You will no doubt have seen the letter signed by 100 Nobel laureates asking you to end your opposition to genetically modified organisms. I hope you realise what this means: a great number of the most prestigious and decorated scientists in the world are asking you to bring to a halt your decades-long war against biotechnology.
I know you will be seriously considering their words. However deeply entrenched anti-GMO attitudes may be in your organisation, you cannot lightly dismiss the considered opinion of such a distinguished group of scientists as are 107 winners of Nobel Prizes. You should add to these individual voices the opinions of the National Academy of Sciences, which recently issued a landmark report on GMOs, and of numerous other scientific and academic institutions around the world from the AAAS to the Royal Society to the African Academy of Sciences.
I’m sure most of you realise privately that this is a good opportunity for a rethink. Every day you continue to maintain a position that is in outright contradiction with the scientific community on GMOs, you align yourselves morally with climate change sceptics, anti-vaccination activists and others who deny the overwhelming scientific opinion on important issues. This obstinacy is doing great damage not only to your brand as an organisation that campaigns on behalf of humanity and the planet, but to your other campaigns which you need to position as science-based and evidence-led – on forests, on fishing, on biodiversity, on oceans and on climate. (I strongly support these other campaigns by the way.)
It’s okay to make mistakes. I have done so myself in fact! We have both engaged in vandalism against GMO crops and test sites in the past. You don’t have to make a public apology, as I did for my own activism a few years back. You don’t even have to draw media attention to your hopefully upcoming decision to drop the anti-GMO campaign. You can do it quietly, which is more or less what has already happened at Greenpeace UK. But drop it you must, or risk losing the moral and scientific integrity of everything else you stand for.
This does not mean that you must abandon all concerns about GMOs. There are very legitimate discussions to be had about who controls the technology, and in whose interests it is deployed in different countries and contexts. But, as with anything, the solution lies in ensuring it is deployed in the interests of poorer farmers, and of the enviroment – not of seeking a total indefinite ban on the basis of myths and misinformation that scientists find either baffling or outright laughable.
By the way, I think it is premature of the Nobel laureates to imply that Greenpeace might be guilty of a “crime against humanity” in its campaign of opposition to Golden Rice. As we know, Golden Rice is not yet ready for deployment, so we cannot yet be sure of how effective it would be in saving the lives and sight of the millions of children who are affected by vitamin A deficiency. But at the very least, Greenpeace must get out of the way of Golden Rice’s deployment when the time comes, or risk facing just such a judgement of history.
I still believe that Greenpeace does much good in the world. Indeed, facing combined global environmental crises as we do, we need effective Greenpeaces today more than we ever have before. We desperately need the voices and actions of dedicated, passionate, informed activists who will stand up to powerful interests both in government and business when they damage the environment and the futures of our children.
But Greenpeace cannot do this job if it rejects evidence, and stands against the scientific consensus in key areas of environmental concern. In the current era of post-truth politics, Greenpeace cannot afford to be a post-truth environmental campaign group. If we reject science we have nothing but emotion, prejudice and supposition. Greenpeace – I beg of you – must do better.
I’m writing this from the UK, where the progressive political community has been deeply traumatised by the disastrous referendum decision on Brexit. Now more than ever we need progressives to stick together, against the march of the far Right – whether Le Pen in France, Trump in the United States or Farage in Britain. We have so much in common – the defence of tolerance, humanitarian values, and a passionate belief in social and environmental justice.
One of our most important values of all is a defence of science. I know this is a value that Greenpeace shares, but it is one that is constantly undermined by your ongoing campaign against GMOs. Now, more than ever, I plead for a reconsideration, before more damage is done – not just to Greenpeace, but to the wider progressive community, and to the global environment.
Yours in solidarity,