Environmentalist Admits He Peddled Anti-Scientific "Green Urban Myths" About Biotech Crops

Somewhat to the discomfort of his green comrades-in-arms, British activist Mark Lynas has been evolving in his views on various environmental issues lately. For example, Lynas now admits that he was wrong when declared that biotech crops posed significant risks to people and the natural world. In a speech delivered yesterday at the Oxford Farming Conference Lynas declared:

I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.

As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely.

So I guess you’ll be wondering – what happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist.

Discovered science? Well, better late than never. Lynas goes on to admit:

...in 2008 I was still penning screeds in the Guardian attacking the science of GM – even though I had done no academic research on the topic, and had a pretty limited personal understanding. I don’t think I’d ever read a peer-reviewed paper on biotechnology or plant science even at this late stage.

Obviously this contradiction was untenable. What really threw me were some of the comments underneath my final anti-GM Guardian article. In particular one critic said to me: so you’re opposed to GM on the basis that it is marketed by big corporations. Are you also opposed to the wheel because because it is marketed by the big auto companies? 

So I did some reading. And I discovered that one by one my cherished beliefs about GM turned out to be little more than green urban myths.

I’d assumed that it would increase the use of chemicals. It turned out that pest-resistant cotton and maize needed less insecticide.

I’d assumed that GM benefited only the big companies. It turned out that billions of dollars of benefits were accruing to farmers needing fewer inputs.

I’d assumed that Terminator Technology was robbing farmers of the right to save seed. It turned out that hybrids did that long ago, and that Terminator never happened.

I’d assumed that no-one wanted GM. Actually what happened was that Bt cotton was pirated into India and roundup ready soya into Brazil because farmers were so eager to use them.

I’d assumed that GM was dangerous. It turned out that it was safer and more precise than conventional breeding using mutagenesis for example; GM just moves a couple of genes, whereas conventional breeding mucks about with the entire genome in a trial and error way.

But what about mixing genes between unrelated species? The fish and the tomato? Turns out viruses do that all the time, as do plants and insects and even us – it’s called gene flow.

To some extent this old news. Last year, I wrote a column reviewing Lynas' new book, The God Species, in which I welcomed him to the "Reality-Based Community." If only somehow we could get Lynas' fellow activists to actually read science and accept the broad scientific consensus on the safety of biotech crops.

Via Slate.

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  • Romulus Augustus||

    Now here's how an apology should read and what many flip-flopper on an issue should say about why he changed his mind. What chaffs a lot of us is taking a new position (see Our Glorious Leader on many occasions, also Mittens) and not explaining why it changed or, worse, denying that he or she ever held a contradictory position.

  • John||

    Yeah. There is nothing wrong with changing your opinion. If you don't ever do that, you are just a fanatic.

  • $park¥||

    What if your opinion on everything is right?

  • Almanian.||

    Then you're Barack H. Obama.

    Duh.

  • Jeff||

    H? H?!?! I knows a dog whistle when I hears one!

  • shamalam||

    Did you sit and shake hands?

  • John||

    Doesn't matter because circumstances change. What is the right answer one day might be the wrong answer the next. Consistency hobgoblins and little minds and all of that.

  • sarcasmic||

    You forgot the word "foolish". Not all consistency is foolish.

  • John||

    Touche

  • $park¥||

    Will every circumstance change so that at some point every opinion that was or ever will be correct will at some point further on be incorrect?

  • John||

    Not necessarily. The circumstances may never line up properly to justify that opinion.

  • $park¥||

    So either an opinion starts right but changing circumstances make it wrong or an opinion starts wrong and stays wrong? Is this what you're saying or am I misunderstanding?

  • John||

    Sort of. The correctness of your opinion on a given subject is usually driven by the circumstances at the time. Some opinions line up with the circumstances sometimes and not others. Other opinions may never line up with the circumstances.

  • $park¥||

    So it sounds like you're essentially saying it's impossible to have an opinion that will always be right. I'm not sure I would make that kind of judgement on a subjective position.

  • Brett L||

    No. Everyone who believes in the Perfectable Humanity, whether it be the New Soviet Man or Progressive Ideal Person, will always be wrong.

  • $park¥||

    What about someone who believes that the only way for humanity to achieve perfection is through perfect liberty?

  • Brett L||

    But it won't be perfection, just optimal. There's an important difference.

  • $park¥||

    But it won't be perfection, just optimal.

    That's a matter of opinion. I don't totally disagree with you given that perfection, for the most part, is unattainable.

  • Brett L||

    Ask yourself, if everyone had perfect liberty, would we still need a way of resolving disagreements over incidental and accidental harms? If so, then there is an imperfect optimum. And that's great, by the way. It means that the individuals can be imperfect AND have perfect liberty. We don't have to fix each and every individual to some unattainable standard before libertopia can dawn. Which makes it a much better philosophy than most.

  • $park¥||

    would we still need a way of resolving disagreements over incidental and accidental harms?

    In a perfect world, the involved parties would be able to work out a resolution amongst themselves.

    We don't have to fix each and every individual to some unattainable standard before libertopia can dawn.

    Again, I don't totally disagree with you. But I'm interested in something better than libertopia (as it's talked about here).

  • Sam Grove||

    Perfection, in regards human nature, is undefinable.

  • Sevo||

    "As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing"

    One of those two doesn't belong.

  • John Henry||

    One of those two doesn't belong.

