At one time it could be taken for granted that the Green Party opposed genetic modification, but the Autumn 2016 conference has just seen a lively, i.e. polarized debate.
I use three examples to illustrate the problem as I see it: fracking, GM foods, and solar panelled roads. As long as economic growth is the unquestioned norm, aggravated by global population increase, all three are urgently needed, but each can only be a strictly temporary solution.
If either economic activity or population (preferably both) c ould stabilize, each and every proposed technological innovation could be assessed on its merits. Just to be clear, by ‘stabilize’, I mean what would currently be defined as a ‘recession’ – successive quarters with no economic growth. Economic activity could continue, and similarly world population would remain at current levels.
I almost wrote “please consider this theoretical scenario”, but on second thoughts, if either economic activity or population continue on their present trajectory, something rather more unpleasant that mere stabilization will happen anyway. It is only a matter of time. As I keep commenting, the Green Party was founded to offer an answer to this foreseeable state of affairs, but it has been sidetracked.
Once growth is no longer a shibboleth, hydraulic fracturing can be seen as the nightmare it is. Without going into diminishing returns, even small leaks of methane will send global temperatures rocketing. So far as I am aware, the fracking which has already taken place since the early 2000s has not actually been linked to James Hansen’s disturbing research, but all fossil fuel must stay in the ground.
On the other hand, solar panelled roads may well allow economic activity, possibly even some increase in economic activity to take place without immediate ill effects. It may be of limited practicability, but its main drawback comes back to the short term nature of the respite it offers. – in the growth context. Even with a beneficial technology such as solar panels, a change in culture – a mind set paradigm shift is necessary for it to be of long term benefit.
I attended the Green Party conference pre-plenary workshop session on a conference motion to delete the Party’s opposition to genetic modification. It was well attended – a lecture theatre was needed to accommodate those interested. As I say, the debate was predictably polarized. I asked that a straw poll be taken at the end as to whether anyone had shifted their opinion, and if so, which way. My suggestion was not acted upon, but one person did come up to me afterwards to say that his support for the motion had been undermined by something Molly Scott Cato MEP had said in the discussion: The whole field is in the control of large companies such as Monsanto, who can publish, or withhold research findings as suits them.
Like fracking and solar panels, genetic modification is a desperately needed short term stratagem to avoid questioning basic assumptions. An apparently powerful argument advanced in favour of genetic modification is that children are dying due to vitamin deficiencies which GM could rectify. Thomas Malthus is still derided by people who should know better: the grim chase where arithmetic increase in food availability strives to cope with geometric increase in population is all too real in many parts of the world.
In terms of sustainability the pros and cons of genetic modification are finely balanced as compared with fracking (bad) or solar roads (OK). That lives would be saved by a new form of rice is not disputed. But as long as growth, in this case of profits, is the main criterion, Monsanto and co will remain in control, and their profit determined decisions will not necessarily be benign for the rest of us..