definition of gene flow and horizontal gene transfer at a very technical level. So, of course, as you know, in a speech, that length’s you’re going to get some things wrong. But I think overall it has it has pretty much stood up.
I want to remind our listeners again that Mark Linus’s latest book, The God Species How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans, is available through our website. Point of inquiry, dot org. Now, you’re in Oxford, I believe in in England. I’m in the U.S. These issues. This issue fairs really differently in the two countries. It seemed to me always kind of marginal here, the resistance.
Do you agree? And how do you account for that?
I don’t I can’t really assess the situation of U.S.A. GM activism, but it’s very bound up with the organic lobby, if you like. So there’s a lot of true believers out there who just think that this stuff is is evil and is living pollution and this kind of thing. And you can see that with the. I think it’s called the Organic Consumers Association, which is a very vociferous type lobby. But there’s also some rather strange overlaps with the anti vaccine crowd. Look at Joe Macala, who’s recently written a nasty piece about me. He’s into selling sort of so-called natural products, you know, really good kind of stuff that you and I might call quackery. So there are a lot of overlaps with some kind of general, non skeptical weirdness, as well as the standard sort of organic thing. And you have to remember that it’s not. It’s certainly not true either that organic foods are safer or better for the environment. So there’s a much broader agenda here about different kinds of farming systems competing perhaps in a sort of ideological sense in people’s minds.
Mm hmm. And isn’t I mean, when it comes to organics, I just have to think about why people are doing it. And it must it’s something about the food way that the way it makes you feel, because the way the food is packaged and marketed. Right. It makes you feel more warm and safe. And I think that that’s just an incredible marketing strategy. And it’s paying off a lot.
It comes from. I mean, it’s sort of a naturalistic fallacy, but people want to feel that what they’re eating or what they’re injecting or that medicine is a natural. And even if certain, in a medicinal sense, they could be chemically identical. Same with organic polymers use, which are chemically identical to to their synthetic versions. And of course, the effect is the same, but one’s natural and one isn’t. So I think we just certainly in modern modern societies where people are, as you know, suspicious about the way that we’re very separate from nature now, particularly those of us who live in cities, we don’t know anything about the way the foods produce. You know, people worry about it on the potatoes or the carrots and stuff. So all all of that, I think that kind of reaction leads back to this kind of this way of doing things more naturally. And this this supposition that the organic way is the way to go.
But unfortunately, because because organic farming, by and large, is much less efficient, you do end up if you want to produce some amount of food, food, using a lot more land, and that by increasing our footprint, environmental footprint overall. And the organic lobby simply refuses to acknowledge that.
Let’s let’s broaden the context now and let’s talk about how this position on GM, which I’m certainly willing to call anti science, at least at the extremes, relates to other things that we broadly think of as being on the left. You mentioned anti vaccine movement again, which also I think, I mean had more. It certainly started in England, the most recent wave of it.
And then, you know, people distrusting nuclear power. I’ve written about that. We’ve actually done shows on both of those topics. And, you know, there are these oddball claims that a million people died in Fukushima and things like that, which seem completely baseless. I mean, is it all kind of the same impulse to you?
I think they are. And not everything, of course, is amenable to scientific inquiry because that is subjective judgments about all of these kinds of things. If you’re talking about a million deaths, that probably is about Chernobyl rather than Fukushima.
But, oh, I misspoke. Yes, sorry. Thank you, sir.
He’s come down to statistical assumptions about what model you’re going to use for the projected impact of radiation on very large populations because you’ll never actually see in the real world any increase in cancer mortality. So these some of these things can never be resolved in terms of science. So they they are in many ways ideological battles. But when it comes to vaccines, the politics of this is interesting.
I don’t think that’s been a really a left right play in terms of how the MMR and autism vaccine got played out in the U.K.. Again, this was really fueled by the Daily Mail, which is a right wing tabloid here in the US.
You know, it’s been concerned about mercury in vaccines, again, completely misplaced scientifically. But that’s been said Robert Kennedy, Junior Seau, which, of course, is sort of left wing environmentalist type thing. So they’re not even the same in terms of how the kinds of demographics, these sort of these sorts of anti science scares happen in different parts of the world necessarily.
