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A Disturbance in the Green Movement

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorMarch 19, 2013 3:42 PM


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My favorite environmental heretic continues to be in the news. Earlier this month, the best profile of him yet appeared in the Observer. This week, Macleans publishes an interview with Mark Lynas, the UK environmental writer who is doing more than anyone these days to challenge greens on their ideological resistance to biotechnology. Here's an exchange that caught my eye: 

Q:You draw an interesting parallel between the denialism over global warming and denialism as it relates to GMOs. Both causes had been close to your heart. Did you reach a point where you had to choose between the two?A: My overall effort has been to try to crash out an environmentalist perspective that is fully supported by evidence where there’s a scientific consensus. It’s interesting: the GM denialism seems to come from the left, and is particularly motivated by an anti-corporate world view; the climate-change denialism tends to come from the right and is motivated by suspicion of government.

Indeed, that is why in Slate last year I called GMO opponents the climate skeptics of the left. What's most interesting (and sad) at this point about the Lynas story is his isolation. His vocal turnabout on nuclear and biotech has made him an outcast in the green circles he once belonged to. Some of his former allies have even tried to discredit him with smears and innuendo. On this development, he says in the Observerarticle:

I've been complaining to my wife, but she said: 'Don't feel sorry for yourself. You've insulted people at the deepest level of their values. You've done something completely wounding to their very sense of self.'

This is most certainly true, but so has George Monbiot with his public thrashing of the anti-nuclear crowd. Monbiot is the leading environmental writer in the UK and has a huge bullhorn with his Guardian column. Let's recall what he wrote two years ago:

The anti-nuclear movement to which I once belonged has misled the world about the impacts of radiation on human health. The claims we have made are ungrounded in science, unsupportable when challenged, and wildly wrong. We have done other people, and ourselves, a terrible disservice.

Lynas shares these sentiments, but has also extended them to the anti-GMO movement. In doing so he has ignited a much-needed conversation about the longstanding opposition of greens to biotechnology, a conversation which Monbiot has been conspicuously absent. Why is he sitting on the sidelines? Monbiot is no shrinking violet. The man who excoriated Helen Caldicott for peddling fears and misinformation on nuclear power remains oddly silent on the equally important issue of genetically modified crops. One can only wonder why he has muzzled himself.

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