Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Sometimes environmentalists make me want to scream...

The Conservatives are now apparently taking a stand against genetically modified crops. This time it is about their "contamination" of regular crops eroding consumer choice but this is vaguely ridiculous. If they can contaminate that implies they are still genetically similar enough to interbreed which suggests to me that any genetic modification has been more akin to other human interventions in the natural world. These concerns are never raised about selective breeding which is a less efficient version of the same process.

Every time I've seen genetically modified crops discussed it usually transpires that the only reason the green movement is really wound up about 'frankenstein crops' is that it thinks increases in yields are so utterly pointless they cannot justify any risk no matter how negligible. They attack these companies for wanting to make profit, as if that's a problem, and then opine that we have enough food. This is what really gets to me:

The same green movement which now unfortunately includes the Conservative party can combine earnest worrying about Stern's report which identifies the biggest cost of global warming as lost agricultural production can regard agricultural productivity as vaguely disreputable. To regard technologies which might provide increased yields as a grubby drive for profits at the same time as forecasting disaster thanks to declines in global agricultural production is rather disingenous. That some of those who worry most about global warming and the harm it will do to humanity are willing to join the Slow Food movement whose entire purpose seems to be to celebrate low yield agriculture makes me want to scream.

All that the green lobby can offer in response to climate change are attempts by Britain and Europe to tackle global warming through emissions curbs without the involvement of other countries such as the US, India or particularly China and a blind hope that these countries will, at some point, see the light. By contrast, the skeptics focussed on adaptation can offer DDT spraying to fight infectious disease, economic reform to create nations better able to protect themselves against flooding and other natural disasters and another vast increase in agricultural productivity. Minor concerns with these and other solutions, nuclear power is the same phenomenon on a bigger scale, are blown wildly out of proportion until the only plausible responses involve grand interventions in the econmy.

I don't like to attack the motives of those whose ideas I oppose. As seen in the furore over the AEI paying people to write articles, as if the normal practice in journalism and politics is for authors to write from the dole, these accusations are often rather cheap. With this caveat, it looks to me that any response to global warming which doesn't involve in some way assaulting the capitalist economy just isn't good enough for the green movement. They are rather too attached to the idea that the only possible response to climate change is action to curb emissions because that provides not just an excuse for government intervention but also a raison d'etre for institutions of global governance which boosts the tranzi cause. If my suspicions are correct, and I think they might be, how has the Conservative party allowed itself to become a part of such a con designed to justify the great ideological threats to the liberal economic and democratic order?


Serf said...

Greens = Water Melons

Green Outside, Red inside

Anonymous said...

"the only possible response to climate change is action to curb emissions"

Well the only realistic response IS to curb emissions. According to Stern if we don't act to halt climate change (which requires a cut in emissions) then the economic costs would be between 5 and 20% GDP each year. This is of course to ignore the cost in human lives, wildlife diversity and an environment that is well suited to humankind.

The only other alternative is to let climate change go on unabated and deal with the consequences. When nations tend not to act in an alturistic manner who is going to build the hugely expensive dams to keep the water out of Bangladesh? No one me thinks.

El Dave. said...

There is a legitimate concern about GM crops. Your interbreeding point is not quite correct. Almost every mule - the hybrid of a horse and donkey - is infertile. There is a legitimate concern that prehybridised or similar genotypes may lead to similar infertile but otherwise viable hybrids.

There is also the concern that biotech companies will deliberately make their crops infertile - after all, if you can just breed and grow them, you only need to buy the seed once. If this trait entered, via hybridisation, non-GM seed, you'd have a problem.

The GM crop is patented. If it hybridises with a non-patented crop, does the hybrid fall under the patent? There are usually prohibitions against reverse engineering, and you might want to say that deliberately planting the GM next to the non-GM crop with the intent of doing that is illegal - how do you show intent? There are a host of legal problems that have to be resolved. These may be easily resolvable here but large multinationals are rather stronger and less picky about where their profits come from when working in the Third World.

Ultimately, we've been doing GM for thousands of years - sheep are from goats etc., hillfarmers, you know the deal - but this is much faster and on a much larger scale, so problems like the above could develop much more quickly. It's a good example of where the precautionary principle should be applied rather stringently.


Anonymous said...

By the next century, or sooner, there will be healthfood shops which advertise: "All our food is genetically modified for your optimum health."

edmund said...

annoymonous please deal with Sinclair's argumetns don't ignore them. If you use any normal economic rate of discounting to Stern then his arguments fail

Anonymous said...

edmund - although it is undoubtedly true that in pure economics terms a discount rate of 2-3% is low however he has chosen this to partly account for the fact that the cost of disaster to people in the future is equally as valuable as the cost of disaster to ourselves. If we were to treat such things as exactly equal the discount rate would be 0% and the case for action even stronger.