The "scientific consensus" regarding GMOs

Periodically, I see headlines or tweets referring to a scientific consensus on the safety of genetically modified foods (GMOs). Famously, Bill Nye reversed his initial negative assessment of GMOs, for which he had received much criticism; most recently, the consensus has been invoked again in reference to the new GMO labeling bill that recently passed into law in the United States. 

I've been repeatedly frustrated by this assertion of consensus, as a scientist who studies food and food systems, I have several concerns regarding the social and ecological risks of GMO foods, concerns that are founded in scientific research and that I know I share with numerous colleagues. Further, I also do not see any scientific consensus that these risks are worth taking: that GMO foods solve problems that non-GMO foods, alternative farming practices, and political reforms cannot solve as well.

How does Cultural Coexistence Theory fit with other theories for sustainability?

How does cultural coexistence theory complement existing theoretical frameworks in the world of sustainability science, specifically Elinor Ostrom's Social Ecological Systems (SES) Framework? A true science of sustainability must be able to explain periods of stability in complex human-natural systems; what CCT aims to do is just that: explain how competing groups of people in a shared resource setting come to coexist stably over time, as opposed to a scenario where one or more groups is pushed out because of some disadvantage.

"We are not humanity"

My work has been inspired by Daniel Quinn in many ways. Today, I have a new essay at Ensia, in which I argue that it's time for a new story of humanity. This essay is my take on what I think is one of the most important messages in Quinn's various books.

In "The Story of B", the main protagonist, known for much of the novel as only "B", tells an audience to whom he is lecturing that he has good news: "We are not humanity," He says, "Can you feel the liberation in those words? Try them out. Go ahead. Just whisper them to yourselves: We . . . are not . . . humanity."

To me, this is the most powerful message in the book. It is his statement of why recognizing and rejecting the Great Forgetting is so important. B continues, 

If we are humanity, then all the terrible things we say about ourselves are true of humanity itself — and that would be very bad news. If we are humanity, then all our destructiveness belongs not to one misguided culture but to humanity itself. And if we are humanity, then the fact that our culture is doomed means that humanity itself is doomed. And if we are humanity, then the fact that our culture is the enemy of life on this planet means that humanity itself is the enemy of life on this planet.

If you want to change what people do, Quinn often opines, you have to change how they think. Hopefully this essay nudges a few minds in a slightly different direction,. 

That thing where we kill to promote life

Wolf culls are also morally unjustifiable. Firstly, we cannot ignore the fact that it is not the wolves' fault that the Selkirk herd is so depleted in the first place. Even the BC government acknowledges that this is the result of extensive human development, which has fragmented caribou habitat in the region. Is it moral to now place the cost of our collective "oops" on the local wolf populations? No doubt if (when?) the Selkirk herd goes extinct it will be a terrible thing, but it is logically fallacious to cast this as some sort of "wicked problem", a lose-lose scenario where the needs of the few (the caribou) outweigh the needs of the many (the wolves). 

Can progress be measured per-capita?

Can progress be measured per-capita?

... This brings us to the philosophical question of whether the ends ever justify the means. Are dramatic losses of life or of quality of life over the last few hundred years among some people justified by modest gains in other parts of the world? To put it another way, is progress something that can be measured "per capita"?Proponents of western society’s recent achievements seem to argue yes. “The past was bad,” they might say, “but we’re gaining ground. We simply need to just keep on doing what we’re doing.” But, much of these modest gains in global equity and massive gains in elite wealth have come at the expense of our planetary life support system. Is anyone really better off if the planet is on the brink of ecological collapse?

Whence this Anthropocene?

Whether there is anything 'good' about the Anthropocene, now or in the future, is a difficult question. A year ago I would have argued an unequivocal no, but six months ago my wife and I had a baby nearly 3 months premature. She's thriving, but without modern medicine she likely wouldn't have made it through the night. I think that's a good thing.