Posted by Pete Hague on 24 May 2012
I want to steer this blog more towards space and astronomy, but there are some issues that I feel sufficiently strongly about that I have to speak up on. One such issue is the complex relationship between environmentalism and science.
I consider myself an environmentalist. It informs my views a lot more than most people; as I have shown in my previous posts here I try to interpret economic matters through how they interact with our physical environment.
I also, to a limited extent, support the Green Party. I think they have the potential to be a vital progressive force in UK politics, and they like me have a view of economics that is rooted in the physical requirements and the constraints of our planet. However, I am not a member, because despite them being the only party that pays serious attention to the issues of climate change and limited resources, they do not win the science vote because of many of their other policies.
There is currently a government-funded trial of a new type of GM crop, and unsurprisingly a group of anti-GM activists decided to sabotage it (they refer to the destruction of research as "decontamination"). What is surprising, is that the Green Party decided to support this action openly. Former mayoral candidate Jenny Jones first announced her support of this action, and then this was proudly announced on the Green Party website, although that announcement has since been taken down. You can verify it for yourself quite easily though; the Internet does not forget so easily (google "green party rothamsted")
Genetically Rebadged Organisms
There is a debate to be had about GM, for sure. Much of the technology is used (and abused) by multi-national corporations who don't have the best interests of humanity or the planet in mind. The nefarious 'terminator genes' developed by Monsanto are the crucial example.
Currently, a company can take a gene from one organism, insert in into another, and then claim exclusive rights to the distribution and use of that organism. Both organisms will have likely evolved before even modern Homo Sapiens appeared, so there is a cosmic level of arrogance to say that, with one modification to the DNA, an entire species (not a specific instance of an organism) is your property. It is also highly questionable whether it is in the public interest for the law to support such claims.
But one side of the GM debate is taking a ridiculous, intransigent position, with little regard to scientific evidence (the non-evidence based nature of the environmentalist position on this matter is well documented elsewhere, by people with a better grasp of biology than me.) There is a critical position to take on GM that doesn't involve deciding in advance that all GM research is an evil affront to the natural order, and this position has little chance to be heard whilst the debate is dominated by extremists.
Making More Sense
As I explained above; I really would like to be able to support the Green Party. They follow the evidence on many points; climate change, resources depletion, illegal drugs. They also take subjective positions that I agree with; for example, the idea of a citizen's income that I have blogged about before. So rather than pour vitriol on them, in order to feel a brief flush of intellectual superiority, like some people do - I'd rather offer a productive solution for a party like the Green Party. I am hardly surprised, by the way, that members the skeptic movement couldn't wait to stick the boot in; lording over those deemed unscientific is often their way.
On many issues, including GM, animal testing and nuclear energy, the Green Party takes a simple position of wanting to ban them outright. Rather than just stating that they've already made their minds up, I think the party should be led by the evidence on all three of these matters as they are on the matter of climate change.
Rather than making policy statements such as 'we oppose nuclear power because it is dangerous' - propose a more stringent means of assessing the safety of any power plant, through independent bodies. If nuclear power is as dangerous as you claim, then it will fail a fair test of its safety. Make the policy against the negative consequences themselves, not what you believe will lead to these consequences.
Ditto for animal testing; by all means make general statements about animal welfare - but not assume that animal testing can never meet these criteria (and bear in mind, that to make these general criteria strict enough to exclude all lab use of animals would probably exclude all farming as well, and I doubt that state-mandated veganism is a big vote winner)
The Green Party we have is not the Green Party we deserve, yet. The basic idea of the party has the potential to be the most scientifically astute in Parliament and a vital rational voice at a time of resource depletion and looming ecological crisis, rather than a home for nature worshippers, homeopaths and borderline eco-terrorists.
Or, perhaps, someone should start an alternative Green Party?
Posted by Rob Hague on 24 May 2012
I'm in a similar position; I broadly agree with the Greens on a lot of matters, but I definitely disagree with their stance on issues like nuclear power. it's worth noting that many prominent environmentalists, notably James Lovelock (author of The Gaia Hypothesis) have come out in favour of nuclear power as a way to address the more immediate problem of climate change, but many in the wider movement retain a dogmatic objection.
Posted by Pete on 24 May 2012
I have found out that the Green Party statement was modified, to exclude a statement that implied the scientists involved in the trial had not been receptive to the concerns of the protestors. Compare before+after versions:
Posted by Lisa on 08 Jun 2012
Excellent article and I share many of these concerns, particularly the GM testing and the animal testing issues, where in general I would agree with your views. Although I think animal testing could be massively reduced and more alternatives used/found but agree that it is still necessary particularly in advancing medical science.
However, I think it would be impossible for a party to create a policy that you will agree with 100%, unless you and may be a few like minded people were the only members. The green party has the values that I associate most with out of any other party I know of, and these are just issues that at the moment I'm willing to compromise on.
Currently I'm trying to get a bit more active within the party and with that I'm hoping that there will be the ability to raise these concerns/my views and discuss them democratically. I think that the GP that I see are receptive to views such as these and debate.
Perhaps in the future I will find I can't continue to compromise on these issues. Or I might feel more strongly about these issues and if there is not that a chance that the policy will change, then I will also share again in your dilemma. There is also the slight possibility that my view might be changed!
I think its about weighing up the benefits over the disadvantages. In my case I feel that the benefits of the policy massively outweigh the disadvantages. Also you have to compare against what is already out there by other parties - which again I think this policy beats hands down.