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Date:

March 17, 2000

Subject:

lessons from the history of climate research

 

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Very much enjoyed Tony's responses. One comment: global warming may be
another green myth. (In any case, comments about nuclear power would need
modifying because coal, oil and gas are far and away the dominant sources of
energy on the planet.)Obviously this is not the appropriate forum for
discussions of this topic ... but it is worth beearing in mind how thinking
on this issue has shifted over the past twenty years: in the 1970s
climatologists were serious research scientists seeking to understand the
dynamics of climate change from a variety of perspectives; in the 1980s a
small group of climatologists began agitating about the possibility that
carbon dioxide build-up would cause catastrophic climate change. The major
environmental organisations en masse became global warming apocalyptics,
with Greenpeace spearheading the campaign for global climate control (does
this sound familiar?). UNEP and the World Meteorological Office combined
forces to set up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climatge Change (IPCC),
which reported in 1990 that the climate was very complex. But the
Policymakers summary of the IPCC, written by a select few indivuduals
(including Bert Bolin and John Houghton) claimed more than this: it claimed
that the earth was being seriously warmed by man's activities. Governments
began to contemplate action and politicians began to thow their weight
behind the claim that man was having this detrimental impact and that
controls must be put in place.
More work was commissioned. Research on climate change shifted from an
academic exercise, searching for the causes and consequences of climate
change, into a search for the probable impacts of man on climate. And as you
alll probably know, when you begin to look for patterns in data, it is not
hard to find them.
Some very well respected academic climatologists remained outside this
process and have continued to criticise the findings. But those on the
inside are under pressure to conform (and the pressure, in terms of research
funding, is pretty intense).
The reason I say all this is not because I want to convince the people on
this list that global warming is not a problem, it might be -- but if it is
the appropriate response is more likely to be adaptation (which will include
developing GM plants that can deal with more extreme climatic conditions).
No, the reason I say this is that it is a cautionary lesson. The wackos are
already there -- Mae Wan Ho, Pusztai, etc. -- and more mainstream scientists
are beginning to be drawn in: as funding for research into the negative
impacts of GM becomes more widely available, the biotech community may begin
to split, with many university-based researchers attracted by the funding
from those looking to discover negative effects (perhaps under the auspices
of the biosafety protocol). Then you will really have two botanies and the
public will be told by governments that the apocalyptics are correct. This
is especially likely in Europe, where farmers will continue to militate for
excuses to ban imports as their subsidies are reduced and they see the
threat of competition from the US, Canada and Brazil as unbearable without
artificial constraints.

Julian Morris
Institute of Economic Affairs