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.
Lynas goes on to explain that as he educated himself in science to enable him to make a more solid and persuasive case for the fact of global warming, he got really good at understanding scientific papers, and incorporating science into his thinking and argumentation. And yet, though he was combating conservative global-warming deniers with scientific facts and logic, he was living a kind of intellectual double life when it came to genetically modified foods:
My second climate book, Six Degrees, was so sciency that it even won the Royal Society science books prize, and climate scientists I had become friendly with would joke that I knew more about the subject than them. And yet, incredibly, at this time 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.
Read the whole speech. It’s a really good piece about epistemic blind spots, which are not a liberal or a conservative thing, but a human thing. For the record, I don’t have a strong opinion on GM crops. It won’t surprise you to learn that inclination is to be highly suspicious of them as a theoretical matter, but I have long worried about how we’re going to feed the world without using them, especially given the famines expected because of global warming. I have also wondered if, whatever the risks, they’re better than having to use more pesticides and chemicals. But I never came to a firm conclusion on the question. If you disagree with Lynas, please weigh in.