What’s what’s striking to me is that when you describe some of these things emerging from the right in the UK, that is that is a different right than I think we would have in the US.
I mean, the right here just always takes the side of private industry. And so you wouldn’t really I can’t think of a case where you would actually attribute these kind of impulses to the right here. So that’s interestingly, that’s a difference. As far as I can tell.
It is a different set and there’s probably a difference on nuclear as well. I don’t whether this is fading now, but traditionally nuclear has been a has been supported by the right. Even though it requires a certain it requires pretty substantial government participation in terms of building things and financing and insuring and so on. And so it’s kind of ironic that the right, which is too suspicious of government, has always, always supported nuclear on the left, which is comfortable with government doesn’t. But that goes back, I think, to other sort of values level things about, you know, about the Cold War and about nuclear weapons and environmental concerns more broadly. So you’ve got to look at, I think, why these things where these things plug into. But in the UK, there’s almost a cross-party consensus on nuclear, which is held by everyone except the Greens, which come from the Conservative Party on the Lib Dems, on the Labor Party. So again, they are different in different places.
Let’s get in the mind again. Let me do this exercise again of somebody who worried about climate change but doesn’t like nuclear power or respect, spite, the fact that we get a lot of energy across the world from nuclear power. Again, I mean, it strikes me, again, as a contradiction because of the fact that, you know, the carbon problem you’re you’re missing that with nuclear is now the problem.
And so why wouldn’t you think that this is a great solution?
I mean, how do you how do you think that that gets resolved?
It doesn’t get resolved. I think it’s fundamentally denialism and it comes from ignoring the bigger picture figures. In fact, I just ran the numbers on this. And if you take if you take all the nuclear stations in Japan and the UK and Germany and all of these country off line, which are going to do either because of decommissioning or because of politics and post Fukushima politics, particularly if you take all of that nuclear off the grid, it’s equivalent to the to the new wind capacity that’s been added to the whole of the last five years. So it’s an enormous amounts of power, which we currently gets carbon free from nuclear. It’s about 15 percent, I think, of the global total of electricity generation, about five percent of primary energy. And the US, in fact, is one of the lot is the largest nuclear country in the world in terms of its overall generation. So if you take those out, they’re going to be replaced by fossil fuels. I mean, there’s no way that even renewed renewables can’t even keep pace with the current additions of coal in countries like China and India. So we’re having more coal added to the grid every single year than than the total installed capacity of renewables. And once you look at these figures, you just go, thank God we’re losing this this whole climate change war so badly that we’re going to need absolutely everything we can throw at the problem. And that has to include nuclear, which, after all, is the largest scale baseload low carbon technology which has ever been invented.
And I mean. And natural gas. I mean that this is wood. And I always just think of it that way.
As an environmentalist who’s written for ten years about climate, we have a lot in common, you and I. I just think, well, the energy’s got to come from somewhere. You’ve got all these other things less bad. So, you know, you make the best of it.
And yet there’s this whole emotional environmentalism that is different, that just gets upset about all of the different things individually.
And I guess I’m wondering, is that the nature of environmentalism and you have to have a movement and you have a movement. You have to have emotions and you have to have people fired up. So is that just what it always looks like?
I think it may well be. To environmentalism, because it’s it’s a moralize moralizing thing to to fire people up into the into campaigning. And therefore, it tends towards the very purist view of the world. And so all fossil fuels are bad and you don’t make any distinction between the relative badness of different things. And and you end up making the perfect the enemy of the good. And you end up probably making the situation worse than it was before. Certainly that’s the case for nuclear. It’s probably the case for gas as well. I mean, don’t forget, if you if you take it for every megawatt hour of gas, you take off the grid, you save. I think it’s 300 kilograms of carbon dioxide. That’s the same amount that you’d save by putting wind onto the grid and displacing gas. And which one of those is cheapest? Well, gas by a long shot. So the. So the fact that the environmental movement has swung around to oppose gas, it’s frankly bizarre, given that that’s the quickest the cheapest thing that we can do to get coal off the grid. And if you care about climate change, decommissioning every single coal fired power plant in the US and in other developed countries has to be your number one priority.
