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When Green Groups Go Mad

19 July 2011 | Discover Magazine

By Keith Kloor

GREENPEACE continues its descent into anti-science oblivion. Last Thursday, the environmental group carried out a destructive anti-GMO stunt that has outraged scientists in Australia. Over at Sustainablog, agricultural scientist Steve Savage describes what happened:

On July, 14, three Greenpeace activists dressed in hazmat suits scaled a fence, and used weed whips to destroy a GMO wheat experiment in Canberra, Australia. The experiment was being conducted by CSIRO (the USDA equivalent for Australia). The activists posted video of the attack on You Tube. They also posted "explanations" by activists who could be easily identified. Although this is technically a criminal activity, it was more likely about publicity. Greenpeace has been at the forefront of the anti-GMO movement since the late 1990s, and it has claimed victory for stopping the development of GMO wheat varieties. Those heady days are fading for Greenpeace. 15 years and billions of acres into the GMO revolution, Greenpeace may just be attempting to defend conquered ground.

So why is this stunt damaging, nonetheless? Christopher Preston, an agricultural scientist at the University of Adelaide, explains:

These trials are not just about the development of genetically modified crops that may at some future time be developed commercially, but frequently provide spin-off information that is of use in our understanding of gene action in the environment. This important information is also lost.

This particular act of eco-vandalism by Greenpeace seems to have struck a nerve in Australia's scientific community and among some science journalists. Here's a biting response from Wilson da Silva, the editor of Cosmos:

Greenpeace was once a friend of science, helping bring attention to important but ignored environmental research. These days, it's a ratbag rabble of intellectual cowards intent on peddling an agenda, whatever the scientific evidence. It was once the most active, independent and inspiring civilian group for the environment. Whether riding zodiacs alongside boats carrying barrels of toxic waste to be dumped in the open sea, or campaigning against CFCs and HFCs that were depleting the ozone layer, Greenpeace did admirable work.

But in the last decade or so, Greenpeace abandoned the rigour of science. When the science has been inconvenient, Greenpeace chooses dogma. Which is why it has a zero-tolerance policy on nuclear energy, no matter how imperative the need to remove coal and gas from electricity production. Or why it is adamant organic farming is the only way forward for agriculture, when organic could not feed the world's population today.

In his must-read post, Steve Savage at Sustainablog explores the bigger picture:

...this argument about GMO wheat is a mere sub-set of something bigger than even agriculture. It is really about the choice between risk management based on sound science or risk avoidance based on the "Precautionary Principle." The same is true of the Climate Change and Vaccine/Autism debates, as well as many more.

As for a certain leading group of the environmental movement, da Silva in Cosmos ends his piece with withering contempt:

Greenpeace has lost its way. Its former glory rested on the righteousness of its actions in support of real evidence of how humanity was failing to care for the environment. Now it is a sad, dogmatic, reactionary phalanx of anti-science zealots who care not for evidence, but for publicity.


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