The former head of Greenpeace UK voiced strong support for genetically modified crops recently. Stephen Tindale was the Executive Director of the UK branch of the global green advocacy group from 2000 to 2006, but unlike many of his eco-ilk seems willing to re-examine his beliefs.
Speaking on the BBC One television show Panorama, he said he thought it was “morally unacceptable to stand out against these new technologies…I worry for Greenpeace and the other green groups because they could, by taking such a hard line on GM, they could be seen to be putting ideology before the need for humanitarian action.”
He’s of course referring to genetically modified crops’ ability to feed more of humanity than their lower-tech counterparts—GM crops can produce higher yields on smaller acreage in harsher conditions with fewer pesticides. Study after study has shown them to be safe, which leaves the GM opposition crowd with only ideological biases against what they perceive as “unnatural” to stand on (though how they can view an organic apple, the product of centuries of selective breeding, as somehow wholesomely natural is something you’ll have to ask them). The strength of that non-scientific, emotional ideology withers when it runs up against a technology that could help feed millions of starving people.
This isn’t the first time Tindale has broken from the environmental fold; he’s also advocated for increasing nuclear power’s share of the global energy mix in recent years. “I spent 20 years campaigning against nuclear, then decided I’d been wrong, and said so,” he said in an article for the green publication The Ecologist. “The green movement must become more practical and more pragmatic. That is not as poetic as deep green philosophy can be, but will be much more effective,” he implored.
The world needs more greens like Tindale, capable of rationally looking at issues that, by their scope and (if you’ll excuse the pun) nature, are admittedly tied to emotion. The modern environmental movement has grown to love its own righteous arguments, and that’s dangerous—it can’t see when its doom-saying and prescriptions of hair-shirt solutions leave the realm of possibility. When its agenda is challenged, whether by science or public opinion, the movement never looks inward to apply a sanity check to its principles, choosing instead to hunker down and label its opponents short-sighted enemies of the planet. That’s not a strategy for long-term success.
Smart greens are in short supply, which makes the sight of one all the more refreshing.