I just think about how environmental issues fair, and it seems like every couple years there is this new let’s make environmentalists rational movement or person who gets a lot of attention for making that statement. And I will add, as I as I say, that that these people are not all the same. And some of them, I think, really go too far, like Bjorn Lomborg. And some of them, I think are actually, you know, you in close to the facts. And I would I would put you in that category. But I mean, it’s such a perennial recurrence that it seems to me like it’s kind of built in. What do you think?
Well, there’s just so much to object to. And you suck. It’s not the environmental movement which is building coal plants and that it’s it’s the fossil fuel corporations. And in fact, all of us who consume their products who are really at the heart of this whole issue.
So, you know, one shouldn’t take the critique too far and say, write, the green movement is to blame for everything. Not at all. But at the same time, if we’re losing the war, which we clearly are. And you have to change the strategy. And part of that involves seeing seeing where you’ve got things wrong. And I think having a more pragmatic view in the face of the urgency of the situation, you simply can’t hold out the ideal solutions which which really, frankly, are not going to work and certainly not going to work on the timescales we have available. So I don’t know whether this is something which occurs in terms of certain people saying these things. But but personally, I think the challenge of climate change in particular, but sustainable agriculture, all of these things we’ve got to feed the world as well as powerit have to appeal to a much broader constituency than just the Greens and just the left. You know, ultimately and you can see this in the US, if you’re going to have an accommodation on dealing with carbon emissions, it’s got to involve the right as well. It’s got to be something that Republicans buy into. And that’s a that that obviously is going to require a different level of politics and a different kind of consensus.
Well, it’s gone on again right now in the U.S. because basically President Obama is not.
It is he wants to do is only about climate change, he knows that his political options are limited. So he talks a lot, but he doesn’t do as much as some people think that he could. And so you increasingly have a grassroots movement that is rallying tens of thousands of people to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. And some of it is even, you know, objecting to the new energy secretary, Ernie Moniz, who because he says just what we say about nuclear right is what we just said about natural gas, striking me as someone who’s very moderate and rational. And you’d think you’d like him and a scientist. So it just it’s it’s playing out again right now. What is your strategy?
You know what? If you could make people march to a drum, what would it?
How would you kind of deal with this unending tension?
Well, I think you have to look at this globally as well. I mean, even the big as it is, as you know, only 25 percent of the world economy. And it’s diminishing as a proportion of emissions as China and India rise. And remember, we’ve got to not just allow for but celebrate the fact that the developing world is getting out of poverty finally and that hundreds of millions of people are joining the middle class, that the kids are not dying before they reach the age of five, as was the case a few years ago, and that they have all of the life choices which we all take for granted. Now, all of that is going to use a huge amount more energy. And so we have to deliver that energy in a way which is sustainable in those countries. And also, we’ve got to make our own energy footprint more sustainable. At the same time. And I keep. I come back to this. I think that you can prioritize these issues. And the number one priority is to get coal off the grid. And certainly to make sure that not a single new unabated coal fired power station is ever built in the U.S. or in Europe. And unfortunately, in some of the countries which are out there greenest like Germany, and they are building new coal fired power stations all the time. They just opened another one a few months back, which was which is burning lignite brown coal, which is even dirtier than a black hardcourt, which is conventionally unburnt. So this is a country which is phasing out nuclear in order to be more green. You know, you couldn’t get more irrational and perverse. And what’s happening?
Fair enough. Well, so, you know, we were on a show last week with.
It was a, you know, Canadian public television show, The Agenda with Steve Pagan. And the issues were brought out to being who’s more bad about science? The left or the right? I took the position, the right. I didn’t disagree about any of the cases, about the left. But I just said that the left is this fractious organization where it contains a lot of scientists. Naturally, it also contains sort of these emotional environmentalists who are worried about equality.