    Why not? Or would it be better to say conservationist instead of environmentalist?

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    I choose prime New York Strip, lobster, and king crab as the core of my diet. Also, nice avocados and rich tomatoes with a lot of acid and that aren't bred for shippability rather than taste. To whom do I speak about having that stuff shipped to me for free so my right isn't violated?

  • SKR||

    you have a right to work but not a right to a job. what exactly is the difference between that and a right to eat whatever you want but not a right to having the food provided gratis?

  • LTC(ret) John||

    There is no difference to the modern Left. Rights are denied if not subsidized/supplied (ie. health care, housing, birth control, etc, etc, ad nauseum)

  • John Henry||

    I read "right" differently than you did. I read it in the "right to bear arms" instead of the "right to have other people supply it to you free of charge" way. So my question was can you be an environmentalist and still believe people can eat what they want.

  • Almanian.||

    Surprise, surprise, surprise.

    Not really.

  • Aresen||

    The surprise is in the apology, not in the (wilfull) scientific ignorance.

  • ||

    Reminds me of a dude I used to know who exclaimed his Marxist ideology from the rooftops, without ever having read Das Kapital or Wealth of Nations.

  • John||

    That would be every Marxist. I have met maybe one or two people who have ever actually read Marx beyond maybe reading the Communist Manifesto, which is a pamphlet and not even a book. His books are unreadable for the most part.

    Marx has become a brand for douchebags. It doesn't matter what he actually said or that he would have been completely appalled by things like cultural relativism and multiculturism.

  • Aresen||

    Yes, I get a great deal of fun out of pointing out to "Marxists" that Marx thought imperialism perfectly acceptable because the 'ignorant and inferior races' (in his view) of those places could not exploit the local resources efficiently.

  • John||

    Yup, he had no use for religion or indigenous cultures. Those were relics that were to be destroyed on the path to paradise.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Reading Marxist histories of the Civil War is fun. 'The capitalist North had to attack the feudalistic South so they could convert the slaves into wage slaves.' I read one where the idiot actually argued that real slavery was better, because the slave-owner had an interest in the health of his slaves, whereas they were merely cogs to factory owners.

  • sarcasmic||

    "How do you tell a communist? Well, it's someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It's someone who understands Marx and Lenin."
    --Ronald Reagan

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Marx has become a brand for douchebags.

    I thought that was Che.

  • John||

    Che is a subbrand for the really stupid ones.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Great that he's seen the light, but I fear it's too little and too late. Like Thomas Robert Malthus, he's unleashed a beast of wrong thought that he can never recapture.

  • Brett L||

    Good on this guy. I'm going to repost this on FB to watch a certain segment of my friends list go raving nuts.

  • Sevo||

    Naah.
    If you read the 24/7 link on this yesterday, you'd see that the enviros in the comments simply accuse him of being in the pay of X.

  • ||

    My guess would be they disown him with extreme prejudice.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    The Bjorn Lomberg treatment, in other words.

  • Brett L||

    So far, two likes from curmudgeonly bastards and dead silence from everyone else. Nothing to see here, move along to the next cat/baby pic.

  • Tman||

    Same thing on my FB. I have a few vocally anti-GMO friends who are always posting some garbage from Greenpeace crying about Frankenfoods.

    Not a chirp from them whatsoever.

  • ||

    What really threw me were some of the comments underneath my final anti-GM Guardian article. In particular one critic said to me: so you’re opposed to GM on the basis that it is marketed by big corporations. Are you also opposed to the wheel because because it is marketed by the big auto companies?

    Behold, the POWER OF GLIB at work.

  • ||

    Glib Process in action.

  • ||

    WE LOOM LARGE

  • Brett L||

    He probably refused anti-biotics for infections for the same reason. Big Pharma makes them so they must be evil.

  • shamalam||

    What really throws me is that Lynas had not already thought of such analogies on his own.

    I guess this is simply a testament to how close minded a person can get when he is devoted to a particular superstition.

    In any case, my compliments to Mr. Lynas for reexamining his beliefs and then pitching them into the crapper when he accepted that they were crap.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    So Big Biotech got to him. I wonder how much money it took to turn him into a heretic.

  • RightNut||

    What really threw me were some of the comments underneath my final anti-GM Guardian article.

    Maybe that is why Paul Krugman usually doesn't allow comments on his column? Doesn't want to take the chance a commenter will force him to evaluate his position.

  • Redmanfms||

    I doubt he'll reconsider his positions because he presumably should know better, I suspect that he doesn't allow commenting because somebody might make him look like the dishonest shitheel he really is.

  • ||

    He cut the the maximum comment length to 300 or so characters a while back for just that reason.

  • AuH2O||

    You clearly haven't read the comments that Krugman does allow on his blog posts.

    They're... disturbing, to say the least.

  • waaminn||

    Sometimes dude you jsut have to roll with it man!

    www.AnonVPN.tk

  • SKR||

    That was pretty awesome.

  • Russell||

    "...in 2008 I was still penning screeds in the Guardian attacking the science of GM – even though I had done no academic research on the topic, and had a pretty limited personal understanding. I don’t think I’d ever read a peer-reviewed paper on biotechnology or plant science even at this late stage."

    Many editors of the WSj and commentors at What's Up With That ? have just lost their role model.

  • ||

    Good for Mr. Lynas. It's not easy to admit being wrong. More GMOs for everyone.

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