And so sometimes they go too far. But then the scientists push them back in the line. I said the right is a different beast. You know, the right really doesn’t like change. It’s got this deeper religiosity and it’s got this close mindedness. And so the right is still, you know, inherently in conflict.
The left just has its its dalliances, basically. That was my position.
You disagreed on that. Is that fair to say? And how how did you disagree?
I disagree without understanding the nuances of your position, because I haven’t some. Well, I’ve seen the views of your book, and it looks fascinating. I haven’t had time to read the whole thing. I’m sorry. I don’t understand everything you’re coming from. Fair. Right. Does that debate change in many ways because it celebrates the creative destruction of capitalism and of markets and markets are very powerful forces for change. And the left suddenly the green left in many ways is actually quite reactionary in the sense of and you can see this playing out in this sort of organic agriculture debate in terms of being backward looking and looking back towards a romantic past, which was somehow identified as being better than the present. You know, people were happier when they’re scratching a living on the fields by themselves. You know, this is, of course, an illusion. But I think it’s an illusion which is very widely shared among among the greenish left. And in terms of, well, how these things get put into policy, you make a very good point, which was that they, the Republicans, have pretty successfully brought climate change denialism really to the apex of public policy in the US. I think the Green left us on the same with with GMO denialism in Europe. You know, essentially pharma, the band, you know, we talk about pharma choice. Farmers have no choice to grow any GM ourselves in one single variety in Europe because bans are implemented, not at the European level. And that’s that’s irrational anti scientific policy writ large across an entire continent. And one of the results of this is that European agriculture is getting less efficient all the time and therefore we’re importing more and more of our food from Brazil and therefore more rain products are getting cut down. So, you know, you’ve got to look at the displacement effects across these issues on a very large scale.
Well, I don’t think we can we can resolve this here. But I guess I would just say that capitalism does, you know, engender creative destruction. But some of the values that go along with, you know, being a good businessman are actually quite psychologically traditional.
You know, you get up in the morning, go to work every day. You work in the same company for 30 years. You know, you do the same thing.
So I’m a, quote, conservative fits into that better than a quote, you know, so.
So it actually ends up being more complex. But I agree, if you if if your revolution is to hearken back to some golden age that’s conservative, even if it’s left these doing it, they just don’t know what they are.
So that’s that’s my take on it.
Maybe these these distinctions and we do the label that make that much sense.
Well, you know, just to conclude and we can’t we can’t totally dispatch that one here because that one gets into a lot of a lot of nuance and interpretation. But what I mean is someone who now who now is aligned your views with what you think the signs of ports are still very pro environment.
I mean, how do you think that you can best get across that kind of rational environmentalism mean giving a speech like that? Does that work? Do you find that people are changing their minds, coming in that direction?
I don’t know if it’s clearly made the anti GM lobby more entrenched and you can see this. I can see this by how they’ve attacked me personally. And so there’s no way and it’s very much like a religious fundamentalism. They will they will never change their minds under any circumstances on any aspects of this issue. So it’s not amenable to discussion, to reasoned discussion. I think the best one can do is to appeal to sort of the middle ground more where people begin to change their minds on this on this issue. And if we’re going to talk about the GMO thing specifically, I think the reason my speech went went viral was was not because I was saying anything new or because there’s anything fundamentally very interesting about me, because I assure you there isn’t any kind of a light guised on this issue. And people are beginning to to realize that, you know, 50 years ago we had this massive food scare, panic about GMO and we just got it wrong. It’s no different, really, from the anti vaccination panic’s, except that it’s had much longer lasting consequences. And therefore, we do need to reflect on this and we need to change policy back into a more sensible direction in terms of agriculture generally. And I do think that this is shared across across much of the world. And you can see this reflected in the changing nature of the debate in the media and elsewhere. So I think I think actually that the zygotes, as they call it. So there’s kind of the way that people are thinking about an issue does shift and it shift slowly. But when it reaches a tipping point, things can change very rapidly indeed.
Well, Mark Liner’s, thank you for helping push it there. And it’s been great to have you on point of inquiry.
Thank you. It’s been fantastic.
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